Marketing is one of the elements of business where the printing industry continues to have a strong, positive impact for companies. The ongoing relationship between print service providers and marketers has occurred in spite of the rise of digital advertising. While a decade or more ago, industry watchers may have predicted the impending irrelevance of print-based marketing, that hasn't come to pass. Rather than going extinct, print marketing has changed with the times, and canny printers have changed along with it.

Direct mail is one of the most personal methods of selling a product or service, and it is one of the strategies keeping physical media on marketers' minds. Printers can use mailed media as a major cornerstone of a client's campaign, and this may prove especially compelling if the related letters and postcards have evolved in line with the digital marketing revolution.

Making a strong connection
Reflecting on innovations shown at the Print 17 industry conference, WhatTheyThink contributor Heidi Tolliver-Walker revealed that today's companies have embraced high-tech means to keep their printed mailings relevant. Integrating physical media with marketing campaigns managed through digital platforms has become a favored tactic today, and print service providers are taking this approach with their mailings.

Mailing lists based on physical addresses have some value on their own, but they're more useful when companies manage to match them up with digital customer records. Organizations that make this connection smoothly can add printed mailings to a multichannel outreach campaign also being conducted via methods such as email and social media. Selecting an ideal communication medium has always been the name of the game in marketing. Being able to seamlessly add physical mail to the digital mix is a promising offering for printers that can manage it.

Tolliver-Walker explained that today's direct mail services, which printers are purchasing from specialized vendors, have more value-adding features. For instance, there are tracking and attribution methods worked into their architecture. This is an important element of being a marketing partner today: Printers need every possible opportunity to prove that their services are actually useful and showing results.

One of the elements of digital marketing that is legitimately threatening to print's prospects is the ease of measuring impressions of online outreach. When clients click on an internet link or email message, it's much easier to attribute that attention than to track a customer who noticed a print ad. That said, when direct mail is carried out as a fully integrated part of a multichannel strategy, attribution is much more prominent than it would be in an old-fashioned print-only campaign.

Enduring power of the mail
Steven Pulcinella of the Forbes Communications Council recently ran through some of the convincing reasons to give direct mail its continued place in outreach campaigns. He specified that physical letters and postcards don't have to be considered secondary methods or side activities: By some modern metrics, they are more effective than even the most up-to-date methodologies.

Psychology is one of the most important factors keeping mail relevant. As Pulcinella pointed out, physical items have an impact on customers that is very different that of email. Even getting rid of a letter takes far more effort than deleting a digital message. He cited a study by the U.K.'s Royal Mail which found that there is an emotional component to giving or receiving a tangible item, and the consequent feeling of validation and authenticity could help a company establish a connection.

Young people, who could be expected to ignore the mail due to their digital-age upbringing tend to be eager recipients of letters and postcards. This fact is a major point in direct mail's favor. Pulcinella added that the emotional bond between people and the contents of their mailboxes remains strong among millennials. While this generation has grown up with the ability to communicate quickly and without paper, they still put some value on old-fashioned postage.

Stepping into a new era
Savvy print service providers can acknowledge the ways in which direct mail has changed over the years, especially how it connects to digital campaigns. With this link made, it's clear that this age-old marketing technique still has life in it, and the potential to improve outreach for companies. Printed information carries weight with recipients, and by combining it with online campaigns, companies can get the best of both worlds.