Commentary & Analysis
Maintaining Direct Mail Leadership with IBM Infoprint
By Carro Ford Weston In a world where a cell phone is now a GPS device,
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: June 20, 2005
By Carro Ford Weston In a world where a cell phone is now a GPS device, it's not unreasonable for a customer to ask where their job is and expect an immediate answer. June 20, 2005 -- If you follow the industry publications and web sites, you've already read a lot of coverage -- pre and post -- of the recent AIIM/On Demand in Philadelphia. Likely you'll continue to see ink as the monthlies come out. While much of that has dealt with what's new in technology (or what vendors are spinning as new), it might be interesting to have a look at what On Demand represents about the state of the marketplace. Someone in a good position to observe this connection is Charlie Corr, a Group Director of InfoTrends/CAP Ventures. He offered his observations on the conference audience and what the event communicates about what is happening in the marketplace. "The theme I saw throughout is something that impacts the entire industry," he said, explaining that the marketplace served by AIIM/On Demand is one that's transforming. "A major trend is that digital technology is in flux, and I'm speaking broadly about everything from the web to ERP to workflow to software to printing devices. It's changing a lot, and many things are happening at once, such as vendor and business consolidation, and print competing with other media. Conference attendance was up quite a bit, due in part to the fact that people are struggling with business issues. "The main drivers are finding opportunities for revenue growth and making investments in technology in a rapidly changing world. This plays out in different ways, such as what technology should you use? What markets should you enter? Through its content, the conference tries to identify opportunities to differentiate or to grow a new market. It's a pretty mature market, so some businesses will have to steal share to grow. They also need to know how to hold customer loyalty and attract new ones, because customer expectations are changing. In a world where a cell phone is now a GPS device, it's not unreasonable for a customer to ask where their job is and expect an immediate answer. It's a world that is 7x24, and print has to compete with the web, which is free and immediate." Revenue: The Ultimate Interest "If had to pick one ultimate interest on the part of attendees, it's how do I get revenue?" Corr states. "There are print providers who are growing, and in general, I heard them say they are okay and maybe even making a profit, but growing the top line is where they are facing problems. The exceptions are people who have hit a certain niche or have grown through acquisition activity." Corr notes that conference attendance was up quite a bit, due in part to the fact that people are struggling with business issues. "I saw more optimism and indications that people are doing better, and this was stronger than I had anticipated," he says. "People seemed more optimistic. If there was a surprise, it was that vendors were happy, because people were buying." From Basics to Business Planning meaningful content for a show a year in advance must certainly be a challenge. It's also difficult to provide the full spectrum of learning that reflects the diverse experience of the audience. "There is still a segment that needs to understand basic technology, but today, what more people want to know is really about how to apply technology to your business and differentiate yourself," explains Corr. "There will always be newcomers, but overall, interest is more about business use of technology, and that means things like more efficient workflow, vertical market opportunities, business planning and people are more focused on those needs than on the technology." The challenge is to set up a program that will have things of interest to both the advanced print provider and still be useful for people new to the business. "We try to do this by having a number of sessions," Corr says, adding that "needs have become more divergent over the years. In the beginning, we're all at the same spot, but now that's no longer the case. One way we've tried to address this is with special interest days and through the session descriptions." Reading the Tea Leaves If you don't start introducing new topics, two years from now you will miss something. To prepare for 2006, the folks behind On Demand will pay attention to this year's event. "We survey folks who are contributors to the event and get their views on what will be hot topics next time. It's not an exact science," Corr admits. "Every year we do something that takes us out there, and that lets in a bit of risk, because we don't know how well a topic will resonate with attendees. We think we have to bring some issues forward, like putting focus on Document Process Outsourcing this year. It's kind of a new segment, and people don't know what it is, so you have to do evangelism. But if you don't start introducing new topics, two years from now you will miss something. "You do the best you can. You look at attendee feedback and see what sessions do well. We are doing a fair amount of review to sort through feedback about times, speakers and other data. Also, the local convention bureau was doing random interviews and talked to a couple hundred people." One area where Corr would like to see improvement is in outreach to attendees over the year. "We've been trying to deliver some data and market information during the course of the year, but we need to do a better job of staying engaged. There are people who come every year whom we would like to stay closer to. It's a bit of a challenge, because we're somewhat reliant on the show infrastructure, which is separate from us." The attendees who come to AIIM/On Demand each year learn a lot from their experience, but it's clear there is much to be learned from them as well.