Study: IFH demonstrates that print influences buying behavior more than digital


Printed brochures evidently play an essential role. Study demonstrates that printed brochures are more important in the digital age than you might think.

Are printed brochures more important in the digital age than previously assumed?

Everybody is familiar with them and regularly holds them in their hands. They either come enclosed in newspapers, are posted on their own in letterboxes or people take these brochures with them from stores. We are talking brochures – an integral part of many providers’ and consumers’ lives. The Institut für Handelsforschung (IFH) Köln therefore recently compared printed and digital brochures and surveyed a representative group of people about how they handle this long-established medium in the digital age and what added value the one option provides compared to the other. In my opinion, some of the characteristics compiled apply not just to printed brochures but to other print products as well. So that is reason enough to take a closer look and let the facts speak for themselves. But before we kick off – my priority here is a qualitative rating of the IFH results in relation to print and not to list each individual numeric result.

Finding bargains, saving money and planning purchases – these are the basic aspects that consumers consider when thinking about brochures. Providers use this established advertising medium to connect with households, and in doing so frequently initiate a customer journey that ends up with a purchase. The interesting thing about this is why printed brochures in particular have a promotional influence and therefore lay an important foundation for generating sales.

They inspire potential buyers and thus often generate the purchase intention. Print brochures are currently even more popular with younger readers than digital offerings, because they simply combine more emotional elements. Emotional reasons include curiosity and inspiration. And since it is common practice in many families to leaf through brochures together to point out this and that to each other or to draw your opposite number’s attention to the latest XY offering, print products like brochures and advertising leaflets are a firm fixture in a ritualized sequence of events. If the digital version is used, it then usually serves as a further source of information or comparison.

Printed brochures have the edge as far as many of the characteristics are concerned; Source: IFH Köln
Printed brochures have the edge as far as many of the characteristics are concerned; Source: IFH Köln

Brochures are not only used on a substantial scale, they have a significantly positive impact on consumers’ buying behavior in particular, which is now more complex than ever before. Thus, for example, 50 % of consumers buy from a DIY store after reading its brochure.

It’s the same here as in other segments, in that print versions bring returns for providers – those who pick up and peruse printed promotional offer leaflets not only opt more frequently for that particular retailer, but also buy more on the basis of this brochure and other offers shown than would otherwise be the case if they had not read the brochure or leaflet. Furthermore these free-delivery printed brochures are read as a matter of routine, which enable them to attract more attention among consumers than their digital counterparts, which have to be proactively accessed online.

The above chart shows us that positive buying experiences are directly associated with printed brochures; when bargain hunting, consumers associate topicality more frequently with offline versions than with “fast-moving” online brochures. And the observer can see that the way print versions are used and their impact (up-to-date, visually appealing, conveniently sized and clearly laid out) are definitely positive across all age groups. That validates the perennial benefits of print, like for example its haptic appeal, less hurried reading of text on paper and ease of access to the medium.



“No matter whether they are based on emotional or rational factors, printed promotional offer leaflets and brochures continue to have a raison d‘être. Digital versions of brochures are by no means as integral a part of day-to-day life as the printed originals. And since printed and online brochures can complement each other well, print will continue to demonstrate its potential.” – Bernd Zipper


Of course websites, like for instance or (both belong to the Bonial Group), which package or pool the digital versions of established brochures, have existed for some time now. The only thing is that clicking through a digital brochure doesn’t have the same haptic charm as leafing through a print version. No matter whether you apply rational or emotional criteria, printed brochures are superior to online versions in nearly every respect. Many consumers simply regard printed brochures as must-haves as far as seeking inspiration for their next purchase or that sought-after bargain is concerned. That is not only good news for web-fed print providers, but also demonstrates that regularly published print products provide consumers with added value.

And what’s the story with the link between print and mobile/digital as far as brochures are concerned? Mobile is a major issue and becoming increasingly more so, as current figures published by Germany’s Federal Statistics Office show. According to these figures, 50 million people in Germany now go on to the Internet primarily via smartphones or cellphones. But this mobile trend is apparently having less of an effect on consumer expenditure generated by regularly published advertising leaflets. That’s because consumers browse through promotional offers at home, no matter whether by leafing through a printed brochure or on a laptop. And apps play a significantly subordinated role in contrast to other brochure versions. The five display inches are usually not sufficient to enable consumers to get an overview of what’s on offer.

Despite a high degree of digitalization, consumers resort most frequently to printed brochures when planning what to buy; Source: IFH Köln
Despite a high degree of digitalization, consumers resort most frequently to printed brochures when planning what to buy; Source: IFH Köln

One can state that the printed brochure is an integral part of many consumers’ everyday lives – the digital version is going to have to “work hard” to achieve this status. As in the case of books, for example, reading printed advertising media has become a firmly embedded ritual in the lives of many consumers. After all, more than twice as many brochures are read in paper form, for all the usual reasons. But the study also showed what I recently reported about here in this blog, which is the link between both media formats or rather how they complement each other. Using readable codes, the offline brochure can bridge the gap to the daily updatable online version. Print therefore provides access to the consumer, triggers their emotions and further product information can then be provided online.

The “Print works! Symbiosis instead of cannibalization?” study by IFH Köln in cooperation with MEDIA Central examines the importance of the brochure as a source of inspiration when buying from food retailers, drugstores and DIY stores. The survey was conducted based on three 2-hour focus groups each consisting of eight participants. The insights gained were then validated in the course of a representative survey of 3015 consumers (mixed-mode survey using combined online access panel and CATI survey by phone). The study can be ordered from MEDIA Central.

My take: perennial, reliable, tangible and promotional – this is how you can still describe print in just a few trenchant words. These are not just empty phrases plucked out of thin air, but valid statements. The figures from this study show us that even those print products not associated with the growth markets of packaging print, functional print or mass customization continue to have their raison d’être. And many people continue to regard print products as the antithesis to fast-moving digital, which is why they prefer to rely on print. We therefore assume that printed brochures and other promotional print items will also continue to play a substantial role in the future. Since they – as we have seen based on rational and emotional buying decision factors – are relevant to most retail businesses (even those without walk-in customers) and private consumer expenditure has increased steadily by at least fifteen billion Euros in the last four years, businesses are going to keep on investing money in printed brochures in future. Reassuring, don’t you think? So, keep calm – and print on!

Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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