Jan. 8 2008 01:19 PM


Today, for customers across all industries, it's all about convenience. The prevailing "need-it-yesterday" mentality, combined with the desire to squeeze a few more hours into the day, has contributed to the need for a "one-stop shopping" experience. This concept has become the norm in recent years with, for example, the incorporation of banks into grocery stores, coffee shops in book stores and pharmacies within retail chains.


Customers save time and energy and in a fast-paced world where, increasingly, "time is money," they report a willingness to pay a premium for this convenience. As a result, previously disparate industries and historically fierce competitors are forming strategic partnerships to better cater to and target their customer base.


Mail + Printing = Efficiency

Accordingly, this trend has found its way to the mail and printing markets, where mail houses are capitalizing on digital print technology to become single-source suppliers. Consequently, they can offer their customers an expanded range of services boosting customer satisfaction and loyalty, yielding a higher response rate from their target audience and opening new revenue streams.


Advanced Direct Marketing, based in Loveland, Colorado, was founded in 1988 as a mailing facility and is a leading example of a mail house-turned-one-stop-shop for both mail and printing services. The mail house identified a new market opportunity in the printing sector, and after responding to a surge in customer demand, now generates more than seven million mailpieces annually. "We discovered that our customers prefer to deal with a single-source supplier for mailing campaigns, and rather than continue to outsource printing jobs totaling more than a quarter-million dollars, we decided it would be more efficient and profitable to bring this functionality in-house," says Dennis DenBoer, Owner of Advanced Direct Marketing.


This recent one-stop shop trend also stems from competitive necessity. The mailing and printing industries have long been on parallel paths, and as margins have eroded, the need for value-added services has become paramount driven in part by increased demand for quick turnaround times and by more targeted mailing campaigns. And with more and more print shops offering mailing services, mail houses are staying competitive by responding in kind. As DenBoer explains, "If you're in one business mail or printing you need to hurry up and get into the other."


The success of 19-employee Advanced Direct Marketing is also proof that the move toward services convergence is not only for the FedEx Kinkos and other big-name players of the mailing and printing worlds. Admittedly, this trend began in larger shops, which had the monetary and staff resources required for experimentation and services integration. But now, with Internet tools and innovative, easy-to-use, cost-effective technology, mail houses of all sizes are reaping the benefits of being able to offer print services.


The Power of Personalization and Targeted Mailings

Further contributing to the mail and print service convergence is honed list-making, which allows marketers to target their audience and cut down on bulk mailings. With fewer pieces to mail out, mail houses are looking for other avenues to add value and have done so by bringing printing services in-house. At the same time, with the rise of more sophisticated, personalized mailers (for example, oversized or folded pieces, rather than a typical 4 x 6 postcard), printers are seeking ways to take advantage of this opportunity by adding additional services. The answer for many of them lies in incorporating mailing services.


Let's look at the effects of these targeted mailings in greater detail. Today's technology also allows, for example, a typical car dealership to send out smaller, more targeted mailings that can identify key recipients based on variables such as household income, job type, age and gender. These targeted lists have virtually eliminated the notorious "spray and pray" technique where marketers indiscriminately sent out vast quantities of direct mail in the hopes that someone would respond. Instead, that dealership can send information about new Jeeps to the 25-year-olds, minivan information to the 30-somethings in the suburbs and luxury vehicle info to targeted 50-year-olds significantly improving response rates and sales leads. And with fewer total mailpieces to send, mail houses find they can bring printing services into their shops and cost-effectively print these smaller quantities.


Spurred by the increased popularity of these targeted mailings, there has been a corresponding rise in the use of personalization and versioning in the production of direct mail. Thus, the aforementioned car dealership can also improve its rate of response by addressing John and Kathy Smith by name and also by tailoring the information on its direct mail to a specific geographic area. Correspondingly, mail houses that can offer all these services find themselves in a more competitive position.


By using technology that facilitates personalization and versioning and also makes small and medium press runs cost-effective more and more mail houses are finding they become more relevant as single-source suppliers.


Technology Tips

As mail houses expand their repertoire of offerings to include printing services, they are also seeking high-quality and cost-effective solutions that enable fast turnarounds in the quantity and quality required by their clients. Additionally, in order to reap maximum profits, they require technology that is not time- or resource-intensive and should prioritize ease-of-use and level of automation as key decision making factors when looking to bring printing services in-house.


Mail houses have found that digital offset printing technology offers an ideal solution. Many are turning to direct imaging, digital offset solutions, whose output reflects the high quality of offset printing, but comes without the high cost per page (and click charges!) of toner machines. In fact, implementing digital offset technology that specializes in press runs from 250-10,000 copies puts no strain on resources. Mail houses do not need to hire an experienced, four-color offset pressman if they purchase a press that can be operated by anyone with basic computer skills.


Additionally, such presses integrate well with existing technology and facilitate versioning, a process where high-quality color shells are printed using a digital offset press, and a toner-based device can be used to add personalized data, creating a more compelling piece at the lowest possible cost. And as personalization and versioning capabilities are changing the way mail is distributed for example, instead of sending out 10,000 or more direct mailpieces, there may be five drops of 2,000 each, tailored to a specific region digital offset technology also proves extremely useful.


With two digital offset presses to complement its toner-based equipment, Advanced Direct Marketing reports new customers, reduced make-ready waste, faster turnaround times and additional revenue streams. The company uses its digital offset technology to print postcards   in fact, one client requests 52,000 postcards every month! as well as newsletters, flyers and pocket folders, which can then be incorporated into mailings.


Additional Success Stories

Hickory, North Carolina-based Catawba Print & Mail was founded as Catawba Mailing Services in 1984 as a one-man shop with a single Cheshire machine. In 2004, president L.F. Miller incorporated printing services into his business to offer a turnkey package in what he says was the only way to survive. Catawba's annual mail production currently exceeds 25 million pieces. "In order to have any longevity in the mailing industry, you need to control your destiny by offering printing services," Miller says. "The future of the business centers on digital printing capabilities."


Forty percent of Catawba's business now stems from its printing services, and Miller estimates that by using a variable digital press and direct imaging, digital offset press to complement that technology, sales have increased by about 30%. He says the shop's digital offset technology has proven to be a marketing catalyst drawing in new customers, drastically reducing turnaround times and cutting costs for makeready materials. "We can turn around in a matter of days a job that would take a conventional printer weeks," explains Miller.


Additionally, the company has redesigned its website to draw in print business, with postcard design templates available in areas such as insurance, health, education and automotive sales. "These designs have helped us reach our targeted customers," says Tim Larson, Catawba's Director of Print Operations, who spearheaded the template design. "As mail houses expand their range of services, they need to make this change known to
customers through web design, promotions, advertising and marketing, or other innovative channels."


In Conclusion Stay Competitive!

The success of Advanced Direct Marketing, Catawba and countless others speaks of the power of and necessity for this convergence of services. Fueled by best practices in printing technology, honed targeting capabilities and unprecedented competition, mail houses are seeing that it is no longer effective to offer services that only address a single piece of the pie.


Thus, by expanding their service offerings to incorporate printing services, mail shops can address a wide spectrum of customer needs making themselves a one-stop shop and multiple-business generator.


Brian Wolfenden has 25 years of experience in the printing industry. He is currently Director of Marketing Communications at Presstek, a leading manufacturer and marketer of digital offset printing solutions. Visit www.presstek.com or contact presstek@daviesmurphy.com.