Our economy is in the midst of a recession, and some print service providers are reacting very defensively. They are tightening their belts and bracing for slower growth. Others have learned that now is the time to play offensively. They are developing the right solutions portfolios to generate short-term business results so they can emerge from the recession even stronger. A number of firms that have invested in multi-channel solutions are experiencing tremendous success. These companies have found ways to:

  • Get more sales from existing customers through the delivery of not just print, but e-mail blasts, development of Web landing pages, marketing campaign dashboards, personalized URLs, and strategic consulting
  • Attract new customers based on their ability to help marketing executives deliver a higher ROI on every marketing dollar
  • Increase customer retention rates
  • Raise customers’ lifetime value
  • Potentially make these effects permanent so they can outlive any particular marketing program or economic climate

InfoTrends recently completed a multi-client study entitled Multi-Channel Communications: Measurement and Benchmarking. The findings of this study are based on surveys of over 200 corporate marketing professionals and over 300 service providers in the U.S. who are currently engaging in multi-channel communications. As a result of multi-channel communications, 66% of our print service provider respondents reported improvements in overall revenue, 57% reported profit improvements, and 54% reported improvements in digital print volume. What’s more, nearly 40% of respondents were actually seeing an improvement in their offset print volumes from multi-channel communications.

Over the past several months, I’ve spoken with several service providers (large and small, old and new) that are realizing the positive effects of multi-channel communications for both their businesses and their customers.

First Edge Solutions… Building Business From the Ground Up

Bobby Kraft started Milwaukee-based First Edge Solutions in 2003 with a used DocuTech, a DocuColor 40, an AB Dick printing press, a 248 Hamada press, and a dream. His vision was to build a business-to-business-oriented print services company. Kraft states, “I went out and spoke with a number of company executives to understand their requirements. I decided to focus on larger companies because they had a need for great service as well as budget dollars.” One of Kraft’s initial clients was a large retailer. First Edge provided this client with exceptional service for internal copying and got into producing point-of-purchase materials. As First Edge built its reference base, it identified an opportunity with a large financial services company to handle a Web-based 401K stock distribution program. This program required entirely new skill sets including Internet enablement, encryption, and secure printing. “We go after the business with an understanding of available technology and then figure out how to get it done,” Kraft noted. “We partnered with a third party to quickly get our Internet capabilities in place, made investments in encryption software, and built the program for the client.”

Bobby recognized the importance of the Internet for his business, and First Edge built out a Web2Print Storefront offering. First Edge Solutions’ Web2Print Storefronts enable its clients to print versioned, personalized, customized pieces on-demand. The system also provides full reporting capabilities to track usage and manage inventory. Kraft elaborates, “In today’s economy, the message of eliminating waste and obsolescence is resonating with clients.”

From there, First Edge branched out to building multi-channel programs and emphasized to customers that targeted messaging generates a stronger return on every marketing dollar spent. To implement initial campaigns, First Edge partnered with Phoenix-based Metagraphix. Based on business synergies, First Edge acquired Metagraphix in May 2008. According to Kraft, “The acquisition of Metagraphix empowered First Edge Solutions to expand capabilities and enhance services to all national and regional accounts. It gave us the opportunity to offer more services to our current clients and open the door for new prospects.”

Today, First Edge has positioned itself as a leader in integrated marketing communication, printing, and document management services. The company employs more than 80 people, and the revenues of its combined entities have risen 20% over the past 12 months. Kraft has demonstrated some of the best offense in the “digital printing” game. He explored opportunities with prospects and customers. Rather than backing away based on a lack of skill or a specific technical capabilities, he seized the opportunity and found the right partners to meet customers’ needs.

Metzgers Printing… Delivering Multi-Channel Results

Toledo, Ohio-based Metzgers Printing & Mailing was founded as a type house offering typesetting and darkroom services in 1976. Over the years, Metzgers expanded its services with the addition of a color copy center and additional offset and digital production equipment. In the late 1990s, the company began offering mailing services. Today, the company offers a wide range of services, including prepress, offset printing, digital printing, wide format printing, finishing, direct mailing, warehouse and distribution, Web-to-print, and multi-channel communications.

