In recent years, printing has evolved – not died, as some preemptively claimed. The market is now focused on all the things print can do for clients, with service providers becoming the partners and intermediaries guiding these strategies, especially when they're based in marketing. If you're in the printing industry, you've obviously witnessed this movement. The question now is how to change and develop your practices and offerings to more effectively suit the new status quo.

If you're still operating the same way print service providers worked before the digitally driven era, you're missing out on clear opportunities to be helpful to your clients. Lasting contracts – ones that deliver value over time – are based on providing help with the challenges client firms face. Sticking with outdated business models won't help you make this kind of progress. Fortunately, the path to modernizing your offerings and client relationships is becoming clearer.

Embracing data now
Becoming data-driven is a tenet of modern printing business operations. The key is applying this principle to physical media, merging your legacy projects with the pace and style of modern business. This is why WhatTheyThink's Barb Pellow recently urged print service providers to begin working with clients' data, driving their print marketing strategies using modern methods instead of forcing the companies to do this themselves or opting out of advanced metric use entirely.

As always, becoming an indispensable partner to a company means meeting its needs. Pellow noted that organizations today are unsure of the value their marketing strategies generate and are interested in attributing business to particular channels. If you can offer this kind of number crunching, you've noticeably increased the value of your services. You can build such functionality on top of the client relationships and marketing strategies you've already forged.

Becoming a multi-channel marketing partner may not have been in your plans when you began to operate in the print sector. However, with integrated and focused marketing strategies becoming cornerstones of organizations' efforts, it's clear that this is an opportunity worth seizing.

Pellow specified that more than half of direct mail marketers today are using data to drive their campaigns, but 41 percent think there is room for improvement in how they crunch their numbers. Stepping in as the kind of marketing partner that can design and organize a direct mail campaign, provide actionable intelligence about it and tie it in with next-generation platforms such as social media is a contemporary way to excel as a print service provider.

Entering the analytics stream
The way marketing assets are chosen, purchased and deployed appears to be changing, even beyond the seismic differences seen since the digital revolution. Another WhatTheyThink columnist, Joe Webb, recently predicted that printers will have to find their value as part of a new media landscape, one where new approaches are decided quickly and are based on streams of incoming data. Failure to reckon with this flood of information could leave print service providers out of the loop.

The modern methods of measuring marketing impact have become more effective than ever, and Webb believes that current worries about the decline in digital marketing growth are merely based on companies spending their money more prudently. Organizations budget to favor channels with provable return on investment, rather than being reckless. This is good news for those departments, but it sends confusing messages about marketing spend and underlines the fact that print providers will have to find a place in the data-driven world.

Speaking of entrance into this new style of marketing channel selection, Webb mentioned that service providers will have to meet their clients halfway and "wade into their analytic stream." Being a printer means finding a new role, one that can respond quickly to client needs. Accessing real-time data and becoming aware of the current state of the market are much better ideas than sitting back and waiting for client firms to send requests.

Alive and changing
The new role of print service providers isn't a surprise of a new development. Some form of this transformation in duties has been happening since the initial rise of the web. What's important is that print providers find a way to keep up with their clients, and take an active role in important marketing-based discussions instead of being a mere item in the tool kit.