Unified digital and print for SMEs presents printers with profit opportunities

Print is a necessity but not in the way – or the volumes – it used to be. There is no insight in declaring the reasons behind this shift but they begin to demonstrate the routes to alleviate or alter the impact. People’s budgets are smaller, the recession has cut spending, people have new ways of working, customers have new demands, and customers have new digital communications channels. These challenges also divulge clear opportunity – if not capability – for printers to reverse flagging revenues and profits. Cost is a big issue for customers so, printers feeling the pinch need to contain and reduce them where possible. The new channels can easily disregard print yet there are good examples of integrated print and digital communications being more effective than one or the other alone. One example is retailers that see an uptick in their online sales following publication of print advertising. And the new channels must work with the same large data files to which printers are accustomed. Printers have taken different approaches to these influences. Some have buried their heads in the sand and hoped for the best. Some boosted their marketing of their traditional products and services. Some bought new equipment that reduced OPEX overheads. Some diversified their services portfolios. Some tried to extend the acceptable lifespans of equipment to improve their returns on investment. They met with varying degrees of failure and success. What has become evident as this experience is gained is that data – more of which is available through digital channels – actually represents an opportunity for many printers. Printers are accustomed to working with customers’ variable data files. That’s typically used in the direct environment and personalised communications. Digital marketing also seeks to personalise, to home in on individuals. There is evidently already overlap between the physical and virtual worlds as evidenced by increased online retailer sales following print publication of ad materials. Printers can employ the data across the physical and digital channels to embrace this opportunity on behalf of their customers. They’re accustomed to working with the volumes of rich data, the creative concepts and materials, they’re accustomed to materials that directly communicate with customers, and, with Web to print, QR codes and the new Clickable Paper, they’re the perfect gateway to unifying the online and offline mediums. Where they pitch their service, though, will make all the difference. There are many thousands of SMEs that would love this opportunity. But another lesson that has learned from the last decade’s worth of upheaval in the print industry is that these customers are often not as au fait with print as they perhaps think they are. So the SMEs could use the opportunity but they don’t necessarily know it exists, what it costs, how it can help their business, or where to get it. The opportunity presented by a packaged solution targeted at SMEs is enormous. Every time someone phones a booking in to a restaurant, that restaurant has their contact details. It represents an opportunity to request marketing permission that could put an additional bum in a seat if the restaurant knew how to effectively communicate with that customer. Flower shops are a perfect example. They have access to even more information such as birthdays and anniversaries of all types. Were they to collect that information they could remarket to past customers at appropriate points in the future. Smaller, independent car service centres represent another opportunity for regular contact with – and sales to – customers. When you start looking around there are many opportunities. Capitalise on one of those and it is not very difficult to package up a solution and trot it out to other similar businesses. The opportunities exist because those SMEs do not work with data, they never have. Yet bring them the opportunity, in an accessible package, and many will demonstrate their eagerness to pay for solutions that work to increase their own revenues and profits. Article written by:By Jean Lloyd, director of Production Print Solutions at Ricoh SA