For more than a decade the print industry has been talking about extending the value proposition of the “print manufacturer” upstream to provide marketing services. In addition, the print industry has to embrace the reality that marketing communication, like almost everything is being “digitized” because of the inherent advantages of digital distribution; low costs, easy updates, and phenomenal tracking/measurement.

This is all tremendously disruptive.

Disruption is a threat to how things have been and disruption creates opportunities for those who choose to engage with the market under these new conditions.

What is the market opportunity for printers?

The market is providing an opportunity for traditional print manufacturers to engage and understand the new marketing landscape and play a more strategic role with their customers in the delivery and tracking of marketing messages using all mediums that are relevant to your customer’s target market.

Print is part of the modern marketing mix and the modern marketing mix is quickly becoming dominated by digital messages (websites, e-mails, SMS, social). The complexity of communicating with your target customers through so many channels and using so many mediums is overwhelming. There is a great opportunity for vendor/partners to help companies of all sizes navigate this complexity and assist with more and more messaging across several mediums/channels.

For example, if you have been printing brochures for a customer for decades, a small step towards going digital would be to engage with this customer to help them build a customer database that can be communicated with via an e-mail campaign.

What are the printer’s advantages in this new marketplace?

Printers have been dealing in digital files for some time, they have been dealing in “data” for some time; both through direct mail and variable data printing. Digital is nothing new to printers. Managing a complex business process is nothing new to a printer. Building a trusted relationship with customers is nothing new to a printer. Delivering quality, on time, at a competitive price is nothing new to a printer. For local / regional printers, building a name and reputation in the local market is nothing new to a printer. All these characteristics are an advantage in the new market which is full of “online only providers” with no roots in the community, no track record of delivering, and in some cases no way to actually talk to another human.

In addition to all those advantages, there are great pieces of technology that support a marketing mix that includes print; Xerox’s XMPie, Ricoh’s MarcomCentral, and EFI’s Direct Smile, to name a few. Technology is the tool, not the product you will sell to your customers.

What are the challenges for a printer to enter this market?

Physical manufactured products (atoms leaving via your shipping dock) are a very different beast than digital manufacturing of marketing communication products (bits leaving through your network). The staff that executes within the business process is the MOST important difference between these two business processes.

To succeed in the digital economy, your business is going to have to migrate from people who are experts at moving atoms (pressman, bindery) to people who are experts at moving bits (data experts, e-mail experts, search engine optimization, website development, cross-media campaigns, and web analytics). You have some staff that you consider “technical” today, but I’m not talking about the guy that keeps viruses off your Windows machines, I’m talking about customer billable services in the form of data-cleansing, running cross-media campaigns, helping customers understand the art of collecting and managing their marketing prospects.

The other area of staffing most impacted by this physical to digital transformation is your sales staff, the most forgotten group when we speak about the topic of marketing services. I don’t care what technology you have, I don’t care how many geeks you have in the back room, until I know you have a sales team that can actually sell the product. Without sales there’s nothing to execute on and all that investment in technology and geeks is sunk cost with no return. I’m sure many of you reading that statement are cringing because this is a common approach. Buy technology, train geeks, and then nothing in the form of return on investment (ROI) happens.

Where should you start?

This transition is a long-term project AND I believe where you start is absolutely critical to your success. I want you to do two things first; get a simple go-to-market strategy in place and execute that plan for your own business first. Your company’s marketing efforts will be your “reference customer” when your prospects want to see examples of the products you’ve created and the results you’ve created.

A quick question, would you hire a personal trainer who is 100lbs overweight and out of shape? Would you hire a financial planner who had been through a couple bankruptcies? Your approach to marketing your company is both an awesome training ground (low risk) and your resume that proves to your prospects that you know more than they do because you’ve executed on these kinds of product son behalf of your own business.

The go-to-market plan is critical, I’m not talking about months of work or a PhD thesis, I’m talking about a set of clear objectives and an action plan to meet them mostly focused on how you’re going to sell, price, and market the services through your sales team. Once we have the strategy we can then turn to figuring out the execution side; staff?, technology?, training? etc. The first project to execute on is your marketing – this way folks are learning and producing real products, in a real environment, tracking real analytics for the benefit of your business.

We have helped many printers through this process, we now realize we need to scale and get more printers through this transition as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. We will be launching an online class that will walk printers through this process without anyone getting on a plane or paying for hourly consulting in the March 2016 timeframe. Our pilot will have limited space, please contact me at [email protected] if you’re interested in attending.