What is the future of printing? That is the big question on the mind of most printing company owners as the recession ends and business starts to pick up. Will customers be ordering the same products in the same volume as they were before the economic turndown? Can a printer recapture the business and customers he lost over the past year? Will he be able to keep the ones he has?
Business has changed. The last few years have forced all businesses to look at how they communicate with their customers. Putting ink on paper isn’t the only way to reach customers and prospects. Businesses are trying to be smarter about how they reach their customers and they are looking for how to get the most bang for their buck.
While printing is still one of the most effective and economical ways for a business to communicate, the Internet can make print even more powerful. Printers must learn how the new technology can compliment print, and how print can drive the new technology.
The Internet has changed the way the business world communicates. Internet technology has changed our expectations about information. It has created a culture demanding access in minutes rather than days. Blogs, websites, social media, mobile phones, and search engines put the world at our fingertips. Printers are beginning to wonder what their role will be in this information revolution, and whether or not they will survive.
The outlook for quick and small commercial printers isn’t as bleak as it is for others in the industry. The small print shops only rely on about 25 customers who provide 50-75% of their business. Finding a few good customers is an easier task than having to find hundreds of customers. A small shop can adapt quickly to change and integrate new technology faster, giving it a better chance of changing direction and becoming profitable.
Printing isn’t dead for the quick and small commercial printers if they understand how printing integrates with the new electronic media. It starts with listening to customers and finding out what they want. This means getting out of the office and in front of customers to have a conversation about their needs.
The printers who have most to fear are the ones who sit back and wait for customers to come to them with their printing needs. Some printers have “salespeople,” but most of them still use the old route sales model to visit likely prospects and ask them for a printing order. In those cases, the print buyer asks the salesperson to provide pricing and then selects which ever company offers the lowest price. Printing salespeople who come back with a lot of jobs to bid on think they are doing a good job. All they are really doing is getting into a price war.
Printers who ignore and fail to invest time and training into the new technology will be left behind. Print no longer stands alone. In all of the information clutter, a printer will have to learn what technology will help their customers’ information stand out. If a printer can help lead a customer through the alternatives and make better decisions on how to communicate, using all of the tools available, the printer will become a valuable ally.
Printers can start with their own companies. Printers need customers to survive, and it is a constant battle to keep customers and to replace the ones who fall by the wayside. Printers need to embrace the opportunities they have to start conversations with their customers and use the tools they have to provide some real value that will lock a customer to them.
Printers of the future will have to learn to use social network technology to maintain an ongoing relationship with their customers. Social networking sites can be used to continue a dialog with customers, but it must be done on a regular basis. If a person isn’t very sociable or outgoing in the real world, he isn’t going to be social in the cyber world.
Some businesses are abandoning websites and concentrating on social network sites. Part of the reason is because it is free, but the successful social networking businesses see it as a way to have a continuing two-way conversation with their customers. Businesses hope that the viral marketing technique will help them identify their brand and get people to use their services. The combination of a Facebook page tied to a blog and tweets from Twitter can increase awareness of a company.
Social networking doesn’t generate printing—it generates leads. It raises awareness of your company and the services you can provide. It demonstrates that you understand the technology and know how to use it. Printers should integrate their social networking with their direct mail, telemarketing, and face-to-face sales calls to keep pressure on the marketplace. The biggest sin you can commit in social networking is to start it and forget it. You can’t be a wallflower in the digital world.
The hottest new thing in marketing is mobile marketing. Since more and more people are moving from their computer to a Smartphone to follow social networking and for Internet use in general, it is logical that businesses will want to reach those phones. That’s big news for printers because the link between the physical world and the Internet world is a printed Quick Response (QR) code. If you or your customer want to drive customers and prospects to specific sites on the Internet, you need to start including QR codes on everything you print. The upside is that all of your customers will need new marketing material printed to include the QR codes.
Email marketing has gotten more sophisticated with special programs such as iContact, VerticalResponse, EasyContact, and others that make managing an email campaign easier. A printer can start pushing information about the company through email. Newsletters, information, training, and other tips can become part of the automatic selling function of a company.
The conclusion is that printing isn’t dead; it is interactive. Printing no longer stands alone as a communication tool—it must be integrated with the Internet, email, mobile marketing, and social networking. Printers must know where printing fits into communication campaigns. The only way to know is for the printer to learn how to use the tools and to use them correctly.
If a printer can develop a strategy using print and new technology to get more leads and customers for his company, then it will become easier to sell the same services to his customers.
Quick printers used to be the source for convenience copies and forms, but that business is disappearing. Now much of the printing done revolves around marketing material and customer communication. Mailing has become an important product for most quick printers. Quick printers are going to become experts in the communication aspect of marketing and help customers reach their customers. Print remains a powerful tool for brand building as well as direct marketing.
The print shop of the future is going to do more than put ink on paper. It will provide the tools to make that printed piece even more effective. The printer will become more involved with the message and its content.
For now, a printer needs to decide on his message and how he is going to get it in front of the customer. Surprisingly, with all of the technology available, the most effective technique is making a personal contact by telephone or face-to-face and asking for an order. All of the other tools don’t make up for that personal contact that cements a relationship. If a printer uses the technology to grow his business, he will prove to his customers he can help build their business.
One of the simple things printers can do to increase their business is to make print buying easier for customers by having a good interactive website. Everyone talks about how they are losing customers to the Internet, but few quick and small commercial printers are saying that it brings them customers. That has to change.
Today it is easy for printers to find the services they need. Whether it is an off the shelf, template-based website that can easily be modified or a sophisticated Web-to-print solution, a printer of any size can be perceived by customers as being an industry leader. Printers also need to start monitoring their websites to see how much actual revenue is being generated through the portals and W2P services. If the sales number is low, then there is work to be done. A printer’s website needs to be a proactive tool that customers can use to place orders at any time.
You’re lucky if a customer just happens to “find” your website. You need to be showing your top customers how your website works and what the advantages are of using it. This will mean a face-to-face visit with the customer to find out what they need to make print buying easier. Then you need to train them to use your site.
Revisit your website. Can you create customer portals where customers can view what they have ordered and easily place reorders? Can you offer Web-to-print templates in which the copy on commonly ordered items can easily be changed? Do you have a shopping cart where orders or charge accounts can be paid for by credit card? Do you have a site where customer files can be uploaded directly to your site? Can you do online proofing?
If you can’t, then begin looking at the website providers available for printers. Most can have an active site up and running on the Internet in a matter of hours. Most allow the user to edit and update the site as well as integrate with other third-party Web tool providers.
If you are going to remain competitive and survive the future you have to use the tools the rest of the business world uses. The pioneers have worked out the bugs. Now it is up to you to use the tools to succeed.
John Giles is the author of “12 Secrets for Digital Success” and “The DTP PriceList.” He is the technology director and a consultant for CPrint International. He can be reached at 954/224-1942 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find John on Twitter.com (Search for JohnG247) and Linkedin.com. Visit his website at www.johngiles.com and link to his blog or visit his QP blog at www.quickprinting.com/interactive.