Author Archives: Elizabeth Gooding

About Elizabeth Gooding

Elizabeth Gooding is a visionary innovator in the area of relevant, personalized communications that drive positive business results. In addition to managing the Insight Forums blog, she conducts research on trends, technology and opportunities related to integrated, closed-loop transactional marketing (aka Transpromo), shareholder communications and social media. As the president of Gooding Communications Group www.GoodComm.net she leads a team of senior consultants solving problems with designing, producing and procuring business communications. Committed to driving innovation in communications, she has launched a series of business networking communities for communications professionals on Linkedin - the Transpromo Professionals Network, The Financial Communications Forum, The Healthcare Communications Forum and Shareholder Notice & Access group. Previously, Elizabeth founded Art Plus Technology, which provided design and communications strategy to the financial, insurance, and healthcare industries for 20 years prior to its sale in 2007. Elizabeth is the former editor of E.bill Magazine and is a frequent speaker at industry events such as AIIM, the Investment Company Institute (ICI) General Meeting, On Demand, NAVA Operations Conference (now IRI), the Gilbane Conference and Xplor. Follow her on www.twitter.com/egooding

Coloring inside the Lines – Designing Business Communications in Highly Regulated Industries

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From Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.

From Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.

Most designers look at regulations the way that Don Quixote looked at windmills – as an adversary that must be defeated or circumvented.

In fact, regulations are just one of several boundaries on any designer of business communications. Designs are also restricted by:

  • Corporate Identity Guidelines
  • Postal Regulations
  • Production Processes

And just as windmills are not giants, boundaries don’t need to be the designer’s enemy. In fact, identifying these factors in advance can help to focus attention on the goals of the design and also apply a filter to the process of finding solutions. The ability to understand and design for these constraints can actually become a strategic advantage for the designer.

Do you need to be an expert on every regulation? Cam Shapansky, Partner at Canada-based marketing agency Blue ID says “I don’t think the designer should become the regulatory expert, but we’ve always tried to view the regulators as a friend.” At the end of the day, compliance departments and corporate counsel exist for a reason – they are the legal experts. What is critical is that designers understand when they are working with a communication that is subject to regulatory compliance and that they engage the appropriate experts as early in the process as possible. Some designers may be tempted to simply lift-out the regulatory language that is currently used. This is a problem for several reasons; first, the product or business changes that were the catalyst for redesign might have negated the need for specific disclosures. Second the regulations (or cited regulatory agencies) may have changed or be pending change – recent examples include the renamed FINRA (replacing NASD in the footnotes of your U.S. brokerage statements) and the newly formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or CFPB. Third, the company’s “compliance culture” or interpretation of the regulations may have shifted since the last time the document was updated. Some companies take a very conservative approach, erring on the side of legal protection to the corporation at the cost of customer experience. This can have a major impact on the design process as well as the design itself.

Another way that companies differ in their interpretation of regulations is in the placement of compliance messaging according to Michael Ellison. As the president of Corporate Insight, an analyst firm that uses live accounts at leading financial firms to benchmark communications across all major channels, Ellison reviews a lot of statements. “Some firms dump several paragraphs of legalese onto one page in very small type, creating a dense, uninviting reading experience that adds no value to the relationship. Others sprinkle the required language throughout the document. While still dense legal-speak, the language is at least a little easier to understand since it’s presented in proper context. A third – and in our view, optimal – approach transforms regulatory disclosures into readable, plain language, presenting this required text in a way that is not distracting to the reader.”  .

Progressive companies combine “point of need” messaging with plain language disclosures to minimize complex legal language and make sure that key information is placed where it is most useful to the reader. Some language may still be clustered in one area of the statement if it is general information that is not frequently referenced. According to Shapansky, “We consider the meeting with corporate counsel to be one of the most important meetings we have with any client. You know within the first 30 seconds what type of regulatory interpretation the company is going to follow and whether they are progressive or not. “

Working directly with a firm’s compliance expert provides a much-needed opportunity to advocate for innovations that make the language and positioning more customer-friendly. Sometimes the boundaries need to be pushed and interpretations need to be challenged for the benefit of the customer – and ultimately the corporation as well. Often in challenging specific compliance “rules” it is determined that they are not rules at all but simply “guidelines” defined by some long-retired employee of years gone by.

