Thought Leadership

    You Should be Combining Print and Digital in Your Marketing

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    If you’re like most brands and organizations, you’re probably not using print and digital together in your marketing right now. During this time of COVID, many marketing budgets have been squeezed; for most, print was the first marketing expense to go. If this is the course you’ve taken, your decision to eliminate print might be costing you more than you realize. It is readily accepted that combining print and digital in your marketing is a much more effective strategy than using either one alone. So, if you’re a fan of going in the direction opposite the crowd, now would be the time to demonstrate some counterintuitiveness and get back to printing.

    It is undeniable that digital channels are saturated at this point. In both B2C and B2B marketing, audiences are being overwhelmed by content they’re viewing online, in social media and through email. Experts say individuals are exposed to thousands of digital ads each day. They estimate that at most, we can pay attention to 2% of them.

    In addition to the immense volume of digital communications, the growing prevalence of clickbait, bots and disinformation online is eroding consumer confidence in digital. The more unreliable content a platform serves up, the less trust consumers have in it.

    Print, on the other hand, is still considered trustworthy and it exists in a much less crowded environment. For every 36 emails we get in our inbox, we get just one piece of mail in our mailbox.

    Print’s inherent advantages over digital continue to exist as well. Print is known to drive more engagement than digital communications, primarily due to its ability to forge an emotional connection with the reader. It is also better at establishing recall. In one study, 75% of consumers who received direct mail were able to recall the associated brand vs. 44% of consumers who received digital-only communications.

    Obviously, you shouldn’t overcompensate and completely turn away from digital. But getting back to a more balanced mix of print and digital will certainly benefit your marketing. The greater the variety of touchpoints you have with your audience, the more likely they will be to convert.

    If you want to begin using print and digital again, the print communication you should consider returning to first is direct mail. Direct mail perfectly complements the digital lead generation campaigns you’re probably running.

    Direct mail gets read. Industry data indicates 90% of direct mail is opened and almost 75% of U.S. consumers say they prefer to hear from brands via direct mail because they can read it when they are ready. According to other surveys, even 77% of millennials pay attention to direct mail.

    Using print and digital together will deliver better results than either one alone. A report from the USPS indicates that marketers who combined direct mail with digital marketing had more effective campaigns:

    • 68% said the combination increased their website visits
    • 63% said the combination increased their response rates
    • 60% said the combination increased their ROI

    It’s time to stop following the crowd. Figure out a way to stake out your own ground while everyone else is being overly reliant on digital.

    print fundamentals

    The Fundamentals of Print are Strong

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    For anyone who was in the print industry during the Great Recession in the late 2000s, the current COVID-19 situation is feeling eerily similar. The world is again in fiscal crisis. Businesses are closing, unemployment lines are growing, and still-operating businesses are slashing budgets in a struggle to survive. Current circumstances are made even worse, of course, because showing up to work to stave off complete financial disaster puts our health, and the health of family and friends, at risk.

    This time around, though, there is one huge heartening difference: print as a medium is strong. It has firmly re-established its well-regarded place in the communications landscape.

    During the Great Recession, one of the first things marketers cut from their budgets was print. The same is happening now. Many companies in the graphics industry have seen catastrophic drops in sales seemingly overnight. Some vital industries are still buying print, but if any printing was considered discretionary, it’s been stopped. Even though governments in many stay-at-home states have named print an essential industry, print employees are being furloughed, expenses are being cut and smaller printers are closing shop for now.

    How long will this last? Will print be able to survive long term? It may seem like wishful thinking, but the advantage we have now is that the fundamentals of print will remain strong once this crisis is over.

    Coming out of the Great Recession, it took nearly a decade for print to recover. It was a hard-earned comeback, and before COVID-19 emerged, print was enjoying a return to prominence as a valuable marketing tool. Sections of the industry were growing, there was a buzz about the creative uses of print, and it was widely accepted that print combined with digital is much more effective than digital alone.

    Who would have thought print could make such a return? People around the world had proclaimed it dead a decade ago. They wrote it off as a waning mode of communication. There was talk of paperless work environments, and almost every brand poured their marketing dollars into digital. But, after years of worshiping at the altar of digital, digital has turned out to be a false god.

