By Lorrie Bryan
For decades, businesses have routinely procured and distributed the obligatory one-size-fits-all brochures touting the features and benefits of their respective services and products. Bi-folds and tri-folds, z-folds and c-folds cranked out in large quantities on offset presses using the four-color process were the standard. Spilling out of racks and stockpiled on shelves, too often they became dusty, crusty, and obsolete well before their numbers were sufficiently diminished. Although this practice still persists like a bad time-honored tradition (think fruitcakes at Christmas), the company brochure is evolving into much more than a static, must-have marketing relic. Companies today are transforming their marketing collateral into dynamic tools that provide greater engagement with prospects and offer their own marketing teams valuable insights.
Savvy companies, large and small, have discovered a better way to produce, procure, and empower their brochures and other marketing collateral. Using their own unique digital storefront (DSF), an online eCommerce platform for employees and other authorized users (distributors or franchisees) to order materials, companies are enjoying the benefits of simplified warehousing and on-demand ordering that can reduce costs and waste, increase brand control and consistency, and offer unsurpassed and streamlined efficiency. A DSF decentralizes the ordering process, relieving the home office of that task and literally putting it right in the hands of the specific individuals who actually need the brochures, stationery, business cards, and more. On the financial side, companies enjoy streamlined invoicing and accounts payable operations. Storefronts provide detailed reporting on spending by user, cost center, or location, allowing companies to track spending and determine ways to decrease costs.
And that’s just the beginning. Using a DSF, not only can your marketing collateral be printed on demand in smaller volume, it can now be customized for greater relevance and engagement, and it can be accompanied by corresponding downloadable digital assets (videos, emails, and brand standards) that reinforce the company’s message.
Brad Bitzer, eCommerce manager at The F.P. Horak Company, explains that employees can go to the digital storefront and change more than just the location and phone number on a printed piece. “The company brochure and other materials can be easily customized to target several different market segments. With a few clicks, you can simply change preselected images and some of the messaging to increase the appeal and relevance to the targeted market segment,” he says. “You don’t have to enlist the help of a copywriter or graphic artist, and you can then print the quantities you require as needed for each market segment rather than stockpiling 10,000 generic brochures.”
Although employees can tailor items (for example, select text and images) on the materials as needed, all other design elements remain consistent. And because all products are produced by the same manufacturer, colors and format remain exactly as specified for all materials. “Marketing departments can drastically reduce internal design time and costs to produce simple marketing items by shifting production to an easy-to-use marketing template. Companies can preserve their brand while giving ultimate flexibility to end-users,” Bitzer explains.
Marketing departments can drastically reduce internal design time and costs to produce simple marketing items by shifting production to an easy-to-use marketing template.
~ Brad Bitzer, eCommerce manager, The F.P. Horak Company
Increasingly, a brochure of products and services is just one element of a multi-channel marketing campaign. To ensure consistency across channels, companies are utilizing digital storefronts to facilitate accessibility to the digital assets—everything from email letters to images and videos—that correspond with the tangible brochures and that reinforce the messaging.
“Digital assets are increasingly popular additions to stores,” says Bitzer. “Adding a digital download as a stand-alone product or in addition to a product that may be ordered for shipping is simple and makes the sharing of information easier for users of a site. Digital assets can be listed alongside warehoused, print-on-demand, or customized products, allowing users to easily find the information they’re looking for in the format they need at any time,” he explains. “Some customers choose to have a small number of digital assets on their storefront—such as brand standards, company logos, etc.—while others choose to have more items like brochures, or even entire categories dedicated solely to downloadable assets and organized according to how their end-users need access,” Bitzer adds.
When a DSF is used to distribute marketing materials, a brochure transcends the tangible ink on paper and becomes an instrument for sourcing data. According to Jeff Moder, a print industry technology consultant recently with Four51, one of the industry’s foremost providers of DSF solutions, DSFs inherently have the capacity to seize data that can give companies timely insights about their customers, their marketing strategies, their distributors, and more. “Using a digital storefront enables companies to capture valuable data that is currently just disappearing into the atmosphere—not documented, not trended, and not utilized,” explains Moder. When marketing collateral is ordered using a DSF, it becomes an element that you can easily track. You can look at the data in the brochure orders—who is ordering the product brochure, if the accompanying digital assets are being downloaded, how many transactions there are, how much they are spending, and what the usage patterns are—and discern valuable trending information.
Using a digital storefront enables companies to capture valuable data that is currently just disappearing into the atmosphere
~ Jeff Moder, a print industry technology consultant
You can also start seeing correlations when these data are synced with the corresponding sales revenue data, notes Moder. “For instance, if distributor A is buying more of a particular brochure for a certain product than distributor B and selling significantly more of that product than the other distributor, that is something that should be examined further. If neither distributor is buying the brochure or selling that product, then that is also cause for follow-up. Digital storefronts offer companies the ability to look at what people are doing in a more insightful way.”
Bitzer notes that on the flip side, companies can also see who isn’t taking advantage of the system in place. “Oftentimes, companies will see a direct correlation between their top performers—who generally use the system put in place for them—and others who might not take advantage of the tools they have at their disposal. Additionally, the reporting on a storefront helps organizations make better decisions about how to leverage their marketing efforts. Perhaps they’ve come up with a concept that looked great on paper but isn’t being used in the field. Why not? If it isn’t as effective as they had thought, they can make changes to better utilize their funds, or focus on different items that serve their constituents better,” Bitzer says.
Chances are that your customers today are more digital-first, mobile-enabled than your customers just a few years ago, and Moder says you need to plan accordingly. When ordering company marketing collateral, these customers probably prefer not to be sitting in their offices navigating a digital storefront at their desktop computer. Rather, they expect a high-quality shopping experience that is easy to use and engages them with the site’s brand. “They are younger, online, mobile, independent, and they are growing in numbers. In fact, for the first time ever, Millennials outnumber Baby Boomers in the workplace. They want to engage with us at a time, place, and manner of their choosing. And when they do, they expect their shopping experience to be similar to the B2C sites they frequent, sometimes characterized as Amazon-like, Moder explains.
The first thing that you need to recognize about your DSF is that is needs to be functional—the ordering process needs to be streamlined and flawless. “Your user audience is changing, and you need to understand and accommodate their buying habits and shopping preferences,” Moder advises. “So, your storefront should be responsive—easily read and navigated with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling across a wide range of devices—from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones.”
It also needs to be appealing and engaging. If customer experience is the new marketing, then accordingly, your DSF is a prime opportunity for you to elevate your company’s customer experience and thus enhance your brand. “It’s short-sighted to think of your storefront just in terms of functional transactions,” Moder says. Ask yourself how you want to position your company and your brand and engage with your customers—your most valuable assets—when they are buying from you. It’s important to make it easy, but why not also make it graphically appealing and engaging? Unlike the past decade when print distributors deployed eCommerce primarily to make it easier to receive customer orders, the next decade will be about making it easier for customers to buy the way they want to buy,” Moder says.
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