Several times a week I get emails with either the “print is not dead” theme or its opposite, “print is dead”. The latest one to hit my inbox asks “Is Direct Mail Dead?” Sometimes the articles are good and thoughtful. Frequently though, they are headline bait for pointless, shallow blurbs where the only thing that matters is a click.

rest in peace, print?If search results are any indicator it seems the print-is-not-dead camp is winning. There were 429,000 Google search results for “print is not dead” versus 129,000 results for “print is dead.”

I say the argument doesn’t matter. What matters is what’s happening in our own backyard and the results on our bottom line. Successful small businesses don’t rely on the predictions and forecasts of pundits or the public at large. Taken as a whole, forecasters and predictors of the future tend to be wrong, so why let them take up space in our brains?

The dead or not-dead debate reminds me of the “how to make money in internet marketing” crowd. The problem is that ‘internet marketing’ is not a business. It is but one of many media available for mass communication.

The distinction is important. First, there must be a business which offers something of value to the prospect. Only then can you use internet marketing to offer your wares to the public. Let’s assume internet marketing is the only medium you use to sell your wares (it shouldn’t be) it is not your business. If they wanted to be less deceptive and the least bit accurate, they should be offering advice on “how to use internet marketing” to make money in your business.

Print too, is simply one of many media available for mass communication. Yes, I understand that many of the ‘print is dead’ articles are discussing the state of the printing industry in general. For our purposes, let’s focus on the idea of print as but one of many media. Tune out the debate and focus inward on our individual businesses.

Ink on paper is creatively used in countless ways for communication between clients and prospects. As long as people can figure out a way to use print media to drive customers to their businesses, to generate leads, to close sales, and to communicate new ideas, no one can say it’s dead.

The only thing dead about print are the many unsuccessful uses of print. Newspapers are a good example. Many have gone out of business because they no longer supplied anything the customer valued.

Yet there still exist plenty of profitable newspapers which succeed at delivering value in exchange for enough money to stay in business and make a profit. Case in point: Warren Buffett recently acquired 63 newspapers which cater to local communities. He claims all of them are, or soon will be, profitable.

As recently as a few years ago however, he boasted he would never invest in newspapers “at any price.” Ignoring his own punditry, he found value in distressed newspapers that promised a solid return on investment if managed and marketed correctly. And Buffett never turns away from any great investment value that has the potential to produce a good return.

We, too, should do the same. Ignore the public commentary. Look for value and a good return on investment. The two important questions to answer are these:

1) How can I use print to increase sales and profitability in my business? (Where’s the value and what’s my return?)

2) How can I educate my customers to do the same? (This question is for those of you who happen to be in the printing business.)

In answer to the first question, there are dozens of ways to use print that fit into any small business marketing strategy. Direct mail, catalogs, print ads, postcards, newsletters, sales letters, magalogs, and unique packaging can be creatively used for lead generation, sales campaigns and customer education, retention and support.

It is however, important to first test on a small scale to find out what generates the results you need. If something works, go big! It if fails, move on to the next project. In this digital printing age, it’s easy and cheap to print and mail to a small sampling of prospects. The bonus for printers is that your cost of printing is a heck of a lot lower than what the rest of us pay on the retail side of things. Printers, don’t make the mistake of not leveraging this extreme value to your advantage!

For the printers in the audience, the best way to educate your customers is to lead by example. To put it another way, would you go to a personal trainer who was fat? Probably not. You expect to be led by example. As printers, you’ve got the overwhelming advantage of printing your own stuff at cost. The value and potential return is even higher than average. So make print a big part of your marketing strategy.

Show off the company capabilities that will impress your ideal customer. (Here’s a Related Article on Ideal Customers.) Send out a monthly print newsletter. Send case studies of how your customers are succeeding using print. Send a printed catalog showcasing everything you do and highlight each service with testimonials. Send a Christmas or holiday present in a uniquely printed package. You get the idea.

So remember, there is still value in print. Like Warren Buffett, we have to find the value on our own. Then we take a calculated gamble and hope for a decent return on investment. That’s the way it has been and that’s the way it always will be. The only failure would be to believe the pundits who want you to roll over dead, or to believe those who think another print gravy train is coming.

Of course there are plenty of other media which you should be testing and evaluating too. Nearly everything mentioned above should be done in a variety of media. But that’s a story for another day. Print is still a thriving, effective media. To ignore it is to overlook tremendous value in your business and that can mean the difference between success and failure.

Please feel free to share your experiences and stories below. And if you liked the article, be sure to share it with your friends, colleagues and social network.

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Andre Palko Owner
Andre Palko is founder of the Small Business Rainmaker™ and its free weekly e-newsletter. He is dedicated to delivering award-winning marketing and content that helps business owners thrive in any economy.