Seven steps to success
Step by step implementation to take your digital color printing business to dizzy heights
Will Mansfield of Kodak GCG offers a summary of how most companies launch their new digital color printing service and make a success out of it
So, you are thinking of entering the digital color printing market . . . . Good! Digital color printing is one of the fastest growing commercial printing segments in Europe. But be advised, developing a business model for a new digital color printing operation is a complex undertaking. Many early adopters in Western Europe tried, and usually failed, to sell their new digital printing capabilities the same way they sold their traditional offset printing. In other words, simply selling on price whatever jobs come their way. As a go-to-market strategy, this makes it difficult, if not impossible, to achieve profitability and growth.
Fortunately, the situation is changing. There are a growing number of digital print service providers in Europe who have figured out how to create a profitable, growing business. Their success is fuelled by new business strategies, efficient business processes, and the advantages derived from new technology. For example, the new generation of electrophotographic printing systems, like the Kodak NexPress 2100 plus digital production color press, produce print quality that is superior to previous devices, thus broadening the market opportunities for digital color print applications. And new inkjet systems, like those of Kodak Versamark, offer high speed and low print cost for transactional and business color applications.
What follows is a summary of the seven steps used by today’s most successful companies to launch a new digital color printing service. If you incorporate these success factors into your own planning you will be well on your way to developing a profitable, growing digital color printing business.
Create a well-defined go-to-market strategy
The most successful digital color print providers invest in a digital color press to meet a specific business need. Typically this is to increase capacity, decrease costs, or create new revenue streams. To put it another way . . .
• they know why they are entering the market,
• they know whom they will sell to,
• they know what they will sell them,
• and they know how they will produce the work.
Before investing in a digital press, create a marketing plan that articulates how a high quality, reliable digital press will help you realize new communication services and introduce new print products to your customers.
Manage customer expectations
A classic definition of "quality" is meeting your customer's expectations. So, it should come as no surprise that the most successful digital color press owners have mastered the process of understanding, managing, and delivering on customer expectations. Two common themes can be seen: First, the most successful sites do not use their digital color press to compete with offset "quality." They properly position what the press can and cannot do relative to other printing and communication options. Second, they ensure that everyone, from their sales staff to their press operator to their bindery / finishing staff know what the customer is (and is not) expecting. They deliver what the customers want, without the waste associated with overproducing a job.
In order to manage expectations, successful digital color print providers have developed sales methods and tools for helping their customers understand the potential of digital printing. These include:
• Sample work portfolio – high quality samples to demonstrate the best
• Trained sales reps and account handlers – people who can evaluate the work that they pick up and ensure that it is suitable for printing on a digital color press
• Company brochures – explaining what they can do for their customers
• Samples of good digital printing applications targeted at their own market – give their customer new ideas
Hire or train highly skilled operators
Although digital color presses have become easier to use, they are still a press. And as with any printing press, a highly skilled pressman, or presswomen, will produce better results than a neophyte. The operator is crucial to producing quality, reducing waste, and implementing a preventative maintenance program. As one of our customers said, "The operator is my salesperson without an expense account."
One of the key selling points for digital printing is reliable and fast just-in-time delivery. Therefore, successful digital color print providers have realised that investing in training and recruitment (if necessary) of the right operator, certainly pays off dividends. By keeping the press in peak condition, it will be both more reliable and produce the best quality. This, in fact, is no different to any other electro mechanical device. Some of the most successful printers have their presses run or at least managed by people who are either partners or with an active interest in the success of the company. Higher calibre operators or systems managers often contribute positively to development of new applications as they have a better understanding of the actual process.
Automate your workflow
Highly effective digital color print providers build their production process to match the products they sell; not the other way around. They have optimized their processes - from sales through manufacturing to delivery - to handle a high volume of small orders. Human intervention is limited. Consistency is maintained. Costs are reduced.
Although the product of digital printing services may not be immediately obvious to the end user, successful print providers understand that one of the keys to success is to utilize digital workflow processes to optimize the production process. They have realized that by making other parts of the production process as efficient as possible, they can offer a better service and be of greater benefit to their customers. Areas where automatic processes can benefit are:
• Quoting and estimating – if possible via a website with automatic re-ordering for re-runs.