In designing business communications, you must have a strategy for dealing with the boundary conditions you face. Will the design process be based on rigid instructions or will there be a dialogue? Will the process lean toward the customer or toward a bureaucratic norm? Will you color well within the lines or will you color right up to the outside edge of the line?

Keys to Success:

  • Understand the current interpretation. Why was the regulatory language handled in this particular way? Has the corporate or regulatory climate changed?
  • Understand the corporate culture. Do they take a conservative position or a progressive position? Do they actually have a position or are they just doing what they’ve always done?
  • Make your case for any requested changes. Will your approach have a significant positive impact on customer experience, cost or risk exposure? Can you back your claims up with competitive benchmarks or research?
  • Provide several options. There may be more than one way to make improvements. Don’t end up with the status quo, legalese interpretation because you weren’t willing to compromise.
  • Engage with compliance representatives in person (and have your corporate sponsor on board with your recommendations first.) Remember, it’s easy to say “no” in an email. It’s much harder face-to-face.
  • Document the discussions and factors that drove the decision to take a particular approach. This will help to make the decision stick and avoid revisiting issues multiple times when and if new people join the project.

Most importantly, remember that regulations are intended to inform and protect the customer.  They also protect the corporation from potential liability.  Regulations are not the enemy of design, they don’t need to be defeated or circumvented. They need to be understood and implemented in a way that serves the intended purpose – and the same could be said of any portion of content in any information design project. Once you learn enough to color inside the regulatory lines you’re much more likely to be able to influence where those lines are drawn.

 

Elizabeth GoodingElizabeth Gooding is the President of Gooding Communications Group and editor of the Insight Forums blog. She writes, presents and provides training on trends and opportunities for business communications professionals within regulated vertical industries.

What Printers Should Talk about Online

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As I mentioned in my previous post, research shows that many business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57 percent of their purchase process is complete. It’s Marketing’s job to influence that 57 percent of the market opportunity before Sales contact, to position your company as a thought-leader and to make sure that customers don’t get locked into a requirements definition that locks you out of the sale. Since the majority of that process occurs on the web – or from colleague’s referrals based on what they have seen on the web, how you talk about your services online makes a big difference in potential sales success.

There are many ways to present your company online:

  • Your own website and blog (you do have a blog right?)
  • Partner sites and blogs
  • Company page on LinkedIn (or Facebook if appropriate for your business)
  • LinkedIn Groups for target vertical markets or print procurement
  • Pinterest (if you have interesting visuals)
  • Comments on news and industry sites

The Advanced Content Marketing GuideOnline content (on your website and beyond) should position your company as a source of answers. Think about using content marketing in the form of articles, white papers, case studies with response metrics, Youtube videos and design tips rather than just posting lists of services and equipment. (See the Advanced Content Marketing Guide by Neil Patel and Kathryn Aragon – it’s FREE.)

Consider how customers and potential customers will use your website. Ideally it should be a draw for prospects while keeping existing customers coming back for new information – thereby exposing them to your new offers. Keep in mind that most real prospects are not going to come to your site due to a web search for your services. Web searches may be common for other industries and products – but research shows that print buyers use printer’s websites to validate a printer based on a personal referral or because they saw interesting content published by that company somewhere on the web. To meet their needs, make sure that your online content does the following:

  • Educates – provides interesting solutions to industry problems like reducing customer churn, meeting new regulations or serving different market segments. Provide thought provoking information to ensure that key requirements are included in the customer’s solution definition.
  • Validates –shows your ability to deliver services in a quality manner and scale to meet customer demand. This may include information on plant and equipment but should also include information on quality programs, customer service and company culture.
  • Activates – provides methods for taking action such as registering to download whitepapers, requesting a quote, or emailing key staff. Consider promoting dialogue by allowing visitors to post questions or share experiences. You can make certain areas for customers only to promote community without exposing information to competitors.

