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How to take advantage of print media while it still exists

For many reasons, print media has descended into obscurity, and evolved into digital, but its death is still far off. In the meantime, there are smart ways to use print media to your advantage.

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The decline of print media

We’ve been predicting the death of print media for years, as Newsweek becomes the latest print casualty, but like most entrenched industries, it will always take way longer than anyone would expect. Despite Priceline and Kayak, there are still travel agents, albeit less of them. And print will go on in some form because in some cases, it’s still a useful way to distribute information.

We’ve seen the demise of the medium predicted as publishers cannibalized their own revenues by giving away all their content online for free with the hopes of selling banner ads. We saw a race to the bottom with banner inventory prices that was further ballooned by the rise of bloggers who, without the same barriers to entry as printing, were able to go toe to toe with some of the largest publications in the world. But forget large bloggers – there are just… so many bloggers that even if on average a blog gets 50 hits a month, times a million blogs, that’s still 50 million eyeballs the big players are missing.

When people argue against the end of print, you have to wonder if they somehow had access to hundreds of millions of dollars in investment capital, what they’d think if newspapers never existed and someone came to them with the following idea to invest in:

“Newspaper Business Plan”

“Reading the news online is great, but sometimes we miss a more artistic and tactile approach. Our plan is to take yesterday’s news, quickly create a beautiful “layout” with computer software and designers working day and night, then print millions of copies overnight in a huge printing plant using millions of dollars in equipment. We’ll then send these “newspapers” to distribution points all around the city. From there, we will utilize an army thirteen-year-old boys on bicycles who will distribute the newspapers door to door in their neighborhood after school in exchange for gratuities from our customers so they can go buy Topps baseball cards, Silly String, and Now-N-Laters. And we’ll support the whole thing with advertising. We think printing last week’s help wanted ads and apartment listings will be a surefire revenue driver!”

Why print media is destined to die

Bananapants, right? But that’s what exists. And that’s why its death is inevitable, because it’s essentially a zombie industry whose legacy allows it to borrow against its future, a future that’s dwindling faster than Tim Tebow’s playoff hopes.

Why has the death of print taken so long? While technology allowed for the dissemination of the same information print offered, only faster and for free, the same technology had not caught up to the same aesthetic and user experience that readers are used to in print. We still want a beautiful layout, or even a layout that looks like David Carson went on a meth binge. But being limited to a handful of fonts and fairly straightforward layouts most definitely curtailed online media’s ability to compete. Even though it’s faster and more timely to get information online, we still love to turn pages.

The tablets changed all that. Slowly, we’re seeing digital versions of publications that let us flip through the pages like a magazine or newspaper that have not only the same beautiful design as a printed piece, but even embed video and animations in a way that doesn’t seem weird. We now live in the future. It’s only a matter of time before everyone catches up.

The fudging of distribution numbers

Print is further hampered by the fact that, as opposed to highly trackable and audible online media, for its entire existence, print’s numbers were, well, bullshit.

The standard readership numbers went something like “Well, so we printed 100,000 copies and sent them to 100,000 homes. We figure each home has 8 people living in them, plus, you know 5% of homes were burglarized by second time offenders who had literacy training in prison, and our cousin had a plumbing problem so you know that whole work crew was in his house last week, therefore, if everyone who came within 50 feet of the publication dropped everything and read it cover-to-cover, then clearly at least 4 million people read it (if not like 8 or even 30 million on a good day!) and we have a feeling because of all the pretty colors and its proximity to the last 1000 words of our hard-hitting expose on the 100% rise in toothpick-related fatalities from 1 to 2 in the past year, they especially paid attention to your 1/4 page ad on page 168. Did we mention sometimes after people throw the publication out, the garbage collectors read it on their break?”

Print is on the way out. But you can still take advantage of it as a marketer.

Print on the long tail

Forget buying a full page ad in the New York Times. Media rates at that level are determined more by supply and demand than what their real ROI is going to be to an advertiser. What I’m talking about is local newspapers, college newspapers, anything with a circulation below 10,000 or so. Trying to build a new brand with a broad target market on a budget? As opposed to a major publication, who may not return your phone call even if you do have a check for $50,000, that same money could be spent to advertise in 50-100 small publications and actually reach more people.

Of course, in the digital age, how do we translate our print to online effectively? Creating brand awareness is great. But if you’re used to the instant gratification of seeing your analytics pop up in real time, the glacial speed in which print moves can be quite frustrating.

