Industry Thoughts: Can I get a bucket of halftone dots?

Halftone DotsI had this joke played on me once while I was in a darkroom learning how to manually shoot halftones with a process camera. And, as a young novice in the print industry, I easily fell for it because all i wanted to do was show my eagerness to expand my print knowledge. However, after that joke, I became quite skilled at manually creating halftones on a process camera. Remember bump flashing? (On a side note, that link took me 20 minutes to find on Google with 6 or so different searches).

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Sustainability: ‘Green collar’ jobs

Regardless of your beliefs about global warming and its environmental effects, businesses are placing stock in the idea of sustainability. I ran across this article, showing that the advent of and increase in ‘green collar’ jobs is the latest indication that green is here to stay. This is great news if you’re in the print industry. Continue reading

Industry Thoughts: Helping Customers Help Themselves [Love You More]

As I was reading Ad Age last week, I came across a very interesting article on new uses for data. It seems that in the face of economic hardships, the advertising realm of agencies, media companies, research firms and the like have been releasing report after report to bolster credibility, necessity and worth. Continue reading

Thought Leadership: Beware of DAN

I hope you read Tim Morin’s post yesterday. It reminded me of a guy I know named Dan. Not Dan Morin, who happens to be Tim’s son. A different Dan altogether. If you’ve been in business for a while, you’ve met Dan. Might have been no more than a handshake. Maybe it was a series of meetings over the course of a week or a month. Perhaps it was a full-blown relationship; one that you’re still in.

Given the current economic climate and general nationwide fatigue, more of us are meeting Dan these days. You have to admit that he’s got an infectious personality. You listen, then you listen some more, and man this guy is talking some sense! Can we please get Dan to run for office?!

Here’s a quote from a print distributor who’s never met Dan. Or perhaps they did meet, but this guy sized up Dan and told him to get lost and stay lost.

“Amazon is getting into office supplies and that’s probably only a start for them. It’s something to ponder as we look at where we’re going and what we’re going to be offering. It’s a good bet that over the next five years your competitors will change. Your customers will change. Your markets will change. Your core technology will change. Shouldn’t your capabilities change as well?”

Dan hates talk like that. Talk of optimism, resiliency, self-reliance, willingness to change, competitive fire, creativity.

Dan is Denial, Anger, and Nostalgia. If he calls, don’t take the call. If he’s already in your office, throw him out.


PS I first heard about DAN in a speech given at the National Tooling & Machining Association’s annual conference c. 2001. Many thanks to that presenter, whose name neither I nor Google can recall.

Industry Thoughts: Let the hard times roll

I love recessions.

Unlike the good times, recessions produce real winners and real losers. The stakes are incredibly high. Like a proverbial hanging in the morning, recessions focus your mind. And your business.

The winners always figure out how to get ahead during a down cycle. Most of the time, they do this by changing the rules of the game. And they do this by changing the essence of their game. While the winners are doing this, losers are whining about how hard it is to land a new sale or keep good people or come up with an innovative solution to their customers’ problems. Winners spend time trying to figure out stuff that’s never been figured out before. Losers spend time doing the same old stuff and complaining that it doesn’t work “like in the good old days.”

A lot of folks in business are saying it’s tough sledding today. And, no doubt, market conditions are hard.

But, is “hard” a bad thing? Or is it really opportunity dressed up in a terrific outfit few notice?

Take print distribution for a minute. This has to be one of the economy’s more sensitive sectors. You have all sorts of commodity inputs soaring higher. You generally see every customer and prospect looking for ways to crush expenses. You even have the relentless march from print molecules toward digital electrons.

Can there possibly be an uglier segment than this? (OK, I’ll give you the airline industry…that one is probably hopeless!).

If you are a print distributor, you have to be asking yourself: “What am I doing and what purpose am I serving and why is it so hard?”

As the executive vice president for looking out the window for a high-tech web-software firm that helps a lot of distributors in the print business, I spent a few hours one morning recently (looking out the window) imagining myself as a print distributor, wondering what would I do.

