Log In | Become a Member | Contact Us

Market Intelligence for Printing and Publishing

Connect on Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn

Featured:   WhatTheyThink Magazine     Production Inkjet     Installations and Placements Tracker

Commentary & Analysis

The Role of Marketing in Your Print Business

Marketing is about delivering qualified leads to your sales team. The online world has converted marketing into a role that can be precisely measured. Start thinking of marketing as a role with a quote (# of qualified leads delivered), stop thinking of marketing as your brand colors or business card design.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: March 16, 2015

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I say “marketing”?

I’ve been conducting an informal, extremely small sample research study on this topic, here is my unscientific extrapolated results; small-medium sized business owners (most printers) think of marketing as their brand. By brand I mean, they think of their logo, their colors, the sign outside their business, and what their website looks like. This is corporate marketing. Unless you’re a billion dollar public company you don’t need corporate marketing. Your logo, your brand colors, and what your website looks like does nothing to drive the growth of your business and you don’t have shareholders or Wall Street analysts that you need to worry about projecting the right PR message to.

Marketing isn’t about making you look pretty; marketing is about one thing – lead generation.

The most frustrating conversation I have in my consulting career is trying to convince “marketing people” that their ONLY job is to consistently deliver quality leads. They want to tell me about all the work they are doing to develop the brand and the messaging. I get bored very quickly. I want to hear about who they are targeting, how they are reaching that target market, and what are the results of their activities? I spent X, to attract Y, who created $Z in revenues (this is really all it comes down to). Marketing has moved from a soft, creative, and mostly unsupervised place to play with budget money to a job that can be precisely measured and requires some math skills. This is a tough transition for most marketers.

Lead generation in small businesses has traditionally been wrapped up into the sales function. The sales team is thought of as a one-stop shop. Go get new leads, nurture the leads you already have, and also take care of your existing customers because you have to earn that commission each and every month. This model results in a group of commissioned customer service representatives (CSR) instead of sales people. Most sales people suck at lead generation; therefore they avoid it at all costs. The typical reaction to this is that sales management forces some tracking of lead generation activities; e.g. calls, e-mails, meetings, etc. that sales people reluctantly do to meet the requirements. So these people reluctantly do these activities (poorly), then spend more time tracking the activities they did (poorly), and your sales manager spends time reporting to you on those activities. Sales people race back to where they feel comfortable – shepherding existing customers through the ordering process (you have created the commissioned CSR model, which is unsustainable unless your average transaction cost is six figures to the left of the decimal point).

Your sales team deserves consistent lead generation from marketing. Sales deserve to be setup to win by getting a steady stream of leads to follow-up on and close. The sales representative who has the greatest close ratio should get the most leads. This is why there is so much tension between sales and marketing in large companies, they are out of alignment because sales is being held to a very measurable result and for the most part marketing is still being measured on their creative output. The internet is changing all of this. Most marketing is moving online and everything online can be measured. Marketing is a measured profession now. Marketing can and should have a quota. Marketing can lose their jobs when they fail to meet their lead generation quota three months in a row, just likes sales. Nothing would align marketing more to sales than if they both were held to quotas, nothing would help companies more than having sales and marketing work together to deliver more success to the company via larger pipelines, more productive pipelines, and most of all predicative revenue growth.

Stop thinking about marketing as corporate marketing (logos, promotional products, and colors), marketing is about one thing; producing qualified leads, of which a certain percentage of them will convert into new customers. You need marketing – the kind of marketing that focuses on lead generation not your brand. Hire for this position. Hire a dedicated lead generation resource rather than another sales representative. What would your current sales team accomplish if they were being fed qualified leads? Doesn’t that sound more productive than simply adding another resource to the commissioned CSR pool?

