There is a very real opportunity for forward-thinking in-plant managers to position their operations as visionary leaders within their companies, universities or agencies.
It’s happening all the time in the commercial printing world. No longer defining themselves simply as print service providers, commercial printers are working hard to transition into marketing service providers. It’s a difficult journey, but they see this as one of the few viable ways to grow from a price-driven, commodity operation with shrinking volumes and margins into a lucrative business with high profit potential.
Such a transition is not easy for commercial printers, though, because it requires them to reposition themselves. They need to target different prospects with different sales approaches while adding new capabilities and expertise.
Here’s where in-plants have the advantage. They share the strategic objectives of their parent organizations and can securely leverage the data, skills and expertise, of their marketing, IT and sales teammates without crossing the firewall. Yet few seem to be grabbing the opportunity. Only about 3 percent of PODi’s members are from in-plants even though those same larger profits eyed by commercial printers represent bigger savings for in-plants to bring home.
Finding and Building the Business
Personalized, targeted direct marketing campaigns (both in print and digital) are much more effective than widespread mass mailings or e-mailings. Numerous studies and most of PODi’s 500+ end-user case studies prove this beyond any doubt. Yet, while many marketing departments are experimenting with social media, numerous others still rely upon traditional bulk mailings (with mediocre results). Often this is done because it’s easier, they don’t know how to personalize, or because a previous personalization attempt did not deliver improved results.
These are the departments and jobs that the commercial sector is targeting with promises of better response rates and increased business. Savvy service providers are calling on these departments to try different approaches rather than just encouraging them to submit the same bulk jobs. There are no compelling reasons why in-plants couldn’t employ the same approach and position themselves as visionaries and deliverers of ways to grow business rather than as commodity printers. In fact, in-plants often have significant advantages over their commercial counterparts with this type of work.
The In-plant Advantage
Offering personalized, digital marketing services requires some different skills and focus than traditional printing and it can be rather daunting. However, in-plants have the potential for being more effective in this than their commercial counterparts for several reasons:
• Production, mailing and e-mailing are your forte and thus probably the easiest part of the equation for any contemporary printing operation. High-quality, production color printers are available from a variety of vendors at affordable prices. Color management, digital storefronts and software geared to delivering personalized communications are all available and straightforward to use. This part of the playing field is level for both in-plants and commercial printers.
• Design services may be something you do, or you may rely upon a creative services department. Either way, personalized communication requires design and printing to be very closely related. Designers need to know how to design for both digital printing and online channels and how to effectively blend together personalized messages, offers, links and images. In-plants can leverage their sibling organizations to do this rather than having to invest in these capabilities. This is far easier to do from within an organization than from outside.
• Segmentation and messaging are critical with these campaigns and must be tied closely with design. Again, rather than investing in these capabilities, an in-plant can work closely with its marketing department client, creative services and the production team to get it right.
• Landing pages are essential with these campaigns to deliver the message presented in the mailings and to capture prospect interest. You don’t want to send people to your corporate Web page but instead drive them to a page designed for the campaign. Commercial printers need to invest in the ability to implement these pages while in-plants can leverage the expertise of their IT departments.
• Databases are the lifeblood of these campaigns. Address cleansing, segmentation, interpreting meta-data and compiling the results into usable mailing lists are all challenging activities that demand specific knowledge and abilities. Again, unlike commercial printers, in-plants can leverage their companies’ IT departments to do this and, as an added advantage, keep sensitive data securely behind corporate firewalls.
• Response tracking and follow-up are what drive results and determine success for personalized marketing campaigns. Handing off this data is the area most commonly missed because it is it so difficult. Feeding tracking reports and leads back to marketing or sales for follow-up, or sending returned mail, e-mail bounces and opt-outs directly to marketing or IT for database cleanup is something that in-plants can manage. These critical tasks are, however, incredibly difficult for an outside services provider to manage.
A Unique Role for In-plants
Obviously both in-plants and commercial printers can handle the production and mailing components of a marketing services operation. A great advantage that in-plants have is that they can also leverage the expertise of other internal organizations (marketing, creative design, IT) for many of the needs of these types of services. The hardest part—and the roles that have the greatest potential for defining in-plants as strategic operations—are the roles of visionary and project manager.
Someone needs to have and communicate (or sell) the overall vision and value of personalized communications. They need to be the expert on how to apply personalization and design for variable content digital communications in both print and electronic forms. They have to step up to managing these projects from conception through implementation across organizational boundaries, and finally to reporting responses to really drive business.
In-plants are prime candidates for shouldering this responsibility. Marketing departments don’t want to manage an operational project like this. IT departments will have to be cajoled into just delivering their elements. In-plants are the organizations where it all comes together and are the ones that will benefit most from the responsibility. Taking this on not only expands an in-plant’s work, it redefines that in-plant’s role from fulfilling orders to setting and managing strategic initiatives.
The primary advantage that commercial marketing services providers currently have is that they recognize the opportunity and are engaging their sales teams to sell it. I’ve heard numerous in-plant managers explain that, while they can handle personalized printing, their clients haven’t asked for much of it. While I have no doubt that this is true, forward-thinking commercial print and marketing services providers aren’t waiting for the work to come in—they’re educating their clients and selling the vision needed to drive these clients to utilize personalized campaigns and to create the jobs.
Making It Happen
Trying to do this alone would be difficult. Fortunately, there are numerous resources out there to help.
- You can, and should, leverage your (printer and software) vendors’ expertise wherever possible. Many of them offer business-building programs, Webinars, seminars and other materials.
- The not-for-profit digital printing initiative PODi has more than 700 members and a wealth of case studies, white papers and reports on the topic, not to mention an annual AppForum conference.
- The In-Plant Printing and Mailing Association provides a range of in-plant resources and experience year round and holds an annual conference in June.
It is easy to ignore these resources and save some money in the short term—but you risk not learning how to evolve your operation into the strategic leader it could become.