Cross-media Services: Tomorrow’s Tools Today
NOT TO lean on your paranoia button, but it seems forces are aligning against you, the printer, conspiring to take away market share by taking your communications channel and making it obsolete. The time to mobilize, unfortunately, is now.
Don't get us wrong...no one's getting panicky with the Chicken Little sky-is-falling, print-is-dying doomsday talk. However, when there's a revolution taking place, it is important to be leading the charge and not getting trampled by stampeding competitors.
What in the name of Mike does that have to do with printing? Here's the way this observer interprets the revolution: Moving into a marketing/technology space other than putting ink or toner on paper doesn't mean thou has forsaken printing, nor does thou need to. But you do need a little more mobility to the right and the left, and you need it ASAP.
This is where cross-media services come into play. Is it variable data digital printing, sprinkled with personalized URLs (PURLs), microsites, e-mail campaigns or video? Sure. It's integrated marketing solutions. And now it's falling into your lap, whether you like it or not.
Decide How Far to Leap
But ask yourself: Do you want to take variable data printing to the next level? And do you want to continue operating in this space? Well, then you really don't have any choice, because your customers are getting into the habit of seeking out solutions in an aggressive manner. What you need to do is take a look at what degree print players in your particular geographic/market segment are offering cross-media services, and decide to what degree you would like to become involved.
This isn't some thinly veiled attempt to make you reach for the corporate check book. Think about your magazine/publication printing buddies who picked up the trade papers and learned that heavyweight publishers Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp. and Time Inc. teamed up to develop open standards for a new digital storefront and related technology that will allow consumers to access media content on portable digital devices. The long-term consequences of such a move may be extremely tangible in the consumer publication space, perhaps even game-changing.
The role of a printer is growing into strange, but necessary, worlds that, in the end, will help to reinforce the print aspect of the client's overall marketing campaign. And print does have a place...still, many companies are finding that place entails sharing the stage and letting different aspects of a marketing campaign complement and feed one another.
Michael Marcian Jr., director of marketing strategy for Landover, MD-based Corporate Press, notes that his company's cross-media offerings fall under the umbrella of "variable data communications strategies." They entail customized Websites, microsites, personalized e-mail campaigns, variable video, personalized direct mail and inbound/outbound telemarketing.
"We find every client, large or small, will benefit from building a profile on each and every one of its customers or prospects," Marcian explains. "This profile will allow us to upsell their current customers while understanding the needs of prospects, which should reduce the acquisition cost of adding new customers."
Cost justification is a key, Marcian notes, and when clients are willing to share transactional data, Corporate Press can provide an ROI analysis. Ironically, he feels it's far easier to sell printing when "the conversation is about everything but the printed pages. Ideas generate profitable print and, the more effective your ideas, the more you can charge for your time and output."
Corporate Press' marketing department, not sales, is tasked with conveying the value of a marketing program to a potential or existing client, according to Marcian. Once the proper point of entry (the person who influences the marketing budget) has been established and lines of communication have been opened, Corporate Press' marketing team works its magic.
For now, Corporate Press' shift isn't so linked to product as it is to buyer. "We've made a fundamental shift to build loyalty through intellectual resources, which are lost at the print buyer level," Marcian notes. "This approach doesn't hurt the relationship at the print buyer level, but the sale is made at the executive level. The majority of our new accounts has been generated by the new approach, rather than with selling the traditional price, quality and turnaround."
A few printers/integrated marketing solutions providers have quickly ascended to the top of the cross-media mountain, not the least of which is Mosaic, of Cheverly, MD. Joel Zelepsky, senior vice president of sales and marketing, says his company's five-year foray started out with variable data and image printing, and demonstrating to customers the power that can be found in a database.
With an eye on putting info to better use, the variable data produced direct mail, which led to PURLs, temporary sites and microsites. The PURL would come in the form of a postcard, sending recipients to a landing page. As its staff of programmers grew, Mosaic found it easier to broaden its contribution to the electronic aspect of an integrated marketing solution. It opened the door to Web hosting and Web surveying, followed closely by Web-based storefronts for sophisticated Web-to-print vehicles. Mosaic also offers Cyprus, a Web-based digital asset management solution that provides clients 24/7 storage and access to a client's photo gallery, so to speak.
"It's been evolutionary for us, and we're finding that it's becoming more the norm," Zelepsky notes. "You hear the term solution provider; we're actually a solution consultant in cross-media. We are all-inclusive from print to the Web, and everything in between, from the start of a client's list to the delivery/mailing of it. It's been growing and we feel it's where the future lies.
"Print will play just as important a role as the other elements of cross-media," he adds. "It's more controlled, more defined, and not as much guessing. Our customers know their demographics. They're targeting certain areas, looking for reactions. They're counting on us to print pieces that will cause those reactions. And they're counting on our Websites to record that information accurately, so clients can make intelligent marketing decisions on what they want to sell."
Customers utilizing Mosaic's cross-media services from stem to stern, not surprisingly, are the sophisticated, marketing-savvy clients whose databases have captured critical information far downstream from name/address data. The second wave constitutes what Zelepsky terms as "wannabes," who have started collecting detailed data toward that end and are picking Mosaic's brain for methods of obtaining downstream information.
Selling cross-media services has been an evolutionary process for Mosaic, and certainly not without its growing pains. The world of printing had been a comfortable, familiar one for sales and internal staff alike. Cross-media services has its own language and knowledge sets, which is intimidating at first. It wasn't a super quick study, but now everyone on Mosaic's staff can talk the tech talk.
"We had many frustrating conversations wondering what we were going to do to get us up to square," Zelepsky says. "Usually, you get several major projects, you share them among the sales team, and the light bulbs start going off. They say, 'oh my gosh, this isn't so bad.' It's now become part of our tools for selling."
Spend Money to Make It
He notes that the investment cross-media services entails is somewhat significant, covering the cost of a digital press, programmers, an on-site color engineer, software...and even more software. It's an ongoing investment in people and technology; software upgrades are required about every six months. Zelepsky estimates that Mosaic's five-year outlay totals "in the millions."
If the value proposition of cross-media needs to be explained to some print providers, then how many print buyers require a crash course? Leo Farrell, president of The National Group, located in Lafayette, IN, admits that his company hasn't really established itself in the cross-media realm yet. The company does provides PURLs, landing pages and e-mail blasts as a complement to its digital and offset printing capabilities.
But, for now, the services don't touch a major segment of clients. "We wanted to offer some online marketing services, and PURLs seemed to be a perfect tie-in," Farrell says. "It's an affordable option that can offer a small business or organization measurable and trackable results for target lists of 500 and up."
In the early stages of cross-media offerings, The National Group has managed to procure offset and digital printing work—both black-and-white and color—in conjunction with the campaigns. Selling it, however, has been quite a challenge. The outside reps haven't found a comfort level yet, Farrell says. As a result, some staffing changes have been made to reflect candidates with more of a marketing background.
Farrell is excited about the possibility of getting the word out across his client base about The National Group's latest product and service offerings, and believes that a few case studies will help build toward generating work to new clientele, as well. He also sees other Web development offerings in the company's future, possibly either through a joint initiative with a reliable source or through augmenting existing staff.
"This is fairly new for us, so we need to get out and show what we are capable of providing," Farrell says. PI