It’s the question that marketers have been asking, have catalogs gone with the wind?  Have they been swept away by the digital revolution?  They’re expensive, old fashioned, and let’s face it, like Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara, a lot of work. You have to design, find a good printer, write content, do press checks, mail, and monitor data.  Is it really worth the time or is it time to let go?  Louis Geller contributing writer from Forbes posed this exact question in her article, Why Are Catalogs Still Around.  “A lot of people are surprised that catalogs even exist anymore. It costs a lot of money to create and mail a first rate catalog and the Internet was supposed to handle the catalog job. What happened?”  Let’s take a look at three “classic” examinations of print and digital.


Brave New WorldBrave New World— As we embark into a new world of digital everything, we are faced with the unknown effects of technology.   These were the things that Aldous Huxley was thinking about in 1932. An article from titled Prints Role in the Digital Revolution explains that technology “…opens up a whole new world of marketing opportunities—email blasts, p URLs, PDA pushdowns, RSS feeds, tweets.”   The article continues to explain that in this new world of digital technology, the digital creates a unique, interactive, real-time experience for consumers.  It’s a new way to look at the world.  Digital marketing should not be ignored.  It’s an exceptional and powerful tool.   Not only is it extremely cost effective, but it’s far reaching, instantaneous, and easy to track with real-time results (see article Benefits of Digital Marketing v. Traditional Marketing).   The benefits of digital marketing whether it is social media, content marketing, e-mail campaigning, research marketing, or videoing is a vastly expanding universe.   Making a presence online is essential to brand awareness today.  YouTube alone gets over 1 Billion visitors each day (see more YouTube Statistics).  People are no longer being marketed a brand as they have in the past.  They are becoming the brand via social networking.  Everyone has something to say about, well, something and the internet is a worldwide platform that gives everyone an opportunity to do so. Powerful as the internet is, the question is: after YouTube and FaceBook, Twitter and Pinterest, Constant Contact and Instagram, ebooks, white papers, blogs, webinars, podcasts, video casts, and so on, how effective really can a simple 16 page flipbook of products be? Let’s take a journey to the human brain and see what science has to say about it.


The Scarlet Letter—We all remember Hawthorn’s chilling story The Scarlet Letter when Hester Prynne had to wear the adulterous scarlet “A” on her breast.  What we take from that story as it relates to this topic is the power of print to impact and persuade people.


scarlet LetterStudies in Neuroscience tell us that print actually affects a different part of the brain than digital technology does.   It’s true.   A case study put out by Milward Brown of Bangor University (England) explains that “tangible materials leave a deeper footprint in the brain” (see case study Using Neuroscience to Understand Direction Mail).  He continues: “This suggests that physical material is more ‘real’ to the brain. It has a meaning, and a place. It is better connected to memory because it engages with its spatial memory networks.”   During this study, Brown monitored the brains of individuals as they looked at the same material both in print and in digital format.  During this time he discovered that not only does the information from the printed materials form more seamlessly in our brains than their digital predecessors, but that the printed materials produced more emotional processing and response. “The brain’s ‘default network’ appeared to remain more active when viewing direct mail. Activity in this brain network has been associated with a greater focus on a person’s internal emotional response to outside stimuli. This suggests that the individuals were relating information to their own thoughts and feelings.”   Print has the power to take an idea, a brand, or concept, and materialize it in our brains.  Print makes images reality, as the simple letter “A” made poor Heter’s immorality real for those around her.


Remembrance of TRemembrance of Things Pasthings Past— Print can be traced as far back as the Mesopotamians.  As we have had thousands of years to study print, the digital realm is another story.  Altogether, the digital world has been less than a hundred years in the making. During those hundred years, we have advanced farther than anyone could have estimated.  The story of humankind and civilizations as they rise and fall can be traced back through print.  From drawings on walls, to scrolls, to ancient Chinese wood carving presses, to Gutenberg’s innovation of the first industrialized printing press, we can watch the history of the world form into what we know it as today.  An article  Short History Of Print Media explains that “advertising, the media, even life itself, would not be the same without the printed word. We learn about our world through shared writings: newspapers, magazines, and books. We decide what we want to buy from looking through advertisements that come in the mail. Printed media has shaped the way we learn, think, and act in modern society. “   Gutenberg, writes about his invention: “Yes, it is a press, certainly, but a press from which shall flow in inexhaustible streams, the most abundant and most marvelous liquor that has ever flowed to relieve the thirst of men!” (From The Passion of Gutenberg).  As mentioned above from the Bangor University Study, print is such a real experience to humans that it is quite safe to say that it makes up a large part of who we are.  Not just as individuals, but as whole civilizations.


In Remembrance of Things Past, Proust writes about memory.  Continually, he describes experience as being an imprint on the mind.  Print marketing follows these rules. Because print is an experience in itself, because of the way it interacts with our brains, because it is such a part of the human condition, it has the ability to speak to an audience in a way that digital cannot.  If we really want to understand our consumers and how best to market to them, the answers are not just in the new, but they are in the old as well.  Perhaps, this is why to this day amongst the hubble-bubble of digital technology the catalog is still such an effective way to grow brand awareness.


Moving back to our original question then, have catalogs gone with the wind?  According to an article written by Meghan Britton-Gross “companies are having the most success when combining targeted print runs with digital media” (Is the Print Catalog Dead?).  Statistics show that customers who engage in both forms of media are more valuable life-long customers (Is the Catalog Dead?).   For catalogers, as we embark into a new era of technology we must embrace both forms of marketing.  The catalog, certainly as we have proven is not gone with the wind, but it has changed.  And why shouldn’t it when the world around us has changed?  Why wouldn’t an omnichannel approach be the most effective?  Two cities working together are better than one.  It’s not about sending out mass mailings and sitting back to watch the game unravel.  In today’s age, it is imperative to combine your catalog with a data that can only be studied and monitored with the use of digital technology.  It’s time to stop the duality between the two forms of media. It is time to embrace change and use what’s at our fingertips not to kill the catalog, but to improve on it.  After all, like our classic novels, the catalog has a lot to say about humanity.