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Are You as Weary of “We Print the Marketing Materials of Others, but are not Marketers Ourselves” as Much as I Am?

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By Dr. Joe Webb
Published: April 17, 2013

Everyone's heard it. Everyone thinks it's true. Everyone thinks it's a paradox. Everyone thinks it's insightful. It's not. It's almost like the inventor of ibuprofen or aspirin or acetaminophen saying “it's a paradox that we can make products to stop a headache, but we get headaches ourselves.” Or perhaps a dry cleaner “we clean the clothes of others, but sometimes we wear dirty pants.” At best the supposed paradox about print is a variant of the cobbler's children not having shoes. There are many problems with the old saying. First, it's a denial that personal selling is marketing. Our industry is a B2B industry and has always relied on personal selling as the primary means of its marketing. For those who remember their “4 p's” when they took marketing in college, personal selling falls under “promotion.” The use of personal selling was needed because each prospect and client had unique content and unique timetables and other factors that required 1:1 attention. This is not to say that all personal selling was executed well, or was even appropriate. It just was. It says nothing about the benefits of branding or corporate image to a print business, it's just that personal selling is somehow excluded from a discussion of marketing, as if it's alien to the topic. If anything, the fact that it has been treated separately is a problem for print management, and has nothing to do with the printing of other people's marketing materials. Sometimes it has seemed that personal selling was believed to be a necessary evil and not a purposeful strategic action, but that is a discussion for another time. Second, that fact that the printing industry produced print materials for others to use in their marketing says more about the fact that each business and each industry requires their own promotional mixes unique to that industry or business. A “promotional mix” is the way each organization allocates its resources to personal selling, media like broadcast or print, public relations, and a host of other communications formats. Printers are like any service that others use to meet their objectives. The marketing materials and formats we produce for others may not be appropriate to use for our marketing needs and our client base. Third, we love beating ourselves up. The saying seems to be a frustration with print management's abilities and interests in marketing of their own businesses because they're so tied up with daily operations that it falls through the management cracks and is never addressed. My dissertation (26 years ago! Gosh, I'm getting old) was about the marketing practices of commercial printers. At the time, I found no statistical correlation for marketing activities and profits. I did find little things like the companies run by CEOs who were business majors were twice as profitable as those who went to technical schools. That just hinted that businesses that focused on purpose rather than process were more profitable. That idea has always been and still is the case for successful companies, so my dissertation didn't add to that base of knowledge. The idea is the basis of most marketing already, and the idea was innate to successful entrepreneurship. Personal selling was the way that responded to the specific needs of the marketplace, something that marketing is supposed to do. The lament about printers and marketing started around 1972, more than 40 years ago, with the seminal article by the late Victor Strauss that appeared in PIA newsletters and many print publications around that time. The lack of an embrace of marketing by printers is still one of those topics that is easy to complain about these decades later. We are at a marketing turning point, however, but we still won't be using the marketing techniques appropriate for others for our businesses. Each company will still choose what is right for themselves. The market has changed a lot since the broadband era began, and is changing again in the smartphone/tablet era. The communications and budget challenges faced by our clients means that our personal selling is changing from reactive to proactive, from production sales to business development. All printers will benefit from using the new media options they have today, but for most of them personal selling will still be their main method of interacting with clients and prospects. The old personal selling focused on finding the right contacts. The new personal selling focuses on the right client strategies. There's quite a difference. The curiosity level of the new personal sellers and their business development teams is one of the key differentiators. To oversimplify the difference, they ask “why” while the old personal sellers asked “who.” In the evolving media markets, we will still be printing the marketing materials of others but supposedly not be marketers ourselves. That is, things will seem as they always were to those who consider personal selling to be something separate and unrelated to marketing. Success will always be the hiring of that one sales rep with the right contacts. It is my contention that personal selling is now being placed in a new strategic context, supported by the newest media, and is critical to a thriving future for our most of our best companies. Personal selling is marketing, and it always has been. Once you look inside the claimed paradox, things are not what they might seem. We'll still be printing the marketing materials of others because that's the right media tactic for them. We'll use the right media and promotional tactic for us, because that's what's right for our tasks and our objectives. Stop beating yourself up. The cobbler can buy shoes for the kids at the store while selling custom shoes to others. Beware paradoxes uttered at cocktail parties. # # #

Dr. Joe Webb is one of the graphic arts industry's best-known consultants, forecasters, and commentators. He is the director of WhatTheyThink.com's Economics and Research Center.

What do you think? Please send feedback to Dr. Joe by emailing him at drjoe@whattheythink.com.

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