I’m not a commercial printer, but I’ve been writing about this industry for, um, let’s just say a very long time, and I’m an enthusiastic print consumer. The Print 18 show was the first I’ve attended in a while, and it was interesting and informative on many levels. We’ll cover other Print 18 ideas and trends in future posts, but today here’s a quick look at some of my show notes, fondly called “Printing Tips, Tidbits and Takeaways from Print 18.”
Eyes Opened to Inkjet Applications
“What else can I do with inkjet that I didn’t think I could do?” If the Print 18 show did its job (and it did!), curious attendees came away with plenty to think about in answer to that question. Maximizing the strengths of an inkjet press through new applications was a popular theme. When inkjet was in its infancy, printers dealt with limited paper choices, but now there’s much more to think about. Today when vendors show what’s possible, who doesn’t start wondering, “What else can we do?”
Inkjet, Substrates and You
Consumers remain attracted by the tactile nature of print. Sometimes the medium does its job so well it goes unnoticed in its perfection. Sometimes the substrate is the star of the show. Print 18 panelists continually noted that good substrate availability and options depend on collaboration upstream to the paper mills and downstream to the drying technology. So many paths to the market depend on the substrate, and the land of inkjet substrates is another world altogether. You might want to consider these questions to help you make the best substrate choices:
- Should I bring in paper people before choosing an inkjet press?
- Will I be locked into something that might go away?
- Can I show customers samples on the paper using their files?
Inkjet Success: Converting Work or New Business or Both?
Where are most people having success with inkjet? Offset transfer? Converting existing business? Generating new business? In one session, panelists were asked, “Which of these scenarios is the most common experience for print providers in the inkjet space?”
- We are converting customers and existing work from something else to inkjet.
- We are adding new business as a result of inkjet capabilities and value.
When it comes to inkjet, it appears the answer could easily be all of the above.
Data: Challenge and Opportunity
Data collection and data management have been roadblocks to using toner and inkjet technology to their full extent, but that’s not the case anymore. How to leverage data in applications like personalization was a popular conference topic. Attendees were told they need answers to these two data-related challenges to bring more pages to inkjet:
- Do you know how to really use data for effective marketing?
- Does your marketing and sales effort sell the value of the individual data?
Security has become hugely important, too, because PSP customers want to know their data is being protected. Tip: Make sure your workflow and technology partners take data streams into secure areas.
Tell Marketers What They Need to Know
It might not be enough to just print direct mail anymore. These days, it’s possible to do so much more for your clients, and marketers like bringing more things under one roof. Invest in skills and technologies that increase your value and build account stickiness. Tools exist to help with tracking and reporting to clients what happens after their jobs leave the print stream. Businesses want to know, “What is marketing doing for me?” Proven campaigns lead to more PSP business, and maybe higher volumes.
New Role For Print: High-Value Marketing
One of the most exciting things to see in Chicago was how print remains relevant in a digital world. Print still works, and now it has the important job of driving people to websites. Print goes from commodity to value-add when it’s designed as part of a digital or multichannel campaign. What would it take to give your print offerings more marketing value?
One takeaway tip was to study how to get more information from prospects at each touch point. Use that data to improve the overall customer experience in the back and forth journey between static print and digital marketing. This is what sells print to marketers – and keeps them coming back.
The new role of print is to bridge the gap between offline and online marketing. In other words, you should not fear losing print business to digital marketing. More touches, not fewer, are needed for consumers to make decisions.
AR, AR Everywhere
Augmented Reality (AR) is making inroads in the printing market, and it was everywhere at Print 18. Looking ahead, AI and AR are coming fast, and direct mail has become a portal into VR experience. The amazing, who-would-have-thought-it moment was seeing a personalized AR experience overlaid with a print experience, repeatable on a small or very large scale. AR is surprisingly compatible with printing and other techniques like personalization and geolocation. AR can deliver additional content in a user-friendly and interesting way. We can’t fully explain the AR opportunity in one paragraph, but see some of our other blogs on the subject for starters. There are good business cases for AR as part of a multichannel campaign that includes print.
4-Color Envelopes Speak to Consumers
Ready to push the envelope? Most print still ends up in the mail stream, so direct mail isn’t a market to ignore. What stands out now are envelopes that break through barriers – that is, four-color envelopes produced with an inline feeder. Yes, it’s a thing now. We’ll get in more depth in an upcoming post.
Shine Stands Out
A versatile press that easily and affordably handles metallic inks gives you an alternative to foil for packaging applications and lets you bring more of that work in house. Just sayin’.
Make Technology Your Ally
Competition is as fierce as ever, but technology can be your ally. Be prepared to participate in all it offers if you want to grow. There’s always some new application out there to help expand your business. Take advantage of every opportunity vendors offer to keep up with trends, such as educational seminars (or big conferences). Tech isn’t just your ally; it’s the catalyst for the strategic direction of your company. Tip: Start with a strategy and use technology to support it.
Thought Starters for Print Profit Hunters
Some Print 18 attendees came is search of another profit line to offer. Here’s advice we came across: Take what you do and apply those services to as many segments of your target industry as you can. Or think of other prospects with similar marketing goals and needs. Also, printers know what they do, but don’t always know what is profitable. Your most profitable offering might not even be part of your core business today. Several speakers in different sessions spoke of the usefulness of assessments to answer these questions.
Application-driven Print Investments
What else should you sell to customers? “Look at what your customers are not doing,” said one smart presenter. Where do you have the ability to fill in the gaps and create account stickiness (another recurring conference theme). Indications are that print providers can now invest in inkjet to fill some of those holes. For example, a PSP might do promotional retail graphics, specialty items, shelf edges or labels, but the rest of the brand’s items, like packaging, get outsourced. Today’s PSPs have more options to bring that work in house and take more control.
How Well Are You Marketing Your Print Business?
I heard several people speak of the need for commercial printers and in-plants to do more self-marketing (Like the cobbler’s children lacking shoes, professional printers tend to put their own messaging last.) What techniques work for printers to self-promote? Go for open houses and thought leader workshops to entice business. Get active on social media and share useful ideas. Get involved in industry councils and panels. And maybe next year, I’ll see you at Print 19.