And while the changes may be significant, print companies and retail marketers have the tools, knowledge, and people to create innovative solutions that demonstrate a thorough understanding of a client or brand’s needs while delivering an enhanced retail experience.
As we move through 2018, there are a few key trends that will influence the way brand marketing and high-end commercial print companies do business.
Digital vs. lithographic
Digital printing was once a niche within the print industry. While it offered convenience and opportunities for easy customization, traditional lithographic printing still presented significant advantages in both print quality and cost for large jobs.
This is changing as high-end digital printing continues to close that quality gap. Smaller-format presses like the INCA X3 are producing quality that only a trained eye can distinguish from lithographic. And from a viewing distance of a few feet, work created on best-in-class, high-speed, wide-format digital machines stands toe to toe with the best lithographic work. Digital may never fully match the quality of lithographic, nor offer the same large-run cost benefits, but there is no question it is becoming a much more significant part of our industry. Consumers have come to expect that advertising, signage, and point-of-purchase displays relate on an almost individual basis, and that desire for customization and for creating a connection with customers will continue to drive the demand for digital.
The key, then, is to understand how to get the best from each technology, and to be thoughtful about how we apply them. Digital technology will become increasingly important as clients look for shorter runs and higher turnover in artwork. Meanwhile, lithographic presses will continue to offer greater flexibility when it comes to matching custom colors and using specialty varnishes and coatings.
Digital and lithographic presses seem likely to co-exist for the foreseeable future, as each has its benefits and its ideal applications. But in order to succeed, print and retail marketing firms will need to distinguish between these and match the right machine to the right job.
The rise of hybrid technology
Even better than finding a balance between digital and lithographic is not having to choose at all.
Hybrid presses combine the best of both digital and lithographic, offering the quality and large-job efficiency of lithographic printing with the short-run flexibility and easy customizability of digital. That capability opens the door to the efficient production of a wider variety of SKUs, and more focus on regional labels. The ability to print multiple screens and foils within the scope of multiple SKUs and variable data will set brands apart. Print and marketing partners committed to providing this high level of customization will be more valuable than ever.
While hybrid presses have opened the doors to exciting new possibilities, the technology is still in its infancy. Demand will continue to grow as clients come to understand what is possible with a hybrid press, and as the output or end products continue to evolve. The growing need for shorter runs and lower costs will drive growth in digital print, but highly decorative labels will still need some of the additional features that can only be found in more traditional press technology.
The growth of hybrid presses may also change the way packaging is designed. Marketers will have more cost-effective tools available to leverage the benefits of digital while creating or maintaining a high-end feel for their packaging.
Choosing sustainable packaging materials is another way to influence consumer engagement with a product. Whether your brand goal is to make your package pop off the shelves or you want to demonstrate that your brand is focused on protecting the environment, sustainable packaging helps a tell a specific story.
Kona stock is one packaging material that accomplishes these goals. Made from recycled coffee bags, Kona stock is friendly to the environment. It also has a unique texture and a premium feel. The stock can be tricky to work with, but for skilled printers the results can be worth the effort.
While sustainable materials are often more expensive than traditional options, they can make a significant difference in the finished product. It’s important, then, to be prepared to have the right options available so you can match the right client to the right material.
Color consistency and management
Companies put a lot of work into developing a brand, so it’s vital that printed materials are consistent. This makes color consistency a requirement, and G7 color management qualification is the best guarantee a print solutions partner can offer.
The G7 certification standard was introduced in 2006 and has grown in popularity because it offers a simple way for printers to ensure jobs print consistently between devices and presses. By putting an emphasis on matching grayscale colorimetric measurements between processes, it provides a solid foundation from which to control the numerous variables between the planning stage and the printed piece. This ultimately helps guarantee a consistent product.
Employee engagement driven by brand strategy
While technology is important, even the best presses will fall short without skilled people to operate them or to work with clients on strategy and design. Employees need the skills to work effectively, but they also need to be engaged in their work and believe in your company’s brand promise.
Think engagement doesn’t affect your bottom line? Consider the Gallup poll that showed only 32 percent of employees in the United States are engaged in their work. And those disengaged employees cost companies between $450 and $550 billion in lost productivity each year.
If employees are committed to their work and your promise to customers, they are more likely to consistently produce the level of results clients demand and deserve. To support this, employers need to offer opportunities for professional development and open doors to a new generation of print industry professionals.
Engaging employees doesn’t have to be complicated. At Meyers, monthly newsletters and quarterly meetings keep people informed about what’s happening in the company. Small events like food truck days or impromptu “fun breaks” provide some levity during the work day and encourage social interaction among employees. Meanwhile, hosting blood drives, packing supplies or winter clothing for local schools, along with other volunteer opportunities make it easy for employees to give back to the community, which is a primary focus for millennial employees.
Opportunities outweigh challenges
There are challenges ahead, but that has always been the case. The world of print and retail marketing has been evolving since the advent of movable type, and the industry has always found a way to adapt. When we focus on the opportunities these changes present, the outlook is significantly better.
From exciting new technologies, to innovative tools, to the people who come to work inspired every day, the stage is set for creating innovative solutions that help consumer brands and retailers navigate their own shifting landscapes. The future is indeed bright.
About the author: Micheal Lane is CEO of Meyers, a national leader in brand marketing and high-end commercial printing located in Minneapolis. He can be reached at email@example.com.