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Growing your business in a very competitive market
By Germán Sacristán, Business Development Manager, EAMER, Kodak’s Graphic Communications Group

Although marketing and sales principles have remained unchanged for many years, a lot of companies still find it challenging to apply theses basics in today’s market place.

Companies look at a market and create a product/service, which that market will value and therefore want to invest in. They also look at their potential competitors to see what they sell, how, when, how much and how often. Then they identify what will differentiate them from the rest. This simple exercise helps with two critical aspects; what to sell and to who - the how is then the next natural step.


 Germán Sacristán

The how is all about communication - this sounds simple enough as we have been doing it for centuries, however just capturing the attention of the customer is extremely hard to achieve in today’s climate. It is clear that effective communication starts with a relevant message, and if you are not relevant people ignore you and walk away. The good news is that once you achieve relevance you will be heading for success, the bad news is that you need to maintain relevance throughout the marketing cycle otherwise you will fail.

Conversations are crucial to provide information, and valuable information is imperative to become even more relevant and moves you ahead in the marketing/sales cycle. More importantly it helps you show the value of your product/service to your different prospects/customers.

Some products/services also need trust to be sold, which can also be obtained through these conversations, which eventually develop into relationships. By building awareness, information, relationships and trust this leads into sales, and each company moves differently throughout this building process depending on their product/service and market positioning.

Even though information is one of the most critical aspects in a sales/marketing cycle, it does not guarantee success if not used properly. What do I need to know from my prospects/customers in order to show them the real value of my product/service better than my competitors do? In some cases answering this question will not be the biggest challenge - this will be how to get the information as well as having the time/patience to get/build it or the money to pay for it.

Some people are still not taking this seriously enough, despite the fact that in simple terms if I do not know you how can I show you the value of what I am selling, so that you are inclined to buy it.

When we ask for databases they are often in bad shape. Why? This is probably your biggest intellectual asset. Databases cost money, they always have. In the past in order to build a database you had to talk to your customers and that time was money. Today the market is so different that companies need technology to keep up with the information that they get from their customers.

There had always been three ways of building information and each of these costs money. The first option is to interact with your prospects utilising the available channels to get the information you need. Secondly you could pay someone that has the information. If you apply this to today’s market you could be buying a database from companies that sell them. And finally you could buy the information from your customers by offering them an incentive - for example, you could send someone to register on a website or fill in a questionnaire, in exchange for a gift or discount.

Promotional items are a good strategy for obtaining information. Interestingly enough these items are not often used for this purpose, but in some cases are giveaways that support branding. In others, they have been used as an incentive for consumers to act upon an offer, but rarely utilised to buy information. But the promotional gift strategy is very powerful if used properly.

Sometimes communication projects do not work because we do not pay enough attention to the basics of selling, we might even ignore them while under pressure trying to speed up a sale cycle. Then we wonder why the project failed. The great news is that all the new technologies/channels have been developed to help us sell more in a very saturated and competitive market place.

Just knowing what to say and to who is insufficient; how a marketing message is presented and how it is sent to your customers is most important. First of all, you need to communicate your message in a creative way. However, if the content is not relevant to your audience, creativity will only capture their attention but struggle to sell the value of a product/service. Sensitivity is also critical and relates to how you use the information that you have.

Secondly, there are many ways to send your marketing message to customers. New channels are quickly emerging whilst existing ones keep changing, maturing and improving. You need to consider which channels to use and when so that recipients will listen to you.

Mass communication channels worked very well in the past and were developed at the right time. In order to grow their businesses, companies had two choices - either increases their portfolio to make up for any losses against competition and/or expand to other territories. Mass communication channels such as TV, radio, newspapers and even traditional printing helped these companies market and sell in bigger territories keeping human resources (sales/marketing people) costs down. These companies utilised their best sales/marketing pitch and hit thousands, even millions of consumers in a matter of seconds via these channels. They used one unique message to all, which was a relevant message based on generic customer buying criteria and it worked very well.

What happened then? The market changed, became more saturated/competitive and that unique marketing/sales message that was the same to all recipients did not achieve relevance anymore. A relevant message when it is overused by everyone in the market becomes irrelevant, as it is either taken for granted or loses creditability. It no longer captures the attention of the consumer and therefore they are unlikely to make a purchase.

