Have Printers Become Cobblers With No Shoes?


By Joanne Gore

Over the last few years I’ve noticed an interesting trend over the holiday season. Nobody sends out holiday cards anymore! If I think back, I suppose this all really began about 10 years ago. Because before then  I recall receiving lots of cards for the holidays. And I’m talking about cards from vendors and partners, not friends and family (that’s a whole other topic for discussion!)

Granted that a decade ago, people were more than a little enamoured with e-cards. They got their webmasters and/or designers to create very clever messages, which were then mass e-mailed. Aside from the cost savings in printing, stuffing, and mailing, there was the times savings in not having to get the necessary folks to hand-sign all the cards being distributed.

Print as a whole took a downturn as folks embraced online marketing concepts, email campaigns, posting their collateral online, etc., and the industry is still in recovery mode.

Back in the day when I worked on the print side (I was a typesetter and art director….who occasionally had to shoot her own film if the need arose), the holidays were a busy time. Sure there were clients who ordered their cards out of the many books available. But there were some who took pride in creating a unique card; one that embraced their brand and delivered the right message. And the printers? We took advantage of the varieties of stock we had on the floor, and creativity in the team, to really hit some home runs and share our capabilities and talents with our customers. All in the form of a greeting card.

So what happened?

Logically, you would think that printers would want to showcase their abilities now, more than ever! But that doesn’t seem to be the case. And it’s not just greeting cards. I honestly can’t recall the last time I received a printed promotional item from a printer (flyers don’t count). Sure I’ve received phone calls. I’ve received emails. But where is the print? That thing you touch and feel and smell!

How can printers expect to convince their customers to invest in an “archaic” solution, if they’re not prepared to invest in it themselves?

As a print buyer, I can tell you that a lot has changed. Running the marketing departments for both small and large global organizations, I know that the perspective on print is not what it was. Very few understand the nuances in selecting the right stock, working with the printer to ensure that the design translates optimally onto paper, that the colours are crisp, that the fonts are pleasing.

I remember that, no matter what, I always had to do print runs of our collateral when we exhibited at tradeshows. But that’s no longer the case. More often than not, we bring a mere handful of material and put the rest on USB sticks. Because I know that it all ends up in the garbage. I know that most customers who are really interested will visit the website and download the same collateral they threw out days earlier.

As a marketer, that’s what I want! Because I can track who comes to the site. I can see which items are downloaded. I can better qualify my lead.

But as a designer, as someone who has ink running in her veins, it saddens me. Because I also know that there is most definitely a place for print in this insane digital world.

I recently did a test. I ran an email campaign and an identical print campaign. Same graphics. Same call to action. Same audience. And you know what? More people responded to the print than the email campaign.


Was it because I mailed it in a red envelope and it was February? Perhaps. But when I ran the campaign again in the summer, using the same red envelopes (we bought a lot to get a price break of course!), I got the same results!

I think it’s because folks don’t get a lot of GOOD print anymore! They are so bombarded with emails, they are numb to it. Study after study has proven that our inboxes are overloaded. Open rates are dropping. Folks are more aware, and cautious, when opening emails from unknown senders. Legitimate emails are getting caught in spam filters.

But print! Who doesn’t want to open a nice envelope or package? Who can resist a colourful postcard with just the right, compelling message?

I attended a tradeshow not too long ago. One company did something remarkable. At their booth they had produced 8 different postcards. Each one with a nice graphic. Each one featuring a separate solution. Each one with its own individual QR code. Granted the person at the booth couldn’t tell me if the QR codes went to different landing pages or the same one, but I still give them an “A” for effort. This was a technology company who understood the value of a really good printed takeaway. And believe me, given the opportunity, I will be recommending that for the next tradeshow I exhibit at.

I blame the printers. Because they have the ability to educate, and showcase the myriad of things that can be done when you put ink on paper. And now, with customized personalization, highly intelligent database integration, and QR codes, there is just no excuse why print can’t be woven into an overall marketing campaign…with successful results!

And although printers usually have in-house designers, or pre-production staff, they don’t typically have marketing departments. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have access to very talented people. If they have agencies as clients, they should work out an exchange of services. Or they can approach consultants, such as myself, who specialize in helping companies market themselves. But doing nothing is not the answer.

Because if the printers can’t put the time into marketing themselves, then they truly will go the way of the cobbler who has no shoes.

So…what are you doing this holiday season?

About Joanne Gore

Joanne Gore has nearly twenty years of enterprise hi-tech marketing and communications experience, including corporate and small office environments. Joanne develops lead generation and conversion programs, re-brands product lines, implements social media strategies, manages PR and media relations campaigns, overhauls websites, develops highly targeted marketing campaigns, and delivers results. 

Joanne is a marketing geekette by day, a fitness instructor by night, and mom 24-7.

Email: joannegore@rogers.com 
Blog: joannegore.wordpress.com
Twitter:  @JoanneGore121

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