Friday, August 29, 2014

Winning at Print in a Digital World

The subject of the robustness of print in the increasingly digital world has been the topic of many articles, posts and conversations. The printing industry has bad public relations folks (except, perhaps, Jeff Hayzlett, who unfortunately has moved on to bigger and better industries ), so we always end up looking bad. Even though our industry is ten times bigger globally than online advertising, we get little respect. Print most certainly is not dead, but I think everyone in the industry realizes that certain applications have been wounded, and some of them mortally. 

Recently, ran an interview by Patrick Henry with Joel Quadracci , Chairman, President and CEO of Quad/Graphics, Inc. The headline read "Redefining Print: Joel Quadracci Discusses Quad/Graphics and the View from the Industry’s Front Ranks".  I can't effectively link it here, because it's premium content, but you can visit the Whattheythink site and subscribe or buy access if I entice you enough by providing a flavor of Mr.Quadracci's talk track here. 

Said Quadracci, near the end of the interview after briefly touching on some forays into QR codes and other digital technologies, "Yes, we are printers, absolutely, and the stuff that we’ve migrated into is a result of being a printer, not because we’re trying to get away from print. But we believe that the more we can impact how print is used in a multichannel world, we’ll make the overall product that much stronger."

To pause and analyze this for a second, it sounds to me like he's admitting that Quad is a printer.  This is awesome.  Many printers today are so afraid to describe themselves as having anything to do with print that when you read their websites, you will have absolutely no idea what they do. So, I think this admission is very healthy for a company that makes the majority of its revenue from printing.

Then, Quadracci goes on to say, "The whole digital space for us, as a part of our company, is never going to be bigger than the print side, because of revenue differences. But it’s probably one of the most important things to make the core product very healthy."

I am not saying that Quad Graphics is as old fashioned as a Letterpress. Quite the contrary, they are absolutely "state of the art" in terms of printing capabilities.
This, I interpret to mean, "OK, other people own the distribution of published materials and advertising online, and we can't compete with them." (my quote, not his.) That seems kind of like giving up to me, like when Offset took over from Letterpress, some people decided not to buy new equipment. They continued to operate for awhile, but then the business went elsewhere. Also sounds like the continuing health of print is today, and more in the future, derived largely from complementing it with digital technologies.  We'll get back to that later, agreed.

Finally, the interview is wrapped up with the following thought from Quadracci, "And then, we’ll continue to migrate where we migrate. We got into some packaging. We got into healthcare only because we became good at something."  I find this a bit alarming. We have heard this from many printers in the past, and in many cases it is thinking like this that causes flat line or declining revenue. To me, this means: instead of promoting innovation in our culture, we get our product development ideas from customers. When they say jump, we say "how high". Obviously, we need to provide solutions for our customers problems.  Customers bring us opportunities.  Don't forget that no matter how great our relationship with the customer is, they are definitely talking to other Printers, too.  Because there are too many of us. So we need to innovate to get customers to buy from us, instead of competitors (whether inside, or outside of, our industry).

Healthy Attitude or Admission of Failure?

Quad is a venerable industry company, the world's second largest printing company.  They've been around for a long time, they are really good at Print. For customers who are both using digital marketing tactics, and doing business with traditional industry companies, Print is really hard. Print is really slow. Print is not very measurable, versus digital (although there are some techniques that can enhance the ability to measure its effectiveness that few printing companies practice.)

It has become very clear that we are never going to make print as easy, cheap and measurable as the marketing capabilities newer digital technologies now offer our customers. But we should try. We should try to make print as easy as it can be, do it faster, with less machinations, and make it as measurable as it can be.

The combination of print and digital is strong, as Quadracci mentions when he says making print work in a multichannel world strengthens the overall product-- presumably describing the effectiveness of a campaign or the uptake of a publication by its readership, resulting in success criteria being met by Quad's customer.
Print in a Digital World

In today’s measurable marketing world, with more channels and more data, what marketers need is to understand the customer and what they are doing across all of the channels of experience that are available to them. Marketers need to understand what the customer wants, and what their intentions are-- so they can attract them, build interest and ultimately convert them.

What is your relevance in a world that is
focused on business intelligence, analytics, and applications enabled by Big Data?
Marketers today speak a language that Printers, for the most part, do not understand.  But still, they are overwhelmed with marketing automation technologies that have become essential, but which in many cases they do not fully understand. Often times today, interns are operating these important new technologies, because "digital natives" instinctively "get" the functionality, and know how to apply these tools (but in many cases only to address limited business needs.) The focus is on the the click, the open, and the conversion. Very necessary, but limited. In many cases, the digital marketing technology is just plain too hard to operate. Add Print into the mix, and try to execute a multi-channel campaign with multiple online and offline vendors, and things become very cumbersome.

These conditions are putting tremendous pressure on marketing teams and skill sets. Because Sales is under more pressure than ever, they are more demanding of marketing than ever. Many people in our customer’s organizations have not yet caught up. We can be the ones to help, by managing data, analytics, content, and providing a great customer experience. Everyone is talking about the “customer journey”, but the fact is most Printers and Digital Marketing service providers can’t deliver even campaign execution via their web interfaces. 

Instead of trying to stitch disparate applications together, marketers need an integrated platform that lets them deliver customer experiences across the web, email, mobile and print--  and to better manage and measure campaigns. We hear the buzzwords of "Big Data", and it's true-- marketers of any scale absolutely need Big Data. In fact, Quadracci talked about Big Data in the interview, too, and erroneously asserted that Printers had been doing this for a long time.  In fact, printers have only been on the "output end" of what I would call "Small Data". Data that drives simple personalization, versioning and tailored pricing and availability differences across geographic footprints is not Big Data. What Big Data brings to the marketer is an aggregate data platform that understands the individual customer and lets her use that information across every one of your touch points, in many cases predicting behavior that the customer himself does not see in their future. 

There are no "web-to-print" solutions on the market today that do these things effectively. There are some that have digital (i.e., email) and print capabilities, but they are very limited. Some, however, are thinking about this new world. A new generation of Web-to-Print systems will bring these solutions to the customer. In addition, some of the marketing automation companies are getting more involved in print applications, because they are now starting to see Print as a tool to differentiate themselves in a crowded landscape of competitive technologies. 

It's a tremendous opportunity. Who is going to capitalize on it? Who should be bringing this to the customer? The marketing automation providers, or the Printers? Or the guys who used to be printers?  It is your decision.


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