    Brands have learned that digital is vulnerable to fraud and it frequently results in wasteful spending. It is an incredibly crowded channel too. It proved poor at enhancing brand connections and it doesn’t move people emotionally. Its ability to drive purchasing behaviors also grew stale over time. After long-time print staples like catalogues were thrown overboard by brands, they steadily made their way back to the point where even digital-only brands began relying on print to motivate customers.

    Perhaps unbelievably to some, as faith in digital waned, trust in print increased. Science proved that the physical properties of print make deep and lasting connections, and customers of all types willingly spend more time with print. Some even grew to enjoy getting direct mail. Who would have thought that was possible!

    Yes, the coming months will be rough for the print industry. But we must remember, and more importantly, brands must remember, that the fundamentals of print are strong and print is undeniably a valuable and effective communication channel. It’s not dead. No one is talking about it going away this time. It will be fully embraced again once this crisis is over.

    So, in the meantime, print what you can. We will be. Hopefully, we all make it through this together.

    US Vision folder cover

    Want to Print Something Elegant? Try White Ink

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    White ink is a fantastic way to add style and elegance to your print designs and make them stand out from the boring materials that most marketers produce. You can use it to create numerous effects or combine it with colored stocks to turn your run-of-the-mill brand pieces into striking artwork. While implementing white ink takes some extra effort, the impact is well worth it.

    White ink creates different effects depending on how it is applied. Its opacity can be controlled by the number of times a sheet is passed through the printer. Fewer passes provide transparency while more passes provide more solid white. White ink creates an almost varnish-like look when used on white paper, and it results in a dimensional feel on colored stocks when different opacities are used. It creates white blocks of color or text on colored stocks, and it can also be applied as a layer behind images on colored stock to prevent see-through.

    No matter the type of project you want to design to use white ink—and there really is no limit—you’ll want to keep the following tips in mind:

    1. Try to design the project within one program, preferably Adobe Illustrator. Instead of dropping an Illustrator EPS/AI file into an InDesign document (or vice versa), we suggest you copy and paste your vector artwork directly into your file and separate the artwork by layer (see tip 3). Doing this makes it easier to edit the spot color if needed.
    2. When setting up your file, add a new spot color in your swatches panel and call it “White Ink”—the color mix can be whatever percentage you want, but we generally suggest 100% magenta so it’s more easily distinguishable from the “paper” swatch in the panel. The only thing that matters is the name of the white ink spot color so our rip can translate the specific color to the press.
    3. In the layers panel, add a new layer and call it “White Ink”—this helps keep that artwork isolated and more accessible down the road when preflighting happens. All other artwork that does not print in white ink should be on a layer called “CMYK,” which helps prepress quickly preflight your file.
    4. Depending on how you’re using white ink in your project, you may want to experiment with overprinting, which is found in the “Attributes” panel (InDesign: Window > Output > Attributes > Overprint Fill/Overprint Stroke). Overprinting helps avoid common trapping issues with white type on a solid color or image. The type will overprint on top of the color/image instead of knocking out. If you want to print a solid background of white ink on top of colored paper, make sure everything printing on top of the white ink is set to overprint—this goes for images, typography, etc. Make sure to check that your fills and strokes are set to overprint on your CMYK layer. This step is critical to ensure your piece prints properly when using a specialty stock. You can review this video to get more familiar with overprinting.
    5. When outputting your file, it’s important to double-check your work. If something is supposed to overprint, make sure you check your Attributes panel. All type and images should be combed through several times before sending to your printer.
    press checks image

    Use Press Checks to Check on Your Printer, not Your Project

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    People who have been in the printing industry a long time can easily remember when press checks were a common occurrence. As recently as 10 years ago, clients would head to their printer’s facility and review test sheets hot off the press to make sure colors were correct, no text was missing, registration was good, and there were no quality issues, such as hickeys or pinholes. Printing technology advancements have made press checks all but obsolete today, but modern marketers might want to consider occasionally scheduling one as an opportunity to evaluate their print partner.

