Print matters: how the pandemic, home-working and digital saturation is reinvigorating print.

Much has been written about the rise of digital technology to keep people connected to each other and working during the pandemic. More and more people are facing the reality of working and, more recently, socialising, predominantly online. Covid has accelerated the adoption of digital technology considerably, and now people are spending longer than ever looking at screens.

The Telegraph reported in 2018 that people were spending 24 hours a week online, twice as long as 10 years prior. During social distancing, this has increased even further. According to The Independent, a poll of 2000 Britons found that this had risen to 59 hours; a clear consequence of people being forced to socialise distantly and stay inside.

With many people having to isolate due to the COVID crisis, and initially bingeing on digital communications, there is a growing sense of digital fatigue. Streaming services are starting to see higher than average churn, perhaps the result of too many options, and showing a level of disengagement with a now ubiquitous digital environment. Far from digital communication being more important than ever, we believe that that print matters; that the point has arrived where people will welcome engagement by organisations through non-digital means – and those organisations that do will stand out from the crowd.

It isn’t surprising that many organisations, and indeed our own government, are switching to a digital first strategy, sending communications via email and other electronic means primarily, with other forms of communication being used secondarily. Digital communications are inexpensive and fast, and can reach people whether they’re at home or the office. However, in light of the fact that the average office worker receives on average 121 emails a day, is this the right tactic?

It may not be. According to new research commissioned by Royal Mail, “The limits of digital channels are becoming clearer: 2 in 5 people1 have reported suffering digital burnout. Consumers crave real, tangible and ‘human’ interaction.”

Royal Mail’s research discovered that 40% of people polled agreed or strongly agreed that being in lockdown made them realise how important mail was to them. Only 20% disagreed.

As digital-first strategies grow, and digital fatigue builds, there is a risk that organisations which rely heavily on digital communications may find differentiating themselves harder – with increased difficulties in creating deep, lasting and loyal relationships with the people they’re trying to connect with. In addition to this, some have found a renewed connection with mail during the pandemic.

“During the first lockdown, people liked to find some kind of routine. Getting dressed for work (at least from the waist up), maintaining regular meal times and taking time to exercise have all helped people keep hold of reality. Mail is part of this routine. People have their own rituals about processing their post, but our research has highlighted the widespread appreciation for the rhythm of the postie’s arrival and the reassuring thump of the mail onto the floor.” – Royal Mail.

The consequences of digital fatigue

In an event with The Debating Group, a parliamentary forum for media and marketing debate, our Managing Director Mike Hughes challenged and helped to defeat the motion that “digital communication is more important than ever.” As Mike pointed out, most people consider most unsolicited digital communications as spam, and most internet browser updates include sophisticated ad and spam blockers. Excessive screen time has health implications, and has been linked with lack of sleep and stress.

In this crowded landscape, it’s easy to see why people are experiencing digital fatigue.

Bloomsbury reported a half year profit increase of 60 percent in 2020 – its highest first half earnings since 2008. Despite e-readers, and increasingly, e-books accessed via smartphones, it’s long been recognised that there is something special about the experience of a physical, printed book. The ability to combine touch with sight creates an entirely different, more tactile, multi-sensory experience that interacting with media solely through the eyes misses out on. And with more and more time being spent looking at screens, these experiences will take on greater value for people.

Information on the internet is fleeting – ads are scrolled past in news feeds, and emails can quickly be judged to be irrelevant and ignored. In contrast, printed materials are being interacted with more than ever. According to Royal Mail, “The average item of mail is interacted with 4.51 times and reach is up 4%: both metrics are at their highest level ever.” In addition to this, “Engagement with mail is higher than ever at 96%

We believe that It is now more important than ever to diversify away from digital-only strategies, and for organisations to look beyond digital communications if they wish to create more impact and deepen engagement.

This is not to imply that organisations should stop using digital means to communicate. Instead of ‘print vs digital’ , think ‘digital plus print”.- the best of both worlds.

Perceived value of print over digital

Digital communications are often perceived as being of a lower cost than print – but this isn’t necessarily true. There is no upper limit on digital marketing budgets, and some platforms, such as LinkedIn, can be particularly expensive to advertise on.

