Apr. 2, 2007—The days when printers and marketers/advertising agencies were two distinctly different companies with well-defined roles have not just been left behind, they have been left in the dust. Printers can no longer afford to simply sell ink on paper; those who do are finding it harder every year to retain old clients and find new ones. Customers are looking for one contact they can trust to handle not only their print needs, but also to be a partner in their business. And as clichéd as that phrase is becoming, it is also the hard truth for many commercial printers around the country.
The problem is, what exactly is a "marketing solution"? How do you decide which one best suits the direction you want your shop to move in? How do you go about adding it to your service mix? How do you let your customers know about it? Knowing your shop must offer more than just print is one thing. The process of adding new services-successfully-is another altogether.
"The term 'marketing solutions' in relation to the services provided by a commercial printer means providing end-to-end programs that are intended to achieve a specific marketing objective," said John Thompson, senior vice president, sales and marketing, Solar Communications. "Printers that provide the flexibility and capability to be creative as a result of a deep understanding of what is possible will help marketers improve campaign ROI.
"More specifically, many marketing solutions include a preset format or material proven to help achieve a specific objective, and also include a personalization element, printing, finishing, and mailing of the piece. In addition, some printers are beginning to develop and provide mechanisms to better track the results of a campaign."
One place to begin is by looking at others who have taken the plunge, carving out a niche and making themselves indispensable to their clients. Most of the time, you will find a few things they have in common, at least in how they began their business transformation.
Mike Messemer, vice president, Magjak, Port Chester, N.Y., summed this problem up best. "Secure your customers now, before someone else does," he advised printers. Go to your clients-both current and prospective-and talk to them. Find out what problems they face, and what parts of their business they are frustrated with. Ask them what, in an ideal world, someone would offer them to make their lives easier. Ask them, "What keeps you up at night?" and pay attention to not only what they say, but what processes and problems are behind those central issues.
"It's not about ink on paper anymore," Mr. Messemer noted. "It's about communication." More and more often, he is finding his customers are being squeezed by their own management, being asked to produce measurable results and justify the costs. These clients are no longer simply creating a single marketing piece to address a one-time problem. They are looking for ways to reach out and touch their own customers as many times as possible, in as meaningful a way as possible. And this is where a savvy print shop comes in.
"Marketers are looking to traditional printers to become more marketing savvy. They expect a provider to offer a variety of solutions that help achieve their overall goal," noted Mr. Thompson. "While our method varies to suit each customer, our aim is to partner with our clients and identify products and implementation methods that will lift response rates, and improve return on investment. And, as consumers demand a more personalized approach, marketers require products that cut through the clutter. For that reason, Solar continues to find ways to make any direct-mail program easy-from concept through fulfillment. In order to remain on the cutting edge, we are constantly re-evaluating and developing solutions that deliver results."
Know Your Tech
Once you have decided which services you plan to offer-be it mailing and fulfilment, database management, variable data, all of the above, or something else altogether-the next step isn't going out to customers and telling them about it. Rather, the next step is sitting down with your people and making sure they understand how it all works.
"Barriers to entry in terms of adding additional services often include costs and the myriad options available for product development. There are many options available in the marketplace for product development, and the decisions can be overwhelming," Mr. Thompson noted. "Therefore, many companies are paralyzed to effect change. To overcome these challenges, it's important to set a clear vision for growth that fits the needs of the marketplace, and then stay focused on that vision as you add new capabilities and services."
If everyone in the shop understands the equipment and software, how it works, and what its strengths and limitations are, they will be far more effective in the field.
Mr. Messemer, in fact, tells his people not to go out and sell products. Instead, his sales team fills the role of consultants. They do not, he notes, go out and try to sell campaigns or print jobs. Instead, they teach their clients about the technology and what it is capable of, then help them find ways to take advantage of that within the confines of individual business needs.
"As a full-service provider, we're able to consult on each aspect of the campaign as opposed to producing just the printed piece," said Mr. Thompson. "In turn, clients are viewing Solar Communications as a marketing partner. They trust us to make recommendations and in turn are more satisfied with the results."
Word of Caution
As exciting as all of this is, don't make the mistake of jumping right in with both feet without first testing those proverbial waters. Mr. Messemer advocates a "crawl, walk, run" strategy-start small, with basic variable fields in a print piece, or one new offering. From there, as you get proficient and your sales team gains confidence, you can add additional and more complicated offerings.
"Eat your own cooking," Mr. Messemer notes. Before you take a new service or product to your clients, give it a test run. Create, print, and mail a variable piece promoting your shop. Have your creative people design campaigns or pieces highlighting the depth of your new equipment or software. If you know the technology inside and out, and your sales people understand exactly what it is and is not capable of, you will avoid many of the potential pitfalls shops encounter when adding new products.
"When we transitioned from the traditional printer approach to a more full-service partner for our clients, we needed to educate our sales team and internal staff to think more like a marketer and less like a traditional printer," Mr. Thompson agreed. "With increased interaction with the new tools and products, along with internal training and partner education seminars, our staff is more than equipped to serve as consultants and solution providers to our clients."