Marchand on Marketing?Electronic Commerce Reluctance
More than a few observers have noted a pause in the adoption of new digital media by printing companies. They claim that a surprising number are hesitant to install ISDN or T-1 lines, acquire Internet capability, and develop FTP sites, Web pages and e-mail. I've seen no data to support the notion that there is a slowdown in the pace of adoption, but if true, the reluctance should surprise no one.
Many printers were burned by their entry into digital prepress during the 1980s and early in this decade. They went through what a printer in Oklahoma memorably described to me as "prepress hell."
It was difficult to work with service bureaus, disruptive and expensive to develop a digital prepress staff, and costly to support poorly trained customers. Printers routinely received incomplete, error-laden files and often had to correct them without being able to bill for their work—or to collect charges for their services.
Furthermore, hardware and software acquisitions hurt the competitive position of early adopters. Other printers were able to make these same acquisitions months later at dramatically lower prices.
Also, the proprietary systems could affect production. Consider the systems that linked poorly, if at all, to open systems operating according to emerging standards.
Finally, digital prepress went against the long-familiar accounting expectations of the printing industry. The technology did not achieve the high utilization necessary to justify replacing both equipment and software in shorter periods of time. Prepress hell, indeed.
No sooner had graphic arts companies adjusted to the realization that digital technology would migrate through the entire manufacturing process—faster than anyone imagined—when opportunities to achieve new real-time links with customers presented themselves.
While printers are obliged to address direct-to-plate and direct-to-press equipment, they are simultaneously being offered networked computer systems that connect the shop floor with every management and departmental function.
And now guys like yours truly are telling you to jump on the Internet and link up with customers via e-mail, Web sites, FTP and more.
I have a confession to make. A very simple admission: I give advice and provide my firm's services to people whose jobs I would not wish to have. I'm glad not to be responsible for a printing company right now. The number of decisions that have to be made, the number of fronts on which senior printing executives have to move forward simultaneously, boggles the imagination. Exhilarating times these may be, but I don't envy your jobs.
Already preoccupied with digital technology in production, printers now need to think about the list of transactions they will soon be able to conduct via the Internet—from initial inquiries and requests for estimates, through estimates and job status inquiries, to change orders and invoices.
If this isn't a definition of electronic commerce, I don't know what is. And none of this even begins to address job files, archiving or information management services
Imagine the changes in how sales reps work with prospects and customers. The phone, the auto, messengers and express delivery services will be augmented and, in some instances, replaced by information moving across the Internet.
The rep will remain essential and "face time"—meetings between reps and customers—will continue to be important, but the faster production cycles will require the use of digital communications media.
Aside from CSRs, people in production and other departments will more frequently interact with customers. Many of these relationships have been in place for some years. The Internet makes them essential and speeds their development.
This comes as news to no one. Several printing companies are already well along the road to electronic commerce; others may be paused en route. The adoption of new technology is seldom inevitable and the route is never smooth, but the Internet seems likely to provide more than a few printing companies with a competitive advantage well before the millennium.
Last month a reader asked me why a marketing guy would want to devote so much attention to digital communications. The answer seems obvious. Web sites and e-mail, the Internet itself, change marketing strategy—from how printing companies identify prospects and how they work with customers, to the range of services they provide and how they communicate. What better time to consider these questions than at the beginning of a year?
I wish each of you, your loved ones and your companies exciting new horizons, interesting opportunities and prosperity.
About the Author
Jacques Marchand may be phoned at (415) 357-2929. His firm, Marchand Marketing, provides strategic consulting services, positioning and marketing communications to help companies in the printing industry increase sales. E-mail may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about the firm's work for clients is also available on its Web site, www.marchand.com.