Advertise?

I was asked at the end of a recent marketing presentation I gave to printers in Phoenix, AZ, why I hadn't mentioned advertising. The question was raised by the editor of Southwest Graphics, which is a terrific publication and one certainly worth supporting. I was forced to admit the omission was due to my bias that other marketing programs give printers a bigger bang for their buck.

The omission is also probably due to the fact that few printers ever consider advertising as an option, and so it has dropped off my radar screen in discussions with them. However, advertising is an integral component in the marketing programs we design for clients in other industries.

So let's examine the assumption that "advertising is not worth the money."

Six Reasons Why Not

Here are some common beliefs about advertising held by commercial printers:

1. It's expensive. The cost per thousand audience members (CPM) may be affordable, but why pay for the other thousands who have nothing to do with print design, production or purchasing? And because frequency is the name of the advertising game, the expenditure extends far beyond the cost of one ad.

2. Messaging can't be targeted. Because of the diverse readership of most publications and broadcast media, it's difficult to write a single ad that addresses the functional and emotional benefits of all.

3. Available media may not match a printer's geographic territories. Even large, national printing companies have specific geographic areas they may wish to target. For both national and regional printers, the areas from which customers are drawn may not match the media that's available.

4. Results can't be measured. Spending this amount of money for an uncertain return on investment is not smart management.

5. All commercial ads look alike. All commercial printers tout the same benefits: customer service, all-digital workflows, state-of-the-art prepress, etc., etc. The absence of differentiation in the marketplace and a unique selling proposition results in undifferentiated ads.

6. Print buyers don't respond to advertising, anyway. Print sales are based on relationships, so why waste money on advertising when face-to-face interaction is what counts.

The list makes a powerful argument against advertising. It's hardly surprising that marketers for printing companies ignore the option.

Six Reasons to Take a Second Look

1. Expensive. Yes it is. Printers have many other, less expensive marketing avenues open to them, particularly since they can manufacture their own marketing materials. A decision to advertise can be calculated on a cost-benefit basis of effective CRM (the cost divided by the number of audience members whom the printer wants to reach.) Certainly, if you've not set up mechanisms to measure, it's definitely not a wise investment.

2. Untargeted messaging. Yes, if you were to advertise in your city's daily newspaper, the audience will be too diverse for effective messaging. However, there are a wide range of niche publications, on- and off-line, that are targeted to specific audiences. Print magazine, for example, is widely read by designers, whereas DM News would be appropriate for direct marketers, both of whom are targets of most commercial printers. Selecting the right publication requires some research, but it is critical. Also, your database should help identify other customer segments. Surprisingly, few printers analyze their sales by SIC code, but doing so can match SICs to dollar volume, number of jobs, customer location (ZIP and SCF) and profitability. You can use these data to determine which trade magazines in which to advertise.

3. Geography. Many national publications offer regional ad buys, enabling you to narrow your audience regionally. The Wall Street Journal and the Cygnus printing publications are good examples. You may want to use a mix of trade media and local business media. Most major metropolitan areas have affiliated business journals.

4. Measured results. Many advertising campaigns are designed to build brand recognition and not necessarily for direct sales. However, a call to action and a response mechanism can be integrated into advertising to enable measurement. Include a dedicated 800 number, so you can track calls following the run of your ads. Offer an incentive for contact: "Call now for a free Pantone Color Guide," "Go to our website at ____ to enter our contest to win an Apple G4 Laptop," or "Email us your email address and we'll send you a free copy of Getting It Printed," etc. And don't forget to set up your internal systems to collect and monitor the responses.

5. Look-alikes. In my view, this is a printer's biggest challenge. Too few companies have conducted adequate market research to be able to identify value propositions for each market served. The message to the designer should not be the same as the message to the marketer. Messaging needs to be founded on a strong brand platform and a thorough, quantifiable understanding of the emotional and functional benefits you provide each customer tier.

6. Buyers are unresponsive to ads. Buyers, like everyone, will respond to any media as long as the message is relevant and compelling to them. Ads should reinforce your value propositions customers. For example, a purchasing agent is more likely to respond to a message about cost-containment than about creative support.

While one of the more expensive marketing tools, advertising has an important role in the marketing mix. It builds brand recognition, drives sales, and supports complementary messaging being delivered via other media. It should not be ignored as a possibility.


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.

© 2001 Charlotte Mills Seligman

September 20, 2002
Print & Graphics
Column #42, 9/20
Printing Journal
Column #42, 9/20
Advertising 2002
By Charlotte Mills Seligman

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