Sustainability is not a battle discipline: the decision for digital or print must be made on multiple levels

Rüdiger Maas

The enormous discrepancy in the communications, media and printing industries between cooperative and competitive, existence and coexistence is regrettable. An "us versus them" mentality combined with silo thinking inhibits the collaborative search for the best solutions.

Even if one might believe that print and media should see themselves as part of the communications industry, it can be seen every day that common goals are often torpedoed by one side or the other. But in a communication strategy that is designed for sustainability, it cannot be about forcing the media channels to fight against each other, wanting to digitize everything, or leaving everything to artificial intelligence in the future. Rather, it's about finding an executing a sensible strategy.

A new way of looking at media channels

One thing is clear: everything that can be digitized will be digitized. But that doesn't mean that everything has to be digital in the future. When brands decide on their communications strategy, they should consider not only their costs, but also their customers. Brands must determine the way customers and consumers in general want to read and receive information.

A campaign that ignores people who don't have access to digital communication is not only arrogant, it is antisocial in the extreme.

That's why I'm convinced that a new way of looking at media and media channels is important in order to make the right decisions in and for the future. Not in the sense of competition according to the knockout system, but in the sense of optimal interplay - with the goal that our customers can use the best possible combination.

To decide this, the (overriding) values of print and digital media must be defined neutrally and unemotionally. Beforehand, it must be clarified what the fundamentals are for or against a decision for a particular media channel:

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of the media genres in terms of their ecological, social and economic sustainability (ROI, etc.)?
  • Is there a need for the use of a medium? For example, do digital media channels no longer work or can only be used to a limited extent (double-opt-in/GDPR)?
  • Are there reliable studies? For example, a change in the media use of the target group(s)?
  • How important is the speed of campaign implementation?
  • Can an image be conveyed via the desired medium?

There are certainly many more criteria, but even this short list shows how complex the basics of decision-making are and the thorough expertise that is required.

Delete incorrectly anchored images

Many decision-makers have a completely inaccurate anchored image of print and paper.

For example, about 70% of respondents (CEPI, 2015) believe that excessive amounts of water are used in paper production. However, the water is used, it does not disappear. Between 90%
and 95% of the water used in the European paper industry is returned to the source after use and treatment (and in some cases cleaner than before).

Equally wrong is the opinion that trees have to be felled for the production of paper and that European forests are therefore shrinking. It is correct that fibers wear out over time with repeated recycling (the recycling rate in Germany is 93.5%), which is why it is essential that papers with fresh fiber content continue to circulate in order to keep the cycle alive. The wood required for this purpose comes primarily from sawmill waste and thinning wood. Valuable log wood is used for the furniture industry and would be far too expensive for paper production.

The same misinformation exists for the topic of CO2 emissions. For example, the footprint of the entire printing industry in Germany (calculated on the basis of the Federal Environment Agency) is less than 1% of total emissions. In contrast, our digital lifestyle claims about 8.0% of the approximately 10.8 t of CO2 emissions per capita - if not more.

Print is the only multisensory medium

In addition, print is the only multisensory medium and thus comes closest to the human acquisition of information. With print, information can literally be experienced, from grasping (in the truest sense of the word) to haptic interaction in conjunction with the implicit information that is automatically transmitted when using print.

On closer inspection, print offers the following strategic building blocks under the headline "Value-added Printing":

  • Interactive Print: These are all the functionalities that print brings to increase and promote personal interaction. These include folding techniques, opening techniques, and of course page turning, as well as media bridges in the form of QR codes or the diverse possibilities of augmented reality.
  • Experience Print: In this segment, all measures of classic print finishing become active. These ensure a high level of awareness, if not enthusiasm. The print finishes literally invite you to experience the print product, not only explicitly but also implicitly.
  • Emotional Print: The mentality of "me, here, always and immediately" mentality ensures that personal addresses and individual content are becoming increasingly popular. It is in people's nature that addressing them by their own name is very emotional and thus creates loyalty. But emotional print goes far beyond the personal address and can be automated within the framework of Programmatic Print. Through individual content that comes from user profiles, it is possible to play out the relevance of the communicated message in a targeted manner and thus ensure maximum emotionality.
  • Surprice Print actually creates surprise. The goal is to fulfill and exceed a recipient's expectations. Surprises create immense attention and recall. Examples are luminous print products with electroluminescence, pop-ups, etc.

Sustainably impressive multichannel campaigns

The task of future campaigns must be to make and implement decisions based on a high level of media competence that inspires and connects customers. In other words, connect them with other media channels through interaction so that they are activated and engage more deeply with the subject matter. In this context, sustainability is not a combat discipline, but rather the logical and sensible foundation for balanced action.

The questions asked when designing a communications strategy or campaign should therefore not be: What speaks for digital? What are the arguments against print? Instead, this question should be raised: How can we meaningfully - in terms of our customers' success - organize true multichannel communication across channels?

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