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German Sacristan

Primary Research Analysis: Is Print a Commodity?

Do print buyers purchase based on price…or value?

Feb 23, 2023 9:00:21 AM


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Most companies in the printing supply chain believe that print is not a commodity…but what does the buyer think? Price is always a powerful part of any buying criteria for any industry, and print is no exception. In Keypoint Intelligence’s recent Primary Research on the purchasing trends of US print buyers (i.e., marketers), 36% said that they would compromise quality for a lower price while 25% said that it would depend on the application.


Are you willing to compromise on lower print quality in exchange for a lower price?


At the same time, an overwhelming percentage (95%) of the same print buyers stated that they would be interested in buying specialty printing products, such as customization, augmented reality, special design, and color embellishments.


What are the Top 3 specialty printing products that you might purchase in the next two years?


Helping Print Buyers Communicate Better

So, print buyers want everything. The challenge is for print service providers (PSPs) to understand when their customers need the lowest price and when they need a specialty product that costs more. We have been talking for decades about the relevance of a consultative approach when selling print—but, like many other things in life, it goes a long way.


OEMs have invested in business development programs for a long time. Even though it has helped, they fell short of expectations; this is not necessarily their fault as success comes from implantation and that is not totally under the control of OEMs. I believe business development should move to more specific activities and practices that PSPs can quickly and easily implement.


The key is in the approach. Many PSPs still solicit customers with their products and specs in mind, which does not bring the greatest potential value and differentiation from other competitors. Other times, the print buyer comes to them with the print product and specs needed, while always expecting a low price.


In sales, it is never about us and our products, but about our customers and their challenges and opportunities. I know you have often heard this, but are we doing it? The right question always goes a long way, and is often a simple one. We can’t sell value and differentiation if we do not understand why someone asks for a specific print quote. We also can’t  sell value and differentiation if we do not understand the print buyers’ opportunities and threats when communicating with their markets. Understanding where is the marketer’s communication going, and what they are trying to convey is more important than knowing the specs of the printing product as well as the quantity and delivery time expectations of the order. Those two simple and fair questions will give PSPs opportunities to make helpful and valuable recommendations, which should also differentiate them from price- and specs-focused competition.


Approaches to Take When Selling

Here are some examples of a good idea and print product failing to sell because of the approach. We often use samples to impress print buyers on our quality—and this goes beyond pure print as particular substrates, sizes, finishing, and additional colors also impact the quality of the finished product. Yes, our industry has always talked about showing customers samples. I am not against that; I am against how we present those samples during a sales call completely disconnected from the print buyers’ main communication objectives.


Just showing a pretty print sample only implies that you are selling something more expensive and, as the price is always in the head of any buyer regardless of the industry, you might be heading for failure. Beauty does not sell if it’s not functional, and the functionality behind beauty in printing communication products links to:

  • The first objective and the biggest challenge of any commercial print buyer is capturing their audience’s attention—and an attractive, good-looking, well-finished printed product will do just that.
  • Another marketer’s strong and imperative objective relates to enhancing the positive perception of their brand—and an attractive, good-looking, and well-finished printed product will also do just that.


Therefore, the most effective approach is to show the sample and ask the commercial print buyer: Do you think this type of product will help you capture the attention of your customers and prospects? Will it elevate your brand’s positive perception of quality and trust?


Another example that comes to mind is when we sell personalization in an nonpersonal way. We tell print buyers how effective personalization is based on someone else’s results. The market is tired of this. As print buyers, every time you tell them that “X customized campaigns produced X amount of sales,” they can share with you five of their campaigns that failed. The most prominent marketing objection to variable data print is all related to ROI (i.e., the cost is high, it takes time, and generates low ROI).


What are your main challenges/obstacles in customized print campaigns, beyond name and address?


The focus and opportunity are based on interacting with the marketer on a customized campaign idea that is personal and relevant to them. Yes, you also heard this one before…but are you doing it? Customized campaigns do not fail because of digital printing or VDP software tools; they fail because the marketing strategy and approach are not in-line with the fundamentals of communication (talking to the right person at the right time and the right way). This might sound out of your league, but if you have been promoting and selling print, then you know about marketing. Therefore, you can offer better help and recommendations to your customers if you put your mind in the right place (i.e., your customers’ business and your sales experience).


Keypoint Intelligence Opinion

Print will sustain and grow not because of low prices, but because it’s a great value. Specialty products help print buyers be more effective when communicating with their markets—the demand is there from print buyers, now we have to do a better job selling it.


Log in to the InfoCenter to view the full Primary Research results as well as a video on how to sell commercial print to print buyers through our On Demand Printing & Publishing Advisory Service. If you’re not a subscriber, just send us an email at sales@keypointintelligence.com for more info.