We won’t be discussing dragons, murders, or gratuitous sex in this article, but there is a “game of thrones” afoot and you are already deep in it, playing it whether you know it or not. The prize is not control of the seven kingdoms; it is the survival of your business. In essence: be afraid, be very afraid.

For many years, the ‘other’ Zwang has been writing about transforming your businesses to address the new market requirements and prepare for those that are yet to come. The primary focus of those articles has been to help you look at building and refining your workflows and infrastructures, with an eye toward generating new business. In this article, we look at it all a bit differently. If you are going to grow your business, as you have heard many times before, the first thing you need to understand is what your customers are doing. Only then can you “follow the money” and make decisions about the future of your business.

As Deep Throat (JW) recently reiterated to me, here are the important breakpoints that have impacted information distribution and exchange in the last 20 years…

  • 1995 - internet
  • 2000 - broadband
  • 2007 - social media
  • 2011 - smartphones and tablets
  • now - media automation and analytics
  • future – neural networks

In the early stages of these significant breakpoints, the impact on print production was devastating. The consuming and creating masses flocked to digital information distribution at the expense of print. And by the way, this is not going to stop. The introduction of tablets and smartphones shook it up again. According to the most recent Internet Trends presentation by Mary Meeker from Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, the number of smartphone subscribers grew by 20% year over year, and the number of tablets sold grew at an astounding 52% in that same period. Not to mention, consumers are still finding new ways to appreciate and absorb information. The maturation of digital print has stopped the bleeding somewhat while also creating an important role for print in the ‘new communications’ mix. However, as analytics and the introduction of neural networks to further leverage information become more mainstream, it demands media creation and distribution automation, and this brings yet another challenge for print service providers.

Unfortunately, most of the new tools being used by content creators and distribution decision makers treat print like a 3rd class citizen, even though all of the more recent study data shows that print plays an important role in maximizing marketing campaign ROI. Whether intentionally or through a lack of understanding, these new marketing automation tools like Adobe’s Marketing Cloud, Eloqua, Marketo and ExactTarget, to mention just a few, tend to ignore print. A perfect example of this is the ExactTarget 2014 State of Marketing white paper, in which print isn’t even mentioned once. Adding to the misunderstanding can be an ‘over analysis’ and sub-segmenting of market and communication tools by organizations like Gartner who publishes the ‘Magic Quadrants’ that try to inform people and companies of new and upcoming technologies. If you look at the Magic Quadrant for CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Lead Management, it highlights tools that are used for mass distribution lead development, very marketing related, of which none offer a print component. However, they have a separate Magic Quadrant for Customer Communication Management (CCM), also very marketing related, in which tools like GMC Inspire and Xerox XMPie, among others with print compatibilities, are highlighted. So as a marketer, what should you be looking at when a purchasing decision?

Interestingly, the push to transform print service providers into marketing service providers may have helped some firms, but may backfire for others. As publishers, consumer product companies and others start to integrate marketing automation and analytics into their enterprise, it will severely impact marketing services providers, except those that support the marketing needs of small and midsize companies. Even those companies may turn to their own marketing automation solutions as more of these become cloud-based, more affordable and easier to use, especially if their “printer” is not right there at their doorstep with the right set of solutions and sales approach. This was recently validated in a WhatTheyThink webinar that included two marketing executives who discovered web portals (aka web to print) for themselves because no one calling on them had offered the service in the right way.  If you haven’t yet done viewed this session, it is an hour well spent.

The importance of these new tools going forward cannot be over emphasized. As the other, less skeptical Zwang has previously mentioned, many print service providers have added marketing support services to their offerings, instead of morphing themselves into marketing services providers. That may sound like a semantic difference, but the skills needed to create a marketing campaign are very different than those required to support the production and distribution needs of a marketing department or advertising agency. Production and support skills are inherent in all print businesses. This is what you have been doing all along. Ultimately, these skills are epitomized in the reliable and optimal management of production processes. This approach also doesn’t put you in the position of competing with existing or future clients. Some of the tools required to support these efforts have been discussed in previous articles.

If a content creator, marketer or print service provider is interested in learning more about the opportunities that digital print, marketing support and other allied services can bring, there are many resources available they can use to learn about them. Industry publications like WhatTheyThink, blogs, conferences, and vendor-hosted events are great sources of information. Additionally, there are many qualified and talented industry consultants like myself that specialize in helping to identify gaps and make necessary changes to the business and craft products and messaging to ensure a successful transition.

In summary, if something isn’t done to better integrate print into the new marketing tool sets as a viable part of the mix, either through creative integration by marketing support service providers or by the software vendors themselves, the only thing left for print may be packaging and display. Stay alert, there may be dragons around the corner…

[Shadowy figure fades into the background .]

Remember, if you have any topics you think are important and would like either the positive thinking workflow guru Zwang or the more skeptical Zwang to cover, please let us know!

For more detail on some ways to automate and transform your workflows, download an informative whitepaper, "Automating and Optimizing a Book Production Workflow."