Post-Pandemic Business Strategies: 5 New Truths


It’s safe to say that 2020 was a year like no other, and 2021 will certainly not revert back to the old normal. As print service providers think about building business this year and beyond, what lessons from the pandemic apply? What do printing/marketing service providers need to do to grow faster?

Combining these interviews with what I’ve learned from three decades of working with printing and marketing service providers, and the unprecedented changes initiated from a pandemic, one thing is apparent: business basics still apply.

Service providers still need to focus on the right target markets; provide the right products and services; deliver excellent customer service; build strategies to drive new business development; and establish solid customer relationships. COVID-19, however, has caused changes in the ways that service providers are executing on these business basics.

Here are five business basics or “truths,” and how successful service providers are altering or updating their execution to improve business results.

1. Old Truth: Targeting the right vertical markets is critical to business success.
New Truth: Understanding how target markets are changing and the ability to adjust are critical to business success.

In today’s challenging and competitive market environment, it is vital to use all resources, capabilities, and capital effectively to produce goods and services that customers desire. The majority of print service providers have target market segments they focus on but now, more than ever, they need to pay attention to the market dynamics impacting their client base and adapt strategies accordingly. Successful providers have been quick to pivot target marketing strategies to meet changing market demands.

B2C Versus B2B

When the pandemic hit, many B2B (business-to-business) companies that do business with other companies halted print marketing efforts. With their end customers working from home, these B2B firms didn’t know how or where to reach clients or prospects. B2C (business-to-consumer) companies selling directly to individual consumers knew that people were working from home and used the opportunity to put in place more aggressive direct mail and digital marketing campaigns. While vaccines are rapidly moving into the market, B2B firms are not in a hurry to make employees return to corporate locations.

DS Graphics/Universal Wilde (DSG/UW) shifted its market focus to B2C opportunities. According to Executive VP Chris Wells, “We were heavily weighted to B2B and a lot of that business disappeared, while B2C clients were driving more communications. Going forward, the B2C space continues to use more print, as well as digital communications, to reach people working from home.” He adds, “B2B marketers are still focusing more on digital solutions because their customers are still not in offices. Some corporate offices are not even accepting mail. This is not something that is going to change quickly.”

Finding the Right Verticals

A number of print service providers focus on specific vertical industries: for example, finance, insurance, healthcare, gaming, hospitality, or education. Service providers needed to adjust focus during the pandemic to pursue industry segments that were stable.

According to Quantum Group Executive VP of Marketing and Sales Michele Brennan, “Some of the vertical industries we served, like gaming, declined dramatically. We refocused our efforts on verticals where we could help our customers with more effective communications, including pharmaceutical, healthcare, financial services, and retailers with an online presence. Other segments, like senior living and education, are starting to come back.”

Highlighting the verticals that provide emerging opportunity to LCP (Lake County Press) during the pandemic, Dean Petrulakis, senior VP of sales, reports, “We proactively worked with a client in the RV space that needed marketing asset management solutions for their dealer network, as well as identified opportunity in the cannabis market.”

2. Old Truth: Print service providers need to deliver great products and services.
New Truth: Print service providers need to deliver great value to customers in response to changing market needs.

Consumer appetite for good communications has piqued marketers’ interest in creating personalized experiences. Marketers realized that generic mass-marketing campaigns are not working. The best way to attract and hold a consumer’s attention is through personalized communication and a great customized experience. All of the providers interviewed highlighted the drive for more and more personalization.

Data-driven marketing is a top priority for Quantum Group’s direct mail customers. “Data is front and center when serving our direct mail customers,” Quantum CEO Cheryl Kahanec notes. “We waited a long time for customer adaptation of variable data and personalized communications, and they are ready now.”

In addition, Melanie De Caprio, VP of marketing at SG360°, notes that her company has seen a rise in customer demand for personalization. “SG360° has seen an increase in laser-focused targeting. We work with clients on data modeling to identify high-potential prospects — those most likely to respond. We leverage client demographic and behavioral data (including website behavior) to build a hyper-targeted prospect list for customers. The end result is that we improve the ROI for every marketing dollar our clients spend,” she says.

