Dickeson--Create Brand Recognition For Your Print Operation
"I don't know your company. I don't know your product. I don't know you. Now what was it you wanted to see me about?"
That's my best recollection of the caption on a cartoon published by McGraw-Hill many years ago showing a crusty purchasing agent addressing a perspiring young salesman. I've never forgotten it. I can't think of a better illustration of the value of a brand.
These days we hear a lot about "branding," the value of a "brand." In the world of sports, for example, we recognize personalities such as Michael Jordan or John Madden as "brands." I glanced at the title of a magazine article by management guru Tom Peters the other day, urging that you regard yourself as a brand.
We all know that McDonald's and Coca-Cola are brands known worldwide, as are hundreds of other items from breakfast foods to autos. What the brand owners have done is create a perception—a word or a name that creates immediate recognition and association. That perception, that brand, or as we used to say, that image, creates a unique identity for the company, product, service or personality, which differentiates it from others in the same field.
Expect More, Pay More
You expect more, you think you get more, and you'll pay more for an established brand. That's a fact of life. The Michael Jordan brand can sell sneakers and long distance phone service. And Jordan makes fabulous sums for the power of his brand. So does football commentator Madden, whether it is for Ace Hardware or Dr. Pepper.
For many years, I've been urging commercial printers to stop the nonsense of setting prices for their print conversion services by marking up their imagined or "virtual" costs. Price is customer-perceived value constrained by competition. Pricing is unrelated to cost. It's a perception of value. As Al Ries puts it in "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing," a brand is "a singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of the prospect."
Say any of these words, "Blockbuster," "Compaq," "Volvo," "Tide," "Kleenex," "Kodak," "Xerox" or any one of many, many others and, instantly, there's a picture in your mind of what these are, what they stand for. You'll pay more or buy more of these branded things than of a generic. You'll pay more for Bayer Aspirin than you would for the exact same generic aspirin.
It's easy to think of commercial printing as just a generic service—a "shelf" item. But there's something special that builds a repeat clientele for each printer, isn't there? It's not just the lowest price, because there's generally always another printer with lower prices. What is it that is special, that is that peculiar "something?" It's simply that "something" that makes your company unique, worth a price premium for the customer's perception of value.
Try this: List the top 20 percent of your customers—the ones that comprise 80 percent of your sales volume. Analyze each on that list. Why do they repeat? If you don't know, ask 'em. What is it you're doing more successfully than some other firms? Identify the customer perception of your competence. Do not confuse the customers' perceptions with your own perceptions. You're interested in what's in their heads, not yours.
Be sure to get that Al Ries book I noted and also his "Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends On It." Read 'em both, if you haven't already done so, and note carefully the message of each.
What Is Your Brand?
What is it you presently do better than your competitors? Or, what is it you want to do better than others, to be known for? What is your core competence? Is it two-color eight-pagers? Some particular fold or other property? Long-run catalogs? Price? Service? Overnight delivery?
Narrow it down to a product or competence and brand it. Give it a distinctive name that makes it identifiable to customers and prospects. Get conviction from everyone in the shop that you are the best in North America, North Dakota, West of the Pecos, or wherever you can establish your own unique claim. Then, as Captain Picard says in "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "Make it so!"
Stop the foolishness of trying to serve all the print needs of everyone. If you're all things to all people you're nothing special to anyone.
Next, let the world know by any public relations schemes available, your packaging, letterheads, business cards, work uniforms, softball sponsorships, whatever, that you are the numero uno for "Brand X" (your brand). Reinforce it with advertising in the Yellow Pages and on your Website or wherever.
Recognize that "quality" does not sell printing. Nobody this side of heaven knows what "quality printing" is. But a perception of quality does sell printing. The quality printing perception is an illusion, but it has virtual reality in the mind of the customer. It is associated with the recognized leader in a market segment. Reality, rather than logic, says, "If Ajax Printing is the leader for Brand X, then it has to be the best—THE quality product."
The Branding Illusion
Branding creates the illusion of leadership. Leadership results from "survival of the fittest," the immutable law of a market economy. Coke is the "real thing," the quality drink, because it leads Pepsi in sales? Right?
Roll the tape back to that crusty purchasing agent challenging the young salesman in our verbal cartoon. What's he saying now? "Your company, Ajax, is the leader in Brand X, right? How can my firm take advantage of Brand X to help sell our tomato plants?"
Am I suggesting that there's black magic in branding? Sort of. But the real message is that your price must start with the perception of the value you add. Not the reality of value, but the perception of value in the minds of your staff, customers and prospects. If it's real and true value, so much the better. But that's not the point at all. The point is you must get that instant recognition into the minds of people in your market.
—Roger V. Dickeson
About the Author
Roger Dickeson is a printing productivity consultant based in The Woodlands, TX. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by fax at (281) 419-8213.