by Heidi Tolliver-Nigro June 30, 2006 -- One of the complaints I regularly hear from printers looking to break into VDP is that they cannot get clients to look beyond their printing capabilities and see them as marketing partners. They have the samples. They have the database expertise. They are going after the right level of person within the client's (or prospect's) organization. But they can't get clients to open the door to let them present their ideas. Even if these VDP providers can get clients to hear them out, those clients often aren't willing to pay for the upfront consultation and creative that is really the heart of the campaign. They are willing to pay for the printing--even pay a premium for 1:1 print--but they are unwilling to pay for the weeks or months of planning that go into the job. Those who shed their skins as commercial printers are able to increase their prices for project development and invoice up front for those services. This is one of the reasons that an increasing number of printers are changing their names from "commercial printers" or even "graphic services providers" to "marketing services companies." If this name change is more than semantic, and is accompanied by the requisite marketing and business development expertise, the benefits can be significant. Retooling for Credibility -- and Profits I recently interviewed one successful VDP solutions provider that used to be a commercial print shop. Even though it was staffed with great people who really knew their stuff, the shop struggled with these very issues. Then, the new company spun off as a marketing services provider. Now, it has a completely different relationship with its client base. Because it is a marketing company, not a printing company, it is seen as having the expertise to sell the kinds of high-value services like 1:1 marketing that commercial printers have trouble getting in the door. In addition to a different client-vendor relationship, this shift allows VDP producers to charge for the value of the services they provide because it shifts the client's focus from the output (which is easily commoditized) to the marketing strategy. I recently produced a report for the Print Education and Research Foundation (PERF), for which I interviewed a number of highly successful VDP producers about their pricing strategies. I found that those who shed their skins as commercial printers to become marketing service providers not only were able to increase their prices for consulting and project development, but were also able to start invoicing up front for those services -- just like any other creative or marketing organization. When the company described above was still a printer, for example, they tried by bake all of the upfront consultative, database development, and design work into the final printing charge. Because the per-piece costs ended up being too high, and because the shop was seen as "just a printer," clients were not willing to pay for consulting or creative work. What "commercial printers" have a hard time getting from clients is something that marketing services companies can often make part of the deal. Now, as a marketing services firm, the shop not only can charge for these things, but it doesn't even have to itemize them. Rather, it charges a single fee for all of the non-manufacturing portions of the project, including needs analysis, marketing plan development, creative development, production, and analysis and recommendations. The first check comes before the staff even begins brainstorming. If the client demands that jobs be unbundled, the company will excuse itself from the project. Clients Tell All There is another benefit to switching from commercial printer to marketing services provider: access to results from clients' VDP campaigns. Printer running VDP jobs have always complained about the inability to get the results back on the campaigns they produce for use in their own marketing activities. But when you are established as a marketing services provider, the relationship changes. You are no longer the one that simply prints the job. Long-term relationships are expected, so the sharing of results becomes necessary to that relationship. One VDP solutions provider, Digital Innovations Group, makes the sharing of data a necessary condition of doing business. This is because long-term relationships require knowing campaign results so that results can be continually tweaked and improved. What "commercial printers" have a hard time getting from clients is something that marketing services companies can often make part of the deal. This is a benefit for both the client and the solutions provider. Those kinds of results can be parlayed into great case studies and a fabulous track record for gaining new business. So what's in a name? A lot, apparently. These examples are duplicated all across the industry. If you see fewer "ABC Printer" or "ABC Graphic Communications" firms and more "ABC Marketing Services" companies, there is a reason. And as long as the name change isn't merely semantic, but reflects a fundamental business philosophy that is supported by the skills and commitment necessary to follow through, a name change can often be a much-needed solution to getting over that big block you may have been stumbling over.