Written by Howie Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant, NAPL

Print 13

While there were a lot of differences between this year’s Print show and last year’s Graph Expo – one thing that was wildly consistent was that you could not walk in any direction on the show room floor without hearing a presentation about how to introduce and offer marketing services. It seemed like everywhere you turned, you could hear presentations from everyone about how printers can offer marketing services.

Walking around the show room floor this year, I heard many of these presentations. I did not make a presentation on this subject last year but two years ago I made a presentation entitled, “Transforming from PSP- MSP: Print Service to Marketing Service Provider, A Step by Step Roadmap.” Before offering the same presentation this year, I interviewed companies who made the transition to see if there were any common denominators among those that were successful.

If you attended any of these seminars, the strategy you most often heard is one I call the “strategic planning process.” But that’s only one of three different ways that companies have succeeded in offering more marketing services. Another I call is a “market-based approach” and another I refer to as a “operations-based evolution.”

When talking to companies who have succeeded with either the market or operations based approach, I ask why they didn’t pursue the strategic planning process. I’ve learned that the strategic planning process has a bad reputation. Many are afraid of the time and costs associated with this process. In talking to companies that pursued the strategic planning approach, some did report time-consuming and expensive processes but others reported that it only required a few days.

Those that took longer periods were generally larger sized companies who hired professional facilitators to accelerate the process. Folks that reported less time and financial commitments described their own shoestring strategies that included taking courses at local colleges, buying software, watching videos, and reading books.

In the market-based approach, companies base their strategy on their customers’ needs. Some referred to this as listening to the voice of your customer. There are many different ways to understand your customers’ needs and many people described using surveys, focus groups, and one-to-one meetings. In the soon to be released NAPL 2013 State of the Industry Research, when asked “What are you doing to better understand what’s really most important to your best clients?” the number one answer was, “meeting more frequently on an owner to owner basis.”

The next strategy, which I call “operations based evolution,” is not easy to explain but it makes sense once you hear someone talk about. One company talked about how they decided to stop outsourcing  mailing. Simply put they had enough work to justify equipment and staff and it was straightforward and easy. Others reported that the new service was simply a natural extension or evolution of their other services.  The company that added mailing said it made them more competitive by offering one-stop shopping and resulted in winning more work. Another talked about offering design services which helped them reduce errors in the prepress department. Another talked how offering variable data printing was a simple addition after offering addressing services.

While not conclusive, these three strategies are real life. The question is which, if any, will work best for you? The operations strategy just works. You discover a need, have some experience fulfilling that need, can justify the investment, make it work and it becomes a natural extension of your other services. The marketing approach  is a natural extension for companies with a sales and customer service focus. The strategic planning process is what most experts agree is the best strategy. It combines the ideas from both the operations and marketing  strategies. If you’re reluctant because you’re afraid you can’t afford the time or the money, just remember: the less expensive options including night courses, software, videos and books.

Have you tried any of these strategies? If so, what’s your opinion about the effectiveness?


Howie Fenton is a consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers and in-plants on bench-marking performance against industry leaders, increasing productivity, and adding digital and value services through customer research. For more information click here.