There are transformations, and then there are transformations. RR Donnelley started out more than 150 years ago as a small printer in Chicago. Today, through innovation, expansion, and evolution, the new RRD is nothing less than “an integrated multichannel communications services provider.”
RRD CEO Dan Knotts and CIO Ken O’Brien spoke with CMO.com about how this change—which involved technology, marketing, and branding—took place. Read on for this fascinating story.
CMO.com: A lot of people certainly know you as a big, old-time printer. How has RRD managed to transform its business in the new digital world?
Knotts: RR Donnelley is a 153-year-old company that began as a small Chicago printer that evolved into a full-line printing services provider and is focused today as a provider of multichannel solutions for marketing and business communications. Our successful evolution has been driven by our focus on innovation as we continue to expand our portfolio of capabilities to meet the evolving needs of our clients.
Even though our clients are primarily B2B, the majority of the communications that we produce and deliver for our clients are provided to their customers, which happen to be the consumer. We focus a lot of our time, effort, and energy on further understanding what is going on in the consumer end of this because understanding consumer behavior relative to how, when, where, and why they want to be communicated with plays a key role in the communications strategies of our clients.
It’s tough to put an exact date on when the evolution toward becoming an integrated multichannel communications services provider began, but if we go back to 2008-2009, when digital technologies really started to make a meaningful impact in the lives of consumers, we accelerated our focus on expanding our digital offerings and multichannel capabilities to support our clients changing requirements. In listening to our clients, their needs and focus began to change as advancing technologies and channel expansion shifted more control to consumers relative to their communication preferences. Ongoing channel expansion continues to change traditional marketing models from a more traditional push marketing approach to more of a pull marketing approach as consumer preferences change relative to the types of communications they want to receive.
CMO.com: How have you been responded?
Knotts: Last fall, as part of our ongoing strategic evolution, we created three independent, publicly traded companies by spinning off our financial communications and data services business, and our publishing and retail-centric print services and office products business.
As the new RRD, which is about a $6.9 billion top-line company, we are focused on providing multichannel solutions for marketing and business communications as well as supply-chain management, business process outsourcing, and logistics services.
From a marketing communications standpoint, we provide our clients with integrated digital and print solutions to help them successfully execute their multichannel marketing communications strategies. On the business communications side, we help our clients create, manage, and deliver their business communications, which are really driven by data.
CMO.com: Would it be safe to say that the digital transformation you went through was both as a company as well as how you marketed to your customer?
Knotts: Absolutely. There are two parts of this digital transformation, starting first with the digital transformation that we are making as a company as we continue to listen to the needs of our clients and expand our capabilities to support those evolving needs.
As we all know, there are many more channels of communications today than there have ever been, from social media and websites to mobile and print. The irony in all of this, however, is that we may be harder to reach as individual consumers than we ever have been before. Getting the right communications delivered through the preferred channels is critically important for our clients to create those sustained relationships with their target audiences—ultimately, consumers.
So as we sat down and listened to our clients relative to their challenges of effectively communicating with their target audiences, and with the end consumer, it became more and more clear to us that our ability to provide digital services with our print services, in an integrated fashion, was a very real opportunity for us to assist our clients with their communications challenges.
The second element of our digital transformation is how we are marketing RRD to our clients. We are very focused on communicating our vision and strategy with our clients as we continue our evolution as a leading provider of marketing and business communications.
CMO.com: How did you go about getting your customers to understand that the experience of working with you would be different going forward?
O’Brien: We did that in a couple of ways. First, we can’t understate the value of the existing relationships that we have with our clients. We are a large, trusted partner for many very large corporations, including most of the Fortune 1000. So we do have an audience there, and when it comes to the topic of communications, we have credibility as a result of the work that we’ve been doing for them for many years in the print space.
Helping clients understand our strategy as the new RRD starts with changing the conversation from print to communications. And as we start to look at communications, what we find with our clients—and what they come to realize themselves—is that many of them quickly entered into the digital space because they believe they have to be, not necessarily because they’re coming at it from the more strategic viewpoint of: How do we do this most effectively?
In this case, it’s important to work together to better understand consumer communications behavior—how consumers want to be communicated with, which channels, what kind of messaging, how personal they expect you to be. It becomes very evident that it’s not just about being in a digital space or achieving digital transformation. Instead, it’s more about digital balance and understanding the right and best ways to utilize digital technologies.
We already have considerable skills around managing processes, such as audience selection with hyper-analytics, and understanding what kind of personalized messages need to go to consumers. Our ability to translate some of these “client-engagement-type approaches” from the print space to the digital space can often be a pretty quick win. And then it goes from there, in terms of being able to demonstrate that we can execute just as well in the digital space as we can in the physical space.
CMO.com: And how did you view customer experience in this regard?
O’Brien: We have been very focused on the experience element. In our vision statement, and as we talk to clients, one of the things that we say is that every single piece of communication that you deliver to an audience should be an opportunity for an interactive experience. Whether it’s on digital, mobile, PC, social, or video, we have stronger capabilities than ever to manage those complex environments for our clients.