    In the old days, clients were at their printer frequently, mainly to perform press checks. They would do checks for any project that required precise color reproduction. Clients would sit in a room, press sheets would be brought to them to review, and the press operator would make color adjustments by eye to get the piece just the way the client wanted. Through these visits, clients became familiar with the facility, probably took a tour and even got to know some employees.

    Nowadays, industry color standards, advanced proofing devices, precise ink mixing and presses equipped with computerized color matching are producing more predictable results, which seldom vary from the proofs clients see prior to printing. With more consistent reproduction, clients don’t feel the need to dedicate time to a press check. Whereas Perfect used to host several press checks a week, we only do 15 a year now.

    Depending on a client’s standards, they currently only do a press check for “experimental” projects, or perhaps the first job with a new print partner, or when a project uses a color stock or synthetic material. Additionally, clients seem to only check brand pieces and art-like prints on press these days.

    Because press checks are so infrequent, clients seldom go to their printer’s facility anymore. Many clients have never visited their printer.

    Have you ever met a press operator? Have you met your customer service representative face-to-face?

    If you consistently order from your printer, you may want to consider using a press check as a way to get to know them better. You can tell a lot about a print partner by visiting their facility.

    Is it clean? Do they take pride in the building’s appearance? If they do, they probably take pride in their work.

    When there, pay attention to how they conduct the press check.

    Does the press check start on time? Do you feel welcome? Does your host introduce you to other employees? Do you get the sense they just want to get the check over with, or are they trying to meet your needs?

    Even a gesture as simple as giving you a sample press sheet to bring back to your colleagues can make you feel valued.

    If you decide to schedule a press check, here are some pointers for conducting it:

      • Make sure the printer is using the correct stock
      • Check the registration
      • Look for consistent color across pages
      • Fold or trim down the sheet to see what it will look like finished
      • Check color of images
      • Bring along your branding guide or a PMS swatch book

    Unfortunately, a press check is not the time to find typos, copy mistakes or other items that should have been caught during the proofing stage. You can request changes during a press check, but anything beyond color adjustments will frequently include additional costs, so beware.

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    With Digital Printing, a Brand Can Print for an Audience of One

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    Years ago, when offset printing was the primary way to produce print materials commercially, if you were a small business or small organization looking to get materials professionally printed, it was practically impossible if you weren’t printing hundreds or thousands of pieces. The setup costs associated with offset printing made it just too darn expensive.

    Luckily, this began to change when digital printing emerged in the early 2000s. At that time, buyers gained the chance to professionally print materials in digital printing quantities as few as 1,000 or even 500 pieces. Not small numbers, but better than what was possible before.

    As digital printing technology continued to improve, affordable digital printing quantities grew smaller and smaller over the years. In fact, digital printing has improved so much, its quality now rivals that of traditional offset. So, print companies that run both offset and digital workflows can now affordably produce almost any quantity a buyer may need.

    Because of this, marketers should never dismiss print as a viable marketing communication channel because they think their audience is too small. Nowadays, a “short run” can be as few as five pieces, or even one piece, depending on what is being printed. Run length has become almost irrelevant in decision-making. The determining factors for whether projects are produced digitally or offset have more to do with turnaround time and other requirements now.

    Small brands have not been the only beneficiaries of the evolution in digital printing. Large companies have benefitted from another digital printing feature—personalization. Digital printing provides the ability to customize print pieces for individuals or segments of an audience. This personalization results in better brand connection and customer engagement. Large brands, with mounds of customer data, have been able to leverage this digital printing feature the most.

    Digital printing has brought another benefit to companies of all sizes—printing on demand. In the old days, companies used to print tons of materials and they’d end up recycling sizable portions of their inventory. With digital printing, brands can print exactly what they need, when they need it. They don’t have to inventory materials because new digital printing quantities can be produced quickly if needed.

    Digital printing has leveled the playing field for small and large brands in terms of how well they can present themselves in print. Once only a mass communication channel for large companies, brands as small as sole proprietors can now produce professional-quality print materials in short, affordable quantities.

