Relationships Built on Trust Drive Printer Partnerships
Brand owners have trust issues. They’ve seen and heard - and sometimes experienced - all of the things that can go wrong with their printing and marketing programs, and that makes them afraid. Layered on top is the fact that the way brands are marketing their products and services has changed considerably during the past few years. This makes them even more cautious about whom they can trust with their brand image and message.
For many brands, omnichannel or multi-channel marketing programs have become the “new standard” for customer acquisition, engagement and retention. This strategy covers multiple platforms, from print campaigns to television and radio spots, to online ads and social media marketing. Print - once a key element of marketing campaigns - is competing with all of these new avenues of outreach and engagement. Brand owners want to be confident in the abilities of whoever it is they end up partnering with to execute these sometimes-complicated plans.
As printing and marketing services providers, you want to make sure you are providing the high level of service and the right mix of products and services your clients need - especially as their marketing campaigns cross multiple platforms. But, more often than not, when you ask your customers, “How am I doing?” you may get pats on the back and assurances from clients that things are going well. But how many times do you wonder if you’re getting an honest reply?
In February 2018, NAPCO Research, a division of NAPCO Media, surveyed its Target Marketing audience to find out how - and why - brand marketers choose and stay with their print vendors. Target Marketing’s audience includes marketing decision-makers from a broad cross-section of U.S. companies of all sizes and industries, with readers ranging from the marketing manager level up to chief marketing officer (CMO).
Like a Marriage, It’s All About Trust
So why do brand owners stay with their current print vendors? In short: they trust their print partner. According to the survey results, half of the survey respondents remain with their current print providers because of existing positive relationships with them.
In commenting about those good relationships, the same words were echoed multiple times from multiple marketers. Their print partners are collaborative, proactive, communicative, flexible, problem solvers and go “above and beyond” - high praise from brand owners.
Some brand owners offered additional comments to back up their assessments. According to these marketers:
- “A lot of print providers turn sketchy really quickly if something bad happens. We value companies that own up to their mistakes, make them good and show us they can move forward.”
- “Our vendor does more than just execute the printing; it is a true partner, constantly offering recommendations on strategy and testing.”
- “Our print vendor always goes through great lengths to help us achieve success. I have never worked with a more diligent team.”
- “I trust that they will have my back in regard to quality, timeliness and price.”
- “I’ve had a print vendor who anticipated our needs and problem solved before we would even ask!”
- “Working with our trusted vendor, they understand our vision for our collateral and being able to help us realize it in printed form. They are also on top of current trends in design and colors.”
- “They proactively look out for errors and ask questions about things we may have missed. We have worked with our printer for years now. We may have saved a few pennies elsewhere, but on net we saved more by avoiding mistakes.”
Print Broker vs. Print Provider
Over the past several years, the industry has also seen a rise in some large print management companies such as InnerWorkings and others. This, of course, has impacted the way printers receive jobs, putting an extra layer between them and the end customer: the brand.
But do brands prefer to deal with print management firms and print brokers instead of directly with print providers?
Not according to the survey results. Sixty-seven percent of marketers would prefer to deal directly with the print provider versus 6% that prefer to work with brokers. The reason why: because it is a relationship business and marketers value the 1:1 relationship they have with their print providers.
- “I prefer working with the vendor that has skin in the game and really adds value. In my experience, brokers have little useful knowledge and just add a layer of bureaucracy and paperwork.”
- “I want the printer to be loyal to me, not a third party. Also, the broker has to be paid, so usually my price will be higher.”
- “Brokers generally don’t understand a lot of the information that they’re passing back and forth. It’s just easier and quicker to speak directly to the provider.”
Do You Need to be a One-Stop Shop?
As industry convergence continues to accelerate, print providers have been reaching into adjacent markets looking for new revenue streams to bolster profits. By providing such a large menu of products/services and becoming a one-stop shop, brand owners have the opportunity to source all of their needs through one conduit. There is something to be said about having only “one throat to choke” when there’s a problem with a campaign.
But is that how marketers prefer to work? Honestly, the survey results were split pretty evenly. While 51% prefer to deal with one provider, 43% of the respondents prefer to work with several providers and manage the multiple pieces themselves.
In this instance, brand owners factor in much more than just their existing relationships and trust. Complexity of the project factors in, as does quality, price and the ability for the print provider to do a good job with such diverse marketing pieces.
- “Depends on several factors: how much I would trust the one company to be able to pull off all the different products and jobs to a high standard, and how much more it would cost than going to several vendors. If I thought I would get a better end product by going to several vendors, or we could save considerably on my budget, I would be likely to manage it myself.”
- “It depends on the complexity of the project. We are in health care and making a mistake can cause great pain and paper work.”
- “It depends on the quality and the price. It may be too much work to send to multiple vendors. Sending to one vendor may ensure consistent branding.”
Why They Leave for Another Provider
So, if we’ve already established that this is a relationship business and marketers truly value the trust they have with their existing print providers, why do some end up leaving and heading somewhere else?
The answers are varied and mixed, but the No. 1 reason marketers give is that the print provider doesn’t have the product or service the brand wants (35%). This makes sense given the fact that marketing campaigns continue to become more omnichannel and add aspects that are not print-specific. If a print provider has the ability to support multi-channel campaigns, there is a better likelihood the marketer could remain with them - as long as nothing else happens.
The second most common reason marketers leave their print provider (22%) is that there has been a change in personnel or relationship at the print provider. Again, it all goes back to trust. If you, as a print provider, do not give them a reason to switch, in all likelihood your customers will remain right where they are.
Trust and their existing personal relationships, including with a specific CSR or sales rep, trump price. In the survey, only 10% of the respondents said they work with their current print provider due to price, while 16% said they would change providers because of the price. Compared to the other reasons to change print providers, pricing is not that high on their lists.
But that also begs the question: if brand marketers rely on existing, established relationships and trust their print providers and the majority of them won’t switch based on price, how do you acquire new customers?
Unfortunately, there is no cut-and-dry answer. It comes down to having the right mix of products and services, providing consistent quality, being credible and reliable, and offering the deep and consultative relationships marketers are looking to develop.
It all goes back to our opening statement: Brand owners and marketers are afraid. They know how bad it can get if they work with the wrong print partner; so, when they find a provider they trust, they want to hang onto them for as long as they can.
Make sure you have that open dialogue with your customers and are providing everything they need as a true partner - not just a printer - would.
Denise Gustavson is the Editorial Director and Special Projects Editor for the Printing & Packaging Group, which includes Printing Impressions, packagePRINTING, In-plant Graphics and Wide-Format Impressions magazines, among other brands. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Wide-Format Impressions.