While many printers in the sub-40” sector have now taken on sales staff, the concept of marketing is one that printers, not just in Australia, are notoriously shy of. It has always been one of the great mysteries of the trade, why the very people who spend much of their working lives fulfilling marketing activities of the rest of the world so singularly fail to take it on board themselves. For not only are printers in a position to see the importance that many commercial enterprises place on marketing, they are in an unrivalled position to market cheaply, as what is often the most expensive cost of marketing, the print, is essentially free to printers.
Many printers view marketers as wet behind the ear kids full of college programmes sitting behind big desks in striped shirts and red braces but with no connection with the ‘real world’. Like all caricatures there is an element of truth in that, but the reality is that marketing is an essential part of virtually every successful company in virtually every field. For the company looking to sell its products, ie the printer, marketing is the route to accessing the customers, for those potential customers it puts them in touch with the potential goods provider. Whether you decide to tackle that yourself, or hire an outside agency (recommended) having a marketing strategy in place will certainly assist the survival and growth of your company.
Marketing has many, many facets, and there has probably been more written about marketing than virtually any other subject under the sun. However at a basic level there are certain essentials that all companies need to know. Foremost among these are two concepts, first the marketing mix, commonly known as the 4Ps, and second the key differential, or in marketing parlance your USP.
Long the mainstay of marketing, the 4Ps, or more technically the marketing mix, comprise four elements of your business that the market engages with; the product, the price, the place and the promotion. How you mix these factors together is known as your marketing mix. For instance Printer A may have a higher price but a better quality product, while Printer B may have a lower quality product, lower price, and a quicker turnaround time (place), while Printer C may have the highest price of all, average quality, but may spend three times as much as the others on self promotion. There is no golden rule to which marketing mix is the best way to go, and obviously no-one can have the best of everything, and if they claimed they did the market would not take them seriously, no printer can credibly claim lowest price, highest quality and fastest turnaround time.
The four elements of the marketing mix are interdependent, that is they are all affected by one another. They are all under your control, you own them. But can you identify them, can you articulate them, are they purposely mixed by you, or by default, and can you change them if the market demands it?
The four P’s of the marketing mix are:
Product: Defining the characteristics of your product or service to meet the customers’ needs. Then refining that product.
Price: Deciding on a pricing strategy. Even if you decide not to charge for a service, eg scanning, it is useful to realise that this is still a pricing strategy. Identifying the total cost to the user (which is likely to be higher than the charge you make) is a part of the price element.
Promotion: This includes advertising, personal selling, sales promotions (eg special offers), and atmospherics (creating the right impression through the working environment). Public relations is included within promotion by many marketing people (though PR people tend to see it as a separate discipline).
Place or distribution. Looking at location and where a service is delivered, for instance a quick printer / copyshop in a CBD is likely to be a far better strategy than having it on the outskirts of town, but the rent will be 50 times more.
Latterly however the 4Ps have started to be thought of as somewhat old hat, in that they are more producer focused than customer oriented. Hence the arrival of the 4Cs; convenience, communication, cost to user and customer needs or wants. These 4C’s reflect a more client-oriented marketing philosophy. They provide useful reminders - for example that you need to bear in mind the convenience of the client when deciding where to offer a service. Although some do argue that the 4P marketing mix is too product-oriented, and that modern marketing should not focus on it, it does provide a handy framework for marketing analysis. The C’s are also not nearly so memorable as the P-words, and marketing texts still tend to use the latter to describe the elements of the mix.
Whether you opt for Ps or Cs recognising what precisely you are offering is key, because if you don’t how can you expect the market to. Which leads us into the USP.
In a crowded marketplace how are you going to persuade a potential customer buy print from your company. Marketeers would say with your USP of course.
