Marchand--Digital Investments - Production vs. Client Comm.
When I ask printing executives about how digital technology has changed their companies, most focus exclusively on production issues. That's hardly surprising in a manufacturing environment.
Digital capabilities have improved file management, prepress services, press work, finishing and distribution—providing significant gains in quality as well as overall production speed. Explaining the need to adopt this advanced production technology is a no-brainer: When used correctly, it will permit your company to operate more efficiently and, therefore, make the company more competitive. That's easy to understand—even self-evident.
But there are other changes that are worth our attention. The impact of digital technology on your company's work also includes customer communications, and sometimes the justification for improved customer communications is not so obvious. Yet how you are able to communicate with clients determines not only how well you work with them, but also how they are found and even the kind of companies with which you work.
Are your customers located at a greater average distance than in the past? Do you meet with them less often or more? How do you communicate with them, besides print and telephone? Perhaps you use e-mail, or have a Web site? Are your customers' organizations larger or smaller than in the past? Is your involvement with them about jobs sold one at a time? Or does your work with customers go beyond print manufacturing and distribution?
What do your answers to these questions reveal? Is your company improved by how it has changed itself in recent years? Maybe it's larger; I hope it's more profitable. Perhaps the company also provides wider horizons and increased opportunities for its employees, even more interesting work.
But what about the customers' points of view? Do they find your company improved? I suspect that if customers see your company as a better provider, it has a lot to do with communications.
Golden Gate Opportunities
I'll use my small marketing company to provide an example. We're located in San Francisco's Multimedia Gulch, just a few miles north of the Silicon Valley and purportedly the epicenter of innovation in the world of digital communications technology and content: the Internet, telecom, video, CD, print—in all their combinations and permutations.
Sometimes the location makes me feel that I have my finger on the pulse of innovation, especially as it affects marketing for companies in the printing industry. Other times I think our presence in San Francisco is only of limited relevance to the work done by my firm or any other business that makes significant use of digital technology.
We've had a network, a LAN, since the late '80s. Internet access and e-mail were brought to the desk and home of every single employee more than six years ago. Our Web site has been up for almost as long. Not bad for a small firm with hardly more than a handful of employees.
Does our location in the Gulch have much to do with our use of technology? Perhaps we're earlier adopters than we would be if we were located in some other setting, but not necessarily. I recently encountered an ad agency located in Montana and a marketing firm in Oklahoma. Neither serve clients in industries that are early adopters, yet both are making sophisticated use of digital communications.
Is my firm's work better because of our use of digital communications? In some areas, the answer is an unambiguous yes. We work with clients in geographically remote locations, all across the United States and abroad in Europe and Asia. In a few days we'll do our first video conference. Our perspective has been changed by this—broadened and deepened—making us undoubtedly better at strategic thinking for our clients.
Perhaps more important, our access to data is exponentially increased. As a result, the speed and quality of our research work are substantially improved. The marketing communications—print and digital—that we develop for clients benefit in time and quality from the same capabilities.
Similar claims can be made for several printing companies located in some unexpected areas. I recently visited one in northern Vermont, and two others in southeastern Pennsylvania. All three companies have been as quick to install advanced communications as they have been to develop their digital production capabilities.
How printing companies interact with their customers often gets lost in the rush to adopt new production technology. Yet printing customers are often concerned about the ease and effectiveness of communication with their print providers. If good communication is self-evidently valuable for marketing and sales to prospects, it is often of even greater importance to your work with established customers.
About the Author
Jacques Marchand may be phoned at (415) 357-2929. His firm, Marchand Marketing, provides strategic consulting services, positioning and marketing communications to help companies in the printing industry increase sales. E-mail may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about the firm's work for clients is also available on its Web site, www.marchand.com.
Remembering the Obvious:
- Our customers don't use e-mail.
- We have a close relationship with our clients. They prefer to be visited and phoned.
- Web sites are just glorified billboards.
- We're too small to afford a Web site and e-mail.
- Nobody's making money on the Internet.
There may be many good reasons for smaller and midsize printing companies to resist the use of digital communications, but none of the preceding refrains are among those reasons.
Lead your customers. Don't follow them. Get there before they do and then help them get on-line. The growth in the number of people using the Internet, at home and at work, continues to be exponential.
Web sites, when carefully and creatively developed, are useful tools for job-related communications, both to and from customers. Initial contact via the Internet is an increasingly familiar way for providers and customers to find one another. Getting started can be a low five-figure cost—nowhere near what you're used to spending on equipment.
Don't ignore the obvious. E-commerce is a vehicle that will continue to grow. Find a place for your company in this new world.