How to Be a Marketing Services Provider

By | April 17, 2009

Printers these days don’t need you to tell them the importance of becoming a marketing services provider (MSP). What they need is someone to tell them how to do it.

  • They want to know what software to buy.
  • They want to know what applications to learn.
  • They want to how to help customers develop databases.

Ironically, printers who are asking these questions may be even further from becoming marketing services providers than they might think because they are barking up the wrong tree.

If you want to become an MSP, it’s simple. Learn marketing.

How do you do this? Join the DMA. Read books on marketing. Hire a marketing  staffer. Learn to think like a marketer. (Here’s one of my “Cheap Seats” articles “How Do I Learn This Stuff?” that might help.)

In the process of becoming a marketing services provider, learning marketing strategy is more important (at first) than marketing campaign implementation.

Share this post

 

8 thoughts on “How to Be a Marketing Services Provider

  1. MichaelJ

    Heidi,
    With all due respect, I think this doesn’t really make sense for most printers. The DNA of manufacturing is different from the DNA of a marketer. That’s why printers are so notoriously awful at “marketing.” The problem is asking folks to do something they don’t naturally do. The hardest thing to get anyone to do is anything they are not already doing.

    If most printers could market, they would already be marketing.

    My take is a bit different. I think printers should try to find things that are easy for them, and hard for their customers. They should manically focus on getting their manufacturing operations more and more productive. They should focus on the unidentified problems of their present book of business. That’s the recipe for a word of mouth that is self supporting.

    No doubt that there are things that can be done to stay top of mind, look for new customers, etc. But I have seen too many printers focus on new customers and ignore the enormous value of the customers they already have.

  2. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro

    Hi, Michael.

    I understand your point entirely. However, printers aren’t asking what the direction of their business should be. They are asking how to become a marketing services provider. My answer is, if that’s what you want — if you want to be an MSP — this is what you need to do. I agree with you that it’s probably a better idea for printers to ask the question, “What IS the best direction for my business? Is it to become an MSP? Or is it to go in another direction?” first. But at least in the circles I’m traveling, that’s not the question that’s being asked. They are asking “How do I become an MSP?” So if that’s what they want, this is my take on how to do it.

  3. MichaelJ

    What you say makes lots of sense in the context of the question. But from what I’ve seen, I think you’re second point is spot on. “What IS the best direction for my business? Is it to become an MSP? Or is it to go in another direction?”

    The problem is that the common wisdom is that everyone should become an MSP. I think that takes most people down a blind alley. You can only become a better version of what you are. The best way to know what you are is to see what you’ve done successfully.

    There are only two choices. One is being what I’ve taken to call an OPM – an original product manufacturer. That’s most printers. The clearest example are trade printers. The second choice is to be a VAR – value added reseller. The clearest example of that is the print broker and the copy shop. Every retailer is a VAR in that they gather the best for their customer base and make it easy for them to buy it.

    Then there is some combination of OPM/VAR that’s where most commercial printers are today. The trick is do you want to go in the VAR direction or the OPM direction. From where I sit, I don’t think there is a third choice.

    MSP is, in my humble opinion, more a marketing word than a useful way to think about business strategy.

  4. Roy Winters

    I have an MBA in Marketing, but I own a printing business. We are still in business because of my Marketing slant and approach to business. Since today it is “Fashionable” to add marketing services to the printers repetiore, I am just pressing some of my thinking on some of my customers. But beware, not all of your customers understand what “marketing is”. Adding marketing services only makes sense if the capability exists wihin the printing business and if touting it is an advantage to the customers served. Otherwise my recommendation is that the printer sells the remains of his business and start doing something else.
    Car dealers didn’t start selling houses when the real estate market was going through the roof. Printers who don’t understand marketing will likely do more harm to their business than good by doing something they don’t understand or won’t do well. The customers are not stupid and will expect results.

  5. MichaelJ

    Roy,
    That’s exactly right.

    My only quiibble is that there is a very good business in being a better and better printer and network with the pros. Car dealers don’t sell real estate, but they do sell maintenance and repairs and all things car related. Likewise, Printers should stop trying to be something they’re not. Just focus on being great printers and network with great marketing people.

  6. Bill

    Heidi,

    I believe many of the printers today have it all wrong. It’s NOT how to be a Marketing Firm but a Marketing Service Provider.

    With more than 25 years in the industry I have seen many services tucked into the printing company. Typesetting, color houses, bindery, mailing all of these are only services. If you try and step out and become a marketing firm, you better get ready to know your stuff or lose your business in the process.

    Our industry is in a transformation again is all this is and the technology is growing at an even faster rate. Just as it did when we plugged the old drum scanners into the computers years ago, embrace it or it will leave you behind.

    Not the printer but the small customers will need the most hand holding just like they always have, a design help here and there that can be done in pre-press. The medium size customer that has a marketing person may need your assistance with database management, setting up purls and digital storefronts. Our larger customers will need assistance with full programs, start to finish but their marketing firm or marketing department will be making the calls. We only provide the services.

    I only know of a hand full of printers that have ever been successful at being a marketing firm and printing company all in one. Anyway printers you do business with for life and you build the long lasting relationship with, the marketing firms come and go and you’re only as good as your last good idea.

  7. Andre Guerreiro

    Heidi,

    I would like to deliver a tiny contribution showing everyone what is happening here in Brazil. Just a few print houses owns digital printers and most off them are facing problems they are not prepared to deal with, far and apart from just printing.

    The digital workflows doesn´t come with those equipments, must be created and implemented by themselves. The manufacter´s technical support is always poor, computer hardware are very expensive due to excessive taxation and the internal sales staff aren´t prepared for the digital world.

    Working as a marketing services company, we stablish a very close partnership with a big print house: we do the marketing, they do the printing.

    It has been working very well.

  8. Andre Guerreiro

    Heidi,

    I would like to deliver a tiny contribution showing everyone what is happening here in Brazil. Just a few print houses owns digital printers and most of them are facing problems they are not prepared to deal with, far and apart from just printing.

    The digital workflows doesn´t come with those equipments, must be created and implemented by themselves. The manufacter´s technical support is always poor, computer hardware are very expensive due to excessive taxation and the internal sales staff aren´t prepared for the digital world.

    Working as a marketing services company, we stablish a very close partnership with a big print house: we do the marketing, they do the printing.

    It has been working very well.

Comments are closed.