Let me give you a quick example. Visitors to Belgium like to buy chocolate, and their buying criteria is real Belgian chocolate. The centre of Brussels is overflowing with shops that sell chocolate, and predominantly all of their marketing messages are the same and are linked to the consumer’s generic buying criteria. However there is a problem with the same marketing message, as the consumers take the message for granted – ‘of course it is Belgian chocolate as I am in Brussels’, or ‘sure but who has the best genuine Belgian chocolate here’ (loss of creditability). In order to overcome such a challenge, marketers need to personalise their marketing messages in order to show the specific value to a customer. The challenge here is to know what to say to the different individuals in your target audience. This task is clearly related to the quality of information that you might have. The more relevant information you have the easier it will be for you.

So which technology/channel is better for you today? It is important to understand that every technology replicates a human being. Not only that, but in most cases it enhances the job of a human being, making them more productive, effective and efficient. The technology in a car park that gives you a ticket and opens the barrier is replicating a person. A DVD showing a concert of your favourite singer not only replicates the singer but it multiplies him/her by thousands. In a warehouse, a company might need hundreds of people to move boxes within a set period of time, but now forklift trucks reduce the amount of people needed. So whom are we trying to replicate when we talk about communication technologies? Of course it is a sales/marketing person, but why is this important?

First you need to know if the technology that you are using will guarantee success on its own or not. A technology will guarantee success as long as it is replicating a predictable job where a human being may have been doing things the same way over and over everyday. Communication technologies do not guarantee success by themselves, as they tend to replicate a sales person - and a sales person is always unpredictable. You can broadcast a TV commercial or send 50 000 flyers to the market, but this still does not guarantee that you will get the return you are looking for. This is important because just as the automatic pilot technology on a plane needs a real pilot behind it, so will these communication technologies fail unless there is a good sales/marketing person behind them.

Secondly, you need to decide which technology is the right one for you in each case. A clear example of this is that all technologies available help you communicate, but which one is best and when should you use what? It is critical to use the right channel at the right time, and to determine this you will have to take into consideration what an effective sales person would do, and then decide which available technology replicates him/her best as he moves through a sales cycle. All channels fit a particular situation that is why they are here, but most of the time it is about the right implementation of more than one channel. Some technologies/channels will allow you to change your marketing messages when you communicate with your target audience, just as a good sales person will do in a competitive market place. Others might not give you such flexibility but will give you other benefits such as lower price per print and quicker time to market. In our competitive markets today personalisation is very powerful if used properly.

Last but not least, when you understand whom you are trying to replicate, you can copy them better. If a flyer is replicating a sales person, perhaps sometimes the content of the flyer says things that a sales person on a face-to-face call will never say? Sometimes the biggest failures I see are related to this. If a sales person on a first call does not talk too much but listens, how is it that when we utilise other channels we ignore this basic principle? If a sales person takes five visits on average to sell his/her product, why do we sometimes think that with just one impact we are going to achieve the same result as the sales person? Successful sales people never speculate with things they do not know, so why is it that sometimes we speculate while using other channels? We put things on paper that we would never say on a face-to-face call and then we wonder why our project failed.

A good rule of thumb when putting a marketing communication project together is to think about those successful sales people. Ask yourself what they would do, how and when.

Looking at today’s technology, web2print is very interesting. Marketers have been struggling as they try to decide on centralised or un-centralised marketing, but now this technology allows them to get the best of both worlds. They can upload all of their marketing materials into a personalised web portal where their distributors and/or sales offices can print the exact content of what they need but personalised to their target audience, and at the same time maintaining brand consistency across their sales channels. Web2print also enables the relationship with your printer to be automated, by again uploading all materials into a web portal so your employees can order on line what they need, where and when they need it. In order to do that securely you could give access to select employees who are able to order certain materials in limited amounts. In both previous scenarios a new file ready to be printed could be uploaded and sent to the printer at any given time via the internet.

The market is talking about interactivity and permission marketing, again what is new about that? We are just going back to the basics - interactivity leads to personalisation and personalisation is very powerful today. However it still does not guarantee success on its own. We should not personalise for the sake of it or because it is the latest trend, a personalised communication project needs to be thoroughly put together just the same as any other important project. Just because it works for others does not mean it will work for you if you do not do it correctly. When you personalise and make a mistake, the mistake is more visible. If you tell me something irrelevant in a non-personal communication, I would think, well it was not meant for me anyway, but if that happens while personalising to me the impact will be different. If you are not sure about something do not relate to that at all. Invest to find out first, and then use the correct, relevant information.

To me it is all about showing the right audience the value of your products and services better than your competitors do so they choose yours. It is also about doing simple things better than anyone else. I am excited that even though we are in a very competitive and saturated market place, the new communication technologies/channels will help us grow our businesses, if utilised effectively.