Saturday, February 25, 2006
Is It Just Me?
That kind of information is free, and can be used to support print. Of course, it made me think of the Print Council, as well as numerous other efforts that claim to support print. This posting is not to "pick on" the Print Council, but it's to "pick on" the industry. It seems we're just powerless against the trends of new media, despite our rich history of supposedly changing the world, undermining authority, and spreading freedom for centuries. Yet, we seem stymied in the media marketplace.
I did a Google News Search on "print council" and found one release and one story. One story was from 2/2 about NewPage joining the council. The second story was about a totally different organization that supports photography in India. (In a regular Google search, a totally different print council always comes up first http://www.printcouncil.org/; this one is devoted to woodcuts).
I then went on the Print Council site http://www.theprintcouncil.org/index.htm. In their existence, the Council has had 19 press releases.
- 5 announced new members
- 6 dealt with operations (directors, value of volunteered services, etc.)
- 6 announced or reported upcoming attendance or post-event activities at a trade event
- 2 announced the Print Council ad campaign, which ended up principally in printing industry publications anyway
Magazines, just like all print, have to deliver the desired result of the communicator in a measurable way. A campaign that makes magazines look "trendy" does nothing to communicate the ability of magazines to deliver. The campaign is not unlike what one might find in Mad magazine or National Lampoon or even the April Fool's edition of WhatTheyThink.com.
While the MPA and others can trot out lots of research to potential advertisers, the real research not research at all: it is the experience of competitive action of the marketplace. If the experience of advertisers is that something else is better, no matter what research you put in front of them, it will not be believed.
What would I do? I'd be on the phone with the Outsell, Inc. folks and be telling them that I was going to use their data in my next series of press releases. Their number is 650-342-6060, and they're in the San Francisco area. They might even be worth hiring, and I'd explore that as well.
Then I'd be working to explain how the complexity of communicating to fragmented audiences requires diversity in media, and that by using print, you can get a 2+2=6 synergystic effect rather than just using print alone. The fact that the previous sentence is in the shape that it is means that I should not be the copywriter for that campaign.
The Print Council site lists three major industry events which they will be attending: 1) April's Postal Forum, 2) May's Web Offset Conference, and 3) MediaDays, the event managed by the public relations firm for the Council. They will not be at the next ad:tech http://www.ad-tech.com/sf.asp in April in San Francisco, the event that, when it was in New York, labeled our industry with the broadbrush "offline media" monicker.
Print is part of the interactive marketing business, a prime mover of consumers to action on the Internet. Yet we sit back, and don't get into the thick of it. This is a trench war.
How many printers are general or associate members of the Interactive Advertising Bureau?
General members http://www.iab.net/about/general_members.asp
Associate members http://www.iab.net/about/assoc_member_list.asp
Look at the lists... I couldn't find any. How many print customers can you find there? The list is overflowing with publishers and agencies.
Does the Print Council or other organization advertise in the IAB's superb SmartBrief daily newsletter?
Here's the link in case anyone is interested http://www.iab.net/about/advertising.asp
And by the way, it's really worth signing up for. http://www.smartbrief.com/iab/index2.jsp
Do you know that Communication Arts magazine's web site www.commarts.com gets more traffic than numerous other printing industry web sites? We're not there either. This mainstay magazine goes to the key designers and design influencers. Graphic Design USA serves a similar market; we're not there either.
In the meantime, small business is growing significantly, with 70,000 net new businesses every month. Who has a better chance of getting their communications business? Staples or Office Depot in-store print shop? GoDaddy.com? ConstantContact.com? or "Joe's Litho"? There are tremendous opportunities here, industry-wide, not just for Vistaprint, but for everyone. Vistaprint, by the way, is showing up in Office Depot customer e-mail promotions. They know what's up.
It's not that the Print Council should have the same strategic plan as a printer, nor should it be telling printers how to market themselves. Nonetheless, they do operate in the same marketplace and planning for the Council and planning for a print business would have the same strategic assumptions. Those assumptions are:
- Print's base of business has eroded because of the availability of substitutes which are easier to manage and implement than ever. Events, promotions, sponsorships, public relations, are all old non-print competitors, which are growing because of computer graphics and a low-cost, highly effective communications infrastructure. The Internet is not the sole reason for the decline in print; all communication competitors are competing for the same budgets in new and unique ways.