Don’t get locked out of a sale before you even know that a buyer is on the prowl. Make sure your online presence extends beyond your website and that you are talking about the things that matter: your customer’s market, the customer’s needs and your unique understanding of both.

 

Elizabeth GoodingElizabeth Gooding is the President of Gooding Communications Group and editor of the Insight Forums blog. She writes, presents and provides training on trends and opportunities for business communications professionals within regulated vertical industries.

New Services – Same Old Sales?

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At Print13 event last month, Howie Fenton and Andy Paparozzi of NAPL delivered a presentation on “The Secrets of Leading Digital Companies” in which they propose that industry leaders are characterized by a willingness to change. They talked about changes as seemingly simple as buying a new piece of equipment to complex challenges like acquiring a company or moving into new areas of service. The latter issue was a major focus of the talk as more and more companies are diversifying their services in order to add value to customers.

“Despite economic challenges and structural changes, between January 2000 and March 2013, Leaders’ sales are up 54.2%, while the industry at large is down more than 21%,” according to Paparozzi.  The leaders are better at recognizing the need to change and are better at implementing that change and, I suspect that these changes extend beyond the operational aspects of the new technology or service that they have adopted. Which leads me to the topic of this post: you can’t change what you sell and expect to sell it the same way.

The very factors that are causing printers to offer new services, channel complexity, tidal waves of technological change, shifting demographics and intense competitive pressures are the same factors that are causing major changes in the buying behaviors of their target clients. Consider that:

  • Today’s business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57 percent of the purchase process is complete (source: Corporate Executive Board)
  • 10% of print sales originated online and this trend is expected to reach 18% by 2014 (source: InfoTrends)
  • 4% of B2B executives have made purchases of over $100,000 via their mobile device (source: Google and Forbes Insight)

This means that multi-channel marketing is not only a service printers should consider offering to their customers, it is one that printers absolutely need to be using for their own business development. Many printers, even relatively large ones, have operated without significant marketing resources and often with no dedicated marketing department. Now, more than ever, they need to consider the buyer’s full process from awareness through purchase and all of the potential touch points along the way. If buyers are researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements, and benchmarking pricing before ever having a conversation with a sales rep – it’s marketing that has to close the gap by making sure that their company is on the buyer’s radar during this research process.

Marketing support and lead generation will become increasingly critical as service portfolios and related selling tactics become more complex. Printers may need to look at making investments in marketing as well as redistribution of sales resources to include focused selling teams and inside sales support.

Marketing support is what helps keep your pipeline full and your sales people efficient enabling them to focus on what’s important once they get in front of the customer. However, your strategy also needs to consider that literally getting in front of buyers is getting harder and harder. In 2011, American businesspeople took a total of 445 million trips and over 124 million people telecommuted in 2012. That means that part of your sales and marketing strategy needs to include making it easy for “on the go” executives to find information about you from their mobile device, making it easy to engage with you from their mobile device and making it easy for them to track the progress of their business with you using their mobile device. Buyers are transacting big business directly from their smart phones – how will your site show up on the small screen? Don’t overlook mobile and get your sales force comfortable with Skype.

Printing leaders are diversifying their offers. Printing leaders are better at change and therefore their sales growth is nearly double that of the industry at large.  Printing leaders understand that to diversify your capabilities requires a complementary diversification of your sales and marketing tactics as well. Selling has evolved along with the industry. Today, how you sell is as important as what you sell – and the leaders know that too.

