The history of print dates back to 3100 BC, when wedge-shaped marks were made on clay tablets by a blunt stylus cut from a reed. However it wasn’t until the early 1400s, when blacksmith and goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg made history as printer and publisher by introducing mechanical movable type printing to Europe. Printing claimed its role in mass communication.
Print has transformed itself since then, with more changes and industry shifts happening since the 1950s than in the five centuries before. We’ve seen the advent of phototypesetting, inkjet, image scanning, photocopying, the Pantone colour matching system, thermal printing and the ISO standard for paper sizing – to name a few.
Then the internet happened, along with desktop publishing, 3D printing, digital printing, e-readers and social media.
Historically, the print industry has focused on selling the craft of print. And in so-doing has prided itself in having—and showcasing—the latest equipment, technologies and customer service. Sales people sold print, boasting a portfolio of printed samples featuring these capabilities. For decades that was how you made money selling print.
According to global industry market research firm, IBISWorld’s Canada Market Research Report, one of the top three key success factors (out of 250) for Canadian printers is marketing expertise. The other two are the ability to adopt new technology and having access to a highly skilled workforce.
Let’s take a closer look at these print industry success factors and how they’re driving a new way to market and sell print.
Time is money. The more time you spend touching something, whether it’s manual data entry, preparing estimates and proposals, reconciling accounts, or creating email campaigns, the more you eat away at your profits. There is an urgent need for printers to become more efficient, streamline their processes, and stop costly mistakes in their tracks—before they result in customer experience casualties—by automating and optimizing their production and business departments.
Wikipedia defines Industry 4.0 as the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. Key technologies include cyber-physical systems like adaptive robots, the internet of things (IoT), cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI). Industry 4.0 is commonly referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Automation is critical in order for tomorrow’s print business to thrive in an Industry 4.0 world. By connecting machines, work pieces and systems, they can gain self-awareness and self-predictiveness. This means that in addition to providing you with business-critical triggers and alerts of defects, production failures, and other system faults, these connected systems also identify the best possible time to resolve these issues with near-zero downtime. This will help drive growth, customer retention and bottom-line results.
The digital landscape has definitely changed the way print is purchased and consumed. New technologies, presses, software, papers, inks, finishes, and more have opened up infinite business potential for both seasoned and new print providers.
According to the Association for Talent Development (ATD), an international association for training professionals, companies that offer comprehensive training programs have 218% higher income per employee than companies without formalized training. These companies also enjoy a 24% higher profit margin than those who spend less on training.
In Canada, there are only seven schools and/or programs that are recognized by the CPIA (Canadian Printing Industries Association) for printing management or technical programs (not art or design) in a post-secondary Canadian school. Three of them are in Quebec. Our industry is hungry for skillsets that transform the creative capabilities of today’s digital media professionals into print and omnichannel experiences.
Internships, co-ops, and training grants give employees—from students and recent grads to long-time employees—the chance to learn and grow their skillsets together. Learning opportunities also come from attending industry trade shows and events, association memberships, webinars, podcasts, analyst research and tweet-ups (to name a few).
For the last several years, I have mentored a group of young professionals starting summer businesses as part of the Ontario government’s Summer Company program. Every year I see a fresh group of eager faces, proud of their first-time business cards and brochures. A quick Google search of “millennials and print” serves up over 1.1 million results. Study after study indicates that millennials love print!
Print providers have an opportunity—dare I say a responsibility—to share the role that print plays in every business’ brand and community-building strategies.
To drive print profitability, businesses must empower their buyers with the ability to interact, purchase or make a transaction at any time, from anywhere, using whatever device they want. And that includes printers, who not only need to answer the new print buyer’s growing demand for marketing services, but must also adapt to the changes in print-buyer behaviour.
In order to do this, printers need to understand the pivotal role that data plays – and how to capture, store, manage, output and present it. Because managing not just your own data, but also your customers’ data, has taken on a whole new meaning with the demand for an omnichannel experience.
CCM, omnichannel and the customer experience dominated the theme of the 2018 Enterprise Communications Industry Conference, Xploration18.
The customer communications industry has been laser-focused on data and data mining before many printers implemented a CRM. Not only do they speak the language(s), literally, but they are also well-versed in matters such as compliancy, security, data management, archiving and quality control.
The lines between production and transactional print are blurring, enabling printers to provide relevant customer experiences that are targeted and personalized across all available digital, mobile app and physical channels.
By improving the customer experience beyond the sale, you create opportunities to learn more about their business and capture more valuable data. For example, you get an order for business cards and banners for an open house. In addition to selling the customer what they (think they) need, how else can you add value? Can you help with the advertising and promotion of the event? How can you better tailor the experience to their market? How can you improve their share of wallet…and yours?
Build buyer profiles that go beyond the company information, purchase history and contact information stored in your database. How have their needs changed? What’s keeping them up at night? What’s in it for them to keep doing business with you?
When you identify with your target audience and what matters to them most, they will be more inclined to pay attention to what you have to offer. And by identifying what is motivating the purchase, you can develop a solution that will help them achieve their goals.
Printers need to identify and embrace a variety of marketing strategies and channels, so that every online and offline interaction includes content and messaging relevant to the customer’s situation, preferences and interests. They need to foster a sense of community, culture and environmental appreciation.
The array of social media platforms vying for attention is endless. Social media is merely one, albeit an important, method of engaging and becoming a part of your customer, prospect, and partner community. And, just like any other marketing tactic in your toolkit, if you use the wrong channel, it won’t deliver the right results. Pay attention to your community, the information they’re sharing, challenges they’re facing and solutions they’re discussing, whether it’s on LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter.
Aside from social media, there are many opportunities to share knowledge and develop professional relationships these days. A tried and true way is through the one-to-one face time you get at trade shows, conferences and workshops. Whether you’re attending as a delegate or sponsor, or running your own event, use the opportunity to listen. Listen for ways that you, as a print provider, can add insights and expertise to ultimately drive new revenue streams for your business.
Over a third of millennial buyers expect a business website to be their most helpful resource. They search, connect, collaborate and challenge online. Most don’t even consider dealing with a sales person until the later phases of their buying journey.
As print professionals, we take a lot for granted. We have access to some of the finest examples of paper and substrates. We appreciate the subtle nuances of colour and know how to make it pop. We create intricate folded works of art that leave many people wondering “how did they do that”? And we do it all with print.
Yet when it comes to showing off our capabilities, many printers fall short with websites and collateral that features equipment, speeds and feeds and boasts world-class printing, superior results through expert craftsmanship, state-of-the-art network of printing facilities, superior quality printing all backed by our 100% quality guarantee…and more insomnia-curing prose.
Printers, marketers and designers are poised to take advantage of what’s happening today in the marketplace by paying attention to what tomorrow’s buying audience is saying, expecting and willing to pay for in an experience.
Print’s role in mass communication has shifted, forcing generations of print professionals to struggle in this always-on, app-driven, instant gratification world. A world where creating memorable and relevant customer experiences is surpassing price and product as the key brand differentiator in 2020.
Printers will only convince their customers to invest in print if they’re prepared to invest in the technology, workforce, sales and marketing they need to drive print business success.
Portions of this article were published, with permission, in Graphic Arts Magazine.