5 Initial Steps: Online Print Biz/Step 2: Determine Online Target Market

On February 28, 2011 by Jennifer Matt

Go to market online requires you to focus on a specific target, niche has replaced generalist in a procurement process that is self-service. If you want to go beyond private storefronts for your customers, don’t think “I’ll sell anything” look for an angle/niche in an industry, product, or target customer community.

Step 2: Determine Your Online Target Market

So you looked a bit deeper into your existing offline business (Step 1), now its time to utilize that knowledge to determine your online target market. A lot of people look at going online as a chance to start a totally new business, not necessarily tied to the business they are in today. I’m not against that strategy, here’s my concern, when 100% offline printers who are 100% business to business (doing business with customers they know) decide to jump online with a 100% business to consumer strategy (targeting strangers) – you are trying to eat a really big elephant at once.

Not only are you operating a business in a different economy (digital economy), you are also targeting a totally different customer. This is a lot to learn at once. I understand the rationale; you see your offline B2B print business declining, so you say why don’t I diversify? Moving online is a different way of doing business; you need to learn how to do this for all parts of your business. Business is moving online, my recommendation is that you focus on transitioning your existing business online first (learn with a business you know) and then consider targeting different markets, selling different products, extending your geographical area, etc… after you’ve executed online with your existing customers.

Too often printers equate going online to “chasing VistaPrint,” you will be chasing VistaPrint if through the analysis of your existing business you determine your target market is micro businesses (1-5 customers) whose average transaction falls in the range of $30. If you’re an independent regional printer its highly unlikely that this is your target market or your target average transaction.

Don’t confuse going online with business strategy, going online is a move to meet your customers where they are and provide the self-service procurement process they demand, what you sell and who you sell it to is your business strategy.

This is why I suggest investigating your current target market (in your offline business) BEFORE you start planning for your online business. The best target market is the one you’re already serving, the best products to launch online are the ones that you produce today. Think about moving online as setting up a self-service order entry for your existing customers (e.g. ATM machine or a drive thru).

As far as target markets go, the first decision to make is do you target customers you know (B2B) or strangers/anonymous shoppers (B2C)? Customers you know require an online experience that incorporates what you know about them into the user experience. For example, you know how your customer pays (online payment methods), what their pricing is (online pricing calculation), what products they buy (product workflows), who can buy (online authentication/login), etc… All the things you know about the customer from your offline interactions can be embedded into the storefront, automating the transaction – saving time/labor for both you and the customer.

Your existing book of business defines your online target market; it could simply mean you setup unique storefronts for each of your customers. Once you gain the critical operational experience of doing business online, you can start to look at other online target markets.

Because printing is custom manufacturing, you can literally create an infinite number of products using the same manufacturing processes. The printing press doesn’t care whether it’s a business card or an annual report. So in the offline world, printers developed a mentality – we’ll print just about anything. The dynamics of online business has fundamentally changed this go-to-market strategy. Online business strategies are about niches, rather than generalists – “we’ll print anything.” Why? Because reaching customers online is fundamentally different (search driven) and a self-service commerce model forces you to provide a user experience where the customer can define what they want without your help.

Want more proof, look at the successful online printers, what do they have in common? They are niche players; by niche I mean specialists rather than generalist. VistaPrint has a very focused target market and product set. Mimeo built a $100 million business printing on (1) size of paper. Where the offline print business strategy might have been defined as, “expand your capabilities to cover the gamut for the customer” the online print go to market strategy is about specialization (product, market, industry, segment).


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