Print’s Dirty Little Secret

By | March 5, 2009

Every week it seems that we’re bombarded with the doom and gloom of the printing industry. Yesterday’s merges and buyouts are today’s plant closings and restructuring. Not a day goes by were I’m not assaulted by the news that ad pages are down and newspapers and magazine’s are closing.

The masters of this industry, Kodak, Xerox, International Papers and the huge printing concerns throughout the northern hemisphere (RRD and Quad) are imploding. Sales for their products have plummeted and the paper they hold is crushing them.

Oh, blame the internet for making it easier to do get your news, email a client and generally do business more cost-effectively. After all, the internet created a VistaPrint and all the little knock offs. Blame the recent oil speculators for raising the price of ink and transportation a few sheckles. Hell, blame the clients for not throwing their money into another poor response marketing program.

My, my, is it possible that companies are finally demanding accountability from their CMO’s for their marketing dollars?

With the cost of every component necessary to contact prospects in all forms of media, why are they suddenly asking to justify every darn penny they spend against the sale? Oh, could it be that over 99% of all communications fails to generate a sufficient response (read: break-even)?

It’s not the printer’s or publisher’s fault. Is it? They merely brought the customer into the arena for the Creative’s to hunt. The publisher did his best to hire content providers who can produce interesting articles that draw readers onto a page where they let the ad people try to seduce them. And this is where the problem really lies.

Most creative decision makers have spent most of their careers practicing the mass-communications techniques established in the 60’s. You know, hit as many eyes for the lowest CPM and run an average.

This one-size-fits-all approach to marketing is so antiquated, so primitive, and generally so ineffective that when you add it up, it costs every company that employs it between $600 and $1,500 to generate a sales lead.

Is this print’s dirty little secret? Not yet! It’s marketing’s dirty little secret.
For years, creative people have looked to printers for ideas they can rip off (oops, I meant borrow) when pitching clients. This leaves them at the mercy of the printer because most creative people can only design traditional products like folders, brochures, postcards and self-mailers because that’s what most printers can quote on. Or, the “Millennium’s”, who believe that just web portals linked to social networks are the new fishing venues. There is a place for that too. However, with the advent of digital and its first born, variable, the static message has been rendered obsolete!

Where is the multi-channel strategy that comes with “marketing services provider?” The fact is, creative firms are imploding faster than printers. Again, the damn client wants accountability. This is primarily due to their commoditization of ideas as well as products.

And now, where closing in on print’s dirty little secret.

From my 30-odd years’ experience in creating and producing new business development programs for customers in virtually every SIC, I can attest to one, time-proven fact; print, when it’s personalized, employing the right colors, well-written prose, and most importantly, multi-dimensionality, will out-pull any other form of media communications available today!

Print will lower the cost of capture to a fraction of what it currently costs to pull in a lead! It will also stand out better, get to the frontal cortex faster, be remembered over the last streaming viral video viewed and stay in your prospect’s consciousness longer than the other messages they’re hit with while being the most cost-efficient communications format available!

Don’t believe me? Think I’m pandering to you print providers? Here’s a nasty little fact. Americans are assaulted over 4,000 times a day by media messages (that figure varies upward depending on who I consult with), and cutting through that clutter is all I am hired to do. And my first choice is always a 3-Dimensional, personalized and printed, full-color, emotionally charged, hand-assembled mailer, followed by a well-trained telemarketing person who sets up a live person-to-person 1:1 meeting. This is true multi-channel marketing.
Now, here’s my dirty little secret!

Following these guidelines has allowed my clients to generate sales appointments for under $200 a piece. Not only have some of these programs generated over 50% response rates (we actually hit the 90% response rate recently), they have allowed our clients to trim non-productive marketing programs out of their budgets and actually plan for controlled growth, even in these economically uncertain times.

And here’s what I’ve learned. The future of marketing is evolving into short run, personalized, well-targeted, “Coney Island” enhanced, B2B direct mail, versioned to go 3-deep into a prospective company with Information on Demand as an on-line back-up, handed off to a skilled telemarketing support team who’s only mission is to generate a face-to-face with a well-trained sales person. Using this system, not only can you baseline efficacy, you can actually predict expansion and growth.

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9 thoughts on “Print’s Dirty Little Secret

  1. Scott Laughlin

    Well said Harvey! All too often, printers offer effective solutions without realizing revenue because clients think solutions are outside of our [a printer’s] purview. By redefining ourselves as a marketing service provider (MSP), we have been able to bill for solutions because we demonstrate our value through strategy and tactical implementation.

  2. mjosefowicz

    It’s sometimes lonely on the soapbox. But I hope you keep on keeping on!

    The biggest idea I found in your post is the cost per sales lead.

    Based on what I’ve seen, very few business people have a clear idea of customer acquisition cost and life time customer value. When you have good numbers on that marketing is not rocket science. Subtract customer acquisition cost from 1 year, 2 year and 3 year customer value. If the number is positive, do that. If it’s not, don’t do that.

    The other dirty little secret is that most business talks ROI at the meeting, and act like “deer caught in the headlight” when they’re sitting behind their desks.

  3. Eoin Stewart


    I have to say my eyes went straight to the concept that marketers have (and I believe will continue) using printers as engineering consulates in order to derive specifications they themselves do not have the skill sets to do themselves.

    Even worse we’ve all seen these resulting specifications used to bid a project with the result being that the printer who developed the specifications actually assisted their competition as the project was not awarded to them!

    I’m sorry, but it happens everyday and I apologize if I’ve offended those design professionals who would never place a print partner in such a position.

    Now that’s a “dirty little secret.”

  4. Diane Dragoff

    I love this article! I’m recommending it to my printing friends, my print buying friends, designer friends and marketing friends.

    I thought it was only me; or that it was, as The Who put it, My Generation. I’ve got all the social and professional networking going on, but you know what…. there’s more retention with a printed piece, its got to be an truly impressive website for me to even remember what I was looking atafter I shut off the computer for the night…

    As for wading through “pages and pages” on the internet: Heck, my eyes get tired and I’ve got other stuff to do!

    I may not be buying very much printing these days (don’t spend much in general, I work for a non-profit), but eventually it will turn around so that there will be personalized, well-though out documents, printed to our templated spec with information requested by our clients. It not the print enough to tack to every phone pole post in town approach anymore, targeted, targeted, targeted is key.
    The print is part of a system of communication that is customized for each business.

  5. Diane Dragoff

    See, I even had a typo (see Frank Romano re: typos) since this was on the screen not on paper…That should be “…personalized, well-thought out documents…

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