|Rethinking the Role of Substrates in Print Marketing|
|Tuesday, September 04 2012|
With much of the buzz in marketing and advertising today is centered around online, mobile, and social channels, we’ve underscored before that print remains an important part of the overall media mix. As digital channels compete for more eyeballs overall, having a compelling print piece can help it stand out and effectively communicate a marketing message to raise awareness and drive action. While the graphic design of print marketing is a critical element to draw attention, another crucial component of the print marketing experience is the substrate—the paper or other material that’s the carrier of marketing message.
Substrates can make marketing and advertising stand out just as much (or potentially more) than graphic design itself. Paper is the only medium that can be folded, creased, die cut, foil stamped, embossed, printed on, framed, bought, and sold as a standalone communication tool that functions without the use of an electric current. It’s a tactile product that appeals to the senses. It has a texture that can be touched and seen, it has a unique smell and can be used as a vehicle to carry other scents, and it has a physical structure that creates sound when handled.
While it’s easy for many in the creative industry to romanticize about the attributes of paper and other substrates, it’s important to reevaluate and rethink the role that they play in driving effective print marketing and advertising. At one point in time, decisions regarding which substrates to use on a project were controlled largely by the print suppliers and paper distributors. Paper choices for direct marketing were limited and thus there were fewer parties involved in the decision making process. That has all changed.
While the current U.S. paper market is currently experiencing consolidation, the variety and options of substrates available has expanded considerably. Fine substrates from the U.S., competitive low-cost substrates from overseas, and availability of substrates for digital, on-demand printing all factor into the diversity and choice marketers now have. As a result, the number of parties that have a stake in which substrates get used has increased, allowing the creative community (designers, marketers, brand owners) greater influence over which substrates are used to best represent their brand and achieve their goals.
A 2011 study from Graphic Design USA emphasized the prevalence of print marketing and advertising among design firms, agencies, and corporations. It reported that 9 out of 10 creative workers still design for print, often for general marketing collateral and direct response. The study also found that these workers are committed to and enthusiastic about substrates and how they can enhance the effectiveness of a piece.
Substrates straddle the line between quality and commoditization. In an age where consumers are inundated with marketing and advertising messages, the power of substrates can be used to differentiate, cut through the clutter, and raise awareness or inspire action. Ask yourself: am I using substrates in an effective way to communicate my message? If not, you need to rethink their role and how they can draw attention and cultivate response.