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EVP, Marketing at Specialty Print Communications

Against the Grain

By Dustin LeFebvre

About Dustin

A third-generation printer, Dustin LeFebvre delivers his vision for Specialty Print Communications as EVP, Marketing through strategy, planning and new product development. With a rich background ranging from sales and marketing to operations, quality control and procurement, Dustin takes a wide-angle approach to SPC


Key to Image Marketing Success

Many sourcing consultants and print intermediaries make their livings attempting to convert what we do into a commodity. How successful they are will always be an arm wrestling match. But whether or not our products and services are commodities—that answer is much clearer.

What we deliver are custom manufactured products and services. Each project is different, and typically, each piece is dynamically driven by complex data modeling and sophisticated variable printing technology. While some products can be compressed into spreadsheets and rate cards, many others just can’t be pinned down.

What we deliver cannot be traded on global markets or manufactured in a continuous process. It is neither steel nor grain nor copper. Being a commodity producer is not a strategy for what we do. Have you ever heard of a printer claiming to be a “commodity producer?”

If one ever claimed such a folly, they probably mangled their intended strategy, which is to be a low-cost provider. While our industry is competitive, it is wickedly fragmented. If low-cost provider is your strategy, how will you achieve it? I’m sure you’re committed to high-volume, but are there other competitors who can commit to even higher volume? How difficult will it be for someone to leap frog your cost advantage, even if you managed to accomplish your strategy in the short run? Good luck with being a low-cost provider; only one in 20,000 will win.

Which brings us to the strategy most of us employ: image marketing. That probably sounds odd to most of us, even counterintuitive. We printers aren’t typically good marketers. Oftentimes, we fumble over our words to define what we do and to explain what value we offer.

This is the magic realization: our strategy is image marketing.

And if image marketing is our strategy, we need to do a better job executing. First, what is our image? Are we better, cheaper, or both? Or, are we different? Then, what will it cost us to create and maintain this image against the backdrop of a fickle customer?

The key to success in the image marketing game is the same as it is for all brand marketers—defining a brand that is real, credible, and valuable to our audience. Real, because our customers are smart and will see through fakery. It needs to be real. Similarly, it needs to be credible and it needs to be authentic. And lastly, it needs to be valuable in that our brand needs to be meaningfully beneficial to our customers in achieving their own goals. If we offer a “brand” that is real, credible and valuable, we’ll never fall into the commodity trap.

We printers have chastised ourselves repeatedly over the years for not developing and communicating our marketing strategy. But did we know at the time that we were not just failing in one function of our business, we were neglecting our dominant strategy?

The game of brokers and supply chain cost consultants will go on. But we printers are not selling commodities and only one of us will be a low-cost producer. It’s time we started paying a little more attention to our image marketing. When we do, our brands will be rich with purpose and meaning, and our lone strong strategy will convince our customers of our value. Only then will the game be won.

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