owen carr opiOwen Carr, Consumer Research Marketing Manager at United Stationers in the US writes:



My wife tells me that holding hands has been around since the beginning of time. Lovers hold hands to show affection. Parents and kids hold hands for safety. Business partners hold hands to collaborate. Paul and John wanted to “hold your hand”. Online health service WebMd even says that holding hands may reduce stress. Well, I’m here to say that if more independent dealers would have their print and digital marketing hold hands, we’d have a lot less stress.


It goes without saying that the world is becoming increasingly digital. Everyone knows this, except for my crazy Arkansan uncle. But that’s another blog post altogether. Here on United’s marketing research team, we look at a lot of data to understand how digital trends are impacting the B2B product sales space. We also play games to break up the excel monotony. So a couple of weeks back, we ran an informal competition. Think ketchup versus mustard at the ballpark. Only this time, it was Ms Smartphone versus Mr Catalogue.


On one side, I gave an office products catalogue each to a baby boomer and a millennial. On the other side, I instructed a couple of colleagues to pull out their smartphones. I asked each participant to find Post-it Notes as fast as they could. On the catalogue side, one minute and five seconds later, the baby boomer with the catalogue found the heralded page. Five minutes after I pushed the start button, the millennial gave up, threw the catalogue down and declared: “I’ll never use one of these things again.”

Meanwhile, on the smartphone side, one colleague found Post-it Notes in thirty-nine seconds. The other took less than fifty-three seconds but had also taken the time to compare prices across a couple of websites.

Digital won this competition, but it was a close match. 


But what does all this mean?


In terms of marketing, the office products dealer has relied primarily on the full-line office products catalogue for decades. The catalogue provided the dealer with a way to market the dealer’s brand and product offerings, and the catalogue was also a comprehensive source of information, pictures, content and pricing. 


But today, while many customers still use the catalogue, customers are increasingly going digital. United’s latest market research study reveals this trend. Overall, 71% of independent dealers’ customers report placing orders online. Approximately 70% of purchasers report using a full-line catalogue, and 30% report not using a catalogue at all. 60% of purchasers have other print materials (eg. single category catalogues) at their desks. So what should you do?


• Invest in your digital capabilities. Your customers are making the switch and you need to make sure you are still their preferred destination, regardless of whether they prefer print or digital marketing mediums
• You can fund this investment in digital by ‘right sizing’ your printed touchpoints. Use this time to assess your strategy for large catalogues, smaller catalogues, flyers, etc.
• Switch your marketing campaigns from informational to inspirational. Customers are increasingly going online for product information, pricing and ordering. Respond by investing in frequent marketing campaigns pieces to inspire your customers in the purchase process with smaller print pieces (fliers,    category-specific brochures) and digital marketing (email campaigns with purchasing incentives and productivity tips).


Remember what my wife told me: "Holding hands has been around a long time, and it reduces stress".


It’s time to think about your go-to-market strategy with both print and digital in mind. It’s time to make sure these different areas of your business are aligned and coordinated with each other.


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