Bridges to digital

• Contests: Using print as a way to supplement a contest being held via social media is a great way to get more people involved. The key here is the “carrot.” It makes no sense to spend $50,000 to give away a $50 gift card or 10% off the purchase of your mediocre product. Be imaginative with the prizing. Find something bespoke on Etsy made by someone who has a great following and leverage their social audience as well. Buy something bizarre on eBay. Make something compelling enough that I’m going to grab my phone and find your contest right now, while I’m looking at the ad. And sure, use a QR code if you must for tracking, but remember that for most of us, QR codes are ugly and make us throw up in our mouth a little.

• Experiential and Events: Hold some sort of special event in a local market that requires an online RSVP. Or use it to announce that your experiential tour van is going to give away free samples at a set time and place and anyone who pre-registers online gets a special incentive. Remember, when we use the long tail print above, you’re in local and college newspapers – people tend to actually pay more attention if you’re taking about something going on in their community. For example…

• Making a difference in the local community is a great way to translate print to digital. You can pay Facebook $1 per like by buying ads, or you could donate a dollar to the local homeless shelter or community garden, or even let people vote on what difference they want made in their community. Even if it’s used to grow Austin weird.

Enjoy it while you can

Once your have your print pointing to digital, you can consider a feedback loop. Follow up the print with ads featuring photos of the event you held, pointing to a microsite where the people who attended can download them. Update it with news on the progress of the community activation, so people can see that you did use the funds to have 3D Chalk Dude draw the rival school’s mascot being sucked into the fiery pits of hell.

As print becomes less popular, ad rates will continue to fall. It won’t last forever, but smartly integrating print into your digital is something you can enjoy while you can.

Marc Lefton is a creative director and tech entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience. He's a partner in Digikea Digital based in NYC and Gainesville, Florida.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. agbenn

    December 26, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Great article, the only thing missing is the monitization of the online space, it’s expensive for online publishing too and just gets more expensive every year. Dev costs, hosting costs, passed on cost of bandwidth we used to get for free because we were smaller publications, and the overhead of content production in general, web editors, staff and the like. This notion that paying penny ad rates on a niche site is bullshit in and of itself. It ain’t going to happen. What’s it cost to run a television ad that’s barely targeted? It should be equal to the ad spend on many online publications but it isn’t even an nth of that. No, my prediction, is the web is going to get even more expensive, and even the big online publishers will suffer as long as companies like google continue to drive down the cpc or cpm, demand has a price, and pretty soon, those eyeballs will be paying for it – it’s just a matter of them catching up to reality – business cost money no matter it’s location.

    • halffiction

      December 27, 2012 at 7:59 pm

      Thanks, Benn – yes it’s not only rising costs on your end, the driving down of CPMs by Google, etc. but supply/demand are affected by taste and lack thereof. I’m in the business of making creative and beautiful ads which are expensive to produce and require talented people to execute, much like your business. However, someone who has a cousin with a stolen copy of photoshop could easily make a mockery of what we do both from a design and copy aesthetic all the way down to the technical details of production and a client with poor taste will just see the cost savings. In an online publication’s case, the oversupply is coming from many more directions, from content mills and SEO spammers, people posting cat photos on Facebook, etc.

  2. JoeLoomer

    December 27, 2012 at 7:42 am

    Benn hit the nail on the head. I thoroughly enjoyed the article, but at least in my small neck of the woods, the only local paper charges similar fees for online ads as for print, even increasing their fees as their distribution numbers decline (thereby helping the snowball down the hill).

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

    • halffiction

      December 27, 2012 at 8:01 pm

      That definitely makes sense, when I lived in a small town I saw the local paper doing the same thing. Local advertisers are often not savvy about what online stats are meaningful.

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Business Marketing

7 Low-budget marketing ideas for small businesses [sponsored]

(MARKETING) Marketing ideas are often expensive or ultra time consuming, but let’s talk about some proven tactics that won’t break the bank.

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The following marketing ideas are provided to you buy Threadsy:

No matter the size of your business, marketing matters! It’s important for small and big businesses alike to attract new customers, establish brand awareness, and to create buzz around products and services. But we know that not every business owner has tons of funds to devote to their marketing strategy. The good news? There are some highly effective marketing tactics that are also budget-friendly!

Here are seven low-budget marketing strategies for small business owners and side hustlers to grow their reach:

1. Sponsor Local Events

One of the best ways to get to know potential customers? Actually meet and talk to them! When you sponsor local events, you can be on-site to help people put a face with your business’s name. Sponsoring events is also a fantastic way to offer branded merchandise that can help you get your name and your logo out there.