That’s where we’ve made the most traction, and we believe we will continue to see progress in establishing ourselves as a digital provider of communications, not just a physical provider.
CMO.com: It sounds like you're describing an agency. Do you think of yourself as one? Do you get involved at all in the creative side in helping them with marketing tools?
O’Brien: While we do not consider ourselves to be a digital agency or advertising agency in the traditional sense, we do offer some agency-like value added services for our clients, including content creation, content enhancement, packaging design, digital marketing, and, of course, personalization at scale. We have global content creation services that we provide through a network of studios that can extend brand guidelines efficiently and effectively for global companies. We also have a customer engagement group here at RRD that offers sophisticated services around the evaluation and measurement of consumer experiences.
We are evaluating consumer experiences against websites and against social communications, and we are doing very sophisticated measurement on the impact of a landing page or a web experience. In this way, we are providing agency-level advisory services around consumer experiences or UX-type situations.
Additionally, we absolutely engage with our clients in terms of their marketing strategies. We’re one of the largest direct mail and direct e-mail providers. Many times, we’re consulting with our clients on how to do testing, how to manage messaging, and how to drive personalization.
We also offer online real-time composition tools and consulting to allow our clients to change messaging on the fly—such as adjusting a discount amount—based on business dynamics and changes in economic situations.
CMO.com: In many ways, you’re a company that is doing the same job that your customers are doing, but you’re helping your customers do it. I’m sure you had to learn to market to them in new ways, as well, because social, for instance, and mobile were not part of the old RR Donnelley world, were they?
O’Brien: No, absolutely not. To your point, we have learned a tremendous amount from our clients. We often say they’re our greatest sources of innovation in many respects. And again, you look at the client base. We have 50,000 clients across most business verticals that you can imagine experiencing significant challenges in terms of the digital marketing space.
We have tremendous insight as to what is working in the market and what is not because of the significant number of clients we work with. Right now, experiences are the driving force in many marketing environments. But the other part of that is measurement and true ROI. How do you really drive a level of visibility around the effectiveness of your communications?
We have added an offering called “visualization as a service,” because we’re finding that one of the challenges in the big data market is taking all these analytics and trying to understand what they mean. RRD helps our clients understand how to present data in a visual form that means something to somebody, and then we help them do something with it through our execution services.
CMO.com: I’ve talked to other iconic brands that had to do a whole rebranding effort, and I’m wondering: Did you do something that obvious? Or have you just let it happen in terms of repositioning the brand?
Knotts: We’ve taken a holistic approach to that as we are shifting away from the name “RR Donnelley” and are moving forward with “RRD.” We’ve also created a new logo and redesigned all of our communication materials to better represent who we are as company.
CMO.com: So there’s no CMO. There’s a CEO and CIO, and then you have somebody who works on the marketing side. What does the team look like, and how does the marketing work from within?
Knotts: Our approach to marketing is somewhat unique. On the one hand, we have 13 external reporting units, which includes our commercial and digital print, direct mail, packaging, and digital solutions reporting units as examples. Our clients engage with us for services in very specific ways, and, thus, each reporting unit needs to maintain its own brand and image yet still be connected with the RRD brand. On the other hand, we are also marketing the new RRD as a leading provider of integrated multichannel solutions for marketing and business communications.
CMO.com: It must be a little easier to work with current customers because you already have that relationship. Are you doing anything different to try to go out into the market to get new customers in terms of leads and demand gen?
O’Brien: Absolutely. And with the different verticals we serve, we have different needs. For instance, in the health care space, we’re driving emphasis around regulatory controls and our HITRUST compliance. In the retail space, it’s driving home our ability to manage in-store materials. So there’s absolutely different messaging going out based on the customer set and what we need to convey to attract new clients.
We are also considering how we might work with existing clients in new ways. A lot of that is built around moving them from a single product or a couple of products to more of a solutions sale, helping them understand we can handle a strategic, integrated approach. But with the new client acquisition, it’s really pinpointing some of those key pain points for their particular vertical and showing them what we can do.
As I like to say, we use what we sell to sell what we sell. So we’re really emphasizing own products and services as demonstrations of the innovative offerings and capabilities we can bring to and produce for our customers.
CMO.com: Do you have any advice for our readers, maybe something you guys have learned over the course of the past six to 12 months?
O’Brien: In the digital marketplace, there are a lot of niche players. And where I think CMOs are challenged is with getting a point solution here and a point solution there that addresses an issue. But in the larger scope of effective communications, are they having an impact?
Knotts: To add, I think many companies have learned how to effectively communicate using individual channels or individual point services. But the challenge is that very few have really mastered that integrated one-to-one approach using multiple channels.
In the end, the advice that we would give is the following: While it can be daunting and challenging to deliver synchronized communications across a complex maze of communications channels, it is becoming more critical than ever to develop an experienced, trusted, and integrated network of providers to effectively optimize your multichannel communications.