Print Is Still Important in a Multichannel World

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Print-based direct marketing is growing and playing an increasingly important role in multichannel marketing, according to a study by market research and strategic consulting firm InfoTrends.

The study identified a resurgence in the use of print catalogs and notes the continued effectiveness of direct mail in driving consumers to make purchases, both online and in retail stores.

Marketers, it found, continue to use print catalogs to target a range of demographics. Most notably, it found that younger consumers in the United States and Western Europe engage with print catalogs. Moreover, the study found no dramatic differences in catalog engagement when comparing age groups, income, gender, and parental status.

The study also found that 62 percent of consumers receiving catalogs who made a purchase within the past three months were influenced by the catalog.

"The catalog really drives people to other channels," says Barb Pellow, group director of InfoTrends' Consulting Group. "One of the big things that came out of the study was that the catalog is a reminder to go online to do something."

Pellow also notes that the catalog acts as a motivator for going online and placing an order or to visiting a brick-and-mortar store. "The catalog really helps people navigate across channels," Pellow says.

Pellow also notes the significance of both older and younger customers engaging with catalogs. "We thought that age demographics would play a role," she says. "[The fact] that a Millennial is just as likely to thumb through a catalog as a 60-something person [was a big surprise]."

While many consumers showed strong interest in catalogs from big brands such as L.L.Bean, IKEA, and Victoria's Secret, there were also significant mentions of brands in niche markets and online companies, reflecting some important trends: Small and midsize businesses are also using catalogs; online companies use catalogs to extend sales reach and brand awareness; and the market is shifting from general catalogs to targeted, niche titles.

"It doesn't make any difference what kind of business you have," Pellow says. "That ongoing reminder of the need to move online or to brick-and-mortar locations is relevant regardless of the size of the business."

Direct mail—such as letters, flyers, brochures, and postcards—has also proved successful. The study found that two thirds of direct mail is looked at, and more than 40 percent of consumers have made purchases in the past three months due to the influence of a piece of direct mail. Pellow also notes that 68 percent of consumers surveyed either read direct mail more than email, or read them both at the same frequency.

Overall, Pellow says businesses should use multiple channels—including magazines and direct mail—for the best results. "The ultimate objective with all communications was to improve the customer experience," she says. "The more channels [businesses] had turned on…the higher the response rate, and, of equal importance, the higher the conversion rate."

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