Thursday, April 29, 2010

Topping the Five Star Printer

Some of the most memorable experiences you will have in your lifetime will take place over a meal in a restaurant. For some, this would include a wedding rehearsal dinner or a first date. For others, these experiences might be the excitement of dining out on a vacation or when your friends and family get together for a holiday feast. Rarely though, will the great meals and moments of your life ever occur in a fast food chain. Quick, cheap and impersonal usually don't equate to a memorable, amazing experience. There is a reason restaurants are rated on a "five-star" system and the law of averages would say that the higher a restaurant is rated, then the more likely it is that the restaurant will deliver on a memorable and amazing experience.

Sure there is place for fast food. You certainly can't beat the convenience, but if it weren't cheap then I'm not sure what the value proposition would be. This theme holds true for any business. Unless you are cranking out widgets and your core strategy is lowest price, you can't afford to not be great in every thing else you do. If a business truly wants to succeed in the coming years, then it better be in the business of creating memorable and amazing experiences.

Take for instance the printing industry. You have your cheap and convenient options available with one-click online printers or the neighborhood quick-copy store. These operations are highly standardized and can get by without great people or product. On the other side, everyone else in the industry is fighting relentlessly to create that little bit of differentiation that makes them a hair better than their competitors. The competition is stiff and just like restaurants, printers are doing their best to create "five-star" memorable experiences.

The five-star printers have world-class quality. They don't miss deadlines. They have a solution for every problem and they invest in bright and intelligent people that provide top-notch customer service.

There is a problem with focusing only on the five-star model though. One of the reasons why so many restaurants and printers lose business to competitors is that if you are only creating difference in a five-star model then your limiting your services. There is a new type of printer out there that stands out even among the elite five-star printers. They are the caterers. Like in the restaurant business (e.g. Why Catering Is Crucial), printers that focus on catering are more memorable and valuable than the most quality driven print shop.

Catering, by definition, means to satisfy and provide what is needed and required. Too many printers have equipment and standards in place that focus on what the printer wants to sell. Some of these printers may be great at what they do but if they are not adjusting the services they provide on a daily basis to fit perfectly to the customers needs, then they will become obsolete.

Printers must be caterers now more than ever. They must give the customer the power to create their own customized experience. Catering is creating personalization. Catering is attacking every problem and opportunity with a blank sheet of paper and not a predetermined set of rules. Catering is to look at a customers business and create a completely customized solution that manages print and improves their marketing. Catering is a memorable experience.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Marketing in the New Millenium

In the April 2010 issue of Deliver Magazine, an article on the future of marketing to different generational groups, discusses the 100 million Americans who are classified as Generation Y – aka the “Millennials” – which have replaced the 78 million baby boomers as the largest consumer group. Generation (Gen) Y, born from 1985 to 2004, are Internet savvy, environmentally conscientious and adverse to traditional advertising. With internet obsessed Gen Y as the largest and fastest growing group of consumers, your first thought might be that the printing industry is in some serious trouble! After taking a deeper look though, I think just the opposite is true. In fact, printing may pose the single greatest opportunity for businesses to capture the attention of Gen Y.

It’s no secret that the Gen Y live in an online world. They exist and live in online communities, tweets, blogs, and social networking sites. They shop and bank online and are even educated in a virtual classroom setting. As businesses market to Y, they recognize the need to appeal to their online senses and connect to them in the virtual world. However, cracking the code and entering into their trusted and guarded online life is something that most businesses fail to effectively do.

Gen Y go about online activities in a comparable way that people go about their lives in the non-internet world. They have routines, or trusted sites they frequently visit on a continual basis. These sites enable them to live their lives with a sense of order and community and they don’t like it when this is disrupted (annoying pop-ups, spam or irrelevant and misleading site content). So just how is a business supposed to get the attention of someone who truly lives on the internet? This certainly isn’t easy as the competition for attention is so great, that offers from even the most trusted sources can be perceived as spam.

