Makeover 101

Having lived in earthquake-prone San Francisco since 1964, I thought I knew the jargon: Richter and Mercalli scales, fault line, strike-slip, seismic waves, epicenter, etc. But my confidence was shaken when my Seattle client corrected the word "tremblor" in copy I had written for him about the earthquake. He replaced it with the word "temblor." Never heard of it, I quickly emailed back. I'd checked with my staff who agreed that tremblor was the correct word. Then an associate consulted the dictionary and, sure enough, there was temblor, and it meant earthquake. Tremblor wasn't even listed, although tremor and trembler were. My client, by the way, not one to rub in his victory, mailed me clippings from the Wall Street Journal, Puget Sound Business Journal and The Seattle Times . . . all using the term "temblor."

The moral? Don't get too comfortable with what you think you know.

Shift Happens.

This was the title of an interesting article in Industry Standard in which the author Larry Downes discusses his gravity/inertia theory based on a study by the late Thomas S. Kuhn of MIT, the originator of the term "paradigm shift." According to Downes, who co-authored the book Unleashing the Killer App: Digital Strategies for Market Dominance, the pull and resistence to change can be explained by Kuhn's 1962 study The Structure of Scientific Revolution, in which he found that "discoveries took much longer than necessary to achieve full acceptance." He analyzed scientific breakthroughs like Einstein's theory of relativity and Lavoisier's discovery of oxygen and found that many "old school" scientists who'd grown up with contrary beliefs, such as the sun revolves around the earth, were simply unable to reorient their thinking. "Hard-wired to the old paradigm," these scientists were slow to embrace the new science, even though their old theories had clearly been disproved, slowing the rate of change by 20 or more years, until they died or retired.

Downes draws a parallel to corporate America and the powerful factors that motivate executives to resist change: "The complexity of (industry incumbents') existing networks of relationships with customers, suppliers and regulators also provides a natural resistance to change." He cites a few examples of companies that have successfully reengineered themselves to conform to today's e-business revolution: Charles Schwab, Microsoft and IBM. His advice to wanting to overcome inertia: "Find the strength to ignore the analysts, expect some missteps, and stay clear of the fallout when the old order starts to collapse on itself." He suggests that the executives of the above companies acted very quickly once they decided the revolutionaries were winning.

Survey, Assess, Measure, Evaluate, Poll . . .

Whatever you want to call it, however you want to do it, the critical first step to reinventing your organization to meet the e-business challenges must begin with a thorough understanding of your customers, their specific jobs and their company's business. As mentioned in a previous column you can obtain this information in a number of ways, from traditional focus groups and mail/phone surveys to other, less conventional means.

One of my non-printing clients, a benefits planning firm, has asked us to coordinate quarterly Webcast sessions with key customers to keep their fingers on the pulse of trends and issues in the fast-changing human resources field. That same client will be sponsoring a series of dinner roundtables in interesting locations, including a yacht cruising around the Bay. The number of participants will range from six to 10, depending on location. We'll script and facilitate the sessions to make sure we address topics of use to the client and discussion stays on track.

Questions to ask your customers can range from the mundane . . .

  • What criteria do you use to select a printer?
  • How important is location in your selection?
  • What would convince you to talk to a print sales rep?
  • What information do you want from a sales call?

to the more strategic . . .

  • Do you anticipate changes in the quantity of printing your company purchases?
  • In the conduct of your job, what communications tools do you expect to rely most on in the next two years? Next five years?
  • In your company's marketing, what communications tools do you expect will be most used in the next two years? Next five years?
  • What do you believe are the major trends that will impact your industry?
  • How do you see these trends affecting your company's success?

We've also found it a wise practice to be prepared with definitions of terms that might be confusing or unfamiliar, particularly print industry-specific terms. You also need to be prepared to prompt customers. For example, they may not be able to quickly think of the full range of communications tools you are referencing, so have prompts at the ready to help stimulate their memories and imaginations.

Other advice: Don't survey only your best customers. Carefully selected prospects and lapsed customers can provide valuable insight and should also be included in your research. And don't think that one focus group or survey will do it. Devising multiple channels for continuous feedback is essential to staying in touch with a rapidly changing marketplace.

We Have Five Years.

That's the view, anyway, of Charles Pesko, Managing Director of industry consulting firm CAP Ventures. In a terrific article entitled "Transition to 2010" in the March/April 2001 issue of Print On Demand ( and excerpted from his keynote address at the recent On Demand Show, Pesko suggests that printers must be fully integrated five years from now. What does fully integrated mean?

Basically, it's the Network Publishing/Cross-Media Publishing concept with bricks-and-mortar extension services, like facilities management, asset and inventories management, etc. Pesko pulls no punches in his assessment of the industry and where it's headed:

"Print media will continue to adapt to an environment with new interactive media, as long as paper remains the preferred technology for reading . . . while the good news is that print is not going away quickly, we will see the rate of growth start to decline. This is not where you want to bet the future growth of your business."

He goes on to suggest that the "printer of the future will be a strategic partner who helps corporate customers address their business challenges-maybe print, maybe not." Here's his checklist for survival:

  • Be as proficient in digital media as paper.
  • Master the technologies of today.
  • Be as proficient in digital media as paper.
  • Provide anytime, anywhere Web access 24/7/365 for all services.
  • Join alliances to build required infrastructure.
  • Nurture partnerships to provide the services required to fulfill customer needs.

Which brings us back to step one in Makeover 101, finding out what the customer needs.

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 Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte

© 2001 Charlotte Mills Seligman

March 20, 2001
Print & Graphics
Col#24, 3/01
Printing Journal
Col #24, 3/01
Makeover 101
By Charlotte Mills Seligman

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