COVID-19: What’s Going to Happen…and When?

Figuring out How to Get through a Pandemic



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During a global pandemic, it seems like we live with uncertainty and stress. We’re all wondering what’s going to happen next, as well as when and how everything will happen. In times like these, we have two choices: we can react to what is happening or act before it does. If we hope to influence the outcome, we must shift our focus from what is going to happen to what we want.


If we asked digital print manufacturers what they would like to happen, they would probably mention growth in the number of short run jobs and increased variable data printing because these things would help shift more print volumes from analog to digital print. Some might also express a desire for digital to align with the costs and productivity of offset because they’re likely trying very hard to bridge this gap.


If we think about how print service providers (PSPs) with analog and digital printing capabilities might answer this same question, regardless of the technology, they would probably want to offer their customers high-value products that provide differentiation from the competition.


Moving on to the question of when things are going to happen, I believe there’s no better time than now to fulfill the requirements of digital print manufacturers and PSPs. Although COVID-19 has brought great change and disruption to our lives, it also provides an opportunity to have strategic conversations with our customers during a time when they might be more open and have more time to listen. Commercial printing drives the applications that enable the most opportunities for differentiation because PSPs can influence or even participate in the development of content.


On the other hand, the content of books and magazines is typically generated by authors or editors, the content of transactional documents is driven by consumers’ buying activities, and consumer items like photo books or greeting cards are created by consumers and/or copywriters. Applications like these that do not facilitate content development opportunities are a commodity, so creating differentiation can be especially challenging.




The focus of this blog is commercial printers and, more importantly, the demand generators/marketers who use print to communicate with and convince customers and prospects to buy from them. The question is this: In these uncertain times, what can we do to convince marketers and print buyers to use more digital printing technologies when communicating with customers and prospects? Additionally, how can digital print bring them a better return on their investment?


As is the case within many other industries, a consultative approach based on the customer’s/marketer’s business is imperative. To take a consultative approach, we must focus on the marketer’s products and market rather than our product. The goal is to help marketers sell more of what they are offering, while using digital print technologies to do so. This requires a focus on the marketers’/print buyers’ four core objectives:


  1. Find the right customers and/or prospects
  2. Capture their attention
  3. Become relevant to them (informative, helpful, and/or entertaining)
  4. Make it easy for them to buy


It is also important to keep in mind that marketing has historically been driven by practices that go against the core values of digital printing. These are:


  1. Mass Communication: Reaching more people could generate higher response rates and boost sales.
  2. Time-to-Market: When contact is made sooner, brands could come out ahead of their competitors and see a more immediate impact on results.
  3. Lowest Cost Per Contact: Reducing the cost of the customer/prospect contact by as much as possible will increase the number of contacts that can be reached within a marketing budget. (This feeds back into value #1.)


The old marketing strategy worked very well in the past when there were fewer vendors, products, versions, and buyer behaviors. Although it can still work for some brands, markets, and situations, it does not work for many others. A shift toward a more holistic, organic communication strategy is often more effective. 


An organic, more natural communication is based on contacting the right people at the right time and in the right way. This is precisely what marketers should be trying to do to sell their products and/or services. Communicating the right way is about becoming relevant and personal (which typically goes beyond calling someone by their name), as most people buy for different reasons. This is very hard to do when using any communication channel that does not enable the flexibility of adapting the content/message to different customers or prospects. There is nothing new about this holistic concept; we have naturally and respectfully followed it for thousands of years while communicating face-to-face. Situations like COVID-19 bring an increased focus on mindfulness, which should generate a shift toward more holistic and natural habits. As a result, I’d hope to see a shift in the way that marketers communicate with customers and prospects, including:


  • Less wasteful and more targeted/focused engagements. Communications will be directed toward real potential buyers rather than random suspects.
  • More relevant communications. Proper profiling and personal engagements in addition to short run campaign testing can drive helpful and/or entertaining communications to recipients and higher potential sales to marketers.



Source: ING Australia


Once again, the challenge is that shifting these marketing habits goes against the traditional marketing practices that were mentioned before. Rather than reaching out to as many people as quickly and cheaply as possible, the focus must be shifted to buyers with true potential. As such, higher quality marketing messages will take a little longer to produce.


Enabling the shift to more holistic and effective methods of communication starts with how we approach marketers’ budgets. Rather than viewing their marketing budgets from a strategic perspective, digital print businesses and marketers focus solely on cost. Is it any wonder that the determining criteria for most transactions comes down to price?


As noted earlier, marketers are primarily focused on contacting as many potential buyers as possible via mass communication. To create an easy example, let’s assume that the campaign budget is $50,000 and the marketer’s database includes 50,000 records. This means that the marketer can afford to spend $1 per contact. Is $1 really enough to capture someone’s attention and convince them to buy? In today’s saturated market, investing a greater amount on fewer people might ultimately generate a better return on investment.


The most strategic way to approach a print buyer/marketer is to shift the conversation away from their budget. Instead, focus on how much they must invest to convince someone to buy from them. This estimation should be based on the funds that will be required to capture a customer’s attention. As mentioned earlier, the communication should also be relevant and make it easier for the customer to buy. Here are some examples of relevant questions that could be asked:


  • Will the marketer need to add special papers/embellishments to the printed products to have a better chance at attracting potential buyers? Will customized content capture customers’ attention the first time around, or will the marketer need to contact customers/prospects multiple times? How much will this cost?
  • What must the marketer do to be relevant, informative, helpful, and/or entertaining? How much will it cost to handle segmentation, profiling, and data analytics?
  • What must the marketer do to make it easier for customers and prospects to buy? Will a link to an online shop, personalized URL, explanatory product video, or address/map of the closest brick & mortar location be required? Will an incentive be required to convince customers and prospects to buy? If so, how much will this cost?





Once you’ve helped the print buyer/marketer take a strategic view of the investments that will be required to be successful, you should divide their budget by the investment needed per customer/prospect. This will uncover how many customers or prospects they can afford to effectively engage.


Once again, let’s consider an easy example. If the required investment is $10 per customer/prospect and the budget is $50,000, that brand can only afford to engage 5,000 prospective buyers rather than 50,000. Although a consultative approach might ultimately generate a higher price, this might ultimately prove to be the best investment in terms of potential ROI for the marketer/print buyer—consequently driving higher profits and greater customer loyalty for the PSP.


You can practice this strategy and hone your skills by considering your customers’ existing campaigns. Do the current marketing initiatives have a good chance of capturing attention, appearing relevant, and facilitating the buying process? Simply seeking ways to improve your customers’ existing campaigns can create additional business opportunities.


Although this strategy initially requires more work, it can also increase the sustainability and growth of a PSP’s business in terms of revenues as well as profits. As noted earlier, the COVID-19 pandemic has given print buyers/marketers reason to pause and probably reconsider some of their marketing strategies and purchases. We have a great opportunity to influence and improve our customers’ decisions while also benefiting our own businesses.


For more information on how businesses are coping during the COVID-19 pandemic, listen to our podcasts with American Litho and Linemark!


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