So you want to get in to Cross Channel?

Article first published in Image Reports magazine – July 2013

Cross Media - it's not a panacea

Cross Media – it’s not a panacea

For many printers that have already made that leap, the decision to embrace Cross Channel seems to have come not from any burning ambition to do so, or even more worryingly any overwhelming demand from existing customers, rather that they felt in some way that they should.

So often, and from so many different sources, we hear the cry that print as a medium is dying and that it’s no longer enough to be just a printer. While the large-format sector remains buoyant, the call to become a Marketing Services Provider (MSP) is pervasive.

Everyone across the industry, from the equipment vendors to the trade associations and press, has a view on the direction in which printers should be heading. Guidance as to how this might be achieved however is thin on the ground. The software authors and resellers make a compelling case for the benefits of the various Cross Channel software packages that they produce but independent help for printers to make the transition is woefully lacking.

So, is adopting Cross Channel really that simple? What are the pitfalls and, critically, can you make any money doing it? If you’re tempted to rush in and jump on the Cross Channel bandwagon yourself you might want to consider the following:

1.       Stand back and take a long hard look

At you, the business, your team and its culture. If you’re currently selling print as a commodity, that is you’re pretty much selling on price and retaining existing business and winning additional business by reducing overhead and margin, you’re going to have to make a major shift in your approach. A product-sell to a service-sell is a quantum leap and your existing sales team may simply not be cut out for it. There’s going to be a training issue, if not a culture change.

2.       How marketing savvy are you?

Whether you adopt the Marketing Services Provider (MSP) moniker or not, if you head down the Cross Channel route you’re essentially going to have to get your marketing act together. If you’re selling to a professional marketeer and you don’t know your stuff she’s going to see through you fairly quickly and is unlikely to be filled with confidence that her marketing budget is in safe hands.

Conversely, a smaller organisation with no dedicated marketing resource of its own is going to be heavily reliant on your team for consultancy and guidance.

3.    It’s a campaign, not a job

One of the major differences is the potentially huge number of variables in a Cross Channel campaign. From both a scheduling and costing point of view this is very different to print. Printers are used to pricing a job based on a specification, quantities, etc. and while this is often complex and include a myriad of different elements, the deliverable itself is usually easier to quantify.

With Cross Channel however the next stage in a campaign is often determined by the recipient and his reaction and response to the previous one. The campaign progresses using a “what if” scenario and real time personalisation (RTP) so that the target/prospect only ever receives something that is wholly appropriate and customised to his experience. Not always so easy to price!

4.       If you build it, will they come?

The ratio of Web-to-Print (W2P) systems sold, to those successfully implemented and rolled out, is testament to how printers have invested in new technology believing it to be of critical importance to its market place; only then to find that they either didn’t have the ability or resource to implement the system, or were unable to convince customers and prospects of its benefits.

Cross Channel has similar pitfalls. The Virtuous Circle of “strategy, implementation and marketing”, often the mantra of these kind of projects, should include at its core (and indeed as its staring point) research to determine appetite and likely take-up for such an offering. Having a portfolio of new services in place, presenting it to an unsuspecting customer base as a fait accompli and then having to sell it in, is a risky strategy.

5.       It’s not about software

Cross Channel is not simply about software, in the same way that printing is not simply about the press. The software is the facilitator or means of delivering the campaign strategy. And there’s the rub. As with any marketing if the strategy is flawed then the campaign won’t succeed.

Imagine a high quality piece of printed marketing collateral or large format graphic. However beautiful the finished piece, it won’t generate a response if it’s sent to the wrong target audience or located at the wrong site. Previously, as merely producers of the finished item our liability in this regard was limited, even non-existent. With Cross Channel it’s not as cut and dried. Becoming a provider of such services assumes possession of the two key components essential to making them work a) the marketing expertise to develop the campaign and b) the production capabilities required to execute it.

6.       Avoid the jargon

Whether it’s CTP, VDP or W2P, as an industry print is great at creating a vernacular that only its own understand. Don’t assume if you approach a marketeer to discuss your “exciting new Cross Media solution” that she’ll know immediately what you’re referring to.

While all marketeers understand the benefits of employing a range of media, where there is only one person with responsibility for the marketing budget or in a small team of generalists, they may only be familiar with the term “multi-channel” and not conversant with the possibilities of Cross Channel.

7.       There’s more than one way to skin a cat

Being “involved in” Cross Channel doesn’t necessarily mean having to offer the whole raft of services in-house.

Printers make great project managers regularly outsourcing design, specialist finishing, installation and various other services which complement their own in order to provide a full service offering to customers. If you’re not ready to make the investment in Cross Channel at this moment in time, or aren’t confident that you can deliver using your existing people, consider aggregating the services of other providers and making a margin on those. If it turns out that demand is huge, you’ll have the confidence (and the customers) to fuel that investment yourself.

8.       It’s not a panacea

For a business that’s in difficulty or has underlying issues, embarking on Cross Channel isn’t necessarily a “cure all”. For example, if the problem lies with sales and your sales guys are already struggling to sell print, giving them an additional (scarily unfamiliar) service to sell might just make things worse.

9.       Look at what others are doing

There’s plenty of talk about Cross Channel and some commercial printers have chosen to take action. Those pioneers are experiencing various levels of success but few are citing it as having fundamentally changed their business. In fact, the majority who are willing to disclose its impact are saying that its success has been in helping them to sell more print. Perhaps it’s still too early to tell and that by its very nature it’s a slow burn. More likely the printer is taking the opportunity to talk to his customers about something new, position himself as cutting-edge and innovative, and using it as a way of cementing an existing relationship.

10.   Walk the walk

If your own marketing is at best second rate and at worst non-existent you’re going to have a tough time convincing a customer of your ability to do take on theirs. One of the main principles of marketing (along with identification of the ideal customer and the need to “touch” recipients a number of times with a brand) is the “showing versus telling” approach and what better way to let them know you’re a Cross Channel expert than to target them with your own top notch Cross Channel marketing?

What more can the industry do to promote the power of print?

first published: Print Monthly – May 2013

“blinded by the technology”

When I started in marketing in the late ‘80s, print was the medium of choice. When I say “choice”, I use the term loosely. Aside from print media advertising the rest of my budget was split between direct mail and a smattering of telemarketing.

In comparison today’s marketer, the new print buyer, is literally spoilt for choice. Email broadcasting, social media, online advertising, SMS, SEO, etc., all compete for a slice of her budget. It’s no surprise then that, when push comes to shove, she’ll opt for a) what she knows and b) what she believes delivers the best ROI.

So, if these 30-something “digital natives” don’t understand print and feel blinded by the technology then that’s a) taken care of. If they perceive it as expensive because as an industry we insist on presenting it as a commodity with a focus on price, then there goes b) too.

Modern day marketers have, on the whole, had little or no exposure to print and they certainly don’t learn about it in their studies. That means we need to tailor our approach to them, losing any references to the “speeds and feeds” and plant lists which she’s simply not interested in.

Instead the focus needs to be on how powerful the medium really is and how it can deliver her a healthy ROI for her campaigns. There’s a wealth of evidence out there which proves that many of the other channels (and particularly those viewed as cheaper or even free) are nowhere near as effective, or as good at eliciting a response, as print. But I’m not convinced that we’re taking the time to learn about these competitive/complementary channels and their weaknesses, and arming ourselves with the facts we need to convince the marketers of print’s ROI and continuing value.

In some instances and for some campaigns the other channels might have the edge but, for most, print will have a crucial and indispensable role to play. We certainly shouldn’t be keeping that good news to ourselves!