Why Printers Should Understand (Digital) Marketing
Let’s start with an easy question. What percentage of the work that goes through your printing company every week is marketing-related? Think about what runs through your shop all the time – postcards, direct mailers, posters, brochures, fundraising campaigns – it’s all marketing stuff. Look at the open project file and get a round number. Chances are good that projects related to marketing represent 60% or more of the work you do every day.
Marketing stuff is bread and butter work for printers. Naturally, you love the projects, but do you know what’s driving them? Here are a couple more questions to think about:
- Do you understand your customers’ marketing strategies?
- Are you involved in their plans?
For many of the small and medium-sized printers that I work with, the answer is “not really.” You can make some inferences from your conversations with clients and from the nature of the projects you see, but you probably don’t have the whole picture. You may be boxed in. Your customers come to you for input to a small portion of the program – production recommendations and print estimates. How do you get out of the box?
It’s easy to see how an invitation to sit in on the planning phase of a marketing campaign or an entire program could cement a relationship with a key customer. To get out of the box, you must bring something more to the table.
Here’s the key question:
Does your participation provide a benefit to your clients?
The language and practice of marketing is evolving rapidly. Author Brian Solis has aptly coined the term Digital Darwinism to describe the idea that innovation continually spawns new iterations of technology. This process is certainly driving the practice of marketing, but Solis goes much further. He asserts that technological change is driving societal evolution.
As evidence, Solis cites the disruption in the travel industry caused by Air BnB. Can you think of another disrupted industry? Print was among the first industries to be discombobulated by the digital revolution. You have experienced the changes first hand:
- Fewer professional print buyers
- Young designers who aren’t schooled in print
- Marketers who don’t identify print as a critical tactic
Embedded in the concept of Digital Darwinism is the prospect of extinction. To survive and stay relevant, it’s necessary to understand and adapt to the evolving environment.
That’s self-evident, but how do you do it? Let’s get back to the marketing discussion.
Printers who want to participate in the marketing discussion must speak and understand the language
It’s a simple assertion. Or is it? At best, today’s marketers see print as a possible component of their marketing strategy. It’s up to you to demonstrate and prove the value, and your must explain in the context of the current marketing environment. You have to speak the language. To do that, you must understand it.
It’s not so hard to learn the marketing vocabulary, but it’s also necessary to understand the concepts. To add value, you must be able to think strategically. Your clients have a growing array of options and tactics. If you can help them put the puzzle pieces together, you’re an asset. If you’re there just to talk about print, you’re not.
Here’s what’s required to sit at the marketing table:
- Understand the client’s goals
- Know the options – digital and print
- Be able to provide creative technical advice and capabilities
- Know how all of the possible tactics fit together
- Suggest strategy
- Understand how success is measured
The learning curve can be steep, but the good news is that you’re part way there. Your experience with print marketing projects gives you some great insight into what works. You can learn a lot about your customers’ goals by listening and answering questions. Finally, there’s plenty of information online to bring you up to speed on current marketing thought and practice.
Marketing Resources for Printers
Here are some good learning resources you might want to look at:
- The Digital Nirvana blog – Heidi Tolliver Walker (and others) write about digital marketing and new technologies from a print perspective.
- The Duct Tape Marketing Blog (and podcast) – John Jantsch is a consultant who writes about small business marketing. His podcast includes a variety of guests who talk about marketing strategy and the newest opportunities for marketers.
- Social Media Examiner – Michael Stelzner’s podcast is the best weekly update on current social media practice. The newsletter is excellent, and it provides links to “how-to” articles that provide step by step instructions for marketing and advertising on the social channels.
You’ll find more marketing insights for printers and for small businesses in the two blogs here on the DP Marketing website. There’s also a new free e-book, The Printer’s Marketing Primer, that’s written just for printers who want to begin an effective marketing program for their business. Finally, I also write a (mostly) weekly newsletter, the Weekly Idea, that looks at the practical aspects of marketing from a small business perspective. The link goes to the archives and you can subscribe via RSS or email.
The best way to learn about digital marketing is to do it. In the next two posts, we’ll look more closely at a process you can use to develop digital marketing capabilities and expertise that your clients will value. I hope you’ll check in again to read more, and please feel free to get in touch if I can help with your marketing efforts.