There is no denying that the face of competition for the small commercial print segment continues to change. At one time, competitors were other independent and franchise printers in town, then came Kinko’s and other chains, then the Internet changed the rules and Vistaprint and other online printers were in the competitive mix. Meanwhile, the typical job mix was changing, and simply putting ink or toner on paper and competing on price was no longer enough to ensure success. And then came the doomsayers—Print is Dying!
Well, let’s get one thing straight from the outset. Print isn’t dying, but it sure is changing and printers are having to adapt to compete. According to a recent InfoTrends survey of 1,000 companies, nearly half reported that they were linking their printed marketing materials to online digital channels. Those same companies reported that online marketing and mobile will see growth while printing will see continued decline.
That said, print will still account for 30 percent of marketing expenditures. However, things such as printed brochures and direct mail will be linked to online websites, social media, and mobile apps.
So, not only is the competitive landscape changing, so is the nature of print itself. To get a read on what is really going on in the field, I asked several industry professionals how the following are affecting the small commercial market segment:
• Online printers (e.g.: Vistaprint, 4Over, Moo.com, etc.)
• Big box stores and shipping franchises (Staples, Office Depot, UPS Store, FedEx Office, etc.)
• Traditional printers moving to online options (e.g.: Web-to-print)
• Demand for non-traditional services such as multi-media marketing campaigns, mailing and fulfillment, website maintenance, list maintenance, etc.
• Email marketing and Internet services in lieu of traditional printing
One of the first to respond was Rick Moore, marketing director at MACtac Distributor Products. “We have seen commercial printers offset competitive threats from adjacent markets (online, retail) by focusing on service, innovation, and creativity,” he said. “People like doing business with people. The commercial printers that are thriving are talking to their customers and finding out how to better service their needs. They are exploring other products and services that their customers purchase.
“New revenue and profit opportunities arise from looking at the existing customer base for new product and service opportunities, or from expanding current products to new customers. In today’s environment, the commercial printers that are attacking either of these opportunities are poised for growth.”
Online: Friend or Foe?
Online printers such as Vistaprint and 4Over are seen by most as a threat only when it comes to simple, low-margin work. Selling on price and gang-running simple jobs are the hallmark of the online printing companies. If that is the backbone of a printer’s work, then they are a definite threat. However, most of the folks I spoke with don’t depend on this type of work. In fact, they frequently job it out to these online providers. Some also pointed out what can be an unintended positive consequence of the popularity of these online printers.
Consultant Jackie Bland in Charlottesville, VA, commented: “Years ago when I was at PIA, in one of their studies we learned that ‘print is invisible’ to most consumers. They don’t even think about all the print around them. Vistaprint, in particular, helped the consumer unravel the mystery of how one gets something printed. Their ever present marketing through all channels provided an awareness of print.”
Patrick Whelan of Great Reach Communications agrees: “As a marketing professional, I would suggest that people look at some of the very successful ways these companies have marketed themselves. There is information, and lessons to be learned and duplicated.”