With the addition of mailing services in the 1990s, Metzgers started managing customer databases and using BRC cards to help capture more information from mail recipients. As the Internet grew in popularity, it became clear that there were better methods of collecting and tracking information. The BRC cards were replaced with a static URL printed on each mail piece. The URL led recipients to a simple Web form where they could submit updated contact information. As recipients entered their information online, customer databases were automatically updated in real-time. This new method of collecting customer information was simple for clients to understand and easy to implement. As technology improved, the migration to personalized URLs was a natural fit.

Joe Metzger, President of Metzgers Printing & Mailing, noted that pURLs have come a long way. “2008 was the turning point for personalized URLs,” he noted. “Customers are beginning to understand them and recognizing the value. In addition, personalized, one-to-one mail is a lot cheaper to produce today than it was just two years ago. I think that can be attributed to advancements in software and digital print engines.”

Metzger started meeting with clients about multi-channel communications in January 2008. “At first, we probably had one or two clients that were interested,” he stated. “Soon enough, it seemed like our sales reps were scheduling new ‘Intro to Cross-Media Meetings’ with clients once a month. In October, we had a dozen meetings.” Recently, Metzgers hosted a seminar for 80 clients and educated all of them about the opportunities associated with multi-channel communications.

Selling multi-channel campaigns is a new concept for the seven-person Metzgers sales team. While the traditional sales staff typically finds new leads, Joe Metzger steps in to explain the concept to the decision-makers. It is a matter of getting to the right people. Metzger explained, “We need to get past the print buyer and get to the CEO, President, or marketing decision-maker… we want more than just the print buyer.”

When the client is ready to move forward with a campaign, a flow chart illustrating the process is built and included as part of a 4-6 page statement of work. Metzger has found that the keeping the campaign brief and simple makes it easier for the client to digest. About 70% of clients have their own designer or a design agency, but Metzgers also offers design services itself. Once the designer has finalized the look and feel of a campaign, the digital assets are passed to Metzgers and the campaign is built.

Next, the customer data is integrated into the campaign and a test run of 200-300 pieces is produced and mailed. Metzger explained, “The last thing we want is 5,000-10,000 pieces going in the mail for a campaign that’s not perfect.” The random sample of 200-300 names usually includes a few “seed names” from the client so they can see how the final campaign will look. Based on the results of the test, final revisions are made and the campaign is launched.

One example of an ideal application for multi-channel communications is jewelry stores. Metzgers has worked with a major jewelry chain to develop a campaign that reminds recipients about important occasions. The campaign included a postcard sent to married couples two to three weeks before their anniversary. One side of the postcard reminded the husband about the upcoming occasion, while the other side prompted the wife to remind her husband about the anniversary.

Metzger pointed out the importance of having good customer data by stating, “You can’t do this type of campaign if you don’t know the couple’s names and their anniversary date. Obtaining this data is critical and can ultimately be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars for the jeweler.” Metzgers plans to use personalized URLs to learn more about customers by asking about their favorite types of jewelry. Future communications will include even more personalization based on their preferences.

Metzgers Printing & Mailing is new to multi-channel communications, but the company is already using the technology to generate a new line of revenue. Metzgers has completed dozens of campaigns, and more than 30% of these clients have already returned to launch a second campaign. Another 50% are planning to launch another campaign in the future. This high percentage of repeat customers proves that multi-channel communications are generating successful results.

Clients have started to view Metzgers as a solution provider, often picking up the phone to ask for advice or help with a campaign, and this is exactly how Joe Metzger wants his company to be positioned. “Today, people view us as a solutions provider. People don’t want to be sold to anymore… they want to be educated and work with someone that’s going to give them answers and help grow their business.”

Playing Offense in a Difficult Economy

Today’s marketers are under extraordinary budget pressures. Organizations like First Edge Solutions and Metzgers are playing offense. They realize that today’s marketing executives are trying to buy smart by only purchasing what is needed. These companies have positioned themselves as offensive players that will help marketing executives win.