Should a printing company attempt to become a "marketing services provider?"  Recent posts, both here at PrintCEO and at the Digital Nirvana blog, have triggered a lively discussion about this question.  Cary Sherburne's interview of Sugarbush Media Solutions' CEO Mark Parent at WhatTheyThink provides another interesting perspective on this issue.

There is no "right" answer to this question.  Becoming an MSP is a business strategy that can be highly successful for some companies and an outright disaster for others.  Success depends largely on how well the strategy is put together and how well it is executed.

If you are considering this strategic move, one essential task is to decide what kind of MSP you will attempt to become.  "Marketing services provider" is nothing more than a generic label that can be applied to many kinds of firms.

The direct marketing process or "value chain" contains at least nine major categories of activities:

  • Marketing strategy and planning

  • Campaign strategy and planning

  • List and data sourcing

  • Database development/management

  • Data processing and manipulation

  • Marketing analytics

  • Creative

  • Execution

  • Marketing performance measurement

In this list, "execution" includes printing, mailing, e-mail deployment, and call center operation.  Therefore, many printing companies are, in reality, already providing some marketing services.  But execution services are not typically the kinds of marketing services that produce high profit margins.  In fact, execution services are often seen as commodities.  In a recent statement to Forrester Research, the head of direct marketing at a consumer products company said, "We don't have a lot of time to manage vendors so we try to spend the time we have with strategic partners.  We subcontract commodity services like print, email, and fulfillment."

So if the objective in becoming an MSP is to drive improved profitability, it is likely that a printing company will have to offer more than marketing execution services.  The question, of course, is which services?  Very few companies, especially smaller ones, can excel at providing the full range of marketing services to all kinds of customers.  That's why a well-conceived and coherent strategy is essential to being a successful MSP.