Marketing, PR & Advertising and Technology

Neuroscientific research, national study show print is not dead

January 16, 2015
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Despite rumors to the contrary, print is not dead.

The American Marketing Association of West Michigan last week welcomed print evangelist Daniel Dejan, print and creative manager for Sappi Fine Paper, to Calvin College’s Prince Conference Center to present his workshop “Print and Everything Else.”

Dejan is adamant that print is not only alive but has a bright future, and he’s got the evidence to back it up.

“We decided we needed to do deep-dive market research on where print lies as a part of the larger integrated marketing business model and the fact there is so much attention being placed on digital technology and mobile, social and online,” he said. “So much of the focus is there and, of course, that led to the concept of ‘print is dead’ and why would you spend money there.”

Dejan said the market research was not conducted with a predetermined outcome.

“We wanted to be very honest — brutally honest,” he said.

Sappi Fine Paper hired two of the largest marketing research firms in the country as well as some smaller specialists to dig into the state of print.

“The research was very telling,” Dejan said. “In the big picture, magazines are doing extremely well; the book industry is doing extremely well. We have more new titles than ever before.

“What has happened is because we have more devices to be able to disseminate the content, printers are not getting the share they used to. They are suffering and, consequently, what came out of that was, because the printers were doing poorly, the determination was print wasn’t doing well. That is not the case at all.”

Dejan said his group was very pleased with the results of the research, which pointed to several viable spaces for print. In addition to magazines, Dejan said catalogues and direct mail are also healthy areas with consumers.

Dejan said devices certainly provide more options for people to enjoy the content they like.

“We had to absolutely acknowledge the fact that, as we get more personal devices, we have preferences,” he said. “Some people like to receive some types of media on their phone.”

While he noted print might still be preferable for some media consumption, tablets have proven a good alternative and definitely are making a dent in the market.

What might have the potential to save print, though, are the sensory aspects it satisfies.

“What we came to realize through the research, particularly through all the neuroscientific research that is being done, is that we are a sensory species — we love to have our sensors stimulated,” Dejan explained.

“After you get used to your phone or tablet, the weight, size, temperature, it becomes monolithic, and what happens is it is really only stimulating two senses, which is a certain visual aspect and an auditory aspect, and that is only when it is being done well and being done right. In our opinion it’s the 20-80 rule: There is really only 20 percent of the content that is out there that is really terrific.”

In contrast, Dejan said print stimulates four senses.

“With print, I can change the paper, the color of the paper, texture, weight,” he said.

In fact, paper quality and special effects such as foil stamping, embossing, engraving and die cutting can increase sales numbers.

“The more I use those techniques … it increases sales by 18 percent,” Dejan said. “The recipient puts a much higher value on the content. In fact, it increases the perception of the quality of the company doing it.”

Consuming content on paper also has different impacts on the human brain than using digital devices.

“The tsunami of content that we are being hit with now is dehumanizing,” Dejan said. “One of the things we talk about is the fact we feel compelled to try to stay abreast of all the content coming at us — email, social websites, etc.

“What has happened is, on a cultural level, we have retrained ourselves to become skimmers.”

He said that is in contrast to how our brains react when reading print.

“When we read ink on paper, we literally do slow down. Neuroscientists have found our heart rate slows down, our blood pressure goes down. We really try to read all the words,” he said.

“One of the interesting dichotomies that has come out of it is, because we have become a culture of skimmers, the way we read has worked upstream to impact the way we write. When we write for print, we are storytellers. When we write for online or digital, we write in shorthand and bullet points. We actually write so people can skim.”

For business owners, the implications should be clear, according to Dejan: Brands are diluted when utilizing digital mediums only.

“One of the things we came to realize is it’s certainly not the optimal way if you are building a brand or if you are building brand loyalty, or if you are trying to be able to make an impact on a customer or potential customer,” he said. “What neuroscientists … came to realize (is) when we read ink on paper, the amazing thing is (that) because we slow down and we want the story first and foremost, we put more value on the content, and secondly, we have a longer mnemonic retention of the content.”

Because people’s attention span for information is so short, companies need to consider what will keep them top-of-mind in today’s information avalanche.

“The more you see me, the more association you make with my company, brand and niche,” he said.

When disseminating information and building a brand, Dejan said the findings support implementing both print and digital strategies to optimize outreach and retention.

“As a creative director, if I am bringing out a new product or service, or I have a story to tell, I absolutely want to make sure I am going to do that, in part, in print so I have a chance to tell the story, so I create a perception, which is really what branding is. And then I absolutely want to support that content online. I absolutely want to make sure I have it on my website. The true definition of integrated marketing is 360-degree client penetration with as many touch points as possible.”

Dejan isn’t just concerned with the value of print in today’s business environment but also for the future of business in the United States.

Based on what neuroscientists are learning about the impact of digital devices on learning, he noted the United States might face some serious workforce challenges in the future if tablets continue to replace textbooks.

“Global reading scores and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) scores — amazingly, the U.S. is not in a good spot. Lots of countries are doing way better,” he said. “As business globalizes, if I am the CEO of a company and I’m going to put out branch offices, where am I going to put them if not in the countries with the highest scores?”

He noted humans are conditioned to take the easiest way but that path is often not the most beneficial.

“The problem and challenge is that reading requires more effort, but the payoff is huge. It gives us imagination, vocabulary, communication skills, and it enhances us as humans,” he said. “Other countries have come to appreciate this at a level much higher than we do here in the States.”

He noted while he isn’t against tablets, he believes relying on them exclusively in the classroom will be detrimental to learning.

“Students who have written texts are getting better grades and have a better mnemonic retention of the content than kids given tablets,” he said. “Tablets are not the optimal way of teaching kids.”

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