Understanding one channel is difficult enough, but multi-channel marketing introduces an entirely new level of complexity. Fortunately there are a number of enabling technologies that make the implementation process fast and cost-efficient, while also contributing to higher sales and greater customer satisfaction.
On the other hand, while technology streamlines the implementation process, keeping up with the ongoing changes can be staggering as well. New technologies touch every aspect of the marketing communications process, from content creation through distribution.
One of the problems with such rapid change – especially when your budget may not be keeping pace – is where to invest the time and financial resources you do have. No company can afford to buy the new technology of the week, so this article takes a closer look at technologies that give you the best potential return on investment. The selections are based on three important criteria – contributions to workflow efficiency, cost reduction potential and the ability to enhance your company’s revenues.
The mega trend toward multi-channel marketing alone makes content management a top priority. Content management systems come in lots of flavours, from basic off-the-shelf programs to customisable enterprise-wide systems. Regardless of the solution level selected, the main objective of content management is to organise your data in a logical, consistent manner that helps you gain the best return on your content assets.
The most robust options serve as your content hub, supporting the organising, viewing, indexing, storing, versioning, searching and retrieving of content assets such as images, illustrations, documents, audio, video and even non-digital content.
Generally classified as enterprise systems, they allow users to efficiently import, organise and classify content, as well as make associations between various types of content for use in product management, automated publishing or customer service.
Instead of hunting for content scattered across file servers throughout the organisation, users can go to one place to search for and retrieve content. Most important, a good system allows for easy conversion of data to multiple channels (print to web, for instance) and can also drive one-to-one marketing programmes.
In spite of all the benefits, many office products companies continue to limp along with inadequate content management strategies and tools. Getting control of your data takes a management commitment, as well as an investment of both time and financial resources. But if content management seems like a daunting task, try approaching it in smaller steps. Just make sure you take the longer term into account when planning and work with solutions that are open and scalable to meet your ultimate goal. It’s worth the effort.
In addition to the benefits typically associated with content management, these systems can also drive time and cost-saving activities like database population. As office products catalogue marketers know, this process involves more than just getting files into a database.
Assets must be imported from multiple sources that supply a variety of file types. The data must then be organised, indexed, transformed and tracked. Many of the tasks associated with creating, maintaining and updating a database are now scheduled as routines – eliminating manual steps and speeding up data population.
‘Page spraying’ can further automate the catalogue production process. Using a batch composition and pagination engine, page spraying systems can build your catalog pages more quickly and conveniently, reducing the production time and costs associated with catalogue development. So how fast is fast? Advanced systems hum along at a ‘build’ rate of up to 50 pages every 20 minutes. Compare that to whatever your best production rate is now.
In the page spraying process, all of your product data is stored in a database. Then standard templates from popular page layout programs such as QuarkXPress are designed and an electronic ‘map’ created to describe the order of the products in the catalogue. Software engineers next configure the page spraying system so that it associates the database entries with the page structures in QuarkXPress. Finally, the product images, descriptions, prices and other details are ‘sprayed’ onto the QuarkXPress pages.
There is also an option to incorporate Quark extensions that allow you to provide the most current pricing prior to printing the catalogue.
In order to take advantage of the automated page-building technology, the catalogue pages must be designed in a highly structured manner and all of your content must reside in a database. This tends to make page spraying most applicable for business-to-business catalogues like those typically found in the office products category.
Building customer relationships through one-to-one communication programmes is one of the current hot trends. You’d be hard pressed to find an office products company – or any company for that matter – that doesn’t have Customer Relationship Management (CRM) at the top of its ‘to do’ list.
Fortunately, there are plenty of print personalisation options available to use in the implementation stage. Many in-line and off-line production technologies, from demographic binding to laser and inkjet imaging, have been around for some time.
Granted, many advancements occurred in recent years: higher resolutions, wider imaging areas and more colour options come immediately to mind. And that’s to say nothing about digital printing systems featuring incredibly sophisticated capabilities that allow complete variable imaging of every word and photo on every page – in full colour!
There are a number of database publishing tools that allow you to integrate database content into the page production cycle. Software products such as DesignMerge XTension for QuarkXPress provides sophisticated mail-merge, variable data printing and document assembly features. Each copy of a printed document can be ‘personalised’, changing items such as name, address and even graphics. The entire process is database-driven, completely flexible and very easy to use.
You can use various types of software programs to customise virtually any print materials, in addition to tasks such as automating the process of laying out weekly coupon supplements.
Office products companies can also employ exciting web-to-print solutions that allow dealers or independent stores to use a secure ‘extranet’ web site to generate advertising materials with their own SKUs, prices and sales locations, while still maintaining branding specifications. This means that your channel partners no longer need to hire their own graphic designers to create the print materials or use fixed prices for products.
Solutions such as DesignMerge Web allow your authorised channel partners to enter unique SKUs, prices and other customised data in a web template. Within 90 seconds the system generates a sell sheet or other advertising material specific to their organisation. Once you approve the custom information, the advertising material can be printed on-demand – in full colour – through a digital printing system.
Clearly today’s technologies provide tremendous opportunities for office products companies to improve their multi-channel marketing efforts, as well as their one-to-one marketing programmes. But gaining the full benefits of these exciting technologies requires collaboration between you and your suppliers. A good beginning point is to work together in auditing your current programmes and developing an action plan to implement the best solutions for your specific needs.
Stephanie Streeter is President/COO of Banta Corporation, a leader in printing, digital imaging and supply chain management. Prior to joining Banta, Streeter oversaw Avery’s global Office Products business, in addition to managing the company’s internet ventures. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.