This article originally appeared in the September/October issue of Mailing Systems Technology.

This is the season most business people start thinking about next year. Forecasts, plans, and budgets are activities essential for success. One thing that can get overlooked in the crush to predict capital investments, staffing, and postage is the document operation's own plan for promotion.

Ironically, organizations generating millions of pieces of customer communications are frequently negligent in their own outreach efforts. I’ve worked with plenty of in-house and outsource print/mail service providers that had no promotional strategy. They weren’t staying top-of-mind with their audience, developing solid reputations for thought leadership, or executing a plan to turn prospects into paying customers.

Here are a few of the conditions I encounter at document industry companies:

· Websites that haven’t been updated in years

· Abandoned blogs

· Discontinued newsletters (if they ever existed at all)

· No efforts to grow the contact list

· Sporadic and un-strategic social media posting

· Absence of email or direct mail lead nurturing activity

· Weak or missing calls to action

In many companies, building brand awareness and nurturing leads is an informal, hit-or-miss activity. Companies frequently assign responsibility for these business functions to individuals as a side job, so executing a brand awareness strategy lies perpetually at the bottom of a long to-do list.

Being Memorable

Brand awareness is vitally important. Unless they already know the company or are referred, potential customers will look online for vendors to satisfy their requirements. If a company fails to appear in the first few pages of search results, a service provider will have few opportunities to sign new customers via search. In the print and mail industry — where lots of companies share the same keywords — relying on search engine ranking as the primary lead generator is risky.

Regularly publishing informational content will help with organic search ranking, but even more powerful is content’s ability to establish direct lines of communication with possible customers. Contact information captured on lead pages offering attractive items like contests, calculators, eBooks, guides, or checklists allows print/mail service providers to nurture the leads with relevant content, expand on buyer profiles, and track activity.

Results vs. Method

I also see service providers in the print/mail industry focusing too much on their equipment or the services they provide and not enough on how they help customers achieve their business goals. Web content listing shop equipment or services like printing, folding, inserting, or postal sorting are helpful, but that’s not what customers are seeking. They want things like more leads, better experiences for their customers, or greater market share. Prominently highlighting ways service providers can help their customers achieve these goals through the printed and electronic communications they produce are more important to customers than the inserting equipment or the postal processes used to attain those results.

Unless service providers expand the benefits conversation to include demonstrations of how they can add value and help their customers meet their business goals, they are doomed to compete on price.

Work with a Plan

My work with print/mail service providers usually includes assuming the tasks of planning and creating content to resonate with their audiences. Sometimes the main objective is thought leadership. Other times, brand awareness is the main goal. Content marketing rarely generates leads directly from the content, but it keeps prospects interested and engaged until they are ready to talk with a service provider about handling their customer communications needs.

Blogs, newsletters, or social media posts keep print/mail services top-of-mind with their customers and prospects. Magazine articles, white papers, eBooks, customer case studies, and interactive content keep customers engaged as they move through the buying process.

Service providers should be sure each piece of content has a clear purpose. Published content should be part of a plan to ensure adequate coverage for product areas, market segments, and sales funnel positions. We often see companies whose history includes publishing a haphazard collection of unconnected pieces. There seems to be no definite strategy. Predictably, results from these efforts are disappointing, leading organizations to lose enthusiasm and momentum.

I’m a firm believer in the value of consistent publications. Delivering useful content regularly keeps customers and prospects reading the material. When a triggering event happens, my clients get the calls because they have built trust and confidence over time. When clients tell me a blog or newsletter produced exceptional results, I to remind them the earlier efforts are part of the success. Without the relationship established between my clients and their audiences through regular publication, the prospects would never have been exposed to the article that inspired them to reach out.

Mike Porter creates content for companies in the customer communications business. Visit to learn more about his writing and consulting services or follow him on Twitter @PMCmike or LinkedIn.