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    You Can Easily Measure Your Direct Mail Campaign Effectiveness

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    According to recent data from the Direct Marketing Association, direct mail generates significant response. When using a house list, marketers can achieve a 9% response rate. The rate for prospect lists comes in at 5%. The conditions driving these rates are consumers’ high trust in print and their preference for receiving direct mail promotions over digital.

    Yet, despite these obviously strong response rates, some brands are still hesitant to commit to direct mail. They cite its high cost and prolonged production process as two factors influencing their decision. But the most often mentioned reason for not fully investing in direct mail is a perceived lack of trackability.

    Some marketers question how they can accurately monitor the success of their direct mail campaigns. They can’t seem to quantify their return on investment, and it can be hard for them to precisely attribute sales and leads to their campaigns since many other factors can contribute to conversions and customer inquiries. In actuality, with proper planning and an understanding of the approaches available, you can easily measure the effectiveness of your direct mail.

    The importance of tracking and measuring your direct mail campaigns cannot be overstated. Without measurement, you won’t know how well the channel works for your product or service. Luckily, there are several ways to measure effectiveness. The challenge comes in setting up detailed tracking methods prior to your mailing and sticking with them over time. Just be sure to keep in mind that all points of contact on your direct mail piece—phone number, web address, etc.—should be considered trackable.

    The simplest way to measure response doesn’t take much effort at all. When you communicate with a new customer or prospect, ask them how they heard of you. The same approach can be taken with your online forms. Include direct mail among the options that customers can select to answer this question on whatever form they’re filling out.

    Other ways to track direct mail include discount codes and campaign-specific URLs. With discount codes, your customers provide the code from their direct mail piece when they make their purchase. You can know right away how successful your campaign is by measuring the number of codes used. The same can be said for campaign-specific URLs. By putting a web address on your printed piece, you can direct recipients to a landing page or a specific page on your website. Then, using your website analytics, you can see how many visitors followed the campaign URL to the destination.

    Call tracking is another approach you can use. You put a dedicated phone number on your mail piece that tracks calls coming into your organization. An added benefit of this approach is the chance to record the calls. These recordings can then be used for quality assurance or customer service training.

    In cases when a purchase is not made at the end of a customer’s direct mail journey, the next most important thing a brand can walk away with is the identity of the customer who expressed interest in the offer by taking some action that fell short of the purchase, like visiting a landing page. Methods such as call tracking, asking how a customer heard of you, and even discount codes can identify individual leads. Traditionally, other approaches, like a campaign-specific URL, have not been able to do this.

    This is changing though. When customers used to receive your direct mail and visit your online asset, you couldn’t identify them unless they completed some type of form. With a new tool, you can now perform a match back to your mail list to confirm the recipients who visited you online.

    Through a combination of cookies, IP addresses and other data, this tool can locate the physical address of a website visitor, which is then compared to your mail list to identify them. This opens a whole new opportunity for you to follow up with potential customers who demonstrated interest but for whatever reason stopped short of buying or contacting you.

    Direct mail is highly effective, and marketers need to realize that it is measurable. Saying you can’t adequately measure direct mail is no longer a valid reason for not using such a powerful marketing tool.

    Quick Tips on Preparing Files for Die-cutting, Embossing and Foil-stamping

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    Special effects such as embossing, foiling or die cutting are terrific ways to add style and interest to your printed piece. While each one brings a different appeal, setting up your artwork so your piece prints successfully is the same for all three.

    The primary goal when setting up your artwork is to make sure your print partner can easily identify the area on your piece that is being embossed, foiled or cut. This is best done by making the special effect you’re using stand out in your print file.

    As a first piece of advice, only use professional desktop layout programs such as InDesign or Illustrator to create projects with special effects. Using these programs will allow you to create your file as vector art. This is a must since the machines and presses that read your file to create special effects can only read vector information.

    To get started, create a new swatch from the swatches panel in InDesign or Illustrator and give it a name like “foil,” or “emboss,” or “die line” depending on what effect you’re setting up.

    Make this swatch’s type Spot Color, then pick a highly noticeable color like magenta and make it 100%. To ensure this spot color does not knock out other print elements, set it to overprint.

