A B2B Marketing Pro with Ink in His Blood Speaks Out

Earlier this year, I accepted an invitation to be the keynote speaker at the “Ignite Your Growth” Conference in Atlanta. It was a national gathering of HP Indigo printing professionals held at the new HP Graphic Arts Experience Center: a 64,000-sq. ft. adventure land of digital printing that would illuminate any marketing professional’s imagination.

What good news or helpful insights could I possibly share with printing professionals?

Print belongs in the B2B marketing mixI know many printers are having to rethink their business model to survive. In a tough economy, printing budgets are often one of the first things a company cuts. And as much as social media marketing is over-hyped, printing is too often overlooked.

Digital printing technology has advanced to the point that it can be one of the most versatile, responsive and impactful ways to deliver customized content to customers. But I believe too many printers are doing a poor job of demonstrating how effective print can now be.

As someone who’’s always been an advocate of the power of print, I’’m always learning about new ways to include print in the marketing mix, – but things aren’’t like they used to be. Over the past three decades, our agency has brokered millions of dollars in printing on behalf of our B2B clients. Our relationships with various printers were among our most valued strategic partnerships, and I enjoyed collaborating with their representatives as early in the creative stage as possible. Our designers would look forward to visits from reps with all the latest paper stocks and sample books.

In recent years, we have seen printers less willing to collaborate and more interested in becoming full-service marketing consultants, bypassing advertising and marketing agencies altogether.

I think any printer who isn’’t focused on developing partnerships with agencies and independent specialists is making a big mistake. I know how challenging it can be to maintain a content marketing staff of talented inbound strategists, technical and style writers, digital designers, web developers and marketing automation experts. I don’’t think printers need to duplicate these resources any more than agencies need to buy printing equipment.

So I spoke my mind to this gathering of printing professionals. Here’’s some of what I said:

  1. Although some printing businesses that are alive today won’’t be next year, the industry is no more challenged than most. They need to adapt and evolve to survive. To quote the motto of a Michigan-based agency I am friends with, they must “mutate or die.”
  2. Everywhere you look there is helpful information about content marketing in online media, but I believe there’’s a huge gap of knowledge among marketers about the power of digital, database-driven printing and custom content publishing – and printers have no one to blame but themselves. No matter what brand of equipment or technologies the’y’re using, printers need to use their available press time to personally engage with influencers and decision-makers in their marketplace. They need to develop a database and create content that will engage their audience with helpful, customized information,– not hard-sell or hype.
  3. Printers who try to serve as full-service marketing consultants for their clients might be overreaching. I think printers need to reintroduce themselves to the design firms and agencies in their markets and work more on building strategic partnerships than trying to be one-stop shops. In a world where content is king, I don’’t think it’’s practical or plausible for printers to maintain, on one staff, the amount of special knowledge required to create industry-specific content for multiple industries. Agencies that are getting the most work now already have this talent on their staff. Printers need to engage with these agencies rather than trying to compete with them.
  4. I suggest printers create more learning opportunities for the creative directors, graphic designers and strategic planners in their markets,– meaning both geographic markets and/or industry segments. Why not use any available press time as an opportunity for testing? Challenge potential partners to take advantage of this and share the results with your marketplace. Demonstrate how custom content printing, and versioned or personalized landing pages, can make a difference, – a difference that can be measured.
  5. I am not blind to the fact my stack of business mail is thinner than it used to be. Or that every trade publication in which my clients advertise in losing page counts. But I see this as an opportunity and believe smart clients will too. I just wish more printers in my market were interested in collaboration.

Knowing in advance that I’’d be speaking to this group, I asked some of the leading marketing experts I know for a short comment about printing. I shared their thoughts to the printers with whom I spoke, and will share them here now:

Michael Brenner quote

Ann Handley quote

Joe Pulizzi quote

Doug Kessler quote

Jason Falls quote

Ardath Albee quote

I believe in the power of print and that it belongs in the B2B marketing mix. What do you think?