- Print's applicability has changed as a result of the desire to provide ROI to management in a qualitative sense; this is not always electronic. Running an event, where you have control of attendees' attention for a defined period of time, rather than hoping they stumble on a space ad. Even though much of the measurement capabilities of e-mail and web site visits are flawed, they provide nearly instantaneous feedback to management about effectiveness, where other methods can take months to provide feedback. E-mail has delivery problems; snailmail has cost problems: communicators are trying to figure out the tradeoffs. Shouldn't we help them?
- Print's audiences have new habits. Back when I was an MIS major (1979-1981) the rule of thmb was never to give a keyboard to an executive over the age of 35. That executive is now 61 years old. Everyone else younger than that in their organizations has trouble remembering a time when there were no PCs in the office. Today, notebook computers outsell desk computers. People regularly take computers with them. People expect more from PDAs, cell phones, and other devices, than they would have imagined five years ago.
- Broadband, wireless, and iPods have changed the way people look at computing and communications, and what they expect from them. Sure e-books don't "work" yet, but we know that PDFs do. It's hard to find any corporate web site with product or other information that does not have PDFs on them. They're there not because they are cheap to create (they are), cheap to administer (they are) but because the need for information and the impulse to seek it are short in duration. "I need it now" is not an act of selfishness, it is a description of the reality faced by the information seeker.
- If you have a question, the first place you go is Google. Admit it... and... Google works, and it's not that hard to become skilled at it. I remember awful services like Dialog and others. You can now Google from a cell phone. Google has done more to undermine the printing business than any other technology, process, or company. Without Google, the Internet was a mess. The Internet is still a mess, but Google makes it seem orderly and efficient. To get a sense of how things have changed, read about how consumers buy cars now at http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060201/BUSINESS01/602010312/1014/BUSINESS
The information ecosystem has become filled with choices. Consumers look at it as a candy store, filled with all kinds of choices, and they can pick and choose what they want and when they want it. Marketers are not used to not being in control of when and where they can place their message. Instead, communicators have to chase consumer tastes and preferences in ways they have never had to before.
Marketers have their own candy store. How do they choose among all of the media when their allowance is about the same as it was the year before, or less? What is print's compelling case? Can we even articulate why someone would even need a brochure anymore? They need them; but can we even give a reason that has some facts behind it? The basics seem to escape us.
What is it that we should say, as an industry, to all communicators, not just big companies, but even the small ones, those microbusinesses that are growing so significantly? Are we to think that just because we have small businesses fill in templates and that we print the jobs for them that they're getting what they really need?
The case is not for print alone. The case is for integrated campaigns. Who can manage integrated campaigns? Currently, it is ad agencies or their surrogates, or a company's own advertising executive. When printers used to describe themselves as "full service" they used to mean that they had prepress and post-press capabilities. We can.
For the first time, printers have to understand media to be successful. That's not to say that printers who just print can't be successful. But their success will be limited by how many customers they can hold onto or how many carcasses of defunct competitors they can pick over. Printers who want to grow will have to conduct business quite differently.
In the late 1990s, I was struck by how Internet-savvy designers, agencies, and others in content creation had become in a very short time. They didn't embrace the Internet; when you embrace something, it means that you can still let it go. They internalized it, they didn't embrace it. The contrast with printers at that time was staggering. It's still staggering today. Most printers have no understanding of the Internet or other non-electronic media themselves. Embracing something means you are still separate from it. Even the smallest printer can integrate themselves into the new media business.
This is the audience that the industry must engage: a new media-savvy content creator who wants to be communicated with in the formats they find interesting, and shown something that piques their child-like curiosity about media and their hard business inquisitiveness of whether or not it works for their clients. Whether it's a simple brochure or a multi-million ad campaign, they're looking for something new yet predictable. Does our industry understand their needs or are we still handing them an equipment list and asking for a chance to bid next time?
We need to use new media to our advantage, not to embrace it, but to internalize it, and use it better than anyone ever expected, and to bring the discipline of print to raise new media standards. We must take dead aim at the weaknesses of new media and offer print solutions that make the new media more effective. Are we creative enough to do this? We may think that small businesses are unsophisticated. They're the gadget and Internet users; they use e-mail, but don't know how to use it for their business. They have web sites, but have no clue how to make them effective. They buy some printing, but have no sense of how to leverage it. They have no sense of communications strategy, no feel of how to make media tactics work together, and how to implement them. Unfortunately, neither do we.
My back of the envelope forecast for 2006 is that the industry will lose $4 to $5 billion in shipments. Since 2000, we have lost more than $20 billion in annual sales on an inflation-adjusted basis. I hope I am wrong. How much do we have to lose to stimulate a compelling strategic action? The marketplace is ruthless in punishing businesses that have no economic purpose, and friendly to those that do. I'd rather be in the latter category.