Print Content Marketing – Why it still works today

infographic-section-hostory-of-content-marketingWhat do you think of when you hear the phrase ‘content marketing’?

  • Blogs?
  • White papers?
  • Infographics like this one here?
    (click on it for the full graphic)

The chances are your first thoughts are about something digital.

But content marketing has existed since at least 1895, long before the internet.

The first content marketing was print content marketing – and the format’s still going strong!

Early examples of successful print content marketing

Let’s look at the history first. (And thanks to the Content Marketing Institute for the infographic above – click on it to see the whole thing.)

John Deere and The Furrow

John Deere’s magazine, The Furrow, is widely accepted as the first example of content marketing. It’s not a sales catalogue, although it does contain calls to action. It’s a magazine which educates farmers of developing technology and trends in agriculture.

Publication started in 1895, and hasn’t stopped since. The current print run is over 1.5 million copies, distributed in over 40 countries.  That track record certainly shows the value of print content marketing!

The Michelin Guides

print-content-marketing-michelinWhen the first Guide was published in 1900, there were only a few thousand cars in all of France. Andre and Edouard Michelin wanted more people to buy cars, so there would be a bigger market for car tyres.

So they gave away free booklets full of information for motorists. Maps. Guides to how to repair and change tyres. Lists of car mechanics, hotels and petrol stations.

The Guides have changed over time – most notably, they now focus on restaurants, and you have to pay for them – but they’re still there. And so is the Michelin branding.

Pirelli Calendars

Another tyre company, but a different style of print content marketing.

The Pirelli calendar began in 1964 as a trade calendar for car mechanics. But it soon “cast off its original role as a ‘corporate freebie'” to become ‘an exclusive publication with a strong aesthetic and cultural vocation.’

Why print content marketing still works

There are many reasons to invest in print content marketing.

  • Engagement.  The average reader of a branded magazine will spend up to 20 to 25 minutes with it. Compare that to the two minutes you might get on the Web.
  • Long content is better suited to a printed format. And sometimes, you need to get more complex ideas across.
  • Durability. Even simple printed newsletters last longer than an email.
  • Cut-through.  We’ve said it before. We’ll say it again. Your letterbox is less cluttered than your inbox.
  • Neuroscience shows more emotional reaction, better recall and a higher perception of value for print over digital.
  • It’s easier to get guest contributors if you’re producing print content. Simply, print is seen as having more value. Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute agrees.  “I talked to a journalist recently who said it’s harder and harder to get people to agree to an interview for an online story. But mention that it will be a printed feature and executives rearrange their schedule.”
  • If you’re going to send people printed content, you need their real addresses as well as email addresses. It may be a harder initial sell, but you get more valuable contact information.  And while many people have a second email address to filter out junk mail, very few do the same in the offline world!

Modern examples of print content marketing

Idea books and customer magazines that combine product information and interesting articles are a growing segment for commercial printing.

When choosing which suits you, bear this in mind. A book is a one-off print content marketing project. A magazine is an ongoing commitment in terms of time and effort.


print-content-marketing-booksWriting a book gives you instant authority and credibility. And a print book does so far more than an e-book, whether you self-publish or sign a deal with a traditional publisher.

Books are especially effective if you work in an expertise-based industry. Financial planning and investing. Marketing. Natural medicine. Fitness training. Business coaching.

Alternatively, if you sell design services, a visual book collecting some of your key projects can be a great content marketing tool.  Think of architects, builders, fashion companies and so on. Here, a coffee table book with lavish illustrations is the way to go.

Lavish visuals work for restaurants and chefs too. (And given general public interest, this sector is more likely to get a publishing deal and good distribution.)

Or you can build a book around the story of your brand, or your company. Use a book to commemorate a 50 year or 100 year anniversary.

If you self-publish (and most content marketing books will be self-published), you need to consider distribution.  Most self-published books sell only a handful of copies. It’s better to think of the book as a promotional giveaway.

  • Give copies to your key clients and prospects.
  • Use as prizes at networking functions.
  • Promote the book on your website.
  • Run competitions and offer copies as prizes.

But remember a key part of the value is the kudos you get as an author. Even if you have copies left in boxes in your cupboards, you can still promote yourself in all your marketing as an author and benefit from the authority that gives you.


The most obvious examples of print content marketing are customer and member magazines.

“Why spend €40,000 a page to advertise in Vogue when, for the same amount of money, you can publish an entire magazine?”

Alice Litscher, fashion communication professor, Institut Français de la Mode, Paris

print-content-marketing-open-roadOne other great thing about publishing a magazine – you get to exclude your competitors! Compare that to a trade magazine where you are competing directly with them for attention.

  • The NRMA‘s Open Road and the RACV‘s Royal Auto are obvious Australian examples. Both have print runs of around 1.5 million. Both provide useful, entertaining, relevant content. But they also promote the full range of services the organisations offer. This combination of free advice and a gentle sales message is classic content marketing.
  • Airlines and hotels also publish their own magazines, with the same objectives.

It’s not just these traditional players who are publishing magazines, though.

  • print-content-marketing-red-bulletinRed Bull publish Red Bulletin, an ‘almost independent monthly magazine’ focusing on an ‘active lifestyle’ content which fits with the drink’s brand image. It’s distributed through subscriptions, newsstands and partners. There are 11 national editions in various languages, and the total circulation is around 2 million.
  • Uber, the taxi cab challengers, have recently launched not one but two print magazines. Momentum is a quarterly magazine for its 150,000 drivers. Arriving Now, on the other hand, is targeted at customers. To date it’s only available in New York and it’s not clear how often it will publish.
  • And online fashion giant Net-a-Porter publishes Porter, a fashion glossy which acquired over 150,000 subscribers within a year of launch. (That compares to around 200,000 for British Vogue, so it’s a good number!) One interesting feature of Porter is that it’s technology-integrated. You can scan any page and be taken online to buy the dress or shoes you’re looking at. So maybe it is just a very fancy catalogue?  Except that it takes advertising too – and you can scan the advertising as well as the content.

More advice on custom magazines in this article from Annette McCrary of Ricoh, publishers of The Flow.


A magazine may be out of your reach, but what about a simple quarterly newsletter? Customers who don’t read their email will notice the print in their letterbox.


The ‘modern‘ online phrase is native advertising, but in the old world of print content marketing, it was called an advertorial.

The key point here is that you are paying to have your content put in front of someone else’s customers. And the content is not a sales pitch, but the start of a conversation.  It gives information, or it entertains. It adds value for the consumer.

print-content-marketing-guinness-cheese-guide   print-content-marketing-aldi-advertorial

Many advertorials are one-off campaigns, like the examples above.

Another option is to develop a long-term ‘columnist’ relationship.

  • A vet or a pet store might write a column about caring for animals.
  • A doctor might write about common illnesses or how to stay healthy.
  • A financial advisor could write about investment options.

It’s the same as a blog, but it’s in print. And that gives it added authority. Especially if your column is in a respected newspaper or magazine.  Local publications can also help you target a specific area.

Content marketing at point of sale

Let’s not forget the good old-fashioned point-of-sale leaflet. If your point of sale adds value for customers, retailers are more likely to use it. But remember your POS has to work for retailers too – and retail space is at a premium. Here’s a POS example which Xpadite developed with Kiwi Shoecare.



So when you review your content marketing strategy, don’t forget to consider print options. And if you need help with any of them, just ask Xpadite.