Here are some thoughts that occurred to me:
1. Once the recession is over, I wondered if my print distribution business could be in a different business, what might that be?

2. And then I wondered, “What if I transformed my business and its abilities to manage products, suppliers, programs and e-commerce technology, etc. into an execution firm instead of a distribution business?”

3. And, “What if I called on a bunch of marketing executives in my area and asked them to have a conversation over coffee with me about how they plan to execute their branding and messaging programs in an increasingly competitive and cost-conscious and climate-challenged environment? Do they have the execution resources, people and technology to pull it off?”

4. And then I wondered if there are any marketing execution firms in my area that know how to do this as well as my firm? I even looked up marketing execution firms in the yellow pages and couldn’t find anything listed. And then on Google I found a lot of usual ad agency suspects but very little out there in the form of competition that offers a blend of production know-how to supplier management to program/logistics execution to e-commerce technology savvy.

5. Finally, I wondered what if I took all that know-how, packaged it up and positioned my business as a leading marketing execution firm (or agency) intent on saving my customers money; helping them more effectively execute their brand promise and message, driving greener programs for them and letting them utilize really good e-commerce technology for free in their businesses. If I could deliver all of this, would my business (formerly known as a print distributor) be a winner?

My answer to that last question isn’t important. But yours is. It’d be great to hear your thoughts.

Meantime, here’s to your successful search for answers that set you apart as a winner. And recognizing, like a lot of other winners, that a recession is a terrible thing to waste.


Industry Thoughts: Use the Web to Wow

Quick Printing magazine’s May issue had a great article, “A Powerful Pair: Your Salesperson and Your Website,” that discussed the necessity of a strong web presence as a tool among a salesperson’s cadre of weaponry.

The article outlines some great sales reminders about giving great demos and staying top-of-mind with prospects once you leave their office: “If you aren’t able to sell them on the spot, you need to keep reminding your potential customer that you’re there when they are ready for you.” As I stressed just the other day, it’s all about follow-through when you want to make a great impression on a customer or prospect–at any stage of the game.

What most interested me in the article were the tips the author gave for using a website to wow in a sales demonstration. At the most basic level, she stressed the need for a great, helpful website: “all sales reps need to eat, sleep, and breathe your business’ key selling points—your URL is a major one.”

I certainly agree that the website is critical to every step of the sales process and beyond. It needs to be a living, breathing entity that is constantly updated with fresh content and tools. We recently updated our website dramatically, and I intend to do so more regularly from now on. Online searching is more and more becoming the way prospects search for answers and resources and they need to be able to not only find you, but to learn what you do and why they want to become your next customer. Without a strong web presence you will quickly find yourself falling behind.


Industry Thoughts: Why investing in VDP pays off

An article on GAM Mag’s website archive caught my eye this morning. It came from this month’s Sales Call column written by Bill Farquharson titled “Of Online Banking & Variable Print.”

Mr. Farquharson draws an interesting parallel between online banking and variable data printing that I think is a perfect analogy and argument in favor of investing time, money and energy into VDP. When setting up an online banking account to handle bill pay, transactions and general overview, Mr. Farquharson wondered what was in it for the bank since, by making his life easier, they were incurring more support and setup costs. It then dawned on him that “What’s in it for the bank is the same as what’s in it for a digitally capable printer who would spends hours educating me to make print-ready files, collects and stores my data, and then outputs a personalized print campaign…They’ve got me.”

This strikes me as a great way to think about, and in effect “justify,” the time put into setting up arduous accounts for customers–once you’ve got them, you’ve got them. Someone else may offer them a slightly lower price or even the same online ordering capabilties, but as Mr. Farquharson points out, “The future of banking is not unlike the future of printing: Own the file, own the customer.”

What do you think of the article’s conclusions? Do you agree that the investment put into setting up VDP pays off?


Thought Leadership: Community Feedback

We received several interesting responses to last week’s UpFront Four51 survey question: “What do you see as your biggest business challenge in 2007?”
One customer cited the need to master 1:1 capabilities of variable data … another said building good databases. Increased sales was, of course, on the list as well.

Tell us your thoughts .. would you agree with this list?