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Marchand--Advertising - The Unexamined Option

April 1998
A familiar declaration, usually delivered in emphatic tones: Advertising doesn't work for commercial printing companies!

Heard that before? I have. Often. It's a truism—a seemingly self-evident statement likely to be called into question only by rookie marketers.

No one likes to be a novice, wet behind the ears, unaware of what works and what doesn't, not really knowing how to do the things that matter. And so, in many printing companies, advertising is an unexamined option, seldom considered by marketing and sales executives.

The belief that advertising holds no benefit for commercial printers is so strong that a surprising number of specialty printers, with highly focused and readily targeted markets, routinely devote little of their communications and sales promotion budgets to advertising.

Truisms and conventional wisdom have something in common. There is good reason to accept them. For example, it's easy to see how people built a case that the Earth is flat.

When I look out my window, the Earth's curvature isn't apparent. What I see is a flat plane broken by mountains and valleys, not a globe. So what does the evidence suggest?

The likelihood that advertising won't work for commercial printers also seems self-evident. Here are frequently cited reasons.

1) It's expensive. The CPM (cost per thousand audience members) may be affordable, but who wants to pay for the many readers or viewers who have nothing to do with print design, production or purchasing?

2) The customer base is too diverse. It cannot be targeted because every existing organization buys from commercial printers. Businesses in every industry—non-profits and associations of all kinds—require printed materials.

3) The media don't match the geography. Even large, national printing companies may provide uneven coverage; they do much business in some major markets and little in others. Moreover, most printing companies are regional. For both national and regional printers, the areas from which customers are drawn may match up poorly with available media.

4) The results can't be measured. Spending a lot of dollars for an uncertain return on investment doesn't accord well with a systematic approach to management.

5) Commercial printers are look-alikes. Advanced digital capabilities, high-quality printing, shortened production cycles and high service are wide-spread. The absence of significant differentiation or even a distinctive selling proposition makes plausible ad messages similar to one another.

6) Print buyers don't respond to advertising. Print sales are based on relationships. Nothing can replace the trust created during the face-to-face interaction of the sales rep and the customer.


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