Print products' role in the lives of consumers and businesses has evolved greatly over the years, and will continue to do so. Keeping close track of how people view these items is an important step for any print service provider to take to ensure the shop is in tune with the state of its market. Perception of print has shifted, and it's worth watching these moves: While the much-hyped "death" of the market has not occurred, an outdated approach to the sector could cause a service provider to be left behind.

Periodic surveys of consumer interest in print products have thus far confirmed that they still have a role in fields such as marketing. This is important to note, because the ease and ubiquity of digital advertisements could be used as excuses for companies to abandon physical mailings and other paper-based marketing methods. Zooming in on the parts of the printing business that people like most, and learning how to deal with any hesitancy, can keep printers' strategies fresh.

The latest data
Two Sides frequently polls individuals the world over to determine whether the messaging of the printing industry is working, and to see what types of media they most like to consume. The most recent edition of the survey, just released, reveals that when people read for fun, they are strongly in favor of printed materials instead of electronic media. It appears that despite the noted convenience of e-books and e-readers in general, there is still more satisfaction in printed items.

While most print service providers won't work with book and magazine publishers, the enjoyment of print as a reading medium extends to a common form of product: Mail advertisements. This is an important concept, because the present digital age may represent a major turning point for mail-outs, where they either get smarter (through links with online campaigns) or fade away. The fact that people are still willing to read and engage with physical mail makes the point that they should stay in use.

The Two Sides study found that 63 percent of respondents read commercial mailings addressed to them at least once per week. This is a good contrast with a widely reported distaste for online advertising. More than two-thirds of individuals stated that they don't focus on ads they encounter online, while 57 percent said they actively avoid encountering them. With resistance to being sold growing on the internet, a trustworthy piece of direct mail could be a powerful part of a company's marketing arsenal.

Then, there's the perception of paper use as a force for good or ill. One refrain that haunted the printing business in the early years of the digital era is that physical products were harmful to nature – "save a tree, use digital documents" was the concept. Fortunately, Two Sides noted that people are increasingly acknowledging that print products aren't necessarily harmful. In fact, more than half of respondents have come to suspect that companies urging them to shift away from paper for issues such as billing are actually looking to cut corners and save money, rather than actually have a positive environmental impact.

Young people still care
The idea of receiving paper communications, especially for important financial documents, is still a concept with some life in it, even among people who have grown up in a digital age with a screen always nearby. According to Printing Impressions contributor Joe Lalli, the increasing presence of digital record-keeping has driven people back to using and trusting paper more than they did before. When presented with online information as the new default, people are retreating to physical documents.

The fact that paper has become a trusted escape from digital communications can be a selling point for print service providers – their offerings stand out from the pack. Lalli cited Keypoint Intelligence research that found young people are even more likely than older generations to prefer to have important information in the form of a tangible document. Rather than rejecting digital solutions, these individuals are looking to have it both ways. Lalli called this an "omnichannel" movement, and it is a force that companies should be aware of.

The connections between print and digital communications are essential to maintain when it comes to billing, marketing and more. These are the factors that will ensure companies create a strong and consistent image in an era of ever-increasing options. According to Lalli, individual consumer preferences will run the gamut, and businesses should be ready to pivot between digital and physical communications.

A key connector
Are print service providers ready to offer products and services that create seamless connections between digital and physical outreach? If so, they may thrive in the coming era. If not, now appears to be the time to learn. Today's consumers have a place in their hearts for paper products, but they aren't turning their backs on technology. It's time for a hybrid era of solutions.