Printers with an eye toward expansion—or perhaps even survival--need to look beyond the iron on their shop floor, as marketers and print buyers seek creative methods to engage and target their audience. Savvy printers are doing just that, supplying highly innovative solutions that cross multiple communication channels.
“Among PODi members we see that many are successfully providing cross-media services, such as linking print and online communications through Personalized URLs and QR Codes, incorporating email marketing into campaigns, using social media channels and developing campaign specific microsites,” says Christine DeLooze, content director, Caslon, a PODi affiliate. PODi is a global, not-for-profit organization focused on increasing demand for marketing services and applications driven by digital printing.
“Some are even supporting their customers’ social media efforts by maintaining Facebook pages and scheduling Tweets,” she says. “By providing these value-added services these companies are becoming trusted marketing partners.”
Of course, adding cross media services is not as simple as hanging a shingle on your door declaring your new offerings.
Making the transition to becoming a solutions provider requires specific skill sets, such as solutions selling, solutions expertise, data management, and customized programming of various software tools. On the shop floor, the key to delivering these new solutions centers more on workflow and less on equipment. A core competency to this toolkit, says DeLooze, are solutions that have a technical component related to data and/or software programming.
Updating the Business Model
The tricky part is to get alignment around the new business model.
One of the greatest challenges for a printer is to move away from commodity pricing to value-based pricing. “A printer whose strategy is to underbid the competition is not going to be viewed as a strategic marketing partner,” says DeLooze. “Cross-media solutions that incorporate digital print can create new value by delivering relevant marketing messages that drive increased sales. Value pricing is related to the value the customer perceives they are getting as opposed to the cost of the product or service. PODi offers an online training module specifically focused on this area in addition to value calculators that help prove the benefit of solutions that incorporate relevant marketing powered by digital print.”
I think printers’ biggest challenge is identifying which skills and services are the best fit for their own company, says Margie Dana, president and founder of Print Buyers International. “They have to make a choice and decide what other services, specialties to add to their printing base.”
There are so many options available; the biggest challenge is often knowing where to start. “It’s important that printers narrow down their specialty and not just jump into QR Codes or mobile computing or content management—they can’t be experts in everything,” says Dana.
Critical for printers is knowing their customers and their markets; they need to get better versed in the key marketing solutions/tools that their customer base is using, or is going to use. Printers who target specific vertical markets—education or retail, for example—should be paying strict attention to what marketing strategies and platforms are heating up in that segment. Want to be of real value to your customer? Don’t only look at the marketing programs your customer wants to launch, know what his competition is doing as well. Find out what’s trending now, and what’s projected to trend in the near future.
Providing cross-media services should be part of an overall marketing strategy. Just adding a Personalized URL or a QR Code to a direct mail piece will not instantly increase revenue. “These are just different channels for engaging the recipient,” says DeLooze. “Key campaign components still need to be considered—objectives, list, offers, relevant messaging and design. Printers who want to offer cross-media services need to be prepared to consider the entire customer experience from start to finish.”
What the Customer Wants
Dana recommends having a “heart-to-heart” with your big clients—your top 20 percent revenue draws—to learn what these customers are looking to implement within their marketing strategy. “Printers should be finding out what would be valuable to the customer—it all comes down to knowing your customer’s marketing segment,” says Dana.
But, and here is where it gets complicated for printers, especially those just making their first forays into cross media platforms—it requires that the printer know the strengths and weaknesses of these specific strategies. For example, when does it make sense to use augmented reality, QR Codes, text advertising over mobile computing, direct mail, etc.?
Staying on top of the latest developments in cross-media communications needs to be an on-going effort. “We strongly encourage service providers to keep themselves informed by attending webinars and conferences and subscribing to marketing oriented publications,” says DeLooze.
All printers, but especially those looking to move into new media platforms, need to start moving in business circles outside of their own industry, joining marketing associations, attending trade shows that attract agency and marketing personnel, argues Dana. “That’s where they are going to hear from marketers, and learn what they want and what their challenges and pains are,” says Dana.
“I only see a handful of printers at the AMA (American Marketing Association) meetings and conferences,” notes Dana. “This is where the people are who are making the marketing decisions. It should be a requirement for sales personnel to attend these events. It’s not about what equipment you have; it’s about relationships. It’s about where to expand your expertise. There’s opportunity there, but it takes education and focus.”
Dana continues, “Find out what your customers need. Bring a group of your top customers together every six months or year, like a customer advisory board. Tell them this will help make sure you give them what they need. Ask them what other media, besides print, they are looking to incorporate in their marketing programs. Be very strategic and focused on what you are asking them.”
To Train, or Not to Train
Printers moving into offering other media platforms are often faced with the choice of training existing personnel—hoping they can adapt to the new model—or hiring new salespeople. “We have seen some PODi members succeed with training existing sales staff, but it requires a strong commitment level from upper management,” says DeLooze. “Whether you are working with seasoned veterans or new hires it’s important to provide sales personnel with support to help them succeed, such as on-going training opportunities, value-based pricing models, and effective sales materials.”
Service providers who successfully move into providing cross-media services have a real passion for understanding their customers’ needs and working together to develop a solution, says DeLooze. “ In the PODi community we also find that these providers are great evangelists…whether it is educating customers about the marketing possibilities or sharing insights with other printers at our AppForum conference or in Webinars.”
When looking to expand what they offer customers, printers should look to tap into the good history and good will they enjoy with their customers. “I compare printers to hairdressers,” says Dana. “I don’t want to leave my hairdresser; people don’t want to leave their printer. You already have the relationship—you’re delivering the quality of work, you know your customer’s idiosyncrasies. That is a strength printers should capitalize on.”
Build on the relationship using social media, advises Dana. Get closer to your customer and find out the marketing techniques they are using other than print. Make sure your own storefront is up-to-date and is designed to entice new customers, and reflects your company’s complete swath of services.
“The more customers like what you see, the less likely they are to leave that relationship,” says Dana. “For many printers, it’s a missed opportunity.”
AlphaGraphics in the Cultural District (Pittsburgh) is a great example of a printer who wanted to show customers their new capabilities. A new campaign theme “Use Your Coconut, ” invited the target audience to use their coconut both literally (referring to the furry brown fruit that grows on tropical trees) and figuratively (as in, using your brain for thinking and learning).
The multi-channel, self- promotion campaign was designed to educate their clients about the true power of direct mail, especially when approached as an integrated, multimedia marketing campaign. A real coconut was mailed to customers, along with other related direct mail pieces. The objective was to position AlphaGraphics as thought leaders in direct marketing and full-service providers not only of print, but also design, mailing, and a broad spectrum of marketing services.
Specific results for this campaign were:
- The first and second phases of the campaign achieved a 46% response rate – more than double the original goal
- Welcomed over 40 guests to executive marketing workshop – for almost a 50 percent conversion rate
- The campaign led to several new multi-channel marketing campaigns plus many new leads. Preliminary ROI calculations show that Alpha Graphics could realize more than 200 percent ROI from the direct mail campaign