For the past two days, I’ve been at the Print Solutions 2012 conference, which is dedicated to the print distributor channel. Presenters have included familiar names like Barb Pellow, John Leininger, Jennifer Matt, and even nationally recognized names outside this industry such as Social Media and Google SEO Expert Patrick O’Malley and management consultant Dave Baker of ReCourses, Inc.
Usually at printing industry conferences, the theme is something related to disruptive technology like mobile and social media. It usually includes process improvement and the technology, such as content management and e-commerce systems, necessary to do that. It’s often dominated by different ways of building relationships with clients, breaking past the barriers with prospects, and new ways of selling.
That’s not what I’m taking away from this conference at all. You know what I keep hearing? I keep hearing speakers talk about the need for a zero-competition strategy.
What does that mean? It means —not being everything to everyone as we’ve been so used to hearing for over a decade now — but finding a need, creating a niche, that allows you to specialize to such an extent that you have little or no competition.
This morning in her keynote, Barb Pellow gave the great general business example of Yellow Tail wines, which went after non-wine drinkers. They removed the acid and tanins from wine that keep many wine drinkers from purchasing wine. By removing that barrier, they created an entirely new market of selling wine to non-wine-drinkers (and they are making millions doing it). She also gave the example of SouthWest Airlines, which was launched not to compete with other airlines, but with short-range auto travel. Who would have thought? But it worked.
In this industry, she gave the example of Regency, a print distributor that specialized in the small to medium-sized business market. First, it began by selling them office supplies, taking it out of the OfficeMax and Staples marketplace. Once it had their attention, then it began selling them print and promotional products. She gave the example of Tukaiz, which began offering PixyMe, a mobile-to-print postcard service targeting people who weren’t already customers and allowing them to create and send a personalized postcard via email, text message, Facebook, or an actual printed postcard through the mail.
She gave many examples. So did others.
Dave Baker gave the example of a successful company that started by serving the very narrow niche of offering marketing for credit unions only. Then he described how the company narrowed its niche even further to offering only SEO to credit unions.
Baker then offered a fascinating exercise to his audience. He asked them to write down how they differentiate from their competitors. Then he asked them to exchange their cards with someone else at the table, then asked that person to read their peer’s competitive differentiator. “Is that any different from what you do?” he asked. The answer was invariably no. He made his point very quickly.
Offering wine to non-wine drinkers is a competitive differentiator. Offering airline tickets for distances normally traveled by car is a competitive differentiator. The differentiators in the printing industry aren’t differentiators at all. “The value of your differentiation is directly related to the time it takes for someone to replace you,” he said.
It was fascinating to me to see, not just a gradual shift, but what appeared to me to be a complete departure from the “everything under one roof” approach we’ve heard about for years. Suddenly, it was about specialization — not better service, lower cost, or faster presses — as not just a differentiator, but the key differentiator.