What’s the Difference Between Print and Digital Advertising ROI?

ROI, or return on investment, is Business 101. When you don’t know the impact of efforts, you don’t actually know if they’re worth it. If you spend $1 on something that generates $2, you can be confident that your dollar was well spent: you achieved a 200% ROI.

This metric is particularly important in marketing, where there are a dizzying amount of approaches and a need to convince the higher-ups that your preferred channel will yield concrete results.

Broadly speaking, marketers will typically divide their efforts between digital and print advertising—but how does calculating ROI differ between the two? And does one approach offer a better return than the other?

Enjoying the New Advances in Online Advertising

Finding your ROI has never been easier, thanks to tracking technologies employed by virtually every digital advertising platform. If you’ve correctly tracked conversions, you can calculate the price and return for every single click—a degree of detail impossible to achieve in print media.

Even better, online advertising allows for incredibly precise audience targeting. You can zero in on the ideal consumer by strategically segmenting your audience by age, location, device, and more. You can also choose to show ads to those who have already interacted with your website (a tactic known as remarketing).

Specifying a smaller subset to market to is a huge win-win: not only do you pay less by showing fewer ads than a shotgun approach, but those targeted ads are far more likely to engage and convert, delivering a double-shot of ROI goodness.

But how’s that ROI compare to print?

The Underestimated Power of Print

While it’s certainly more difficult to get exact ROI metrics with print ads, that doesn’t mean they’re lower. In fact, a Nielson study found that brands that invested in magazine spots recouped an extraordinary 781% ROI, or $7.81 for every dollar spent, compared to just 279% for digital portals and ad networks.

A European study corroborates the surprising advantage of print media, concluding that newspaper and magazine ads produce 120% and 130% ROI respectively, while online ads only yielded 110%.

Making Your Choice

It’s important to remember that the numbers quoted above are generalized. Your ROI depends on innumerable variables, including industry, audience, product, context, etc. No matter what approach you ultimately go with, take steps to accurately track your own ROI.

For those seeking instant ROI gratification, digital is certainly the way to go. Print ads, though, may offer more of a punch—even if those figures are a little fuzzier. It’s in vogue to say that print is dying. The numbers tell quite a different story.


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