By Barbara Pellow December 15, 2003 -- Almost a decade ago digital color was introduced into the market place when both Indigo and Xeikon introduced new products, and early projections were that these technologies would take off. Initially, as with a number of new technologies, there were technical issues. Presses were unreliable; ink and toner didn't stick to the paper; and the cost of consumables was too high to generate any substantial application transfer from offset technology. Today, Indigo has been taken over by HP. Xeikon faced bankruptcy and was acquired by Punch Technologies. And Xerox recently announced that they have shipped more than 100 DocuColor iGen3 units worldwide and NexPress is emphasizing success with a number of customers including RT Associates, Creative Digital Solutions and Bates Jackson. Ink and toner are sticking to the paper. The quality of the output is substantially better. Consumables costs are down and reliability has improved dramatically. There are a number of application software solutions available to support the implementation of one-to-one marketing applications. The key questions prospective purchasers are asking include: * Where is the demand for short run digital color and variable data? * Is there really a market? * What will it take to accelerate application growth and drive volume to these digital color presses? * How can I be successful with the technology? During November, I had the opportunity to visit the first DocuColor iGen3 installation in the Philadelphia area, The Strata Companies. I participated in an educational seminar they hosted for existing customers and prospects designed to build its digital color business. What I saw was a firm that demonstrated the right strategy, management direction and commitment to make the technology work for its business and its customer base. As a backdrop, the Printing Industry Center at RIT identified key characteristics of successful digital color users in its recent report, “Digital Color…Where is the Market?”. These include: * A clear understanding of their customer base and their respective target markets. * Redefinition of their business as more than a printer. They offer a value added service portfolio that makes them an integral part of the business model for their customer base. * A balanced business model that lets firms make investments in the future funded by current business. * An Internet strategy to address future market opportunity. The Strata Companies is building a business model based on these fundamental principles. Jeff Sammak, Strata President, founded the company with a vision of developing a full-service marketing organization with the in house capabilities of graphic design, direct marketing, printing, fulfillment, promotional products and digital media. He wanted The Strata Companies to be an entity unlike any other marketing or advertising firm. According to Sammak, “The genesis of this vision started with the Apple Mac. I saw the Mac as a technology revolutionizing the way that documents are put together. I wanted to create an organization that would yield a wider spectrum of service to the business community under one umbrella. The Internet added to that synergy. I jumped on the iGen3 because it provided a digital output device that could fulfill the vision.” A Market Focus…A Full Service Provider Today, The Strata Companies provide a total solution for the planning, creation, production and fulfillment of marketing communications materials with an emphasis on the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, financial, technology, industrial and insurance industries. The company has three synergistic business units that deliver integrated communications, positioning Strata as a full service provider in the market. * Strata Marketing Services provides an array of marketing communication services that include strategic planning, graphic design, print/broadcast advertising, Web development, Internet marketing, direct mail, sales collateral, tradeshow marketing, media planning and buying, and promotional items. * Strata Data Services provide database marketing and mail fulfillment. Services include database management, lead collection, list buying and creation, variable data production, fulfillment and mail warehousing. * Strata Graphics offers the latest technology for graphics production and printing. Services include digital and traditional printing, large format graphics, post-production and print brokerage services. Educating the Customer The investment in the iGen3 was a logical extension of the company's business model. But to really drive its digital color capability into the market, Strata realized that reaching out to its customer base—and showing them what the Strata Companies and new technology could bring to the table to enhance marketing campaigns—was essential. Sammak also knew that the individuals that cared about direct mail and integrated marketing campaigns were not the traditional “print buyers,” but rather, the marketing directors, advertising agencies , and distribution channel managers. To educate the customer base, The Strata Companies decided to conduct a series of educational seminars and entice participation through a “personalized campaign” targeted at marketing executives. Personalized invitations (see below) went out to marketing titles in both existing clients and prospects. The session included external speakers from RIT and Xerox, Jeff Sammak and Marketing Manager Kirsten Bjork as well as a panel discussion where participants had the opportunity to ask questions about the implications and complexities associated with personalized communications. And when participants arrived, the badges, presentations and note pads were personalized to illustrate the power of technology. When the session opened, Sammak asked the more than 60 participants to identify the company they were from and specific areas of interest. From finance to pharmaceuticals, the marketing community participating in this session told him that they were looking for new and better ways to communicate more effectively with their customer base. They wanted solutions to more effectively “talk to their customers.” Sammak said, “This session helped us illustrate the power of the iGen3, but more importantly it demonstrated how The Strata Companies can support clients as a marketing and communications partner. There is no industry label for what we do and what firms need to do to make technology work. You need to reach the real users to drive this business.” The Strata Companies discovered that the key to survival with digital color printing was to de-commoditize print. Their success has required more than making color prints better, faster and cheaper. Today, they have more than 30 people, with revenues growing in the double digits. High growth digital color document services providers like Strata started offering value added services and support, including making their print shops more accessible via Internet interfaces; providing ease of use tools and templates for the novice user; providing digital asset and content management services; and integrating into client Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions with variable data support. Strata has taken it one step further….realizing that selling to marketing executives requires a demonstration of the service level embodied in their “marketing” initiatives. Good creative marketing is making a difference to Strata in reaching the right customer and driving the adoption of digital color communications strategies. For more information about The Strata Companies, visit Jeff Sammak, The Strata Companies, 610-941-6100, [email protected]