What are you and your company selling? Ink on paper? Printing services? Quality, service and price? Peace of mind? A good night’s sleep for anxious clients? A hard-to-find combination of services? One-stop print solutions? Niche specialisation? Unfortunately, many printing professionals don’t fully realise why their customers buy from them. Every company is in business for a reason – however, the trick is being able to say what it is.
Successful companies have compelling reasons for being in business. They offer reliable products and services, fill a need and offer a mix of skills that are wanted in the marketplace. Unfortunately, many key people are unable to articulate just what this skill set is.
Despite the pronouncements of some commentators, print products and services aren’t yet commodities – just ask any print buyer that has watched an outsourced printing job go belly-up. Commodity sellers only focus on transactions. Consultative selling is quite a different thing altogether. It’s knowledge-based selling that focuses on solutions instead of products. Printed products need consultative selling at virtually every level up from business cards, in other words you need to persuade people to buy from you not just on lowest price, which is where the USP comes in.
Incidentally even companies offering true commodities, such as petrol, sugar and pencils, are still able to develop effective branding strategies. If not, we’d all be buying generic products and filling up our cars at discount petrol stations.
Understanding why you’re in business is just the first step. Articulating it is the next. Try this experiment – look at a clock and in 60 seconds or less try to say exactly why you’re in business.
Did you manage it. If you didn’t do too well, you’re not alone. Many sales representatives and business owners can’t articulate it either. Printing companies will be much stronger when every employee can state what their company does … in their sleep.
Many salespeople, customer service representatives and business owners have a vague understanding of why their customers buy from them. Imagine how focused and successful your company would be if your salespeople, account managers, administrative people and factory workers knew exactly what you do better than anyone else.
Every graphic arts company has a unique selling proposition or USP. USPs aren’t the same as mission statements because not many mission statements can be used during normal business conversation. Upon hearing your USP, your customers and prospects will know exactly why you deserve their business. Of course it’s impossible to paint your whole story in less than 60 seconds, but this isn’t the point. Instead, you should be able to quickly generate interest among legitimate prospects.
In the printing industry, here is a sampling of possible USP elements:
• Under-one-roof service provider (convenience)
• Niche specialist (nobody does this type of work better)
• Ability to turn around large jobs fast (raw horsepower)
• 24-hour delivery on short runs (fast)
• Instant quotes (we mean service)
• Technical expertise (a scientific approach)
• Business transparency (production schedule live on internet)
• Latest technology (not great as someone else will have something later next month)
• Regional focus (you’re important)
• A key employee (eg Bob Jones honoured with LIA lifetime award)
• Global service (connections with similar printers in Europe/US/Asia)
• Specialist in certain customer segments (ie associations, financial services, government, design agencies, manufacturing companies, etc.)
• And more … (think!)
It’s important that every employee knows your unique selling proposition. Those on the front lines need to understand exactly why customers and prospects should buy your services and products. Your delivery driver and receptionist represent you, and should be well trained in customer service, they should at least know your USP. Your plant workers may even bring good job applicants to you, if they know what your company is really good at.
The goal is being able to say what your company does in 60 seconds or less … without straining your brain. How do you expect people to buy from you if you can’t clearly and quickly articulate what differentiates you from everyone else? We live in the age of soundbites and information overload. Having a clear USP that you can articulate to the market, that you potential customers will remember, will; enable you stand out from the crowd, “Oh yes, Bloggs Print, the 24-hour printer.”
Testing a unique selling proposition is easy. First, it must be compelling. If you’re not excited by it, neither will anyone else. Second, it must be unique. Put your competitors’ names in it instead of your own. If it still rings true, it isn’t unique. Third, it must be able to be repeated in less than a minute at a normal conversational pace. If not, it’s too long and most likely boring. If you get your USP right, you and your company will be better off.
Marketing isn’t just for the huge companies, and it isn’t mysterious, nor is it rocket science. It is though a discipline and an activity that implemented correctly will prove beneficial for your company, even if the initial agency fee seems high.
• Cost to buyer
• Customer needs and wants