By John Giles

There is a trend among printers to try to become marketing companies. Some people feel that printing is a dying profession and if you become a marketing company, you will get work that can command a higher margin. Many printers are changing their name to include “marketing” or “solutions” and they are dropping the word “printing” from in their title. They believe the name change will attract more lucrative printing work.

I agree:  printers have to change, but they don’t have to change their core business and become something they are not. Printing can still be a successful business. You just may need to change the type of printing you are doing and your approach to getting it.


Printers have to change, but they don’t have to change their core business and become something they are not.

The small format printer has been hit the hardest by the changing market place. Much of the work once done by a small commercial and quick printer can now be produced on the desktop of most businesses. The printing produced for the operational side of many companies has become a commodity product. It is either done in-house or purchased outside at the lowest price. The only time it really becomes valuable is when the customer runs out and it will affect the company’s own internal production or operations.

The driving force behind the move from printer to marketer has been because marketing material is one of the most lucrative products available to printers. It usually requires color and takes advantage of new printing services such as variable data, personalization, mailing and web-to-print capabilities. Customers aren’t as price sensitive to marketing material because the return on investment can be so much higher. It isn’t like the inventory form that is going to be filled out and filed away. A printed marketing piece in the right hands can generate increased sales and profits for a company.

Making a transition to a marketing company will be difficult for most printers because they are order takers rather than print sellers. They focus on price as the means of keeping a customer and worry that a competitor with a lower price will steal the customer away. Because of their focus on price, they become trapped estimating commodity work that customers want produced for the lowest price possible. If a printer does make a sales call, he usually calls on people in operations or print buyers looking for the best deal. Most printers’ idea of a marketing plan is usually to sell for the lowest price in the market.

If a printer becomes a marketing company, he will have to deliver more than just printing. He will have to provide the marketing plan, do the creative, and measure the results for the client. The plan will probably have to include other marketing vehicles such as newspaper, magazines, television and radio. Now the printer isn’t selling a finished printing project, he is selling an entire concept.

Marketing executives aren’t threatened by printers trying to reinvent their companies as marketing firms because printers tend to go after the wrong customers. The printer fails to identify who is already using marketing materials and goes after his existing customers that are buying his commodity printing products. What marketing executives are afraid of is printers trying to sell these services directly to the end customer and lower prices to where the marketing tools lose value and become commodities.

Printers are used to a customer determining the success of a printing project by whether or not it looks good, contains no errors and was delivered on time. Marketing projects have so many other factors that determine success and many of the success factors could be out of the printer’s control.

PURLs are a good example of printers trying to be marketing experts and failing. The printer with PURL technology goes directly to a printing customer and convinces him that PURLs will generate new leads and increased sales for his company. The printer can handle the mechanics of a PURL project, but unless the printer understands marketing the project can easily fail.

The printer has to know what makes a marketing project work and how to keep the customer from making decisions that will make the project fail. What if the customer has a bad offer in the PURL? What if the customer provides a mailing list of customers who aren’t the right prospects? What if the PURL does generate leads, but the customer doesn’t have the staff to follow up? What measurements are going to be in place to show the PURL project was successful? What measurements are used to show how the PURL project compared to other marketing initiatives?


A printer can handle the mechanics of a PURL project, but unless the printer understands marketing the project can easily fail.

A printer doesn’t have to change his name to be successful. He has to change his attitude. A successful printer will be one who sells printing that uses the new marketing tools to marketing department or marketing companies. Printers will have to learn to work with customers who understand marketing and are already selling something to someone. The current marketing customer needs a printer who has the capability to provide variable data printing, personalization, short-run color printing and web-to-print capabilities. The printer needs to become the resource for these capabilities.

The solution will be for printers to take their marketing tools and make them available to marketing professionals. Printers can partner with people who have experience with marketing and provide them additional tools to do better jobs. The printers core business is printing. The marketing experts core business is marketing and the marketing expert needs printing to be successful.

Printers need to embrace the new technology that gives marketers better results. Printers need to understand the mechanics and how to make the programs works. They need to be able to explain to the customer how to design the work to take advantage of the new techniques.


A printer doesn’t have to change his name to be successful. He has to change his attitude.

Printers have to realize they offer services that are elements of a marketing plan, not the total solution. Printers need to let the marketing experts know what they have to offer and then let the marketing experts develop the total solution. Most marketing companies and marketing departments are going to continue to buy printing. Printers just need to let the right people know what services they have that the marketing experts can use.

There is a lot of printing being purchased by professional marketers. Marketing experts are looking for a printing company to partner with, not another marketing firm to compete with for business.