Print is one piece of the multiplatform puzzle

In the early 1960s ‘marketing’ emerged as a newly defined business discipline. This was stimulated by post-war prosperity in countries like the USA and Australia together with an increase in competition for consumer markets. This boom in what was called ‘consumerism’ and advances in new technologies motivated companies to compete in areas outside their traditional markets.
In this environment, many traditional industries such as railroads were reluctant to adapt – exhibited what marketing pioneer Theodore Levitt referred to as “marketing myopia” in his 1962 book, Innovation in Marketing. In the case of the railroads, they failed to understand they were not in the ‘railroad’ business but were competing in the transportation market; other emerging services such as road and air were starting to compete aggressively for their share. Eventually road freight, interstate bus services and cheaper air travel captured a huge share of this rapidly growing business from the railroads.

Having been associated with the print industry for many decades, and having attended many forums and trade shows in recent years, I wonder if there is still a large measure of marketing myopia – short-sightedness – today. 

From Guttenberg to now, the print industry has focussed heavily on the technologies and skills required to operate complex pre-press and print processes in order to imprint words and images on paper. But this is only part of the wider endeavour of providing printed communication and information to people via an extraordinarily diverse range of applications: newspapers, magazines, books, catalogues, mail, posters and so on. The magic is in the created value of the communication or information to the reader.

Like the experience of the railroads in the ’60s, many of today’s electronic forms of communication, handheld devices and online services are rapidly replacing traditional printed forms of communication. Volumes are suffering declines in almost all categories, and when we look at print as a percentage of the total communications volume, it is losing share at an even more alarming rate.

But enough of the bad news. If we accept that the print business is just part of the wider, rapidly evolving communications market, it may be time to redefine your mission and vision to better embrace this new communication reality. It may be time to adapt or re-think your business model.
You might need to better understand the objectives of the client’s wider communication program and how you can add greater value.

People still love engaging with the printed form of communication but it now needs to integrate well with other forms of communication to fulfil and complete the experience. So we now need to be more involved in print content and how to provide linked online services, such as through personalised web pages, QR codes or individual barcode identification.

Consider providing a more comprehensive range of creative services (not just pre-press), with web-based skills, as well as database management and programming skills. There needs to be a much closer similarity between the design of digital print and web applications.
Embrace digital print technologies wholeheartedly. Remember a digital print file is ‘e-ready’ and can also be transmitted electronically. So embracing digital print is the best preparation for offering integrated communications capabilities.

Develop an understanding of all electronic communication and online applications and build your firm’s net­work of partners and skilled staff that can provide your business with a wider range of integrated communication services.

Finally, don’t be scared of embracing non-print capabilities as part of your business offering. There are many providers who are more than happy to partner with you to supply a more attractive complete communication service.

You are no longer a printer: you are an integrated communications provider.

Patrick O’Sullivan is a marketing consultant. He was previously general manager of marketing at Salmat

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