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When we say ‘Become a Solutions Provider,’ this is what we mean

Selling print is a commodity business. In search of higher margins, the mantra is to become a Solutions Provider, aka Marketing Services Provider. Unfortunately the terminology seems to take on many meanings and the message gets diluted.

By Dave Erlandson
Published: July 31, 2012


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Dave Erlandson is General Manager of Caslon & Co. (www.caslon.net ) a firm that specializes in helping companies take advantage of the new business opportunities enabled by digital printing. One of Caslon's primary activities is to serve as the North American Affiliate for PODi, the Digital Print Initiative (www.podi.org ). PODi is a leading industry association focused on developing the market for digital printing through market education and standards activities.



By Tim Jones on Jul 31, 2012

Thanks for the excellent article. Many of us are trying but sometimes it is easier said than done. Thanks for the great example.

Tim Jones


By Gordon Pritchard on Jul 31, 2012

Well, maybe it's a question of semantics but I think that Impact Marketing Specialists is in fact a marketing company. They are a solutions provider only in the sense that marketing is a solution to a promotions problem. Marketing companies, advertising agencies, graphic communications companies all provide various levels of promotional solutions. So Impact Marketing Specialists would compete against those types of companies for business and like those other businesses they may have print production capability inhouse or they may out source it - as economics dictate. That's why there's no mention of printing or printing equipment and why Milt says they are not a printing company. They don't print because that is what helps their customers be more successful. They print because it's more cost effective for them to do it inhouse. They choose print because it has a greater marketing ROI than other media for these particular applications. This is the same thing that any other marketing/advertising, graphic communications specialist would do,
What Impact Marketing Specialists is doing is nothing new or unique. Their implementation may, or may not, be more effective and efficient than the other marketing services providers that they compete against.
The Impact Marketing Specialists model, IMHO, is quite a different proposal to a print shop incorporating a marketing solutions offering. The mentalities, culture, and resources are very different.


By Chuck Gehman on Aug 01, 2012

Good point Gordon. I might even take it in another direction and say that Impact is in fact, a specialty publisher. There have been companies that specialize in publishing and printing Real Estate Marketing materials for many years, and many of them have been data-driven. I know some of them exited the business with the real estate crash, however, but it seems like it could be a very good market now.

It's a fine business, but it doesn't explain how a printing company transforms into a "marketing service provider", whatever that is.


By Gordon Pritchard on Aug 01, 2012

It seems that the recommendation is for the print shop is to transform themselves by giving up being a printer.


By Chuck Gehman on Aug 01, 2012

I have a friend who used to do similar applications, also started on a DEC VAX(waaay back in the olden days).

He called his business a "mailing service", even though he printed on a variety of different digital devices, including Xerox and Oce equipment.



By Gordon Pritchard on Aug 01, 2012

Since the beginning of variable data digital printers back in the 1990s the companies that were successful with the technology were marketing companies not "printers." Typically they created custom applications - just as Impact Marketing Specialists has done. One of the first markets for these canned marketing "solutions" was preinternet real estate agents. One of the reasons for that, was not because printshops were too dumb to see the potential but because variable data printing requires a marketing database - and most businesses (I.e. prospective customers) do not have marketing data bases. And that's because the data bases in corporations are installed and maintained for accounting purposes. So, to get around the problem, marketing companies create a product and the data base to drive it.

I think that printers are being mislead by vendor marketers who, being marketers themselves, see marketing as the solution to the printer's problems - especially if they are also responsible for flogging some very expensive digital printing equipment.


By Gordon Pritchard on Aug 14, 2012

No response from Dave Erlandson, the article writer. Hmmm, another hit and run vendor/consultant?



By Dave Erlandson on Aug 16, 2012

Sorry for the slow response to the comments and thanks for prodding me along.

Gordon, I agree with you in that Impact Marketing Specialists is a different type of company than a print shop incorporating a marketing solutions offering. Their history is not one of being a printer, but rather they were founded by someone with roots in the real estate industry who sees a need (helping realtors sell more) and fulfills it. They are a data driven operation selling marketing materials to a predefined network of realtors. And printing is an integral part of the solution; it would be very difficult to pull the printing out of this company. They don’t have a legacy print business to deal with; they are not a job shop taking a wide variety of print orders every day from a myriad of customers like most printers do.

I’m just saying this is a good example of what I call a “solution”. The company is focused on a need in the market place and has created a business around fulfilling that need. This solution happens to include printing, lots of printing, which makes it interesting to companies that have printing capacity and expertise. The solution also includes a big investment in software and a deep understanding what the customers (realtors) need – two critical factors for success that are not trivial for printing companies to acquire.

I’m not suggesting that all printing companies become solutions providers, being a printer can be a fine strategy as many do not have the capital or customer knowledge to create and successfully sell solutions. I wrote an article back on April 2 for What They Think called “What Printers Can Do to Thrive in this Market” and I described 5 different strategies that can work, just one of them is to become a marketing services provider. (http://whattheythink.com/articles/article.cfm?id=57034&slug=what-printers-can-do-thrive-market).


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