Without a doubt, digital marketing is where it’s at in B-to-B. Many companies post their product literature and whitepapers online, and print ads in paper trade journals are way down, as many of these magazines are either shrinking or closing their doors.

There is no doubt that digital marketing is working. It generates an instant response, and costs so much less than print. B-to-B marketers are increasing their digital budgets and cutting down on traditional print media.

On the surface this makes sense, but there is one problem: Online marketing is ephemeral and cluttered.

Electronic Clutter
Your B-to-B prospects are inundated with more email than they could ever hope to read; many get hundreds of emails daily. The result is that open rates, and with them clickthrough rates, are dropping.

It’s the same thing with e-newsletters: There are just too many. That’s why so many people periodically unsubscribe to so many of the e-newsletters they get. And subscriber lists dwindle rapidly as a result.

That’s why print seems to be making a modest comeback. Print is less ephemeral. Yes, it is easy to dispose of and ignore, but not as quickly disposed of as electronic communications, which vanish into the ether with a mouse click.

Many B-to-B prospects, perhaps most, cannot keep up with their reading. But where emails and whitepapers are clicked away, trade publications, printed brochures, catalogs and other printed content are at least piled up in an in-basket or on a nightstand at home. They may not all get read, but at least they are in view, reminding prospects of your existence and the possibility that you may have the solution to their problems.

In the marketing sphere, I know several top marketers who supplement, or have replaced, their e-newsletters with print editions. And these print promotions have more attention-getting power than their electronic counterparts.

One reason print stands out is that there is so little of it. As the late copywriter Paul Bringe said, “When the feed is scarce, the chickens will scratch at anything.”

A second reason for print’s resurgence is that it often generates significantly greater readership and response than electronic marketing.

A third reason for print’s comeback is it makes more of an impression to hand a prospect a physical brochure after a sales call rather than just say, “It’s on our website.”

And when you look around you see that, in fact, print is alive and well. The other day, I got a direct mail package from Google encouraging me to buy ads. Now Google owns Google. Yet they chose the post office to deliver their marketing message. There must be a reason why, right?

Electronic and print communications are not incompatible. Increasingly, print ads, direct mail packages and postcards are designed to drive the recipients to a landing page online. Because the landing page may contain a lot of the sales copy, the copy in the print promotions can be less detailed about the product. But it still has to be strong enough to compel the recipients to respond.

Not Dead Yet
What about postal vs. electronic mail? I frequently hear young marketers tell me that direct mail is assuredly dead. But the reality is direct mail is alive and well.

The popularity of different marketing mediums is usually cyclical, and this is certainly true for direct mail. From 2008 to 2012, the average number of direct mail packages received in U.S. households per week declined almost 36 percent. Therefore, there was less clutter in the mailbox, which in turn meant fewer mailers competing for the consumer’s attention. And I believe the same dynamic is true in B-to-B.

One reason direct mail thrives is that the myth of digital killing print is simply not true. In 2014, more than eight out of 10 American adults said they would rather read a magazine in print than online. Two-thirds prefer paperbound books to e-books.

Young people are no exception to the widespread preference for print over digital: In a report by JWT, almost eight out of 10 Millennials — the biggest segment of B-to-B buyers — said print makes them feel more connected than digital.

“You’re thinking print is dead, while digital is growing more and more every day,” says digital strategist Channon McCoy. “This is simply not the case. With more and more companies abandoning traditional forms of mass communication, it is easier to stand out and reach your target, whether young or old, with tangible promotions like direct mail.”

According to a survey by Greenhat, B-to-B marketers on average spend 28 percent of their budget on digital marketing and 21 percent on traditional offline marketing. So print is hardly dead, accounting for $1 out of every $5 spent on marketing.

According to management consulting firm Kurt Salmon, 11.9 billion print catalogs were mailed in the U.S. in 2014. The print catalogs help drive a ton of web traffic. While many consumers order online for convenience, they enjoy thumbing through catalogs to look at products and get ideas. In addition, receiving a catalog reminds them of the availability of a product or the existence of a merchant they otherwise would have never remembered.

The Direct Marketing Association notes that based on lifetime customer value, direct mail generates $12 in revenue for every dollar spent in paper, printing, postage, list rentals and mailing fees. That makes it an extremely profitable marketing tactic, even for companies that are moving toward digital.

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