Innovations in digital printing technology also play a role in the expansion of personalizing print, Andrew Henkel, VP and principal of Johnson & Quin, points out. “Inkjet printing has enabled us to produce high-quality, full-color personalized messages and graphics quickly and cost-effectively on forms and envelopes. We continue to see increased focus on personalization, especially personalized envelopes that get the consumer’s attention.”

Omnichannel Expectations

Print service providers are continually challenged to rapidly adapt to rising customer expectations across all channels. Whether it is essential communication touchpoints like bills and statements, or sales or marketing materials, the bar has been set very high for marketers to provide consumers with easy, engaging, and personalized digital and print interactions. This is putting increased pressure on print service providers to deliver omnichannel services.

According to Ken Gammon, VP of healthcare sales and business development at RR Donnelley (RRD), “Client demand for marketing automation through technology and business process outsourcing services have increased post-pandemic. The increase in marketing automation correlates with staffing declines in marketing departments. More use of data for 1:1 communications will continue. Email is not an effective tool from a standalone perspective. It needs to be part of an omnichannel experience,” he notes.

Wells, of DSG/UW, highlights the importance of direct mail as part of the omnichannel experience. “Millennials appreciate the creative pieces they get in the mail. We are working with clients to deliver direct mail that gets the consumers’ attention. The direct mail is used to drive them to a digital experience — augmented reality, QR codes, or the Web. From there we help clients nurture the leads on the right communication channel.”

Self-Service Online Tools

As more people worked remotely during the pandemic, offering customers self-service tools for managing print work became extremely critical. This was good news for service providers that already had the right Web-to-print enabled portals in place. Multi-location organizations sought print providers who offered quick-turnaround marketing materials and signage that supported a brand identity, and that could be customized at a local level.

For more than 25 years, Tukaiz has supported the quick-service restaurant (QSR) market and multi-unit retail community with a technology platform called Backstage. “Each Backstage portal is designed to suit the client’s purpose, Dan Defino, Tukaiz’ VP and managing director, explains. “It’s made up of several building blocks that can accommodate a large suite of marketing capabilities, ranging from print to digital and social media solutions.

“With our Backstage offering, clients had easy access to materials they needed. During the pandemic, people still needed to eat, so QSRs did well. Our big clients didn’t slow down, but they altered the materials they printed.”

There was a shift in the pandemic to applications like floor graphics and window clings. They also did a lot more on the outside of the buildings and printed coupons. Backstage facilitated orders and let Tukaiz accelerate delivery with a consistent set of services, according to Defino.

LCP has taken a similar approach to the market. “The future of our business is programmatic sales,” Petrulakis explains. “We want clients looking for a partner to manage everything from one source.”

Organizations like a national franchise are a good fit, he adds. “LCP can give them access through an online entry point. We worked with one international account that had four different suppliers and helped them consolidate suppliers. Now, they can order everything (from uniforms to trade show graphics and business cards) from a single site.”

3. Old Truth: Your clients prefer face-to-face communication.
New Truth: Customers are embracing the efficiency of digital interactions with suppliers.

As society begins its return to normal, a likely permanent change will be how businesses and organizations communicate with customers. Virtual meetings are here to stay, so improving staff’s digital sales skills will continue.

The loss of sales visits, “live eyeballs,” and events definitely hurts “old school” sellers. The struggle to create compelling reasons to call and provide engaging meetings in the absence of live events and non-verbal
communication is real.

Salespeople may get more virtual calls because the customer time commitment is much smaller compared to a face-to-face meeting. The virtual option also means faster follow-up meetings, which could shrink sales cycles. It’s much easier to assemble customer decision-makers and internal subject matter experts on a virtual call. There is efficiency for the sales team in terms of both time savings and money for travel.

The key is that print providers need to invest in mastering the new sales call process. It doesn’t mean face-to-face meetings will go away, but they will be used more judiciously and virtual meetings need to be made more meaningful.

The printing industry has a lot of “old school sellers” that need to adapt to new technology, which ultimately means training. Gammon acknowledges that modernizing one’s sales approach was necessary even before the pandemic.

“As communications evolve, we’ve kept pace by developing the new solutions our clients need, many of which are built on new technologies we’ve had to learn,” he says. “We were fortunate to have had training around the digital channels and virtual selling very early on, allowing us to stay close to our clients during the pandemic. Our new skills and competencies allowed us to respond faster than we would have had we not been prepared.”

