We speak often in this space about production processes, about printing technologies, about finishing, and even about prepress, but we often give short shrift to the actual marketing and promotion of wide-format and specialty printing output. Marketing and promotion are different from sales; sales tends to be what we might call an “outbound” process: a salesperson calls or visits a prospect and acquires new business. Marketing and promotion are more “inbound” in nature: you send out a message and wait for business to come to you.i
Most print businesses have some kind of sales apparatus in place, but often marketing is more or less an afterthought, if it’s a thought at all, and this is a mistake. There is also—not only in printing per se, but certainly in business generally—the perception that sales and marketing are at odds with each other. As Peter Drucker said, “The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous.” I’m not sure I would define it that way, but certainly they can complement each other. As any sales person today can likely tell you, all the myriad means of communication today have ironically made people more difficult to get in touch with; we’re inundated with so many messages in so many media, that it becomes easy—and even necessary—to ignore as many of them as possible. So sales reps leave voicemails that are never returned, send e-mails that are routinely ignored, get thwarted by caller ID, and even get verbally abused by administrative assistants and telephone receptionists. It’s a tough job.
But effective marketing strategies can compensate for the difficulties that have become inherent in the traditional sales process.
There is no shortage of marketing strategies for print businesses, and Dr. Joe and I have written about them at (book) length. In the area of wide-format and specialty graphics, I want to stress one particular marketing modus operandi: the showroom, which is really a metaphor for a number of different marketing channels.
Wide-format products and applications, arguably more than any other print application (save for perhaps various types of packaging or print products that use specialty finishing or substrates), lend themselves to “showing off.” Basically, you want to “show your work” and demonstrate samples of eye-catching and creative projects you have produced for others. This seems like an obvious form of marketing and promotion, but it’s astounding that more shops don’t toot their own horns as much as they should.
(By the way, I am aware that some print customers are loath to let their printers use certain projects for promotional purposes, and that the relationships that some shops have with clients precludes taking direct credit for projects. As a result, these companies may not need to market themselves the way others that service end users directly have to do. Still, there are workarounds to this sort of arrangement.)
That said, there are a number of ways of showing off your work, both on- and offline.
The easiest, perhaps, to avail yourself of are online. To wit:
Your business should have a website, naturally, but the most conspicuous part of your website should be a project gallery. Companies that have been at wide-format and display graphics for a while have got this down, and they organize their web project galleries by type of project: trade show graphics, floor graphics, signage, vehicle wraps, etc. They also put as many examples as they can, and of varying complexity. Some clients may want a complicated retail display that requires special engineering, installation, and assembly, others may want just a simple sign. Make sure you demonstrate the full gamut of your capabilities.
Examples should stay current, especially if you are using new substrates, new types of printing technologies, or other processes. If you have won awards or prizes, make sure those are current (sure, it may have been a big deal to win a big SGIA Golden Image-like award back in 2006, but if there is no indication that you’ve won anything since, that’s going to raise some questions and concerns). You should also pay attention to search engine optimization (SEO) to ensure that when potential customers search for, say, “trade show graphics,” your site appears on at least the first page of Google results. (There is a somewhat new-ish joke: “Where do websites go to die? The second page of Google hits.”)
Second only to your own website’s project gallery is a social media-based gallery. For some specialty graphics shops, Instagram and/or Facebook have become the best sales tools they have. It’s also important to use appropriate hashtags—#floorgraphics, #vehiclegraphics, #carwraps, or whatever is common for a given application—to ensure that people searching for certain types of graphics services can find you easily enough.
Elsewhere in social media, LinkedIn may be an option, but it tends to be more of a professional business networking site, so it may be of less help if you are trying to reach end customers.
Also, remember that, appearances to the contrary, not everyone is on Facebook—and not everyone wants to be. In fact, large numbers of people are not on any social media at all. Therefore, it makes sense to make sure your own site is the central focus of your marketing and promotional efforts. You can link Facebook and other feeds to your main site so even those who hate Facebook with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns can still find you.
If you really wanted to be ambitious, you could have a blog on your own site (or linked to it using something like Wordpress) and go into more details about how a particular project was produced (if appropriate and allowable). Naturally, you don’t want to document every project you do, but if there are a few of which you are especially proud, or which was a major challenge that you surmounted with great success, talk about it. Wordpress blogs can be set up to automatically cross-post to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, saving you lots of repetitive work.
Also remember that images don’t have to be static anymore; video is supported by all these platforms and is very easy to capture and upload these days.
Offline, in “meatspace,” as some people say, also offers ample opportunities to display your finished projects.
First and foremost, your physical location should be, at least in part, a showroom of your graphics capabilities. Naturally, you are not going to have too many customer projects there to display, as they’ll be at your customers’ locations, natch. (Although, if they are temporary displays, perhaps you can offer to take them back for promotional use once the customer is done with them.) There is also little reason for not using some of your production downtime (and everyone has at least some period when business is slow) to produce your own décor or other interior graphics. Walls, floors, and windows are all blank canvases for you show off your own art. Of course, if you never have walk-in traffic, it may not be the best strategy for marketing, but at least it gives you an opportunity to try out a new piece of equipment or type of application.
By the way, if you make deliveries to regular customers, bring along samples of a new capability you may have added.
Keep your local media apprised of major new projects (assuming your clients will let you promote them). A press release e-mailed with a JPEG or two to your local paper (or better yet, your local business journal) may get you a story, or a part of a larger feature. It may also pay to make contact with local business reporters and writers who are always looking to profile local businesses. I have seen a number of specialty printing shops profiled in my local Saratoga Business Journal here in upstate New York. And I’ve said this before, but don’t ignore the trade press/media like WhatTheyThink. We always need to feed the beast!
Ultimately, you want to use all of these channels—and more—to first and foremost show off your work, and/or demonstrate some cool capability you have that the competition doesn’t. Sure, it can take time, and effort, but the results may be worth it.
i Way back in our 2010 book Disrupting the Future, Dr. Joe Webb and I classified “outbound” and “inbound” marketing somewhat differently: outbound marketing was that active process of sending out a message that interrupts potential customers, whereas “inbound marketing” is finding ways of getting potential customers to seek you out.