Using Print Media to Support Online Media

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While establishing an online presence is perhaps the most crucial and obvious step toward building a profitable e-commerce business, you should also consider using print media to attract business. Relying too much on the online medium can seriously hinder your firm's ability to draw new customers and take advantage of all available opportunities to generate business. Avoiding traditional media, such as print, can lead to tremendous lost potential. Moreover, if you don't move to capitalize on this advertising channel, your competitors may, and could edge you out of the market in the process.

Now that the dot-com craze is over, and customers, businesses, and investors alike are looking for comprehensive, integrated business models, your firm might benefit from print media support. No matter how established your brands, stitching together your online presence and a traditional print campaign to advertise your site is crucial to bringing in new online customers and building brand presence.

Technology can help you get the most out of your content, whether in print or online. Extensible markup language (XML), the lingua franca of e-commerce, is perfect in this regard, because it acts as a meta language that instructs machines how to interpret data in different contexts. So information generated with XML coding can be easily reformatted to suit online media, such as e-mail and your Web site, and print media in all its formats.

Once you decide to use print media to promote your firm, you are faced with a dizzying array of choices. It's up to you to figure out which options best suit your firm's purposes and budget. Print media options range from newpaper and magazine advertisements to direct-mailing campaigns to mail-order catalogs.

For each kind of print media campaign, there are numerous considerations, and each must be aligned to accomplish your firm's goals. To begin with, you must have a clear understanding of your target audience: What kinds of media are they likely to use frequently and respond to? Will the cost of reaching one demographic group through medium X outweigh the cost of attracting another demographic through medium Y? How important is each demographic group to your long-term sales? Where can you cut costs, and where is it best to spare no expense? Should you produce glossy brochures for a direct-mailing campaign, or will your particular target audience respond equally well to a simple text letter that points to your more comprehensive and interactive Web site? In other words, you must determine what is required to reel customers into your Web site, where the focus of your business is.

Another consideration is to be sure to maintain seamless compatibility of information between your online and print media channels. This is done best when both your online information and your print channels originate via common databases and text programs. That way, you only need to format them for their different channels after the fact. The main difference, of course, is that print can't be changed on a moment's notice like your Web site can. Thus, it's crucial that any print media support does just that: it must support the online medium by referencing and pointing readers to your online site, where the most up-to-date, interactive, and useful data can be found. This seamless integration of your online and print media channels is known as channel harmony. That is, you bring your various outreach and sales channels into a symbiotic relationship by systematizing them and making them, effectively, communicate with each other for the customer's benefit.

All things being equal, you're best off trying to steer customers garnered through a print channel, such as a catalog, to your Web site to make their purchases, if only because processing orders via the Web is much cheaper than with call centers and paper forms. Moreover, since e-commerce is your business, your print media should try to encourage customers to take advantage of your online storefront, the heart of your operations, while still trying to draw in as many new customers via print as possible.

In catalogs, especially, it's important to vigorously promote your Web site. Simply appending your site address and an e-mail address to the pages isn't enough. If you want to drive customers to your Web site, it's vital that you give them a reason. This could involve entire pages devoted to advertising just the Web site itself, showcasing the offerings that await customers online and providing instructions on how to place orders over the Web. You should explain the advantages of using the Web and provide other information that highlights the unique character and importance of your Web site.

Still, you don't want to go through all the trouble of creating print media only to sell it short. Some customers prefer to make purchases offline, and for them your print media should stand on its own. This is particularly true of catalogs. While touting your Web site, you don't want to defeat the purpose of having a catalog to begin. You should take steps to outfit your organization to handle mail and call-center orders from the catalog or other print media as required in order to maximize sales and customer satisfaction.


James, Dana. "Fine Print Works Well for E-retailers." Marketing News, August 28, 2000, 4.

McKeon, John. "Accepting the Online Challenge." Graphic Arts Monthly, June 1999, 97.

Phillips, John T. "XML for Content and E-commerce." Information Management Journal, April 2001, 54.

Wilder, Clinton. "Real-World Site Ads Pay Off." InformationWeek, May 24, 1999, 85.