Why Magazine, Newspaper and Direct Mail Advertising Still Work

Print Advertising Isn’t Dead!

Don’t let anybody tell you that print is dead. Even in the age of smartphones and the Internet, your potential customers are still paying attention to the printed word, and you can boost your sales by advertising in magazines and newspapers, as well as with direct mail.

Here’s why these old-school media still matter and how you can succeed with each of them.

Print Ads Command Attention That Online Ads Don’t

The era of digital media has not killed the print magazine. If anything, it has drawn into sharper focus how much of an impact print advertising can have compared to advertising online. For one thing, print ads command attention that online ads don’t.

Our brains are literally built to remember print ads better than we remember digital ads. Even millennials, the first generation to grow up with the Internet, are far more likely to pay attention to print ads than they are to digital ads.

Print ads also offer a permanence that online ads don’t. A banner ad is gone once the user clicks on another page; even a viral video or meme only commands attention for a few seconds or a few minutes. On the other hand, print ads can literally live forever. Thumb through the pages of magazine from 1, 5 or 10 years ago, and the ads will still be there.

Print Advertising Means Strong Credibility

Another advantage of print is that it offers a strong credibility factor: consumers trust print ads in much larger numbers (71 percent) than they trust TV (41 percent) or online advertising (just 25 percent).

Of course, sales of digital ads are growing and will continue to grow, but print advertising is hardly dying. If anything, it’s leveling off after a period of decline. That means it’s here to stay, and the truth is that the most effective advertising strategies will probably combine print and digital media. Often, buying one through a media outlet will also get you the other.

Related: Tips to Improve Internet Advertising

Print can be an inexpensive and surprisingly effective way to advertise your business and bring in new customers. In this article, we’ll look at some best practices for how to advertise in magazines, newspapers and direct mail.

Magazine Ads

Yes, people still read magazines. In fact, most people who read online also read magazines in print, and those could end up being some of your best customers. Social media advertising might reach more potential customers, but print is more likely to reach the right ones.

Of the three categories of readers—those who read in print and online, those who read only in print and those who read only online—print-digital readers have the highest average income, followed by print-only. Online-only readers have the lowest average income of the group.

How to Write A Magazine Ad

As for how to write a magazine ad, remember to keep it simple. Nobody flips through magazines to see the ads. Your best bet is relatively little text, an engaging headline and an arresting image. There’s a reason, though, that ad wizards get paid what they do to create the images you see in magazines. It’s surprisingly hard to do! Don’t worry if you can’t create ads that look like what the pros produce; not many people can.

Still, you can use the principle of simplicity to your advantage. Remember that the average reader’s attention span these days is about 140 characters—the maximum length of a tweet. If you’re using more text than that, not counting your company name and contact info, you’ve probably written too much. You could even run your text through a letter counter online to see how far you’ve gone over and decide what to trim. A sentence or two is plenty.

Above all else, just make sure to mention what your product or service is and how people can get a hold of you. If there’s something that makes your business unique (“the only lawn care service that also washes windows!”), mention it. Just keep it short.

Where Should You Place Your Magazine Ad?

Once you develop an ad, you’ll need somewhere to place it. Don’t worry if you can’t afford the rates at Time or Newsweek. Those types of publications are probably not what you need, anyway, although some publications (such as Sport Illustrated) offer regional issues with discounted ad buys that will only be distributed in the area where you choose to advertise.

Very few media are as targeted as magazines. There’s a print publication for virtually every hobby and profession in existence. Do you make collectible dolls? There’s a magazine for that. Starting a little farm stand at home? Here you go. There’s even a magazine just about chickens. There are lots of magazines of regional interest, too. If you don’t already know where you’d like to advertise, just try typing a business idea or region into Google followed by the word “magazine” and see what happens. Chances are, you’ll find something targeted to your customers.

Make Sure to Test First

A word of caution: You don’t have to jump into magazine advertising with both feet. See how it works for you at the start. Take out a small ad, maybe a quarter page, in a magazine of your choice. If you can afford it, try taking out another in a similar publication.

Magazine ads don’t have the built-in analytics that digital ads have, so you might want to take testing into your own hands. Promise a discount or other special offer to customers who mention your ad or bring it into your place of business, if you have one. If you advertise in more than one place, check which magazine is bringing in customers. Also, take care to track your sales figures for the time period when the ad runs (a week or a month, normally), and see if you notice a bump.

