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Commentary & Analysis

Let’s Proactively Evolve Print from Outbound to Inbound Marketing

Outbound marketing is promotion-based; spread the message about my company, my products, and my services to as many people as I can interrupt in the hope that some will find the message relevant. Print examples of this are blasting out huge direct mail campaigns to strangers, newspaper advertisements, and billboards.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: August 27, 2013

Outbound marketing is promotion-based; spread the message about my company, my products, and my services to as many people as I can interrupt in the hope that some will find the message relevant. Print examples of this are blasting out huge direct mail campaigns to strangers, newspaper advertisements, and billboards. The majority of outbound marketing messages get ignored – we filter mass e-mails, we fast forward through commercials, we ignore billboards, we throw away junk mail.

Inbound marketing is attraction-based; give something away, create compelling content in exchange for the permission to market to a prospect who has already found your message relevant. The message in inbound marketing isn’t about you; it’s about your customer’s challenges – that’s what makes it relevant and compelling to them. We also ignore some of this marketing, not because it interrupted us but because it wasn’t relevant to us. When it is relevant, we consume the content and give “permission” to send further marketing messages.

The digital economy, the vast online infrastructure, and social networking are making outbound marketing less and less effective – even if companies spend millions of dollars. You just can’t effectively buy attention anymore. Whereas inbound marketing – the marketing of attraction and permission has a growing body of examples where companies have spent very little and achieved great results. Inbound marketing is the democratization of marketing – I love it because it levels the playing field, rewarding creativity over budget.

I spent last week at HubSpot’s inbound marketing conference in Boston. Thanks to Andre Soriano from Tower Litho, Toronto, Canada I was able to collaborate with a colleague from our industry about the whole inbound movement and how it impacts print – thanks for lunch and a great conversation, Andre. I wish there would have been a whole group of printers at this conference; this is where you can learn how to become a marketing service provider!

I counted at least twelve times where “print” was portrayed as marketing of the past, outbound, interrupt driven, ineffective. I spoke with both founders of HubSpot about this topic – print is a medium, it is used both for outbound and inbound. The blind direct mail with no personalization, no investment in learning about the recipients, just a “spray and pray” approach to marketing is an outbound tactic that we all know is less than ideal. We’ve known for a long time that personalization drastically increases response rates but outside of the print industry, the medium of print is being portrayed as outbound only and on its way out. Did you see this recent Onion headline; Print is Dead at 1,803?

I thought I would compare two excellent conferences I attended this year and see how they used print. The inbound conference didn’t use print at all. There was nothing handed out at registration, you got a lanyard and instructions on how to download the mobile app for the event (a very cool and helpful mobile app, I might add). I came home from the HubSpot conference with no handouts, in fact no paper at all. There is nothing wrong with that but I do think they missed an opportunity to use multiple mediums to extend their message beyond the conference.

In July I attended a conference in Portland, Oregon called the World Domination Summit. When I arrived I got the typical lanyard and this really tasteful set of books that included an agenda, speaker bios, and separate notes in an easy to carry, terrifically designed package. I have attended this conference three times now and have kept the notebooks from every year.


A few weeks after the World Domination Summit which was attended by thousands of people, I received this in the mail.


The signature is from Chris Guillebeau, the founder of the World Domination Summit. He signed 2,000+ of these personalized thank you cards. The holes in the card are the multiple places I pinned it on my bulletin board and re-pinned it after showing people. Chris and the World Domination Summit extended their brand, their message, and their culture offline and beyond their event. I personally found this very effective. I can also say that at least three of my friends intend to register for the World Domination Summit in 2014 because of the conversation that was initiated from this personal card hanging on the bulletin board in my kitchen.

Print can and should be part of the inbound marketing movement. In order for that to happen we have to encourage more personalization and less interrupt driven marketing. Do you see where we are mis-aligned in our business models? Most printers think; print more, make more money. We need to think print more effective communication in order to make more money. In order for this to happen we have to understand that pricing shouldn’t be based on manufacturing costs anymore. Think about it, nothing in the digital world is based on costs. If Google charged you the real costs of that pay-per-click, it would be very close to free. They charge you the value of the click based on what it potentially delivers to you. You do cost calculations on your cost per qualified lead.

As long as print remains in the mindset of pricing based on manufacturing costs, we will stay in the outbound marketing world – encouraging people to print more, spray their message wider in the hopes that the 2% it’s relevant to will respond and the 98% won’t be too pissed off.

