Commentary & Analysis
A Passion for Riding...and Relating to Customers
By Barbara Pellow May 24,
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: May 24, 2006
By Barbara Pellow May 24, 2006 -- In the Harley Davidson Annual Report, Harley-Davidson's CEO James Ziemer identified the three constants he said helped drive their motorcycle-making business: * Our passion for this business, for riding, and for relating to and being one with our customers * Our sense of purpose - in other words, our focus on growing demand by offering great products and unique experiences * Operational Excellence - which is the continuous, relentless drive to eliminate waste in all aspects of our operations and to run Harley-Davidson better and more efficiently with each passing day Last week at the On Demand Printing and Publishing Conference and Exposition I listened to multiple graphic communications service providers share their sales and marketing strategies for growth. I saw tremendous parallels between the guiding principles at Harley Davidson and the views of those graphic communication service providers that are experiencing double digit growth. What better way to relate to customers than being your own customer? Being One With Your Customers What better way to relate to customers than being your own customer? I heard multiple graphic communications service providers say that the best way to sell their services was to "walk the talk" and demonstrate their capabilities in their own marketing efforts. Harley's annual report is fun to read because you see all of the company executives decked out in leather and riding gear. They get out on the road with customers and engage them in conversation. Jim Ziemer, President and CEO, Harley Davidson It was also fun listening to representatives from vibrant and growing graphic communications firms at On Demand who are, in their own way, getting out on the road with their customers. Graphic communications service providers David Torok, President and CEO of Padgett, and Mark Edgar, Vice President and General Manager from Corporate Press, provided specific examples related to how they were leveraging variable data tools and techniques to build their businesses. Padgett Torok effectively uses his digital print capabilities to expand his prospect base. Padgett is a full-service print provider whose mission is "turning vision into visual communications." Last year's sales were in excess of $24 million for Padgett; the best year ever for both revenue and profitability in the company's 102-year history. Padgett decided to demonstrate how effective its digital print technology could be through a direct mail campaign that emphasized the values that technology and the Padgett organization can deliver to clients. The five-part mailing used variable data. Each mailer communicated a key value that is important to Padgett and its customer base, including quality, speed, variability, affordability and trust. According to Torok, "This campaign used a very recognizable technique to better convince prospects and customers to buy: repetition. Effective advertisers concentrate on making sure the product or company name is widely recognized. Doing a 5-part mailing where each piece built on the message included in the preceding mailer(s) helped prospective buyers remember the Padgett name and gain an understanding of the new services that Padgett is offering." Effective advertisers concentrate on making sure the product or company name is widely recognized Corporate Press Corporate Press, based in Landover, Maryland, is the employee-owned flagship of the print communications companies of Corporate Press, Inc. It is a graphic communications solutions provider, including customized direct mail pieces, corporate newsletters and eCorporate printing solutions, designed to simplify re-orders. Edgar said, "A key strategy in the company's marketing activity is the use of direct mail and demonstration of our capabilities through our communications." One technique the company uses is custom publishing. Custom publishing is the delivery of editorial content from a sponsoring company to a targeted audience. Whether in print or electronic form, custom publications provide intrinsically valuable information that moves the perceptions and behavior of the audience in a desired direction. Corporate Press prospects and existing clients can register for a free subscription to What's Cookin a newsletter that's delivered to their mailboxes each month. It is an informational newsletter designed to help clients with items like design, direct mail, and increasing response rates. The newsletters have feature articles including variable data tips and prepress recommendations as well as and terrific recipes for everything from Steak Dijonaise to Macaroni and Cheese. Edgar also talked about the importance of "the offer" or "call to action" in a direct mail campaign. Last Christmas, Corporate Press sent out cards personalized with the customer or prospect name and company name, and a picture of the sales person for the account behind a die cut ornament. When the card was opened, a picture of the entire customer service department was included, captioned with their names. The offer drove customers to the Web site where Corporate Press provided visitors with the opportunity to order 10 free Christmas cards using four different images and text changes. Corporate Press is demonstrating how direct marketing can effectively be part of a long-term strategy to build brand awareness within its specific market. The company is successfully fostering customer loyalty and attracting prospects that are looking for a knowledgeable service provider using this advertising technique--truly "walking the talk." These creative print service providers have figuratively jumped on their Harleys and headed out to a rally to meet with loyal customers. Great Products…Unique Experiences Harley has been busy innovating, delivering new designs and models to