By Scott Mitchell of Presstek April 5, 2004 -- Last month in this space we shared the experiences of freelance illustrator and marketing professional, Donna Berger, relative to her use of direct imaging (DI) offset in the production of materials to promote her own business as well as materials used on behalf of her client base. We are delighted that Donna will be taking her story in person to print buyers in six U.S. cities in April and June as part of a seminar series sponsored by Presstek. Because of her corporate marketing background, Donna had a fairly good grasp of the printing process, both conventional and digital (including DI), as she mounted her search for a better way to produce marketing materials. Not all print buyers fare as well, though, and as printing professionals we still have a significant task ahead of us in educating the buyer community about the options available by pursuing a digital strategy. Interestingly, recent research published by TrendWatch Graphic Arts ( www.trendwatchgraphicarts.com ) revealed that, "in Spring 2001, ‘dealing with inexperienced print buyers' was a challenge for 15% of all print and prepress firms. It dropped to a low of 12% in late 2002/early 2003, but has shot up to 25% in Fall 2003." The New Print Buyer New print buyers have taken advantage of various non-print means of conveying their messages, sometimes nearly abandoning print as a communications vehicle. As companies down-sized, right-sized, opti-mized and otherwise restructured themselves during the recent economic turbulence, much of the print buying responsibility has seemingly shifted from veteran print buyers to a more distributed model involving buyers less educated on the intricacies of printing. These new buyers have many responsibilities over and above the purchasing of print, and in many cases might even be considered casual" buyers of print. This makes the education process even more complex. For print service providers, it is more critical than ever before to look for ways to make the buying process as easy as possible for the buyer—whether that buyer is a relative newcomer to the print buying process, or a seasoned veteran. Even the experienced buyer may not have had the luxury of staying current with the latest technology developments because reduced resources and increased workloads have often left them in a time crunch. And to further complicate matters, buyers have taken advantage of a number of non-print means of conveying their messages, in some cases nearly abandoning print as a communications vehicle. The truth is that print plays an ongoing and important role in the business communications process, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But the print that is being produced is increasingly characterized by shorter runs, faster turnaround times, more customization—in short, all of the elements that make digital printing solutions an attractive alternative to conventional offset. Keeping Print Viable So as a print service provider, how do you ensure that print continues to be a viable and integral part of your customers' multi-channel communications strategy? The first challenge is finding the new print buyers. The second challenge is educating them on the role you can play in helping them build and execute that effective strategy. the print service provider must present a succinct value proposition that is backed with quantitative and qualitative examples Finding the new buyers is not as difficult as it may seem. The key, as the industry experts have said on many occasions, is the marketing executive, who may be directly responsible for making print buying decisions or who may buy significant print through an advertising or marketing agency. Regardless of which approach the marketing executive takes, he or she is clearly involved with how a campaign or promotion or product launch will be structured and what the communications elements will be. And it is a guaranteed fact that the marketing executive will not respond to a traditional [printing sales approach! Marketing executives are looking for proven techniques that will help them achieve better business results. They are looking for a business partner that understands their business and offers them proactive solutions to the problems they face on a daily basis. When approaching the marketing executive, the print service provider must present a succinct value proposition that is backed with quantitative and qualitative examples relative to how digital production technology has yielded a return on marketing investment. This means compelling stories, case studies and relevant examples of work your company has performed for its clients. These examples and stories can be incorporated into personal visits, mailings and even telephone conversations or voice mail messages as you work to catch the attention of the busy marketing executive. Be creative in your approach to educating the marketing professional! And the potential reward is huge. Recent RIT research indicates that corporate marketing executives spend significant dollars on marketing communications, with annual expenditures equating to an average of 6.9% of corporate revenues. The research goes on to say, "Digital print technologies could have a direct ROI impact on 30% of the budget allocation (sales collateral and direct mail) by providing improved customization and enhanced targeting." This means that the addressable print spend for a company with $1 billion in annual revenues approaches $21 million annually. That's a figure that could certainly justify making an investment in a new DI press!