One more example about old school marketing vs. the new age of inbound marketing, this time from the non-profit sector; when I returned from Boston I had a letter from the March of Dimes charity, it included a dime (in the letter), with a note from the president mentioning the risk she was taking sending a dime in the mail. It also included a set of return mailing labels with my name and address on them. This is outbound, interrupt marketing. Let’s compare it to a new inbound approach to marketing by Charity: Water. An organization that in just seven years has reinvented giving, raised 100 million dollars, and provided clean drinking water to 3+ million people. Where is my money going? Our company is starting a campaign called print4water. We want to raise $10,000 before December 31, 2013 to bring clean drinking water to at least 500 people of Orissa, India. Web2Print Experts, Inc. will be donating a portion of the proceeds of their upcoming Software Boot Camp for Printers to the cause.

Jennifer Matt is the managing editor of WhatTheyThink’s Print Software section as well as President of Web2Print Experts, Inc. a technology-independent print software consulting firm helping printers with web-to-print and print MIS solutions. You can reach her at jen@whattheythink.com.



By James Daly on Aug 27, 2013

Jennifer, total agreement from me. I think the fundamental shift is investing in customers' success and creating streams of revenue rather than transactions (including a new pricing model you suggested).

Each of the effective programs you mentioned involved a trigger (i.e. event attendance) that was processed by the "printer" within a pre-set program. That's a stream of revenue.

There's a lot of opportunity for this type of work, but you've got to come to the table with some core capabilities and an ability to execute quickly. That's a big transition from putting a job on press.

Frankly, it doesn't all have to be inbound either. Relevant outbound messaging is often needed to get that significant percentage of prospects that inbound doesn't reach at that moment in time.

The big message is connect with customers via processes because the days of customers coming to you with pure print projects is getting shorter indeed.



By Jennifer Matt on Aug 27, 2013


I love your comment "because the days of customers comping to you with pure print projects is getting shorter indeed." We need to go to the customer and insert our offer inside their business process. This is a long way from the production floor. I think it takes creativity (people power) and technology (software is what enables you to extend into the customers business processes). Go where they are are. Understand what they need. Get in their heads.




By Brandon Lee on Aug 27, 2013

Taking an Inbound Marketing approach to selling print does a few things for both you and your clients.

1. It adds value beyond just ink on paper. You become a value-adding service provider.

2. It helps them be more successful in their efforts.

3. They WILL get inbound help somewhere. Its just a matter of time before more and more companies discover the extreme value of
"being found" rather than interrupting. They should get that from a trusted vendor like their long-term print provider.

4. Integrative Strategies are more effective. They allow the respondent to connect with the company in the manner that is best for them. Plus, it puts the company messaging in multiple mediums, multiple times which builds the brand and reinforces the ongoing value-added offer to the recipient.

Great article and great comments above. Thanks for letting me participate too!


By Jennifer Matt on Aug 27, 2013


Thank you for adding to the discussion. Marketing is evolving beyond the pay to interrupt phase and moving into real strategy around content, messaging, and the story you want to tell. Nobody is compelled to interact with you just because you managed to bombard them with the same stupid message 12 different times. Good content is required. The story matters.



By Constantin Tudoran on Aug 28, 2013

Well... Actually what I can see here is a total change in the printing paradigm. We're a print services provider for a certain print market: printing and binding books. Our customers are publishing houses. How can we apply the new "inbound marketing" paradigm to this?! I mean... I can definitely see how it would potentially benefit commercial printers, though it would definitely involve a change in personnell (I mean, providing supplementary services will definitely mean providing people to make those services happen). I'm not sure that's a very good idea. It would mean printers getting into businesses that aren't their own. And one thing I've learned the hard way is STICK TO WHAT YOU DO BEST. I'm sure there are people who can better advise the customers as to the way they should run their campaigns. To put it bluntly, it may look pretty but in no way do I think that's going to fill our pockets.


By Brandon Lee on Aug 28, 2013

I agree with stick to what you do best. But, that is where great partnerships add value for everyone.

Some of the most profitable campaigns that I have created over the past decade have been Integrative Campaigns that incorporate print, email, landing pages and even inbound/outbound calling.

I also agree with you that it is a total change in the printing paradigm. And, it seems to be necessary in order to stay relevant to client's needs and goals.


By Andre Palko on Aug 28, 2013

My favorite example of inbound marketing in print is The Furrow, a free print magazine started by John Deere...in 1895. In it they use helpful how-to content to attract farmers, their ideal customer. They still mail it today to a list of about 1.5 million.

As a vendor to the printing industry, our own company has been offering the free Bindery Success™ print newsletter as part of an inbound strategy for over ten years. Like The Furrow, its purpose is to make our customer's life easier, more productive and more profitable. When the printed piece is a welcome guest, the reader is FAR more inclined to interact at some point as a customer.

