Does your company matter in the market?  If your customers woke up next Monday morning and discovered your business was no longer open, would you be missed?

This is a gut wrenching question to answer for most small to mid-sized printing company owners.  Most of us have never asked the question because we hadn’t thought of it.  I wouldn’t have thought of it either if I hadn’t read it somewhere.  For those of us who take the time to answer and do so candidly the answers tend to range from disappointment to deep concern.

In plain English, our industry can be described today in the following points:

  • There is little that differentiates about 75% of the remaining firms
  • The industry is shrinking in size and output
  • The survivors will need to re-invent themselves and change into something that will only vaguely look like the past.

As I wrote in “Managing the lifecycle of the business”, our task as the leaders of our companies is to take them through the difficult stage three process of:

  • Reinventing the company for a different future
  • Abandoning and discarding the old and obsolete when it no longer makes a positive impact on cash flow
  • Maintaining enough cash flow to keep the business solvent and profitable
  • Making risk-filled investment decisions to support the reinvention of the company
  • Making painful decisions about who stays on the bus and who goes as you figure out what the reinvented company will need in terms of skills and knowledge

This reinvention process is, in my opinion, the toughest challenge ever faced by our industry.  It is filled with uncertainty.  It requires skills we have never needed.  It requires marketing knowledge usually found in consumer goods or technology companies but rarely in a printing company.

As many of us now understand, much of current 21st century marketing practice revolves around the web site.  In-bound (pull marketing), out-bound (push marketing), and collaborative (as identified and defined by Dr. Joe Webb) marketing create the conditions where buyers for what you produce can be found and converted into customers.  Or, more correctly in the case of in-bound marketing, create the conditions where buyers for what you produce can find you - allowing you the opportunity to convert them into customers.  This provides a broad, but workable definition of what marketing does today and the web site (and other special purpose internet locations like social media pages, etc.) plays a key and central role.

Think of your web site as amagnetattracting customers to your company.  All of your marketing activity, as described above, is designed to get customers and prospects within the range of this magnet.  You can increase the power of your magnet by integrating your CRM system.  You can increase it even more with downloadable content designed to make you credible as an expert resource for buyers. You can have your site search engine optimized.  You can take the next step and put the necessary analytics in place to measure activity on your site.  You can incorporate “nurturing” software to track interactions and trigger calculated responses that maintain the relationship with a prospect until he is “sales ready” and, if necessary, your sales team can finish the process and convert.  This has become the norm as research indicates that about 70% of the buying cycle is accomplished by buyers who search the internet for solutions to their problems or unfulfilled needs.  They then dig deep enough into promising sites to qualify and decide on a short list of potential providers.  It is only at this point that the prospective buyer may (or may not) need help from a sales or service person.  This is the reason for so much emphasis on developing strong web sites.  If you don’t, you will miss a lot of opportunity!

Various experts have drummed into our heads that effective communicators use multiple channels to reach their target audiences.  There are now over 50 media choices that, for the most part, group under the headings of print, social, mobile, and internet.  If you add the mass and cable broadcasting channels you have a bewildering array of media choices to harness in your pursuit of customers, prospects, and the revenue opportunities they represent.

Consumers in the B2C space and corporate buyers in the B2B space are more diverse than ever.  Everyone is time starved.  Increasingly, nearly everyone consumes information in multiple channels.  Channel choice is dependent on what the consumer is looking to consume or do…whether that is getting the news, keeping up with family and friends, self-education, or just passing the time entertaining themselves.  Marketers have the complex task of segmenting their customer/prospect database into useful categories to make messaging and offers relevant.  They also must identify and add media preferences into the database to increase the odds of the message finding the customer in the right channel.  When viewed from a bigger picture perspective, this becomes a marketer’s nightmare.  Imagine the complexity of a multi-national consumer goods company trying to get the right message to the right person, at the right place, the right time, in the right channel!

This is the context within which the re-invention of our industry is taking place.  It is intended as just that…context.  It is, by no means, intended as a blueprint for what we will or must become.  However, historically, 70+% of all print were used to help organizations market themselves and sell their products and services.  Print usage is shrinking and being replaced, in part, by digital media.  As the market opportunity to provide print shrinks, we must, if we are to survive, find ways to supplement, augment, and (dare I say it?) replace some print with the appropriate tools to help communicators effectively reach those target audiences.

We can do if this if we choose to do the work to learn a new set of skills.  As I’ve said before, we can choose where we will play in this emerging communications value system.  We are no longer constrained to be a sub-contractor to publishers and advertisers.  We can be publishers, advertisers, and marketers ourselves!

I would start by doing 4 things:

1)    Build a strong magnet (web site) for your business;

2)    Learn marketing; just don’t learn it from a 30 year old textbook!

3)    Learn to use in-bound and out-bound marketing tools; use them for your business before you try them out on customers;  understand what you’re selling by being a practitioner;

4)    Think hard, really hard, about what kind of customer(s) will afford you the best opportunity for success in the world we’ve talked about in this article.

Will something magical happen to your company if you get these done?  Not entirely, but it will make a difference.  You will still have the problem of looking too much like your competitor on the other side of town.  You will need more to differentiate your company.  In addition to a magnet, your business needs a profit-seeking, value-creating, market-differentiating strategy.  We’ll start talking about what that is and what it does in my next post.