September  30,   2005
Volume I   Issue 16


In my first few weeks with Pira, I heard a lot of clients mention
“benchmarking.”  Interestingly, they were all talking about something

I’ve written before about product benchmarking and competitive analysis,
but there is more.

Take, for example, technology benchmarking. How does your process
compare with your competition? How does it compare with the best on a
global scale? It’s easy to find out who has the biggest, fastest, newest paper
machines. But what are they doing on those machines? Wet end chemistry?
Sizing? Fillers? Retention? Pigments and films added at the size press? How
much coat weight?

Meanwhile, IP has announced that they are “raising the bar” on white
papers, raising the brightness level to 92 on the GE scale. Most mills have
announced that they will follow, but the early word from the market is that all
of the new 92 bright sheets are different: different shade, different feel, and
we can expect that they will all run differently on press and provide different
print quality. We can also expect that they have been produced using
different recipes and processes. And, we can expect that the new brightness
levels will cost some mils quite a bit more than others.

To fully understand what is happening here, it is necessary to combine
market research with technical expertise. Either, taken alone will only give
you part of the picture. To get the full picture, consider:

•        Product attributes
•        Product performance
•        Product availability
•        Packaging
•        Product perception
•        Process efficiency
•        Process cost
•        Equipment benchmarking
•        Competitive positioning
•        Brand awareness
•        Customer satisfaction
•        Marketing effectiveness
•        Sales effectiveness

When you put all the pieces together, you can see the issues you face. What
advantages can you exploit? What weaknesses can you fix? What
weaknesses can’t you fix, and what does that suggest for your strategy?

The final piece of the puzzle is one that I addressed at Pira’s Ink on Paper
conference last week: what does the customer want?

Finding out what the customer wants may not be as easy as it seems.
Brightness keeps going up, and the customer keeps buying the higher
brightness, so it may seem obvious that this is what the customer wants.
But is it?

If you ask printers, brightness is just one of many considerations. And it just
may be that when you ask, the most important thing is what the printer does
not mention. Perhaps he says “Quality”, and you ask, “But what about
price?” He just might reply, “Well, price is a given.” Or, he might say
“Competitive price.” First, you notice that he said “competitive price” not
“lowest price.” Then you ask, “But what about runnability?” He just might
reply: “Oh, runnability is a given. If it doesn’t run we can’t use it.”

You can benchmark many things, but don’t forget to measure the
importance to the customer. There was no customer demand for higher
brightness, but the industry is going forward anyway, with higher cost, to
give the customers something they did not ask for.

It is important to understand why this does or does not make sense.  To the
mills. To the printers. To the print buyers.

Benchmarking can help you see the way forward.

For more information about benchmarking, and how to bring technology and  
marketing together,  call Jack Miller at 203 925 0326, or email Jack Miller at

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