22 ideas to keep top of mind this year

From sales to technology trends, our experts weigh in with critical tips and strategies you should be focused on to improve your business

2018 is just getting started. You’re probably well into implementing your strategic plans, but we wanted to give you something to think about. We asked some of our regular contributors and other leading industry thinkers to help us hone in on some trends, issues, or developments that all print-shop owners need to keep top-of-mind this year. Here’s what they said.

Marketing


John Foley

CEO

interlinkONE

interlinkone.com

Take a deep dive into your marketing plans

When was the last time you took a deeper look at your marketing plan? In 2018, make it a point to rewrite it. But, don’t just use the point of view of your marketing goals – incorporate sales. Ask yourself these questions: What do you sell? What problems do you solve for your customers? How does your sales process align with your marketing efforts? Are they working together?

When both your marketing and sales teams are on the same page, it can bring many benefits to your printing business. Your marketing department is tapped into the industry and what your competitors are up to, while your sales team can let them know what works and what doesn’t. Creating the plan with both teams in mind will make sure everyone is on the same page.

Learn about how customers learn about you

Take the time to understand how today’s prospects are using the internet to learn about your company. Are leads coming through social media? Direct traffic on your website? Inbound marketing campaigns? Direct mail?

Based on what you find, your sales and marketing teams can act accordingly. The last thing you want to do is spend time, energy and money on a Twitter campaign if none of your prospects are on Twitter. By understanding how inbound and content marketing can drive leads, you won’t waste time marketing in the wrong places.

Automate your marketing efforts 

Why? It is the easiest way to turn interested prospects into solid leads and it’s possible for shops of any size. Marketing automation maintains consistent communications with your prospects, leads, and customers even when you’re out of the office.

Imagine you want to run a big printing campaign this year. From email blasts and social media postings, to delivering all sorts of content and follow-ups based on responses, a full campaign can be extremely time consuming and a prospect could get lost along the way. However, if these efforts are automated, you don’t have to worry. You can set it all up, sit back and relax and watch the leads come in.

Joanne Gore

President

Joanne Gore Communications

joannegorecommunications.com

Data is king

Managing not just your own, but your customer’s data has taken on a whole new meaning with customers’ demand for an omni-channel experience. The customer communications industry has been laser focused on data and data mining before many printers implemented a CRM. Not only do they literally speak the language, but they are also well versed in matters such as compliance, security and data management and quality control.

Foster your community

Clearly the role of the community, and the voice that it carries, will continue to be more and more of a driving force in every industry. As the shift to a more comprehensive marketing and services-provider landscape continues to grow, so will your network of vendors. From hardware to software, creative services to IT, you will have access to a vast network of subject-matter experts eager to help you grow your business. If you haven’t yet tested the social waters, it’s time to take a dive into the deep end. Start with LinkedIn, still one of the top sources for business and industry information. Read the comments, not just the articles. Hop onto #Printchat Wednesdays at 4 and join the conversations (but remember, no selling!) It’s not too late…yet.

Dave Hultin

President

Marketing Ideas for Printers

marketingideasforprinters.com

Make sure your online presence supports your sales

A common saying for all industries that’s been around for ages is, “If you want to sell more printing go where your customers are.” They’re online, and they have been for years now. Most printers are online, too, but make sure your online presence supports your sales process. Does your website give your prospects and customers a reason to visit? Does it have a strong call to action to prompt your visitors to buy printing? Does it have a shopping cart that supports the order process? Try placing an order on your own website. Is it as easy to order from you online as it is face-to-face? If not, make fixing your online sales process a priority in 2018.

Institute a monthly direct mail marketing campaign 

Everyone’s mailboxes are emptier these days, yet the mail still gets delivered and people still check their mailboxes. Those empty mailboxes are opportunities for you to show that print can make a difference. There’s less competition in your customers’ and prospects’ mailboxes, and that means it’s easier than ever to rise above the noise and get noticed. What better way to showcase printing than with a campaign that delivers your product right into your customers’ and prospects’ hands.

Improving Productivity

David Zwang

President

Zwang & Co

zwang.com

Workflow automation is individual

Transforming and automating business processes in a way that meets today’s needs and positions you for future demands, increasingly means investing in systems that are tailored for your own particular shop. Workflow is definitely not one size fits all. In my travels and research, most printers said they were interested in a solution that was flexible enough to fit into their general workflow, and less interested in having to change their operations to fit into a predesigned model. This is a reflection of the cultural shift toward getting what you want, when you want it, and in exactly the form you want it – the Amazon model.

The answer may be in the cloud 

The answer to tailored systems may be cloud-based applications that provide an ecosystem with which to expand process capabilities, automation, and customers. It’s not a surprise to see these cloud-based production management systems gain traction in the market. There is usually no up-front capital or hardware maintenance expense, although some of the offerings do have a one-time setup fee. Some systems are licensed as if they were onsite and have a pay-as-you-go model. In the absence of a single all-encompassing solution that can automate all the disparate equipment and processes in a printing operation, users find individual best-of-breed feature-and-function components. Then, based on business and customer requirements, they determine the best way to bridge those pieces into a complete, flexible solution.

Packaging

Kevin Karstedt

President, Karstedt Partners

karstedt.com

Make more out of what you have

Find a way to make your processes more efficient. Automate you workflows from order entry and prepress, reducing touch points, and curbing errors. Many printers who have adopted digital packaging systems have already had to do this, as have label printers who went digital. Those who haven’t leapt into digital, or may be waiting for the next generation of equipment from Landa or Heidelberg, should take the time now to soup up their operation so they can be ready.

