Sunday, January 29, 2012

Should I Still Buy Local Print Advertising? Even As Online Ad Spending Overtakes Print?

According to eMarketer, online ad spending will pass print ad spending in 2012. Therefore, this article concerns print advertising, and not online, digital advertising as we normally discuss.

For small to mid-sized companies targeting consumers (i.e. B2C) at a local level, say in Northern Virginia, allocating marketing and advertising budget for Internet, email and/or Pay-per-Click (PPC) should be a no-brainer. Paying for print advertisements was once a no-brainer as well - of course your ad needed to be in the Yellow Pages, in the local newspaper, delivered via catalogue, direct mail, leaflets, postcards or coupon inserts, or glossily displayed in the local niche magazine.

Should you STILL be paying for print advertising?

The short answer is YES, but ONLY IF:

(A) Your print advertisement budget is really a strategic investment in brand establishment, and isn't just another operating expense; or

(B) The print ad buy is absolutely efficient, and value-packed - i.e. it's precisely targeted in demographic reach and call-to-action, the cost is extremely reasonable, competitive and substantially discounted, the ad offer doesn't require comparison shopping, and the advertiser offers help with tracking impressions, conversions and promoting the ad through other channels.

One area (and there probably are others; provide comments below) in which this answer may fall short concerns advertisements for "traditional" paper consumers – i.e. folks who are always looking for coupon inserts, always read the flyer packs and scan the classifieds or newsprint religiously seeking jobs, interesting things to buy or do. Much of this usage was not only driven by demographic habits, but also by the lack of comparably-mobile, accessible, disposable and cheap access via cellphones...though this constraint is rapidly disappearing. However, if you now cater to traditional paper consumers – keep doing so, but carefully calculate your expense vs. benefits, and don't miss the boat on the rapidly growing choice of other consumption channels.

Also, we're not discussing printed messaging or advertising on self-contained mediums – like pens, mugs, t-shirts, stickies...these continue to perform well, and can be relatively inexpensive, but there's the additional distribution costs involved (though little stickies and prominent inserts on or in newspapers and magazines seem to have durable value, as do event giveaways/gifts, favors, swag, things we can use).

All the time we see new clients coming to us with "print advertising baggage" - i.e. contracts or agreements with print publishers that deliver no value at all; zero gain for big money. Big glossy ads in disposable magazines, newspapers, flyers that cost thousands of dollars, with literally no information available at all to the ad buyer regarding actual success metrics like reach, conversion, stickiness (i.e. durability of the message).

Sure, the magazine is mailed or delivered to xxx subscribers or outlets - but who actually takes action based on the campaign? Re-balancing advertising budget to include more focus on digital, Internet-delivered media usually yields a significant uptick in ROI (presuming it's done right, by online marketing professionals) - but how much print advertising budget should remain?

Let's take the scenarios raised above, where print advertising still does make sense - in spite of the prevailing doomsday prognostications for print-only publishers.

Print Ad Spend Scenario (A) is generally well-understood; if your goal is to get a new brand, product or message (that likely won't change very quickly, but will persist over time) out to new or existing audiences, to "burn it into their subconsciousness", to influence future decisions, socialization, future point-of-sale recall, to align the brand with a larger movement or context - then big print is for you. We say "big print", because unless the message is on a pen or shot glass, buying very small print ads is usually pretty ineffective, especially given the increasingly visual, tactile nature of expected marketing and advertising tactics these days.

What catches your eye as you flip through the newspaper or magazine? The big, visual ads do - especially as more and more news content is actually delivered visually, and we're being conditioned (especially the younger set) to be looking for big pictures, infographics and videos. We just don't want to read anymore (or write!), at least beyond the texting shorthand.

Direct mail is still a great way to establish brand or retain brand favor – though it can be expensive, some really neat online services have developed that create and send personalized, high-touch messages and greeting cards.

Print Ad Spend Scenario (B) is broken into several areas of concern, ALL of which should be satisfied for purchase of the most effective print ad campaign.

