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These days, metrics and measurements are the order of business. Strategically and tactically, the latest tools, techniques and technology bolster our efforts, delivering on the promises of the Web frontier.

But have we gone too far? Does having the ability to capture, store and analyze data on the minutest details of customer behavior mean that we should? Just how much information is required to be effective in one-to-one communications?

SWOT Team, this issue's dilemma questions managing metrics. If you believe that the sales are in the details, tell us how you manage the flow, storage and mining of data in your organization. Or if you think less is more, where do you draw the line on metrics and still keep it meaningful? How far should we go in capturing the details of our Web site visitors' behaviors and actions?

Revisiting our previous dilemma—read below for your peers' best advice on the dynamics of digital versus print.

Prefer to leave the details and data to others, let us know what keeps you up at night. What dilemma do you take with you when you leave the office? Your peers would love to help. Write to us and ask our SWOT Team about your dilemma. Tapping into the collective strength, wisdom and experience of this group works. Also, you could win a free copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.

SWOT Team, unite and make a difference!

This Issue's Dilemma

SWOT Category: Internal Strengths

We plan on using newly gleaned metrics from our Web site to create targeted emails and sales campaigns. Is it better to have more detailed data or less?

I have been charged with revamping my company's Web site and learning more about Web visitors' click behavior. We will be using a commercially available Web-building tool that uses cookies and voluntary registration to log visitor clicks. My boss would like to track clicks by three categories: Products, Applications, and Sales Cycle. There are only about 20 Applications and Sales Cycle categories, but potentially thousands of Product categories.

I am concerned that if we use too many categories for Products, we may create a database that will be overloaded with data and too cumbersome to use. My boss and I disagree on the appropriate number of categories.

Is it better to have more data or less? Can the SWOT Team help?

—Anonymous

Previous Dilemma

SWOT Category: Internal Weakness

Should we save money on color copies or print high-quality materials?

Our director is opting to produce all our brochures on color copiers to save money instead of sending them out to be professionally printed on quality paper. How do I convince him that this is not professional and takes away from the image of the organization that I am working so hard to build up? How do you win the digital versus print argument?

—Anonymous

Summary of Advice Received

Wow! Who would have figured that this dilemma would cause such a ruckus? Our thanks to the over 100 marketing professionals who provided their best advice. Many SWOT Team members found this dilemma especially relevant. One anonymous member summed it up:

This argument is becoming increasingly topical and relevant and is in fact exactly the dilemma our organization is facing.

It looks like the anonymous request for advice about digital versus professional printing put us right in the middle of a marketing “religious war.” We had no idea that there was such passion about this subject. Maybe we should get in the trenches more. ;-)

The dilemma itself got a bit lost in the crossfire. Apparently there's little unanimity regarding solutions—but a wealth of opinions on the relative merits of both. The SWOT Team's collective wisdom calls for the following:

    1. Look at the big picture first.

    2. Consider the variables.

    3. Choose offset printing as the best solution.

    4. No, choose digital printing as the best.

    5. Consider a broader range of options or a hybrid approach.

    6. Sell your boss on the “right” decision.

1. Look at the big picture first

This decision cannot be weighed effectively without considering your company's brand image, market/product positioning and message, as well as how you measure up against the competition. Darlene Pike, Consultant for Pike Design, challenges you to think about your particular audience: “People who care about it can tell the difference. Are your customers people who care about the difference?”

David Eberhart, VP Marketing at American Incline, shared this insightful experience on the importance of the audience:

Determine the sophistication of your audience to know how best to communicate with them. Our fledgling manufacturing distribution company had no idea which approach our audience would respond to. The solution: we tested each type of media. Our findings: not only did they respond more favorably to the black and white prints, they preferred to receive their information over the fax. Instead of sending each potential client an $8 color brochure, we send them black and white prints and encourage them to sign up for our quarterly fax updates.

While your message and the details that support it are important, they can change all too often. CodeBay's Director of Marketing, Doug Johnson reminded us:

There's nothing worse than trashing 8,000 spec sheets just because you've changed the name of a feature or because you've chosen to switch to terminology that best suits your target market. In the longer run, by all means, commit to mass print runs… but not until you're satisfied that your messaging has settled.

Anthony Zapata, Vice President of Marketing at YELLOW7 Design, gives this advice:

All your marketing materials are a direct reflection of your company. Having one piece of mediocre material is like having a weak link on your sales team. That one piece alone could bring down your credibility and the image of your company.

Manager of Creative Tension for Saturn Lounge, Paul Baudhuin, echoes the issue of image and the power of the intangible:

It is argued that the consumers of this material can't tell the difference, so why spend the extra money? I don't agree. They can tell the difference; they just can't articulate what the differences are. The IMPRESSION they are left with is ultimately what this decision is all about.

Does the impression of quality extend beyond the printed piece? Kera McHugh, Designer/developer for Something Else Web+ Graphics, feels quality is important, in product and image, as well as in customer service:

If funds are limited, work with what you have. Put the $$ into DESIGNING and PLACING the marketing materials and CUSTOMER SERVICE... that's what really matters. Your customers don't really care if you paid $3/sheet for that brochure. They want to know your product is quality and your service is exceptional. Weigh your costs versus potential profit.

Watching your competitors and other players in the industry is also important. Sarah White, Communicator at Third Wave Research, had this to say, “Where are your competitors setting the bar? You need to look as good or better.”