When examined in terms of perceived value, print feels premium. Well-crafted printed communications leave a fantastic impression. In addition to this, print is increasing in bang for buck: Royal Mail has reported huge growth in YOY interaction with all mail types, particularly ad mail and door drops.

Trust and credibility of digital media.

“What arrives on the doormat is also inherently trusted. It feels as though a person has thought about it and invested time, effort and money in getting their message across. “It must be worth reading” was a common sentiment among respondents.” – Royal Mail research.

Recent documentaries, and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, have shown that the public’s perception of digital media is shifting, and has brought the manipulation of digital media to the public’s attention.

Print is trusted: printed media such as newspapers were the second most trusted source of advertising after television, with digital sources such as websites and social media falling far behind.

Royal Mail correctly points out that 87% of people consider mail to be believable, compared to 48% for email. When the government wanted to communicate the importance of the first coronavirus lockdown, it sent a letter – and that mattered. “It is remembered to a remarkable degree and demonstrably affected people’s behaviour. By writing a letter, 66% of people who recall receiving mail from the Government said it had an impact on their behaviour.

They were literally bringing the message home.“

In 2019, showing a growing mistrust in digital communications among younger people, Vice published something quite remarkable: some millennials and Gen Zs are making the decision to get rid of their smartphones, replacing them with older models such as the Nokia 3310. These cheaper phones allow you to make phone calls and send text messages but not much else. Over on Reddit, people discuss their experiences ditching smartphones, advise each other on the best low-tech phones and swap tips on moving away from constant connection. Devices that strip smartphones of a lot of their distracting features, such as the Unpluq, are starting to emerge on the market.

Speaking to Vice, young people reported feeling freer, more present and more comfortable when they were more able to choose when they went online, rather than being constantly connected. Privacy concerns were also cited. Young people are aware that their data is being harvested and used for marketing purposes. Switching to a non-internet connected phone allowed these young people to regain a feeling of control about how their data was being used. Data is the new oil, and for a considerable segment of young people, there is a growing sense of outrage at giving away such a valuable resource for free. Consider also that according to Royal Mail, “It’s not just older age-groups that are responding more to mail. The biggest rise in engagement with mail came from people aged 18 to 342 – potentially because of the relative novelty of receiving post.” Could it be that the generation referred to as ‘digital natives’ are actually interacting with digital and print media more thoughtfully than expected?

Information retention

Studies have shown that printed material outperforms digital for recall and attention in recipients.

A study by Temple University found that people are more likely to remember an advert (and where they saw it) one week after viewing it when the advert was seen in print rather than online. In 2009, Bangor University studied digital and print media and the effect it has on the brain side by side, using brain imaging. They found that the brain perceives physical material as more real and thus has a better connection to memory – and also provoked a greater amount of emotional processing, suggesting a greater internalisation of the information presented in printed material. Once this information has been retained, there are studies that suggest the information can be recalled and used more effectively too. According to the International Journal of Educational Research, students who read texts in print scored significantly better on a reading comprehension test than students who read the texts digitally.

When you combine personalisation and print together, the results can be extremely powerful.

The power of personalisation

The capacities to personalise mailed communications are becoming more sophisticated. Personalisation now does not mean just text. Communications can be tailored to be as unique as the person receiving them. Imagery can be changed on the communication matched to the recipient: information such as favourite colour, location and occupation can be used to make the communication feel personal to the recipient. An organisation can use imagery related to the member’s job title for instance, or, communications can even be changed depending on a member’s favourite flower or colour, as demonstrated with our work with the Royal Horticultural Society.

Receiving mailings from an organisation with this level of detailed personalisation speaks to the recipient as an individual.

Harnessing a multi-channel approach

The ways you can communicate with your audience are numerous, and encompass many channels. Using solutions such as on-demand and digital printing, eServices and hybrid mail, you can get the mix of communication approaches that helps you connect with the maximum number of people. For an example of this blended approach, see our work with Unite the Union.

As Royal Mail notes, “mail and email work on different levels, but in ways that complement each other. Email is ideal for delivering messages that have a short impact and lifespan. Mail has a longer-lasting impact and helps build a positive relationship.”

Want to take your communications to the next level? Our expertise in intelligent fulfilment solutions mean we can help. Learn more about our consultancy-led approach or get in touch to find out how we can help you.