Print vs Online: How Your Customers Receive Your Message

When it comes to your message, it turns out medium matters.

Recent studies show a difference in the way people read, understand and react to messages in print vs online formats. Understanding these differences—and using them to your advantage—can help you find the best way to get your specific message to your customers, whether through direct mail or digital connections.


Think about how you read a book, newspaper or magazine article, or letter. Most likely, you start at the beginning and read to the end. This is called “linear” reading, and it is the most common way people engage with printed text.

This tendency to read in a linear manner is actually a big plus for getting your message out to customers. Because they will likely read the information as you choose to present it, there is a much greater chance that your customers will receive your message just how you intend it. In other words, linear reading gives you greater control over how your message is taken in, connected with and understood by your customers.

Not only does print allow greater control over how customers read your messages, it may leave a more deep and lasting impression on them. More and more, studies are finding that people are more likely to understand and emotionally engage with, and remember information they read in printed texts, rather than digital sources. They may also be more likely to take what you say in print more seriously.


People interact with digital text and online information in a much different way than print. This difference is important for marketers to recognize, because it affects how the message you send is received by your customers.

One of the more striking differences in digital/online reading is the amount of control readers have over how they gather information. Various online tools, such as hyperlinks and the option to open multiple windows, allows the reader to move through text as they choose—perhaps pausing to look up information, or browse through a hyperlinked source. And because few online readers follow the same linear path as print readers, the writer has much less control over the way the reader receives the intended message.

Another key difference is the increased tendency for online reader to scroll and skim through a text. Rather than investing full attention and reading every word, online readers are much more likely to search out keywords, taking in less information (and perhaps missing important points and issues in the process). In fact, people pretty consistently report that if they want to really engage with a text, they have to read it on paper, which means online texts will more often than not get printed out for more in-depth reading.

One of the most obvious considerations with online reading is that there are many distractions—much more than in static print. The same tools that give readers the control mentioned earlier (hyperlinks, multiple windows, suggested readings, etc.), also make it very difficult for a reader to fully focus on your words or message. In fact, the amount of focus it takes to filter out these distractions can actually cause people to become more exhausted by the reading process. Similarly, eye fatigue becomes a problem with constantly changing screen, colors, layouts and effects.

What does this mean for your marketing?

Understanding how people take in information in different forms can be a valuable asset when creating both print and online marketing campaigns.

Consider a few important takeaways:

  • Direct mail gives you more control over your message.
  • Customers tend to take printed text more seriously than digital text.
  • Readers move through online text in a different way than print.
  • Online readers are much more likely to skim and search out key words.
  • Digital media can be very distracting and exhausting for readers.

With this in mind, there are some things you can keep in mind to increase the value of both your direct mail and digital marketing efforts.

  • If you want your message read in a specific way, consider direct mail.
  • Important correspondences should be sent on paper.
  • Don’t overwhelm your digital correspondences with distractions. Keep things like hyperlinks and effects to a minimum.
  • Consider the layout of your digital communications. Research indicates that text is more easily read in a single column and things like text font, color and size can make reading either easier or more difficult.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of key words. Make sure you include specific words that will resonate with your customers, especially in your digital communications.
  • Make sure anything you send in digital format is easy for the reader to print out, especially if it is something that needs to be read or considered in-depth.

The right message in the right medium can increase your marketing ROI and improve your bottom line. Understanding the way your message is received is a great step in ensuring you get the most out of all of your marketing efforts.

Published on June 2, 2015