As a print service provider, you have always been responsible for bringing impressive value to your customers – that hasn't changed, even in a world where digital revolutions are constantly reshaping the nature of communication. The fact that your company is still here following the seismic reshaping of the past few decades means there is something about your services that keeps resonating with your audience. The exact nature of the advantages you convey has doubtless changed, but as long as you're not afraid to evolve again, there's no reason to think the printing industry is at the end of its usefulness.
Where are we?
Industry thinker Thad Kubis, writing for Printing Impressions, recently took stock of the overall sector and indicated that survival today means thinking like a marketer. He was quick to assure readers that this doesn't just mean "become a marketing services provider." That advice has been stated several times over the past few years, but considering that the vast majority of customers interviewed in the most recent Print Buyer Survey evaluate their print partners on paper products, it now seems somewhat off-base.
Kubis explained that the key to winning over modern clients who are truly looking for print rather than alternative marketing offerings is to take on a value-based marketing mindset, but root the core business in print itself. Thinking like a marketer means considering what services will be most useful and profitable to clients, innovating with new offerings where necessary and always focusing on the present and future, rather than the past. Leaders who can embrace such a hybrid approach should be able to stake out a place in a sector that is caught between evolution and tradition.
When focusing on print's role in the modern marketing picture, it may be more productive to think in terms of the affirmative: What advantages can you offer customers? This is a more productive question than asking what you can't do, as it points directly to the strategies that could make your organization valuable over the next few years.
Kubis pointed out several trends that have given print a way forward in the years following its "death" at the hands of digital marketing and communications. Perhaps most prominently, millennials have come to value print as an addition to campaigns, which should elicit a sigh of relief from any printer who believed the retirement of the baby boomer generation would doom every provider. Furthermore, direct mail has retained its value as an outreach method.
Easier to adapt
When it comes to bridging the digital divide and becoming attentive to modern marketing needs, print providers may be poised to make the leap. As WhatTheyThink contributor Jennifer Bergin pointed out, creating hybrid strategies based in both digital and print methods is a tricky task, and it tends to go better when print service providers perform the mixture, compared to when digital marketers decide to embrace physical media. This is one advantage printers shouldn't be afraid to tout when promoting their marketing expertise.
Digital-first marketing agencies have burst onto the scene in the past few years, offering outreach on platforms including mobile devices. This has positioned them to excel – in some regards. If their efforts to engage with consumers through print falter, this is an excellent chance for companies within the traditional print business to restate their value and territory. Whether taking the lead in a campaign or acting as an expert on a single topic, print service providers can enter the marketing mix through their expertise with their unique and specialized offerings.
Ask what's next
There are still opportunities for printing companies to excel, and there will doubtless be more in the years ahead. The main mistake you could make now would be to stop inquiring after these chances, investigating your customers' needs and always adapting. Treating the current market as an end state that will last for decades would be a mistake – just as it would have been wrong to do so in the '90s.
Whether it's becoming a physical media expert in a strategy that crosses media channels or embracing a back-to-basics role as a provider of effective mail-outs supported by digital data, a print service provider can find a niche today. Searching out these chances to help is a valuable habit for leaders to get into.