The Number One Sales Question

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If you are introducing new services and want a well prepared and effective sales team, you want them to understand what they are selling – that’s a given. As I said in my last post, they also need to have confidence that the new stuff works. Do they need to be technical experts? Probably not, but they need to have an understanding of your offers, what are profitable targets and what are not. Do they need to be vertical market experts? Well, it often helps – but, you can work around that with marketing, well-crafted sell sheets and shared subject matter experts.

The number one question that your sales team wants to know from you is not “how fast is the printer?” or “what’s the difference between a bank and a credit union?” It’s “how do I make money selling this?

Dangling CarrotsNow you may just say – “we pay you to make money for the company – go sell what we tell you to!” But that would be pretty naive – the best sales people are motivated by money. If you have a completely rational sales plan backed up by an emotion-free compensation plan, your sales people will be selling what you want them to and, assuming your sales force is capable of the task (that’s a topic for another post)  they and the company will be making money.

Why do companies find this so challenging?

  1. Market and Profitability Analysis: in order to determine what is profitable to sell, companies need to know their true costs and the size of the markets they are going after. Companies vary widely in their ability to track costs at a job or job type level. Many small and medium sized companies lack true marketing organizations and may not have access to market size information. With new service offerings and new markets this problem is exacerbated.
  2. Emotion: We know that we want to reward the sales reps for winning new business, but they shouldn’t be able to make more money than us managers, right? Wrong! You should want your best sales person to be the highest paid person at the table as long as their compensation is low fixed cost with a high performance reward -and they are performing. This is a hard pill for a lot of managers to swallow and leads to bait and switch comp plans where the juiciest carrots are always out of reach.
  3. Focus and Discipline: It’s hard to turn down business so companies end up rewarding sales reps for ad hoc wins, one-off solutions and out of target-market clients. It’s hard to get people to hunt for new business if they are also responsible for managing major accounts. It’s hard to attract real hunters to your team if you don’t support them with marketing, lead generation and sales administration functions. Hunters still need to do some paperwork – but mostly you want them hunting.

Without addressing these three factors in your sales compensation plan, you run the risk of your sales people selling the same old stuff to any client who bites at the lowest cost –  because that’s how they make money.

Your comp plan shouldn’t just be about filling the bag – it should be about filling the bag with the right stuff. Be clear about what the right stuff is and who the right kinds of clients are. Make sure that your comp plan rewards the behavior you want to see and you should see a difference in your sales and your bottom line.

 

Elizabeth GoodingElizabeth Gooding is the President of Gooding Communications Group and editor of the Insight Forums blog. She writes, presents and provides training on trends and opportunities for business communications professionals within regulated vertical industries.

 

How Your Past History can Hurt Future Sales

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If you have had hiccups adopting new technology or rolling out new services in the past, your sales reps are not going to forget it – particularly if it burned them with a client or two. You may also have new sales people who have had similar experiences at their previous employer – maybe that was the reason they left their last company. As I noted in my last post, sales people are very protective of their client relationships and their reputations. If they don’t believe that new offers are ready for prime time they are going to be very reluctant to sell them.

With any major change there will always be the doubters; the problem gets a lot worse when there is a historical basis for their concerns. If ignored, the effects can spread beyond “the doubter’s” own performance and cause problems throughout the sales force.  Sometimes these doubts can make it to the client’s ears further sabotaging your efforts.

It’s a conundrum, you can’t compete without investing in new technologies and upgrading your services, yet every time you do you are haunted by failed rollouts and change management issues. The only thing you can try to do with a checkered past is to learn from it.

 

The View From Apple Maps

The View From Apple Maps

Some of the greatest success stories are preceded by stumbles, setbacks or even phenomenal failures. Just look at Apple Maps and you’ll start to feel a little better about your own screw ups. However, Apple faced their mistakes directly and brilliantly with a letter to customers from Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. How did they get in this pickle in the first place? They rushed their launch, including Apple Maps as the default navigation app and kicking Google Maps to the curb. If they had done a soft launch, making Apple Maps available as a beta alternative to Google Maps, they would likely have had very different results.

