By Barbara Pellow Technology is going to redefine your value proposition and the way you do business. September 27 , 2004 -- When we talk about innovation, no industry has experienced more change than the business communications market segment. As little as ten years ago, businesses were limited to print, TV and radio as communication outlets to the masses. With the growing application of wireless and Internet technologies, communication options now include PDAs, electronic billboards, aerial blimps, cell phones, and even digital screens on gas station pumps. Marketers want to more effectively reach target audiences and communicate quickly-updated information and promotions. More than ever, the use of multimedia and cross-media strategies are critical to successful business communications. As a print service provider, technology is going to redefine your value proposition and the way you do business. Companies may choose new media technology over print for whole categories of business communications. The digital provider needs to bring the complexity and sophistication of high technology together with the craft-oriented printing business to create innovative and impressive solutions. When I was growing up, my dad owned Pellow Printing Company in Negaunee, Michigan. He viewed himself as a craftsman. The value he created was associated with his ability to get the output quality to match the expectations of the customer. There was significant value was placed on the ability to create high-quality output that ensured color matching, label adhesion, ink stability, version control, and inventory management. With today's technology, that isn't enough. Today's digital service provider needs to provide customers with what I categorize as "business idea acceleration." The concept of "business idea acceleration" means helping customers with market reach, time to market, and driving business results. The digital provider needs to bring the complexity and sophistication of high technology together with the craft-oriented printing business to create innovative and impressive solutions. In preparation for Graph Expo, I had the opportunity to interview several digital service providers to understand how the technology transition has impacted their businesses. The firms included Bates Jackson, Cohber, The Johnson Group, and RT Associates. A common theme emerged from these conversations: The implementation of new technology meant new products and services, customers, sales approaches and sources of revenue. "We're more of a consultant and we're called earlier in the sales process, where before we were just called for a quote. We're involved in helping them with design and how their data is going to drive the finished piece and response rates." --EJ Flammer, Bates Jackson I've talked about Bates Jackson in a previous column and am revisiting them because they exemplify a company in transition with a focus on helping customers with "business idea acceleration." Bates Jackson started in 1903 as a stationery engraving company serving the needs of legal and CPA firms throughout the Buffalo and Rochester, New York region. And it evolved through the years as the needs of those customers changed. When asked why Bates Jackson made a transition to digital technology, owner EJ Flammer said, "The main reason we switched to digital was to complement our complete menu of services. We were asked by a number of customers to start to do things with faster turnaround times. They wanted us to start managing their forms, providing direct mailings, and addressing and distributing the pieces of marketing material that we had been printing and sending out to mail houses." As a result of the addition of value added services and support, Flammer said his customers view Bates Jackson differently. "We are not just a vendor to a lot of our customers anymore. We have actually found ourselves to be more of a partner because of the variety of work we can do with digital color, black & white and traditional offset. The amount of work and the types of work we're doing with these customers has changed. We're more of a consultant and we're called earlier in the sales process, where before we were just called for a quote. We're getting involved in helping them design their pieces, and we talk about how their data is going to drive the finished piece and their customer response rates." The bottom line for Bates Jackson is delivering results for the customer. The company is accelerating time to market for new business programs and transforming them into business results. According to Flammer, "We have done a lot of different variable data mailing, both black & white and color, with tremendous success. Some of the most successful have response rates of 30 to 50 percent based on our ability to swap out the graphics and the text and generate more custom communications." "I think more customers are looking for a total solutions provider. Whether it's a one-off piece, a long-run piece, static printing, or digital variable printing, they want to be able to put their work into one shop and make sure that shop has a cost-effective way to produce it." --Eric Weber, Cohber Press Surviving seven decades of often turbulent business conditions as the result of wars, radical movements, technological advancements and threats of mergers, Rochester-based, Cohber Press, is a leader in the printing industry. What began in 1931 with the vision of Samuel Cohen and Howard Weber, Sr., has grown into a $17 million dollar company. Today, Cohber employs 130 people in its 80,000 square foot facility and is a showcase for an array of digital and traditional print technologies. Cohber is emphasizing its ability to become the customer's total communications solution. Using the latest in conventional and digital printing, as well as new Internet-based solutions, Cohber is working with clients