• Booking in and setting up of job tickets – Web-based job submission will help to reduce the time it takes to get all the job elements together.
• Job tracking – automatic gathering of production data to help with accurate invoicing
• Job templates – setting up of automated processes for jobs with similar structure such as newsletters.
• Automated finishing processes – to get the job ready for delivery
• Efficient dispatch and delivery
• Automated invoicing on job completion – a system to register completion of work on each job and ensure the best possible cash flow.
Use ongoing marketing campaigns to create new prospects
Highly effective digital color print providers have a strategy to keep their press full of work. Some of the common tactics used include direct mail / newsletters, telemarketing, and actively participating in vertical market networking events. One interesting side note: Highly successful NexPress print providers do not advertise, they use more 1-to-1 communications.
One of the advantages of owning a digital press is that it can be used to create very effective campaigns to promote the digital printing process. Imaginative digital color print providers have used their own press to promote their business. What can be better than producing applications that demonstrate and promote the process by which they were made?
The most effective campaigns for digital print providers are produced professionally with their client base in mind. Even if this means bringing in an external agency or design group to produce the campaign, this can be used successfully to both demonstrate the product and market the company.
Where print providers want to offer their services to a wide range of market segments, successful campaigns are those designed to target specific horizontal or vertical markets. For example, some print providers have chosen to specialize in a specific application (for example: newsletters, training manuals, conference materials, business cards) across all markets (horizontal) or alternatively, they have chosen to understand the needs of a specific vertical market segment (for example: financial, government, estate agents, educational, advertising). Each of these requires a different marketing approach.
Understand the VALUE of digital printing
Highly effective digital color print providers do not compete with offset printing. They are full-service providers offering their customers complete communication solutions, rather than print producers competing in a "cost plus (margin)" commodity model. They look for ways to add additional services, move up in their customer's value chain and offer complete solutions. Content management, database services and Web-based print procurement systems, also known as virtual literature racks, are some of the more common value-adding services used today by digital color printers.
There are basically two types of press owners who have taken advantage of the additional value offered by digital printing.
1. Printers with existing (conventional) print facilities
2. Start-up businesses with new applications and/or markets
As far as existing printers are concerned, the successful applications are those that extend the range of services to their existing client base. By offering proofing, short-run, personalized and on-demand printing they find that their customers have no need to seek services elsewhere and they can look to the digital printer as a one-stop shop for all their printing needs. This has also opened the door to departments within a single organisation, which may not have considered printing their products on offset presses. All in all, digital printing alongside offset printing encourages customer loyalty and increases business in all areas.
Start-up businesses are by nature formed by people who have perceived a new niche market. The most successful start-up digital color businesses have been particularly successful in creating completely new applications that could not have been produced by conventional means.
Pay attention to finishing and distribution
Highly effective digital color print providers understand that a job is not finished until it is out of the bindery and into the hands of their customer. They have dedicated finishing equipment to avoid conflicts with their traditional offset manufacturing. They have logistics / distribution services, or have created partnerships, so they can take total responsibility for storing (if necessary - either in digital or physical form), fulfilling and distributing their customer's jobs.
As much digital printing is required at short notice or “on-demand”, it stands to reason that the additional time required to finish the job will be highly critical to the process. The most successful printers have ensured that they acquire, at least, the finishing equipment used for the majority of jobs produced. This saves both the time and the cost of outsourcing. In some cases it has even led to expanding their business. For example, one company specializing in high quality, short-run materials for exhibitions, including brochures, POP and posters expanded their service, using the same graphic files, to include large format output and mounting and laminating.
In conclusion, there is no guaranteed recipe for success. You will need to consider your individual business and local market conditions when developing a business plan of your own. The seven steps presented here should be used as a benchmark, or guide. It is also wise to seek assistance from an experienced marketing practitioner. Ask your local printing association or equipment vendor if they offer business development services. Because when it comes to introducing a new digital color printing business, a little help can go a long way.