The Print Blog

Marketing Print: The Transatlantic Duel

Posted by on Dec 4, 2014 in Print Marketing | Comments Off

Deborah and Matthew photos

Deborah Corn and Matthew Parker

Have you been following the transatlantic debate between the two print industry sages? Matthew Parker and Deborah Corn have been tackling thorny print sales and marketing problems from both sides of the pond for the last month or so and I’ve been following the correspondence with great interest and some amusement. About a week ago, the duo took on the question of how print companies might get more work from their customers (from a print buyer’s perspective). The conversation is fascinating and I highly recommend reading both Deborah’s and Matthew’s posts on the subject.

Both writers provide some great advice to printers who seek to grow their businesses. There are two points (one from each side of the ocean) in the last argument that fit so well together that this humble writer couldn’t resist the urge to expand just a little. Here are the ideas I’d like to dig into today:

  1. From Matthew – Be in the customer’s world
    Customers want suppliers who can help them with their business challenges. This is rarely about putting ink on paper better or quicker. It’s about giving customers ideas on how they can get a better return on their marketing campaigns. It’s about helping them cut costs (but not your prices). It’s about making their lives easier.
  2. From Deborah – Convenience
    I am a long time advocate of one-stop shopping in the Print world. I’d prefer not to go to one vendor for printing, and also need others to get my projects done. I am not referencing any outsourcing of finishing work that Printers handle, I mean additional print related or campaign related items such as posters, premium imprinted items, presentation materials, basic signage and so on. Taking it to the next level, providing electronic services like e-book creation and digital asset management also touches upon added value, and allows me to have my files in one place.

Making Life Easier

From a marketing perspective, both points touch on a really important concept that printers need to figure out. The tagline “we make printing easy” is found on at least one in every three print websites, but what does it mean? The easy explanations go something like this:

  • We help our customers.
  • We have what the customers need.
  • We try to make the process uncomplicated.
  • We look out for quality issues.

Etc. Etc. Etc. Printers are inclined to explain the tagline from their own viewpoint. Putting ink on paper can be a complex process and professional print buyers who understand it are a vanishing breed. Of course every printer tries to simplify the process for their customers. Today, this is a mandatory, bare minimum criterion for staying in business.

skull with textBoth sages talk about bringing value to the customer. Matthew touches on the value of ideas and cost control and Deborah is referring to product breadth, but there’s still something more. Printers who market well understand the need to get into their customers’ heads.

Understanding First

Part of this process has to do with anticipating and explaining the particulars, but getting into customers’ heads also involves finding out exactly what they want to know. Understanding the customer’s perspective is critical to determine marketing and sales messages that are relevant.  Crafting the message isn’t just a matter of seeing the business from the customer’s perspective. You have to ask.

Clem Huffman of South City Print in Charlotte, NC is doing just that. He’s begun the process of introducing marketing services to his client base and is using a letter campaign to set up meetings with key prospects and customers. The purpose of the meetings is not to sell, but to listen. He wants to find out about their business goals, the directions they’re taking, and the challenges. He’ll use this information both to refine his marketing message and to carefully expand the breadth of products his company offers. It’s a good, inexpensive plan that’s practical (and advisable) for every printing company.

Deborah indicates a preference for “one-stop shopping.” It’s easy to see the appeal from a print buyer’s perspective, but more complex from the marketing side. Old school marketers will remember that product is one of the 4ps (product, price, placement, promotion). A broad product offering can make sense, but the products also have to fit. Many printers have found themselves in trouble after following the Field of Dreams theory – if you build it, they will come.

Here’s the point:

Both the marketing message and the product selection should be predicated from an understanding of the substance of the customers’ needs. It may be cost, it may be product breadth, and it may be a new opportunity that you haven’t even considered. You won’t know until you ask. Listening and making a flexible plan come before introducing new products and services.

A wise manager taught me a short rhyme long ago:

To sell John Smith what John Smith buys, you must see John Smith through John Smith’s eyes.

This small bit of wisdom sounds trite, but it’s important. Really knowing your customers and your market is the key first step before planning your marketing strategy and crafting your sales message.

Thanks to Matthew and Deborah for their provocative discussions. Both offer valuable insights that can be of real benefit to printing companies who seek to grow their businesses in this brave new digital world. If you’re not already tracking the transatlantic duo, Deborah can be found online at and Matthew’s website is Matthew is also a prime consulting source if your business needs practical help with print sales.

If your printing company could use assistance with planning and implementation of a manageable (and measurable) marketing program, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. DP Marketing Services is dedicated to providing hands-on help for printers who want to understand their markets and grow their business.