to broaden communication strategies and maximize the effectiveness of their message, no matter what--or with whom--they are trying to communicate. Cohber will manage, produce, deploy and track the effectiveness of advertising messages whether they are produced as a conventionally printed piece, a one-to-one message produced using variable information printing or a re-purposed, personalized message communicated through eMessaging and the Internet. According to President Eric Weber, " I think more of our customers are looking for a total solutions provider. They're looking for one shop that can handle a variety of applications. Whether it's a one-off piece, a long-run piece, static printing, or digital variable printing, they want to be able to put their work into one shop and make sure that shop has a cost-effective way to produce it." Weber also indicated that the technology transformation has changed Cohber's market focus. He said, " Initially we called on anyone and everyone, and ultimately realized that probably wasn't the smartest way to go about it. Short-run digital color static documents are for anyone and everyone for the most part. But on the variable side, it's customers that are data savvy. We chose vertical markets where we felt that customers knew what to do with their data, how they wanted to repurpose, so we could capitalize on the opportunity." "I don't believe it is the equipment. I think it's more about what you're doing with the equipment to meet the marketing needs of your customers." --Rynn Johnson, Johnson Group The Johnson Group , founded in 1957, is a family-owned printing enterprise located in Rockford, Illinois. Over the years, this organization has retained the vision of its founder, Harry C. Johnson. His commitment to serve the customer with superior quality, service and fairness has held up to the test of time. And while that original vision has now grown to include multiple locations and clients across the nation, the family still has a renowned passion for quality. Sons Dale and Dennis followed in their father's footsteps. Today, there are seven members of the Johnson family on the executive management team. The firm has a staff of more than 150 people focused on evolving and embracing new technologies and enhancing partnerships to accomplish a simple objective--becoming a full service provider to its customer base. Revenues have climbed to in excess of $25 million dollars. The value added services focus at the Johnson Group has been on Web-to-print solutions through its Red Leaf Digital division. VP of Sales Rynn Johnson said, "Truly I believe that the growth in digital printing is going to be with Web-to-print solutions, and that is how we are going to be able to differentiate ourselves from every other person that happens to have bought a digital printing piece of equipment. I don't believe that it is the equipment. I think it's really more about what you're doing with the equipment to meet the marketing needs of your customers. With our Web-to-print solutions, we allow customers to go online at their convenience, anywhere…globally or domestically. They can look at direct mailers and brochures, customize them and order the product. And we take that order information they gave us, and queue it up at our press so that we have a streamlined workflow. We've looked at getting orders placed, customizing the orders and making us as efficient as possible in terms of our workflow. It is a win-win for our customers and the Johnson Group." Owner of Schaumburg Illinois based RT Associates, Bob Radzis, also agrees that one of the best ways to add value and transform business ideas into measurable customer results is through Web-to-print applications. Radzis said, "About a year and a half ago, one of our best customers, United Stationers, decided to work with us on an application that we call AMP, Automated Marketing Programs. The idea behind it is that their dealers can go on the Web and select one of over 300 templates that are up there for a specific marketing application, whether it's new customer acquisition or customer resuscitation, or maybe a price comparison brochure. They select the application and upload a database, so variable data is a key part of the offering. The remote distributor builds a customized piece online that gives them ownership over it. They submit the order and three days later the piece is in the mail. We have incorporated the NexPress fifth station with the glosser and the coater. The pieces look better; and they are protected from some of the wear and tear that goes through on the mail pieces. This is an application area where everyone is happy…from United Stationers, to the dealer and RT Associates." The Common Thread They understand that technology is changing customer needs and wants, and that it is their mission to help clients accelerate the implementation of business ideas. These four firms have a common thread relative to how they view their businesses. They understand that technology is changing customer needs and wants, and that it is their mission to help clients accelerate the implementation of business ideas. While they view printing as an art, in today's environment, it needs to be blended with advances in technology. They have positioned their organizations as a critical partner in the business communications value chain. Full service, ease of access to multi-media services and a consultative approach are key ingredients in their approach to customers. The relationships they have established with customers are mutually beneficial. The customer perception is that it is easier to communicate relevant business information quickly with improved response rates using the services provided by these organizations. As digital service providers, these firms have a differentiated business model that yields improved loyalty and new sources of revenue.