How do printers tackle marketing?

Big printing companies have a marketing staff or at least someone who manages the marketing activities of the company. Smaller printing businesses and service providers lack those resources. How they manage their marketing needs is not always straightforward. In the age of social media, one equipment vendor comes to the rescue, but too few printers are grabbing the opportunity in my opinion.

In times past, long before the Internet was host to a Pokémon Go rage (“Poké what?”), printers on the European continent relied on their customers to spread the word. The bigger ones would run ads in local trade magazines and also occasionally print and send a direct marketing letter to businesses. Most were too busy printing to spend much time on advertising. Printing companies that advertised country or continent wide were the ones that targeted Fortune 1000 customers.

Today, small printing companies have all but gone. The smallest have been replaced by print shops and online on-demand print services. Medium-sized printers — especially signage printers — are better positioned to thrive thanks to the rise of powerful inkjet technologies and products that are relatively inexpensive. An example of such “cheap” but able equipment is the EFI H1625LED, a small inkjet that is great for any printer to start with.

Printers that diversify live in a growing market. Especially signage, both indoor and outdoor, is a growing market segment. Markets that once were huge, like newspaper, magazine and book printing, have shrunk to a fraction of the size they were in pre-mobile Internet days.

A Flickr for printers

Today, a growth market equals a huge pool of millions of potential customers globally. The only problem is that most smaller and medium-sized printers — the people who came from an analogue era as well as the people who have been educated as printers — still lack a marketing mindset. A typical small to medium-sized printer in the EU will proudly show you his best work, but will still rely on word-of-mouth for most of his advertising.

The Imaging of Things site in August 2016.

Some will even turn down offers from their printing equipment vendor to run a customer success story, despite these are known to generate business. But word-of-mouth advertising only works in a local economy. It rarely works in a global economy where large multinationals are able to set up an online service with a price that beats the lights out of any local printer’s offering.

The commercial success of printers depends on the equipment they run, while equipment vendors depend on the success of that narrow group of printing professionals who are often also creative thinkers.

That has been understood well by some vendors. The brilliant idea one of them has come up with is the Imaging of Things website where printers can upload their best work for free and see what others are doing with their machines. That’s the official purpose of the site. However, when you visit the site there’s obviously more to it.

For starters, printers discover what others with equipment different from theirs are capable of offering to their customers. In addition, the site is one huge advertising panel — call it a printers’ Pinterest if you like — for printers worldwide. All they have to do to make the Imaging of Things work for them is take a photo of their work, upload it to the site, and broadcast it to social media.

It’s a perfect way of advertising that can quickly attract new customers, and yet so few printers so far seem to invest some time in this process. And that’s a shame, because newspaper or magazine ads aren’t drawing the attention of young business professionals as they used to, but social media do. And the beauty of Imaging of Things is that it’s a specialised social medium with a narrow focus that begs for more visibility through broader media like Twitter and Facebook.

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