As we look at an economy in turmoil, there is a sense of frustration. AIG, Citigroup, GM, and Chrysler are all challenged. In our industry, there are major vendors as well as print service providers that are retrenching, laying off workers, and trying to figure out how to cope. Most of these companies were successful at one time but are now facing failure.

John Kotter, Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School and widely regarded as the world's foremost authority on leadership and change, wrote a book highlighting what he considered to be the root cause of several of today’s business issues. The book is entitled A Sense of Urgency and it should be on every business executive’s “must read” list.

Kotter’s basic premise is that there numerous examples of how success creates size, market power, and an entitlement culture. In turn, all of these things create an inward focus, a lack of understanding of external reality, and a total lack of urgency to solve the problem. Kotter’s perspective is that “True urgency is a gut-level determination to move and win, right now. Its practitioners are unusually alert. They come to work each day determined to achieve something important, and they shed irrelevant activities to move faster and smarter. Those with a sense of true urgency are the opposite of complacent—but they are not stressed out, anxious individuals who generate great activity without much productivity. Instead, they are moving boldly toward the future—sharply on the lookout for both hazards and opportunities that change brings.”

Kotter also highlights that activity is not the same thing as urgency. People can scurry around preparing reports and attending endless meetings, but they may not be central to the organization's success and future growth. In some instances, activity is actually a sign of a false sense of urgency.

So Just What is Urgency for the Graphic Communications Market?

The world of communications is fast-moving and changing quickly. As I speak with print service providers, however, I find that several are waiting for the economy to get better under the assumption that as the economy improves, so will business. This sleepy, steadfast approach to the status quo with the changing dynamics in communications technology is destined to create disaster. The market has changed forever, and print volumes will never return to previous levels. It is truly time to develop an understanding of technology and the role that traditional print will play, while also building strategies to participate in non-print (e.g., electronic) revenue streams. This article shares some basic market statistics about how communications technologies are changing.

Have You Looked at SCM?

For those that haven’t paid attention to short code marketing, it is the technique that Barack Obama’s campaign used to announce Joe Biden as his Vice Presidential running mate. It involves sending marketing messages via text through a Common Short Code (CSC). A short code is essentially an abbreviated phone number used for text (SMS) and multimedia (MMS) messaging. Short codes are being used for marketing TV shows, cars, soda, and a number of other goods and services. Coca Cola is using the technology in its My Coke Rewards program to communicate with more than 1.1 million AT&T and Verizon wireless customers.

Recent statistics indicate that this form of marketing will be essential as the population ages. The Nielsen Company reports that as of the third quarter of 2008, 203 million of the 263 million U.S. Wireless subscriber lines paid for text messaging either as part of a package or on a transaction basis. In addition, the number of text messages among U.S. wireless subscribers has surpassed that of phone calls since the fourth quarter of 2007.

Table 1: Average Number of Monthly Calls vs. Text Messages among U.S. Wireless Subscribers




Q1 2006



Q2 2006



Q3 2006



Q4 2006



Q1 2007



Q2 2007



Q3 2007



Q4 2007



Q1 2008



Q2 2008



   Source: The Nielsen Company

Age also has an effect on the number of text messages sent. All subscribers under the age of 44 generated more text messages than phone calls with their mobile devices. Texting is clearly a critical communications mechanism for marketers, and will likely remain so in the future.  Do you have an “urgent strategy” to participate in the SCM  opportunity as it evolves?

Table 2: Average Number of Monthly Calls vs. Text Messages among U.S. Wireless Subscribers by Age – Q2 2008




All Ages



Ages 12 & Under



Ages 13-17



Ages 18-24



Ages 25-34



Ages 35-44



Ages 45-54



Ages 55-64



Ages 65+



  Source: The Nielsen Company

What about Facebook?

Facebook, one of the most popular social networking sites, reportedly added its 200 millionth user on April 8, 2009. To mark the occasion, Silicon Alley Insider noted that if Facebook were a country, it would be the fifth-largest in the world after China, India, the U.S., and Indonesia.

The U.S. had more Facebook users than any other country, and the largest concentration of users were in the Eastern U.S. and Western Europe. From January to March 2009, people between the ages of 26 and 44 made up the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. Facebook population, and other countries will undoubtedly follow this path.

Facebook and other social networking sites are providing opportunities for brand marketers to obtain feedback from users—or even engage in direct conversations. While users have been reluctant to click on ads, brands are still seeking ways to leverage the social networking space—and they are finding them. Marketers want to join the Facebook conversation. This is not a difficult thing to do, but they must also find partners that can support their efforts through thoughtful planning and well-prepared social marketing strategies that integrate with other marketing initiatives. Social marketing must deliver a clear and consistent message. What is your sense of urgency relative to leveraging Facebook for your business and your customers?

QR Codes and Integration of Mobile Devices into Multi-Channel Campaigns

QR (quick response) codes are high-density barcodes that are readable by cell phones and simple PC cams. Recipients can quickly and easily interact with the QR-enabled transactional documents they receive. Consumers simply point their camera at the QR symbol and they are instantly connected to a QR-encoded Web page without ever having to remember or type in numbers and promotional codes. The Web page could be a sales video, a coupon, or a product promotion encoded with the specific recipient’s demographic profile.

Marketers can QR-encode personalized URLs (pURLs) or other Web links into a small section of a TransPromo, direct mail, or catalog page real estate to enable direct links to the online world. QR unleashes the power of recipient interactivity to the same real estate previously allocated to simple post-processing and document control to bar codes. The ease of the process and the fact that the pURL is hidden to the naked eye and doesn’t need to be keyed in greatly increases response rates. Documents can be transformed into true multi-channel interactive vehicles for increased customer retention and new business development.

  • QR codes can also be encoded with links to instant payment portals that enable faster bill payment.
  • QR codes could be embedded into direct mailers or catalogs with a link for immediate ordering of a specific item.
  • As global marketing efforts increase, the ability of QR to support encodation of double byte character sets for Kanji and other Asian characters will prove to be invaluable for marketing professionals.

This concept is already being implemented by retailer Ralph Lauren. Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. has launched a mobile commerce service to enable consumers to buy products through their handsets. Ralph Lauren claims to be one of the first luxury retailers in the United States to launch a mobile commerce site and incorporate QR codes in advertisements. In 2008 through QR code technology, Ralph Lauren offered consumers the opportunity to shop via their camera phones by scanning the QR codes appearing in print advertisements, store windows, and mailers. The QR codes linked consumers directly to Ralph Lauren's limited edition 2008 U.S. Open Collection, as well as sell Ralph Lauren Classics including Polos, Oxfords, and Chinos. Maybe everyone should have a sense of urgency about the opportunity for QR Codes!

It’s Not Just Print Anymore!

The examples in this document are just the tip of the iceberg regarding the changing dynamics in the world of communications. Print service providers in an increasing number of organizations are saying that they need to do something different. Organizational leaders might see all sorts of activities within their businesses, including increased sales calls, cost-cutting initiatives, and production efficiency improvements. At the same time, however, this does not mean that these companies have a sufficient sense of urgency to start making the kinds of changes that they need to make. I believe that the market is suffering from a false sense of urgency because too many businesses believe that print volumes will increase as the economy improves. This false sense of urgency is dangerous. It is time to re-evaluate today’s new technologies and their implications for your business. Developing a sense of urgency to create big changes can make big things happen for your organization!