RRD’s Doug Ryan Talks Company Transformation on The Tech Blog Writer Podcast

8/7/2019 RRD

RRD’s Doug Ryan Talks Company Transformation on The Tech Blog Writer Podcast

In an episode of The Tech Blog Writer Podcast with Neil Hughes, Doug Ryan, President of RRD Marketing Solutions, discussed the future of marketing in the digital age, and what RRD is doing to adapt as a leader in the unpredictable marketing industry.

This is our synopsis of the topics discussed. Listen to the interview in its entirety by clicking here.

When was the moment RRD realized that the world is quickly evolving and made the decision to change as a business?

This is the double-edged sword of being a company with such a long and rich history as ours. On one hand, people know and have good feelings regarding the RRD brand, but on the other hand, they’re a bit fuzzy on all the things we do today.

The realization happened well over a decade ago when we saw shifts in how our clients’ businesses were taking shape and, more importantly, shifts in where their problem points were. They were being challenged to reshape their customer experience, and we saw we had a part to play in that.

New marketing trends have also played into a series of smaller moments since then that have led to the evolution of the company.

How big of a change was it to evolve from “that phone book company” to the full-blown marketing solutions company that it is today?

It was a huge pivot, but it is characteristic of most successful pivots because it’s based on a core competency that gets applied to a new area.

Historically, RRD has had to be good at several things. We had to be good at handling large or potentially sensitive data sets. We had to be good at executing large-scale personalization. We had to consistently find ways to execute programs more efficiently. So those general competencies were a natural platform when we wanted to do more in the marketing services arena.

What does it mean to have RRD Marketing Solutions so highly ranked in AdAge’s 2019 Agency Report?

It’s a testament to our arrival among the leaders in the marketing service provider world, but it really represents the start of the challenge rather than the end.

The rate of innovation in this industry is both rapid and non-linear. That makes it hard to say what’s coming next. Everyone feels like they’re constantly catching up.

While there’s been a continual advance in marketing and advertising tech, I think there’s a general feeling that no one has really solved the fundamental problem for marketers, which is: “How do I create a high-quality, high-performance customer experience across multiple marketing channels?”

Companies still struggle to have a unified view of their customers across all their systems. It’s still very hard to measure the cumulative effect of marketing, and there is no shortage of companies trying to solve it like us. We view the AdAge ranking as the starting gun more than the finish line, though it definitely puts us in a good place.

How can you help people visualize what you’re doing among the other Fortune 500 companies?

We have clients in over 90% of the Fortune 500, and we have connections and permission to talk to all of them. From their perspective, all our clients would say they are doing multichannel marketing to some extent, but in truth, when you add optimization into that equation, I’d say less than 20% are making a concerted effort to truly optimize across channels.

To be clear, almost everyone we work with is working hard to optimize within channels. But when looking at how the intersections between the channels are working across both digital and broadcast, and across paid, earned, and owned audiences, it’s a much smaller percentage.

For us, those initial connections are important, but we see a huge opportunity in being able to take a step further and help them with that more integrated view.

So what is it about your deep industry knowledge and broad range of capabilities that makes RRD unique? What is it that makes RRD stand out?

We are in a very competitive area, and the angle that we’re taking is really based on our core competencies.

I’d characterize our idea as the bottom-up activation company. What does that mean? It is about being the company you go to when it is time to make things happen. I contrast that with a top-down company that starts with a broad strategy that has to go through a few layers of interpretation before it gets down to “so what are we really going to do?”

I wouldn’t say a strategy is unimportant. It’s critically important. I wouldn’t underestimate the importance of the right strategy one iota, but I don’t think that’s the main problem our marketers are facing right now. For the most part, they know how to get to a viable marketing strategy, that’s not a problem for them. I think their main problem today is putting that strategy into action.

That’s where we uniquely bring value. We have that bottom-up orientation to make things happen in the marketplace.

What does a successful marketing program look like in 2019?

Three things characterize what I’d call a successful marketing program in 2019.

First, it’s based on how your consumer wants to buy, not on how you want to sell. That means you have to approach them the way they want to be approached with regards to both the channel and the content.

Second, the program must be smart enough to know who you’re connecting with. Does it recognize who it’s talking to, not through token personalization, but in a way that really shows you made an effort to understand them, that you’ve done your homework? If you have a relationship with them, you acknowledge that relationship. If you don’t, then have some relevant reason for starting a dialogue with them.

Third, it’s got to be efficient for both sides. If there’s a lot of wasted effort on either side, the program is not going to succeed. If it’s too hard for the customers, obviously you’re not going to be successful. But if it’s too hard for the company, can you justify the expense?

Every successful marketing program is some variation of those three things. It’s based on how the customer wants to buy, smart enough to know who it is connecting with, and efficient on both sides. Those are the three elements we’re shooting for.

What advice would you pass down to a business leader of a traditional business model looking to thrive in a digital world? What kind of steps should they take?

There are very few truly new ideas in the world. Any original ideas that do work are easily copied, especially in the service industry. Success ultimately depends less on the uniqueness of your vision, but more on your unique ability to execute on it.

So, what are your core strengths, where your core competencies, and how can you apply those?

For example, our approach to tech has evolved over the years. We have a very competent tech group and our response to everything was “No, we can build it better.” And to some extent that’s true, but we had to learn where our core strength really was and it was not in building the systems our clients would rely on, it was in integrating them, bringing it all together.

Know what your core strength is, really recognize that, and don’t try to reinvent it. Just reinvent the way that you apply that core competency to new areas.

What’s next for RRD?

Our future is about taking our own advice.

If we look at what we’re good at, where our core competencies are, what are the natural adjacencies that we can get into that will build on those inherent capabilities? If you look at what we’re doing, whether it be growth through partnerships or through organic buildout or acquisitions, you’ll see us work to expand the types of channels that we can bring to clients who can connect even more things together.

Especially in the digital channels. As our clients advance and go to new areas, we have to match that and go into those new digital channels to see the potential of having it integrated and optimized for the client. We do this, along with the current digital things we’re doing with them as well as the more traditional channels like direct and in-store efforts.

It’s about bringing all those things together.


Doug Ryan is president of RRD Marketing Solutions. For more from Doug, read his perspective on the rise and fall of media and the false choice of channel wars.

Editor’s note: This episode of The Tech Blog Writer Podcast originally aired on The Tech Blog Writer 07/24/2019.


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