We can all learn from past mistakes. Here are some ways to make sure your unfortunate history doesn’t repeat itself:

  • Own up to  past issues – don’t try to bury them. Find and review the root causes of past failures and learn from them. Add these causes to your future project checklist.
  • Have a rock solid roll-out plan for the new product/service including detailed internal test plans, customer test plans, partner test plans (if applicable) onboarding strategies and long-term customer support.
  • Seek early adopters and give them full disclosure that there will be bumps. Reward them accordingly for being voluntary crash-test dummies.
  • Consider whether a phased roll-out will reduce risk or enable sales focus on specific types of opportunities. (If you choose this option – remember that phased roll-out is not the same thing as phased planning. You still need the full strategy up front.)
  • Get sales training directly from the vendor, where possible, to build trust in the solution.
  • Communicate with your sales team throughout the implementation and roll-out process to let them know that things are going according to plan or to forewarn them if they are not.

Adopting new technologies is hard on you and your sales force – don’t make it harder than it has to be. Your sales people and your clients are both great sources of information on what they need to get comfortable with your new offers. Use these assets and you can avoid repeating past mistakes and probably avoid some new ones at the same time.

 

Elizabeth GoodingElizabeth Gooding is the President of Gooding Communications Group and editor of the Insight Forums blog. She writes, presents and provides training on trends and opportunities for business communications professionals within regulated vertical industries.

 

When You Buy and They Won’t Sell

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One of the challenges of the print industry is that printers often need to invest in new technology to remain competitive – even when they are not operating at full capacity on existing equipment. IBISWorld Market Research estimates that the average firm in the Printing industry spends $0.16 on capital investment for every dollar spent on labor. The majority of capital expenditures center on purchasing printing presses and other machinery but may also include Web2Print solutions, personalization tools, workflow or composition software.

Many companies are expanding their services to include e-presentment, multi-channel marketing and response analytics and must invest in the infrastructure to support those new capabilities. They invest because they believe that new technology will help them to make money – either by doing more for the customers they have or by attracting new customers.

For any major new investment, management will generally do a fairly thorough analysis and build a business case. In addition to operational and expense factors, the business case needs to include a sales forecast that delves into the expectations about existing customers and new customers and where the business is going to come from to justify investment.

Typically plans are drawn up over a period of months and then investments are made. But what happens when the sales people won’t sell to the plan?

I hear about reps at commercial printers who won’t sell digital, digital printer sales people who won’t put clients on inkjet and transaction print reps who don’t want to sell e-presentment among the many problems that stymie management. Sales reps who give away strategy, design and development services instead of selling them is a chronic problem across the industry.

Sometimes you can chalk the sales lag up as a basic change management issue. The new stuff is just not in their comfort zone. The fact is that sales people walk a careful line between being client advocates and delivering profitable deals for their employer. They need to be very protective of their personal reputation and their relationship with clients, so unknowns about new offers make them very nervous.  New technology coupled with requirements for new ways of selling make them doubly nervous.

When you make a strategic change in your product mix you need to look at making strategic changes in your sales processes as well. Chances are good that some of your sales people won’t like that very much. Most printers have a mix of long- and short-tenured sales reps; those with many years, or even decades of experience with a solid book of business may see themselves as being above the change and immune to new standards. An effective change management approach will ensure that sales people have the necessary tools, resources, incentives, and support to succeed with the new model. It must also reinforce that they work for the company – not for themselves and that the company has the right to place emphasis on selling the services that support their long-term success.

So, as you polish off your technology implementation plan, pay careful attention to your sales plan and change management needs. Stay tuned as we look at how your past history can hurt your future sales.

 

Elizabeth Gooding is the President of Gooding Communications Group and editor of the Insight Forums blog. She writes, presents and provides training on trends and opportunities for business communications professionals within regulated vertical industries.

