Does Digital-Only Work?

Virgina Tech's alumni magazine tested the effectiveness of sending print and online versions of the publication.

For a few years now, pundits have claimed that print is dead and digital is the new best thing. Let’s take a minute to really look at both forms of marketing.

What is digital marketing? It’s the promotion of products, services or brands electronically.

This can include email, website, social media and mobile. For the past few years, digital has been the main focus for marketers.

What is print? It’s the promotion of products, services or brands on printed material. This can include posters, fliers, catalogs, postcards, newspapers, magazines, etc.

There is a real symbiotic relationship between them that benefits both, and when that relationship is ignored, results can be effected, sometimes negatively.

Here is an example of how digital alone does not work as well for all needs. It’s a study done by Robert G. Magee of Virginia Tech. He wanted to test the effectiveness of the print and online versions of the university alumni magazine on open rate and recall. Half of the subscribers received a print version and half received an email link to the online version.

Subscribers recalled the online version 49 percent of the time, vs. 82 percent for print. The open rates were 77 percent for print and only 49 percent for online. People who viewed the print version recalled more articles than the online version.

When asked which method of delivery they preferred, 63 percent of subscribers were for print and 26 percent for online; the remaining 4 percent said “both” or “neither” for this magazine.

A few things to take away from this are that print:

  • Stands out;
  • Is better remembered; and
  • Is better understood.

In some cases, digital alone may be less expensive, but what are you sacrificing when that is your only form of communication? Use print to drive the online engagement; you will benefit from it.

A blog about Direct Mail Marketing, tips, tricks and what not to do.

Summer Gould is President of Eye/Comm Inc. Summer has spent her 23 year career helping clients achieve better marketing results. She has served as a panel speaker for the Association of Marketing Service Providers conferences. She is active in several industry organizations and she is a board member for Printing Industries Association San Diego, as well as a board member for Mailing Systems Management Association of San Diego. She is also a committee member for Visionaries in Philanthropy which benefits San Diego Meals on Wheels.

You can find her at Eye/Comm Inc’s website:, email:, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @sumgould.

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  • Beth Ann Kilberg-Walsh

    Interesting article, Summer!

    It’s great to read about print’s clout – in fact, some believe that it is actually more powerful than digital campaigns. According to a Print In the Mix survey, 56 percent of respondents say they found printed material to be the ‘most trustworthy’ of media channels. I believe that the magazine brings an entirely different experience compared to digital approaches. I enjoy flipping through the pages and being able to physically see the content, it gives me an emotional connection that I don’t feel when I read an article on a tablet or smartphone. I agree, print rules because many readers prefer it to the alternatives, it delivers marketing and communications results, and it is an effective complement to today’s popular digital media.

    – Beth Ann Kilberg-Walsh, Vice President, Marketing Communications & Customer Engagement, Xerox

  • Michael Bann

    What it tells us is to use both. Print is a great tool to start the discussion. Smart marketers will leverage print to drive prospects online for more detailed info. We all need to constantly ask clients how they want to be communicated and then do it.

  • Jim Gilbert

    Digital vs print? I believe in being channel agnostic. The rule for me is, if my clients are there, I will test, measure and roll out if warranted. And like Michael said below, there are different tools for different jobs. Digital agencies are missing out on many opportunities for their clients and themselves (revenue stream wise) by not including print, direct mail, etc.

  • Janet

    Question: is there a difference by demographic/age group? That would be interesting to note…

  • Shafi Khan

    Does Digital Marketing and Mobile marketing always works?