The marketing leader of a health care company looked at the clock and realized he had a big problem: The firm’s inventory of promotional kits was unexpectedly low, and an important event was about to begin. Could the components of 2,500 more kits be printed, hand-assembled and shipped to four different locations by the next day?
He called the company’s trusted print and marketing services provider, ImageMark. The Gastonia, N.C.-based firm operates multiple digital presses and can pull off large jobs quickly. But getting this rush job done right would require more than just equipment; it would require understanding — knowledge about the health care company’s materials, packaging preferences and marketing strategy for the event.
Karen Kaufman and her team at ImageMark had that kind of knowledge about its customer, she said, because they’re laser-focused on the needs and nuances of health care clients. “By understanding the potential needs of our clients and investing in the right types of technology, ImageMark has set itself up in a manner which allows the team to complete a job on a variety of deadlines,” said Kaufman, the firm’s executive vice president. ImageMark combined its technology, customer service and warehouse teams to produce and deliver the 2,500 kits to four locations the next day.
ImageMark, founded in 1924 as a small traditional printer named Brumley Printing, has been a leader in digital color production — it bought its first NexPress in 2003, and opened a demo facility in October 2013 to demonstrate Kodak’s new digital technology. ImageMark has long valued the ability to deliver products and services on demand.
Today, it focuses on going after business that’s on point — instead of being a “jack of all trades,” it specifically targets companies in the health care, manufacturing, retail and education markets. Those firms often turn to ImageMark for multichannel communication strategies that involve design, web-to-print ordering, storefronts and printed products, Kaufman said.
When many of ImageMark’s competitors were adopting short-term positioning strategies, touting things like the ability to respond or offer low prices, the print and marketing services provider realized that its best clients wanted firms that understood vertical markets and niches. ImageMark wanted to work with c-level marketing professionals who viewed the company as a partner rather than as a vendor. Kaufman and her team realized that focusing on key industries would make it easier for ImageMark to identify new prospects, consult on a deeper level with clients and establish thought leadership in target markets.
Today, “we speak health care” is a mantra at ImageMark. The company helps health care clients achieve business objectives by providing technology-driven marketing and print communications. “We’re positioned so that clients consider us an essential relationship in their overall business success,” Kaufman said. “We’ve earned a reputation as a highly regarded source, both educationally and as a service provider.”
As part of its approach to health care firms, ImageMark offers a proprietary storefront collateral and inventory management system called ResourceOne™, and the company specializes in handling complex variable data printing and marketing services to the market. “Our goal is to help them analyze and identify ways to reduce their total spend, streamline their supply chain and increase ROI,” Kaufman said. “We want to empower hospitals to focus on what they do best — educating and caring for patients.”
End Users Crave Specialists
“Specialization occurs in every area of life. We stay a generalist, not because the marketplace demands it, but because we get bored easily and because we don’t have a marketing plan and thus feel compelled to cast the net wide,” said David C. Baker, principal of Nashvillebased consultancy ReCourses and a past speaker at PSDA’s Distributor Solutions Expo.
By their nature, distributorships are flexible — their growth isn’t tied to any single piece of equipment, technology or product line. When they anticipate a trend or aim to satisfy a new customer need, they can react quickly. But that doesn’t mean distributors should take all the business they can get, Baker said.
In the past few years, more firms have become generalists, touting the same things hundreds of other companies tout, including competitive prices and the ability to respond promptly, Baker said. “Being a generalist isn’t a sustainable or powerful long-term strategy because long-term clients are looking for specialists. More and more organizations want to work with companies that understand the nuances of their business and the dynamics of their industry. Specialization controls the kind of work you seek, not the kind of work you accept.”
A generalist strategy presents three problems, he said:
- Lack of positioning
- Weak and inconsistent marketing
- Inability to say no to unqualified prospects
“This niche approach can make the difference between expanding a print provider’s margins and staying stagnant with the status quo,” said Joe Rickard, founder of Intellective Solutions, a consultancy focused on the print industry. He hosted a podcast on vertical market selling in June 2012 called “Avoiding the Commodity Trap,” in which he said graphic communication firms can overcome the challenge of commoditization by targeting a specific market.
“Those companies that continue to come into their accounts with new ideas and new offerings do better than those who constantly come back with the same story, the same offerings and the same strategies that they have always come through with,” Rickard said. He suggests identifying vertical markets that are a good match for a distributor’s strengths, asking the question, “What types of customers are the best fit for the capabilities and solutions that you provide?” Then, he said, each distributor can determine how to the market the fastest and easiest way based upon the fit between the firm and the vertical market.
“Most print providers have the basis of a great vertical market selling program,” Rickard said. “The challenge is to identify those high-value customers, applications and messages that will drive salespeople to more sales and success. Great salespeople have learned that by knowing critical customer business issues within vertical markets, they will be more productive and successful. The payoff is less time to learn and more sales.”
David A. Wood, owner of consultancy Agency Management Roundtable, Green Bay, Wis., said specialists are growing in number and gaining prominence within market segments. “Worldwide commerce has witnessed a gravitational pull away from mass-marketing goods and services and a push toward micromarketing,” he said. “To be successful, you have to forget working for everyone. All firms need to discover what they do best and then market to a group of prospects who place a high value on what they do.”