Elizabeth Gooding

Printing in Spook Country

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Spook Country,” the 2007 novel by William Gibson, introduced the concept of “locative art” to the reading public. Gibson’s character Hollis Henry is constantly searching for works of art with her smartphone; art that Gibson describes as akin to techno graffiti.  His descriptions of art tied to a particular GPS location and viewable with a smart phone or VR glasses include a virtual image of  F. Scott Fitzgerald dying at the very spot in Hollywood where he had a fatal heart attack, and Archie – a 90 foot giant squid (Architeuthis for those in the know.) In the book, Archie was designed as a display for a Tokyo department store with “an endless rush of digital imagery along Archie’s distal surface.”

The Museum of Vancouver took a page from Gibson’s book this month by launching their augmented reality museum app “The Visible City.” Truly a work of locative art, Visible City enables a walking tour augmented by your smart device in which the tourist sees the streets of Vancouver as they were in their “neon era.” The application overlays pictures and interviews with local personalities to create an immersive experience.

VisibleCity - Webheaderimage

However, augmented reality today is as much about commerce as it is about art. Like the Tokyo department store in Gibson’s novel, retail is the main early adopter. Major brands realize that the opportunity for consumers to interact with products in retail locations can drive sales. There are many examples of AR used for product marketing including LEGO toys, Heinz Ketchup, Budweiser and Audi. While the first three involve interactions at the point of sale, Audi used Metaio to develop an AR enhanced brochure and a virtual users guide (it’s in German – but it’s so clear it doesn’t matter.) There are also numerous examples of catalogs enhanced with augmented reality apps to deliver 3D product views as the reader directs their smart device at a specific item.

While the early adopters were in retail, other brands are getting on board, most recently PNC bank with their Finder AR-based bank locator app. It’s really not anything that couldn’t be accomplished with a Google search or asking “Siri, where’s the nearest PNC Bank?” Nonetheless, it demonstrates the conservative banking industry’s interest in embracing the new cool thing.

Finder by PNC landing page image

Direct Marketing is a natural fit for augmented reality; just ask Omni Hotels and Resorts. Omni-live, their AR app was released in June and is part of a multi-media campaign tailored to meeting and events planners. It includes print, social media, online video and web advertising in concert with augmented reality. In addition to making the campaign more interesting and interactive, AR also makes the campaign more measurable. As soon as the consumer launches the app, the marketer knows that the campaign is being read and how much time the consumer is interacting with the contents. With a really well done virtually reality application, consumers will return again and again.

There is also potential for AR with transaction printing from mundane explanations to incredibly creative advertising. With AR, a financial institution or wireless/internet/cable provider could virtually welcome new customers on board walking them through their statement or invoice and offering detailed instructions (like the Audi user manual above.)

There are plenty of agencies and AR developers out there ready to partner with you to bring new services to your clients. All it takes is a creative vision of how your current print products can deliver more value. Adding a virtual layer between the reality of print and a virtual world revealed through smart apps is the next step in business communications – are you ready to take that step?

For a nice primer on Augmented Reality (written well before AR was on the tip of people’s tongues) visit Common Craft’s Youtube presentation (sorry, there is advertising on the site.)

Elizabeth Gooding Elizabeth Gooding is the President of Gooding Communications Group and editor of the Insight Forums blog. She writes, presents and provides training on trends and opportunities for business communications professionals within regulated vertical industries.

Insurance and Retail get Married

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About this time last year I posted a release about the new retail sales branch opened by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey. Horizon was one of the first health insurance companies to take a “retail” approach to selling individual insurance policies under the then newly approved Affordable Care Act.

In May of 212, Forbes reported on the partnership between Aetna and Costco to offer the Costco Personal Health Insurance medical and dental program.  Consumers who buy the Aetna coverage through Costco will get extra discounts when they buy prescriptions through Costco pharmacies. Costo had already developed banking partnerships to allow them to sell mortgages.

