A variety of factors—among them the need to offer customers one-stop shopping convenience and the U.S. Postal Service’s efforts to get more Americans to use the mailstream—are pushing printers who haven’t yet done so to take a serious look at offering mailing and fulfillment services. But while broadening one’s menu of services can obviously generate additional revenue, printers should consider carefully before expanding into areas that require expertise and commitment to do well.
Mailing and fulfillment are growing, said Joe Metzger, principal of Metzgers Print & Mail in Toledo, OH, “and one-stop shopping is driving it. You’re able to go into a client and offer him the chance to ‘hand me the whole thing and we’ll take care of you.’ Because we’re selling printing so cheap these days with commoditization, it’s like there is an extra value-add in mailing and fulfillment.”
Metzger sees mailing and fulfillment as being “dramatically different” than they were a decade ago. “In the old days, people used to sort mail. Now, you don’t sort mail; you sort the data.” Also worth noting, he added, is the effect of the Postal Service’s National Change of Address (NCOA) program. “Having that technology to make sure you can tell a client that every piece is going to get delivered changes things. Obviously, they’re paying a lot of money for printing and postage, so you’ve got to make sure it all gets there.” No one, Metzger continues, “uses labels anymore, they just print right on the piece. Ten years ago you still had people using Cheshire labels on things.”
The need to serve as a one-stop shop for solutions is evident from the way commercial printers have integrated services such as mailing into their repertoires, noted Ken Garner, president and CEO of the Mailing & Fulfillment Service Association (MFSA) in Alexandria, VA.
“If you took a look at the profile of a mailing services provider and commercial printer, say, five or six years ago and that profile consisted of looking at their respective value propositions and their menu of product and service offerings, you would have seen a lot of divergence between the two.”
More recently, however, that same profile reveals “less of a gap between the two, and a greater convergence between what it is mailing service providers are doing and what commercial printers are doing,” Garner pointed out. The printers are getting into mailing, “and certainly the mailers are getting into printing.” At some point, he anticipates that there will be “this total convergence, and you would see an ultimate complete sharing, again, of the menu of product and service offerings between those two.”
“Obviously, when the economy hit and multichannel marketing changed, the mailing industry was impacted tremendously,” added John Foley, the founder, president, and CEO of interlinkONE in Boston, which markets an online integrated marketing solution. “The fact that people are finding other sources, using other channels to connect with their target audiences [has meant] a steady decline in mailing.”
What Foley calls the “hottest, latest thing” is the integration of mailing, fulfillment, and printing with 2D Quick Response codes. “At the table right now, we’ve got the U.S. Postal Service offering mailing discounts if you use the QR code on your pieces. It’s really taken a turn for the good because, before, the mailers and fulfillment companies were trying to tell them how to use the QR code. Now the audiences, the people who get the discount, are calling and saying, ‘Hey, I heard I can get a discount if I use this QR thing, how do I do it?’ I think that’s a new bell and whistle.”
(See related column, “Keeping Print Relevant,” in the July Printing News.)
In Foley’s view, the companies offering alternative marketing solutions have themselves become a part of the value chain, “whether they’re helping them with multichannel, VDP, personalized URLs, and customized pieces to become more targeted in terms of their mailers. I see a lot of that among the things they’re starting to embrace.”