Successful print marketing starts with customer data
It’s surprising how many brands get carried away with the idea of ‘doing a magazine’, with little thought for how it will resonate with readers or support business objectives. Bumble, the dating app, tried to launch an eponymous publication a few years ago and never made it past the first issue.
You can speculate as to why it didn’t take off. But having seen hundreds of publications come and go over the years, two things are clear to us at Park.
One is that there is a very wide range of businesses that can succeed at print marketing. Sir Kensington’s, a Unilever brand which manufactures upmarket table sauces, and which prints with Park, has just printed four issues of Sandwich and has just followed up with a fifth production on sustainable food production.
The second is that – while there is no obvious formula for success – there are certain recurring themes in the factors which influence the impact and outcomes of a brand’s ventures into print.
This article combines insight from 30 years of experience of printing for consumer brands, with independent research, and nuggets we’ve picked up in conversations with clients and collaborators. It is not supposed to be exhaustive, but it should serve as food for thought for brands seeking better outcomes from their print marketing, and also for brands just starting out in print.
The timeless message is to treat your print like any other marketing investment: using your proprietary data as a starting point and obsessing over the creation of customer value. In 2022 and beyond, a third ‘must’ is to communicate brand’s purpose and values clearly throughout your campaign, particularly, in print, with regard to sustainability.
Start with your customer
Brands better-established in print marketing are likely to know their customers well enough to know roughly the right formula. But if you’re a smaller business or new to print, the simplest way to get off on the right track is to ask people what they’d like to see. Why not ring up 20 of your best customers and ask questions such as:
- Would they appreciate a printed catalogue, or are they happy browsing online?
- If they read your online blog, how often? If you have many loyal readers, a brand mag would seem more likely to succeed
- Do they like your brand, love your brand, or simply find it convenient? The greater the customer’s emotional investment, the more likely they are to wish to engage more deeply with your brand in print
- How much direct mail is too much?
From that initial exercise, you should easily be able to compare the profiles of those top 20 customers to the rest of your database, see how many of your data have matching characteristics. That should quickly give you a view of the likely size and reach of your campaign and how much you should invest.
You don’t necessarily need a massive dataset to succeed; a run of only a few hundred copies could prove profitable for the right brand, if it’s sent to the right people.
An alternative approach, and possibly more suited to testing the waters at scale, would be an online data collection exercise – and you could do this practically for free. This approach is also suited for brands who’ve been publishing for years and would like to firm up their approach or try something new.
Loaf, a direct-to-consumer (DTC) furniture brand, issues free catalogues to people who opt in via the website. Why not run a social media campaign to tell people you’re about to launch a print production, and collect signups on your website using a free data capture form? If you get a lukewarm response, you might need a shorter run, or a different approach. If many more people sign up than you’d expected, you might scale up your ambitions and your budget accordingly.
Choose the right print format for your commercial model
The competitiveness of the attention economy is pushing marketing towards greater depth, quality and detail: investing in the differentiation of your comms rather than mere numbers of your impressions. In print, that has seen growing numbers of longer-form productions such as brand magazines going to press.
That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that a 130-page quarterly magazine is right for your brand; direct mailing may be more appropriate.
Hello Fresh, a subscription food business, is often touted as a leader in this approach, recognised for the quality and creativity of its printed materials, which add interest the reader journey (likely at very low incremental cost to the brand). Materials vary, but they are typically a trendy uncoated stock, or wipe-clean silk texture that marks out Hello Fresh a step above everyday print comms.
There is no ‘right answer’, but certain factors will point you towards one kind of production or another. You should consider factors such as:
- Emotional pull of your brand. If your product or service reflects a lifestyle choice or cultural trends, it’s likely that you can engage customers around your brand values, rather than the product itself. That may justify longer-form publications, designed to entertain, rather than simply to inform. Your publication might even earn you a direct profit; Courier, which courts independently-minded small business owners, is backed by MailChimp; subscriptions cost £36 a year.
- Your price point. Are you a luxury brand, or a provider of commoditized goods and services? Most customers don’t want a deeper relationship with every item in their fridge – but they may appreciate lighter-weight comms about offers or special campaigns.
- Your margins and customer lifetime value (LTV). For high-margin items, individual customers may be incredibly profitable, justifying a higher CPA (cost per action). If you sell luxury yachts, a run of only 20-30 copies, to mark a new product launch, might elicit a multi-million-pound sale if sent to the right people.
- Your customer frequency. For brands whose average order have a value of £100-200, such as a fashion brand, and their customer frequency is around 2-4 orders a year, seasonal catalogues remain a staple CRM tactic. Such publications today are often sufficiently high-quality to withstand repeated reading, and to show the photography to a high standard – yet affordable enough to anticipate some wastage, since many customers won’t be interested.
As with all marketing these days, the emphasis is on customer value: selecting the format which customers will most appreciate in the context of their customer journey and their relationship with your brand.
The goalposts for what constitutes ‘customer value’ are shifting. Previously, litho was the preserve of luxury brands’ print, whereas the majority of fashion labels would opt for web-to print. Recently, however, brands such as Sahara (fashion) and Missoma (jewellery) both retail at mid-range prices, yet they have begun investing in litho-printed productions, in order to show their photography at its best and reenforce their brand’s values.
Brands may also consider more affordable pathways to press. The latest edition of Sphere, which focuses on luxury lifestyles (and is printed by Park) was produced in multiple different versions, with branded covers and custom editorial sections for luxury brands including Hamptons (an estate agent), Smallbone (luxury kitchens) and Aston Martin. The result is a high quality read which customers will consider the brand’s own, but at lower effort and cost.
