Saying Goodbye to PRINT

Now I’m not saying PRINT magazine was the sole reason I selected graphic design as my academic major, but boy did it sure have a lot to do with it. The Internet was certainly a thing as I exited high school, but in the late nineties I was still gleaning my sense of the world primarily through tangible materials. PRINT was not only a source of information and inspiration; it also served as a beacon, an apex of the printed object itself. Paper samples from French and later Yupo would be bound in with the rest of the gloss paper stock giving the magazine a feel of part art-object part publication.

Earlier this year I found out, (rather late I suppose), that PRINT was going out of, well…print.

This is a shame. PRINT is going to be missed. Even if you never cracked a cover, you should miss it. What will especially be missed is the PRINT Regional Design Annual. To be honest, it really is the idea of the annual that I believe we should miss the most.

Here’s why; it represented two critical things for our industry. (And when I say “our” industry I am not only referring to graphic design; but marketing, mass communications, illustration, shopper marketing, typography, commercial art, content marketing, marketing content…call it what you will.) The first is that the annual was a collection of work that subjectively represented the best of our craft. It was a guidebook, a premier on what relative approaches were appropriate for current culture and time. Second, and this one is important—it represented a goal. If you worked as a graphic designer, art director, account manager, creative director, writer, photographer, illustrator, you name it…you wanted to say at least once in your career that you were included in the annual’s collection of work.

It was always my goal, one of the “KPI’s” I sought to validate my career but I never made it into the annual and so I’m left to speculation as to whether my work was ever close to being selected.

And I’m good with that.

But what I’m not sure I’m good with is that in our industry’s assumed digital maturity that the need for analog print, for paper, for design to be held up as it’s own discipline should be ignored or presumed invalid or dead. Even as the size of the PRINT RDA dwindled over recent years you still got a sense of the vitality of printed material’s relationship to design. I believe human beings’ relationship to printed material is just as important as our relationship to digital material, social content and even voice.

PRINT will apparently live on as an online community and while I hope it thrives in that new iteration our industry should continue to champion the types of design and thinking that can only occur on paper and tangible formats. Furthermore, designers and thinkers still need to seek validation for their craft beyond the reach of their social feeds. Regional and national award shows such as the Addy’s are great, but in a sense they are ephemeral, (if not highly political). They are fleeting, but the record and residue left behind through printed and published material leaves strong evidence and inspiration for us and the future makers and thinkers in our industry…and in our communities.

The Disconnect Between Branding and Shopper Marketing

How many of you use or have heard of the old ad world terms; “above-the-line creative” and “below-the-line creative?”

Maybe you’ve heard of it; maybe you haven’t.

Here’s a quick explanation:

Above-the-line typically refers to the big projects – the type of work you dream of doing when you’re in art or marketing school. These are the assignments that make careers and grace the pages of PRINT, HOW, CA, and other prominent publications on design and marketing. Below-the-line work refers to the utility work, the day-to-day collateral such as coupons, POS, shippers, and many other in-store or social tactics that drive to retail. In most cases, below-the-line work has been required to closely follow the conceptual and visual mandates derived from the brand and image-focused above-the-line efforts.

However, the delineation described, while still adopted, is far outdated. The result is a significant rift in the effectiveness of retail, CPG, and shopper marketing.

Our industry can do better.

A number of retail brands have lulled themselves into believing that the above-the-line work, the development of a brand guideline full of brand assets, cultural studies, sharply stated consumer entry points, and the outlines for social media engagement is the only DNA that is needed to effectively extrapolate into a shopper marketing plan.

They’re wrong.

Brand considerations are, of course, important, but it’s not the full scope of thinking that should be leveraged in order to market a brand that must win at retail in order to succeed and stay alive.

Brand marketing is not shopper marketing. They are two relevant but separate tasks and they need to be treated as such. While both brand and shopper strategies are important, maybe our industry needs to flip the sequence of development. Rather than the brand guideline driving shopper strategies, maybe shopper strategies should drive brand marketing and ultimately the brand itself.

In the age of fluid content marketing, it makes little sense to continue to design CPG messaging from the static structure of a brand guideline. Brands would benefit from starting from ground zero, where the rubber meets the road. It would be best if the heart of every CPG brand formed around the ever-evolving realities of how humans interact with retail environments—whether physical, social, or e-commerce. Doing so doesn’t distract from the tenants of branding such as building a tribe, culturing loyal brand advocates, or building brand reputation, it improves upon all by focusing on how and why the shopper will engage with the product at the point of purchase.

The instances where it’s made sense for Phoenix Creative to encourage brands to break free from their brand-exclusive thinking and begin to develop shopper efforts as uniquely considered, messaged, and deployed tactics have seen great success.

I believe our industry needs to flip the sequence of branding more. Start with the channels in which the product is purchased, figure out how to be relevant to the shopper, and focus on the product. In other words, allow the below-the-line learning to drive the above-the-line brand. By allowing branding to be shaped by what happens at retail, CPGs can better speak to shoppers, also known as people, in a way that brand messaging alone simply can’t do within physical or digital retail environments.

Schaeffer’s Product Line Branding

A new brand goes well beyond a logo. We knew after Schaeffer’s came to us with the challenge of helping to name, brand, and position their new PC-11 compliant oils that we’d start our thinking from the aisle out. All of PHX’s retail branding efforts consider the consumer, however, we also consider the unique retail environments and channels that carry the product as well—and we start our thinking there.

Schaeffer’s new oils will help truckers, farmers, and large equipment operators of all types become compliant with new 2017 federal standards that affect their diesel equipment. In order to communicate the benefits of this new line of oils, each end-user category was considered as a separate consumer base with a product line developed specifically for them. The four product lines were each assigned a unique color code system, naming convention, market message, ancillary texture, and application imagery in order to quickly communicate to diesel operators which variation was engineered specially for them.

From mom-and-pop truck stops to rural county co-ops to national fuel centers, this brand needed to stand out and work quickly to accurately communicate the intended usage types and engine formats each oil type was developed for. Ultimately, personality, tone, and technical data were as important as color, image, and design—collectively, the brand became another symbol of Schaeffer’s 175+ year history of innovation geared toward keeping machines and people performing at their best.

Phoenix Creative Co.