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Revealing 'Secrets' of Senior Print Buyers

Printing nerds unite! If your skeptical digital counterparts need proof that the print medium is alive, well, and even thriving in 2014, all they need do is talk to the people who buy ink and toner on paper. Print firm owners and managers should find it interesting to know that seven of every 10 print buyers surveyed want to hear ideas about new concepts and innovation. Nearly seven of 10 also cited mailing and fulfillment as the number one value-added service they need their vendors to provide.

Six of 10 want personalized printing, while only three in 10 require web-to-print capabilities. One in four value multi-channel supplements such as PURLs, QR codes, and mobile marketing assistance, according to research conducted by Margie Dana, the founder of Boston-based Print Buyers International (PBI), an author, and a former print buyer herself. Based on these percentages, you may want to re-evaluate where to invest money in your company for the remainder of this year.

One interesting point is how the buyer role continues to evolve. In fact, only about 18 percent of those surveyed are actually called “Print Buyers” any more. Some 30 percent have the title of Production Manager on their business cards, while roughly 50 percent have some other title.

“Pure buying roles will fade away,” Dana said in her PRINT 13 presentation. “Corporate print specialists will be a rare breed …. Tomorrow’s print buyers will not have ‘print’ in their [job] titles,” she told her audience in Chicago last September. “They will be media generalists working primarily in marketing environments,” gathering information in whatever form or media that makes sense, she explained, and delivering in targeted, effective ways. Some possible new titles, Dana speculated: perhaps Media Specialist, Content Strategist, Channel Manager, Content Distributor, Content Director, or even Content Curator.

The chasm between savvy print buyers and those who are unseasoned has widened, she continued. The ramifications of this gap are huge for print firms, which need to reach and teach both buyer groups – but differently. Dana has studied nearly 500 senior print buyers. Her purpose in conducting these surveys was “to identify trends, behaviors, buying practices, preferences, and ‘wish lists’ of today’s print buyers,” she explained.

Who are the ‘seniors’ in the field?

  • 62 percent have more than 15 years of experience
  • 50 percent manage more than $1 million

What do they buy?
These senior print buyers buy a little bit of everything, Dana reported. A whopping eight of 10 purchase printed brochures and collateral materials. She added that there is a shift away from publications and toward marketing, yet more than one-quarter of the buyers surveyed still buy publication printing. Here’s a percentage breakdown of the other types of printing they pay for:

  • Direct Mail: 56 percent
  • Flyers: 51 percent
  • Posters: 50 percent
  • Signs and Displays: 49 percent
  • P-cards and Rack Cards: 46 percent
  • Stationery: 38 percent
  • Advertising Inserts: 31 percent
  • Packaging and Labels: 30 percent
  • Point of Purchase: 27 percent
  • Catalogs: 25 percent
  • Manuals and Documents: 22 percent
  • Business Forms: 20 percent

(Source: Dana’s July and January 2013 studies of 315 and 162 print buyers, respectively.)

Other Key Findings

Where the print buyers work within their respective organizations is revealing as well. There now is almost an even split between procurement/purchasing (31 percent) and marketing departments (30 percent). Another 21 percent come from creative/design disciplines, while 14 percent hail from communications.

So far as process is concerned, sheetfed offset and web-offset printing still rule, Dana said, although digital print technology is growing: One in three buyers purchase 75 percent offset printing compared to 25 percent digital printing, while more than one in four reported a 90:10 offset-digital split. Some 16 percent of buyers reported a 50/50 split.

She went on to cite that today’s buyers handle more types of printing and print-related services, such as large format, vehicle wraps, CD/DVD replication, ad specialties, and mail/fulfillment. Brand control is the common thread amid all this product diversity, which is why color management matters so much, Dana added. When asked how important is a printer’s expertise in color management, six of 10 respondents said, “very important,” while almost 39 percent replied, “important.” Ironically, however, these same buyers did not choose their printers based on color certifications. (Fewer than 30 percent said they look for G7 certification, while 21 percent look for GRACoL.)

Vendor consolidation still is trending, Dana reported. So why do buyers buy from select print partners? “Only 13 percent of respondents said, ‘I only want my printers to print,’” she noted. “Buyers want printers to help them differentiate their firms from their competition.”

Youth Movement

Younger print buyers (under 35) place a high value on relationship-oriented purchasing, including recommendations from friends and professional peers. “This will erode the value of traditional marketing and bricks-and-mortar businesses,” Dana said. She believes printers need to cater to their youthful need for instant communication. “They are used to speedy delivery of everything!” she observed.

There is no doubt that our industry continues to be challenged by enormous change -- as is our customers’ world, added Tim Freeman, president of PIA affiliate the Printing Industry Alliance in NY. “Margie Dana probably talks to more printers and print buyers than anyone in the country,” commented Freeman. “Because of this fact, her publication, View From 30,000 Feet – Key Trends and Sourcing Practices, is full of information and trend analysis on the world of print procurement. In addition to a wealth of survey data, Margie adds her own expert analysis ….” Dana’s report offers “concrete, actionable information that you can utilize in your sales and marketing efforts,” he concluded.