Marketing Basics for Printers – Part Four
Owning a printing company is not for the faint-hearted. Every print owner knows the days that are more like roller coaster rides than steady work. Yet, for the most part we love our businesses. Maybe it’s the combination of creative and technical, or the people we meet, or the endorphin rush when the roller coaster finally starts downhill; but most printers like what we do. And we get an amazing amount done. Lots of projects go through the system and out the door every day.
This is a little complicated, but somehow the same mentality that makes printers successful when it comes to producing work for others breaks down when it comes to the work needed to promote our own businesses. We’re enthusiastic about all the things we can do to market our capabilities and services, but not so good at doing them. Here’s what happens:
- We can’t find time to execute.
- Deadline pressures and the predictable, but unexpected daily adventures get in the way.
- Customer projects take priority.
Printers frequently bite off more than they can chew.
This is the final article in a series about Marketing Basics for Printers. In earlier posts we’ve discussed how to figure out market position, a better way to look at marketing goals, and why monthly deals aren’t a great strategy. Now, let’s wind up with a look at what’s really practical in terms of cost, time, and effectiveness.
Let’s start with an idea. It’s called process thinking, and it may require some mental rewiring for a few folks in the printing business. Because our businesses revolve around projects, we tend to view lots of what we do in the same way – as a series of tasks to be completed and checked off the list. This project focus includes our marketing efforts, if we get to them. The first step towards success requires a different understanding of marketing as a continuing level of activity rather than a list of projects that we’d like to complete.
Your marketing activity should be assigned some priority. This means allocating time and budget and choosing the components of your program. Planning is important, and there’s a free template available if you haven’t already put together your 2016 budget and calendar. That said, a great plan with poor execution only wastes time and money. So, let’s talk about reality. A few points:
- Start Small – Predictable and consistent execution of a smaller marketing program will outproduce expensive, but sporadic marketing “campaigns.” Emphasize quality engagement over quantity of messages or channels.
- Time and money are constraints – It’s much better to plan and execute a few steady marketing tactics that are goal focused than to waste time and money on a more ambitious program that isn’t well implemented. Budget wisely, delegate and manage, and give yourself room to grow.
- Measure Everything – Don’t start any marketing effort that can’t be measured. Choose relevant indicators, allow enough time to make a determination, tweak tactics as needed, and move on to something else when a strategy fails.
What Printers Should Do
I’m frequently asked for a bare minimum list of marketing efforts that printers “should do.” You’ve already heard the short answer: You should do what you will do effectively. There are plenty of opportunities. Here a basic list:
- Print – It’s obvious, but the natural place to start is print. Marketing your capabilities, products, and services with print demonstrates the benefits of what you’re selling. You should be doing direct mail on at least a monthly basis.
- Develop case studies that document the success of customer projects. Case studies are evidence of success – they can be used in different formats to reinforce your efforts.Improve Your Website – Ask key customers for their evaluation. Identify opportunities for improving content and functional capabilities. Get rid of boilerplate text, tell your own stories, and make sure there are offers and calls to action.
- Improve Your Website – Ask key customers for their evaluation. Identify opportunities for improving content and functional capabilities. Get rid of boilerplate text, tell your own stories, and make sure there are offers and calls to action.
- Build your database – Use your website, POS and CRM systems, and your marketing efforts to continually add to and refine your database. Identify and gather key data points and begin to use the information you collect to create “personalized” messages for targeted groups. This is also a great way to show off your digital print and variable data capabilities.
- Choose a social network – You can add others later, but start with a single social network and a commitment to actively engage. Look for groups of customers, answer questions, and build a community. Share information and keep blatant advertising to a minimum.
- Email – Probably, but don’t have great expectations. An email newsletter is almost an obligatory part of marketing, but newsletters have become more a vehicle for making impressions than for conveying information. Think brief, interesting informational articles with bullet points. Don’t “blast” advertising – you’ll lose your readers.
- Budget for marketing and advertising – Commit money that you will spend to ensure that your marketing program doesn’t lose momentum. Choose the advertising channels that you will use and commit some money for social media promotion and PPC advertising.
Content Marketing: A Word of Caution
You may be thinking that content marketing sounds like an easy and inexpensive way to get the message out about your printing business. Yes and No. Regardless of the combination of marketing tactics you may choose, you will certainly create content to support your efforts. That is quite different from making a choice to embark on a full-fledged inbound marketing program. As more and more businesses have entered the “information marketing” fray, the process has become more complicated, expensive, and time consuming. There’s too much information available online, and cutting through the static is difficult. For most printers, trying to pull off complex inbound marketing strategies falls squarely into the “biting off more than you can chew” category.
A better method for printers is to combine content with more traditional marketing and advertising strategies. Begin to develop the content you’ll use in your program slowly and deliberately, with a view towards multiple uses. Case studies are a great starting point. They can be used in print format, on your website, and in email newsletters. Wade in further with a short bi-weekly email newsletter and maybe a quarterly printed version. If you want to expand from there, you should probably consider hiring or outsourcing some marketing help.
That brings me to the call to action to wind up this Marketing Basics for Printers series. Do you need help with your marketing program? With 14 years as a printer and a career in marketing, I can provide guidance to help you move forward with goal-oriented strategies and tactics that make sense and produce results. Get in touch if you’d like to talk – there’s never a charge for the first conversation.