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Print media’s changing role in marketing


Mark Siebert

While touring London in 1897, American author and humorist Mark Twain caught wind of rumors that he had died. Upon hearing this news, journalist Frank Marshall White sent a fellow reporter to check on Twain’s well-being. “The report of my death has been grossly exaggerated,” was his response.   

Likewise, many of those in the franchise community who regularly check the pulse of media effectiveness have taken to reporting on its untimely passing. And much like the premature rumors about the author’s death, so, too, are the rumors regarding the “death” of print.

When it comes to lead generation, print isn’t dead. It has simply been reborn. And while this might have some traditional authors rolling over in their graves, it is up to franchisors to adapt to this new reality.    

Last rites

Of course, we must first acknowledge the passing of print media’s role as the sole “content king.” This is perhaps most dramatically illustrated by the newspaper industry: A 2015 ZenithOptimedia report notes a 25 percent decline in the average amount of time spent reading newspapers worldwide from 2010 to 2014. Conversely, a study by eMarketer revealed the time spent per U.S. adult on digital media has grown from 3.3 hours to 5.5 hours in only the last five years.

A shift in public preference, combined with technological innovation, is steadily reshaping our media consumption. From infographics to panoramic video to live streaming and beyond, media giants are devising new means to convey information in accessible, interactive formats. And we are consuming this media like crazy.

This shift in media engagement has also undoubtedly influenced franchise lead generation. Some surveys show nearly 60 percent of respondents credit digital efforts as their biggest lead driver, with only a slim fraction for print.

But before we bury this Ceasar, perhaps a little praise is in order.

The king is dead; long live the king!

Perhaps we should start with an acknowledgement of just how difficult it is to measure print effectiveness in today’s digital age. When you see an interesting ad in print, what is your first reaction?  Do you pick up the phone . . . or do you go directly to the website? Most of us choose the latter. Yet these inbound leads are typically attributed to the web and not to print media.   

Even putting misattribution issues aside, one must also understand that while consumers’ media preferences have shifted over time, their loyalty to traditional publishers has not. In the quest for convenience, readers remain committed to credibility as they frequent the online versions of reputable publications. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, nearly half of those surveyed still relied on the print version of their recognized area newspaper.  

Likewise, when searching for franchise-related topics, most franchise buyers will continue to patronize the sites of their favorite franchise and business magazines rather than random content published by less credible sources. Moreover, since print publications tend to be better at website optimization, they often more than offset the circulation that is lost with declines in print volume with dramatic increases in online readership—often promoted with email to very highly targeted franchise readers.   

And this does not even account for the value of getting your brand exposed  in a print publication.  The value of the third-party validation found in an article published in a glossy magazine (and the reprints of that article sent out in PDFs or in your brochures) is still extremely beneficial.

Again, though, when it comes to brochures, to print or not to print. That is the question.

More often than not, buying a franchise is an emotional decision that is influenced by many people other than the franchisee prospect. One of the great values to reprints is that franchisors need to establish credibility with these many key stakeholders. When one considers the influence that attorneys, financial advisers, spouses, accountants and other influencers have on the franchise buying decision, a polished, tangible, credibility-building print piece becomes imperative.

A high school senior with a credit card and a six-pack of Red Bull can put together a decent website in a long weekend. But a printed brochure and article reprints—that is a different story.

And let perpetual light …

One of the consequences of this new incarnation of print media is that the story you tell today (or that someone tells about you) has a much longer shelf life than its print-only ancestors. This, of course, is a double-edged sword. While a great story will live on for decades, so too will a pejorative blog post or the news of some pending legal action.

Now more than ever, franchise brands need to have a polished message when publicizing their concept. Because there is now a timeless element to all content, it is crucial to have a brand message that is focused on an evergreen landscape.

And given the interrelationship between print and digital media, press releases and other public statements that are meant for long-term consumption need to be optimized—knowing their ultimate fate will rest somewhere in Google’s hands.

In this new digital landscape, one thing is certain: You need to create a versatile, multi-dimensional strategy that leverages the power of the printed word, while celebrating the nature of modern online communications. Effective and long-lived messaging, regardless of medium, is at the core of everything you do when marketing your franchise.

Do not mourn this fallen ruler. Instead, recognize that a new approach to print content has risen from its ashes. The savvy franchisor will recognize the new incarnation of print for what it is: an opportunity to connect emotionally with a potential buyer and create the credibility that only print can bring.  

Mark Siebert is CEO of consulting firm iFranchise Group. Reach him at 708.957.2300 or info@ifranchisegroup.com.  His new book is “Franchise Your Business: The guide to employing the greatest growth strategy ever.”

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