Can Print Be Part of My Content Marketing Strategy?

As we wade even further  into the topic of Content Marketing for Printers, it’s only fair to confess a personal bias for the inclusion of print into the collection of approved content marketing channels. That very statement assumes that there are “approved channels,” a mostly preposterous assertion. From my perspective, the answer is self-evident.  Since print works well as a content marketing tactic, then by all means it should be included. This post discusses two hybrid marketing channels: print and email. There are some very good reasons to include both in a printer’s content marketing mix.

Where We’ve Been So Far

There have been several posts in this series about Why Content Marketing Makes Sense for printers. Content Marketing or Inbound Marketing is certainly the flavor du jour among the current crop of marketing gurus, but the strategy has a lot of merit beyond the theory. The concept is direct – publish original content and share curated content across a selection of marketing channels to establish your company’s credibility and expertise and to enable an interested audience to find information, engage, and build a relationship.  We’ve covered a lot of the detail in previous posts, including Where the Ideas Come From, Managing the Process, and Where Social Media fits into the process. This week we’ll detour a bit and look at two marketing channels, print and email, that can’t strictly be defined as “inbound,” but are certainly important parts of a content marketing strategy for print providers.


Like the pompous idea of approved channels for content marketing, the idea of a tight definition of what should or shouldn’t fall under the content marketing umbrella is more pedantic than practical.  Until now, the terms content marketing and inbound marketing have been used interchangeably, but here is one area where the definitions diverge slightly. Email and Print don’t exactly fit the precise “inbound marketing” definition because they are initially sent outward from the business with the intention of generating an audience response.  Both email and print can be content rich, though, so in that sense they certainly fit the content marketing definition.  Let’s call these two marketing channels hybrids,  be done with this part of the conversation, and go on to a conversation of what works.

Junk Email in my inbox

Email Marketing Can Be a Problem

To my knowledge, I’ve never requested email bulletins about New Super Jobs At Home, but this information arrived in my inbox just this morning. What I have in mind for a super job involves lots of money and a corporate jet, and somehow I don’t think that’s the job that would result from a response to this advertisement. If you’re really interested, you can read online to your heart’s content about the intricacies of the CAN SPAM legislation and the correct protocol for email. The regulation is loose and practically unenforceable, meaning that ads like the one above aren’t likely to go away any time soon.

Stay Away from the Dark Side

Let’s be clear. Email marketing is supposed to be permissions based and email advertisements like this have no place in a content marketing plan for printers. There are two questions that should be considered before pressing the send button:

  1. Is the message intrusive?
  2. Is the content boring?

If the answer to both of the questions is “no,” then useful information in an E-News format sent to the right audience is probably a pretty good idea.  Email is a good channel for reinforcing content to an audience who knows you – either they’re already customers or they have requested to be included in the list.  Regular emails can work, but some attention has to be given to the development of a good email database.

That said, it is increasingly tough to keep an email audience engaged.  Emails are far less likely to be read carefully than other online media content and certainly are much more likely to be discarded than print.  The very nature of the medium isn’t conducive to deep reading. An email newsletter is received amongst other subscriptions, personal notes, business correspondence and miscellaneous junk.  For the most part, emails are scanned, and the both the content that you create and the way that you use this channel take this into consideration. For emails, brief is good.

How about Print?

It’s funny. Even though print is the original media for content, it’s been largely ignored by the current batch of marketing theorists. Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, calls print a “non-traditional” content strategy. Nonetheless, he is very much a proponent of print. Pulizzi’s article, 7 Reasons to Consider Print lists (seven, duh) reasons to include print in the content marketing mix. I’ve included a couple of his most important observations in the discussion below, along with a few other obvious considerations:

  • You’re a printer. Here’s your chance to demonstrate how print marketing works (and probably learn a few things in the process).
  • Print gets attention – Pulizzi points out that there’s less competition with print. Direct mail volumes are down and there’s less static in the mailbox than online.
  • Déjà vu, all over again – Pulizzi thinks that print may actually experience a rebirth as a new tool for content marketers who are looking for a way to communicate that isn’t in the mainstream mix.
  • The “investment factor” – Print has real and perceived value. There is the sense among readers that if your company is willing to invest the money and energy to print and mail the message, it must be important. Direct mail has a real cost and therefore a perceived value.
  • Print has the advantage of “stickability” – This point may be the topic for your first blog post. Print has an attribute of longevity that other channels lack. A printed newsletter or magazine sticks around and can be read repeatedly and by several different readers. There is a definite value to repeated impressions and to the portability of a medium that is more  likely to be read in depth.

Pulizzi makes another very important point that deserves discussion beyond a bullet. He states, “the web is where we go to get answers, but print is where we go to ask questions.” The meaning is a bit obscure, but he alludes to the power of print as a source of ideas. A reader is searching for an answer to a question when he lands on your website as the result of a Google search, but an article read in a print publication is more likely to provoke thought and consideration. If we’re looking for a justifiable argument for customers to spend money on print, this one stands by itself.

One of Richard's old newsletters

What does it look like?

We’re discussing content marketing, so outbound advertising is excluded. Promotional postcards and flyers may well be a part of your marketing mix, but they’re purely outbound vehicles. Email newsletters and digests of curated content convey useful information and can direct readers back to your website or blog for more detailed information. Print newsletters require some effort, but content can be developed from topics you’re already talking about in a blog, plus interesting news about your company and your community. Idea books and customer magazines that combine product information and interesting articles are actually a growing segment for commercial (magazine) printers.

For smaller printers, 4 page or 8 page quarterly newsletters are a great place to start. Other possibilities include printed case studies or white papers sent with a cover letter to narrow market segments. This informational material may come from online content or may be re-purposed to add to your website.

Soft Sales Messages

There’s one final point that should be made concerning both of these hybrid content marketing channels. Print and email are outbound messages with inbound components. Because of this, soft sales language is certainly acceptable. In fact, it’s probably expected by the audience. Calls to action, offers, and company specific product and service information can and should be included as part of the message, as long as they don’t overwhelm the value of the content. Remember that the objective is to provoke some sort of action from the audience. Including Purls, Gurls, and yes, even QR codes makes good sense, and it’s even OK to send an occasional email to promote next month’s special.

Just One More Thing

We’ve covered a lot of ground over the past few articles, and we have almost all of the parts we need to put together a great Content Marketing Program. With all this knowledge, how could we fail? Perhaps the better question is “how will we know when we succeed?” Analytics will be the topic of the next post, and we’ll look at a couple of ways to gain insight into what’s working and what’s not.


21_20logo21/20 Marketing Hangout with Richard Dannenberg and Spencer Powell

The next 21/20 marketing webcast is scheduled for Thursday, February 20, at 4pm Eastern. Each month, Spencer Powell and I talk about marketing topics of interest to printers and direct mail companies, and you’re invited to join and participate. We’re continuing the conversation on Content Marketing in the next edition and will look specifically at where the ideas come from and how to stay organized. Join us if you’re interested in print marketing or if you’re considering content marketing for your printing business. Learn more about 21/20 on the Registration Page for the chat.