This year we are starting to see the life insurance industry, particularly products geared to lower and middle income consumers, pursue retail sales opportunities. MetLife, for example, has set up kiosks in hundreds of Walmart stores. Unlike the Horizon branch which has specially trained staff to answer questions, visitors to a MetLife kiosk pick up their “box of insurance” in the form of a prepaid card and take it to the checkout. They then have to call MetLife’s toll-free number to answer health questions posed by a life agent. If the customer qualifies for coverage, the policy is activated, otherwise the card can be returned for a full refund.

Two key things we can learn from this trend:

1. As more insurance companies start courting retail partners as distribution channels, or opening up direct branches, they will need a new “retail approach” to their communications as well. This opens up new opportunities for graphic arts services like signage, sell sheets, and packaging for direct branches. It should also increase potential for transaction printers to offer statement marketing to highlight approved retail partners. Design services are a potential “foot in the door” as so much new material will need to be developed for the retail audience.

2. Partnerships, particularly distribution partnerships, can be wonderful things. Printers and other business communications professionals may also find value in new distribution channels and regional partnerships. Insurers are able to reach a broader audience that will pay a premium for convenience through retail relationships. Perhaps there are similar opportunities out there for your business.

If retail and insurance are getting married, let’s crash the wedding or at least get some good dating advice.

Elizabeth GoodingElizabeth Gooding is the President of Gooding Communications Group and editor of the Insight Forums blog. She writes and speaks and provides training on trends and opportunities for business communications professionals within regulated vertical industries.

 

Breaking Down the Barriers to Inkjet Adoption

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Last week, Canon hosted a cross-section of prominent companies from the graphic arts, book, direct mail and transaction printing segments in Munich Germany. I was pleased to be invited, along with other expert presenters from Canon Poing CECGartner, InfoTrends, InterQuest, IT Strategies, Madison Advisors and NAPL. The  Leadership  Forum was held at Canon’s impressive 14,000 square foot Customer Experience Center where several cutsheet toner presses and a huge array of high-volume, continuous feed inkjet presses were configured as custom application demonstrations. I had ample opportunity to network with attendees and learn what was driving them to update their technology. While not specifically an inkjet event, the majority of attendees at the Leadership Forum were evaluating the transition to inkjet or expanding on an existing inkjet implementation. The top three reasons cited:

  • Speed/Time to market requirements;
  • Full-color, white paper efficiencies;
  • Plans to enter new markets.

My charter was to prepare a wrap-up session on “Preparing Your Business for Inkjet ” along with two customers; Bob Radzis of SG360 (a direct mailer) and Mike McCombs of RevSpring (a transaction printer.) These two gentlemen shared their successes with transitioning to inkjet along with candid feedback on the challenges they faced as early adopters. Dialogue with attendees focused on perceived challenges with inkjet adoption but, there were very few actual barriers cited. Some key take-aways were:

  • Inkjet has clearly reached a tipping point among high-volume printers of variable applications;
  • Quality is no longer perceived as a barrier to adoption;
  • Customers were encouraged by the increasing variety and availability of inkjet papers and seemed confident that the trend would continue;
  • Customer seemed to recognize that the right workflow solution was as critical as selecting the right press but were less aware of the critical tradeoffs between paper selection and ink usage;
  • The major remaining obstacle to inkjet adoption is production volume. Mid-volume companies often can’t generate the business case for inkjet.

While this was a working trip for me, it was also an opportunity to attend great sessions covering the social, economic and technical factors that are changing the print industry in general, as well as, drill-down sessions on key drivers of change in book printing, direct mail and transaction printing specifically. Whether you are a print provider or a consultant there is constantly more to learn in our industry and the Canon Leadership Forum did a great job of blending business, technical and market related content with product demonstrations and networking opportunities. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Canon’s CEC, or attend a future Leadership Forum I highly recommend the trip.

