How do millennials consume print?

Most trust print, as long as it’s relevant to them 

It’s the age-old question:  what is the best way to advertise to the young? The millennial generation makes up a large portion of the population and they have spending power, especially as their presence in the workforce grows. But what media channels do they use to consume information? For marketers, and as a consequence, printers, this is a question that is going to have an impact on the market in the near future.

I’ve approached this issue from two perspectives. First, many studies have been conducted on a global scale exploring the media preferences of millennials in regards to print, and, second, as a student, I’ve spoken with a small group of seventeen peers to get an idea of what their thoughts on print are. 

Trust Paper equals trust 

Millennials grew up with almost every media channel at their disposal: print, television, radio, digital, social etc. Consequently, our generation is more critical and adept at ignoring what we don’t want to see. Findings in Quad/Graphics’, Millennials: An Emerging Consumer Powerhouse (2016), state that half of millennials ignore digital advertising, and instead pay the greatest attention to direct mail and print advertising. Furthermore, millennials are digitally-savvy, and we are much less trusting of the content we consume. According to TRU, millennials in 2011 perceived paper documents as 88% more official and 82% more trusted.

Personal and important documents are valued in print. Nine of the seventeen people I talked to still receive their vital documents in a print format. While only three of them would never convert to digital options, the other six have yet to be incentivized to make the switch. 

Emotion  Print is emotional and evocative 

The most effective messages in print are those that evoke emotion. The TRU research found that if forced to choose, millennials would rather receive a birthday card in the mail than via email (87%) and 61% percent of the people I spoke with shared this sentiment; they preferred personal correspondence for special occasions to be in print form.

There is a comfort component as well. As one of my peers said, “I would much rather read off paper than deal with whatever screen. It’s not that [the] products do not appeal to me, it’s more out of habit from childhood to use hard copies of something.” As Canada Post’s, Breaking Through the Noise (2015), pointed out, the act of retrieving mail and reading it is ritualized.

Experiential  Millennials have a powerful attachment to paper.

Contrary to popular belief, millennials are not screen-obsessed. The physicality of print offers an escape from laptops and computers. Students, especially, have expressed reluctance in giving up analog media for digital alternatives. In 2010, 92% of college students in the US preferred paper books over their digital counterpart. Fifteen of the 17 people I spoke with always prefer a hard copy book and 50% “do not enjoy reading on a screen for long periods of time.” This is echoed in the TRU study where nine out of ten millennials say that despite today’s technological advances, they doubt they will ever give up paper completely. 

Bottom line

Print has a strong resonance with today’s digital generation, but the information they want print media to contain has changed to be intrinsically motivated. Millennials engage with advertising that looks good, evokes an emotional response, and, ultimately, benefits them, i.e. comes from a preferred brand or offers an incentive. As one of my peers stated, “I think everything should be digital. The only time I like printed materials is when it is a source that is beneficial for me to have for something.” This is the message marketers, and printers, need to take away from the research. 

Moreover, it’s about how you use your print marketing to tie into your multichannel strategy. Print doesn’t stand alone anymore. Eighty-two percent of 18 to 34-year-olds in 2011 say print influences their buying journey, making it essential. However, when making purchasing decisions millennials are opting for online searches (94% of American adults research products online before buying), or choosing brand loyalty for inexpensive purchases of convenience. For example, nine out of 17 interviewees simply go to their preferred store to buy groceries regardless of price. The point: an interesting, personalized print piece combined with digital will drive the sales cycle for marketers from offline to online – both of which appear to be the millennial preference.