Seeking Print Buyers? Get Connected With Marketers
For a few years now, I’ve been writing and talking about the evolution of the print buyer in corporate America. Studies I’ve done, both independently and with consultant John Zarwan, show that the print buying responsibility is shifting. This matters not only to print buyers, but also to printers, paper people and equipment manufacturers.
Here’s the short version of what we learned in several studies: A lot of print buying roles have moved to (or stayed in) purchasing and procurement departments. And before you say, “Purchasing agents only care about price — everything they buy is a commodity,” I say nay nay. I know a number of senior purchasing professionals who grew up in the printing industry. They are print experts and some of the savviest print customers I know. Do not underestimate their knowledge of print manufacturing and sourcing.
The other major shift of corporate print buying responsibilities is the move into marketing departments. Now, these pros aren’t called “print buyers” anymore (that title is going away) but, whatever their titles are, these marketers are becoming primary contacts for commercial printers.
This is crucial information for the printing and paper industries and for equipment manufacturers.
Want more fodder? Our research indicates that print buyers working in a corporate environment are twice as likely to be in a marketing communications role, while those working in agencies are more likely to be in a graphic design and production department.
Once I became aware of this evolution, I started advising print buyers to focus on marketing roles. When asked, I still tell them to aim their careers thataway. Marketing is where the action is, and it offers the best career opportunities for print buyers.
More recently, I’ve been thinking about this change in the context of commercial printers. Check out these three findings of our print buyer research:
- The print buying function in corporate America is shifting toward marketing environments.
- 97% of print buyers surveyed do something in addition to sourcing print.
- A mere 13% of print buyers surveyed said they “only want their printers to print,” rather than offer a broad range of services.
Doesn’t it follow that printers should focus on developing business with marketing departments — where the “print buying action” is?
It makes sense to me. Full-time print buying roles are disappearing. While most organizations still need a certain amount of printed materials, print volumes have declined steadily, and companies can’t justify having full-time buyers. This function is either outsourced (bad news for the buyers) or the buyers are moved into other departments, where they are almost always given additional responsibilities.
What Else Do Print Buyers Do Today?
In one of our studies, in which more than 300 print buyers were surveyed, we learned what else print buyers are responsible for.
Modern-day print buying pros purchase other products and services (56%); do marketing, advertising and marketing communications work (43%); prepare files for printing (24%); have some production and manufacturing role (29%); and also handle product and brand management (22%). These were the most noteworthy responsibilities.
Digging a bit deeper, we asked print buyers what other types of marketing or advertising products and services they’re involved in. The most common answer was trade shows and events (42%), followed by newspaper or magazine advertising (30%), and outdoor signs and displays (23%).
What Are the Implications for Printers?
Printers must keep in sync with the businesspeople responsible for sourcing commercial printing. This means a couple of things.
1. Printers should determine where the print buying function is located inside a particular organization. The results of our research provide some big hints — purchasing, marketing and creative/design, for starters. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’ll stick my neck out and say with confidence that my money is on marketing departments for the future.
2. Printers need to understand the types of responsibilities modern-day print buyers are handling. Again, use our findings as your guide, but go further: do your own sleuthing.
Research the specific companies you have in your sights with an eye on their marketing departments, in particular. If you know the names of individuals, read their LinkedIn profiles — the good ones reveal what functions people are handling in their jobs. And conduct your own customer surveys from time to time. In this way, you can ask customers directly what they’re responsible for. Their answers will definitely give you direction.
3. Where the print purchasing function is and what other responsibilities today’s print purchasers have, will determine how printers should market their services to them. This must have been so much easier decades ago, when we print buyers were housed in communications or publications departments. Working with printers (sourcing, getting bids, providing specs, negotiating, troubleshooting, vendor management, handling proofs, etc.) was all we did.
Print reps visited us and pretty much only us. The customer/printer relationship was built that way for such a long time. Purchasing was involved sometimes, but only tangentially.
Today, with the dissemination of the print sourcing function into multiple corporate departments, printers have to develop different marketing strategies. Are you working with purchasing units? Marketing departments? Designers? Administrators?
What’s that, you say, “It depends?” Exactly. Your customers are probably in all of these departments, and then some.
Printers have to be nimble enough to market their companies to a broader customer base — and one that’s buying less print — than ever before. Find out as much as you can about the trending evolution of the corporate print buyer, and let this knowledge guide your marketing strategy.
Long regarded as a print buyer expert and trade writer, Margie Dana launched a new business as a marketing communications strategist with a specialty in printing and print buying. She is as comfortable working in social media as she is in traditional media, and now she’s on a mission to help clients build customer communities through carefully crafted content. Dana was the producer of the annual Print & Media Conference.
Although she has exited the event business, Dana is still publishing her Print Tips newsletter each week. For more details and to sign up for her newsletter and marketing blog, visit www.margiedana.com