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Navigating New Terrain: How Direct Marketers and Printers Can Partner

Today's direct marketers are faced with issues and challenges that either didn't exist or weren't as prevalent a decade ago — issues that make it difficult for them to cut through the clutter to reach consumers.

Consumers have changed. Thanks to the instant communication of the information age, new demographic groups may now shop when, where and how they wish with less time to make more choices than before.

Direct mail can no longer stand alone. Successful direct marketing programs make direct mail only one element of a larger initiative to meet consumer demands for interaction on their own terms, with the media of their choice.

New marketing databases help you know your customers. The technology available in databases makes tracking consumer preferences easier than ever, and marketers can use this intelligence to design successful programs.

Successful direct marketers recognize that these factors, combined with forecasts of slowing industry growth and increased competition, have done nothing less than change the way they do business. This climate has affected how printing and production partners do business. Not to mention, those who foresaw the new environment have developed innovations that can help direct marketers find their way past the concept of putting ink on paper to reaching consumers in increasingly interactive ways using such elements as enhanced customization techniques.

The well-known concept of ink-jetting a message or two onto a cover has evolved in recent years into various elaborate applications; for example, one business-to-business direct mailer commonly places 10 or 11 personalized messages throughout its catalog. This tried-and-true method of targeting mailings is evolving into increasingly elaborate techniques that promise to gain favor in the future.

In fact, one BTB direct mailer is testing a fully customized catalog. Using intelligence gathered from a new customer database, this marketer is printing a high-quality four-color piece which is uniquely targeted to each customer. For example, a consumer who has purchased paper in the past might now be instructed to turn to a page that has been specially designed to include paper and filing cabinets to keep it in. This is more than a targeted piece; it is a four-color, in-line, fully customized promotion. And it is happening now. In pure production terms, watch for this new focus on customization to produce declining print run lengths, moves toward selectronic binding and an increase in the number of binding sections in individual pieces.

As mentioned, one sure way to get noticed and appreciated by consumers is to make connecting as easy as possible. Of course, this can mean doing something as simple as including Web addresses, retail locations and toll-free telephone numbers in catalogs. Or, it can be as innovative and easy to use as new technology that merges the best of the in-line and online worlds to enhance the shopping experience, such as scanning instruments which consumers will use to instantly order a product from a catalog or take them directly to the catalog's Web site.

Regardless of chosen tactics, direct marketers must first recognize that making shopping as easy as possible for consumers is just as much about accepting new internal business models as it is about integrating marketing efforts; successful retailers and catalogers must view their own operations as integrated before using their printers to integrate their marketing efforts — a step that has not always been easy to take.

Timing is crucial, and marketers seeking to strengthen connections to consumers must be able to depend on printing partners that can move swiftly in response to consumer demand. This usually comes in the form of a completely integrated digital workflow — from image capturing, page layout and proofing to the digital devices in the bindery — that can adapt to this new technology. Additional time can be saved by using Web-based job-tracking technology, a feature that helps ensure control over the printing process and improves interaction between printers and marketers.

Connecting with consumers is more than being timely; retailers and catalogers must also hold their printers accountable for understanding and communicating production options and devising creative ways to work within these parameters to target consumers as specifically as possible. Unique production formats, specific paper requirements, innovative binding styles, out-of-the-ordinary inserts and creative page configurations are all examples of elements printers can use to help marketers cut through the clutter and connect with consumers. Indeed, using such creative tactics greatly enhances the likelihood that a piece will drive response.

Enhancing a brand's image in the minds of consumers often begins by consistently offering a quality mail piece, from image reproduction to paper stock. The point of a marketing piece is, after all, to portray a unique and distinct image in an age when active mail-order consumers typically receive seven to 10 other pieces in a week. Integrated premedia, ink and paper quality are all factors in the quality equation; however, these individual elements are ineffective without a well-managed printing operation to put it all together by maintaining quality consistency throughout a print run. Only when the printing partner appreciates a marketer's exacting standards can a piece reflect those standards.

Whereas the previous elements focused on ways direct marketers can achieve value in their printed pieces, this point addresses cost. In the end, consumers want to achieve savings wherever possible, and the most direct way to deliver lower costs is to build efficiencies into print operations all along the supply chain, from premedia through distribution. Integrated premedia can help save production time by translating print and color requirements right to the page, thus maintaining the quality of a piece.

Printers that manage paper know which stock works best on which presses and that, in turn, reduces waste. Larger printers can also hold the line on costs by using the benefits of scale; leveraging print volume translates directly into lower postal costs. From start to finish, it is up to printers to make these efficiencies available.

The direct marketing environment has indeed changed in recent years, and it will continue to do so. Direct marketers can meet today's and tomorrow's challenges by appreciating the shifting nature of consumer dynamics, approaching direct mail as part of a multichannel marketing program, embracing new and sophisticated database technology and recognizing the importance of enhancing brand awareness. Partnering with printers to help achieve this goal is the first step.

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