    You can then go about creating the die line, emboss or foil area on a separate layer in your artwork. This will let you toggle the effect’s visibility on and off as needed.

    For foiling and embossing, make the area to be embossed or foiled 100% of your spot color. Only the areas covered by this “spot color” will get embossed or be printed with foil.

    If doing a die cut, make sure you create some space between text or any design elements and the die line. You don’t want to have anything important cut off by the die.

    When submitting your file to your printer you can submit all your artwork in one file if you have the special effect set up on its own layer.

    However, if you want to be extra careful, you can submit two files—one with your complete artwork including the effect layer, and one with just your special effect layer.

    Personalization in Print

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    Everyone knows that tailoring the customer experience to an individual’s preferences delivers a more satisfying interaction for the customer and builds brand loyalty. This holds true for print communications too.

    Personalization in print used to be including a customer’s name in the piece. We’ve moved well beyond that today. Print personalization is much more advanced thanks to the evolution of data collection and digital printing technology.

    By applying tactics to print that traditionally have been used in digital communications, brands can create materials that are more relevant, responsive and measurable. A new name for this type of marketing has even emerged—data-driven print.

    Print is already a great medium for getting attention. Personalization builds on that strength. Research indicates that consumers are more than three times as likely to buy from a brand they’ve previously bought from than from one they don’t know. By personalizing materials, brands can remind customers that they have an existing relationship. This approach strengthens the relationship even more and makes customers feel valued.

    Personalization can take on many different forms. Previously, personalization was limited to text. At this point, colors and even visuals can be tailored in a piece based on customer data. By personalizing visuals, you can increase your connection with a customer since visuals are usually the first thing that grabs attention in print.

    Incorporating personalization into your campaigns will increase their effectiveness because more relevant print definitely increases engagement. This is incredibly valuable in something like direct mail, which has recently been one of the top channels for acquiring and retaining customers.

    To be able to personalize print successfully, brands need to have access to a solid set of customer data. You can customize print based on data such as purchase behavior, product preferences, customer demographics and even web browsing history. Brands that have acquired more customer data points have more customization options open to them.

    The benefits of personalized print make it worth the effort to grow a customer database instead of relying on purchased lists. Buying lists will never give brands the specific types of data that make print communications most relevant. Brands will achieve better response rates and increased ROI by collecting their own data and using it to build personalized customer experiences.

    Print is More Trustworthy

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    There are a lot of reasons why marketers should include print as a valuable part of their integrated marketing campaigns these days. One of the more influential ones is the consumer belief that print is more trustworthy than digital communications. In this age of widespread digital deception, people do not think of print as “fake news.”

    According to a Two Sides survey, U.S. consumers believe print is a safer, more secure and more trusted medium than its digital counterpart in almost every way. Contributing to this trust is print’s comparative lack of use and the historical journalistic standards associated with it. For example, print magazines are rated as the most trusted news source.

    In contrast, only half of people say they trust the internet. Disinformation currently runs wild across social media in an attempt to influence users and create division. In the same Two Sides survey, nearly three-quarters of respondents say they are concerned with the spread of “fake news” on the internet.

    Besides being untrustworthy, digital communications are getting ignored. Online pop-ups are the most disliked form of advertising. Additional Two Sides data indicates 68% of consumers don’t pay attention to online ads, and more than half admit they try to avoid them at all costs.

    This presents an opportunity for marketers.

    While digital communications certainly aren’t going away, wisely integrating print into your campaigns can pay big dividends.

    For one, it provides a chance to associate your brand with a more trustworthy mode of communication. Additionally, print has been shown to increase message recall. It is widely accepted that handling paper and turning pages makes us remember more of what we read.

    Furthermore, print is just plain effective. Nearly all shoppers say they prefer print marketing when making a purchasing decision. And, almost 80% of consumers will act on direct mail immediately.

    Undeniably, no one uses print anymore to steal your identity or trick you into handing over your bank account information. While it may not be completely out from under the old adage of “don’t believe everything you read,” we can certainly say if you’re reading something in print, you can probably trust it.

    For marketers, this means if you have something important to say, you should really say it in print.