“I Sell Marketing Services: Do You Trust Me?”

By | December 11, 2010

A few weeks ago, I posted a link to an online poll I was conducting in an attempt to get feedback on print buyers’ and marketers’ attitudes toward printers and print distributors / brokers as “marketing services providers.” In other words, their perspective on allowing their providers of print to do more than output individual components of a larger campaign and allow them to handle entire marketing campaigns (which is what a marketing services provider is supposed to do).

I had hoped to get a broad perspective on print buyer’s and marketer’s attitudes on this issue, but only handful of respondents were buyers of print. The overwhelming majority were printers, print distributors / brokers, or marketing services firms. Even so, there were some interesting results. In fact, I think these results are important, if decidedly uncomfortable, for this industry to address.

Although this is not projectible data, 23.5% of respondents said they were “extremely comfortable” letting commercial printers handle their 1:1 printing, multi-channel marketing, and other marketing campaigns and 5.9% said they were “extremely uncomfortable” doing so.  When it came to print distributors / brokers, however, no respondents — not even the providers of print services themselves — said they were “extremely” or even “somewhat” comfortable allowing them to handle marketing. In fact, the percentage saying they were “extremely uncomfortable” jumped to 43.8%.

When asked to indicate their reasons for trusting or mistrusting printers and print distributors / brokers, as expected from a base of respondents mostly from the print community, more than half said this wasn’t applicable and that they trusted their printer or distributor in this area. But number two was, “We integrate with a full range of media (including television, radio, and print advertising) and need a provider capable of managing these channels, as well,” with 26.7% giving this answer.

In the printing industry, we’re so focused on online and mobile communications as competitive media that major media like television and radio go off the radar screen. Yet for many marketers, these are the base of their campaigns, so without the ability to manage these media, as well, commercial printers and print distributors / brokers are relegated to being vendors of a single or even multiple services (or even siloed campaigns) but not the integrator or campaign developer. This is the elephant in the room when printers and distributors talk about becoming “marketing services providers.” Television, radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards, and other major media are “marketing,” too!

This poll raises some really important questions. This industry has been transitioning from being printers to calling themselves “marketing services providers.” These survey results, while not projectiable, shine a spotline on the elephant in the room. If  even members of the printing industry do not trust their own to handle marketing, why should marketers trust them to do it? It’s an interesting question that I think the industry needs to be honest about and get a handle on.

Consider it it your challenge for 2011!

In the meantime, have a wonderful and blessed Christmas and holiday season.

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12 thoughts on ““I Sell Marketing Services: Do You Trust Me?”

  1. Margie Dana


    Interesting survey, I didn’t know about it. But I’m not surprised at the results. Thanks for sharing..

  2. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro Post author

    @ Margie. Thanks! I posted it in some of the LinkedIn groups and on here, but I could have done more to promote it. It’s still live, so if you want to encourage your members to respond, that would be awesome. If we get a much more responses, I’ll post the updated results!

  3. Jeffrey Becker


    I think it is important for you to share details on the number of replies to give more perspective to your findings. Without this, the findings are not valid. Thanks.


  4. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro Post author

    @ Jeff. Good point. I would say, however, that findings can be valid even if they are not projectible. In this case, they are not projectible for a variety of reasons, both because of the number of responses (total of 18 so far) and also because of how those responses were gathered. It wasn’t an unbiased survey. This was a poll, which, by definition, is not projectible.

    Consequently, the results can be taken with a grain of salt, but like other polls (such as the Print Buyer Online surveys, which are always very interesting and helpful), the results are helpful because they give insight into the dynamics of a marketplace. I think the comment by Margie Dana (who runs Print Buyers Online) that the results didn’t surprise her support the fact that, while they may not be projectible, the trend is accurate.

    I’ve also been writing and interviewing on this issue for quite a few years, and the data support everything I’m seeing on the ground.

  5. Chuck

    Heidi, this piece is very disappointing. I think this does nothing but add to the general noise level around this topic, which is already quite high.

    You are asking the wrong people questions that they can’t answer, you got 18 responses and this tells us something interesting? Sorry, I don’t get it.

    This topic needs clarity, not “48.3% of printers wouldn’t trust themselves to do marketing.” Ironically, that’s a pretty smart position, but this poll is highly suspect, it’s obviously statistically invalid and meaningless.

    Maybe try again working with Margie and see if you can get a valid response from the buy side. I see trends among buyers more to decoupling than to integrated services or sole source relationships. This does not bode well for “marketing service providers”, unless they are email marketing providers, not printers. Shopping around is always good.

    I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, too!

  6. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro Post author

    @ Chuck. It is interesting how one reader can say this is right on while another can say it’s totally off. I had the same response when I wrote a broader article on this topic for an industry magazine. It hasn’t been published yet, but when I sent the pre-publication draft around to the people I got quotes from, two interviewees thought it was really helpful and it was about time someone said these things in the open. A third thought the article was totally off, completely misses the opportunities, and should include more information on how people can make money selling these solutions.

    I tried to get more marketing people to respond to the survey, but that so few marketing people responded is relevant in itself. Beyond that, it was the responses of the print suppliers that was so surprising. Projectible or not, those responses are worthy of discussion.

