Thursday, March 17, 2005
Vistaprint, Again: Ignore Them at Your Own Peril
Vistaprint's constant testing of concepts is a tradition of direct marketing, even back when it was called direct mail, and fabled copywriter John Caples (1900-1990) wrote the headline "They laughed when I sat down at the piano, but when I started to play..." which sold a home study music course. ( http://www.caples.org/about.html and also http://adage.com/century/people/people021.html and you can see a picture of the original ad at http://historyproject.ucdavis.edu/imageapp.php?Major=AD&Minor=T&SlideNum=32.00)
Vistaprint's market testing is profiled at http://www.marketingsherpa.com/sample.cfm?contentID=2943 Caples was a proponent of testing from early in his career. Testing means that things will go wrong. But unlike many company managements, companies that believe in failure, yes, failure, learn more than others. Vistaprint looks like it's working in that tradition. Samples can be viewed at http://www.marketingsherpa.com/vistaprint/study.html
I was chatting with a fellow baseball aficionado about what a bunch of losers certain pitchers were, Cy Young being the biggest loser in baseball history (315), who also holds the record for most wins (511). Most people forget that Babe Ruth, greatest home run hitter of his era (714), who preferred beer and whiskey and not steroids and would recommend the same today, also held the record for striking out (1,330). Too many executives put their companies on tightropes: where there is no expertimentation, there are no successes, only stagnation. Tom Peters has long been encouraging companies to "fail small." That is, to create situations where new things are tried and then incrementally built upon. A benefit of the Internet is that you can fail quickly and small, and when you have success in an experimental approach, you can implement quickly as well.
Vistaprint is in the news today because it has opened new web sites. No, not new plants, not new sales offices, but new web sites. My, how things have changed. http://home.businesswire.com/portal/site/google/index.jsp?ndmViewId=news_view&newsId=20050316005421&newsLang=en
Will Vistaprint succeed in the long run? I don't know. But it's another example of people from outside the printing business who don't know what you're not supposed to do, and then break new ground.