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Marchand--Now's Your Chance to Integrate Operations

December 1998
The good news: There's breathing room. The bad news: The breathing is difficult.

For the first time in more than a decade, there appears to be no entirely new printing technology perched just over the horizon. Printing executives have been given a breathing spell—time to integrate into their manufacturing and marketing operations the innovations that have engaged them ever since the arrival of desktop publishing.

In many quarters, this is a welcome development, leaving sales and marketing managers with the time to think about how they'll get laggard customers to avail themselves of capabilities that are poorly understood and little used. This is a task of Herculean proportions.

Take as an example the enormously difficult marketing problems created by the improved short-run efficiency of conventional presses. The ante is raised still further by fully digital presses with versioning and customization capabilities added to their short-run efficiency.

As this equipment came out of beta and into daily use, it soon became apparent that customers have a difficult time understanding and acting on the advantages these presses confer. (It might be helpful to note that for the purposes of this marketing discussion, I make no distinction between copiers and presses, toner and ink, or between conventional and fully digital equipment. The lines separating them are increasingly blurred and, seen from a marketing perspective, the differences will decrease still more in the years immediately ahead.)

Resistant Buyers
In corporate organizations, print production and print buying staff work within a prevailing paradigm. They seek to maximize the process as it came to be understood early in this decade. They are not paid to be marketers.

Already familiar with e-mail and soon thereafter with digital production, buyers and production staff were able to understand and adopt file transmission technology, even if more reluctantly than expected.

These technologies eventually speeded up and eased a complex process at a time when buyers were under unrelenting time pressure.

Short-run conventional and fully digital presses pose a different kind of challenge. To realize their benefits, customers must develop a new approach to marketing their products and services. Print buyers perceive the opportunities only dimly, if at all. They are not empowered to address such questions and, if they were, are likely to resist what may appear to be a threatening change.

Put simply, the applications of digital technology in this aspect of the print manufacturing process have outrun not merely customer utilization but their understanding too. Hence the difficult breathing in commercial printing companies that have adopted the technology but find it difficult to sell.



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