Digital fatigue

The next generation of packaging-printing technology, which promises more robustness, high production, and more productivity, is still two years away. In the meantime, be aware of what we call digital fatigue and a tendency to disengage from learning opportunities while waiting for the next generation of technology to hit. Keep your ear to the ground and prepare for the new equipment by investing in automation so that you’re ready to go when the time comes.

Also keep an eye on digital finishing. While these technologies are having some impact, they are not yet huge. They are at what would call the intriguing stage, but they are not yet compelling. These technologies are new, niche, and no one is really sure how to use it them to their maximum capability or even effectively. Right now they are largely in the hands of early adopters, but as the technology progresses and 40 inch options are introduced, we will enter the compelling stage when you will have to pay close attention and be prepared to jump in.

Not too late to embrace packaging 

There is still room for commercial printers to jump into packaging, but it’s what I call lite packaging.  Not just simply in terms of literal weight, but in terms of applications. For example, it’s going to be difficult to commercial printers to jump into corrugated, or applications with a high level of technical and production requirements, but there are many opportunities in servicing the local and regional markets with label and folding carton where you operate in the familiar CMYK environment. With the proliferation of many new small businesses, local artisans and small-scale manufacturing, the opportunity for work up to 24 pt. is growing. If you don’t have the necessary finishing equipment, outsource to local suppliers. A printer I know does a healthy business producing boxes for a local candle manufacturer.

Inkjet developments

Marco Boer

Vice President, IT Strategies

it-strategies.com

Single-pass is the future

Ten years ago single-pass inkjet technology arrived in the form of continuous feed production printers, which used fixed arrays of print heads with thousands of nozzles to print on the web of paper moving underneath the heads. Since then, more than 1.25 trillion single-pass inkjet pages have been printed worldwide.

That same single-pass inkjet technology is now starting to be deployed more broadly, including CAD applications, corrugated printing, point-of-purchase poster printing, textile printing, and even 3D printing. The benefit of single-pass inkjet is productivity and, by implication, cost reductions through both lower hardware amortization cost, and lower ink cost generated from higher-volume economies of scale.

For 2018, look for even greater productivity systems as faster-firing inkjet print heads get incorporated into single-pass printers. Faster productivity is not contingent only on being able to fire more ink droplets, but also on being able to dry or cure the ink at those higher speeds. Expect to see continuing innovation in pre-coating technologies, ink additives, and drying technologies to enable this faster productivity. The important innovations may not be as flashy as “shiny new hardware”, but they are critical to the success of inkjet technology as a tool for printers.

Innovation from early adopters

The real innovation for 2018, however, will come from those that deploy single-pass inkjet technology. The users are the ones who are expanding the range of products that can be printed, they are the ones who are learning how to sell the output to their customers, and most critically, they are the ones who are getting an early start on how to maximize profit margins for their businesses using this technology.

Grow the business

Mike McMahon

Director of Sales

NeuroGym

myneurogym.com

Three ways to grow

There are many facets to marketing any business but there are only three ways to grow one. Get more clients, get them to spend more money, get them to buy more frequently. That’s it. Those are the three. The most powerful thing you can do for your printing business is to work on improving all three areas at the same time. The results will be exponential.

Innovate 

If your printing business is just like every other printing business you will always be competing on price. By innovating, you provide greater value to your clients and become unique in the marketplace. Ask yourself what services do you outsource now that you can bring in-house to provide a more complete solution? What services are your clients already buying from someone else that you could add to your offer?

Become a trusted advisor

Most of your clients have no idea all the ways you can help them grow their business. Direct mail is enjoying a nice comeback now that people aren’t getting as much junk mail. That provides an opportunity for you to show your business clients how they can use direct mail to grow their business. As they start getting new business because of your help they will continue to come to you for print work. Not only will you print the mail piece, but you will also print the special report they should be giving away to people that are interested. It also makes sense to think about adding full mailing services.

Reactivate past clients 

Past clients are four to 28 times more likely to do business with you than a brand-new client. Find out how many clients did business with you in the last three years that haven’t done business with you in the last twelve months. Make a list and reach out to them. Find out how things are going for them and what you can do to help. Once you’ve done this, make it an ongoing part of your client retention efforts.

Economic realities

Andrew D. Paparozzi

Chief Economist

Idealliance

idealliance.org

Even change is changing. 

The Digital Revolution has taken change from gradual and incremental to rapid and transformational, leaving us less time to make increasingly challenging adjustments. To come out on top, we must maximize the adaptability of our companies to both external and internal change. Cross training and other methods of building a workforce that can be where needed, when needed are essential. So is streamlining all procedures, processes, and practices, asking how can we minimize steps and touches and which we can eliminate entirely because they no longer add value.

Margin for error is shrinking

Second, while our gamut of opportunity both inside and outside of print continues to expand, our margin for error continues to shrink. We have historic opportunity to get involved in our clients’ work earlier, stay involved longer, and satisfy a broader range of their communications needs. But competition is intensifying as the internet and digitization break down boundaries, letting everyone into everyone else’s business. That means no matter how well we are doing we must remain vigilant, never assume we have it all figured out, and anticipate the competition, recognizing that the next wave can come from anywhere.

Choose your shots carefully

The challenge in our industry is not a lack of opportunity; it is deciding what really is an opportunity given my company’s specific circumstances, capabilities, and goals. We can’t chase everything or follow the crowd into something that may or may not be a fit. Our margin for error has gotten far too thin for that. And with change so extensive, we can’t base our choices on gut or what’s worked in the past. Instead we must rigorously assess which options to pursue and which to reject by embracing tools such as the opportunity evaluation matrix, investment pre-mortem, and readiness checklist, all described in Idealliance State of the Industry Series.

One more thing

As the realities above suggest, we now either get better or get left behind. There is no longer a third option. To that end, every one of us should ask: What will we do better in 2018 than we did in 2017?

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