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An Audience of One

The importance of being the company your customer knows and trusts.



“Ninety percent of my customers are family-owned businesses.” That’s what one supplier told me at Graph Expo 14, and I have to admit, I was surprised.

Family businesses face, well, let’s call them unique challenges: changing generational attitudes, a sense of responsibility that extends beyond the 8-5, and a personal-professional mix that can make it hard to leave work stress in the office.

But family businesses also have a particular strength of identity that corporate competitors struggle to emulate. In fact, your faceless competitors, in some cases, spend big bucks on branding consultants to define just what that culture may be.

The struggle in maintaining your identity, whether it’s personalized attention, a super-specialized staff, or the kind of honesty that sends customers to the shop down the street when necessary, is that your company’s personality has to remain profitable in an age when the family-owned business is fading.

And it’s not just Walmart or FedEx Office that’s to blame. In fact, there is likely as strong a concentration of mom-and-pops in wide-format as there ever was. What has changed is the face of the competition. Whereas you used to bid against other print shops for jobs, you’re now looking at larger agencies – manufacturers who are providing custom-printed carpets, textiles, tiles; branding agencies getting into the print-and-install business; even communications firms who create an ad campaign, then implement it themselves.

And customers are ready for this. They may not know who’s producing their prints, but they’re ready to demand something special, something personal. If you’ve followed the explosion of news and trend pieces about millennials or, gulp, the digital natives of generation Z, you’ll know that they’re used to custom everything.


These new buyers are your audience of one. Individuals who expect that everything in their lives can be tweaked, customized, and stylized. The trade show loop is increasingly crowded with vendors who want to help you produce short-run packaging and promotional items. Soon enough, 3D will increase production speeds and improve color reproduction, and your field of potential competitors will widen again.

The good news is that the same people who want an iPhone case to match their Smart car wrap don’t respond all that well to big, blah, and corporate structures. Big or small, they want a business with a personality. Think Apple, Xbox, or Zappos – or the little hardware store around the corner you trust to cut your keys right the first time. Be that company: the specialist your customer knows and trusts.



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