The challenge is that too many people who report to have “marketing experience” have the kind of experience that leaves you staring at new logo pens, a depleted marketing budget, and no new qualified leads. Be careful hiring for a marketing role, if you find someone who can create a sustainable lead generation system, they can also handle your website redesign because they will be focused on the right thing – how to drive traffic that converts to qualified leads, not on the color scheme. Be careful of those marketing folks who say you have to pay for lead generation online via Google AdWords. My colleague, Valerie DiCarlo, a print search engine optimization (SEO) expert, likes to use the analogy of renting vs. owning a home. Paid search is like renting, you will pay every month, and you build zero equity with that payment. Organic search is like owning a home, it does take longer to build up the traffic but in the building you are creating online equity in the form of “earned traffic” to your site. Organic traffic gets more clicks and converts at a higher rate than paid traffic. When you’re winning by earning the traffic, everything you do online is cumulative; you are building a competitive advantage via “authority” with the search engines. When you are paying for traffic, the minute you stop paying, everything shuts off.

Paid search is good for experimenting; paid search is good to amplify your organic search efforts. Paid search is not a marketing strategy unless you’re interested in funding Google’s next great experiment (Google Glass, self-driving cars, etc.). Paid search is good for Google. Organic search is good for your long-term business success online. Attracting traffic via content marketing / inbound marketing strategies is a required skill for every modern marketing role. Earning your traffic by engaging with your customers, telling your customer stories via your blog, and creating compelling content about how you solve customer challenges is good for search and good for your overall business.

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 Patrick Whelan on Mar 16, 2015

Great article. However, I don't believe that marketing is only about producing qualified leads. With printers, I think marketing efforts that make their brand stand out, foster trust and credibility relative to their competition are at least equally important. It has also been established that client retention efforts produce a higher ROI than new customer acquisition efforts. Therefore, some of a printers marketing efforts should be focused on this area as well.


By Wayne Peterson on Mar 16, 2015


Respectfully, I disagree. Marketing isn’t solely about delivering “qualified leads” to a sales organization. Here’s why:

First, defining a “qualified lead” to put into a pipeline is the first challenge. In most cases, a lead is considered qualified if the target organization is in business, appears to be buying appropriate categories of print, and if the researcher can identify accurate contact information for the appropriate decision-maker. Only rarely is any real homework done about the organization. No samples of their current print are obtained. No profile of the organization is created. No background about the key players is gathered. Almost never is the incumbent or primary competitor identified. Therefore, there’s no context. The salesperson is armed with one more task to complete, and little likelihood of succeeding. That’s why the capture rate for leads like those is so abysmally low.

Second, marketing is about building a powerful brand. And that’s much more than a color scheme, logo, tagline, or imprinted pens. A brand is what plows the road in front of a sales organization, enabling them to gain access and to engage a decision-maker.

Picture this: The decision-maker identified as the qualified lead receives some communication from the assigned salesperson. There’s an incumbent in place, ongoing work being done. But the decision-maker has a responsibility to make certain that her organization is getting the best value. So what does the decision-maker do? Research. First, she hits the website for the salesperson’s company. Next she does a search to see what others are saying about the company, and what the company is doing. Only if she’s intrigued enough does she check to see who on LinkedIn she’s connected with that is also connected to the salesperson’s company or the salesperson. She puts out a couple of casual feelers. Until that process runs its course, she’s not returning a call or replying to an unsolicited email message. Period.

A strong brand enables the company to pass the “So What?” test at the very beginning. That means the company is speaking to the customer in terms familiar to the customer, and about things important to the customer. It’s the brand that’s most likely to prompt that decision-maker to respond.

Third, there’s no battle between marketing and selling in most graphic communications companies because marketing never showed up. For most, marketing is a little advertising and sales promotion with a dollop of design / identity thrown in. That’s it. There’s no brand building going on. And the logo / name / tagline / color scheme isn’t the brand.

In reality, a strong brand is about the customer not about the company. A brand is what a customer believes and feels about a company. That gut understanding is what determines how someone will behave toward that company. And if they feel nothing because there is no brand on their radar, they simply won’t respond. That’s why social selling is now essential, especially for those salespeople who want to capture existing demand (the majority of print sellers) rather than create new demand. And social selling stands on the foundation of a strong brand.

I know firsthand that a strong brand will make all the difference, and that even good salespeople with qualified leads will perform inconsistently without one. I helped redevelop a printing company in a narrow, unexciting segment. We had entrenched and much larger competitors. And at the outset, we had no brand.

