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Are You as Weary of “We Print the Marketing Materials of Others, but are not Marketers Ourselves” as Much as I Am?

By on April 17th, 2013

Everyone’s heard it. Everyone thinks it’s true. Everyone thinks it’s a paradox. Everyone thinks it’s insightful. It’s not.

It’s almost like the inventor of ibuprofen or aspirin or acetaminophen saying “it’s a paradox that we can make products to stop a headache, but we get headaches ourselves.” Or perhaps a dry cleaner “we clean the clothes of others, but sometimes we wear dirty pants.” At best the supposed paradox about print is a variant of the cobbler’s children not having shoes.

There are many problems with the old saying.

First, it’s a denial that personal selling is marketing. Our industry is a B2B industry and has always relied on personal selling as the primary means of its marketing. For those who remember their “4 p’s” when they took marketing in college, personal selling falls under “promotion.” The use of personal selling was needed because each prospect and client had unique content and unique timetables and other factors that required 1:1 attention. This is not to say that all personal selling was executed well, or was even appropriate. It just was. It says nothing about the benefits of branding or corporate image to a print business, it’s just that personal selling is somehow excluded from a discussion of marketing, as if it’s alien to the topic. If anything, the fact that it has been treated separately is a problem for print management, and has nothing to do with the printing of other people’s marketing materials. Sometimes it has seemed that personal selling was believed to be a necessary evil and not a purposeful strategic action, but that is a discussion for another time.

Second, that fact that the printing industry produced print materials for others to use in their marketing says more about the fact that each business and each industry requires their own promotional mixes unique to that industry or business. A “promotional mix” is the way each organization allocates its resources to personal selling, media like broadcast or print, public relations, and a host of other communications formats. Printers are like any service that others use to meet their objectives. The marketing materials and formats we produce for others may not be appropriate to use for our marketing needs and our client base.

Third, we love beating ourselves up. The saying seems to be a frustration with print management’s abilities and interests in marketing of their own businesses because they’re so tied up with daily operations that it falls through the management cracks and is never addressed. My dissertation (26 years ago! Gosh, I’m getting old) was about the marketing practices of commercial printers. At the time, I found no statistical correlation for marketing activities and profits. I did find little things like the companies run by CEOs who were business majors were twice as profitable as those who went to technical schools. That just hinted that businesses that focused on purpose rather than process were more profitable. That idea has always been and still is the case for successful companies, so my dissertation didn’t add to that base of knowledge. The idea is the basis of most marketing already, and the idea was innate to successful entrepreneurship. Personal selling was the way that responded to the specific needs of the marketplace, something that marketing is supposed to do.

The lament about printers and marketing started around 1972, more than 40 years ago, with the seminal article by the late Victor Strauss that appeared in PIA newsletters and many print publications around that time. The lack of an embrace of marketing by printers is still one of those topics that is easy to complain about these decades later.

We are at a marketing turning point, however, but we still won’t be using the marketing techniques appropriate for others for our businesses. Each company will still choose what is right for themselves. The market has changed a lot since the broadband era began, and is changing again in the smartphone/tablet era. The communications and budget challenges faced by our clients means that our personal selling is changing from reactive to proactive, from production sales to business development. All printers will benefit from using the new media options they have today, but for most of them personal selling will still be their main method of interacting with clients and prospects.

The old personal selling focused on finding the right contacts. The new personal selling focuses on the right client strategies. There’s quite a difference. The curiosity level of the new personal sellers and their business development teams is one of the key differentiators. To oversimplify the difference, they ask “why” while the old personal sellers asked “who.”

In the evolving media markets, we will still be printing the marketing materials of others but supposedly not be marketers ourselves. That is, things will seem as they always were to those who consider personal selling to be something separate and unrelated to marketing. Success will always be the hiring of that one sales rep with the right contacts.

It is my contention that personal selling is now being placed in a new strategic context, supported by the newest media, and is critical to a thriving future for our most of our best companies. Personal selling is marketing, and it always has been. Once you look inside the claimed paradox, things are not what they might seem. We’ll still be printing the marketing materials of others because that’s the right media tactic for them. We’ll use the right media and promotional tactic for us, because that’s what’s right for our tasks and our objectives. Stop beating yourself up. The cobbler can buy shoes for the kids at the store while selling custom shoes to others. Beware paradoxes uttered at cocktail parties.

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  1. 5 Responses to “Are You as Weary of “We Print the Marketing Materials of Others, but are not Marketers Ourselves” as Much as I Am?”

  2. By Gordon Pritchard on Apr 18, 2013 | Reply

    Dr. Joe, I think your understanding of marketing is too narrow and skewed.

    The vast majority of printers are not marketers (I have visited hundreds of shops worldwide).

    Personal selling is not marketing. It is just one tactic of marketing as is advertising and sales. Obviously the advertising and promotional materials and formats that printers produce for others may not be appropriate to use for their own promotional needs and client base. But again, these are the tactical tools of marketing – not marketing itself.

    The marketing function encompasses a wide range of activities including business, competitor, and customer analysis and the subsequent development of sales, advertising, and promotional tactics. It also includes market segmentation, market perceptions, market sizing, positioning, branding, product line decisions, sales force management, and more.

    Marketing is basically everything involved in a business to reach and persuade prospects that they are the right company to do business with.

    Marketing is sometimes thought of as the company putting itself in the prospect’s shoes and looking at the world through their prospect’s eyes but with the knowledge that the marketer has of their own business’s capabilities and resources.

    The vast majority of printers do not have a marketing mindset or culture. They do not understand what marketing is, how it works, nor how to adopt it for themselves (otherwise they would have done so). Just because you’ve watched all the episodes of “House” – that does not qualify you to diagnose illness or surgically operate on people.

    The bottom line is that the majority of printers do not have the culture, mindset, or skills to become marketers and therefore represent a poor resource for marketing services.

    Everyone’s heard it and it’s true.

  3. By Dr. Joe Webb on Apr 18, 2013 | Reply

    I guess I was not clear enough. I was writing about the tactic of personal selling which comes under the promotion p of the 4 p’s. Most printers are not marketers. Most businesses are not marketers. The blogpost was to underscore that just because printers print marketing and advertising materials (also part of the promotion p) that the fact that they do that does not mean that printers should use marketing and advertising materials.

    One of the clear signs that most printers are not marketers is that they treat personal selling as distinct from marketing, and therefore treat it as exempt from the corporate strategy that they purport to have. Personal selling is a marketing tactic, and as long as it is treated as something separate from marketing, printing companies will have “free agent” sales representatives who will often undermine corporate marketing strategy with self interested actions.

    As far as printers being a poor resource for marketing services, I would guess that only 10% or less can actually execute such a strategy with credibility — and it may actually be less. Print buyers can sniff out the marketing services pretenders quite easily and realize all that’s been done is new business cards.

  4. By Gordon Pritchard on Apr 19, 2013 | Reply

    Thanks for the clarification. I guess some parts of your post made me think that you were promoting the notion pushed by many vendors and industry pundits that, in order to survive, printers need to transform themselves into marketing services providers.
    I apologize for perhaps being overly sensitive about the issue.

  5. By Patrick Whelan on Apr 22, 2013 | Reply

    Both the article and the comments are extremely insightful. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. By Cathy Lawrimore on Apr 23, 2013 | Reply

    Dear Dr. Joe Webb,

    Thank you for writing this.

    I was beginning to think that I was the only one who was weary.

    Cathy