Creating a Tactical Print Strategy

Companies are entering a new era created by advances in technology and widespread adoption of the Internet. These changes provide marketers new challenges in reaching and relating to customers. Yet they also provide new tools that can bring marketers closer to customers and allow greater control over marketing results.

Marketers can take advantage of the explosion of sales and communication channels by increasing the relevance of their communication in order to break through the clutter. Encouraging customers to shop via multiple channels will increase customer satisfaction and lifetime value. Here we’ve addressed the print channel, an area markedly affected by new technology in printing, binding, customization and tracking.

Two trends are converging to make it important for marketers to begin to think tactically about their print marketing. First, technology and automation advances have let companies increase productivity, thereby increasing supply. This has produced an excess of supply versus demand for most vertical markets and has made it difficult, if not impossible, for companies to differentiate themselves based upon product or service alone. As a result of this product parity, the only sustainable advantage for most companies is their relationship with their customers.

Second, developments in print technology have led to improvements in the way print can be used in the marketing plan. Two concepts are critical to this new functionality: print on demand and variable content printing. Combined, these trends are moving print from a large-scale, proactive tool to a highly personalized, reactive way for marketers to improve customer relationships and achieve a sustainable advantage.

Print on demand. The evolution of print on demand campaigns was established using laser printers more than 25 years ago. Using form letters or laser print on color templates, marketers could respond quickly to a marketing event, request or inquiry. In recent years, color laser printing has improved the quality of the final product, but the options for content remained limited. Variable content printing removed these limitations.

Variable content printers. New printers from companies such as Kodak, HP and Xerox have ushered in new opportunities for creating printed pieces with no limit to the variability of the content. Now, based on the campaign design, marketers can provide customers and prospects with unique content and imaging based on prior purchase information or information received from the consumers themselves.

This development, combined with print-on-demand functionality, lets marketers design print programs that aim to respond to key events in their relationships with consumers with a customized piece containing the appropriate information for each on an individual basis. Executing such a program requires a well-designed contact strategy.

Print campaign hierarchy. One method for developing a print contact strategy is to create what we call a campaign hierarchy. The first step is to identify the key stages of a company’s relationship with its customers. These often include common stages such as new-customer welcome, sales add-on, replenishment offers and reactivation offers. Some industries have events unique to them, such as preshipment notifications, reminders for travel bookings, financial account balance updates, etc. Current e-mail programs designed to be responsive, while generating higher-than-average revenue, are good places to begin in identifying those campaigns that will have potential in a print format.

Once the important relationship stages are identified, a campaign should be created to address each major stage. For example, a new-customer welcome campaign should reinforce the purchase decision. From here, the second step is to add personalization rules to these campaigns.

Personalization rules. Once a campaign is created for each stage, these campaigns should be assigned a rule for personalizing the content for each customer. For example, the welcome campaign could give more information about the company and show products related to the item bought by the individual customer. In this way, a customer gets personalized information at each important stage in the relationship that reinforces the value of the company and acknowledges the value of the customer by showing that the company is aware of prior purchases and has relevant information to share.

Tactical print benefits. Most print campaigns will remain proactive and scheduled (i.e., catalogs, credit card solicitations, etc.). But the campaigns described above will respond to actions and events initiated by the customer in a way that reinforces the value of the customer and the value provided by the company. Tactical print will reinforce the customer relationship and provide the company with a longer-term sustainable advantage over competitors looking to use price and product parity to steal customers.

Tactical print also provides speed. Customers can indicate their interest by calling or by visiting the Web site. Tactical print lets companies respond quickly to customers’ actions. And it can be used in response to the overall progress of the marketing plan. If the company is seeing soft sales in a few stores, tactical print can address these issues.

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