Don’t Forget to Negotiate

Keep in mind, too, that magazine ads don’t exist in a vacuum. Some publications practically give their print ads away if you advertise with them online (and vice versa—a print buy can lead to free digital ads). Don’t hesitate to negotiate a print package when possible when you’re buying other forms of advertising. You might get better results from your free print ad than from your digital ads.

One important tip to note: Don’t assume that just because you advertise in a magazine, a reporter will write a story about you in that publication. Journalists try as hard as they can to stay separate from advertising sales people, and journalistic ethics dictate that reporters should never pay attention to who is advertising in a magazine when they write their stories. So, don’t ask for coverage … but if it happens—and the truth is sometimes it does when you buy an ad—all the better.

Newspaper Advertising

If there’s any form of media that has become a poster child for the disruptive nature of digital media, it’s the newspaper. The days of people reading the paper on the train to work or at the breakfast table might seem to be over, but newspapers—even in print—are far from dead.

Newspapers Are Far From Dead

Nearly 70 percent of Americans read a newspaper, and 50 percent of those readers consume it only in print.

In fact, some major big-city newspapers are actually adding staff because they’re doing so well. And newspapers serving smaller cities and rural areas have never suffered much from digital competition. They’re still the best source of information in those areas. Generally speaking, the more hyper-local the newspaper, the more importance it’s likely to hold among its readers.

Newspapers Ads Are Impactful

Of course, a lot of people who read newspapers read them on tablets and smartphones. And that’s OK—as is the case with magazines, your print and digital ad buys will likely be linked. But people still get their hands dirty reading the paper, and when they do, they pay attention to who is advertising in it. One study from the political realm shows the power of newspaper ads:

“Sunday local newspapers reach half of registered voters during a typical week, with all local newspaper media (including online) together reaching 64% of registered voters. Survey respondents reported that political ads seen in local newspapers were as likely to impact their vote decisions as ads on TV,” the study found.

Newspapers Ads Are Usually Cheap

You can bet that those newspaper ads were cheaper than TV ads, too. That doesn’t mean they’re always cheap, though. Ads in large-circulation papers can be very expensive and are likely not necessary for a new business. When choosing where to advertise, stay local. Again, the more locally focused a paper is, the more likely it is to be read in the community it serves. (In other words, don’t advertise in the Boston Globe if it would be cheaper and more effective to advertise in the Chelmsford Independent.)

How to Develop tour Newspaper Ad?

When you develop your newspaper ad, depending on the size of the ad you buy, you’ll be able to use more text that you would in a magazine ad. That’s not to say that you should be wordy, but newspaper readers are more likely to read carefully than magazine or online readers are. People who commit themselves to buying a print newspaper usually want to get as much out of it as they can, and they’re likely to be more avid readers than their counterparts.

If you think explaining your product or service in a few paragraphs would help sell it—and if you’ve bought enough space—go ahead and do it. Just make sure you’re pointing out a legitimate competitive advantage. Don’t worry as much about images, either. You don’t need to grab people in a newspaper the way you do in a magazine. Sure, images can help, but they can also be distracting in this format (unless you can pull off something like this, which is unlikely). Do come up with a catchy headline, though. You’ll be competing with a lot of other words for attention.

Design Your Ad Yourself and Start Small

One tip: If the newspaper offers to design your ad for you, politely decline. You’ll almost assuredly to a better job yourself, even if your design skills are limited. Newspapers don’t spend a lot of resources on designing ads for clients. Make sure you get and stick to the paper’s specifications, though.

You’ll probably start with a small ad, so you’ll want to limit your text to what’s absolutely necessary and possibly forego images altogether. Newspapers ads are sold by the column inch, but ads placed on commonly read pages will be more expensive than those buried in the back of each section of the paper.

You won’t be able to control the editorial content that surrounds your ad—most papers sell ads first and them flow copy around them—but you can control where your ad will run. Sports sections and editorial and letters sections tend to draw the most readers, after the front page, of course. In smaller papers, there might be only a couple of sections or none at all. In larger ones, the section where your ads run can make a huge difference in how many people notice it.

Related: Email Marketing: Why Your Business Needs It

Aim For The Upper Corner If You Have The Budget For It

Keep in mind that when people first pick up a newspaper, they tend to start scanning in the upper right-hand corner of the page and then move their eyes in an “S” formation. If you can get in or near that upper corner, your ad will get noticed before others on the page do—but you’ll pay for it. Newspaper ad salespeople are well aware of where the prime real estate is.

