Crossing to multi-channel

16 Nov 2016
Topics: multi-channel

Joel Dickinson, a fifth generation printer struck out to form Rethink CMYK, which offers multi-channel communications 


Call it anything you like, except cross-media, but be prepared to offer more than just print in the future. Michael Walker covers the issues. 

'Cross-media' has been around for a while now, so can anyone with a digital press do it? And if they can, how should they staff it, sell it and deliver it? 

'Print-only businesses in the longer term are not sustainable.' An odd statement, perhaps, from someone whose company derives much of its income from selling digital presses, but that's the view of Kevin O'Donnell, marketing manager Europe at Xerox Graphic Communications. We shouldn't panic just yet, though, as he's projecting ahead from the last 30 years and explains, 'It's part of a long trend. Printers have added platemaking, finishing, delivery and other services, and they should next add digital services, because their customers are already using them.' 

The 'digital services' Mr O'Donnell is referring to are what's variously known as multi- or omni-channel marketing, media-neutral marketing, one-to-one marketing, marketing automation, an aspect of customer communications management, a part of the 'customer journey', or, in the print world - if not elsewhere - cross-media.


Mobile apps are part of Rethink CMYK's offering

This can embrace a lot of things that aren't print. For Joel Dickinson, who struck out from a fifth-generation family run web-offset business to set up Rethink CMYK, it's everything from personalised email and online portals to mobile apps and retail loyalty schemes that use in-store data capture to provide real-time interaction with customers.

'Only about 20% of our campaigns include print, as it's higher cost than digital,' says Mr Dickinson. 'But we sell it hard where it has a place. It's the only tangible medium the customer has - relevant print brings a value; it shows people that thought and process are behind the product; it cost something to get it to them. The best responses come from print.' 

The name of the game is establishing the value of appropriate (i.e. personalised) print as part of a multi-channel campaign. Mr Dickinson estimates that 90% of the installed digital presses that are capable of every-page-different printing are only being used as replacements for small offset units, and even when they're being fed jobs via web-to-print, it's still just jobbing print which will become as commoditised as its litho predecessor has.

Focus on value

So is this an option for anyone who has a digital press? Potentially, yes, but it takes more than just some new software. It's more concerned with adjusting the focus of the business, as David Baldaro, director of the Cross-media Consultancy, explains: 

'It's not about driving more print, it's about getting more of your customer's business. It should be a consultative pitch, looking to find out where is the value.'Value can be a trickier proposition to establish and sell than cost, and Mr Baldaro says, 'It's a different beast. I've seen print sales people get fired up for cross-media but then they've priced it by slide three of their presentation and discounted it by slide four.'


Campaigns can combine print with online, allowing a seamless customer journey

The value of print in a multi-channel campaign is that it's measurable and trackable. Canon's European marketing specialist Antony White cites the lack of evidence that many marketers have for the effectiveness of their campaigns, particularly how little data they have on the performance of different channels, and suggests that the ability to prove return on investment of campaigns should be attractive to them. 

Another aspect is to look for opportunities to add value directly through additional sales. David Baldaro gives travel agents as an example. 'It's not about printing their brochures, but following up when someone makes a booking - what if we could put together a personalised pack to sell them insurance or other extras too? It's a fundamentally different conversation.'

Who is the buyer?

This raises another important question: who are you going to have that type of a conversation with? The traditional print buyer is a declining species, but probably isn't the right person anyway. Joel Dickinson is of the view that you should 'get right to the top, whether it's retail of business-to-business - owners, CEOs, managing directors have the most to lose and they're more than interested.'

'In our everyday lives we're bombarded with cross-media communications, many of which we subscribe to. It's getting them to think "what if we could do that?", messaging customers with fully variable personalised content. It's a bit of a no-brainer then,' he adds.

Canon's Antony White is a bit more pragmatic: 'Those who have been most successful have looked at their existing customer base first. Build demand before making the investment; technical training can build the campaign for the first customer.'

Canon offers marketing-related workshops as part of its Essential Business Builder Programme, and Mr White says, 'pre-sales audit and evaluation can help pitch cross-media to an existing customer. It's been incredibly helpful for more traditional print service providers.'

Mr White acknowledges that it can be a challenge to acquire new contacts outside the 'print room people' and recommends extending networks via existing contacts. He also advises targeting medium-sized companies or business units within larger ones and points out that inplant print services probably already have some of the right contacts, as marketing departments are typically their biggest customers and multi-channel services can be presented as a logical progression.

For those who can't find ready prospects among their current customer base but are willing to look outside it, marketing and advertising agencies may be a good bet. Xerox's O'Donnell considers that even knowledgeable brands are '10 years back' in terms of their understanding of what print can now do, a view that found some resonance at this year's Smart Directions event. He doesn't blame the agencies for this but more the print industry for failing to educate them. It's not an instant transformation, either. Antony White reports that the typical lead time for a print company to reposition itself is of the order of 12 to 18 months, during which he says he sees many undergo a 'subtle rebranding'. 

What's it worth?

The switch to selling multi-channel services is also about changing from selling one-off print jobs of known quantities and specification to providing an ongoing and flexible service where the production requirements of the later stages will be governed by the response to the earlier ones, which makes it harder to price at the outset.

White stresses that it's a question of building perceived value and comparing it to the cost of the client not doing anything, but he warns, 'Going for a results-based pricing model can be tricky - there can be too many elements that you don't control, like the strapline, or call to action, which could undermine the campaign.'

He advocates a costs-plus-value approach with a 'good margin'. The costs here would be for building and testing the campaign components, both print and digital, data cleaning, mailing and response management, though clearly some of these can only be estimates at the outset. White adds that, 'It's a progressive improvement process. The first time the results probably won't be stunning because there are many variables. You increase the understanding as you go and campaigns can be modified in flight, but it's important to manage expectations.'

He suggests that a succession of one-off campaigns is less likely to be successful than one ongoing one and for that reason advises steering clear of offering 'trial' campaigns, though he says it is possible to provide proof of concept instead. Kevin O'Donnell also advocates the 'costs plus a good chunk' model, and adds, 'you'll soon find out what the market will bear.'

Filling the skills gap

To be able to deliver these high-margin services, you will need some skills that aren't always found in print houses. Handling data is one of them, though printers with VDP (variable data printing) experience will already have relevant knowledge. Sourcing the data can also be an issue, as clients, especially smaller businesses, won't necessarily have ready-to-use customer data of sufficient quality. Kevin O'Donnell points out that even if you're only printing business cards, that is data that you could collect for a client and put to use, while Joel Dickinson says that 'often we'll tailor the early stages of a campaign around collecting and refining data, taking a stepped approach - don't try to get too clever too soon.' 

Partnering with - or acquiring - digital marketing agencies is another approach, especially as they won't have the print expertise or even necessarily know what's currently possible. 'Agencies have been doing their own thing,' says David Baldaro, 'and often didn't realise that the print option was there.' Recruitment agencies are now starting to identify people with the right set of attributes and experience for these kind of hybrid roles, but Dickinson has found that willingness to learn is a better predictor of success in hiring than formal marketing qualifications. While his company carries out the majority of its work in-house, he does outsource the mobile app-building process and works with other third parties for in-store retail data collection.

There's perhaps a mood that digital channels have lost some of their shine recently and that a considered pinch of print might be the thing to revive them. 'People used to be excited by email and hated direct mail,' says White, 'but now it's the other way round, print has cut through.'

So look ahead, assess your customers, build the skills and attitude to sell these new services to them, but do it now, says O'Donnell: 'You can always stand back and say we'll start next week, but that usually means you'll never start.'


comments powered by Disqus
Back to the top