Can you differentiate your printing business?

Originally posted at http://www.coxstrategic.com/2012/09/20/differentiate-your-printing-business/

Real Talk

Real talk. I’ve seen a lot of it in print industry sources over the last few weeks. It’s refreshing to see some of the industry’s most respected and experienced leaders talk about the realities of the maturing print market and the critical issues that thousands of these small and mid-sized print service providers have to seriously consider.

Wayne Lynn’s excellent article at What They Think last week is a must-read, if you’re even peripherally involved in the print industry. It’s a great strategy primer for the small and mid-sized print business, and specifically addresses the go/no-go decisions that many are facing. Another article posted yesterday covers similar market prediction data. None of these experts are predicting sunshine for the print business, unfortunately.

The Winners Have Already Started Their Transformation

For the last decade, some PSPs have managed to survive and grow in this challenging market by expanding their services and becoming more entangled with their customers, often moving from “print” service provider to “marketing” service provider in the process. Others may have found a specialty niche or advantage and built a business around it. The successful PSPs have added channels, technologies, capabilities, flexibility and new interfaces to surround those print assets with extra value and stickiness. They’ve found and built the valuable role that they play in their customers’ business.

Regardless of which scenario described in Lynn’s article your business is pursuing, from an exit strategy to a grow, consolidate & win strategy, the hard facts are that your print/mail assets and the pages they create have become a commodity that you must continue to surround with other valuable products & services in order to survive, grow, and achieve your business’ target value.

So, I believe that the adaptability that got you here can serve you well going forward.  But it’s critical to realize that the market ecosystem, of which “print” is just a part, is growing and changing at a rapidly accelerating rate.

Keeping It Going

I believe that what the data and predictions are telling us is that there’s an urgent need to think outside of the box, and an opportunity to transform the “print” or even the “marketing” service provider into a “customer experience” service provider. Bringing sharp focus on the complete value that you can deliver to your customers – and to their customers – can help you redefine your business and your market. With a fresh look, some agile print and marketing service providers can leapfrog the “me too” competitive stance, and establish completely new battlefields.

Understanding the Unique Value of Print

First, let’s be clear about the value of print. Printers, especially digital printers, represent a unique and valuable part of the customer experience strategy that your customers want. They are the devices that translate the digital world into the physical world, and the material coming off of them is often the most dominant physical representation of a B2C relationship in today’s increasingly online and mobile world. It’s likely that you spend much more time with a bank statement in front of you at home than you do in the lobby of your bank, for example. Printed “products” are an essential part of the customer experience, and PSPs bring vast knowledge and skill to this part of the equation.

Just One Of Many Customer Experience Tools

But what your customers really want from you is to combine, multiply, and amplify that physical output with an increasing array of electronic outputs, integrated workflows and interfaces, and specialized services. They want a coordinated, integrated experience that allows them to use your capabilities to drive what their customers see, hear, and touch across as many communication channels as you can give them. They see print as just one of many tools in an overall customer experience toolkit, and that means you should begin to see it that way too.

Going Beyond “Multi-Channel”

Customer experience is a concept that encompasses the popular “customer communications management” concepts, and goes beyond them to include a strong focus on how all customer touch points can coordinate in a way that drives the entire lifecycle of the customer’s interaction with the business. It includes business strategies, supporting technologies and workflows that create a compelling consumer experience. Your customers buy from you to create at least part of their customer experience. A real opportunity may lie in helping them (and yourself!) understand how you can deliver a much broader customer experience, that is deeply integrated with their print.

Of course, almost every print customer wants some form of “multi-channel output” as many service providers think of it today – primarily print-centric document streams with associated e-channel delivery (and sometimes, response).

But customers are increasingly setting broader and more comprehensive objectives for a coordinated, compelling customer experience.

They want to break down silos and coordinate their marketing & transactional communications, their online web & mobile presence, their social media content, alerts and messages, their customer and self-service capability, and their ability effectively match the use cases and workflows of their customers. Businesses intuitively understand the value of these things, but need you to provide tangible solutions that demonstrate the value of wrapping them around the physical customer experience of print.

Who Are You, Really?

This is why I believe that, as counter-intuitive as it may sound to a print service provider, one way through the next phase of consolidation and closures of print companies is to stop thinking of yourself as a print company or a marketing service provider, and start thinking of yourself as a customer experience provider, who has the unique value of print in its arsenal.

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