Print may have died, but it’s finding new life. After the devastation of SA’s consumer magazine market in 2020 – an inevitability wrought by its broken business models, rising production costs, lowered circulation and Covid-19 – it might be hard to believe that print media is still worth something.

Rethinking ink in this brave new world is not about recreating the past; a whole new mindset is required. Marketers know that content can drive behaviour, engage minds and create allegiance. Here’s how paper products can help brands to achieve that – and more – this time around.

Sometimes less - or nothing - is more
Earlier this year, luxury brand Bottega Veneta abruptly closed down its social media accounts. This switch in online strategy comes despite the prediction that e-commerce will be the primary channel of distribution for personal luxury goods by 2025. Why? One argument is that a person who can actually afford to buy a R600 000 alligator clutch is unlikely to even see the brand’s posts since they are too busy living their lives, running a business, and creating trends, not following them.

This view is seemingly supported by the study of 600 millionaires by Sarah Stanley Fallaw for her book, The Next Millionaire Next Door: Enduring Strategies for Building Wealth. She writes, “Successful individuals are keenly aware of how they spend their resources, including their emotional and cognitive resources.” According to the findings, millionaires spend on average only 2½ hours a week on social media, compared to the 14 hours of the average American. Also, millionaires spend roughly 5½ hours a week reading for pleasure, compared to the average of 2 hours. (Warren Buffet reportedly spends 80% of his time reading.)

What if you could harness those resources with a powerful editorial? Bottega Veneta may not be launching a new print product (as far as we know), but it wouldn’t be a leap, if you look at what another fashion company has done.

Long live the catalogue
The catalogue is making a comeback – ironically, with a digitally native brand. Online-only store Naked Cashmere began its business life by finding customers through ads on social media and search engines. When the founder was recently convinced to branch out by publishing a booklet featuring cardigans and jumpsuits, the campaign rewarded with sales profit worth seven times the initial investment, and has resulted in the brand cutting paid ads online to boost budget for print. Worldwide digital ad spending is predicted to reach over $375 billion by 2021. How much of that could go back into print, and arguably make more impact?

Customers will still shop online, but in-the-hand print products afford brands the chance to reward with discount codes and special offers. Modern catalogues no longer need to list every single item on sale, but could use storytelling to charm and build a relationship with your customer. Bonus: you repurpose the content you create for print online.

Print is more personal
Personalisation has been earmarked as the prime driver behind marketing success for the next few years. When done well, it can boost engagement and loyalty and yes, even improve people’s lives by giving them what they actually want. Tools such as data management platforms (DMP) allow marketers to centralise audience data, helping them to design, target, and optimise campaigns so they hit their mark and deliver a return on the investment.

But for most humans, a printed product feels more personal. More intimate and sensuous. A magazine is a beautiful artefact (hopefully) to hold onto for a while. Receiving a magazine in the post, with your name on it, seeing the work and time behind it, feels more like respect. It’s a personalised interaction, it speaks to you more directly than a targeted tweet or Instagram post.

When part of a subsidised environment not relying on ad sales or consumer spending, a content-led booklet, catalogue or high-quality brochure can bring magic even, and especially, to a digital-first brand ecosystem.

New partnerships
Collaborations can help bridge the gap between mail and email. In 2020, American email newsletter service Mailchimp acquired Courier, a small London-based media company for entrepreneurs and small businesses. As well as producing podcasts and events, Courier publishes a bimonthly magazine and newspaper. This deal will help Mailchimp expand internationally to reach 100,000 readers in more than 26 countries.

Mailchimp marketing chief Tom Klein said about the deal: "We are very much dedicated to making our customers more successful. The way I think about how all this fits help our customers be successful, head, heart and hands.”

WFH = new opportunities
Speaking of heads and hearts, mental health has a role to play, too. All advice points to taking more screen breaks as the dangers of digital fatigue become apparent. The pandemic has us socialising, relaxing and working on the same device. Print can provide an impactful and much-needed break from that.

The now-normal working-from-home habits mean that people are seeing fewer – if any – movies and billboards out and about. This presents an opportunity for marketers: if your (potential) customers are spending more time at home, they’re more likely to check the postbox and read what’s inside.

Paper is credible – and cool
It may have taken a few (hundred) years, but books have come full circle to signify status again. Paging through a glossy magazine at a coffee shop gives you gravitas. As Forbes has it: “Reading a copy of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar … on the train or at the lunch counter communicates something about the individual that being glued to one’s mobile phone doesn’t.”

A Printing United Alliance report found that Generation Z, which represents an emerging market for the print industry, values print media and trusts print publications more than digital media. And studies are increasingly showing that reading in print helps the brain to retain information for longer - even for digital natives who have grown up surrounded by iPads and smartphones.

So it’s clear that it’s time to get back in the print game. The question is: what stories will you tell?