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5 ways digital printing can change your business – and your life

Tuesday, 25 August 2015
By James Cryer

James Cryer reckons it’s too easy for printers to get bogged down in technical arguments about digital printing, such as dye-sublimation v’s toner, or whether a thermal inkjet heads are preferable to piezo. He argues we should focus on what digital technology can do for us.

Our industry, like all bricks-and-mortar industries that were built on the back of the Industrial Revolution, valued manufacturing excellence and technical prowess over everything else. We built bigger and better machines, with quaint names like Heidelberg and Komori, to produce printed matter ever faster and more efficiently. The drive was for lower costs through production efficiency. Longer runs were the order of the day to help drive down the cost base, which kept persistently defying gravity. The answer was always obvious – rush out and buy another press and that surely will drive down costs.

Terms like economies of scale were bandied around and the notion that big is beautiful had a seductive attraction as some firms embarked on take-over strategies to form print mega-centres where the magic of larger volumes and a more efficient workflow would surely achieve those elusive profits that had so far eluded smaller operations.

Underlying all of this, too, was the notion of specialisation. However, we may have become too specialised in our quest for production efficiency. We forgot that most customers have a vast spectrum of print requirements, if only we stop to look around us. BJ Ball’s latest GSM magazine lists 14 printed items at view in a typical room, and that’s only the soft furnishings and promotional products, without even starting to include traditional printed items like books, stationary or magazines.

When we talk about digital printing we usually refer to the method of production, and in so doing we overlook its real benefit, which is to view it as a marketing tool, rather than a production device. If digitisation teaches us one thing, it’s that if you want to increase your turnover DON’T increase your plant size, just embark on more outsourcing!

I attended a seminar by HP where they referred to the digital landscape. But if we redefine it more broadly as the printing landscape, I suspect the pendulum is swinging back to small is beautiful as trumpeted by the economist, EF Schumacher back in 1973. There are now small, no tiny, micro-businesses springing up, all occupying little niches in the digital landscape and craving to be used as outsourcing partners. Why? Because you, as well-established printing companies, have the sales force which they don’t! I visited one recently – Sublitech in Sydney’s inner-west which has just won a contract to print football jerseys for the NRL in the USA. Why? Because it can deliver consistent colour, where Chinese suppliers can’t!

Which brings me to, the five, never-before revealed, benefits of digital printing. They have nothing to do with technology and everything to do with relationship-building!

1. Digital printing allows you to partner with your client earlier-on in the creative process and then work with them across a broader range of print collateral. Not only that, it allows you to have more points-of-contact with your clients, thus making it more difficult for them to source work elsewhere! Offset, on the other hand, is a narrow-spectrum process , although calling it a ‘one-trick pony’ is a bit harsh.

2. Digital printing allows you to collaborate with a wide array of suppliers, like our friend who prints on fabrics. He’d love to hear from you! You’re in the box seat in that it’s your rep, calling on your clients. But your rep can say ‘yes’ more often if they just look around the room and grab as many print opportunities as they can. It doesn’t matter whether you print it or outsource it, you can make money on it!

3. Digital printing encourages us to venture into other sectors that we just can’t do with an offset press. We can now venture into packaging, or point-of-sale, or display or signage  – especially with the new breed of Scitex equipment – or even direct marketing. We have stayed in our traditional silos too long. It’s time to demolish these artificial barriers!

4. On that point, colour-management is increasingly becoming the defining difference in determining which printer clients deal with. As more and more print is being ordered as part of a larger campaign, often involving non-printed media and more frequently by intermediaries such as agencies, designers or print managers, the decider is no longer quality. It’s all about ease of doing business and often it’s easier to share prepress or colour-management software with the client, where they can actually control the printed output. This can only be done when the print device is digital, rather than analogue (i.e., an offset press).

5. Digital printing enables you to encourage, not discourage, your clients to order more frequent but smaller quantities. Test-marketing and improved speed to market are benefits digitisation can deliver.  I know it tips conventional wisdom on its head, but there’s a global trend towards smaller runs with more versions – think direct marketing.

So get used to the changing topography. The trend is towards a more fragmented landscape consisting of smaller, more specialised niche players, all of whom crave to be remembered next time your sales rep calls on your existing clients.

Remember: if you SELL it, you don’t have to MAKE it.

So next time you look at a digital device, you’re not looking at a lump of metal – you’re looking at new ways of doing business! That’s the digital message.’

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James Cryer is principal of JDA Print Recruitment. An industry veteran he welcomes feedback on any of the thoughts and suggestions in his columns. <jamesc@jdaprintrecruit.com.au>

 

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