Monday, October 6, 2008

Finanical Meltdowns, Brands and Selling Print

Financial equity is the money denominated indicator of trust in predictions for the the future. When trust breaks down, financial assets start to disappear.

Brand equity doesn't have as clear indicators. But it can be described as the customer's trust about what will happen when they next buy something your company. When trust breaks down, they look for someone else to buy from. If your customers find someone else and the cost of change is worth it, customers start to disappear.

Given how easy it has become to find someone else, and the very low cost of change in buying print, it's not a pretty situation for printers.

For a print sales person, the brand is created over time by the customer's experience when buying from you. It is not created by glossy brochures about your capabilities or by "educating the customer" about why your company is better than the next guy.

It's as simple and difficult as giving the customer a good return on time, ROT ( first coined by Dr Joe Webb)) for the complete transaction of purchasing your product.

The complete transaction starts at the estimate request. Then the clarification of specifications. Then the delivery of the price. Then the negotiation of the price. Then the submission of files. Then the transfer of proofs. Then putting pigment on substrate. Then changing the output of the press into the deliverable product. Then the delivery of the product. Then the invoice sent. Then the payment received.

Then repeat as often as possible.

In our new world of widely "good enough" pigment on paper, the competitive advantage has to come from maximizing the ROT for the customer. Your brand is probably no longer defensible on the basis of the "unique quality" of the product. After years of ruthless business competition and smarter machinery, there is little significant difference in most products.

Competition has now moved to the other parts of the buying process. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the issue is predictability, not speed. Predictability creates trust. Trust creates confidence in future performance. Confidence in future performance is Brand Equity.

This suggest that you have fewer meetings about that next marketing brochure or new improved website.

Instead invest your time focusing on how long it takes to answer the customer's call; getting her the estimate she needs when you said it would be received; proofs delivered when you said they would received; press checks happening when you said they would happen; impeccable finishing; real time information on delivery status. And clear invoices that correspond to the estimate and clearly outline whatever changes were made and how much they cost.

First make sure the plumbing works. Then worry about being a "service provider" or a "communication partner" or a "consultative salesperson" or a "communication solution provider solver."

Selling print is actually a very simple business. But then, lending people money and getting them to pay you back is also a pretty simple business. But even simple businesses can get complicated when you don't mind the store. Witness Indy Mac and Lehman Brothers.

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