By Jon Severs, Monday 05 March 2018
So you have spent months researching a new kit purchase. You’ve read all there is to read, you have tested it, you have asked other users for their views, you have thought of every possible use and analysed every possible configuration. And now it’s sat in your printroom, ready to transform your business.
It’s tempting, having accrued all of this knowledge, having spent so much time on the decision, having laid down significant cash to get it here, to shout about this gleaming machine to every customer willing to listen.
But do customers really want to know the specifics of the machine? And if they do, how much do they want to know and how do they want to be told?
Ali Ridha Jaffar, sales director at Print Express (part of the Syncoms Group), is pretty sure clients only care about a few things, and what press or finishing line you have just bought are not on the list.
“Customers are primarily concerned with receiving quality printed collateral, on time, every time,” he says.
Yes, the new machine may impact these things, but Jaffar says ‘how’ is not a concern, it’s ‘what’ they want to know about.
“When I’ve asked customers about their expectations and experiences, pre- and post-sale, they consistently reference service, quality and economy. Therefore, my emphases has always been on the same – in that precise order,” he says.
Ekaterina Vankova, marketing manager at fabric printer Contrado, is of the same opinion.
“We prefer to pay more attention to the quality of our products,” she says. “It’s not just about price and turnaround, it’s about the quality, depth and definition of the print.”
Martin Lett Jnr, director at Marstan Press, takes a slightly different view. He often does end up taking a similar approach to Vankova and Jaffar, but he says some customers do like to know the machine being printed upon.
“Customers will have a general polite interest, but they won’t necessarily appreciate the difference between a Heidelberg XL 75 10P versus a Ryobi SRA1 LED-UV press,” he argues.
Are there any buyers left that would know the difference?
Lett Jnr says perhaps a handful. “I’d suggest that ‘expert print buyers’ have been in the minority in my 12 years in the industry,” he says.
But Steve Wenlock, managing director at Flexpress, says those that do know what they are talking about will want to know in some detail what you are offering.
“At expert level, print buyers have often learned, usually by having unfortunate experiences, that not all equipment delivers the same positive results, so they’ll use their own experience to arrive at conclusions,” he says.
Horses for courses
Obviously, how far you should go in your marketing in terms of technical information can depend heavily on the sector you serve. Your average high-street printer probably won’t need a specifications sheet and kit biography on-hand for every customer (though customer knowledge even here can take people off guard). But printing bespoke wide-format work for high-end clients may mean you do need both of those things more often then you don’t.
Nick Kirby, chief executive at Swanline Print Group, says if you are a printer working across a diverse client base, you need to be ready to tell a customer as much or as little as they require.
“For some brand and retailer customers, they often just need to know that a printer can fulfil a job to a certain quality, on time and within budget; how they achieve that can be really irrelevant,” he says. “However, some like to know as much as possible about the printing process; how the kit translates into their product benefits and what it will do for them.”
He says how much you tell a customer about your kit also depends on how you pitch yourself as a business.
“Essentially, there are three core strategies that a printer can choose to adopt: being the most operationally efficient and therefore lowest cost in the market; being the lead innovator, which clearly costs in terms of research and development; or being the most customer intimate and service driven. It is virtually impossible to lead on all three simultaneously. You can’t be low-cost and investing big in service and innovation at the same time, for example.
“Where innovation or operational efficiency are chosen as the core company strategy, the technology value proposition becomes all the more important.
“Fundamentally, kit drives a printer’s capabilities and being able to push the boundaries of both the print industry and that of its customers can be crucial in being ahead of the game.”
So let’s say shouting about the new technology you have just invested in fits your client profile and your company aims and you have enough customers interested: how do you make yourself heard?
Wenlock says getting too technical is a sure-fire way of being ignored.
“As printers, we often forget how to talk to people without print speak, so ultimately the message gets lost. Achieving balance should be about trying to portray the appropriate benefits at the right level for the print buyer you’re trying to appeal to,” he argues.
Lett Jnr agrees. “Jargon is probably wasted,” he says. “Naturally you are going to be enthused that your new machine runs faster, or handles a larger sheet, or a thicker substrate, but regurgitating the technical specification of your investment isn’t going to get your anywhere.”
Gareth Roberts, the managing director at Bishops Printers in Portsmouth, turns to a food-based analogy to illustrate a typical customer viewpoint. “When I visit a restaurant I’m not interested in the oven or pans being used, I’m focused on the end-result. Likewise, our customers are not necessarily interested in whether our presses have got three, five or ten-colours,” he says.
As it happens Bishops is the biggest B2 printer in the country, running a bank of eight multi-colour B2 presses , including six long perfectors, five of which are 10- colour models.
“What they are interested in is what it means to them; are we more reliable, or can we turn work around more quickly. They’re interested if our firepower means we can produce 36 hours’ worth of work in 12 hours by putting it on three presses,” Roberts adds.
He also notes that the traditional print buyer of old has in many instances been replaced by someone in a marketing role. But there are still clients who take a more detailed view of what’s on his factory floor. “Certain categories of technology are of interest to customers, such as drying onto uncoated stocks. And we had a site visit from a client last week who made us jump through hoops and probed our facilities and fallback procedures in great detail. It was quite refreshing.”
Once you know what you want to say, the next challenge is the medium via which you want to say it. Social media, inviting clients to view the kit in the printroom, running demonstration days, taking space at trade shows, and traditional marketing campaigns are all options to be explored - or combined. Does a tech-heavy message play equally well through each?
Wenlock advises a trial-and-error approach to find out works for you. The solution he found worked best was a nice surprise.
“We’ll try anything once,” he says. “I guess the secret is making sure you measure results so you don’t continue to waste effort where it’s not paying off. More people should do print marketing. Believe it or not, it works!”
While not everyone will be able to persuade their local mayor to pay a visit, as Marstan did with its latest investment, that outside-the-box thinking can pay dividends. But knowing your kit inside and out, and showcasing that knowledge, can also be useful, not necessarily for direct sales but instead for relationship building, says Lett Jnr.
“You want to be able to demonstrate that you are knowledgeable, forward thinking, trustworthy and reliable,” he explains. “Explanation and education can be used as a soft-sell.”
You also need to be ready with the technical information to hand for when a client comes knocking for something very specific: an occurrence that is not as rare as you may think.
“There are some clients who still look for specific technical features,” says Lett Jnr. “For example, we had an enquiry from a print management company for a booklet on uncoated paper and they were specially wanting a printer with a UV press due to the more vibrant colours that are achieved through the UV process.”
As you will notice, thus far the marketing has always followed the purchase. Is there ever a case for it to be the other way around? With margins tight and being able to talk up a machine’s technical prowess seemingly important for a chunk of the potential client base, is it ever the case that a new machine would be bought for the sales pitch as much the technical capacity? After all, it could signal that, as a company, you are forward thinking and being able to invest suggests a successful company.
Wenlock believes going down that route would be dangerous.
“You should never buy a piece of equipment purely for marketing purposes,” he says. “But positive perception is vital in marketing, so if you can solve your production challenges buying new equipment and then use the investment to progress your brand at the same time, then why not?”
Overall, the message from most is that it certainly does not hurt to have a full technical understanding of your new piece of kit in your back pocket in case it is needed. But it should be brought out judiciously, and you should almost always leave the print jargon at home, no matter who you are talking to.