For a sector that is frequently geared around promoting the services of other businesses, the print trade often struggles with selling itself.
And with an increasingly diverse mix of potential marketing channels – online, offline, natural search, pay-per-click and beyond – it can sometimes be tricky knowing which areas to focus on.
For Sam Neal, chief executive at Feltham-based Geoff Neal Group printers, marketing hasn’t really been an issue until very recently. “We’re a people-based business, we’ve always found that the best way of marketing ourselves is through reputation and recommendations. But we decided that there’s an age group now, where younger people are moving into senior roles,” says Neal on the company’s decision to ramp up its activities.
Content marketing – spreading a brand’s message through articles, imagery, graphics, audio and more – has been a buzzword that many companies have attempted with varying degrees of success for the past decade or so. Geoff Neal had a resolutely different approach – rather than a series of hastily cobbled together blog posts, the company produced a labour-of-love book, The Pursuit of Perfection, focusing on 10 UK brands getting their marketing right. “The book aims to challenge, and it shows clients we know about things. It took about two-and-a-half years and all the headers are in a brand-new font. It’s there to show that Geoff Neal isn’t just about ink and paper, but all the other stuff too. As a door-opener, its fabulous. It’s gone down very well.”
While Neal is himself somewhat sceptical about the merits of social media from a personal standpoint, the company is beginning to harness its power and recently hired a part-time social media manager to run its accounts. “LinkedIn is the biggest one for us. We’re using a bit of Twitter, and Instagram is good for the younger designer generation,” says Neal.
For Miles Linney, chief executive at Linney – another printer with generations of heritage – social media channels now account for a great deal of its marketing spend. “Before, we were doing a lot of direct mail and follow-up calls, but now half of our budget is on social – LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook,” he reveals.
Linney has also been experimenting with content and last year launched a podcast ‘Y’. Miles Linney is also impressed at how data has helped the company be much more accurate with its marketing activities. “There’s the old adage – half of advertising is wasted. But which half? The world of data allows you to challenge the ‘knowing’ part – instead of direct marketing and mailshots, it’s about thought leadership pieces on the website and social. We’re a lot better at knowing where the lead comes from now.”
Call off the search
Search engine optmisation (SEO), getting a company or service ranking on Google or other search engines like Bing, has often been viewed as something as a dark art, shrouded in mystery. It was also possible for sneaky ‘black hat’ practices to yield good results by tricking Google. But recent years have seen search algorithms take great strides in rooting out bad pages and nefarious practices such as keyword stuffing, white text and dodgy paid-for links.
It’s an area that can often seem obtuse and overwhelming, but delivery manager at Cardiff-based digital marketing agency Liberty Marketing Chris Gurner reckons there’s plenty of easy and cheap ways to get yourself up to speed without breaking the bank. “If you don’t have a lot of knowledge, there’s a lot of free tools out there – I’d encourage people to get on to Google Analytics and Search Console, and see where your traffic is coming from and how sessions are generated on a weekly basis. Check how long people are spending on your site and what pages they’re looking for,” he says.
Of course, once a potential client finds you, getting them to convert – or at very least setting them on the path to do so – is vital. “You need a call to action. I would encourage a ‘floating’ one down the right-hand side of the screen,” says Gurner. “Set up expectation and next steps, and get some top-level info: name, number, company name – I’ve seen examples with about 20-30 questions which just puts customers off. And with B2B marketing, ensure your phone number is clearly visible,” he adds.
It might seem paradoxical, but it can also help to get out of a sales mindset, especially when it comes to social media. “With social, it’s tempting just to push out ads,” says Gurner. “Something that’s worked for ourselves as a business is participating actively and helping people, not having a sales hat on at every opportunity – you’ll be recognised as a thought leader and a promoter of good practices.”
One company that is already putting doing this is Oxfordshire-based Webmart. Its website has an extensive list of altruistic guides and white papers, plus company news and a blog. “We use social listening tools to pick the top trending content and tailor it,” says chief executive Simon Bitcliffe. “Also, we can use the analysis tools to find out the most engaging content, the traffic source of other printers and so on. With the content based on customer insight, there is no doubt that we can attract the right traffic to our website and turn them into leads.”
Getting to know potential customers also helps the marketing spend go that little bit further. “We can’t be successful in marketing without continuous analyses,” adds Bitcliffe. “And customer analysis is the most important one. First of all, we have to know what kind of company our ideal customer is and who are the decision-makers and the influencers. Defining those people helps us build their buying process, demographics, behaviour and purchasing decisions, which are fundamental for every single decision of our marketing campaign. The more information we have, the more we will know what message to tell, where to deliver that message and when they may see that message.”
Let’s get physical
Businesses in print are probably some of the last ones who’d need convincing of the merits of physical marketing material over digital. Grafenia, the Manchester-based company that owns Nettl and Printing.com, partners with hundreds of local businesses and offers a suite of tried-and-tested marketing collateral as a package – both digital and physical.
For chief executive Peter Gunning, the power of physical sales material can’t be underestimated. “When it comes to mailouts, they have to have that ‘thud’ factor – anything where anyone wouldn’t consider it junk mail, so doesn’t look like a bill or anything that could be discarded.
“You can be creative with cardboard boxes and wallets. There’s something called ‘the burden of reciprocity’ – people are more likely to engage with you if send something valuable.”
Email marketing has had a recent shake-up, as a result of GDPR legislation which came into force last year. Now companies need to be a lot more cautious when it comes to reaching out to prospects via email, or risk hefty fines. “We’ve built it [GDPR compliance] into our system,” says Gunning. “It scans the Telephone Preference Service, and we only contact people who’ve had quotes and, provided they’ve opted in, they go on to a monthly campaign. We don’t tend to blunderbuss people we don’t know.”
Getting out there and meeting people is also a tried and trusted method that still holds water. “We always encourage partners to have enough sample kits for last-minute drop-outs,” says Gunning. “There’s usually a longer gestation period with this approach, when you go out and meet people face to face.”
Grafenia also helps partners gain customer insights with data. “We segment partners’ data and categorise it into quantities – if someone orders every two months and stops, then it’s an alert – what we’re looking for is why the frequency has dropped. It’s all about the quality of the data that goes in. We can remedy clients before they’ve dropped off.”
Delivering the goods
Of course, you could invest thousands or even millions into a cutting-edge, cross-platform marketing strategy, but it doesn’t count for much if the end product isn’t up to scratch. When it comes to the print trade, you have to go a long way to beat recommendations and word of mouth. “Whenever we’re writing a business plan, it needs to be underpinned by fantastic customer service. Our annual client survey is the biggest KPI for us. All marketing is wasted if you’re not delivering,” says Linney. “History and deliverables mean more than LinkedIn.”
“Regardless of how good our marketing strategy is, we have to maintain excellent service to have the referrals and returns from happy clients. Some printers don’t do much marketing activity, but are still competitive as they care for the customers in every detail. People trust them and do ‘word of mouth’ marketing for them,” adds Webmart’s Bitcliffe.
The key to getting the most out of marketing, it seems, is to use your various options and channels accordingly. “There’s no one thing in isolation. We use each medium in an appropriate way to create an overall experience,” says Grafenia’s Gunning. “Look at Tesco – it doesn’t use one thing or another. Be consistent and keep going – it’s not the first contact that makes the sale.”