    The reason this post adds to the noise level, as you say, is that it’s not what people want to hear. People don’t want to hear how difficult the sales cycle can be, how long it is, and how if you want to sell these types of marketing solutions you have to completely retool and the risk that poses. But it would be irresponsible to talk about one without the other.

    As you know, I am strong believer in 1:1 printing and multi-channel marketing. I think QR codes are fabulous. I sell reports (lots of them) helping printers educate their sales forces and marketing teams on how to present these opportunities to customers. But I do think it’s irresponsible of us, as industry analysts, editors, or anyone else, to perpetuate the idea that this is an easy transition or that it’s for everybody. It’s not.

    In fact, I’ve been getting feedback from printers and print distributors (very angry feedback, I must say) who are tired to hearing articles about how transitioning to 1:1, multi-channel, and QR codes is a walk in the park. They feel that they have been sold a bill of goods. They’ve been promised new customers and new profits if they only invest in these technologies. Then they slam into a brick wall and don’t understand why. There is a lot of frustration that these opportunities are not materializing the way they’ve been led to believe.

    These opportunities are real. Printers, MSPs, marketing firms ARE doing these applications, they ARE being successful, and this IS the way marketing is going in the future. But this is not going to be the path for every printer who wants greater profits. It would be irresponsible to say so. This poll raises some issues the industry needs to talk about.

    I will, however, change the phrase “online survey” to “online poll,” which would be a more accurate term.

  7. Bill Loeber


    I am a marketing professional and as such can give you my thoughts on your survey.

    The fundamental problem with your survey, in my opinion, is the initial premise that as a client I would view a printer as a full service marketing company. A printer has a vested interest in having you use his/her printing service for marketing, and not use TV, web marketing, and other ways to communicate with your potential customers.

    “If you are a hammer the whole world look like a nail.”

    It’s like shopping for a car at the Ford dealership and expecting a balanced sales pitch on Honda and Toyota as well as Ford. It ain’t in the dealers interest to be fair and balanced. Or listening only to your stock broker for financial advice. He sells stocks, not real estate, bonds or gold.

    In my experienced the best marketing services companies are agnostic when it comes to selecting the appropriate communication tool. The best are very good at helping you identify the “marketing problem” that needs to be solved. And then determine the best method to solve it. Sometimes it’s print, sometimes it’s electronic, sometimes it’s mass media, etc. Never the other way around!

  8. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro Post author

    @ Bill: My point exactly! Your comments are exactly my point. I don’t know whether you’ve seen the survey itself, but it did not have an initial premise that a client would see a printer as a full-service marketing company. It was designed to find out whether or not a client would, and if not, why not.

    Here’s the link to the survey itself.


    Feel free to pass it around to others in the marketing community. These are exactly the kinds of comments I was hoping to get — the perspective of the marketer on the printer’s attempt to market himself as a “marketing solutions provider.”

  9. Steven Amiel

    As mentioned marketing communications involve a variety of touch points from broadcast to outdoor, DM, tradeshows, white papers, emails, mobile etc. To me a marketing services provider needs to understand the relationship between all touch points and be able to aggregate and analyze the responses and value each touch point provides to the sales process (whether b2b or b2c). That is enough to become an expert in for one life time.

  10. Philippe Cardyn

    We’ve been selling marketing services instead of ink on paper since 1995.

    From our experience here in Europe (it might be significantly different in the US) we define and qualify our marketing service offering by saying:

    – “direct communication” (analytics, list buying, direct mail, email marketing, outbound & inbound telemarketing) where we bundle our core competencies with offerings from partners in other specialized disciplines and where we are the single point of contact for the customer
    – “B2B communication”, where the products and services we sell end up being a significant part of the communication mix of the brand owner. Here again, we partner with other service companies while trying to remain in a strategic partnership position.

    It’s never an easy sell, but we succeed in developing this type of customer relationship. It does not free us from doing the “balancing act” of getting high production volumes needed to continue to invest in the latest technology and developing services (creative, copywriting, digital asset management, etc.) that appeal to brand owners.

  11. Kenny Dowling

    Heidi, when I read in your response to Jeff that your report was based on just 18 responses, I was already in Chuck’s frame of mind when I went on to read his piece.

    With such a small set, I believe it is imperative to give that number up front when you provide percentages as it casts a totally different light on the potential inferences. Your response to Chuck, while interesting in itself, doesn’t appear to acknowledge his critical point.

    It is a pity that the statistical slant has coloured what is a very interesting observation.

    Regards, Kenny

  12. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro Post author

    @Kenny. I would agree with you except that the data are 100% consistent with my 20 years of industry analysis and every piece of anecdotal evidence I’ve seen. (And the experience of other analysts, industry leaders, and vendors I talk to off the record.) If it weren’t, I wouldn’t have published it.

    If this data had supported what this industry wanted to hear, my suspicion is that nobody would have questioned the number of responses. It would have been taken an as industry-representative poll and that would have been it. But because the conclusion is uncomfortable, people are challenging it, whether it’s consistent with every other piece of industry evidence or not.

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