Test Your Ads in Different Newspapers

If you test ads in different papers and find one that works best for you, you can save money with a contract ad buy with that paper. Instead of buying individual ads, you can buy, say, a year’s worth of placements at a discount. Just make sure that you’re really ready to commit at that level. As is the case with magazine ads, testing the effectiveness of newspaper advertising is tough. So, use some of the same tricks you do with magazine ads: have customers bring the ad in for a discount, have them mention that they saw the ad in a particular paper so they can receive a special reward, etc.

Direct Mail

You might hate getting “junk mail” in your mailbox every day, but chances are you’ve bought something as a result of reading it.

Direct mail does as its name suggests—targets customers literally right where they live. Although it might not be the most welcome form of advertising, it is among the most effective.

Direct Mail Offers Great Targeting Possibilities

Direct mail works in part because it offers profiles of consumers that few other forms of advertising can match. Here’s an explanation from an expert:

“Did you ever stop and consider, ‘How did I end up on this mailing list?’ ‘Why are they sending this stuff to me?’

“Why? Because you fit the profile of the person most likely to purchase that product based on past experience. Does your neighbor receive the same junk mail you do?

“Except for the Publisher’s Clearing House mailing probably not. Why?

“Because you are different from your neighbor. You have a different model car, different clothes, different hobbies and interests.

“They may receive mailings on outdoor products and you receive mailings on books and indoor hobbies. They golf, you hunt and fish. They like beer, you like wine.”

When you have this type of targeting and you can deliver your message to a captive audience, you have the potential to get massive return on your advertising investment. But that investment won’t be cheap. Because direct mail works so well, it can be the most expensive form of advertising per person. However, it’s also the only non-digital form that target customers are pretty much guaranteed to see.

Don’t Hesitate to Use More Text And Explain Your Product

When you design a direct mail piece, you have the luxury of knowing that your target customers will almost assuredly look at it when they check their mailboxes. That means you can use quite a bit more text than you would with magazine or newspaper ads. In fact, you can take pretty much all the space you want explaining your product. More explanation can actually be better.

You do, however, need to pay attention to the headline and colors you use. People will pick up your flyer, but you have to get them to read it. Big discount offers, coupons and special offers catch eyes. Numbers (“50% off!”) can be especially useful in grabbing attention, as can photos and other images. Bright colors can help your piece stand out in a pile of white envelopes.

As you can with newspaper and magazine ads, you can track the success of a direct mail campaign by tying it to discounts or special offers for customers. Offer a certain percentage off the cost of an item or give something away for free if a customer brings your flyer to your place of business. The rates of success on direct mail can vary greatly—even a 5 percent rate of return can big and profitable.

Consider Outsourcing Your Direct Mail

As for how you should handle the logistics of a direct mail campaign, do consider doing some outsourcing. A flyer done by a professional printer on heavy paper stock is going to look better than one that won’t stand up to dampness or other elements that can sneak into a mailbox.

More importantly, consider using a service to send your direct mail pieces. It can be surprisingly cost effective, and trying to send everything out yourself can be overwhelming and extremely time-consuming. Plus, a service will be able to offer the demographic and targeting information you need to get the most out of direct mail. After all, the real power of the format is how closely and accurately it can target customers.

Consider, too, the timing of your mailings. If your business is particularly seasonal, send your mailings at a time when people will be thinking about buying from you. If you run a lawn-care service, for instance, time your mailing for the spring when grass is starting to grow and people are making plans for the summer.

Take a look at the direct mail flyers you receive and remember which ones made an impression on you. Use them as models for your own flyers. Also, be sure to note what your competitors are doing.

Gutenberg Would Be Proud

The bottom line here is that you shouldn’t give up on print advertising. Magazines, newspapers and direct mail can be cost-effective ways to reach specific audiences. Although print can come with costs not usually associated with digital advertising, it also carries a permanence and credibility that digital advertising tends to lack.

The main goal with print ads is to get attention in a way that is appropriate for the medium. Whether it’s a magazine ad heavy on images and short on text, or a direct mail piece with loads of colors and copy, print gives you the power to literally get your message into people’s hands. The human mind is built to remember print images more readily than digital images. Take advantage of our biological makeup, and get your business noticed in print.

About Bob Adams

Bob Adams is a Harvard MBA serial entrepreneur. He has started over a dozen businesses including one that he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He has written 17 books and created 52 online courses for entrepreneurs. Bob also founded BusinessTown, the go-to learning platform for starting and running a business.

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