Makeover 101: Part Two

In previous columns, we've presented a number of hopefully persuasive arguments supporting the necessity of print companies to begin the process of integrating systems-from front-end sales, customer relations, and prepress to production, delivery, and accounting-with an eye to expanding services beyond print. Also, systems integration will be critical to communications as marketing becomes increasingly focused on personalization, both for us and our clients.

As if on cue after my last column, one of our clients decided to go for it. While this client is not a commercial printer, his business is closely related and his commitment to grow is evident. Perhaps his example will inform and energize.

Website redux

With a brochure-ware Website built about three years ago, our client had a presence on the Web for what it was worth. After all the hype, effort and the initial promise of lots of leads, he found the reality sadly lacking. Customers weren't flocking to his site to do business; in fact, they weren't flocking to his site at all.

When the dot-com frenzy hit, he was quick to appreciate the value of the new Web-based tools being offered by the three primary application service providers (ASPs), and decided to check them out. He believed a relationship with one of these would be mutually beneficial, they'd thinking he could bring considerable value to the table since his company was part of a national network of like providers. His association would get the technology, the ASP would get instant market share.

While negotiating in good faith, the chosen ASP purchased the industry's primary hardware manufacturer, who in turn owned the predominant software used by the industry. In fact our client was the beta site for the new, Web-enabled version of this software when the deal was revealed. Sound familiar? My client hit the roof, vowing then and there to take matters into his own hands.

At this point, my company was brought in to design and build the site to meet the client's e-commerce objectives. We were contracted and development was under way when our client discovered that a company in the network was developing its own Web-based system. Initial reviews were favorable. The Web-based program easily integrated with our clients' existing software and production system. In addition, the developer was well along in the design of archiving, online viewing, and collaboration tools, as well as the fundamental ordering function.

We were psyched! We didn't have to reinvent the wheel, the client would be up and running much more quickly, and lots of money was saved. Three months ago our newly designed site was launched, complete with a host of e-commerce tools, far surpassing the ASP's delivery performance. The even better news is that the tools are actually being used by a fast-growing number of my client's customers.

A couple of months ago, he hired a technical whiz who's working with the software developer to tailor templates to our client's specifications and to enhance the functionality of the collaborative section of the site for multiple party ordering and online job tracking.

In my opinion, our client happens to be one of the smarter ones in his industry niche. He long ago recognized the great potential of digital systems and proceeded to gradually rid his shop of toxic, analog equipment, making the total transition to all-digital over a year ago. It was a gutsy move in view of the fact that his customers are among the slowest to adopt new technology.

In addition to his large format black/white and color digital systems, he has several digital publishing systems, all-digital and PDF work flows, and recently installed a Heidelberg Digimaster. Files coming in on his multiple servers are fed directly into preflighting and then to his production engines. While it's still necessary to re-key job orders filled out by customers, that step will be eliminated as soon as the new order form template with pull-down prompts is completed and uploaded.

Commitment to growth

Our client is very much in growth mode and is fully committed to streamline operations in every way possible. He just purchased a new space that's three times larger than his existing site and much more central to the region's buyers. We designed and recently introduced his new corporate identity-stationery, signage, direct mail campaign, and Website-that not only reflects his specific industry niche, but also his technological leanings.

The next phase of his systems integration may be his most difficult challenge. It's certainly one to which we all can relate . . . databases. With our direct mail program designed and about to be printed, our client confided that he didn't know if he had a mailing list. Certainly he mailed out 200 invoices a week, but those went to accounts payable folks in customers' offices. He didn't have a customer/prospect database. His "smart" standing was in serious jeopardy.

However, he was prepared to immediately remedy the situation. After determining what database applications he was using, we narrowed our choices down to two: FileMaker Pro and an archaic, proprietary accounting software. After speaking with several database gurus, we selected FileMaker Pro. If you're surprised at this selection, so were we. Apparently, FileMaker Pro is one of the most flexible, cross-platform databases, allowing just about any other database to be easily imported into it. It is also highly recommended for cross-publishing purposes. Here's one assessment by Michael Moon, the author of the excellent book, Firebrands: Building Brand Loyalty in the Internet Age:

"Given the high cost of manually creating and maintaining HTML pages, intranet managers must automate the process with database publishing techniques . . . train and motivate intranet content creators to place text and graphics into an authoring database such as FileMaker Pro or next-generation XML-based solutions. In this scenario an individual contributor can copy and paste text and graphics into an online, browser-based form connected to a database. Publishing templates, automation scripts, and related tools transform ASCII text and graphics files into HTML pages, then post them to the intranet Web server."

Forget FileMaker Pro for those eBay-sized sites and situations; but technical folks believe this database program might be the systems integration solution for small to mid-size companies that have disparate legacy databases.

I'll talk more about database issues and how to build a good prospecting database in my next column.

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

© 2000 Charlotte Mills Seligman

April 2001
Print & Graphics
Col#25, 4/01
Printing Journal
Col #25, 4/01
Makeover 101: Part Two
By Charlotte Mills Seligman

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