By Stan Najmr of Presstek February 23, 2004 -- Over the last several months in this space, we have shared with you a number of customer stories that demonstrate how print service providers are using digital technologies to differentiate themselves and grow their businesses. This month, we would like to turn our attention to the end customer —the buyer of printed services. It is the buyer, after all, who keeps us all in business, and whose requirements define the actions each of us needs to take to stay competitive. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Donna Berger, a talented freelance marketer who is also an illustrator and author of children's books. As an entrepreneur and owner of a small business, Donna believes it is important to market herself on a regular basis in creative ways that get her message across to potential customers. Because she is also an artist, she must be very particular about the quality of her materials and the image they portray. With her previous background as a marketing professional, Donna is, perhaps, better informed than many of her colleagues about the dynamics of print as a communications medium. She also understands the power of multi channel marketing methods. In promoting her business, she has used a blend of direct mail postcards, ads, her own Web site and an affiliation with various Web portfolio sites to get the word out. To keep the costs of printing affordable, Donna has struggled to balance the economies of scale of long-run offset with the potential for customization that digital technologies have to offer, while still maintaining the appropriate quality and image. “Because I don't need thousands of copies,” Donna told me, “I have found conventional offset to be too expensive, although the process can obviously deliver the quality I need. I do mailings several times a year, but I find it more effective when each mailing is different and can tell a different story about the services I have to offer, so runs of 500 to 1,000 are optimum for me.” Even with an online service, Donna found that she had to print longer runs of business cards and postcards to bring the cost per piece into a range she could justify, in quantities she felt she would never be able to consume. “The other thing with a lot of these services is that they gang a number of orders together to take advantage of large press sheet sizes,” she said, “and I just couldn't get the level of quality I needed for my work on a predictable and consistent basis. And on-site press checks were not an option. These services are fine for a certain set of products, but they just didn't meet my requirements.” Donna also investigated toner-based digital color printing, but was not satisfied with the quality and color fidelity. “I really need fine art quality to showcase my illustrating talents. Even though I supplied a proof, the color was so far off. Eventually we were able to adjust the colors, but I still was not happy with the look of the pieces. I felt like I was running out of options.” After learning about DI printing, Donna decided to give it a try. “I was attracted by a process that was true offset printing, but could economically handle shorter runs on a wide variety of substrates. I decided to challenge the technology, and spent several weeks designing a range of pieces, including letterhead, envelopes, a unique mail piece consisting of six panels with a poster on the back, and twelve different versions of business cards featuring my illustrations—all of which worked well with my Web site. If I could cost-effectively run a few hundred sheets of each—and more importantly, if I could achieve a quality result that I felt presented my art in the best possible light—I could be much more flexible and creative in marketing my business.” Donna also saw potential for the technology in solving business problems for her customers as well. “I do a significant amount of work for clients preparing for trade shows,” she said. “These projects are inevitably last minute, and the client is usually looking for specialized, customized pieces in relatively small quantities—posters, brochures, flyers, business cards and postcards specific to a particular show. It is not unusual for a client to ask me to design, print and ship a project in less than a week. While they don't particularly care what technology I employ to produce their work, like me, they very much care about how the pieces represent their products, their services and their company.” Donna submitted her work to a DI printer whose press was enabled with Presstek's imaging and plate technology. (To find a printer near you visit www.DIdirectory.com.) Prior to her arrival on site, the service provider invested about three hours in prepress working with the native files—trapping, imposing and otherwise preparing for the press run. When Donna arrived on site, the files were ready to run on the DirectPress. “The most remarkable thing about the process,” according to Donna, “was that no color adjustments had been done prior to my arrival. When I saw the first few sheets come off the press, I said, ‘Wow, that looks terrific!' We did a little bit of tweaking, but I honestly feel that I could be comfortable sending files in for production without being on-site for a press check. The quality and color fidelity were that good.” Within a few hours from the time Donna walked in the door, her materials were produced, finished and ready for her use. She had matching envelopes and stationery printed on a quality stock that served the dual purpose of identifying and marketing her business. She had twelve different versions of two-sided business cards—varnished four-color printing on one side and black on the other—that she could choose from depending on the specific client she was in contact with. And she had the six-panel brochure/poster to use in client mailings. Donna said, “What was really amazing was that all of these pieces—with different sizes and stock requirements—were all printed on the same press in one morning.” The image below shows the graphics adorning her envelope (on the left) and three business card versions. She continued, “Interestingly, because of the design flexibility I now have with my business cards, I may not even need postcards in the future. The business cards can play a dual role, especially when combined with my stationery, they are surprisingly affordable, and I can easily carry them with me wherever I go. I could not have afforded this array of quality materials with any other process.” The successful print service provider in today's market must be prepared to deal effectively with a wide variety of buyers who have an even wider array of requirements. While Donna's situation presented a unique set of requirements, it does serve to illustrate the flexibility today's print buyers are demanding from their print partners. By ensuring that your shop has the ability to deliver high-quality, quick turn, cost-effective short runs front-ended by a digital workflow, you will be positioning yourself for growth. And employing direct imaging technology is certainly one way to get there, as Donna's story demonstrates.