Thriving as a print provider in the current market environment is challenging, but far from impossible. While the conventional wisdom is that print products are outdated in the age of digital content, you've doubtless seen plenty of evidence to the contrary. That said, it takes a dedicated marketing strategy to break through to customers and become a leading choice in your area or target industry.

It's time to take stock and consider the elements that will maximize the appeal of your print offerings. What makes your company unique and elevates it to first-choice status among a swath of client companies? Once you've honed in on these elements, your marketing will have a focus.

Cost alone is not enough
Printing News columnist Tom Crouser recently delved into an overview of the best practices of print sales. He noted that price is not directly related to sales volume. This means more thought-out tactics are preferable to just cutting your rates across the board to drum up sales. He noted that while there is some correlation between cost of services and their popularity, chopping half off a price tag won't lead to twice as many sales.

Crouser also explained that although the quality of work is important, both this and the fees you charge won't move the needle of customer interest unless you are actively selling your products. People who don't see any marketing may never discover your offerings. You could have the most affordable and best print service lineup in the area but still be passed over if you keep a low profile and don't promote the firm.

The author expressed shock that so many in the printing industry seem hesitant to engage in marketing, especially low-touch efforts such as email campaigns. He noted that reaching out to contacts initially is a more intensive form of sales, and thus it's understandable why some printers don't engage in it, but that printing businesses will have to commit to some form of contact or else fade into obscurity. Whether costs are high or low, marketing is the real make-or-break element of building a print service audience in 2016 – and it doesn't seem likely to change.

When it comes to practical examples, Crouser noted a recent stumble made by a printer he has worked with. The example company set up an online portal at bargain prices, settling for very low profit margins. With little money coming in from its current sales that way, the business has little to invest in sales and, as such, it may have significant trouble attracting its next generation of customers.

Crouser broke down the example by the three variables at the heart of a print marketing strategy – quality of product, price and sales efforts. The test case has an OK product, but a low price and no outreach. He explained that this model is likely not sustainable, and not one that you should pursue with your own company. The exact equation for your business will be unique to your circumstances, but putting some effort into outreach is vital.

Surprising marketing victories
When it comes time to actually create a marketing strategy for your print business, channel selection is one of the most important calls you have to make. According to a recent WhatTheyThink column by Barb Pellow, social media is a great place to promote sales messages. This is a bit counterintuitive, as you are likely selling to other companies, and social networks are more renowned as consumer tools than B2B spaces. That said, Pellow explained that survey respondents attested to success through Twitter, LinkedIn and even YouTube. These channels are constants in modern office life and can carry your brand.

Why is social media such an important component of B2B print outreach? Pellow suggested that the long path to purchase is the focal point, with potential buyers trawling online for information for a long time before making a decision. This means that if you are active on social networks, you have the chance to initiate many conversations and interactions with customers. Your brand's name and imagery will be present at all stages of the fact-finding process, meaning that when it's time to pick a print provider, you will be near the top of the list. Of course, Pellow noted one more important part of sales via social – you should make sure the networks you market on are the ones your client base likes to use.