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Crossing Over

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don't know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn't matter.”—From Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll

Unless you’ve had you’re head in the sand for the last five years, you’re well aware of the trend—and the promotion of that trend by those in the know—of printers looking to increase their value to their customer by becoming a Marketing Service Provider (MSP). 

Becoming a MSP means that you’ll become involved in offering cross media services, as marketing programs today use a host of other media and platforms to get messages delivered: personalized direct mail/email with PURL, mass media with GURL and CURL, Web, mobile, tablet, QR Codes, SMS, Intellligent Mail Bar Code, and/or social media (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter). These cross-media services are supported by marketing services, such as creative services, campaign management, and/or data analytics.  

Lisa Cross, Associate Director for InfoTrends’ Business Development Strategies, actually prefers the term cross-media marketing services provider over marketing services provider. “They are two different things,” she says. “Marketing service firms, as their name implies offer ‘marketing services’ and are printing firms’ customers. The inclusion of the term ‘cross-media’ describes firms that are expanding the media channels they offer and combining them, which requires marketing.”

Strategy is Key

While terminology within the industry might differ, there is consensus that a well-thought out strategy is critical for any firm looking to evolve into a (cross-media) marketing services provider. You have to know what your firms wants to accomplish, and why, asserts Dr. John Leininger, a graphic communications professor at Clemson University. 

Make sure to “write the business plan and the marketing plan,” says John Foley, president and CEO of interlinkONE, Inc. “In many cases, becoming a marketing services provider is very similar to starting a new business. Take the time to build strategies and plans that will support this. Create financial projections. Identify the right resources. If you do this work ahead of time, the actual transition will be much smoother.”

Evaluate your current operation, examining what inventory and skill sets you have in place right now, before you make the leap. Success in cross-media requires leadership with a focus on marketing and new business development. “It is not just about operational efficiency, which printers are masters at—that’s important--but there needs to be a balance,” says Cross.

Don’t forget about your team, urges Foley. “I am not saying that you need to hire an entirely new staff, but to succeed, you must get your employees on board with the transition. You should provide education and other training on why your company is changing, how you will do it, and what it will take internally and externally. You need to increase the resources and investment that you spend on your own marketing efforts. Provide help for your sales staff! They will need to change from selling commodity-based items to selling solutions.” 

The Right Tools 

Technology also needs to be considered. If you don’t have the right tools, you’re not going to be able to take on the work. You’ll need to streamline production, and employ cross media tools from with tools from EFI, XMPie, Dalim, Pageflex, or other leading vendors.

XMPie, for example, offers variable data publishing software that unites customer databases and creative content to leverage customer data and create personalized, multiphase campaigns that use print, Web, Email, and mobile. One customer, QuantumDigital, Inc., looking to gain recognition of its multi-channel, full service marketing capabilities, decided to host a Marketing Innovation and Discovery Summit and invite executive leaders from top agencies and retail brands. The campaign incorporated 1:1 postcards, e-mails, a poster, invitation booklets, as well as personalized URLs and QR codes. Using MindFire and XMPie’s Personal Effect software to create its campaigns, QuantumDigital generated a 51 percent response rate, with 38 percent responding via the PURL and 26 percent through the use of the QR code.

In the cross-media world, measuring is key; QuantumDigital was able to track how well its campaign did with precise data. Once you’re involved with cross-media marketing, you’re going to need to know how you are going to track and measure the process, how you are going to analyze the results, and how you are going to report your ROI to your customer, reports Dr. Leininger.

Think about how you are going to position your firm—you were a printer, now you’re something else. Many of the leaders in offering cross-media marketing services rebranded their firms, either by dropping print from their name, keeping print and adding other descriptors, or creating a spin-off company.

And with good reason.

“What we hear over and over, in our ongoing research and consulting in this area, from firms that have made the transition is that ‘If you smell like a printer, marketers will run,’” notes Cross. “Firms tell us that when marketers (the buyer of these types of services ) hear the word print they are either sent to purchasing or told they are skeptical about a printer’s ability to service their cross-media marketing needs.”

Another critical element, says Dr. John Leininger, is to think like a customer, making sure you understand their business. Foley urges printers to “start living in the world that your customers do; subscribe to marketing magazines and newsletters and attend marketing-focused webinars, conferences, and trade shows. This will help you to be better equipped for understanding your customer’s challenges beyond the production of a printed piece,” he says.

Follow the Leaders

Look to the leaders offering cross-media marketing services and equipment vendors, Many firms that offer cross-media marketing services participate in Webinars on the topic and post case studies on their Websites documenting client projects. You can learn from what others are doing. Also, many vendors of digital printing equipment offer their customers business development programs to drive growth and page volume. These programs included a track on cross-media marketing.

“What we found in our research is that becoming a cross-media marketing services provider is an evolution, not a revolution,” says Cross. “Successful providers started with variable data and Web storefronts, basic data services, online offerings, and personalized URL capability. The next phase expands capabilities into more extensive campaign management, data mining and analytics, CRM, mobile barcode tracking, and marketing automation. Finally, adding mobile is the next stage in the evolution.”

Most importantly, remember that success doesn’t happen overnight. “Be patient,” says Cross. “The firms that we interview are quick to point out that success is the result of trial and error. Many print service providers add new services and think they have found  ‘magic dust’ and everyone will buy it. But there isn’t any magic dust.”

Start small, do your research, get your technology and staff up to speed, reposition your company, and keep your eyes on the prize.