The Inkjet Home User is Unhappy

Zac Butcher
Mar 11, 2013

As a marketer I am constantly on the lookout for customer insight. Recently there have been two articles in the UK that resulted in inkjet printer customers willingly sharing what they believe, how they feel, and how these factors drive their behaviour. This is marketing gold dust: customer comments, people’s own words, no manufacturer influence–all without charge. For this reason I wanted to highlight and share two articles.

On February 23rd the Guardian published a piece focusing on the alleged reduction in ink volume in genuine inkjet cartridges. It appears that the Mail Online saw the Guardian article and ran with the idea, publishing its own interpretation on March 4th titled “The great printer rip off: Ink costs more than vintage champers–and devious new tricks mean you constantly have to buy refills.” The author discusses the declining volume of ink being put into cartridges in a style clearly designed to elicit a particular response from the readership. Whilst there is certainly bias resulting from the not very well hidden agenda, the comments are nevertheless instructive, and it is the responses that are my primary interest.

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The Daily Mail piece is just an update to the evergreen story of printer ink, where ink–when converted into an improbable quantity–is more expensive than an unrelated luxury liquid. Comparing products purely because they share the same physical state–in this case liquid–is ridiculous. Nobody has ever substituted printer ink with Champagne or Chanel No. 5. Journalists, through experience, know these comparisons are not scrutinised and can be confident that a portion of their readership will be unhappy with the price of printing. It is easy to push these buttons and provoke a response. As a result most commenters failed to notice (or overlooked) the lack of logic in the liquid versus liquid comparison. Just one comment, in more than 900 across both articles, points this out. Yet with the number of Tweets, +1s, Facebook likes, and LinkedIn shares, this is clearly a topic that resonates with people and engages them. With significant numbers feeling compelled to contribute, I believe there is value in listening to what they have to say and considering what can be learnt.

Like all things online the public input spans the full spectrum, from insightful genius to wildly inaccurate and completely off-topic. Yet on reading many of the comments I was increasingly left with a sense that I was being provided with a clear window into the feelings, thought processes, and behaviours of a particular segment of inkjet consumers. It struck me that many of those taking the time to comment feel conflicted between their desire and/or need to print and the cost of doing so with genuine inks. The good news is these customers have printers and want to use them. The bad news is they generally don’t consider the printer running costs (when using genuine ink) as value for money.

The group en masse appears to be reasonably knowledgeable; they demonstrate their understanding of the arguments for using genuine inks. Nevertheless they remain unconvinced that it represents value for money. As a result of these beliefs they actively seek out, and share with others, cheaper ways to continue printing. They do so knowing that reliability and quality issues may arise. Having found cheaper ways to print, with the full range of non-genuine ink solutions mentioned, customers openly report reliability and print quality issues but this doesn’t deter them. They are prepared to live with the issues as on balance the cost savings outweigh the negatives. Whatever side of the fence you sit on, this cannot be a healthy relationship for any printer brand to have with its customers. Unhappy customers are more likely to consider alternatives. At a time of technological change this is a dangerous place for the industry to find itself.

A number of the Guardian commenters refer to how their workflows have eradicated many pages and one comment on the Daily Mail article refers to iPad usage and how it has removed the need to print. This customer segment has shown its willingness to embrace substitute ink products. It is not unreasonable to assume the same customers will behave consistently and prove equally willing to consider substitute products for their printer and printing.

Education of genuine ink benefits appears to have been successful but has proved unconvincing in terms of justifying the price premium of genuine supplies for these customers. If the industry cannot overcome these long-held beliefs, then the challenge of keeping consumer printing relevant in an increasingly tablet and smartphone centric world becomes even greater.


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