Chances are you are not driving the same car or watching the same television you were 10 or 20 years ago. Your business is probably not the same as it was then either. Neither should your marketing tactics.
Are you still relying on the local network, the same contacts to maintain your business? Are you still working the Chamber of Commerce meetings, trade shows, and local business clubs? Better yet, are these means of marketing as effective for you as they once were? Are they a reliable way of communicating your expertise? Can they promote your track record of success, how your business has changed, and your customer problem-solving expertise?
"It's no longer enough to feature your name on the uniform of the local little league team and expect business to grow from that," says Richard Laermer, co-author with Mark Simmons of the newly released "Punk Marketing" (Collins). Passive marketing is viewed as sinful by the two, who have 40 years of combined experience. "The marketing revolution is well underway," adds Mr. Simmons. "It's time to up your game."
Advertising and marketing industry veterans, the two men theorize that what has happened over the past 10 years or so is a transitional shift in attitude, and a tilt in the balance of power between customer and supplier. This shift has ramifications for every industry—from how McDonald's fills its menu to how General Motors designs automobiles. It also speaks volumes about what printers should be doing not only to survive but to thrive in it. Advancing technology and people's ability to more efficiently communicate with each other plays a large role in this phenomenon.
"Control has shifted to the customer," notes Mr. Laermer. "They control the dialogue between supplier and client. Customers are more savvy than ever before, and are leveraging this ability." They note that consumers want to feel the printer they choose has their "best interest at heart." They do not want to feel that they're part of a commoditized process where each job is treated the same as the one that preceded it.
The forward-looking printer should embrace this new set of rules, and "join the marketing revolution." Take stock of what you can offer, refine your niche(s), get behind the latest technology, and then regularly reach out to customers and prospects in new ways.
"It's no longer enough to ponder and pander," lectures Mr. Simmons. "Printers need to be honest above all with themselves and their customers, and build from there. Consumers are now not really consumers at all, but content creators and distributors of really good material." And as customers become less passive, traditional ways of reaching them will become obsolete.
New technologies such as the iPod and TiVo put consumers in greater control of what they watch and listen to, what they send to their friends and colleagues, and probably most importantly for printers—what they create.
Avoid Being a Dinosaur
If everything we have done prior to today in terms of marketing our services is now moot or obsolete, what do we do to avoid becoming a print dinosaur? Traditional ways of promoting, such as ads in local newspapers and bland direct mail, are dying on the vine. Web sites, infotainment pieces, and lively e-mail should be employed to catapult your business onto the radar screens of the next generation of print buyers.
Printers need to brand their businesses. While this may sound obvious if you're in the fashion or food business, but how does one brand a printer, largely a technical business often viewed as a commodity with little difference between competitors beyond price? "It's not all about price," says Mr. Laermer. "It's about communication and design. Geeks are in. It's a good time to be technical." A technically savvy team is a plus, but it is nothing if clients are not made aware of the skills and services you offer. They are not necessarily looking for the cheapest or the fastest. They are looking for the relationship. "People must want to use you," says Mr. Simmons. "The way to do that is to position yourself as a customer-first kind of organization."
Smaller, nimble companies carve out empires for themselves by staying ahead of the technology, creativity, and service curves. And they do it best in front of a relatively small but loyal customer group. The question then is: How can a printer use Punk Marketing principles? Can they turn traditional marketing on its head to their advantage? And what steps should they take to avoid becoming a marketing dinosaur? "This is a very common challenge," says Mr. Simmons. "There's no reason to expect printers to be immune from it, but they should embrace the change."
Do not view yourself as a boring, one-dimensional business. "Look at what you have that's better than the rest, and offer it," says Mr. Laermer. "Build from that. Build a brand around yourself. Add some spark. But don't let customers use you and then forget you—that's a marketing failure."
Joseph Finora is a marketing writer and creative professional. Questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
author: By Joseph Finora