The Shift from Print to Digital

March 05, 2014

We’ve been told for nearly a decade now that this is the digital age. We are in the golden age of instant connectivity. Nearly everyone, at least everyone with any spending/giving power, is online. Yet, there are a surprising number of well-known businesses and organizations that spend the bulk of their advertising and marketing budgets on print materials.

Don’t get me wrong. Print has its place. Unfortunately, the majority of print finds its place in a landfill or recycling center. 

Your ad here!

There are some serious environmental issues associated with producing all of this eventual garbage that rarely gets read. But beyond that, there are some compelling ways in which going digital with your ad dollars can affect your organization’s financial viability.


Your print ads are temporary. Only those that you reach at exactly the right time are impacted by your message. A print ad spends more time being designed, manufactured and thrown away than it does being looked at. If the timing of an ad does not sync perfectly with your audience’s purchasing or giving cycle, then it is wasted. Your beautiful advertisement will be discarded before your message has had an opportunity to make any sort of impact.

By contrast, a digital ad or piece of well-crafted online content requires much less time to “manufacture” and can be in the wild for a much longer period of time. Extending the life of an ad or appeal for support means that you are getting more value for your advertising dollar. Furthermore, a piece of digital content can be found by your audience when they are looking for it, and when they are prepared to make a buying or giving decision.

It is all about hitting your prospective supporter or buyer at the right point in their personal engagement cycle.


A print ad is immutable. It goes where it is directed and remains the same until it is discarded. Each ad you create must either be so broad in its message that it is likely to miss the mark for many audiences, or you must create and distribute so many targeted ads that you risk blowing your budget on design, printing and mailing costs.

It is difficult (though admittedly not impossible) to know in which households, communities and publications you will find your ideal audience members, and thusly you are more likely to print and distribute far more copies than could ever be effective. You have chosen to blanket an enormous population in order to try and hit a relatively small audience. And even within that small audience, only a tiny portion see the ad when they are in the mindset to make a buying or giving decision.

By moving your appeals and ads more into the digital space, you can more efficiently and effectively target messaging and content to segmented audiences. You can hit your potential customers/supporters where they are when they are most likely to be thinking about you, your products or your mission. Online advertising and creative use of on-site content allow organizations to reach audiences when and where such messaging will be most impactful. Digital content is also much easier to tweak when you figure out that something isn’t completely optimized, allowing you to deploy the content, measure (see below) its efficacy and update as needed, on the fly.


It is all about return-on-investment (ROI). It isn’t impossible to know how effective your print marketing and advertisements have been, but it is really stinking difficult, and it often requires further investments in person-to-person research such as surveys and interviews. Even if your print materials have excellent reach and are perfectly timed, you may never know what your actual ROI is with each new campaign.

On the other hand, it has never been easier to know exactly what the ROI on each online marketing campaign is. Savvy online marketers have mastered the tools and methods to place a value on each click, each page view and each impression. When you spend a dollar on stellar website content, a social media ad or a pay-per-click campaign, you know what that dollar yields in terms of audience building, purchases or supporters. On-site analytics can tell you what is most effective at converting users on your own site, as well as how to most effectively lead them down the path to buying/giving.

The ROI for online advertising and content marketing couldn’t be clearer… well, maybe it will be in the future. But that is even greater incentive to master the tools now!

Related Posts