Make Customer Meetings a Fun Experience

The sales experience is a critical part of any customer decision. According to Lumoa Research on B2B buying behavior, the sales experience accounts for 25% in a buying decision, and is more important than the product/service and its price. Savvy print providers are using a variety of sales tools ranging from direct mail with integrated augmented reality (AR) demos, to Zoom meetings with virtual lunches — where sales reps arrange to have lunch delivered to the client.

Wells shared a perfect example of delivering a memorable customer experience. When DSG/UW hosted a virtual grand opening of its new facility, it sent prospects invitations for a virtual cocktail hour complete with a Charcuterie board for all of the participants who provided their home addresses. It not only helped them gather more customer data, but provided a meaningful customer experience that won’t quickly be forgotten.

4. Old Truth: Prospecting and cold-calling is hard.
New Truth: Prospecting and cold-calling is hard, but more tools are readily available.

“Cold-calling” refers to calling a prospect you haven’t previously made a connection with before. COVID-19 forced printers’ prospects to work from home, which eliminated in-person sales opportunities, such as visiting offices, meetings, and events.

Service providers are leveraging tools like LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, and Competiscan to identify the right prospects and effectively reach them. For example, Johnson and Quin uses LinkedIn to learn more about prospects and leverages Competiscan to see who is mailing what and if it is a fit for the shot’s business model.

Tukaiz’s Defino also recommends asking satisfied customers for referrals. “What has worked best for us is leveraging our customer relationships. Cold calls are difficult. I go through LinkedIn and see who is connected to whom.”

In 2020, SG360° attracted more new customers than in any recent year. According to DiCaprio, SG360° relied on social media to create more networking opportunities. “We also invested in Pardot for marketing automation to continually communicate on multiple channels and to nurture customer relationships.”

Quantum’s Brennan points out the importance of also monitoring customer contacts who changes jobs. “As companies downsize, and employees are displaced, we make sure we stay up-to-date with their job changes using LinkedIn. That way, when our contact gets a new job, we can be proactive and, hopefully, it brings us a new client or customer.”

5. Old Truth: Marketing is important for print service provider growth.
New Truth: Marketing across all channels is critical to print service providers for reaching new prospects and driving business. 

Historically, print and marketing service providers have made limited investments in marketing initiatives. The pandemic has forced service providers to develop new go-to-market strategies, customer engagement models, and digital programs. Successful providers are leveraging a myriad of tactics across all channels to reach existing customers, as well as to reach new prospects.

Potential buyers are doing their homework — and making decisions about whether to even reach out — before they pick up the phone. Ensure that you’re giving prospects a steady stream of thought leadership articles, blog posts, and data-driven information they can use to vet the value of doing business with you. Service providers are increasing posts on LinkedIn, publishing monthly newsletters, and enhancing websites.

Virtual events also offer a fresh way to get your team in front of prospects. Identify opportunities to speak at virtual conferences or create your own conference or webinar.

Believing that a company cares about you is also a powerful source of attraction. Sending customers and prospects gifts creates a positive memory, forms a personal connection with your organization, and delivers a lasting impression. Print service providers are creating custom-branded “swag” bundles containing physical gifts; the branded items in these bundles can range from socks and tumblers, to eco-friendly tote bags and reusable straws.

DSG/UW sends out high-value promotional items. “One promotion was called Fire and Ice. It included a DSG/UW-branded mug where the recipient could control the temperature of the mug with an app on their smart phone,”according to Wells.

“The follow-up was a water bottle that integrates with a smart phone to track and remind people to stay hydrated,” he says. “The key message we got across to clients was the importance of integrating physical and digital worlds. It also illustrated DSG/UW capabilities to deliver very creative ideas.”

The Bottom Line

As buyers and sellers continue to be faced with the challenges of the pandemic, business basics still apply. What’s new is finding creative ways to refresh and execute tried-and-true strategies. Targeting the right markets is essential to success, but printers continually need to assess changes and refocus. Clients are looking for more personalization, partners that support an omnichannel experience, and those that offer a full range of services.

Communicating with existing clients is critical. Even though more face-to-face customer interaction will resume, virtual meetings are here to stay. Train your teams to deliver a quality experience. Prospecting has always been a challenge, but there are now more tools available. It has never been more important for print providers to also become effective marketers.

A panel of industry experts reveal some post-pandemic myths and truths.

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