Can Print Be Part of My Content Marketing Strategy?

By Richard Dannenberg

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 e-mail. 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 Does Content Come From?, Content Marketing: Can You Manage It?and Content Marketing: Pick a Network, Any Network. This week we’ll detour a bit and look at two marketing channels, print and e-mail, 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 notion 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. E-mail 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 e-mail 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.

E-mail Marketing Can Be a Problem

To my knowledge, I’ve never requested e-mail 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, yet 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 SPAMlegislation and the correct protocol for e-mail. 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. E-mail marketing is supposed to be permissions based and e-mail 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:

• Is the message intrusive?

• 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. E-mail is a good channel for reinforcing content to an audience that knows you. Either they’re already customers or they have requested to be included in the list. Regular e-mails can work, but some attention has to be paid to the development of a good e-mail database.

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

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. E-mail 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 magazinesthat combine product information and interesting articles are actually a growing segment for commercial (magazine) printers.

For smaller printers, four-page or eight-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

One final point should be made concerning both of these hybrid content marketing channels. Print and e-mail 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 e-mail 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 of this knowledge, how could we fail? Perhaps the better question is, how will we know when we succeed? Analytics will be the topic of our next post, and we’ll look at a couple of ways to gain insight into what’s working and what’s not.

About the Author

Richard Dannenberg helps printers and small businesses with marketing planning and implementation. You can learn more about Richard and his company here. Follow Richard’s blog here.