Besides branded materials like signs, banners, or fliers, think about offering some fun items like wine bags to give away to attendees. Goody bags also make fantastic take-home options for local events. A branded canvas tote can be repurposed as an environmentally-friendly grocery bag, lunch bag for work, or a carry-all accessory for conventions and tradeshows. Print your logo on the outside and fill your goody bags with customized items like water bottles, notebooks, pens, and towels.

2. Let Your Colors Fly

Make some cool t-shirts featuring your logo! Wear them to the sponsored events mentioned above, out in the community, or anywhere you may encounter potential customers and can strike up a conversation. You can also offer t-shirts at a discount in-store or online, and turn your loyal customers into advertisers.

Quick tip: Purchase wholesale shirts to reduce manufacturing costs.

3. Social Media

If you’re not already leveraging social media to promote your business, it’s time to start! Think your customers aren’t using social networks? While certain demographics use various platforms more than others, according to fundera, 74% of consumers rely on social media to guide purchasing decisions. Plus, 96% of small businesses say they use social media in their marketing strategy.

So use your social media channels to level the playing field. To maximize your time and effort, determine where your audience members spend their time. Which platforms are they using? If you have a dedicated social media strategist on staff, they can perform audience research to tailor your approach to your existing and potential customers. If you’re running your own social strategy, spend some time digging into the demographics to determine which platforms make the most sense for your brand. From there, you’ll need to decide on the types of content you want to post, how to interact with your customers online, and create a social media calendar to plan your strategy.

4. Host a Giveaway

Once you’ve got your social media strategy up and running, why not host an online giveaway/sweepstakes to build some buzz, boost engagement, and attract followers? Pick a social media platform where you already engage with your customers. You’ll want to offer an item as the prize. This can be anything from a free product, a discount on an expensive product or service, or inexpensive swag like hats to help you promote your brand.

Once you’ve chosen the prize(s), decide on the terms for your giveaway. For example, an Instagram sweepstakes might look like this:

  • Create posts about the giveaway and explain the rules (multiple stories and 1 or 2 posts depending on the length of the contest)
  • These posts should specify the terms, for example:
    – In order to enter, potential winners must follow you
    – Encourage your followers to tag other people who may be interested. Each “tag” gets them another entry into the contest
    – You can also specify that contest applicants must share your post on their own profile
  • Once the contest has ended, pick a winner. Tag them in a post and story announcing what they’ve won and ask them to also share these posts to their own profile

Quick tip: You can also offer smaller or less-expensive items as consolation prizes. People love free swag and it’s an easy way to get your name out there!

5. Referral Discounts

Offering friends and family discounts on your products or services can help you establish loyalty and promote exclusivity. Offer discount codes or create a refer-a-friend program. You can also offer small incentives for customers who share about your brand on social media. Referral discounts are a great marketing strategy whether you use them in-store, online, or both.

6. Create or Update Your Blog

If you already have a website, you can put it to use to help build brand awareness and attract high-funnel customers. Blogging is a low-cost way to generate organic traffic (website visitors via Google or other search engines). If you don’t already have a blog, there are a number of free and inexpensive blog platforms you can use including Wix and WordPress.

You’ll want to write about topics that are related to your product or service and are of interest to your customers. For example, if you offer graphic design, you might want to create content about how to find an effective graphic designer online, or which projects you can do with an online platform like Canva vs. more complex projects where you should hire a professional designer.

Your website and blog are also great places to post “about us” content to offer website visitors an opportunity to learn more about you, your business, and your mission and values.

7. Update Your Google My Business Profile

Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool that allows you to share important information about your business like your address, hours of operation, and contact information. When your listing is optimized with this information, it’s displayed in Google Search and will also appear in Google Maps, which can help you attract local customers.

To get started, you need to create a GMB profile and verify your business information. This is a relatively simple but important step to ensure customers are able to find your business or service online. Make sure to keep your listing updated if you change any information like your website URL, address, or hours.

The takeaway:

When creating your marketing strategy, remember to stay true to your brand. Not every tactic will be the most effective for every business. Choose the tactics that make sense for your brand or product offering. Another way to prioritize is to consider the perceived impact and effort of each marketing strategy. Use the strategies that require the lowest effort but will potentially drive the highest return.

Once you have those in place, decide which of the other strategies make sense for your customers and your business goals. Also, make sure to keep track of all of your marketing expenditures and the sales from these tactics so you can assess which ones were successful and which ones you may need to re-evaluate or alter.