We tripled our revenue in eight years. We had the lowest rate of customer attrition anyone could cite. We generated “profit leader” performance at the same time. We were regularly invited to compete for the business of new customers. And every one of the salespeople who thrived in the process will tell you that the brand we built is what opened doors for them, got them taken seriously, and enabled us to compete effectively.

This isn’t an either/or. It’s a both/and because there’s no single “silver bullet” including a stream of “qualified leads.” Business development is a process that begins with building a strong brand and ends with delivering an incredible customer experience.

I have clients who will attest that their investment in brand building has paid off far beyond what they might have imagined at the outset. Of course none of them believe that the brand is the logo, and none have purchased logo-emblazoned pens.


By Jennifer Matt on Mar 16, 2015

We agree and disagree which is great because this isn't an easy topic.

I believe there are (3) sources of qualified leads for a company: 1) referrals 2) inbound marketing activities 3) outbound marketing activities.

Referrals come from your business creating customer success stories and then you telling those stories online and in your marketing content. Best of all is when your customers tell the stories (the voice of the customer is 2x more trustworthy than the voice of your sales/marketing. Building a referral business takes time but it has the best close rate and the shortest sales cycle. Marketing helps build this by telling the stories, engaging with customers through social media, and making sure sales has access to referrals for similar companies.

Inbound marketing is the creation of compelling content that answers the customer's questions and "draws customers to you". This is where I think we agree - you just call this brand building. I'm OK with that term, I'm just stuck on the fact that it should be precisely measured like sales. The whole idea of brand building is to build your business, the way to grow your business is through new customers, the whole purpose of having a marketing department is to get new customers. The internet has changed this role into a measured activity. You can't simply say "I'm building my brand, you have to tell me how this brand building activity is going to be measured in the form of generating leads, helping sales people close current leads, or helping our business retain existing customers.

The final way to get new customers is outbound marketing (targeted calling, direct mail, e-mail) to specific people you have researched and know fit your target market. This is traditionally a sales role - it is becoming clear that specializing someone on your sales team to focus on lead generation that feeds your "closers" is more efficient than forcing your entire sales team to do outbound lead generation poorly.

Why do I make such a strong statement: Marketing is only about driving qualified leads?

a. It got your attention ;-)
b. It is the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of growth
c. A sustained lead generation program is your best indicator of predictable future revenues (stop looking at pipelines that are filled with hope)
d. Too many marketing people hide behind the "I'm building the brand statement, because they don't want to take on the measured quota of delivering leads which is what most companies desperately need."

Marketing can be measured. I spent X, to attract Y, who created $Z in revenues. To accomplish this - you of course build up your story/brand in the process but the measured goal is still in leads delivered, revenues captured, growth that can be tracked back to your activities and marketing spend.



By Wayne Peterson on Mar 16, 2015


Agreeing to disagree is a good thing, and we do. I’m glad to do it agreeably, too. And you’re right, this isn’t an easy topic. Here’s where I see the important difference in our perspectives:

What you’re describing as “referrals” you illustrate with customer success stories. Most salespeople understand referrals to mean one customer making a connection for the salesperson with a potential new customer. And that’s how I use that term. But your point about the experiences and voices of customers is spot on.

The voice of a raving fan is more than twice as trustworthy, and has much more than twice the impact of anything a company would say or claim about itself. That’s why the brand-building campaign that created the results I described was entirely a testimonial campaign. It included testimonial ads, case examples, and fully developed case studies. We built the brand on customer testimonials – what they experienced and described, which affirmed that we were delivering on our brand promise. It was effective both outbound and inbound.

Where you and I would likely disagree is about what can and should be measurable and measured. The purpose of any business is making and keeping customers. To do that the business enterprise has two – and only two – primary tasks: marketing and innovation. Those produce results, and all the rest are expenses. Peter Drucker made that clear decades ago. So what I want to measure goes beyond activity and a simple and questionable chain of cause and effect.

