Ink Under Your Fingernails
Print remains an essential part of most multi-channel marketing campaigns
It has been widely rumoured that Nostradamus predicted 9/11: "In the year of the new century and nine months, from the sky will come a great king of terror. The sky will burn at 45 degrees… fire approaches the great new city… there will be thunder… The third big war will begin when the city is burning…"
But the truth is Nostradamus did not make predictions about the World Trade Center attack or, at least, none that could easily be understood from his writings. He did not mention "the new century," or "nine months" and New York is not at 45 degrees.
Nor did he predict an apocalyptic end to the print industry. Yet the epic demise of the print industry has been the source of much debate and has garnered merit with arguments ventured on either side.
With 20/20 hindsight, it's probably safe to say that print has not died and is not going away, but the industry is experiencing a significant shift. In the last two decades, an industry that had no significant technological changes since Gutenberg invented moveable type in the 1400s has gone beyond adjusting to evolving. What was once a craft industry dependent upon the skill of the person operating the equipment is emerging as a manufacturing industry driven by technology. Further, businesses that once provided just print services are increasingly providing adjunct comprehensive marketing services. As the adage goes, "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger." And many would contend that this is the case with the printing industry. Savvy printing organizations have been reinventing themselves, and increasingly becoming marketing service providers, not just print providers. According to David Murphy, director of Marketing Americas, HP Graphics Solutions Business, the tipping point is yet to come, but there has been a shift in the last five years that is gaining momentum.
"There have been a successive series of points—technology, user behaviour, economics—that have made it necessary for printers to reinvent themselves. And many printers have reacted and responded with changes that will ensure their future success. No longer an ink-on-paper business, they are evolving, becoming holistic—differentiating their services with a scope of offerings that compliment print, arming themselves with the necessary knowledge and skills to become marketing service providers rather than remaining commodity providers," Murphy says.
As Peter Muir, president of Bizucate points out, 20 years ago, fast turnaround on a quality product at a reasonable rate was all that printers needed to offer to survive. "However, 20 years ago, there were only four primary ways to communicate—radio, TV, print and phone. Now there are multiple communication channels and being seen or heard is harder than ever. Ads are everywhere and there are so many more messages. Few of the companies that continue to do things the way they did them 20 years ago will survive in today's competitive business climate."
Fortunately for printers, the technology that led to communication competition was not the only innovation of the decade. 20 plus years ago, Benny Landa, inventor of the Indigo press and often considered the father of digital offset printing, predicted, "Everything that can become digital will become digital—and printing is no exception." It's hard to believe that just 18 years ago, the ability to print a one-off product did not exist.
Muir says that printing companies will not just survive, but thrive by continuing to add additional services to leverage print services with other channels. "It's been proven that multichannel marketing produces the best results. In the last seven years, innovative printers started offering mailing services, graphic design services and database analysis, and now they are adding Web design, PURLs and QR codes, and mobile and email marketing programs. They are not just providing a product; they are helping their clients communicate more effectively and efficiently with new capabilities."
The transition from print providers to marketing service or solution providers is not a tremendous challenge for many printers. As Murphy points out, many of the elements needed for printers to become marketing service providers are already in place. "They are inherently creative, they have problem-solving skills and experience, and they are communicators at their core with more ways to reach buyers than ever before. They will have to constantly educate themselves so that they can continue to add value to their services."
Marketing service providers…marketing solution providers… printers? As the industry works through the process of redefinition, what is the best name for this evolving print and marketing services provider?
Regardless of what you call this evolving industry, the fact is that print remains an essential part of most multi-marketing campaigns. "We can't forget that print is part of the equation. People are looking for solutions and print offers more options than ever before," adds Murphy.