Why printers need to get better at self-promotion

Jon Severs
Monday, June 16, 2014

Doctors are notoriously bad at diagnosing themselves, while police officers and lawyers have been known to forget the law when it comes to their own actions. And so it should come as no surprise that printers often fail to market themselves as well as they could do.

Those that print high-end promo products for customers often fall down when it comes to promoting their own services. 

“There are some absolutely shocking examples of printers’ own marketing out there, and we’ve produced a fair few clangers ourselves,” says one printer who understandably wishes to remain anonymous. “We excel every day for clients, but we just seem to fail when it comes to working out what is best for ourselves.”

The issue may be that the customer acquisition environment has simply changed and printers have not evolved with it. As recently as five years ago, an approach centred around sales reps making visits and working the phones was how the majority of firms brought in business. But times have changed.

“That’s old school,” says Alan Bunter, director at Remous Print. “I strongly believe the recession combined with the digital age has changed the rules.”

The experts agree. Mike Willoughby is account manager at marketing agency Theblueballroom, which has worked with blue-chip brands such as Mars and DHL. 

“The days of simply producing a product and then communicating the features and benefits to your audience are gone,” he explains. “The digital revolution and the rise of social networking mean firms now have the ability to hold two-way conversations with their customers, but importantly they can also now measure engagement and adapt their tactics accordingly. Being a solutions provider is not enough.”

Adapting to change

Bunter is in the process of transforming his firm’s strategy to address the new paradigm. “We are repositioning our marketing to reflect how the rules have changed. It’s now a combination of networking, online strategies, offline marketing and face-time with prospective and existing clients.”

One printer that has already been through this process is Kent-based PressOn. After bringing in a marketing consultant two years ago, the firm has completely changed the way it promotes itself. It started by looking at who its customers were and how they liked to do business.  

“We looked at our top 10 customers and at what they were buying,” says managing director Andy Wilson. “Then we profiled how those orders were arriving and who was placing those orders. We found we were getting a lot of our work from search engines. At the time we had three sales reps; we now have none.

“We found that the people making the calls to order work were junior employees who had been tasked with finding a print supplier. We didn’t need to go knocking on doors; what we needed was a strategy for SEO that would get us up the Google rankings. And then we needed a website and a brand that would make people choose us – and that is about the right logo, the right case studies and the right customer journey through the website and onto the customer service team.”

This approach may not sound cheap, and indeed there will be a cost – Wilson was told by his marketing consultant that he should be spending 10% of turnover on marketing. At first he thought this was ridiculous, but when he considered the cost of maintaining a sales team, and how that money was going to be spent (the website, rebrand and advertising were all included, for example), he found 10% of turnover was roughly the same as the existing spend, just used a lot more efficiently.  

Willoughby agrees that around 10% should be the norm, although he stresses that you can do it for less and still be successful. “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all percentage to allocate to marketing, but most small businesses spend between 2% and 10% of their sales revenue.”

Digital switch

Willoughby stresses that printers need to realise marketing spend in general is going up and that they have to accept digital channels as part of the solution.   

“Digital channels will always play a big part now; however, what you gain from that switch is the ability to measure your activities more accurately and therefore justify the spend more easily,” he says.

With the rise in cross-media services provided by printers, you would think the print industry would be aware of the need to use a multi-channel approach. But Wilson, who is a firm believer in digital channels, says this is not the case. 

“Many printers are blinkered to the digital reality; some aren’t, but a lot of our competitors are simply not moving in this direction,” he explains. 

He adds, though, that there are other ways of boosting your online presence: entering awards schemes, getting your name into the media and getting involved with charity and school projects are all good ways to draw attention to yourself and get mentioned online. This gets people visiting your website, which in turn ups your traffic and improves your Google ranking. It’s an online end-result with a very human way of getting there that printers should be comfortable with. 

Admittedly, this kind of campaign has multiple elements and so is a tough ask of a print company that has no in-house marketing expertise – and difficult even for those that do. Willoughby, however, is prepared to give away some of Theblueball-room’s knowledge to get you started. He says the first task is to understand where companies tend to go wrong. 

“A lot of companies fail when it comes to marketing because they simply fail to set themselves an objective. Whether it’s brand awareness, lead generation, customer up-sell or whatever, once you have set that objective you can let it influence your message, your content and the channels through which you deliver your marketing,” he explains. 

Once you’ve established your objective, it’s a question of adopting best practices and avoiding the pitfalls. See the boxouts on this page for Willoughby’s top five dos and don’ts. 


Willoughby’s five routes to marketing success

  1. Love your marketing There are so many different ways to reach your audience nowadays, so if you don’t like a particular tactic, say blogging for example, that’s fine – if you’re struggling to churn out 700 words every week it will become a chore and your lack of enthusiasm will be communicated to your readers. Find something which suits you and your company, then go away and do it with passion.
  2. Stay on top of the latest trends Are you tired of doing email campaigns and mail drops? Good! Get online and start researching new ways of reaching and engaging with your audience.  
  3. Make sure whatever you are doing delivers impact Every time we come up with a new creative concept at Theblueballroom we make sure we challenge it, and challenge it hard. If you don’t think it is bold or distinctive enough then there is a strong chance your audience will agree. 
  4. Take risks Try something no one has ever tried before because, even if you fail, you will have still gained experience and learned some valuable lessons.
  5. Collaborate This doesn’t just mean brainstorming. Of course you are missing a trick if you do not utilise every ounce of experience and creativity within your team, but why not also look at using collaborative tools to help you? This means really using your intranet for something other than hosting spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. Find a way to use it to share ideas or adopt an internal collaboration platform like Yammer to really communicate and share and develop your ideas.

Willoughby’s top five biggest marketing mistakes

  1. Not understanding your audience Understand what makes your audience tick, right down to the minutest detail, and then go and create some content that makes them want to engage with you.
  2. Lack of research The performance of every marketing initiative depends on rigorous testing and a solid foundation of research. Don’t be afraid to get your customers’ input on this – who else is in a better position to provide you with insight regarding pricing, promotion and communication? 
  3. Not understanding what makes you unique Every single piece of marketing you produce should feature your USP because without it you will fade into the background. Find out what it is that makes you better than anyone else in your market. Are your products of a better quality? Are they more competitively priced? Do you look after your customers better and can you prove it?
  4. Not feeling your customers’ pain Issue-based marketing is extremely effective. Understand what it is that keeps your target audience up at night and what the key themes and issues are that apply to their daily workflows. Once you have that, make sure it is the first thing you communicate to them in your messaging, and then offer your solution and a piece of content that supports your argument.
  5. Not measuring and adapting You would be amazed at how many businesses pour time and money into creating compelling and innovative marketing, but then fail to capture the results and use them to improve. Being able to measure how effective your marketing is should influence everything you do, both at the start and most definitely at the end. Many of the tools you need to do this are either free or should be built into your existing CRM or marketing systems, so there really is no excuse!

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