Remember, when it comes to marketing, it’s an ever-evolving system. Trust the process and try to have some fun with your marketing strategy!

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Business Marketing

Yelp listings now show companies’ COVID-19 policies

(BUSINESS) Yelp has updated their settings to allow business owners to make their COVID-19 policies public, so consumers are aware in advance.

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Yelp recently added tools to help businesses share their COVID-19 restrictions and policies with consumers, focusing for now on vaccinations. This is the latest in a series of attempts to combat misinformation and illegitimate reviews plaguing the platform.

Yelp has rolled out two new attributes for businesses to add to their profiles last week.

One option, a tag that reads “Proof of vaccination required,” communicates clearly the need to carry one’s vaccination card (or, presumably, wear a face covering) to gain entry. The other – ”Staff fully vaccinated” – speaks for itself.

These attributes stand to increase customer awareness of the circumstances facing them before visiting a business, thereby cutting down on frustrations – at least in theory.

The general public’s dearth in understanding regarding social distancing protocols and business restrictions certainly wasn’t helped by the fact that different states had different responses to COVID-19 – and that’s not even taking into account the microcosmic changes cities found themselves making.

For example, while the state of New York may not require proof of vaccinations to enter restaurants, New York City certainly does.

Rumors are that San Francisco may be implementing similar legislation, positing that other cities may very well go in the same direction.

To compound on this lack of uniform response, small businesses are finding themselves having to make their own policies as the cities around them ease up on restrictions. It isn’t out of the norm for a restaurant staffed by at-risk employees to ask customers to wear masks, so as Delta surges in places with low vaccination rates, it isn’t terribly surprising that those same establishments would ask to see proof of vaccination.

Yelp looks to make this process as transparent as possible with their profile attributes, but they’re aware that there was a general uptick in frustrated customers leaving poor reviews for restaurants that required masking or other social distancing actions.

“Yelp says the practice [of review bombing] has gotten worse in recent months,” reports TechCrunch.

In response, Yelp will be employing both automated and human moderation measures to ensure that businesses aren’t unfairly targeted for their protocols. This is actually something the company did after adding the “Black-owned” attribute (and subsequent identity attributes) last summer as well.

If you’re interested in adding either of the new attributes to your business profile, you can find them on the “Yelp for Business” page.

As the pandemic continues to develop, we may see additional COVID-19 attributes from Yelp.

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Business Marketing

Society has changed – no one wants help in a store anymore

(CUSTOMER SERVICE) Times are changing in the retail environment: a once customer-service driven experience is evolving into a minimalistic customer service approach.

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Once upon a time, good retail management meant good customer service skills – asking customers if they needed assistance, helping them decide what looked best on them, and politely stalking customers to insure a sale was completed.

As technology evolves and become more prevalent and pervasive in our lives, these skills are no longer needed or wanted. A new study suggest that shoppers want to be left alone while browsing in stores, rather than be stalked, questioned, and coaxed into buying items they may not explicitly want due to persistent pressure from sales associates.

An HRC survey found that a whopping 95% of shoppers would prefer to be left completely alone while navigating the retail environment, rather than shopping under a constant barrage of questions: “Can I help you find anything?” “How are you today?” “What brought you in?” and the seemingly endless stream of inquiries, not to mention the sales pressure from those employees working on commission, can simply be too much for consumers looking to relax, browse in peace, or simply get in and out of a store quickly.

While the greater majority of shoppers may prefer to be left alone, this should not come as too much of a surprise, considering how much technology has supplemented the shopping experience. With enhanced apps and self-checkout lines it’s not hard to understand why most shoppers prefer to browse solo.

Smartphones have given us the ability to check prices, order goods, and check stock all without interacting with another human.

For many shoppers, this is an efficient way to save both time and money while shopping. For other shoppers, like myself, smartphones offer another way to shop without triggering my anxiety. Asking for help, or a price is nearly impossible – I’d rather go without an item than have to ask someone for help.

Sounds ridiculous? Believe me, it feels ridiculous too, but nevertheless, having alternative ways to shop without interacting, is a blessing for many people, for a variety of reasons.

What does this mean for stores? It’s time to take another look at your apps and/or mobile presence (and in-store wifi availability). Since customers are shying away from human interaction, is your app allowing people to scan for prices? Can your customers check stock and order things online to be picked up in store? Can customers use your app to enhance their shopping experience in-store? If not, you may lose customers to stores that offer these enhanced apps.

Times are changing.

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