Differentiating yourself from competition is key to coming out on top.
By Kurt Konow
As we approach the second half of 2009, the nation’s economic conditions are still uncertain. Some experts predict recovery by the end of the year; others are less optimistic, suggesting a full turn-around will happen later in 2010. As companies across all industries review their sales, marketing and product strategies, many will change course and re-evaluate the direction set earlier in the year. The digital publishing industry is no different. Determining how the economy will affect customer needs, vendor costs and shape trends is essential to getting the formula right – and will better your chances of riding out the economic storm – whether it’s for six more months, or even a year. Differentiating yourself from the competition is key in advancing your business, and the following tips will help you achieve the right balance between safe and sorry, while at the same time allow you to build an executable plan to meet your objectives.
Think about Trends
One of the most reliable—and easiest—ways to get information about the print industry is to keep up with your reading. Of course, your local and national news are great resources, but don’t forget about other news sources, such as print and online newsletters and periodicals that report on a variety of industry issues. There are also a variety of Web sites that regularly feature industry analysts and real-life customers that can give valuable insight on the direction of the economy. Another great way to get a sense of what’s to come is to meet regularly—in person, when possible—with your customers. The feedback, concerns, and recent successes they share with you will help you determine strategy. A critical thing to keep in mind is that trends can change very quickly—particularly in this economic climate. Be certain to faithfully monitor news coverage and speak to your customers on a regular basis.
Consider Customer Needs
Ultimately, understanding your customers is a crucial step in maintaining the right inventory. While forecasting is important, having a strong relationship with your customers and speaking to them on a regular basis can help differentiate yourself and show them that you are a true partner, not just a vendor. As you speak to customers often, you’ll be better prepared to forecast demands and maintain your inventory accordingly. It’s not just about volume, though: variety matters too. To ensure you’re offering your customer products to fit their needs, take a serious look at your current offerings and determine what additional items you can offer. Remember, the more well-rounded your inventory, the better. In addition to product requirements, be sure to also keep track of purchase records and service schedules. Checking in on a customer ahead of a scheduled service visit, before any potential problems or issues, will win major points in the eyes of the customer and will strengthen your relationship.
Route the Road
Once you’re equipped with a sense of upcoming trends, customer information, and an understanding of your inventory capabilities, you’re ready to map out the coming months. By identifying your current position in the marketplace and also understanding your customer’s position, you can better determine where you need to go—and how you get there. Based on the above factors—and the economic conditions—your roadmap might include solutions to accommodate variable data printing, Web-to-print, and multi-touch marketing campaigns, automated workflow enabled printers that can run a variety of paper sizes and substrates, and inclusion of digital color print within traditional offset print environments
It is important to really think through your business model before investing in new printing technologies as opposed to making a knee-jerk reaction. Variable data printing, Web-to-print and multi-touch marketing campaigns may all be valuable investments, but if you do not have a clear plan on how to drive your business, these investments may fall flat. To reiterate, forecasting, preparation and working the numbers are important steps to take to ensure the right investments are made at the right time.
Crunch and Calculate
Don’t ever ignore your ingoing or outgoing numbers. Now, more than ever, is the time to review spending and overall costs, as compared to your income. Finding the right balance will greatly influence your long-term sustainability in the marketplace and also potentially reveal areas where you can reduce costs for customers – resulting in loyal customers willing to provide references for new wins. By planning ahead and doing your research, this necessary step will potentially save your company money that can be invested into your future, placing you in a good position for growth.
Developing a clear strategy for maximizing efficiency and minimizing costs is crucial. Implementing a comprehensive review of your current assets and following a plan for the best use of these resources will keep you on the road to financial success. By using your roadmap and bearing in mind your budgetary limitations, you can arrive at solutions equipped to handle today’s financial climate, as well as create opportunities for future growth. Some areas to consider include, integrated workflow tools and capabilities, versatile print finishing options, vast media and substrate support, self maintenance programs, and earth-friendly components.
At the end of the day, it is about investing in your future. Whether it is through money-saving tactics, planning ahead, or adding variety to your inventory, you are taking the right steps to being a better resource for your customers—now, and in the years to come. By carving out a path for growth and staying a few steps ahead of a potential crisis, you are positioning your company in the right spot for surviving economic uncertainty. dps