The Ecosystem Might Be Digital, but the Print Volume Share Isn’t Even Close!

German Sacristan
Aug 7, 2019

Can a company consider itself digitally transformed simply because it manufactures digital printers or uses them to put ink on paper? If that was the case, how is the digital printing page share only in the single digits?

We have been entrenched in the digital revolution for a few decades now and, in that respect, printing is actually ahead of the game in relation to some other industries. At the same time, however, there is still much to be done to fully align the reality of digitally printed pages to its full potential.

What Type of Commitment is Needed to Grow the Digital Market?

Regardless of whether you’re a digital print equipment manufacturer, vendor, or purchaser of the product – true commitment requires more than just initial investments in a technology, as the technology itself can never guarantee success. The printing industry must undergo a fundamental change in its DNA to grow, which will involve becoming completely immersed in the full value of digital, not just from a technical perspective but — more importantly — from a strategic printed product perspective.

We all know the printing industry is driven by communication, and digital technology can help empower the human communication skill of establishing personal contacts. Digitally printed communications can’t overtake the printing industry and obtain a greater share of the overall communication market without becoming a greater contributor to the personal interaction or the 1:1 space. Print is still very relevant to the overall communication market – bringing incredible value year after year. It would be a shame not to use this channel to its true potential.

Although we’re not saying anything new, it’s clear that something isn’t working—otherwise, digital printing would have a larger share by now.

The Disconnect 

So why is there a disconnect between the full potential of the digital printing business and its actual market share?

Productivity and cost of middle to long print run lengths favor analogue printing over digital, unless it’s a variable data job.  It’s also fair to say that publishing printing run lengths often play more in favor of digital than other applications due to digital collation and in-line finishing.

While digital printing equipment manufacturers keep investing and working hard trying to match analogue’s productivity and cost, what do we do in the meantime to grow the low single digits shares?

The answer again is 1:1 communication: a.k.a. variable data printing.  Now let’s take a quick peak at the threats and challenges that are making variable data printing fall short its great potential:

  • Brands keep reducing marketing headcounts to the point they often lack the time and resources to create and execute relevant, timely, and high-quality printing or cross-media marketing campaigns.
  • I noticed that many marketers lack the 1:1 methodology and strategic expertise, as the majority are mass-communication focused and/or don’t have a face to face sales experience. Even though customization can be part of a mass communication campaign, the mindset is different. An effective personal interaction or contact campaign requires more than calling someone by their first name or randomly changing content from record to record.
  • Marketing budget allocations/investments are often more toward spending less money with more contacts than spending more money with fewer contacts, often translating into lower quality contact (as there is less money invested per record) to more people.
  • Some brands start their campaigns by choosing the communication channel first, even before the communication strategy is in place. Worst still, the communication channel criteria selection is usually only based on cost. This is fundamentally wrong as the communication strategy should drive the channel’s selection and not the other way around.
  • We are overwhelmed by the number of marketing contacts that we receive every day; majority being totally irrelevant. This in fact upset customers which in return provokes data collection challenges as well as help spur the introduction of more robust data protection legislation.
  • Even though some digital print equipment vendors generously invest in business development resources to promote the relevance and strategy of 1:1 communication, this has proven not to be enough. This still valid strategy would need to scale via their sales channels, getting more into the customized printed products strategies while discussing technical capabilities and applications with customers.  Additionally, more digital market share can be gained if sales channels can also get into more ROI and P&L conversations/calculations while covering pricing and TCOs.
  • PSPs should increase their commitment toward learning the methodology and strategy of the customized printed product (which also complements other digital communication channels) so they can have a more strategic and helpful approach with their customers.
  • Market consultants might be able to better navigate the balance between guiding customers on what to do versus how to do it. There is a great opportunity to increase the support on the “how” (implementation).

Strategy and Recommendations

It’s disappointing to watch how the most holistic way of communication, which is via personal engagements, has to make a proof of concept due to the way that we have been misusing and disrespecting the fundamentals of human contact.  We even made the most relevant attribute to a person, which is their first name, irrelevant to the point that sometimes it’s more effective not to call a recipient by their name during a marketing campaign to better capture their attention. At the same time, we should still aim for customization by changing and adapting the content to the different profiles in the contact data base.  It doesn’t make much sense that the name of a person, which has a direct correlation to the first marketing objective of any given campaign (capture the audience’s attention) can’t be used successfully.  Most people on the street would turn around if they heard their name called, even if it was from a stranger.

It is a concern that we can’t get our heads around a good 1:1 strategy campaign when we have been doing this for centuries.  We’ve always segmented our customers based on purchasing history (what they buy), potential/size (how much they buy), frequency (when they buy), and loyalty (how often they buy). We then created different customer strategies based on this segmentation.  Finally, when it came to engaging those customers, we did it in a personal way and based on the demographically and psychographic relevant information we had about them.

It is important to point out that in this holistic process the sensitivity, imagination, and creativity of the person to say the right thing at the right time and in the right way is imperative to the success of the contact.  Now, live practice makes the difference – and this organic approach not only will help shift more analogue pages to digital but will also increase business sustainability and profitability while we can have more fun.

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