Written by Howard Fenton, Senior Technology Consultant at NAPL

The PSP-MSP controversy is rearing its ugly head again. The controversy is about Print Service Providers (PSP) becoming Marketing Services Providers (MSP) or offering more marketing services. This is not a new discussion. I wrote about this as the first blog I wrote on this site in February and it was recently discussed on the Greensheet site.

If you’re not familiar with the Greensheet, it’s a Kiplinger-style overview of industry news, which was recently rebranded as GreensheetBIZ and is under new management. My colleague Ray Prince has been appointed president. But since it’s a member-only site that not everyone can access, I will quote some of the article.

The article is entitled “Hype? Are you buying into being a marketing service provider?”. The article quotes Bill Lamparter from PrintCom Consulting Group. “The suggestion for printers to convert their business from that of printing to become a marketing service provider is, in my opinion, grossly over-hyped,” says Lamparter. “It is not a real trend because few printers are making this move and most do not have the knowledge, resources or inclination to be a marketing-oriented company.”

I am not sure I totally agree with my old friend Bill. For some companies, offering marketing services may be alien and controversial, but for other printing companies it is a way of life. We have been saying for years that the value and volume of printing services alone is difficult to sustain and every year we are discovering more and more companies offering marketing services.

As the value and volume of selling print continues to decline, we recommend that companies offer more value-added services such as print or web page design, variable data printing (VDP), pURLs, email marketing, QR codes, large format, mailing, fulfillment, etc. Some of these, such as: design for printing, large format, mailing, and fulfillment fall into the traditional product category, while the digital services including web page design, VDP, pURLs, email marketing, and QR codes are more like marketing services.

Which services to add depends on your customers, application mix and strategic vision. If you’re a book printer, you might consider shorter run, on-demand books or e-books. If you’re a quick copy shop successfully selling to local retail stores, design or large format posters and finishing for signs might make sense. And of course, if you work with a lot of companies offering promotional or marketing services then mailing, fulfillment or marketing services may be a strategy to consider.

In preparing a seminar on this subject for Graph Expo, I am planning to discuss a transition of database services from simple services such as addressing, mailing and VDP to other services including email marketing, pURLs, and QR codes.

But in the Greensheet article, Lamparter said that the number of companies creating and producing personalized, individualized and versioned material is exaggerated and over-hyped. “Although print containing variable data can be highly effective, there is very little variable content actually produced. Eighty-five percent to 90 percent of the product coming from a digital printing press contains static content, not variable content.”

The fewer companies offering database services the better, because that means less commoditization or the transformation of goods and services into a low cost commodity.

I would agree that offering more marketing services may not be for all companies, but I can say from experience that there are both commercial and in-plant printers offering more marketing services and creating more value.

If you have access to the WhatTheyThink site, you should read the article from Barb Pellow at Infotrends, which talks about the adoption of marketing services by commercial and in-plant printers.

What are you in this controversy – believer or skeptic?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Technology Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.

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