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Printed communication- while challenged from all quarters- is still alive and well. If you’re reading this magazine- well…that pretty much proves the point. Alternatively- you could consider this scenario:
The maître d’ escorts you and your date to your favorite table by the window. Instead of the elegantly printed menu you enjoy perusing before ordering- the waiter hands you each a Blackberry with which to text your order to the kitchen.

AvBuyer   |   1st January 2010
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A Role For Print In A Digital World
The rumors of print’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Printed communication- while challenged from all quarters- is still alive and well. If you’re reading this magazine- well…that pretty much proves the point. Alternatively- you could consider this scenario:

The maître d’ escorts you and your date to your favorite table by the window. Instead of the elegantly printed menu you enjoy perusing before ordering- the waiter hands you each a Blackberry with which to text your order to the kitchen.

High tech? Sure. Helpful in selecting your dinner? Maybe. An elegant part of the dining experience? No. You see- there’s something about the way human beings interact with the printed page. Most notably- there is the tactile effect of holding a printed piece in your hands. And faster than Google can return its search results- the human eye can scan a printed page- prioritize for interest- and zero in on compelling content.

Despite the promises of a “paperless evolution-” billions of emails- PDF files and Web pages are printed out each year for reading- filing and for handwritten mark-up. There is obviously something about how people interact with information and images that continues to defy a complete shift to digital.

Print and digital are not inherently good or bad media. It’s just that each has its advantages over the other depending on the context. In the rush to move more and more content to digital—primarily on the Web— print has been unnecessarily relegated to second-class status. Yet it may be the most powerful communication medium available in certain situations.

The intelligent aviation industry marketer will make no pre-judgments about print vs. digital- but instead- strategically leverage each when the opportunity presents itself.

Many of us live in cities where major newspapers— some having operated for more than a century—have folded (pardon the pun). Websites like Craigslist- and eBay have wrested away hundreds of millions of dollars of highly profitable classified advertising from major newspapers- thus sinking them in a sea of red ink (pardon the pun again…that will be the last one- I promise).

Paper mills are struggling for survival as demand for their product plummets. And when was the last time you saw a set of encyclopedias for sale?

There is no mystery as to why print is struggling to redefine its role in communications. The Internet wins on two key fronts: 1) speed of delivery and 2) cost of production. To those advantages can be added the way in which online content can be easily updated- archived and retrieved; how quickly it can be searched; and the way that people are able to collaborate on documents online.

So the question is: Does print satisfy any communications needs that digital cannot? The answer is “Yes.”

Interestingly- many of print’s alleged weaknesses are actually its strengths when leveraged in the right context. To begin with- there are both physiological and psychological differences in how people interact with digital and printed media. The most obvious difference is print’s tactile dimension. It is held- touched- folded- turned- and written on in ways that elude a Web page or an email.

The Web—and similarly- television—engages the visual and auditory senses. Print- while also visual- replaces the auditory component with a tactile one. For this reason- print can be as viewed the most interactive of communication media. If you were to divide the five senses- you could categorize vision and hearing as cognitive senses- with taste- touch and smell being experiential ones. Print has a foot in both camps. It is both visual and tactile.

It appeals to both cognitive and experiential aspects. Any good marketer knows that the more layers of interaction with the audience- the better. Print offers just such layering of audience engagement. When holding a magazine or brochure in their hands- people interact with the information quite differently than digital data on a screen. To begin with- the field of view of a printed piece is much broader. The eye can take in more information at once.

Reading a printed document- compared to reading one on a computer monitor- is like the difference between sitting in the stands at a football game and watching it on TV. When you are watching on television- the TV producers decide what you will see- zeroing in on the ball and its immediate surroundings. But if you’re sitting in the stands at the game- you take in a much wider view of the field. You can see the action away from where the ball is- observing things that the television cameras miss.

Whether you’re reading a menu- this magazine or an OEM’s aircraft brochure- there is a sense of discovery taking place. While it can be argued that print is less “efficient” than digital- it is also less predictable. How many times have you “run across an article” that really made you think—perhaps even re-shape your understanding of the marketplace—when you weren’t even looking for it?

Online search is ultimately limited by the current knowledge of the searcher. Magazines- books- newspapers and brochures- on the other hand- offer a greater sense of discovery of new information— information the reader may not have been looking for or known that they lacked- but from which they can immediately benefit. It is precisely because print is not search-enabled that makes it a more engaging medium.

It used to be said that before digital communication could ever supplant print- it would have to pass the ‘Three Bs’ test. It would have to be easy to read: 1) On the bus; 2) In bed- and; 3) In the bathtub. The iPhone- Kindle and other mobile devices seem to be coming close- although I’m not sure how waterproof they are for bathtub use.

The ‘Three Bs’ are all about portability—an advantage print still has over digital. Print requires no batteries - and if you drop it- no big deal. No thoughtless airline passenger will ever recline the seat in front of you and demolish your magazine.

Print is also a preferred mode of communication when long deliberation and repeated reading of information is involved- say in the case of an aircraft purchase or the selection of a service provider. The quick fix of a Google search and the ability to peruse a website meets one need. But the ability to ponder information at one’s leisure by reading a brochure or a magazine article meets a different need.

Print is generally experienced by the reader in a more relaxed- non-multitasking environment than computer or Blackberry access. And as good salespeople know- relaxation is one of the keys to customer receptivity.

In an industry like GA that trades in tangible assets worth tens of millions of dollars- having a tangible- tactile marketing piece—a beautifully printed brochure or well-designed magazine ad—says that your organization offers substance- stability and real-world tangibility. Print demonstrates a company’s gravitas and strength in ways that digital can’t quite match.

The substance and durability of print is perhaps most useful when it comes to providing proposals to clients and prospects. Many of the biggest decisions in the industry are debated in the boardroom while reviewing the printed proposals from various service providers. Time and again I’ve heard stories of how the visual and tactile impact of a well-designed proposal using the best printing materials helped to raise one proposal above another.

Sure- the content and the terms of the deal are the most important factor. But all things being equal- decision-makers will instinctively give preference to the most professional delivery. Someone once said- “Your proposal is the first product you deliver to a prospective customer.” Instinctively- people seem to understand that if a company can’t provide an elegant- printed brochure or a compelling magazine ad- then there may be less to that company than first appears.

Print- when done right- communicates that the advertiser has financial resources- organizational substance- and market stability that online-only companies may lack.

In a competitive aircraft marketplace- abandoning printed communications runs the risk of missing a significant portion of your audience. Even if one recognizes a generational divide in preference for digital over print- there is still a large portion of senior GA decision-makers who prefer print to digital.

If for no other reason than the fact that one can’t leave anything to chance- the inclusion of print is a vital component to an intelligent communications portfolio. It would be reckless to abandon print altogether if your goal is full-spectrum delivery of your message.

The print versus digital dichotomy will be here for a while- but the answer is not a simple either/or proposition. That would be like asking which wing of the aircraft is most important.

The solution lies in using each medium where it can have the optimal impact on driving sales and building your brand. Interestingly- today’s GA market leaders are the companies that are digitally connected to their customers with sophisticated websites and smart phones- but are also leveraging equally sophisticated printed materials and print media advertising to build their brands. With all these bases covered- they have been able to weather the market downturn and emerge with amazing competitive strength.

David Heitman is the president of The Creative Alliance- an award-winning branding and public relations firm specializing in general aviation marketing. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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