the market, acting on customer feedback, and hooking new customers through education and safety courses. As a company, Harley continually refines product lines to keep them growing and moving forward. More than ever, Harley is seizing the opportunity to attract new customers, go new places and grow marketplace presence, incorporating feedback from customers to help improve style and design and meet the needs of new customers, including the increasingly common female biker. Leading graphic communications companies are also making these types of investments in their companies. At On Demand. F.P. Horak's President, Tim Dust talked about how F.P. Horak has "reinvented" the company to attract new customers and expand its services portfolio, which is largely driven by digital technologies. In the early 1990s, F.P. Horak understood that the traditional forms market was in decline and the company needed to take the appropriate steps to both streamline operations and diversify offerings for long-term business success. Instead of printing only forms, F.P. Horak decided, the firm was going to provide a variety of print-related services, feeling it was essential to diversify its offering and increase the value-added services portfolio for its existing customer base. Commercial printing was at the forefront of the company's strategy for broadening its offering. Because F.P. Horak had its genesis in the forms market, the company was familiar with contractual selling and the delivery of print management services. The management team believed this knowledge could be extended into the world of commercial print. Instead of building a commercial printing division from within, F.P. Horak purchased a well-established $2 million commercial print shop in July 1995 that was only 45 minutes away from its office in Bay City, Michigan. Another critical element in F.P. Horak's strategy was its migration to digital print technologies with digital black & white and color technology. The next major challenge Dust tackled was developing a business plan to integrate Internet technologies and business-to-business e-commerce. The implementation of integrated Web print management solutions has helped F.P. Horak evolve into a single source print-on-demand supplier for customers. One of its key successes was with Dow Corning. According to Dust, "Today, companies like Dow Corning are turning to F.P. Horak for print supply chain management solutions. F.P. Horak manages the documentation for more than 10,000 products for Dow Corning. With our Web based capability, we delivered a 25% reduction in fulfillment costs, 20% reduction in printing costs, fewer back orders, improved employee productivity and assurance that customers were getting the right orders at the right time." As Dust was making investment decisions in his business, he focused on "voice of the customer" and building the right products and services to adapt to the changing market. Not unlike Harley, he identified the products and services essential to attracting new customers and expanding share of existing clients, and made his investments accordingly. Dust focused on the voice of the customer to adapt to changing markets. Super Efficiency: The Elimination of Waste Every business has areas that siphon off money unnecessarily. By continually evaluating operational efficiencies, Harley Davidson worked to reconfigure plant layouts to gain capacity, reduce work-in progress and cut back on operating shifts while still producing the same level of output. At Harley Davidson, operational excellence is defined as getting out waste, improving quality and driving customer satisfaction. As I listened to graphic communications service providers discuss their focus on super efficient workflows at the On Demand Printing and Publishing Exposition, it was clear to me that the focus of these successful business, much like Harley Davidson, is on streamlining operations to be the most cost effective producers. Brian Fritsche, CIO of Webb/Mason, for example, talked about how his company implemented the right workflow to build its business and become an efficient provider. Webb/Mason is one of the fastest-growing print management service companies in the country, growing at an average annual rate of more than 14.2 percent since 2000. It delivers commercial printing, promotional products, and a complete forms management system through its Enterprise Print Management (EPM) Online offering. There's no better way to get to know your customers than to share a journey with them. Bill Marchiony , Corporate Account Executive at expresscopy.com, discussed his company's customer base of over 34,000 customers, annual revenues exceeding $15 million in 2005, and a compound annual revenue growth rate of 45 percent since 2000. This full-color digital printing operation has an extensive Web-to-print, template-driven prepress and automated "lights out" 165-step preflight process that produces two-sided color postcards for localized and personalized marketing campaigns, 24 hours a day. The company processes 600 to 700 jobs per day and adds about 1,200 new customers each month. Focusing on this one business offering has fueled the company's rapid growth and its national penetration of the real-estate market. It's a Journey Harley schedules road rallies around the globe for owners, and Harley management actively participates in these events. For graphic communications service providers, it's time to put on your helmet, leathers and hop on your bike. There's no better way to get to know your customers than to share a journey with them. Show your customers that you are "one" with them by using the technology that you are selling to promote your business. Listen to the "voice of the customer" as you develop new products and services, and become the most efficient producer in the market. But most of all, while the road may not always be smooth and there may be some tough curves to maneuver, make sure that you enjoy the ride!