The weight of paper

One of my corporate clients is an icon of the virtual world, a pioneer that took a process as old as civilisation itself – the visceral exchange of cold, hard cash – and converted it into a convenience of clicks and bits. The firm’s customers love it and it invests heavily in supportig them with useful information; classic content marketing.

But the other day, my contact remarked how much customers loved to print off the guides we produce. They kept hard copies to hand for reference. She also told me how every year, the marketing team presents its execs with hard copies of all the content produced. Physical proof of value delivered.

We shouldn’t be surprised; “The habits we’ve got are more than 10,000 years old”, to quote the songwriter Roy Harper.

Like cold, hard cash, paper is visceral. It lights up all the senses. The smell of books. You can’t quite find what you’re looking for, but you remember it’s two-thirds the way down a left hand page, about a quarter of the way through the book. You almost remember the shape of the white space. The printed word comes with no digital distractions, but it comes with heft, and feel.

And, with unstated credibility.

The Huffington Post has a summary of the science, here.

Meanwhile, not wholly unrelated, Kantor finds that, in an era of fake news, people trust printed news magazines more than social media:

The ‘reputational fallout’ in 2017 has been focused on social media companies while ‘traditional media companies’ reputations have been more resilient, both globally and in the UK. Print magazines are the most trusted news sources, while social media sites and messaging apps are least trusted around the world (see chart below). Traditional broadcast channels (TV and radio) are second and third most trusted respectively, followed by newspapers. ‘Online only’ news outlets are trusted significantly less than their print and broadcast brethren.

The Times also summarised Kantor’s findings, here.

The weight and presence of a physical book, proper paper, is a proxy for authority – one of the heuristics noted by Robert Cialdini in his classic book, Influence. Every self-published consultant knows that.

It’s very tempting to get caught up in the clean and easy to measure metrics of marketing automation and social media marketing.

We should be careful always to remember the weight of paper.


Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

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