One report says the economy is doing well, another says we are headed for a fiscal cliff next year. One report says that the Euro’s wellbeing is tied to our own; it goes on to say that if it fails, the US economy becomes the global safe harbor and, therefore, benefits. One report says President Obama’s concept that government can create jobs is the end of capitalism; another says Mitt Romney’s approach to capitalism only benefits the already rich, but not the middle class.
Now overlap that with our own industry pundits referencing a perfect storm of reduced pricing power, reduced overall spending, increased costs (healthcare, labor, capital, postage), and increased competition. These things are taking and will continue to take a devastating toll on the graphic arts industry. What is a small to medium-sized print services provider to do?
A Matter of Perspective
I say it is all relative. If yours is a woman-owned or minority-owned business that produces multi-lingual, print centric documents for a growing government agency, would an Obama presidency really be that bad for your business? Conversely, if you offer highly automated CRM/Drip marketing campaigns that dramatically reduce marketing costs at the private equity portfolio level, would a Romney win be so bad for your business?
It goes without saying that knowing your business today and mapping it to where it will be in several “what if” scenarios will bode well in everything from knowing what kinds of human and software capital are going to be required to getting a better night’s sleep.
As we all search for answers for why we are busy some months and frighteningly slow in others, I recommend doing a deep dive into your core offerings. Look at how sustainable they are in the many “what if” scenarios that could unfold in the next one to five years. Change has been the only constant over the past 30 years—think Linotype, Macintosh, CTP, PDF, digital print, cross channel—so the “what if” is nothing new to us. What is new is the almost non-existent consideration of how something is produced at the marketing director level.
My suggestions: find trends, latch on to marketers, ask dumb questions, and sell as close to their pain point as you can. If it happens to be print, great, do it. If it happens to be e-presentment of a statement, figure it out. Your print volume depends on it.
Full of Surprises
In terms of trends, something amazing happened recently. I was at a marketing automation seminar hosted by marketing software maker Marketo when a 25- year-old social media expert responded that print is increasingly becoming one of his top tactics. As an owner/operator of a company that offers print, this is an important (and refreshing) statement. I later met this individual for dinner and he explained, albeit in very Buffet-esque terms, that marketers (similar to investors) tend to have a “herd” mentality. As a result, they have overreacted to going purely social and online.
His personal findings revealed that marketing campaigns with print (specifically, acquisition focused) outperformed campaigns without print over his last six campaigns. Needless to say, I was not surprised by the findings, as we prove the same result to be true time and time again. What did surprise me was that the audience had almost a visceral reaction to one of their own when he mentioned print media as a solution.
Clearly, the audience fit the aforementioned herd mentality well. They were simply closed to the idea that print produced results or, in other words, that anything but their standard offering (social influence plus Drip marketing) works. Even if it did, they did not want the marketer client to know.
I guess they are analogous to pure print professionals of days past scoffing at the idea of integrated email plus print campaigns for fear that it would reduce their print run size. I get that we need to protect our capital investments (as e-marketers need to protect human and software investments), but there is a real opportunity in merging these worlds into a seamless offering. This is an underserved area and one which deserves to be addressed by the brightest minds.
Until next month, keep printing, my friends!
Sudhir Ravi is a serial entrpreneur who runs a variable data print practice within TVP Graphics at Streamwood, IL. Do you want to continue the conversation? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-772-3191. Connect via Twitter @ThinkVariable.