Why You Shouldn’t Buy a Digital Press
By Noel Ward, Editor @ Large
There are a couple of legends about digital printing that continue to bring a lot of pain to some print providers. They hamper the expansion of digital print specifically and hurt the print industry in general. Ironically, parts of these legends were initiated and promulgated by some of the very people who built and sold digital presses.
First is the idea that short runs are the main reason to buy a digital press. This has been, and always will be, a perfectly valid reason to pull the trigger on a shiny new Canoxdigo Bizipress 9100i. But it is only one reason. Short runs fill a need and in some ways digital presses have fueled a self-fulfilling prophecy that helped foster the ongoing trend to shorter runs. So if you invest in a digital press you will–and probably should–do a good number of short-run jobs. This fills a need and not doing it leaves money on the table. But it is only a very small part of what the machine can do.
Second comes the notion that offering basic personalization (perhaps combined with short runs) of previously static documents is going to rock your customers’ worlds. And it can–at least until a competitor comes along and shows your customer that he can do far more and deliver a greater value.
These walks down the yellow brick road have spawned a third factor that is especially critical to avoid: a race to the bottom. This is because too many print providers use their Canoxdigo Bizipress 9100i like a color copier and commoditize the output. These guys compete on price, engage in reverse auctions and generally make digitally printed pages as much a commodity as are many offset printed pages. There’s likely one or more of these characters just down the street from you. You know who they are, and as you no doubt know, they make life difficult for other, more serious, print providers.
It was not supposed to be this way, it doesn’t have to be. But if short runs and basic personalization are what drove you to be writing a monthly lease payment for a digital press you may be fighting for a smaller piece of a shrinking pie. Especially if you are competing on price.
In all fairness, most equipment vendors were slow to recognize all of which their machines were really capable. It was–and still is–print providers who are pushing the envelope on what these machines can do. For example, I know a packaging printer in Nebraska who considers press manufacturer’s specifications for substrate weights and monthly print volumes merely as suggestions, and then works with his suppliers to expand what his digital presses can do. He is hardly the only one to work this way, and it is an approach that pushes the entire digital printing space forward.
Still, more than twenty years after the first full-color digital presses rolled out, this printer and those like him remain exceptions. Too often print providers have subscribed to the two main legends of digital printing and are not doing all that can be done. Making the leap to profitable, value-added digital printing requires a different and proactive way of looking at the market and the opportunities it offers.
I recently talked with Jeff Dowd, business development manager for HP’s Indigo and PageWide inkjet presses to get a sense of how the market opportunity for digital printing has shifted from being merely short run and basic personalization to one that is part of an ongoing transformation communications revolution. Mr. Dowd rolls out a much bigger picture about the place digital printing plays in the markets of today. And what he says makes total sense for anyone who wants to make money–even serious money–with digital printing.
A new path forward begins with recognizing that print is but one element of a massive media stream that every consumer is subject to. While the Baby Boomer generation that grew up on a few TV channels and local AM radio may still have a preference for print, their kids are part of Generations X, Z or are millennials, all favoring a different type of content. For them it’s on demand, all the time. And brand owners are scrambling to reach into the pockets of these consumers.
Extending this thought, Mr. Dowd went on to explain how there are major forces you can’t control, and which present a perfect storm for digital printing: technology and mobility; consumers seeking diversity in their shopping and product use experience; and data collection, which encompasses security, traceability and usage (aka: Big Data). These forces are underscored by Yahoo research that indicated 78% of consumers want personalization and relevant content. And if what I’ve been seeing in print, on the web, and coming in on my phone and tablet is anything to go by, people are expecting personalized relevant communications.
The shift to data
This is not lost on brand marketers and CMOs. According to Mr. Dowd, some 87% of CMOs expect to integrate more customer data into their digital marketing strategies over the next year. This is a titanic shift, given that only some 16% do so at the moment. For some big brands–and their respective print providers–this shift is likely to transform digital printing from a mere print process into a way to reach customers with relevant messaging. Sure, some of it will be short run and much of it will be personalized, but it is the trifecta of digital printing, big data and electronic media that changes the game and adds value to those messages. And that makes short print runs with gratuitous personalization about as useful for modern marketing as hot lead and a letterpress.
This transition is especially important for many established brands that have relied on old-school media. Some have turned to TV, radio, static page advertising in magazines and newspapers, maybe some direct mail. But others failed to adopt digital media and integrate omni-media strategies. Some of these brands will go away, overcome by newer ones that have cracked the code of using every source of media available to them. See ya, guys. So long, and thank you for playing our game.
Several digital press manufacturers have shown examples of how some big brands have made digital print part of their play in the market. For example, the RAM truck division of Chrysler-Fiat produces highly individualized printed catalogs and web-based content that go out to every buyer of a Ram truck, offering a range of aftermarket options for newly purchased vehicles. The information is also available online and in smartphone apps. Other automakers use customer data and digital printing to encourage renewal of leases before existing ones expire. All companies reaching out in these ways use data to create printed and electronic messages and craft offers that enhance the customer experience and drive new revenue.
On a smaller scale, several colleges have used the comparatively limited amount of data collected from student inquiries to create individualized view books of campuses, targeting prospective students based on their stated preferences for fields of study and non-academic interests. These have repeatedly proven to be very effective. Especially appealing for a print provider with a digital press is that these documents don’t necessarily require a major increase in data management skills. In fact, the needed software may already be on your server. What is important is that a printer doesn’t need a relationship with a global company like an automaker to get into the game. I know of a medium size service bureau in the northeast U.S. run by a woman who knows her way around a database. She went after a local college’s view book business, and got it on the strength of what her company could do with the data. The resulting book helped the school increase enrollment. The underlying message is that on jobs like this the runs aren’t very long but the personalization is highly relevant, and you are selling on value instead of price.
Other examples include veterinarians and physicians who use print and electronic media to educate customers and build relationships, vintners that increase wine lovers’ knowledge of wines while driving sales, and garden centers that help homeowners make timely choices about landscaping and planting. It’s really a matter of looking for opportunity and helping customers and prospects take advantage of technology they are very likely not even aware of. You won’t have all the data you’d like in every instance, but when you find one it’s a place to start changing how a company interacts with its customers.
Look at each of your clients, examine their web presence and marketing communications, and think of ways you may be able to help them be more successful. Can you help them reach out to their customers in print, on the web or via mobile with consistent messaging based on what they know about their customers? To start, make the effort to truly learn about your customers’ businesses and go-to-market strategies, then look for ways to insert your company’s skills into that mix. It is not easy, but with each success you gain an example of how you have integrated digital printing with data and multiple media channels to help make a company more successful.
And success is the best reason to buy a digital press.