If you’re in the graphic arts field, you know that aside from graphic designers, there are thousands of print buyers spread throughout corporate departments like marketing, production, and purchasing. I was one of these people for most of my corporate career. It felt like being part of a secret club.
Print buyers typically don’t have formal education in the graphic arts, though many come from the design side. I’ve also met plenty of buyers who worked on the printing side, especially after the recession several years ago.
That said, most corporate and agency print buyers learn about printing from their printers (plus experienced colleagues, if they exist).
But where-oh-where do these buyers learn about paper? Here’s why it matters: Paper accounts for between ¼ and 1/3 of the cost of a typical commercial print job, so understanding paper basics, appreciating the differences between different stocks, as well as how to specify paper efficiently, is critical for buyers. And just getting all sorts of paper news is important for these customers.
This past summer, I conducted a study of print buyers, along with my colleague John Zarwan, to take a look at their relationship with the paper industry.
We wondered if this community is getting the information they want and need in order to specify paper effectively. We wanted to know on whom they most rely to get this information, as well as how widespread their participation in common paper-buying programs are.
Our hope was that we’d uncover some useful information about print buyers that would help paper people and printers. To our knowledge, it wasn’t a study anyone else has done. There were 176 buyers in our study from all across the U.S.
Some of our key findings in this study are these:
- Print buyers typically do specify paper for their print jobs. This simple fact alone is a good-enough reason for the paper industry to continue to reach out to buyers with information and education. Buyers are “paper decision makers.” Get your product’s information in their hands and in front of their eyes.
- Swatch books rule! Most print buyers said that paper swatch books are extremely valuable to them. It makes you wonder, what else can these tools deliver to buyers? Can they play additional roles in the education (and influence) of print buyers?
- For print buyers, paper education is a catch-as-catch-can process. They use a wide number of resources to keep up with paper changes, offerings, and industry news. This is good news and bad news. Paper companies and merchants have to identify these resources and make sure their products are represented.
- Printers are primary sources of paper information. Perhaps you’re thinking, “same as it ever was.” Fair enough. But what does this fact suggest to both paper people and printing companies? To me, it says there are opportunities aplenty for paper companies to reach and influence print buyers through printers as well as directly.
This study suggests many things. Knowing that print buyers are paper customers means that paper mills and merchants should cater to them. Buyers want more information from the paper industry to help them do their jobs responsibly. Perhaps it’s out there yet not in front of their eyes. This is entirely possible.
That buyers rely on their printers for this information means that the paper industry might improve or at least enhance its direct-marketing channels to the buyer community.
You know, it’s always been easier to reach and influence graphic designers when it comes to paper (and printing). Designers have fairly conventional job titles. They have magazines. They have professional associations and events. They’re major customers of paper (most of them) as well as graphic design software. All of this means it’s easy to find them and serve them.
Print buyers are a different breed. They have dozens of titles and work in many different corporate units. This won’t change.
A considerable challenge, therefore, is identifying print buyers. Worth the effort? Absolutely, for paper companies as well as printers. Once you do, this study indicates, paper education for print buyers will yield long-term results, for buyers and for the paper industry.
For information about our print buyer and paper study, and to purchase a copy of our report, please visit my web site.
© 2015 Margie Dana. All rights reserved.