Initially we used print ads in trade publications (outbound marketing) to get customers to sign up. Now we primarily use our web presence. The net effect is that we have nearly 10,000 readers who asked to receive a regular monthly printed communication from us. That's an example of inbound marketing integrated with print! (We also have a comparable email list; some readers prefer that media.)

Printers have a tremendous competitive advantage with respect to inbound marketing. They can produce printed material at wholesale costs. I pay retail and the effort always pays for itself.


By Brandon Lee on Aug 28, 2013

I love this example. Its a great use of both inbound, outbound and holding it all together with your core business of print.

I see the key is this statement,

"When the printed piece is a welcome guest, the reader is FAR more inclined to interact at some point as a customer."

And, you can take out "printed piece" and insert "content" and that is the key to any marketing strategy. If you can add value to your target audience in order to help them meet their needs, accomplish their goals or eliminate frustrations then they will want to work with you.

Great example and comments Andre!


By R. Clark Miller on Aug 28, 2013

I want to say how much I admire your posts on inbound and your drive to engage printers in a very important dialogue regarding industry change.

I have been involved in print mergers and acquisitions for 25 years. I have done many deals in the industry and visited way too many print businesses around the USA to keep count. I once managed the acquisition program for one of the top franchisors in the industry and I have brokered large acquisitions in print and the business forms industry. I also founded and manage a digital marketing agency. This experience provides me with a unique perspective on inbound and new technology that might be of interest to print business owners.

If printers would like a look into the future then they need only look back at the business forms industry and the impact that technology had on business value in that industry. A relatively simple 386 computer and desktop printer changed the forms industry forever. This simple device (by today’s standards) eroded the life time business value of many forms manufacturers who refused to acknowledge that their industry was changing and that they had to change the way they competed or die a slow death. I once represented a forms manufacturer who was convinced that the computer was a passing fad and speculated that when the economy picked up his forms sales volume would return. That was in 1990. A few years ago I happen to have the pleasure of meeting this owner once again. He confided that his company’s volume was one sixth of what it once had been and he wished he had taken the offer I brought him many years before. Today this once thriving facility sits dark with its roll to roll presses idle and hidden under thick sheets of dusty plastic. The point is that technological change happens fast and ignoring it can cost one a lifetime of hard work and sweat equity. A dam doesn’t collapse slowly; it quickly disappears in a torrent of churning water that consumes and alters the landscape in its path. While most printers are struggling to engage in the evolution to marketing services and inbound marketing the dam upstream is ready to break.

If internet and inbound are game changers then the next dam buster is Mobile Marketing. Mobile is rapidly evolving as the consumer’s preferred choice for finding a business, researching a business’ reputation, gathering business information, downloading promotions, offers, coupons and everything else once paper. Mobile devices have surpassed personal computers in shear number of devices let alone consumer desirability. Mobile web sites and apps are now the choice for quickly transmitting consumer information. Even print business owners won’t leave the office without their mobile device. They rely on mobile devices to conduct off campus business via phone, text, surf and scan. Yet some printers still question the need to change their business model. I saw this mindset destroy company value in the forms industry and I now see it at work in the printing industry.

Not embracing these new technologies such as mobile and strategies like inbound force more and more printers to solely compete for a diminishing share of the legacy print market. Without a differentiated business model printers will be forced to compete on price alone which will drive volume even lower. As volume diminishes so does business value. As business value diminishes the barrier to exit grows. Once an exit barrier arises print owners cannot sell their business for enough money to retire so their only option is to hang around and die a slow death or finally change their business model (if one has access to the capital to do so – usually not the case). This is the result of fragmentation and fragmentation drives industry consolidation. In a consolidating industry a printer has three strategic choices: 1) Become the consolidator. 2) Create a niche and defend it from imitation. 3) Exit the industry before one’s business value washes away in the torrent of technological change.

Simply put: If nothing changes then nothing changes. Print owners can debate the needed turn to marketing services, inbound or mobile marketing, while the world quickly moves in new directions or they can take action and leverage the value of their account base into a new evolving company that takes advantage of the competitive capabilities these new technologies afford. But if one's choice is to do nothing then I guarantee that nothing will be the result.


By Constantin Tudoran on Aug 29, 2013

In my opinion, the bottom line that we all must accept is that before long, most of what we call today printing industry will completely disappear, replaced by computers. The only part of the printing business that will continue to exist and develop (at least till Star Trek replicators will become everyday implements) is packaging. The rest of the printing business is doomed. We shall probably not be seeing newspapers anymore in maybe less than 10 years from now, and books will become luxuries in maybe 15-20 years, "printed on demand" for the odd individual that will want a "paper book", or treasured as high value collectibles. Packaging however will STILL be needed. So, in my opinion the word is: SHIFT TO PACKAGING PRINTING. The rest, will soon be silence...


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