The printing business is picking up around the country and I’m on the road every week visiting printing companies throughout North America. What makes some printers so successful while others flounder? Here are some random thoughts and observations I have had about quick printing success while waiting in airports, dodging bad weather, and battling the byways of business travel.
QR codes give printers a reason to sell printing. While QR codes aren’t magic, they should increase sales for any printer who uses them. A QR code is simply a special bar code that links printed material to the Internet. Anyone with a smartphone can scan the QR code and their phone’s browser will take them to a landing page. Now that the majority of mobile phone users have smartphones, QR codes have become a perfect way to expand and augment information from the static printed page.
QR codes should be a boon for printers. Most businesses have a Web presence today and adding QR codes can drive eyes to their websites. Successful quick printers are convincing customers to put QR codes on every piece of marketing material they have.
A high impact use of QR codes is to direct visitors to online videos. Almost all businesses have videos on YouTube that feature information about their companies or the products and services they sell. Since YouTube tracks the number of views, it is easy to show a customer the opportunity he is missing.
Successful quick printers are talking their customers into throwing away their old marketing material and printing new collateral that will integrate with the Internet. They tell the customer, “Just think of how many leads you are losing by trying to save money by using old material. The new business generated will more than pay for the printing of the new material.”
Quick printers with wide-format services should be selling point-of-purchase (POP) displays that use QR codes to link to websites, videos, and social media accounts. Successful printers tell their customers how easily they can get new Twitter or Facebook fans by just linking the landing page through a QR code placed on a POP sign.
Websites are Mandatory
Websites give printers an advantage in their market. Successful printers who have a fully functional website can’t imagine being in business without it. As I visit different cities, I review the websites of my clients’ competitors. It is surprising how many printers either don’t have websites or have sites that only post their name, address, and telephone number. My best guess estimate is that slightly more than half of printers have functional websites.
Having a website is a requirement for being in business today. Most customers no longer use the Yellow Pages. They go to Google and the other search engines for business information. Successful printers know they better have a professional looking website if they want to be taken seriously by prospective customers. If you don’t have a website, no one is ever going to find you. You don’t want someone to look for you online only to have them click through to your competitor.
In fact, more savvy printers are adding website development to the list of products they sell. Buying print and Web services from a single source allows the customer to better control the look and feel of his communication. Customers concerned with branding like the idea of the same vendor making sure everything matches.
The printing companies I work with that sell websites always point out that the Web efforts are driving their printing sales. Successful websites need print collateral. Companies need mailings to promote their sites. They need brochures to send to customers who want more information, which is on their website. I expect that Web services will become common communication services offered by forward thinking printing companies.
I don’t expect printers without fully functional websites to survive. If it is too hard for a customer to electronically transfer a file, order printing online, or contact someone in the company via email, customers just aren’t going to buy. Business will continue to shrink as the successful printers take away their customers and only leave those who want the cheapest prices.
Get Social or Get Lost
Successful printers are using Facebook, Twitter, and blogs to reach new customers. Printers are in the communication business and they need to walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk when it comes to communicating with their own customers. Successful printers are using social media tools to start a dialog with their customers. Printers are notorious for never making sales calls, so the ones who are talking to their customers about the benefits of their services via the Internet have a huge advantage.
Like the Web, social media services can create print collateral. Businesses are running contests and linking their Facebook sites to their websites and to special promotions. Print is usually a part of it. If printers understand what a business can do with these new services, then they can be ready to sell the printing to their customers when they start using them.
Why, after decades of customers preparing files for print, do printers still report major problems with files. To add insult to injury, the printers are fixing the files for free then rushing them through the shop so they can be delivered on time. Usually the customer doesn’t even know there is a problem. This is one of the reasons the prepress department never makes any money.
The printers use the excuse that they don’t charge because other printers don’t. Over the years I have found one truth: printers who teach their customers how to submit files usually make money with their prepress departments. Not only do they teach their customers, they give them the option to either fix the files themselves or pay a fee to the printer to fix the file. Once a dialog is started, the problems get solved.
What is even more unusual is that the people who complain to me about customers files are the ones who don’t use PDF files. They may take them, but they hold their breath when they send them to the output device and hope they print properly. If they don’t print correctly, they don’t know what to do because they don’t have the proper PDF tools. I still get comments from printers and prepress people alike that they don’t like PDF files because “we can’t change them.”
Establishing simple standards for how customers should submit files is easy to do. Telling the customers about the standards seems to be the difficult part for many printers. If printers continue to let customers give them bad files and to not charge for fixing them, the prepress department will never make any money. Successful printers know their costs and the value of their prepress services and don’t discount just to get the work.
Marketing Services Providers?
Why are some printers embarrassed to be printers? The rush of some printers to change their name and drop the word printing and add the word marketing is still happening around the country. Just adding the word doesn’t mean instant profits and new customers. Printers have to market themselves if they are going to try to change their brand in their local marketplace.
But look closely at those printers who have changed their names. Are they marketing themselves? Are they using the new marketing and communication tools? Are the printers building case studies for customers based on their own experiences using the tools and technology? The basic purpose of marketing is to let more people know about you so you can get more leads that you can turn into sales. If you are really a marketing company, you should be building your own leads, then getting in front of the customers and selling services.
Helping customers communicate with their customers and get more leads is a valuable service printers can offer. Printers have been helping customers get leads for years with direct mail, brochures, sales flyers, and more. I don’t think this is a case where the cobbler’s children have no shoes when printers aren’t getting their own leads. I think it is a case where printers hope that someone will walk in the door and ask for the service. Until these marketing service providers actually start marketing themselves, they will remain traditional job shops waiting for work.
Successful printers don’t need to have a name change to get new leads. They are actively seeking out new customers. They have sales funnels that collect leads, and then they work those leads until they become profitable customers. They aren’t worried about customers finding them. They are too busy working with the customers they have already found.
Printing for Tomorrow
Is there a future in printing? I just visited one shop where all of the printing equipment was more than 40 years old and the owner was seeing sales growth every year. I visited another printer who is running letterpress equipment and selling the printing at a very high profit. Those examples show that printing isn’t going to go away and that printers can still be profitable. Integrating the new communication services with printing will open new opportunities and can help move printers out of the “commodity pool.” There is going to be a big future in printing for those who get out and talk to their customers about the services they offer and benefits those services can bring.
Successful printers seem to be putting less sales emphasis on the print portion of their business and more on the value added services. Printers are getting in
front of customers by talking about how they can help customers get more leads, not how cheaply they can put ink on paper. Successful printers are talking about new communication tools to perk customer interest. Customers want to talk about the Web and social media. Successful print owners are having the dialog about the new services and then saying, “By the way, do you realize how using print will make the new technology even more powerful?”
Printers are always going to have challenges. The ways people communicate are changing. The age of buyers is changing – they do things differently than their predecessors. Printers will get more involved in content and long term planning with the customers.
The future can be very good for printers. They just have to stop fighting the changes, learn the new role of print in the communication process, and get out and sell it.