1. The print ad is precisely targeted in demographic reach, typical consumer behavior and context, and call-to-action.

This means your print ad is targeted to your very best customer segments, presupposing you actually know this. It's probably unlikely you'll be reaching many new customer segments through print (at least personal print, vs. billboards or public displays), since there aren't so many new, fantastic print publications coming out too often anymore (though hyperlocal, consumer-generated publications are on the rise, opening new forums for print advertising).

The print ad should also be placed only in publications that are most useful and used by your best customers (Big/small magazines? Broad or narrow topics? Daily news or weekly report?) – and it really should include the right kind of "facilitator" – i.e. a phone number, and email address, a Qrcode; whatever is most used by your best customers. Read the publication yourself, and look at any online reviews or feedback – is it truly a "quality" publication as deemed by its readers, as reviewed by yourself? Or just a big, glossy bunch of ads with very shallow original, useful content – something to be browsed and discarded, vs. kept on your desk.

The print ad must definitely and plainly tell your customer what to do, and when – i.e. "use this coupon this week for a real bargain" – it must convey some tangible value, and stay in mind if not in hand. If you sell auto parts, don't advertise in a fashion magazine, or anywhere in the newspaper except right next to the auto sales or review section (or classifieds).

2. The price is extremely reasonable, fair, competitive and/or substantially discounted.

The price of local print ads is driven purely by what the buyers agree to pay, and what the competition advertises – usually without much differentiation given to the likely demographic reach or response. If pressed, most publishers (especially now) may negotiate on price, especially if their inventory of unfilled space is large – and the price to you, as a buyer, should and could be 40-50-60% lower than "traditional" pricing, especially if you agree to multiple or group purchases. There are deals to be had – so press them, and if the price is same 'ol, same 'ol and just seems out of bounds – walk (there are many other places to spend your advertising dollars).

3. The ad offer doesn't require comparison shopping – it simply IS a good deal, right now.

One of the inherent benefits of computer or mobile shopping, coupons, deals – is that quick comparisons are available, as well as reviews, testimonials, social gauges. This isn't really available among printed advertisements – so don't drive consumers online. Your printed ad must simply be the very best and final price for the greatest deal to be had – ever, end of discussion. If it's a "competitive" offer, wishy-washy in message or not clear on very explicit benefits – it won't convert. "Call us today for the best price" doesn't work anymore – instead of calling, a mobile consumer will just search in Google.

4. The publisher offers help with tracking impressions, conversions, plus supporting and promoting the ad through other channels or referrals.

This is where some print publishers can really stand out – the contextual, social support of the ad and community of viewers and prospective buyers. When the publication runs the ad, do they also reference or point to it in some way, on their website or social media channels? Does the publication provide a way to track responses, i.e. a dedicated call tracking number or a barcode or Qrcode to route mobile queries? Perhaps the ads can include slightly different language, URLs or offers across different publisher segments (i.e. contexts or areas in which the ad is presented) – to help you differentiate which demographic is responding?

Can the publisher attach piggyback offers, i.e., "respond to this ad and we'll throw in a free xxx"? There are many ways a publisher can create additional value and reach for the print ad, by leveraging other publisher assets and including services such as integrated search engine marketing and print campaigns – seek to explore this with them.

A final consideration is whether the print ad buy being contemplated is sufficiently integrated with all your other marketing campaigns and channels – i.e., does your website mention the coupon? Is the print ad supported by an SEO'd landing page on the website, or contain a dedicated, tracked phone number? Does the print ad include an offer to join a related social community (like a Facebook page). While this isn't necessary required, it's surely a better value if your print ad dollars are supported by your other marketing spend.

So, if the deal you can reach with a print publisher, your advertising "creative" director and your marketing budget advisor can meet the criteria above, and you've discussed this with your online marketing team – buy some print advertising today! Your local newspaper is still a great place to start, for example, as are local industry magazines backed by established publishers.

KME Internet Marketing stands ready to help you through this decision, integrate and balance your marketing spend, design and implement your campaign across any channel – Web, Direct, Communications.

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