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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Printing Companies Can Stay Relevant by Shifting Their Approach to Marketing

A close friend recently gave me a book called Disrupting the Future. Written by Joseph W. Webb, Ph.D., and Richard M. Romano, this book proposes ways commercial printers can continue to be relevant as ink on paper becomes only one of many channels for communication.

The book discusses a shift in focus from offset printing and binding as an end in themselves to custom printing as a medium for communication. The vehicles for this communication will expand from offset lithography to include variable data digital printing, digital large-format printing, web to print, PURLs, and social media.

To stay relevant, commercial printers will need to become consultants and brokers as well as custom printing vendors. They will become experts in the various media and will understand how clients can leverage these options to improve their ROI (return on investment). If these commercial printers have in-house offset or digital equipment to provide the printed products their clients need, so much the better. If not, they will outsource and coordinate this work. They will become trusted advisors, helping clients devise and execute the strategies to grow their businesses.

Making Adjustments in Marketing Strategy

Disrupting the Future addresses the shift in a number of relationships people have with media of all kinds. These include Permanence, Portability, ROI, Intent, Cross Media, Reference Point, Media Selection, Personalization, and Direct Response. Let’s discuss them individually, and consider how offset and digital custom printing can still be relevant.

  1. Permanence: Webb and Romano distinguish between the past, in which a marketer or vendor printed information (let’s say a directory or catalog) and then delivered some copies and stored the rest for future distribution. The information was located in a warehouse or other storage facility. Now information is immediately accessible online. That said, according to the trade journals I have read, there is still a direct correlation between increased consumer purchasing activity and distribution of print catalogs. Apparently, more people buy when they have access to both a print catalog and a website rather than just a website.
  2. Portability: People used to take a printed product with them (such as a catalog). They could read it in the subway on the way to work. Now they want to connect on multiple devices, according to Disrupting the Future. Actually, this can include a print catalog, as well as information on a tablet or a smart phone. The issue is less about the medium and more about the ability of a marketer to carry a message in a consistent way across the various media. Will the reader see a consistent presentation of the brand in the print catalog, on the smartphone, on the tablet, at home on the desktop computer, or on the digital large-format printing of an inkjet bus wrap?
  3. ROI: Webb and Romano note that in the past it was possible to easily match the cost of the printed information to the revenue it generated. However, today’s multi-channel marketing initiatives and information dissemination don’t always show a clear connection between cost and return on investment. For instance, using a Twitter feed and a website landing page along with a print catalog may increase sales dramatically when compared to an Internet-only, or print-only, approach. However, the incremental sales amount due to the social media component can’t always be easily determined.
  4. Intent: Now marketers “lure” prospective clients. In the past they “nudged” them. People are inundated with information. They have learned to tune it out. They want to be informed, not pushed to buy. They want your information to be immediately available for them to reach out and grab.
  5. Cross Media: Disrupting the Future notes that successful messages (persuasive or informative) are now “parallel” rather than “serial.” In the past, a firm would mail a print catalog so many times a year, and then roll out a print advertising campaign. Now the product information is simultaneously available through multiple media: on kiosks and printed signage when the prospective client visits a mall, online when he or she clicks through an Internet advertisement, or in print when he or she reads a catalog. To be relevant, all these parallel media must deliver a congruent message and consistent information. As Webb and Romano note, success hinges on creating an effective and congruent marketing strategy.
  6. Reference Point: In the past, a successful marketer presented authoritative information on why the prospective client should buy a product or service. Now a successful marketer provides a “gateway to context.” That is, according to Webb and Romano’s book, a marketer offers both information and a link to the opinions of others just like the potential buyer. Marketing has become a “dialogue between users.”
  7. Media Selection: Now a marketer will saturate the media with information from which potential buyers can “pull” what is relevant to them individually. In the past, marketers tightly controlled images, ads, and information. For a marketer to omit a channel (for example, to only advertise online and not provide a print catalog) can actually detract from sales.
  8. Personalization: Disrupting the Future notes that marketers in the past would segment a potential client base, sending specific information to targeted groups based on demographic information. This information was often outdated or useless to a certain number of recipients. Now, by combining the Internet with variable data printing, marketers can provide information that is current and pertinent to each prospective client. A potential buyer can receive a print catalog that has been personalized to his or her tastes and interests, and the information delivered online can match his or her prior Internet searches.
  9. Direct Response: Webb and Romano distinguish between “groundswell” and “targeted from above.” Sales prospects now reach out for, absorb, and respond to information and promotions based on their knowledge and interests in an organic, grassroots manner. As Disrupting the Future makes clear, people no longer tolerate being “herded to specific locations or actions” by an overarching authority.

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