Once again, Deborah Corn of the Print Media Center has sparked debate with a bit of surprise data. She has been rolling out results from her 2017 Print Buyer Survey, and this one is a doozey. 

One of the questions on the PMC survey was one all MSPs and print shops want to know: why do buyers choose the printers they work with? Is it price? quality? range of marketing services? The answer: the overwhelming majority of respondents (84%) said printing period. Not your ancillary services. Not your marketing expertise. Just print.  So why are printers so bent on offering services that are out of their true realm of expertise?

Corn goes on to talk about an experience with an SEO company that drove this point home. The company did what it did well, but it over-promised on its ancillary services and the project went south—hard. “Now imagine if that was my experience with a printer,” Corn writes. “I would make sure everyone knew to stay away from them. And by the way, this happens all the time when buyers ask each other for resources in the secret ways we do.”

Corn’s point is one that is very uncomfortable, and it is something I, myself, have wrestled with since the MSP trend began. To keep their revenues up and command a greater share of wallet, printers have been told that they should add ancillary services. First it was the concept of the one-stop shop. Today it is being an MSP.  

The challenge is, most printers aren’t marketers. Even after several decades of being told they need to be, most are still primarily printers, and they are really good at it. What they aren’t good at is marketing. They may be able to integrate email marketing with direct mail or integrate print with a Facebook campaign, but this isn’t being a marketing specialist. To their credit, some have transformed themselves into true MSPs, and they have the marketing expertise on staff to do it, but that’s not the majority.

I, personally, run into this all the time. As a long-time industry analyst and content developer, one of my greatest challenges is finding printers who can talk expertly about the marketing side of things. When I need to write on topics like social media marketing, video production, and augmented reality, it’s tough to find printers to interview. Most often, I end up pulling my resources from outside the industry.  The same goes for databases. Printers can crank out the high-volume variable data direct mail, and many can handle the mechanics of managing the databases that drive them, but they aren’t equipped to discuss data profiling, psychographic targeting, or the development of personas that drive the strategy behind the campaign.

This begs the question, if printers aren’t really marketers, and if print buyers aren’t looking for them to be marketers, then why the pressure to become one? Why not just, as Corn says, “stick to your own lane” and be really, really great at what you already do well? If your clients need to integrate additional marketing services, why not develop the right strategic partnerships to make it happen, but not try to pretend to be expert in things you’re not?

I think the answer is fear. The fear of falling behind, the fear of not being competitive, the fear that if you don’t offer marketing services, especially after being told for decades that you must, clients won’t come knocking on your door. Sure, there is a risk of that. But as Corn points out, if you do call yourself an MSP but really aren’t, there is also a risk, especially if you over-promise and under-deliver. Plus, you’re draining away time and resources that could be more productively spent on what you actually do well.

I’m not saying that I have the answer. I don’t, but I think this is an issue that warrants some bold industry discussion.

Let’s start here.  Thoughts?