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Farquharson/Tedesco on Business Development: Summer Course About Branding

August 2013

Start by finding out exactly what they do think. Identify a representative cross-section of customers and have them do the brand attributes exercise we mentioned earlier, describing the three words or phrases they most strongly associate with your company. Have them do the same for your key competitors.

This useful exercise can help you identify issues or inconsistencies with your brand. Are you the "innovative" brand, but "traditional" came to mind first for many customers? Perhaps your Website does a poor job communicating your forward-thinking mentality.

To close the gap between your brand identity and how customers perceive you, focus on delivering stronger, more memorable brand impressions. Keep your branded communications short and compelling, and make sure every one answers the question "why should my customers care?"

No matter how hard you work to convince every customer you're A, some will always think you're B or C. That's OK. Focus on what you can control­—your own branding activities.

Branding 301

Ironically, our most advanced branding course involves trying to answer the most basic of questions. In 2013, what does a printer call itself?

Seems like an easy question. Is it? The printing marketplace has changed and, today, customers rely on us for much more than printing ink on paper. Today, printing businesses offer everything from fulfillment and supply-chain management to interactive cross-media solutions.

When is a printer no longer a printer? If marketing services account for 30 percent of your business, can you call yourself a marketing services provider? How would branding yourself with such a "non-printer" label impact how customers view you?

Let's look closer at a few possible labels for today's printer.

Printer: The traditional label sells most of us short. Even the rare printer that's still 100 percent ink-and-paper services offers many things (problem solving, reliability) that "printer" doesn't connote. For the many printers that do much more than print, this label is even less accurate.

Let's be honest, "printer" sounds like a commodity. It sounds like something that does something, not something that helps someone. As a standalone term, "printer" is inadequate to describe most printers today.

Marketing Services Provider: More and more printers are calling themselves MSPs. During the past few years folks in our industry have debated whether this label goes too far. Are printers calling themselves MSPs in part because they're looking to downplay—or obscure completely—their core printer identities?

Admittedly, "marketing services provider" is a far cry from "printer." But are MSPs really just trying to hide their printing roots? That's a cynical interpretation. More likely, MSPs, like many of us, are struggling to come up with a label that accurately represents all they can do. MSP, for whatever reason, has caught on with many printers.

Unfortunately, MSP is deeply flawed as a brand label. For one, it's vague. What exactly does a "marketing services provider" do? Printers call themselves MSPs, in part, to avoid getting pigeonholed. Ironically, they might end up facing the opposite problem: being perceived as an amorphous jack-of-all-trades.

Calling yourself an MSP may confuse customers. Long-time customers who still think of you primarily as a printer may wonder whether you even offer printing anymore. It's certainly not clear from the MSP label. And new prospects may assume that you offer a wider variety of marketing services than you actually do. Once created, these perceptions—like other customer perceptions of your brand—may be difficult to change.

Media Solutions Provider: This label relates more closely to printing than "marketing services provider," yet it doesn't pigeonhole your business. Print is a medium, and most of the services printers are diversifying into involve media in one way or another. "Media solutions provider," then, creates a logical bridge between the printing part of your business and everything else, a bridge that "marketing services provider" does not create. The "media solutions provider" label is not perfect either—you could argue that it sounds like a company that makes DVDs and Blu-Rays—but it does a decent job splitting the difference between what printers have done, what they do now and what they aspire to do. It's specific, yet flexible.

There's no one-size-fits-all label for printers. To answer the question "what do I call myself," be honest about your company's strengths. If marketing is truly a core competency, perhaps the MSP label fits. If you're a printer looking to diversify, an ambitious label like media solutions provider is OK. Just make sure you're going in the right direction—and that you don't leave your loyal print-only customers behind.

Knowing the branding "basics," you can create a compelling brand that your customers may or may not give a hoot about. Want to form brand impressions that last? Understand what customers really think about your brand, and learn how to properly position it in our ever-changing industry. You won't find these branding lessons in any textbook, but they're integral to creating a brand that succeeds in the real world. PI

About the Authors

T.J. Tedesco is team leader of Grow Sales, a marketing and PR services company that has served graphic arts companies since 1996. He wrote "Direct Mail Pal 2012" and seven other books. Contact Tedesco at (301) 294-9900 or e-mail Bill Farquharson is the president of Aspire For. Through his Sales Challenge and Tuesday eWorkshop training programs, Farquharson can help drive your sales. Visit his Website at or call him at (781) 934-7036.



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