One frequent objection to specializing is the assumption that specialists lack the variety of work that generalists enjoy, Wood said. “But being a specialist doesn’t mean doing the same types of projects over and over,” he said. “Specialists use their niche — be it a type of project, a specific industry or both — to reel in the majority of their clients. Then those clients need other services, which the specialists often provide as well.”
Positioned as Thought Leaders
As more organizations seek out vertical market partners, these distributors are growing because they’re positioned as expert specialists:
Company: TMR Direct
Target Market: Builders/Remodelers
Spencer Powell noticed that builders and remodelers are frequently frustrated by the lack of leads they receive from their websites. He also noticed that many competing distributors and marketing agencies worked with firms of all different types.
“Today, they’re working on a campaign for a coffee seller. Tomorrow, they’ll be pitching ideas to the Home Builders Association,” said Powell, inbound marketing director of communications for TMR Direct, a marketing services provider and direct mail specialist in Colorado Springs, Colo. “This kind of diversity seems like it would be a good way to increase business. But, in fact, it’s an easy way for a marketing agency to shoot itself in the foot.”
TMR Direct specializes in solving the marketing and communication problems of builders and remodelers, and doing so has enabled the company to set itself apart and grow sales, Powell said.
He illustrates the value of specialization this way: “Say, for example, there are two marketing agencies. One specializes in the banking industry, and the other does marketing across the board. Both agencies are approximately the same size, are priced about the same and are equally respected in the field. When a bank goes looking for someone to handle their marketing for them, they end up narrowing down their decision to these two agencies. All other things being equal, it’s a pretty safe bet that they’ll choose the one that specializes in banking. That’s the one that will understand them best, and that’s the one best-equipped to meet their needs.”
A remodeler recently decided TMR Direct was best-equipped to solve its challenge — low website traffic that generated only a few leads per month (sometimes none). TMR Direct developed and executed a plan that included better inbound linking, search engine-optimized blog articles, new content offers for e-books and special reports, a new landing page for lead capturing, use of social media to promote the blog and other communication, a Google pay-per-click campaign, monthly analytics and more.
The remodeler increased organic traffic by 842 percent in the first six months and generated 397 qualified leads in 15 months. Those leads helped the firm gain two new customers that generated a combined $90,000 in revenue. “Specializing in a vertical market isn’t limiting the amount of clients an agency has available to them,” Powell said. “Rather, it allows them a chance to distinguish themselves and build up a reputation. Becoming known as the best marketing firm in the business is virtually impossible, given the sheer number of agencies there are and how long some of them have been around. But with hard work and dedication, an agency can get a reputation for being the best marketers for, say, insurance providers, which will then increase their business as insurance providers hear about their reputation and seek them out.”
Specializing pushes distributors to stay ahead of industry trends and pass along knowledge — not just sales pitches — to clients, Powell said. For builders and remodelers, TMR Direct offers seminars, webinars, reports and other content marketing pieces. “In the end, it’s more limiting not to specialize,” he said.
Company: AS Hospitality
Target Market: Hospitality
At a time when many print providers are focusing on ways to maximize clients’ experience on their desktops, AS Hospitality is focused on the pillow top. Since 1959, the Memphis-based print and marketing services provider has focused 100 percent on one industry: hospitality. It now creates guest service, dining, marketing and communication pieces that help 20,000 hotels and cruise lines promote their brands and enhance guest experiences.
“We’ve evolved beyond simply printing,” said Alan Hare, president of AS Hospitality. “We help hospitality clients simplify their to-do lists with products and services that support hotel marketing, operations, guest services, food and beverage, accounting, housekeeping and even human resources.”
AS Hospitality’s sales and client service personnel are responsible for understanding each client’s style, operations and culture within the hospitality market, and then delivering the right mix of strategic project planning, brand identity management, marketing communications, fulfillment services and more. “We apply our industry expertise and knowledge of emerging technologies to help clients forge solutions that will work in the real world of hospitality service,” Hare said.
Hare says AS Hospitality aims to optimize brand presence, improve productivity and enhance the guest experience for its clients — hospitality firms with a combined 3.5 million guest rooms. One of those clients, group purchasing firm Avendra, turns to AS Hospitality for more than 2,500 products, as well as online order entry with real-time product creation and proofing, just-in-time ordering and inventory management.
“Our exclusive focus on serving the hospitality industry allows Avendra customers to realize cost savings by leveraging our scale,” Hare said. “Also, our applied expertise and infrastructure offers meaningful and specific solution packages to brands, management companies and individual properties.”
AS Hospitality stocks more than 3,000 ready-to-ship SKUs on site in Memphis. The company supplies a variety of printed forms, stationery and promotional products, such as check-in and checkout forms, registration and business cards, reservation confirmation forms and restaurant menu cards. It also prints envelopes, guest welcome folders, key card holders and note pads with the client’s brand logo. In addition, it offers a wide range of services, including graphic design, copywriting, print management, distribution of promotional materials and compliance programs.