By Kevin Joyce

Companies throughout virtually every industry impacted by technology find themselves in perpetual states of transformation. To get a sense of the degree to which this phenomenon has taken hold throughout the 21st century economy, search on Google under the phrase, "What business are you in?" You'll find hundreds of sites with articles, videos, speeches and other information from various experts addressing the question.

For commercial printers, remaining competitive and ensuring success in today's fragmented media environment requires continually assessing and adjusting their answer to the question about what business they're in now and during the years ahead. As you think about the next strategic growth path for your print-driven business, take a moment to consider the unprecedented repositioning of companies--and the way that they define themselves--that has taken place in our industry over the past decade.

Companies that produced printed materials through the process of putting ink on paper were known for decades as "printers." Over the past several years, as they added new capabilities enabled by digital technologies, many of these "printers" became known as "print service providers." Database management became an even more valuable core capability, as shops grew beyond fulfillment to offer variable data printing. The addition of even more services to their portfolios--accelerated by the growth of new electronic media--led print providers to expand into areas beyond their core businesses and serve as "integrated marketing communications providers." Complementing traditional print materials, these companies produce online components, such as PURLs and websites as part of an e-mail campaign, for customers implementing a multimedia communications program.

Each of these three terms --printers, print service providers, and integrated marketing communications providers-- has worked well for these firms by defining the businesses they're in based on the products they deliver. The next big opportunity for print driven companies centers on positioning themselves at the next highest level within the marketing process and serving as a "marketing service provider."

As marketing service providers, print-driven companies develop an intimate understanding of their customers' marketing objectives and offer a range of capabilities to help achieve them, including the production of print and multimedia communications materials.

The transitioning to a marketing service provider begins with knowledge, both about the latest trends in marketing overall and the marketing goals of your customers specifically. Plenty of books, websites and academic courses exist to help you learn about the newest marketing approaches and techniques. Getting smart about your customers' businesses involves asking a lot of questions. For example, when an order comes in for a new brochure, you could inquire about the audience the customer is trying to reach. Other questions might include: What is the objective of the piece? Is it part of a larger campaign? What action do you want people to take?

With the answers to those and similar questions, you'll be able to serve as a more strategic partner with your customer and discuss new ways in which your company can add tangible value to a marketing campaign. For example, you may suggest that an e-mail follow up would be more effective for a particular audience as part of a direct marketing campaign. Or, your company may be able to help manage the customer data involved with a direct marketing campaign.

By becoming a marketing service provider, you'll add real incremental value to your customers' marketing programs, establish stronger relationships with those customers, and ultimately develop a business model that gives you a competitive marketing edge over your competitors.  So the next time you're asked what business you're in, the answer is simple: You're in the business of marketing.

Kevin Joyce is Chief Marketing Officer, Kodak's Graphic Communications Group, and Vice President, Eastman Kodak Company.