You might know the saying, “One hand to shake.” The sentiment is clear: There’s a growing need to have one person or party accountable for a job so a client only has one place to turn to for questions, guidance, or any issues that arise. It’s something that marketers increasingly seek out in the partners they work with, Cyndi Greenglass says. It’s also something that many print services providers (PSPs) have addressed with a “one-stop shop” approach. Greenglass, who is president of Livingston Strategies and describes herself as a passionate, data-informed professional who helps clients use data to make decisions for actionable marketing results, explains that for many brands and marketers, working with a PSP that considers itself a “one-stop shop” can be attractive.
“I don’t want to call four different service providers,” she notes. “Print service providers have gone upstream very effectively.”
What she means is that many PSPs have pivoted to become more of a partner with their brand and marketer clients. For example, she explains that in the case of direct mail, many PSPs have moved into doing more than “just” printing; instead they offer creative layout and design, data processing, lettershop services, and tracking in addition to traditional print services.
Lisa Cross, principal analyst at NAPCO Research, says that when she talks to brands, marketers, and print buyers, they report that they consider PSPs that can support them with “all facets of a job” as being innovative.
“If it’s direct mail, [PSPs are] probably helping them with the mailing aspect of it and reducing their costs and advising them on postal strategies so they can get the best discount,” she says. “Or maybe they’re advising them on substrates.”
This is something Greenglass says can go a long way in improving relationships between PSPs and the brands and marketers with which they work. She explains that marketers may not often realize the cost implications of making small changes to paper size, finishing, or even color and personalization.
“The amount of personalization combined with the substrate you choose is something marketers often don’t think about when evaluating costs,” she adds.
When it comes to advising brands and marketers on postal strategies to help them save money, Greenglass explains it’s important to educate them on how to lower costs, which includes educating them on postal optimization and promotions.
“If you’re a large enough mailer — volume-based — even the small percentages you can save customers can add up to very significant dollars,” she says.
Some of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) promotions might be hard for marketers to wrap their heads around, so Greenglass suggests PSPs offer case studies and sample use cases. Take, for example, the tactile, sensory, and interactive promotion being offered by the USPS, which can account for a 5% discount. Augmented reality falls into this category but may seem elusive to some print customers.
“It is great when the PSP can understand how to actually implement it effectively in their mail campaign, that would be great,” she says. “But if you just tell them about it, it’s hard for them to connect the dots because they don’t even know how they could make it work.”
It isn’t always about price either. Education and guidance can be key to developing a strong relationship with print customers but, many times, the point at which PSPs can offer guidance has already passed by the time a job is turned over to them. “Sometimes the print service provider is so downstream that they don’t really know what the strategy was and they are under a tight deadline,” according to Greenglass. However, there are some “savvy” marketers who will involve a PSP early on in the ideation process. This is a chance for the PSP to become a partner and an advisor throughout the entire production process.
“If you are a very savvy marketer who is accustomed to doing print and you are looking to integrate this service provider into a multichannel campaign, then you want to know that they have the technology and the sophistication to be a good long-term partner.” she says. These marketers want to work with people who can make them smarter, more efficient, and save them both time and money.
Vicki Strull, a design strategist and founder of Vicki Strull Consulting, explains the opportunity for PSPs to collaborate with designers and marketers earlier on in the design process can be beneficial for all parties. “At the beginning of the process, PSPs can be a resource not only for education, but also for inspiration,” she notes. “Designers and marketers love to know what’s possible.”
This means keeping customers up to date on the latest printing, embellishment, and finishing possibilities after becoming their chosen partner. The PSPs should aim to remain a “resource and trusted partner for their brand,” Strull explains.
“It’s up to the printer to keep designers and marketers informed on the latest innovations in print, sustainability, variable data, security and any other innovation that helps their printed pieces and packaging perform better,” she says.
However, there’s a fine line when providing print customers with the education they need to make decisions about a campaign.
“Sure, the technology explains it, but not all designers want to know the specifics of the printing technology,” Strull says. “I’ve seen bad quality printing and no finishing break a design, and I’ve seen the reverse. A collaborative PSP [can] elevate the design beyond what the designer and marketer imagined, and that adds a powerful element to the customer experience.”
Adapting Services to Meet Customer Needs
When a PSP adapts its services to appeal more to brands and marketers, it can be a game changer in strengthening relationships and encouraging loyalty. Understanding what a print buyer is looking for in the PSPs they work with can be helpful.
Cross offers some guidance on this front. She explains that when print buyers are asked for their top three criteria when selecting a print provider, it’s typically price, quality, and turnaround time, but things are changing. “That’s historically what it is,” she says, “but we’re starting to see quality become No. 1.”
Not only is quality increasingly important, Cross notes that reliability, client service, and responsiveness also top the list. “Buyers really care about the experience they have with their provider,” she explains. “Customer service is a term you hear quite a bit. It’s [anything] from returning phone calls to what your accounting system is and how easy is it for them to pay you?”
Cross says print buyers are looking for services beyond print, which includes Web-to-print services. “You want to make their lives easier and that could be by offering them more services and alleviating any headaches or pains they might have,” she says.
It all comes down to how a PSP makes the customer feel, and how seamless the experience is throughout the process and when a project is completed. “Anytime you can make your customer the hero,” Cross concludes, “they’re going to love you for that.”