In our business, monitoring the trade publications in which our clients advertise is a top priority. Especially during the peak of the recession, it was not difficult to spot publications that were going through a hard time. First, the magazine started to get progressively thinner. Then one month the magazine arrived and the stock was cheaper and in fact you could almost read the words on the other side of the page while trying to read an article. Then the offers for remnant space started arriving. “We have a half-page ad that we need to fill,” our contacts would say. “We are willing to sell this space to you for 50% of the regular price.” It sounded like a favor, but what you learn eventually is these generous offers are often a sign that the publication simply can’t find an advertiser to fill that hole.

These signs and symptoms are all pretty easy to identify, and after you’ve been around for a few years you’re able to spot the pattern without much of a problem. Knowing this, it’s odd and perhaps surprising that many companies do not apply this same logic when deciding how to present their own marketing materials.

A penny saved versus a nicer piece

Especially as print has given way to online PDFs, banner ads, and websites, companies have become less convinced that their print pieces – ads, collateral, catalogs, etc. – need to be as “professional” as they once were. That super-thick cover stock was nice, but do we really need that now? That gloss coating made things really pop and sparkle but come on. Most people are going to download the PDF and print the piece on their bubble jet. Ads should look nice, but investing a lot into any one advertisement doesn’t seem to be a high priority for companies any more. If there is a need to skimp on marketing, that need is often filled by finding budget printers who use budget stock or budget designers who can get the job done but who aren’t superstars of creativity.

Given attitudes about print, none of this is particularly surprising, and if you can tell the C-Suite that you were able to reduce cost on a project significantly, that’s good news all around. But there’s one thing to consider.

Your competition is in the same boat

Let’s say you’re getting ready to exhibit at a trade show. There are a few things you know for certain. First, your competitors are going to be there. Second, they are going to have booth graphics, products, and literature at their booth. Third, if people are comparison-shopping for your particular kind of product, they’re going to visit you and your competitors, perhaps all in one hour.

Your competition, like you, has a marketing budget, and they are probably aware that overall, more people are downloading PDFs these days. But let’s say for this particular show your competition decided to invest in some truly high quality sales pieces. The paper is a heavy cover stock. The design is impeccable. The print job was obviously not just a Kinko’s special – there’s a spot varnish and an aqueous coating on it.

In comparison, you opted to try to save some money. You went to a budget printer for your pieces, and while they look ok they are clearly not in the same class as those of your competitor. The design doesn’t pop, the stock doesn’t say “quality,” and it shows.

What message does this send to your competition? What message would this send to existing or potential customers?

The ROI of a classy sales piece

We suggest that a high-quality piece is worth the price difference. While it’s true that you could perhaps get 1,000 sell sheets done cheaply versus 500 very high quality pieces, it’s the high quality pieces that are more likely to work for you. If a sheet looks like it should just be tossed away, that’s what people will do. If a piece looks like it was a real investment, people might take a more serious look at it. While you might invest more on the front end, the chances of you reaping more benefit with a better tool and a more clear strategy are far stronger.

There’s your message and then there’s the message your message is sending. What do you want that message to be? Do you want to signal that your company is trying to save money or do you want to signal that your company is in it for the long haul? Do you want to hint that you are pinching pennies or do you want to reflect the idea that your company is all about quality from top to bottom?

What message is your message sending?

Image Credit: via Creative Commons