Leaders and Laggards

In the words of PIA's Ronnie Davis, there are "sales leaders (the fastest growing printers) and sales laggards (printers with declining sales)." He makes a few suggestions to help companies get into the first category: Increase your market share, focus on printing sectors that are doing well (direct marketing and short-run digital color, including print-on-demand, variable data and personalized printing), and go beyond printing by adding other print-related services.

While implementation of the last two suggestions is in your control, increasing market share is the domain of marketing. The downturn we've been struggling through the last two years is predicted to continue for most of 2003, which means we need to be very smart about what we choose to spend those precious dollars on.

Don't forget the basics.

I've written numerous columns previously about the importance of laying a solid foundation before even thinking about marketing. Here's a quick review: Build your brand by defining via research what makes you unique among the competition, and then articulating those functional and emotional benefits. Prepare your infrastructure, including development of a budget; an integrated, segmented database; sales materials; sales contact management system; and website.

Presumably, you've been working on all these necessities over the past two years; now you're ready to gain market share while others are flailing. Begin by taking a really close look at your most profitable customers or those comprising the top 20% in sales. What industries do they represent (SIC codes)? What are their revenues? What products do they buy and what time of year do they usually print? If your sales reps and you have been diligent and have been tracking contacts made with these clients, you'll have these answers at hand. If not, a little research is in order so you'll have accurate and current information on these VIP customers.

Now you can develop customer profiles, enabling you to locate prospects that fit those same characteristics. Once you've defined your most lucrative markets, you can begin to articulate your message to them. Who precisely are you marketing to, a purchasing agent or the VP of marketing? What are their concerns? What do they expect from a print provider? What do you provide that others cannot? The answers to these questions are critical since they will help you formulate the most effective message.

Spend more time, spend less cash.

Determine the most cost-effective marketing vehicles. Publicity, for example, usually gives more bang for the buck than advertising, especially in commercial printing, since customers are usually spread across many industries, which spreads ad dollars too thinly. Bylined columns and articles in customers' trade publications is another inexpensive method. We continue to get great feedback on the columns we ghost-write for clients.

Direct mail campaigns are good investments, since they're relatively inexpensive if they're targeted, and they set the stage for direct communications via email and website programs.

In a sluggish economy, direct communications is your least cash-intensive marketing vehicle. Advertising, mass mailings, and expensive vanity brochures are cash-intensive, whereas personal phone calls, letters, and emails sent out under management's or a sales rep's signature are more time-intensive. A client here in the Bay Area has great success with sponsoring seminars twice a year that feature major figures in the design community.

Think about finding a promotional partner. A client who just purchased a new Komori press is getting great feature coverage on Komori's publicity nickel. There may be other opportunities, too, to share marketing costs with paper and ink suppliers.

Mine your existing customer base.

I'm amazed at how often this resource is overlooked. Sales and CSR reps who are in contact with customers every day often fail to ask what other printed products the company purchases, or other print-related services they may need, like Web-based accounts to track purchases or digital asset management. You may be able to easily and inexpensively add this to your suite of services, and charge for it at the same time. Finally, don't forget to ask for referrals from customers. If you've done a good job for them, customers are usually more than willing to pass your name along to a colleague.

Leading businesses annually spend between 5% and 6% of revenues on marketing and between 10% and 20% of their time on marketing endeavors. Start-ups and consumer brands spend much more. Bottom line . . . if you're not spending time or money on sustaining a viable marketing effort, you're in danger of falling into that laggard category. Given yet another rocky year ahead, that doesn't bode well.


Charlotte Mills Seligman is president of Traversant Marketing Communications. The firm specializes in planning and executing integrated marketing programs for printing and allied graphic arts companies, with nearly two decades of expertise in the industry. Previous columns and issues of the company's Ti Monthly e-newsletter are posted on http://www.traversant.com. Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte @traversant.com.

© 2003 Charlotte Mills Seligman

December 23, 2002
Print & Graphics
Column #45, 12/23
Printing Journal
Column #45, 12/23
Leaders and Laggards
By Charlotte Mills Seligman

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