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Marketing Is What Differentiates Us —Michelson

November 2005
Don't wager your future on that brand-new offset or digital press your company just installed. Or even on those value-added, non-print services you've decided to embrace. They may help grow your business in the long run, but are no immediate sure bet if not supported by ongoing marketing efforts that help entice existing clients and prospects to buy your various service offerings.

Differentiation, even if just perception among buyers, will increasingly become the word du jour. As more shops venture into the realm of digital printing and non-print services—and the competitive landscape for these value-added services becomes more crowded—the spoils will go to those most adept at marketing and branding their offerings. If your products and services are perceived as no different from everyone else's, then your only value proposition becomes the ability to offer the lowest price.

It's always been troubling to me that, as an industry, we focus all of our efforts to help customers promote their businesses, but we fail when it comes to aggressively marketing our own products and services. Is it due to our manufacturing mentality whereby we're so enamored by quick machine makereadies, achieving the ultimate dot and applying fancy finishing techniques? We should focus on the various markets we serve, not the products and services we offer. That entails a stronger emphasis on external marketing: Targeted direct mail prospecting campaigns, updated Websites, educational seminars and newsletters, customer testimonials, as well as printed collateral that doesn't just highlight equipment lists.

Most marketing experts believe that the process should begin with developing a thorough knowledge of your customers' businesses. Obviously, you can't advise clients on ways to do their jobs better, save them money or boost their revenues if you don't have a solid understanding of the markets in which they compete. Analyze their future needs by attending trade shows and conferences for their industries, reading their trade magazines, and conducting short market research and customer feedback surveys.

If you don't already have a qualified person in a marketing capacity, seriously consider hiring a professional to lead the charge. Or, at the least, build a team consisting of key people within your operation to initiate programs. If you're the owner, don't automatically assume the lead role. Since you live and breathe your own company, it's probably harder for you to view things solely from clients' perspectives. Frequency and continuity of message are also key, so don't limit marketing efforts to one big splash followed by long dormant periods. Ongoing efforts, even if less creative or sophisticated, are better than an obsession to create one ultimate marketing campaign.

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