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What does print look like in a post COVID-19 world?

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When looking at the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the print arm of the marketing communications industry, there’s no one better placed than our operations director, Ian Wilton, to share his thoughts.

Over the years, the marcomms industry has grown exponentially – with new brand and lead-building services being developed to help businesses carve a unique place within a crowded marketplace.

And due to the boom of digital technologies, there are now a plethora of ways companies can choose to communicate with their target audience. But selecting the right – and most relevant – medium, depending on each audience’s unique requirements, remains key.

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It’s in this sense that, alongside its digital counterpart, print still has a very powerful, relevant and valued place at the table – and both communication methods are equally important to consider.

In essence, to create a truly effective and holistic marketing strategy, neither electronic nor printed communications should work in its own silo – unless an organisation is 100% certain their whole audience prefers one over the other. Instead, both mediums often work in tandem and coexist to achieve targeted, inclusive and comprehensive messaging for the entire spectrum of customers.

In the current climate, the importance of brands maintaining their voice and keeping talking has never been greater. So, what role does print have to play in helping to uphold this indispensable dialogue?

A pre-pandemic overview of the sector

Over the past few years, industry buzzwords such as ‘digital transformation’ and ‘digitalisation’ have made more of an appearance within the media – and the digital revolution is undoubtedly helping lots of brands to reach their desired audiences, quickly and conveniently.

When digital started to take off, there were murmurs surrounding whether this would see a decline in print and promote a shift towards a digital-only society.

It soon emerged, however, that neither can truly exist without the other, as there will always be members of the community who need and/or prefer traditional mediums, alongside those who favour electronic alternatives.

Taking the humble book as an example, not too long ago, the eReader hit our shelves and subsequently catalysed conversation around the ‘death of hard-copies’. Interestingly, the reality couldn’t be more different. Yes, e-books still experience popular usage, but at the same time, the book industry still remains one of the strongest performing divisions to date.

And this analogy perfectly encapsulates how the comms landscape currently looks.

It echoes the fact that printed communications – whether that be brochures, direct mail, journals or signage – have a crucial, and equally proportional, role to play in marketing strategies as digital does.

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For brands, recognising ‘citizen choice’ is therefore pivotal when it comes to deciding on their chosen strategy. Put simply, it all depends on who your target audience is and what the most appropriate medium is to communicate with them.

The preference is almost never clear-cut either, some people may prefer certain communications digitally and others in print – depending on the type of document it is.

It’s worth noting that there are individuals who feel a greater sense of trust and legitimacy from tangible documents, while others may prefer the rapid and space-saving qualities of electronic messaging. Then, there are some people who don’t have access to digital devices, while others have their entire lives online. It’s all about getting under the skin of your audience and working backwards from there.

The impact of COVID-19 on inclusivity

It’s no secret that these unprecedented times have put organisations under massive strain – not only financially but socially too. Finding new, agile ways of working has been key in keeping team morale boosted and customers’ worries at bay.

However, during this period of uncertainty, many companies have had to make difficult decisions regarding staffing and budgets, and unfortunately marketing and communications, in particular, are often cut first, as it’s sometimes considered an ‘easy’ service to switch on and off to save money.

But when it comes to the marcomms industry, going quiet or dropping one (or all) of your primary communication methods can have a detrimental impact – not only to your brand’s reputation but it can also alienate a large segment of your customer base. And these implications are almost always intrinsically linked.

Taking the current virus outbreak as an example, some people will have been able to use multiple channels to communicate during lockdown – whether via smartphones, social media, or other web-based applications – while others won’t have even had access to the internet or a telephone. And it’s this broad spectrum of individuals which brands need to acknowledge when they want to get their message across.

Many individuals still need or prefer more physical, tangible interaction – and often, it’s the most vulnerable people within our society that this applies to.

It’s increasingly apparent how important it is to be inclusive in communications, and by switching off print and leading with digital only or vice-versa, many companies unfortunately run the risk of disenfranchising lots of people.

It would be nice to think that COVID-19 will cause businesses within the public and private sectors to really think about who their target audience is – and how communications should be personalised to reach each of the various segments.

Then, by understanding how the numerous communication methods affect behaviours within different target audiences, brands are able to craft an experience from their comms – ensuring the right medium is used at exactly the right time.

The power of meaningful communications

COVID-19 has undoubtedly thrown a raft of both challenges and opportunities to firms – and how brands have behaved during the pandemic will certainly be remembered as the months roll by.

But while some organisations may have their hearts firmly set on a predominantly digital or print marketing future, it’s crucial they take the time to step back and assess the true needs of their customers – as more often than not, it’s a combination of the two approaches.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to communications and once this is recognised and accepted, this is when communication methods truly fulfil customers’ requirements or solve their problems. In addition to making them feel valued and understood by your company.

It is only once end-users’ needs are established and taken into account that communication becomes impactful and resonant, instead of solely a buzz of irrelevant noise.

If the Coronavirus has taught the nation’s organisations anything, hopefully it’s that challenging the status quo, thinking outside the box and adaptability are all vital for driving business continuity. But most importantly, how selecting the appropriate comms methods and keeping valuable dialogue going with customers will be beneficial not just in the present period but well into the future too – ensuring that everyone in this world has a voice and that no one gets left behind.

To speak to us about a cohesive approach to your print and digital marketing needs, please get in touch.

About the author

Having been involved in the print and communications industry all his life, Ian left school and undertook an apprenticeship as a printer in a local company – this is where his passion for the sector started. He’s held various management positions throughout his career – for the last 10 years at director level. He’s also been involved, in various capacities, with the British Printing Industries Federation – and for the last three years he has occupied the role of vice president.