Print Marketing ROI – How to Measure and Improve It

print-marketing-roiDo you measure your print marketing ROI?

How do you track which business comes from print?

Are you happy with your results?

Whatever your current approach to tracking your print marketing, we hope this article gives you some tips and ideas on how to improve.

Comparing print marketing ROI to other marketing channels

There’s a great deal of press around the death of newspapers and magazines.  There are multiple reports about how spend on digital marketing is increasing every year. All this leads to the impression that print marketing doesn’t work any more. But there’s a body of research which shows differently.

One research study from 2014 compared 10 advertising campaigns across newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and online.

Amazingly, the two print media delivered better ROI than online, TV or radio!

It’s key here to distinguish between reach and ROI. It doesn’t matter how many people experience your ad, it’s how many respond to it.  And print has a couple of key advantages:

  • It endures longer. (Even a daily newspaper lasts longer than a TV commercial!)
  • It has a physical presence, which can trigger followup later.

This factsheet from the Value of Paper and Print lists some other research showing strong results for print marketing.

They also have a case study from Kenbrock about how print drives ROI for their flooring products.

“Our website is an important tool delivering an extensive overview of our wide range of products, particularly to commercial clients and architects, but our retail domestic customers need quality tactile reinforcement.”

“They come to the stores to touch and feel the products. When they leave with one of our detailed printed brochures they feel they are taking the whole experience home with them”.

Calculating print marketing ROI

The calculation for ROI is straightforward in itself. Total revenue divided by total costs.  The challenge is ensuring you capture all the revenue and all the costs.

Let’s look at costs first, since these are relatively easy.  The table below shows the main costs you need to consider for various kinds of print marketing.


Tracking revenue from your print can be more difficult.

When a customer clicks on an online ad to get to your website, it’s easy to track where they came from.

When a customer walks into your store or calls your number, how do you know whether they saw a print ad?  Or which one?

And what about the people who saw your ad, then searched for you online?

Here are some of the commonest ways to improve tracking of results from print marketing campaigns. Most of them have some margin of error, but they’re better than not tracking at all.

Change in revenue

If your business levels are relatively steady, then you run a print campaign and sales go up, you can attribute the extra sales to your print campaign.

Just be sure there are no other factors influencing the change in your sales. Maybe your business fluctuates with the season (eg flowers or jewellery at Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day) or the weather (garden equipment). Maybe the competitor coffee shop in the next street closed for renovations.  Or a strong Aussie dollar means more holidayers are going overseas, so your outback tours are less popular.

Asking your customers how they found you

Another simple method, but not the most robust one.  Asking works best if you have a small team who can be trained to ask, and who will record the answers. Beware, customers may not know, or may not answer honestly.

This method may also be unsuitable if customers are in a hurry, or have to queue. Anything which slows down your ability to service them is a problem in this scenario.

Coupons, codewords, incentives and competitions

Include an offer or incentive in your print marketing pieces.  Then track redemptions.  If you use different codes for each print channel, you can compare performance across these channels as well.

One risk here is that too many ‘offers’ may cheapen your brand. Discounting may not be a good long term strategy. You could offer entry into a competition.  If your product has reasonable margin, you could offer a giveaway.

Use unique response channels

If you’re advertising in 3 magazines and on 2 radio staions, use 5 different phone numbers. It’s easy to route them all to the same end point, and the systems which do this will track how many calls came from each number originally. Especially effective if you use 1300 or 1800 numbers displayed prominently. Most customers won’t even notice the different numbers.

You can apply the same principle to reply paid addresses or PO boxes.

There is some extra overhead cost involved in setting this kind of tracking up. On the other hand, you get reliable information, which helps you know which channels are performing. So you can spend your future marketing budget more wisely and increase ROI over time. The cost is actually an investment for the future.

Use URLs, PURLs or QR codes to drive and track web traffic from print marketing

Urls or web addresses are like phone numbers – you can redirect a lot of them to one place! Use one for each channel and see where your traffic is coming from.  You need to keep them easy and relevant to you and your campaign, though. For example, if Xpadite were promoting our custom packaging capabilities, we could have urls such as:


This article gives more information, including links to how to set up your tracking.

QR (Quick Response) codes work the same way, but they’re used more with mobiles. With a QR code, the user doesn’t have to type a url on a small screen.

PURLs, or personalised urls, are often used with direct mail. This means you can track not just the channel but the individual as well. Examples might be:


and so on.

Remember print marketing ROI is not always immediate

80% plus of email response comes within 24 hours. If you’re advertising in a monthly magazine, response obviously takes longer. But beware – it may takes much longer than a month! Many magazines are passed on from one reader to another. Many lie around in hairdressers, doctors’ waiting rooms and other places for many months.

The bulk of your response is still likely to be within a couple of months, but it does mean you need to be careful if you’re recycling phone numbers or URLs. Otherwise you’ll dirty up your data and your print marketing ROI calculations will go haywire.

What about print in multi-channel marketing campaigns?

Multi-channel marketing campaigns are becoming more and more common – and they’re often hard to measure!

Dependent on the channels you’re using, the best option is probably some split testing.

If your campaign has enough geographic reach, try adding print in one location but not another. So for example, an insurance company might run a campaign with TV advertising in NSW and Victoria, plus letterbox catalogues in NSW and Queensland. When the results come in, they can analyse the increased revenue from each of the three states to see what the best combination of channel is.

print-marketing-roi-multi-channel-exampleHere’s some example numbers to demonstrate. These are totally made up, but they illustrate one important point.

Better sales does not necessarily mean better ROI.

Compare the results for Victoria and Queensland.  There was more sales uplift in Victoria, but a better return on investment (marketing investment) in Queensland. So which was better value for money?

Of course it depends on your business objectives, but the company made a greater profit on the campaign in Queensland ($25,000) than in Victoria ($20,000).

This shows why return on investment is such an important measure.

Tips to improve your print marketing ROI

By now you should be convinced that print marketing can work, or at least prepared to give it a try.  The next question is, how do you make it work better? Here’s some ideas.

Great creative is essential.

Have a brainstorm in the office, or download our collection of great print marketing ideas to get your imagination flowing.

Print with multisensory appeal can help as well.

Target as closely as you can.

  • For letterbox media, select suburbs with demographics or lifestyles which match your ideal customer.
  • For direct mail, investigate potential lists and use ones with good selection criteria.
  • For magazines and newspapers, consider the readership

Have a clear call to action

A reason to respond. A clear and obvious way to respond. Make this stand out with contrasting colours, borders, large font or other methods.

But don’t have too many response options. Harvard Business Review explains why choice isn’t always better.

Consider the position of advertising in magazines and newspapers

  • FHRHP – First half, right hand page is generally considered best
  • Cover positions (front and back) also generate better response, but they are more expensive.  Experiment to find the best ROI for you and your product.
  • Frequency matters. For large format ads, four times seems to be optimum. For smaller ads, it might be as much as seven.
  • Try unusual ad sizes and formats to stand out better. Multiple right hand full pages one after the other revealing a story. A strip along the bottom of the page.

Test, test and test again

Testing is the R&D of marketing. It allows you to see what works and what doesn’t.  So whatever you do, test it!

Good luck everyone with measuring and improving your print marketing ROI!