I want to measure both customer growth and retention, I want to measure customer revenue, share-of-spend, and profit margin. I want to measure customer affinity and likelihood to recommend. In sum, I want to measure the effectiveness of the entire business development process, not just one aspect of it. Measuring the effectiveness of business development spending by tying it to a formula tracking lead generation is much too narrow as I see it. And the danger in that practice is that content marketing and everything else that goes into building a strong brand will be abandoned as less measurable, not direct enough.

Lead generation leading to rapid new customer formation is useless if you’re attracting and winning the wrong customers, and if you cannot retain the customers you want once you’ve won them. Both of those problems are chronic in graphic communications companies. That’s the challenge of applying marketing automation metrics to B2B and high-value customer formation. And that’s why I felt compelled to respond.

All the best,



By W Paul Coates on Mar 16, 2015

i want to thank both Jenifer and Patrick and Wayne for providing slightly different takes on the role and value of marketing by printers. i found value in the different positions and consequently am left richer for your perspectives.


By R. Clark Miller on Mar 16, 2015

Jennifer: Once again another excellent and obviously stimulating article.

I completely agree with you regarding the importance of corporate brand in the print industry. I define brand as: having a customer(s) or potential customer(s)who is predisposed to doing business with your establishment vs your competition. If I were to conduct informal surveys of both B2B and B2C prospects and asked them to name the first car company, airline, real estate company that came to mind and then asked them to name the first printing company that came to mind what would one expect the results to be?

I venture that the across the board results pertaining to print would be as highly fragmented as the graphics communication industry is today.

Bottom line is that for the majority of independent printers true brand really doesn't exist. Over a 25 year career span I have been in hundreds of print establishments coast to coast, large and small and not one had a true brand. Not one. Further most establishments do not have a tested formal marketing process beyond the conventional to even build a brand. They rely upon their top accounts for repeat business and their owner relationships or salesperson relationships to generate new customers. That is not true brand building and it may even be more salespersonship than marketing.

As for online (digital) lead generation independent printers are far behind. Most now have a desktop website. Most know about SEO but few do anything about it. Further, SEO changes daily and organic search changes with it, so investing in SEO can be a speculative(but still worthwhile)venture. However what good is SEO if your site is not optimized for mobile?

Google has announced its intent to now consider the mobile friendliness of businesses in their rankings. All one has to do is Google "Printing Services near me", and view the websites of each listing and few if any will be mobile optimized.

Mobile optimization is more important now given that recent statistics show that Millennials (18-34)now comprise the majority (46%) of those responsible for B2B purchasing. This demographic prefers mobile devices for search and prefers video over written content. They desire quick easy access to pertinent know-how and information; they want customer reviews and they want your best deal.

Online lead gen especially via mobile video combined with pixel re-targeting can pull better qualified leads through the sales funnel and this process can be measured at every step in the customer journey.




By Jennifer Matt on Mar 17, 2015

Great conversation.

I would add. Your brand is not about you. Your brand is built by talking about what you do for your customers - how you make them awesome. That's your brand. If there's one piece of advice I would give printers about their online presence it would be: "stop talking about you and start talking about what you are doing to make your customers AWESOME." Solve customer challenges, create customer success stories, help customers drive their business results. All your online content should be from the voice of your customer.

When you write from the customer's perspective you are aligning yourself with the language of the customer (which is the language of search). When you use the language of search you are in alignment with SEO. You have to serve two audiences (one human, one computer), the prospect or customer who is typing into Google and the bot that is indexing your content, analyzing your site's mobile readiness, your site's responsiveness, your site's external links to determine where you land on the search page.



By Patrick Whelan on Mar 18, 2015

Completely agree with your comments regarding Brand! It's your promise to your customers. Terrific article and comments. Thanks to everyone, particularly Jennifer for kicking this off.


By Patrick Whelan on Mar 18, 2015

Completely agree with your comments regarding Brand! It's your promise to your customers. Terrific article and comments. Thanks to everyone, particularly Jennifer for kicking this off.


Post a Comment

To post a comment Log In or Become a Member, doing so is simple and free


Become a Member

Join the thousands of printing executives who are already part of the WhatTheyThink Community.

Copyright © 2020 WhatTheyThink. All Rights Reserved