According to, the internet looked like this in 2009:

- 1.4 billion email users
- 247 billion emails sent per day (81% of these spam)
- 234 million websites
- 126 million blogs
- 350 million people on Facebook
- 27.3 million tweets per day

This means that the average user is sent over 175 emails per day and at least 33 of those emails each day are from trusted (non-spam) senders. If you’re thinking that you don’t receive that many emails, it is probably because you aren’t living a completely Internet focused online life such as a Gen Y. In addition, Gen Y have access to over 234 million websites and 126 million of these are blogs. With this many options available, how are you going to get their attention? Do Gen Y even know that you exist or know how to reach you online?

Integrated direct marketing may be the single greatest opportunity to break down the wall that Gen Y have built to stave off advertisers. Integrated marketing incorporates multiple forms of advertising channels into one seamless message that fits nicely together. One of the easiest ways to do this is through the use of direct mail combined with the internet. Just because your ultimate goal might be to drive someone to a website you may think direct mail doesn’t really fit well into your advertising plan. Or maybe you’re a small business you just can’t afford to spend money on anything other than online advertising. These are valid points in deciding how to affordably bring in new customers. However, remember that Gen Y (the biggest demographic opportunity to increase revenue in the coming years) are extremely active Internet users. This means they are exposed to more online forms of advertising than anyone else out there and they have built powerful defenses against them.

To reach Gen Y, more traditional forms of advertising are necessary to capture their attention (such as direct mail, bill boards and television). This form of advertising typically does not focus on Gen Y which means they are more likely to give you their attention if you target them in a traditional way. Even when all of the purchasing decisions Gen Y makes are on the internet, you still have to reach them in a unique and memorable way to get them to participate in your online business presence. Nothing is unique and memorable about one of the 175 emails they receive per day. By gaining their attention with traditional methods that they haven't built up defenses against, you can then promote to them a website or blog that you ultimately wanted them to visit in the first place. This is integrated marketing.

The use of direct mail is the most effective method for achieving an integrated marketing campaign to Gen Y or any generation for that matter. With direct mail, you are able to send cost-effective, one-to-one, personalized communications with a call to action to visit a website. The personalization of the mail then brings more trust to the website. In addition, direct mail is highly visible among Gen Y. Need proof? According to the U.S. Post Office, on average, 584 million pieces of mail are delivered each day to 150 million residences. That is roughly only 4 pieces of mail for every household. If you compare that to the 175 emails an individual might receive, you can paint a clear picture of an opportunity. Furthermore, how many pieces of mail for every household do you think target Gen Y? Do you think a majority of the people born from 1985 to 2004 are currently paying the bills, cutting coupons or sifting through insurance offerings? This is the real hidden and perhaps biggest opportunity out there: almost none of the direct mail currently being sent is targeting Gen Y.

In the coming years, Gen Y are going to increasingly make more and more purchasing decisions that are influenced by their trusted online world. How they get to and arrive at those decisions is up to marketers. Will marketers embrace the opportunities to gain trust through traditional advertising outlets or will they push them away with continual spam offerings? The evidence is right in front of marketers, they just need to act. With the growing number of tight knit online communities that Gen Y are a part of, it only takes the trust of a few for your message to spread like wildfire through their entire network.

For more information on how to profit from the understanding of young consumers, check out the book The Age Curve: How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Storm by Kenneth Gronbach.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Iron Chef

On the popular TV cooking show Iron Chef America, different chefs from around the world are chosen to compete head-to-head against an Iron Chef in a cooking battle. The participating chefs must choose their competitor, one of the Iron Chefs who are the best of the best – featuring chefs such as Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Masaharu Morimoto or Cat Cora. The show features dramatics that make it entertaining like naming the cooking arena Kitchen Stadium and commentary that resembles a sporting event. Each show is unique, as a randomly chosen theme ingredient must be incorporated as the focal point of all dishes prepared. The chefs must create four dishes all within 75 minutes with the help of a team of sous chefs (15 minutes to come up with an ensemble of dishes and 60 minutes to cook them). At the end of the competition, each competing chef faces a panel of judges who grade them on a scale of 60 points (30 points for taste/quality, 15 points for presentation and 15 points for originality) and a winner is declared.

