A new type of customer relationship awaits the printer that is brave enough and proactive enough to make a go of marketing automation software, but it’s not for everyone, writes Andy Knaggs.

Printers have become accustomed to assessing the viability of investments in software systems: MIS, web-to-print and workflow offerings have all shown their worth, and in many cases are these days seen as indispensable. 

What about marketing automation, though? A software product that combines creative execution with campaign management, enabling the automated triggering of marketing communications across multiple channels, in reaction to consumer responses: even in this vastly simplified definition, it sounds like a nice-to-have, rather than a must-have.

The question of whether it might lean more towards the must-have side of the equation depends very much on the type of customers a printer has. Understanding your customers and their pain points ought to be a priority for every printer. Who would a marketing automation software platform suit, in terms of customer profile? 

‘There is a very particular set of questions you have to ask yourself as to whether you want to invest in such a system,’ says Ricoh’s UK head of product and services marketing, Gareth Parker. ‘Are you servicing a marketing agency? A multi-branded corporate? A not-for-profit organisation that puts lots of separate regional demands upon you? Are you planning growth in your current account base or through acquisition? If you are going to grow through increased print and non-print related services, you’re absolutely going to be faced with a scale challenge.’

Whether you deal with a franchise organisation, a corporate or an agency, marketing departments are being pressured to be hyper-reactive, to quickly turn campaigns around, and to produce personalised or localised campaign materials. 

‘A marketer’s pains in life are all about time to respond, providing a personalised response and handling triage calls like design changes,’ added Mr Parker. ‘The marketer or brand manager releases those pains with these types of systems.’


A relationship builder

There is an opportunity here, then, to cure a headache for a customer, while also potentially bringing you closer to their organisation. If you are managing entire campaigns on their behalf, then you have a relationship that goes beyond price. But there remain a number of things to bear in mind: these campaigns require some clever use of customer data; they potentially require new ways of working both within the printing company and the client – change which must be managed; they require the printer to demonstrate familiarity and aptitude with marketing concepts across multiple channels.   

If you are not ready, willing and able to grapple with all of these issues, then it would probably be best to steer clear of marketing automation until you are. It is possible to fast-track yourself in one of these regards, however, by using the software for your own promotional activity.  

‘That’s where you learn good techniques,’ says Tim Daisy, product manager for Market Direct, EFI’s offering in this space, originally called Direct Smile. ‘When we do initial training, we focus on creating a campaign for self-promotion, a piece with a PURL [personalised URL containing content tailored to that viewer]. No-one is going to buy cross-media campaigns from you if you don’t have your stuff together around marketing. The printer that has only ever taken a design from designers and printed it – they either need to get that expertise or get it through a partnership.’ 

‘The marketing automation opportunity is a good one, if printers come at it from the correct perspective,’ said David Baldaro of Xerox company XMPie. ‘Those that do well understand the value and the pain points. They will need to get involved in marketing conversations, not just print conversations.’ 

The danger that follows this, however, is that printers fail to extract the maximum value from marketing automation projects; that they fall back upon tried and trusted formulae for pricing the work they are doing, using print-based models which are not reflective of the value that multi-channel campaigns deliver to the customer.

‘Cost-plus is very basic,’ Tim Daisy of EFI says, ‘and the next step is offering a programme: you print a brochure and add a QR code or a personalised URL, and you charge a certain amount to create the campaign and then charge a monthly execution; you say to the customer, we will continue to run it and you will get visibility into the data dashboard.

‘The most advanced way to generate revenue with these projects is through profit sharing: when a printer has the confidence that this is driving results for the customer, they can start charging for leads.’


A scalable approach

Further questions from printers in respect of marketing automation regularly revolve around the scalability of the software, both in terms of its functionality and its cost to them. Each vendor has its own approach to this. Often there is an MIS-type approach, where you buy a base system and then add on modules as required. Other systems – EFI’s Market Direct, for example – provide access to the full software suite, while limiting the number of campaigns that can be run concurrently. 

It is perfectly possible to start small with marketing automation and go bigger as required. In fact, leaving aside the biggest print service providers in the UK market, whose scale is far ahead of the average digital printer, many UK users of these systems are working their way up from basic implementations. 

Nationwide Print, for example, in Cornwall, is using Ricoh’s Marcom Central marketing automation software, but is doing so mostly in an asset management sense. However, it has built a service for pubs attached to the St Austell Brewery, enabling each pub to order brand-controlled marketing collateral online.   

Managing director Julian Hocking told Digital Printer: ‘It helps fantastically with multi-location businesses. We are encouraging more and more people to use it because it makes lives easier by saving time.’

Currently, the marketing automation software is being integrated with Nationwide Print’s MIS, so that the risks inherent in double-entry are removed. ‘That’s very important,  because at the moment we are running with two systems. We want to use Marcom Central more, and once it is integrated with our MIS, that’s when it will take off,’ said Mr Hocking.

Baker Goodchild in Birmingham is also using software that could be turned to marketing automation. Its GMC system is used for the automated creation of documents, giving the firm  a step into the transactional market too. Campaign management aspects are not there yet, but the company hopes to extend its usage in this direction in the near future. ‘It’s definitely a requirement,’ says operations director Wesley Sinclair. 


A digital transformation

There is much more that software can achieve in the interface between a service provider and its customer. Things have moved far beyond marketing automation – as Canon’s Customer Applications business developer Steve Narancic observes. He is a former employee of GMC, which has become Quadient following its recent acquisition by that customer experience technology provider. Canon is a reseller of the GMC software.

‘While marketing automation is a good term for products such as Market Direct or XMPie, we would position Quadient much higher in terms of both scale and scope,’ said Mr Narancic. ‘If you just want to personalise direct mail, email and SMS, those software products are probably the right investment. Organisations don’t ask us about the functionality now, but how we are going to help them on their digital transformation journey. 

‘We are also seeing the convergence of business disciplines like HR and accounts with Customer Communications Management in order to improve customer experience. Campaign management is only part of the story.’

Another vendor operating mostly in the transactional sphere is Objectif Lune, with its workflow automation Planet Press software. Its ability to generate customers communications post-transaction through a range of channels keeps it close to marketing automation but not strictly within it, as there is no campaign management function in the software. 

In any case, since the introduction of GDPR the real opportunities are in the post-transaction environment, rather than in prospecting, according to Objectif Lune’s chief product officer Colin Casey, and he believes this is having an effect in marketing automation.

He said: ‘With GDPR, that prospecting must really be quite a challenge now, since you have to get opt-in before you can email someone. What that does to marketing automation is an interesting question. How can you get opt-in if you cannot send an email? The world has turned a little bit, and the only medium left open that’s not legislated in that way is direct mail.’ 


Print prospecting

Print providers could therefore deliver a valuable service in gaining increased opt-in rates through paper-based communications. There are also many ongoing opportunities, printed and electronic, for communication and upselling post-transaction. ‘Some printers are embracing this post-prospecting,’ said Mr Casey. ‘There are challenges in marketing automation that require an opt-in and paper can do that. Marketing automation cannot be what it was because of GDPR.’

David Baldaro of XMPie says that support for GDPR has been added to its software, helping printers to manage it. It should not put printers off, he believes, but they have to be prepared to put some energy into it. ‘As with anything entrepreneurial, marketing automation is a proactive thing.

If you’re waiting for the phones to ring off the hook just because you’ve put in this software, it won’t work for you. But the more you can automate it, the easier you can replicate it, and the more profit margin you can make.’