Customer journeys and brand relationships vary enormously – as do print productions – so it’s worth some brainstorming and careful research to get your format right.
Print sustainably, and let customers know
A September 2021 report, released by the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business, showed that CPG goods marketed as sustainable outperformed those which weren’t. To quote professor & report author Randi Kronthal-Sacco…
“…what had been a dearth of communication became an abundance of communication around sustainability and how brands are incorporating a sustainable agenda into their offerings. I expect that to explode in the coming year.”
Point being: it’s no longer enough to be a sustainable business. Consumers expect you to keep them informed.
This is all the more crucial in print, which is a very sustainable medium if handled correctly, but which many consumers still consider to be associated with an unnecessary carbon footprint. As a result, more brands are working hard to make their print productions a showcase for sustainability.
This can be incredibly simple. A 100% recycled paper will add 35% or more to your materials costs, but only a 5-10% to your total campaign cost, and it’s highly likely to be noticed by your reader. Uncoated recycled materials are less white, and impurities in the material produce an attractive, flecked appearance. Such stocks are considered luxury or high-quality and are especially in-vogue with indie publications.
If you choose a sustainable printer, the cost of making your production carbon-neutral is unlikely to exceed 2% of your sales price. With ClimatePartner, Park’s carbon offsets provider, the service includes with a QR code to add to your production, which the reader can scan to see show how the carbon credits were used.
Even more simply: why not tell your customer how the production was made? Printer’s imprints are a popular option with many publishers these days, but one that often ends up hidden inside the back cover. This image shows the sustainability imprint on the inside cover of Positive News, one of Park’s portfolio of independent magazines.
Reporting and analytics, with the right KPIs for print marketing
Conventional reporting for print media depends on a mostly transactional framework of direct ROI off the print campaign. The brand would use voucher or coupon codes to track transactions which derived from a specific piece of mailing; for campaigns such as the Hello Fresh example mentioned above, this remains a sensible approach.
An alternative framework is to measure uplifts in sales, website traffic or mentions of their brands on social media, during the campaign and in the weeks and months after. This approach works for all offline advertising media, but it works better at scale, and comes without any personalised data. You can’t be certain which of the sales, in that period, should be attributed to a particular campaign, and which were simply passing trade.
For brands wishing to build and maintain closer customer relationships, this simply isn’t enough. For every marketer – and particularly for digital-native DTCs and consumer brands – the golden standard is now to invest in holding print in a digital marketing mix customers’ attention outside of transactional cycles in order to capture their business when they’re ready to spend. This is now a crucial competitive factor in an age where affluent, attention-starved consumers allocate share of wallet based on emotional factors rather than mere functional need.
As a result, the most effective frameworks are those which prioritise the capture and measurement of customer data, in order to build rich customer profiles and issue personalised CRM messaging. This means that when transactions occur, you are better informed about the factors that motivated them, allowing you to invest more intelligently in future and deliver increasingly good customer experiences.
QR codes – which can launch digital and augmented reality experiences from the printed page – can help. This tech varies greatly (read Park’s article on QR codes here) so it’s important to consider the data you want to capture, and how you will report on outcomes, as you’re selecting a supplier.
The tools with lowest barrier to entry simply launch a website or augmented-reality (AR) experience from a camera phone scan; two examples would be Thyngs and UnifiedAR. These tools can help you attribute transactional ROI to the print campaign itself, but in order to identify individual users, you’ll either need to produce personalised QR codes (which depends on printing digitally) or elicit data-capture or a transaction to trace individual users back to individual scans.
Other tools depend on apps. This isn’t ideal for smaller businesses, but for those which already operate an app, the data problem is solved since customers must log into apps in order to use them – so every action, scans included, can be tracked. Rezolve (which has a particular niche in payments) and Strax (which launches AR experiences) are two players in this space.
Whichever tools you use, it’s advisable to integrate your P2O software with your CRM by API. That way, digital interactions with your print products will enhance your customer profiles – rather than leaving you with two separate silos of data. Such integrations are often available free and out-of-the-box, but even if you have to have the integration custom-built, the development cost shouldn’t exceed a couple of thousand pounds.
There is a simpler option – though it can only give you partial data. Signups for Loaf’s catalogue (see above) are captured digitally; if you already have a customer’s email address before they receive your print marketing, it becomes a lot easier to attribute changes in their order volumes and values to your marketing efforts.
Obsess over customer value
Curiously, the brands currently accelerating their investment in print are those least in need of the advice in this article.
Park’s research shows that the leading the charge in print marketing are typically ascendent, digital-native SMEs. Often born online, these businesses are often most familiar with both the potential of digital marketing, and of its limits. With the greatest control of their customer data, they are most able make the shrewd marketing investments with the most reasonable expectations of success.
One example is Away, an American luggage DTC, launched a print magazine (titled Here) which ran successfully for several issues before moving online, launched in 2017 when the brand was turning over $48m. Today, it’s a $150m business.
This certainly refocuses the discussion around the purported ‘death of print’, so often bandied about in the marketing press in recent years. In truth, the ‘death’ has occurred not exclusively in print, but also in all forms of mass media where promotional messaging is shipped out without proprietary data insights to guide it to the right place.
It’s also a very different image of print to the one conjured in the popular imagination: glossy catalogues from fashion powerhouses, or bothersome direct mail piling up on your doormat.
For marketers considering print, it should be reassuring to see print with a renewed place and role in the marketing ecosystem, where success depends on the same factors in every channel. That means delivering the right message, to the right customer, with surgical precision, with the right reporting and analytics in place – and with a leading focus on creating customer value.