To compete in such as pressure packed situation under a short time frame, these chefs must be seasoned professionals. Cutting corners will ultimately lead to failure. They must be problem solvers, quick responders, fast thinkers, creative, knowledgeable and extremely dedicated hard workers. The same qualities that make these chefs so great are the exact same qualities you that you want in a print sales rep. Print reps can no longer afford to be good at only a few things. There are just too many options out there now and too many people hungry for work. They can no longer afford to have only one specific skill set, similar to the chef who only specializes in a few key ingredients or just chops. Flexibility is a requirement now and you have to wear multiple hats. Simply stated, a print rep can’t just be a chef anymore, they must be an Iron Chef.

What does it take to be the Iron Chef of printing? Let’s for a brief moment, assume printers were judged in a similar fashion that the competitors on Iron Chef are judged. We’ll start with the prerequisite that any printer who wants to compete at the highest level needs to be prepared for ANYTHING a customer throws at them. You can’t afford to only be an expert at the same processes that you’ve always known such as offset printing or promotional products. You must know it all: offset printing, direct mail, digital printing, variable data printing, PURL’s, online print procurement, fulfillment, integrated marketing communications (cross media), demographics, response rates, product differentiation, branding, PPC, CPM, email marketing, and social media. If you can’t have an intelligent conversation with a customer across all of these different marketing channels then you’re going to be just another printer. You must understand your customer’s business inside and out if you are to clearly identify opportunities to offer solutions that enable you to do more business with them. When I receive an email for a print bid that was clearly sent to 20 other printers I can already assume I’m not getting the project. Maybe my price will be on point occasionally and I’ll win a few projects, but in this scenario, I clearly haven’t established any value with the customer and all I’m doing is bidding on printing.

Now assuming you actually make the cut above, there are probably only a few printers left to battle against. So how do you determine who is the Iron Chef out of the remaining lot? On Iron Chef, 30 of the 60 points are for taste and quality of the meal. I think it goes without saying that if you can’t consistently produce a quality print project with good image reproduction, color, cross-overs, trim and binding, then you’re not going to be an Iron Chef. Does it have to be the best of the best in quality? This depends on the buyer, but most of the time no. It needs to be good enough though. If quality isn’t your forte, then you better be great at everything else you do. Iron Chef also presents 15 points for presentation and 15 points for originality. With presentation, how often are you communicating the exact status of a project throughout production? Are your projects produced with a high level of professionalism and is the communication always on point? On the point of originality, what is it that makes your company so different that someone is compelled to work with you? What new ideas do you bring to the table that make your customers look like geniuses?

All of the points are part of the bigger picture and the overall experience that defines who and who isn’t an Iron Chef of the printing world. However, there are still two more remaining key points that I strongly believe should be a given: meeting critical ship dates and responding to problems immediately.

On the cooking TV show, if the Iron Chef doesn’t produce in the allotted 60 minute time, they’re probably not going to win. To meet the time, they make sacrifices and constantly make quick decisions to change the course of their dish. For a printer and ship dates, while all may be important, you are going to miss a few. The key is to make sure you meet the ones that count. Are you anticipating ahead of time if a date is in jeopardy? Are you heading the problem off by offering solutions that let your customers react and adjust schedules on their end? What is the financial cost and impact of a missed deadline? To be an Iron Chef in printing you need to proactively minimize the pain of not meeting a ship date.

In addition to meeting deadlines, you must be address issues immediately. In a custom manufacturing world, things happen and we get that. What makes someone an Iron Chef of printing though is by making sure that if something does go wrong, then the rep is going to work non-stop until the issue is fixed. This sounds like common sense but too many times issues are confronted with the attitude of hide the dirt, throw money at the problem or sorry let the customer deal with it. It is amazing that people are scared to enthusiastically take ownership of issues. How you handle problems directly impacts your quality, presentation and originality. How issues are handled is often the only real difference for a print rep to be the Iron Chef of printing or just another printer.