Today's Buyers Seek Full-Service, Omnichannel Approach by Printing Companies
When the word “omnichannel” is used in the printing industry, nine times out of 10, it is referring to the marketing, direct mail, and/or transpromo side of the business. The omnichannel approach to branding, however, is spreading to encompass every printed component, which means printing companies of all types can no longer afford to ignore the concept or fail to find ways to integrate it into their own business models.
Brands are no longer looking to have their marketing splintered and fractured across platforms and segments. The direct mail and promotional materials need to match their mobile app and landing pages, which need to match banners, posters, and even billboards and bus wraps. Everything from the color matching to the messaging has to be cohesive, which is challenging enough when considering the vast numbers of substrates, inks, and printing processes that may be involved, nevermind trying to coordinate it through multiple specialists.
In the past, that coordination was a given. A brand or agency would turn to a direct marketing printer for direct mail pieces, a wide-format printer to handle the large-format prints, and then a digital house to design and implement the app. Perhaps even a web staff was charged with designing and maintaining the online presence.
Today, however, brands are looking to have fewer touchpoints with fewer providers — they want one shop that can offer it all. The omnichannel approach to branding is, in fact, a major driving factor of the convergence of the print world as shops stretch themselves outside of their traditional boxes in order to serve the specific messaging channels their particular client list prefers.
“There is convergence going on, whether [printers] recognize it or not,” Jacki Hudmon, VP of sales and marketing, Komori America, says. “The shops taking advantage of it will be the winners. For example, people who do a lot of wide-format are calling on brand owners and marketing people to get their messages out, and now saying ‘oh, by the way, while I’m there I can do those brochures, or direct mail, as well.’ They are taking a different approach to selling their product and realizing they can sell an entire portfolio of goods.”
Responding to the Diverse Needs of Clients
Taking the concept of omnichannel and putting it into practice won’t look the same for every print service provider (PSP). Omnichannel encompasses marketing communications in every shape and form, and each shop will need to spend the time getting to know their specific clients’ needs to know which additional services will be the best fit — and the most profitable.
The transition began 20 years ago for 35-year-old, Sussex, Wis.-based Color Ink, when the then-general commercial printer began to focus on serving several specific vertical markets. At that time, notes Todd Meissner, president — whose father first started the business — in-store retail signage and direct mail were the additional services that helped propel the company forward. Ten years later, he says, Color Ink began expanding further, into areas such as folding cartons and merchandising displays.
“The greatest [vertical] for us,” Meissner reveals, “are retail clients who, in addition to providing them in-store graphics and signage, also have us produce their loyalty marketing materials. We do direct mail with coupon offers, or offers specific to repeat customers, for example. They have to be cohesive — the in-store materials have to match the direct mail pieces. They all need to tie together.”
He adds that, in situations like that, it’s not just the messaging that has to be consistent, but the graphical elements all need to look the same. Color Ink operates a six-color Komori Lithrone sheetfed offset press, as well as a Komori Impremia IS29 cut-sheet UV inkjet press and a Fujifilm J Press 720S cut-sheet inkjet press. For wide-format work, the company relies on an Inca Q40i Onset, Inca SpyderX, and an Agfa Jeti Mira LED printer. For finishing, an MGI JETvarnish 3D digital spot UV embellishment system and a Highcon Euclid III digital creasing and cutting machine are also used.
Expand Services to Avoid Sticker Shock
Another PSP, Toronto-based StickerYou, came at the business from a completely different place. The shop started as an online-only business selling wide-format, diecut stickers before eventually expanding its offerings.
Andrew Witkin, founder and CEO of StickerYou, notes that for him, moving into the omnichannel world came about because his online business was changing, in his mind, the way that consumers and businesses alike purchased print. He started his company in 2010, and felt that giving people a better, faster way to communicate their messages, regardless of the platform, was a step in the right direction.
“Those traditional ways of looking at things started to blur,” Witkin says. “It became less about the [printed product], and more about the entire customer experience. We say ‘when and how does a customer need it,’ and then determine how to serve them.”
For Witkin, the journey has taken StickerYou from an online-only operation to the world’s largest retail sticker store, which opened this past summer, serving a niche in the marketing space that he felt was underserved. It allows him to serve both those clients who want to create their marketing messages and place their orders 24/7, as well as those who still seek a personal, in-person experience. Going omnichannel has meant adding additional services, such as vinyl floor decals and labels, but it also means expanding the way Witkin, himself, messages to his own customer base.
Given how broad the definition of omnichannel can be beyond an admonishment that everyone should be thinking about it, where should a typical PSP start? According to Dan Johansen, Ricoh’s marketing manager, commercial printing business, “It starts with having detailed discussions with your customers.”
He notes that, today, many printers simply have too narrow of a focus, taking the print orders as they come in, doing the work, and then sending the invoice. “But it’s the opportunistic business that sits down and asks, ‘What else are you doing? How else do you communicate your message?’”
For brands, Johansen says, the messaging is “precious cargo” that the PSP is being entrusted with. “They care about things like color and message integrity,” he notes. “So, it starts with asking how else are they communicating that message, and how can you help. And then once you start working with those assets, you can identify how to better use them.”
It’s A Brave New World
The key, Komori America’s Hudmon says, echoing Johansen’s advice, is investigating and then responding to the needs of clients. “Delve deeper into your customer base. Try to expand the business — it really is a different model of selling that printers are not accustomed to. It’s going in a different door — the marketing or CMO door is a lot more successful [than the print buyer.] You can provide them with a lot of viable products that help them generate more revenue for their products, increase their response rates, etc.”
The reality is that today, most brands aren’t interested, necessarily, in a specific marketing vehicle. They aren’t starting by deciding they want to do a postcard or create an immersive retail experience. Rather, the starting point is the message itself, and then trying to find the best methodologies for ensuring it reaches the right end-users, at the right time, in the right place.
This is where a printer that has transitioned into an omnichannel visual communications company can shine. Rather than selling print, it becomes more about selling the results, and print is just one of the tools used to get there. But the printer remains the pivotal person in designing and executing that vision.