Win the Marketing Mind Games

What sets your business apart from your competitors? I have asked this question to dozens of printers. Most can come up with a quick list—we have great customer service, we do quality printing, we have lots of equipment, our prices are great, and so on. I then would ask, do you think your top competitors would say the same things? Most say yes.In that case, what really differentiates your company from your competitors?

I don’t doubt that you may have better employees who provide great customer service or that you produce quality products. Looking at your company from a customer’s or client’s perspective, don’t you think that they assume that you will provide great service and the job will be done right and on time? So why do you get new clients?


Start the Buzz

Amazingly, most printers believe that a majority of their new business comes from word of mouth. Wow! I ask them how they really know that, and how did they get their initial clients, as they had no word of mouth to rely on when they started? Printers also might be losing business by word of mouth, as we all know that an unhappy customer will tell more people about their negative experience than those who had a positive experience.

Do you really want to count on getting new business by word of mouth? The proper answer is no, although in today’s social media craze, word of mouth can be created and controlled to a large degree. I firmly believe you need to create a “buzz” about your business. It’s called marketing.

That buzz can be a tag line, a catch phrase, a story, or something that will definitely separate your business from your competitors. Just realize that you need to be viewed as being different from your competitors.


Know What Matters

In today’s marketplace, print owners not only have to say they are better than the competition, they have to prove it. You certainly may be able to prove that your service/products are better, faster, cheaper, and more graphically pleasing, but it is what your customer believes and—most importantly—what your customer needs/wants.

While they may believe, they may not need. For example, in the case of cell phones, a phone may have coverage in 5,000 cities across the world, but the mom who has two dropped calls a day while driving across town to shuffle the children to activities would rather have a phone that works in her city, and not in 5,000 others.

Learn what your customers are willing to believe, but be sure that your differentiator aligns with their wants and needs. That is a stronger relationship that you can build on to create brand loyalty, since you are speaking to them instead of at them. What makes you different is memorable, and the competition is eliminated in the mind of the consumer. You may have 20 offerings, but stick to the one thing that will get you noticed. If you try to do more, there is simply too much to take in and you will be overlooked.

Look for differentiators that mean something to your clients. Use stories, examples, or testimonials from actual situations or clients to illustrate or prove your differentiator. Here are some examples.


Market the Concept

My former business used the tag line “We specialize in meeting impossible deadlines.” Most of our marketing was around this theme. We could cite lots of examples of clients who put us to that task and show how we met their impossible deadline. We marketed a concept and not a specific product or service. Prospects and clients thought of us as the “can do” printer. Our direct mail showed that we were supermen in taking complicated projects and getting them done to meet their deadlines.

Kinko’s original differentiator was “Open 24 hours.” This was pure marketing, as the reality is that they did very little business between midnight and 8 a.m. The key was that their customers knew that they had all night to get their project to Kinko’s. The Internet printers today capitalize on this same concept, as their customers can get pricing and order online 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Another printing company, just recently decided to open on Sundays—he did it solely to differentiate his shop from his competitors. In another instance, a business that is currently open 24 hours has been struggling with whether to keep that as a differentiator, as they want to move into doing more B-to-B work versus B-to-C work.

The point is there is no right or wrong answer. The decision has to be based on what works for you and your business. However, once you establish a differentiator, then use it in your marketing everywhere—on your website, business cards, every printed marketing piece, on your vehicles and other signage, direct mail, email blasts etc.

Create a buzz through your use of social media. Get testimonials to prove your differentiator. Having a third party tell your story is much better than you telling it. Use real names and companies (with their permission, of course) in those testimonials.


Make It Work for You

Here are some final tips on differentiating your printing business. This is also sometimes called a USP, or unique selling proposition.

• Look at your competition. They have customers; why do they keep them? What do they do well, and where do they fall short?

• Determine what sets you apart. If you do work for large companies in your area and want to do more for companies like them, then hang your hat on that. If you are the largest printer in your town, then tout that: “We have more than 2,000 satisfied customers,” or “We printed more than 50 million documents in 2010.”

• If you don’t have a differentiator, invent one. One client of mine says they specialize in “Delivering Bright Ideas.” This certainly gets customers’ attention.

• Identify your customers’ pain points. Many customers want to simplify the ordering process, so perhaps you could set up custom portals which make the order process simpler for your clients.

• Back it up with a guarantee. Guarantee your turnaround times—just like FedEx does.

• Be specific. Baskin Robbins has 31 different flavors and even built that into its logo. If you have some great capabilities, flaunt them.

• Finally, never make a claim you can’t back up. Be sure you can deliver on your promises.

Think of it this way: what makes you choose one clothing store, builder, or moving company over another? Chances are it’s their success in defining their USP and broadcasting that message to your marketplace. Take a page from their book. You’ll get noticed—and get the cash flowing in a lot faster.


Mitch Evans is president of Mitch Evans Consulting, which is specifically targeted to meet the consulting needs of the quick and small commercial printing industry. His areas of expertise are in strategic planning, valuation, mergers and acquisition, financial planning, new technology, and “1-2-1” coaching. Evans regularly speaks to printing associations and groups on these and related subjects. Contact him at 561-351-6950 or