Elizabeth GoodingElizabeth Gooding is the President of Gooding Communications Group and editor of the Insight Forums blog. She writes and speaks and provides training on trends and opportunities for business communications professionals within regulated vertical industries.

P&C: Agents of Change?

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negotiation timeThere nearly 1 million insurance agents and brokers employed in the U.S. and you would think that they would be fiercely competitive with each other. You’d be wrong.  In fact, more and more, agencies are merging, consolidating and forming agency networks to compete with the real enemy – Direct Writers. Many large carriers with captive agency forces or who sell insurance directly online or over the phone, “Direct Writers,” spend as much as $200 to $700 million per year on advertising, particularly in the home and auto insurance market. According to estimates from Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America and A.M. Best Co. direct writers dominated the overall personal lines market in 2010 writing over 53 percent of total premium. Independent agents are fighting back and asserting their value to insurance customers.

“Personal touch is what will keep independent agents alive in the future,” says Christopher Misterka, Marketing Coordinator with the Kaplansky Insurance Agency which has offices in 11 locations and has experienced 13% growth in each of the past 2 years. Misterka says that client correspondence used to be primarily letters but, “now it’s primarily email, social media and a monthly online newsletter that offers customer education on timely issues like potential tax scams during tax season.” While Kaplansky has moved most of their personal lines marketing online due to the size of the household audience they want to reach, they continue to prospect for commercial clients using direct mail. To keep content fresh and campaigns timely, Misterka engaged an insurance specialty organization called Agency Revolution with professional writers, an existing library of content and a digital marketing platform that enables quick generation of marketing campaigns.

Angelyn Treutel, President of SouthGroup Insurance agrees that providing educational content is critical in positioning an agency well with customers and that consistency of communication with the customer builds trust. Her organization leverages the Trusted Choice solution available through the IA&B however; their direct marketing is all managed in-house. “We use a multi-channel, multi-touch approach recognizing that it may take 2 or 3 or 4 touches before a customer takes action,” says Treutel. “We need multi-channel because different customers are in all different places,” relative to their acceptance of online versus print communications. SouthGroup has had particular success with personalized direct mail that includes pictures of agents as part of the mailing. Personalization, careful segmentation of campaigns and ensuring that the customer never gets the exact same message twice are important in crafting an effective campaign according to Treutel.

Differentiation between segments of the P&C business such as commercial versus personal lines is one simple method, but many agencies are looking deeper at markets, customers and the communication preferences of individuals. For example, the High-Net-Worth Personal Lines market is more often served by independent agents than direct writers as the agencies give affluent customers the specialized services they have come to expect. In this market, agencies can create campaigns to educate customers on the superior products, pricing, loss prevention services and risk management services that are available through carriers that specialize in the HNW market versus more generic solutions from direct writers. Since many HNW clients are also business owners or senior executives, there are great opportunities to cross sell HNW personal lines insurance to commercial clients and vice versa. Independent agents currently sell the lion’s share of premium in the commercial market and can strengthen that position by building trusted personal relationships with business owners and managers.

Creating innovative communications has historically not been a core competency of insurance agencies but most recognize that this needs to change. As the demand for more effective and consistent customer touches continues to grow, agencies are looking for partners to help them execute regular, cost effective communications programs with their customers. If you are a service provider with a truly robust multi-channel offer and the strategic services to become an agent of change in the P&C industry – opportunities abound. If your offering is not quite as developed, don’t despair, there are still opportunities to pursue business from the “Agency Agencies” that are primarily focused on providing marketing content and digital distribution, but typically outsource printing and mailing services. As agencies cooperate and grow larger, the opportunities to serve them grow larger as well.

Elizabeth GoodingElizabeth Gooding is the President of Gooding Communications Group and editor of the Insight Forums blog. She writes and speaks and provides training on trends and opportunities for business communications professionals within regulated vertical industries.