Where have all the flyers gone - talking channel shift

May 2020

social media on the doormat

It's not only the environment outside our homes that is noticeably different because of the coronavirus lockdown - there's also an environmental change just inside our front door with no junk mail coming through the letter box.

On the one hand this is great as I believe businesses should use effective, well designed marketing campaigns to attract my attention, and should not bombard me with a constant unwanted stream of boring pamphlets that go straight into the recycling bin. Junk mail in quantity can hide important letters and is a nightmare for those who find it hard to throw any of it away. On the other hand the lack of it symbolises the enormous leap in channel shift that is moving us even further away from print than we were before, in favour of social media posts, website communications, and downloads to send to our desktop printers ourselves if we want to. Although this is entirely understandable, we could be in danger of forgetting the advantages of print runs and we could be putting the printing industry at further risk.

In home-working as a member of a council Comms team, as well as in my own work, the current emphasis has to be on conveying essential information effectively over the internet, as well as on the challenge of finding creative media solutions for celebrating important anniversaries and occasions digitally. We need to keep online engagement active even if people can't gather together to enjoy organised events. The importance of our users being able to click on the chat button or fill in an online form for help is greater now, but hasn't suddenly happened. With major cutbacks in spending having been imposed for a long time, it's been a big advantage to be able to increase online activity and upload our publications to the web with very little cost involved. If information needs to be updated, it's quick and easy to change at no extra cost other than the time involved.

Clients don't know enough about the months ahead to know when people are going to be able to browse around public venues again so that they can pick up printed material and look at posters. Content that they pick up will need to relate to a new world that's yet to happen. People can't advertise events because they might not happen, and arrangements for delivery and distribution of boxes of print are not exactly easy for home-workers to organise. However businesses determined and able to survive the lockdown could be using this time to think about concepts for future marketing and ways of improving their brands and services. As well as using artwork on the internet now, they could be talking about design and artwork for print that is not time sensitive and that can be prepared, approved and put into production so that it's ready to make an impact as soon as the time is right.

The energy being put into social media presentations to keep people aware of daily changes and to keep them feeling involved and interested in all subject areas is wonderful and vital for life in lockdown for those of us who can access it. But is our work reaching everyone who needs to see it, and are we at risk of forgetting that print is another channel with a lot of benefits? Are we in danger of losing our favourite print companies if we stop using them for a long time?

Why should anything be printed?

  • Apparently in 2019, 79% of adults owned a smartphone (100% of 16-24 year olds but only 40% of the over 65s), and 7% of households in Great Britain did not have any internet access (refs:Finder.com and the Office for National Statistics website). With little printed information around a lot of people are being ignored. The Government letter and leaflet mailed to every address could recently have been their only direct source of information from the outside world other than broadcast media.
  • Aesthetics - Design work can be fully appreciated when there's something tactile to hold. Paper variations, quality illustrations, cutouts, popups - all lost on the low res internet download.
  • Posters in the right places can be seen by more people and if big enough older people might not need to find their reading glasses. A card or flyer on the fridge means you don't need to send a family Whatsapp message.
  • You can pop a booklet or leaflet in your pocket or bag and it doesn't matter if your phone battery's low or if there's no wifi hotspot - or if it's so sunny that you can't see your screen properly.
  • You have to remember where you've put it down in the house. You can't ask Siri or Alexa, so it helps keep your own memory active.
  • Also, print might take up a lot of space, but as far as archiving the past is concerned it has a very important place. Technology can move on, you can lose access to clouds and digital files can be accidentally deleted or become impossible to open.

Personally I really enjoy working on websites, but however much I enjoy organising information layout and artwork for the internet, however much I appreciate the advantages of not having to wait long to see work being displayed, and however useful it is to be able to assess how well work is being received through statistics, likes and comments, these can't become the only considerations in graphic design. I believe that online service and business advertising really must not be allowed to completely take over from the production of marketing and communication for print.

Print is another channel to keep open - don't let it disappear!