How professional printers can avoid stagnating volumes in tough trading conditions

The post-recession print business cannot rely on print alone to bring in revenue. Over the course of the last half-dozen years, the SME print customer has learned about websites, discovered email marketing and become a believer in social media, whether it’s through ‘likes’ on Facebook or conversations on Twitter. Print has lost its primary place in the marketing toolkit.

But print is still needed, just not in the volumes it used to be. And increasingly print needs to be more than just words and images on paper that attempt to explain something to the reader or to persuade him or her that a certain course of action is the right one, usually extracting a credit card to buy something. Print in the post-recession world needs to become smarter.

Deliver relevance

Print survives where it is the most relevant medium and the printer’s task is to deliver that relevance to print. This can be in the obvious ways through personalisation, through providing print as a trigger from an online action (a request for a brochure for example), or through more complex machinery involving marketing campaigns, targeted audiences – all of which rely on data.

The great thing for printers is that data is our bloodstream just as much as ink. Only it is not always recognised as such. Printers are used to handling data-rich hefty files, to directing these to different print queues and to picking up information about the journeys these files are on. It’s what is called workflow.

A continued opportunity

Despite the growth in computer power and reduced cost of storage, few SME businesses are comfortable with large files; they will rarely have any form of structured database beyond a spreadsheet of live customers that are invoiced. Very few interrogate, track and develop these resources for fear of pressing the wrong button because they don’t understand how the computer works and most importantly because it’s not their business. How many florists keep a record of customers ordering bouquets for a wedding and are able to send a discreet reminder a year later to the husband, suggesting flowers to mark the occasion? How many small hotels send literature to guests that have stayed during the year reminding them in the dark days of winter about the good times they enjoyed in the summer months?

Print is important.

Maximising the existing network

These are data-driven jobs that an enterprising printer can take on and which a full-blown digital marketing agency would not touch because they are pitching at the large enterprise when it’s the SME that needs help. And there is already a relationship between customer and printer to build on. Data makes print relevant, or as Andy Lydiatt from Proco declared during the Print Business Forward Thinking Printing event that Ricoh sponsored, “Print makes data relevant”.

A multi-channel approach

Data is not the only option for increasing the value of print. The piece of paper can become the gateway into the online world where transactions can take place. Through including embedded codes, like Ricoh’s Clickable Paper, in a page, consumers can be taken to a relevant website while they are still engaged with an advert or article. If what they are reading has stimulated them to buy or to find out more, it’s foolishness to force them to tap out a URL on a phone or fill in an email form, all barriers to interaction. Instead, the code can link directly to a relevant page, perhaps populating it with data gathered from the phone. If the offer comes from a pizza chain, the phone provides enough information for an offer to be customised to the nearest restaurant.

Fulfilling the interest is down to the advertiser, but the delivery mechanism for discovery is print, whether a magazine, a poster or a simple pizza leaflet. Despite Google AdWords and other devices, discoverability on the internet is very difficult. It’s why online shopping sites send printed catalogues to previous customers. Without the aide-memoire, there is less chance that the customer will return. Retailers show spikes in online business in the days following the distribution of the printed catalogue so they know it works. Are the small businesses that have added an online arm in the last few years aware of this? Are they reliant on emails that are easy to ignore, when they should be using a well presented printed brochure that invokes good memories of dealing with that retailer?

Beyond the printed page

In the last few years, the whole way that business is conducted has changed. Recessionary periods do this, forcing out old technologies and models of behaviour in favour of new, accelerating a change that might otherwise take much longer to implement. It means that the post-recession printer can no longer rely on print alone.

Tim Carter

Ricoh UK Sales Director Commercial Print

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