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Marchand--Good News / Bad News

October 1998
I love those old good news-bad news jokes. In the best of them, the bad is unexpectedly derived from the good. On close examination, what seems at first glance to be good news turns out to be a mixed blessing, sometimes even a grotesque outcome. The humor comes from the disparity between what we at first expect and what we then learn.

Well, there's good news for marketers in the printing industry. And, predictably, the good news is also the bad news.

After two decades of struggle during the '70s and '80s, marketing won widespread acceptance in the printing industry. Few printing executives doubt the important role of marketing communications in helping increase sales. Everyone seems in agreement.

It is increasingly more difficult for reps without marketing support to keep customers informed about their companies' new and ever more complex capabilities. Moreover, print buyers are no longer the only people in customers' organizations with whom printing companies must communicate.

And it helps, everyone now agrees, if the printing company is a familiar name, branded even before reps initiate contact with a prospect organization. As a result of all this, printing companies routinely have a marketing line in their annual budgets.

Marketing is now firmly entrenched as a synonym for what in more innocent times used to be called self-promotion: capability brochures, publicity, direct mail, Web sites. Occasionally, it extends to advertising and a multitude of sins hidden in the term "customer communications." That's the good news.

At long last, marketers have gained respectability for their craft, or at least for parts of it, not only customer communications but also the tools of sales and marketing automation (so-called). Cause for celebration, wouldn't you say? Well, yes…and no.

The bad news and the joke lie hidden in an innocuous phrase in the preceding paragraph: "at least for parts of it." Some important pieces are missing, and without them, the creature printing executives call marketing is blind and deaf, if not stillborn. Cruel metaphors, but applicable.

If I'm right, fellow marketers, it's not yet time to congratulate ourselves. It's not the top of the ninth inning, nor are we 10 runs ahead. If we measure our efforts by the standards of other industries, what we call marketing lags considerably. And, it should be mentioned, those other industries include companies providing alternatives to print.

Our customers need print and will continue to need it. That's another piece of good news. But how much do we know—industry by industry, customer by customer—about the nature of their needs? Particularly in fast-changing industries. (I can't think of any industries that are not being revolutionized by digital technology.)

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