2. Consider the variables

There is more to turning out great brochures than meets the eye. From quality of designer and design, to print quantity and paper quality, each variable weighs on the outcome of the project. Senior Partner of Creative Genius Communications Inc., Simon Rolfe's response demonstrates this:

If the production time required is short (e.g., you need 250 pieces of a specific piece of collateral for a Trade Show that is taking place the next day), then digital is the best solution. If the piece requires true-to-life color, then offset printing is far more accurate. If the per unit value of the goods or services being promoted is low, you may get away with digital materials.

Rely on professional designers to make the right impression. Chief Instigating Officer, Daniel Gray of Geekbooks, recommends this:

The first rule is to have the pieces designed professionally. An inexpensive, yet badly designed piece does not save money. In the long run it costs... not just in the damage to your company's image, but in the money you will pay to redesign and reprint the job.

3. Choose offset printing as the best solution

Michelle Skolaski, who handles Promotion and Advertising at IFP Studios, believes that print sends a “more permanent” message. “The image you create by having a full-bleed, full-color brochure says permanent, prepared, and professional. Color copies say fly-by-night, last minute and non-committal.”

One anonymous SWOT Team member considers the cost of labor on the finished product:

The biggest advantage of using a professional printer is the reduction in labor cost and happier employees. Once the cost of labor is added, we more than break even by having our work professionally printed.

Another anonymous SWOT Team member, who experienced backlash over a digital decision, shares the benefit of lessons learned:

My company tried to produce flyers on PDFs and left the choice, about whether or not to print, up to the sales force. The response was very negative—the sales force didn't have access to high-enough quality copiers and did not want to give shoddy looking material to their clients. We settled the digital versus print argument by going along with the salespeople's wishes. They said they needed printed material, and we are providing it. In this case, the clients made the decision for us.

4. No, choose digital printing as the best

If you question how digital printing can possibly hold its own against offset printing, read on to find out why many SWOT Team members think digital is the better solution. One anonymous member cuts to the heart of the advantage of digital in an ever-changing business world:

In our situation, our technology products are advancing so rapidly that by the time brochures get composed, designed, printed, mailed and distributed they are already out of date and inaccurate once they hit the streets. Regardless of the budget, large or small commercial printing is becoming increasingly difficult to justify on many projects.

Bob Cheney, President, PowerVue Graphics, fills us in on the sophistication of digital print:

True digital printing is not making color copies. Typically today, digital printers run their files through sophisticated rip engines that can control color to the nth degree. Many different types and weights of paper can be used and they can be scored, folded and whatever.

Leasing a high-quality digital color copier/printer presents a great compromise, according to NovaCopy's Director of Marketing, Geoff Tucker, who suggests this:

Investigate local dealers to obtain quotes on a high quality color copier/printer. A typical lease runs about $500 a month including all supplies and maintenance. If your boss wants to do it in-house to save money this is an excellent compromise. It is affordable, gives quality results and your whole office can use the machine.

Rod Brooks, Marketing Manager for PrintSoft, extols the digital virtues of printing with personalization: “One of the advantages of digital printing is that now you can personalize each and every document.”

5. Consider a broader range of options or a hybrid approach

The beauty of this dilemma is that it opens the doors for a number of solutions and may best be addressed by using a combination or alternative approaches.

Suzy Teele, CEO of Aceda, provides a step-by-step approach for solving this dilemma:

The method I recommend most often is actually a combination of both!

Step 1: Invest in a high-quality folder that can accommodate the insertion of a proposal, multiple collateral sheets, etc.

Step 2: Print a marketing collateral TEMPLATE(s) using 4-color ink on a high quality sheet of paper.

Step 3: Use these templates with an in-office laser or high quality inkjet printer to print the marketing information.

Step 4: Always deliver this marketing information in the well-designed high-quality binder.

Use digital offset printing to get exactly what you want. Managing Director Giselle Hudson of Purple Marketing Limited provides this insight:

With digital offset printing, you can get one of anything or exactly 77! There is no set up required and you no longer have to contend with negatives, plates and registration. Therefore, you get the exact number of what you want at the best quality.

Giving weight to your paper choice can add polish to the final product. Jana Wilson, Creative Director of Indiana University Foundation, adds this:

We have found that nearly any kind of paper can be used on higher-end copiers. You do have to ask for it; and it can bring the cost up slightly, but not as much as the cost of offset printing.

6. Sell your boss on the ‘right' decision

The final words on this issue go to those SWOT Team members who give advice on how to help your boss reach the same decision that you do:

If you've already decided which approach is best for your company, but you simply need to convince your boss, don't rely on soft benefits like “it's more professional” to win your argument. Give your boss more tangible reasons why your way is better. Quantify the opportunity cost of in-house versus professional.

Another anonymous reader who encountered a similar dilemma shares her experience in helping the boss make the “right” decision:

I encountered the same dilemma in months past and found that there really is no comparison when it comes to a quality collateral piece. Rather than call attention to the obvious features of the printed version, I simply put a digital and a printed piece side by side and let my boss make the decision without pushing my agenda. I also slip in the pricing structure for each—(digital really wasn't that much cheaper since we would have to outsource it anyway)... ultimately it was decided that skimping on printing costs was not worth risking our reputation as a quality organization.

Your best route to selling the boss is finding support for your decision among your peers first (like the SWOT Team does!). CMO Brian Lunde of ISR concludes:

Finally, you could try to build a consensus within the firm that supports the highe- quality option, so that you are not alone in making this argument to the director. It would be especially helpful to have one or more allies that are influential with your director in other matters.

What an Impression You've Made, SWOT Team—Thanks Again!

We did our best to provide a thorough overview of your responses to this timely topic. All of the advice we received was insightful. Thanks for your participation. We appreciate it!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.

Yvonne is a “customer engagement coach” and President of EVE Consulting, helping companies achieve sustainable market leadership through the power of customer engagement.