From the Editor: Through a Print Buyer's Eyes

A quick glance from the outside in reveals an industry identity crisis.

I was walking the aisles of the Globalshop retail design expo in Las Vegas last month when I decided to shoot a colleague a quick birthday greeting – in Spanish, because she happens to be bilingual. Not an easy task for my sausage-shaped fingers on the 4-inch screen of my smartphone, and virtually an impossible one with Apple’s wondrously unpredictable spell checker factored into the equation. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I checked my sent items later and realized that instead of wishing her feliz cumpleaños, I had offered this more perplexing thought: “Felix Crumple Amps!”

On reflection, it was a timely snafu. I had spent that afternoon visiting the printing companies exhibiting at the show, looking for new trends but being struck instead by the vastly different approaches to copywriting in the booth graphics. We’re in the communications business, after all: Our job is to help clients deliver messages to their customers. What do we want those print buyers to know about us?

I jotted down some of the more memorable phrases and my immediate reactions to them in my journal. I should probably mention that I have no idea which ones may be trademarked, so pilfer them at your peril.

I saw a half dozen booths that prominently featured word clouds, usually under a sign saying “What We Do” with a few ideas like “Quality” or “Service” fighting to emerge from the clutter. (I wonder if everyone else hates word clouds as much as me.)

Other exhibitors took the mission-statement approach. “Technology Solutions. Creative and Structural. 8 Print Methods. Finishing.” Followed by long paragraphs that looked as though they had been lifted from company brochures. (Who in the world would take the time to read this?)

Then came the unique ones. “Have Questions About Our Products? Ask One of Our Product Specialists Today.” (OK. I’d ask more intelligent questions if I knew what your company does and why it might matter enough for me to come into your booth.)

“We’re a Manufacturing Plant for P-O-P Displays.” (In other words, “You want signs? We got ’em.”)

“Let’s Talk About What’s New in Retail Signage!” (You got my attention, but then forced me to read a lot of text to learn about the new products you’re promoting. You said you wanted to talk to me, so talk – don’t lecture.)

“Design. Print. Display. Production.” (Better – concise, yet comprehensive. I know what you do. But what makes you different than the 30 other exhibitors doing basically the same things?)

“Quality. Service. Always on Time.” (Three things the customer definitely cares about. But couldn’t that phrase be used on any exhibitor’s booth regardless of what they manufacture?)

“We Create In-Store Experiences.” (Now we’re talking. Forget about the product or how it’s being manufactured. Concentrate on what it enables your customers to do.)

“We Visualize Your Brand.” (Bingo. Now you aren’t selling me a product – you’re partnering with me and helping me succeed where it matters most.)

Remember, the first step to communicating with prospects is to do it in their language, not yours. Actually, that’s the second step, after you disable your spell checker.

Read more from our April/May 2016 issue or hear sage advice from the editor.

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