Print Marketing Isn’t Dead! Long Live Print! (Part 2 of 2)
In our previous post, we talked about some of the reasons that print marketing is still very much alive and growing again in popularity. In this post, let’s take a look at some of the print technologies that many printers can offer. A lot has changed in recent years, making print more affordable and effective than ever for businesses ranging from start-up entrepreneurs to big corporations.
New Print Technologies and Services
Print technologies have evolved dramatically in the past couple decades, something that has turned many old myths about print on their head. It has become faster, more economical, and far more versatile, making it an amazing and powerful tool for marketing. Many considered the elimination of film 20 years ago to be a revolution in the print world. New advances in print technologies continue to make offset printing more efficient and cost-effective. But there is so much more!
Digital printing presses
It used to be that if you were a small business needing only a few copies of a piece, let’s say for a print marketing initiative, color printing could be very expensive. Digital printing technology has changed all that.
Early digital presses were often little more than glorified photocopiers, with poor print quality and flat colors (if color at all). There were limitations on the types of paper you could use with them, especially compared to a traditional offset printing press. In addition, the cost was fairly high, often making it worth spending a little extra to get a larger quantity with better quality using offset printing.
Today’s digital presses can generate vibrant colors comparable to those of an offset press. They can handle a wide variety of paper types and sizes, including heavier glossy stock that used to be off-limits for older style digital printers. And many now can add special finishes like protective coatings, metallic inks, or spot varnishes to make certain areas of a page pop visually.
Cost has also come down dramatically! It is now possible for a small company with a limited budget to print a very nice color poster, brochure or catalog in smaller quantities that would have once been very pricey.
New surface printing technologies
A big change in printing technologies enables cost-effective printing on a much wider range of surfaces, and in sizes that were virtually impossible not so long ago.
Modern flat-bed printers allow the printing of vivid images and text on surfaces such as fabric, wood, plastic, stone, as well as traditional materials like paper and cardboard. This used to be the domain of silk-screening or very expensive specialty equipment. Imagine creating customized promotional items that really stand out – not just the traditional pens, plastic keychains, etc. Or creating custom signage or surfaces in an office space, by printing directly onto stone, bricks, or wood surfaces.
Another aspect of new printing technologies impacts the coatings and effects that can be achieved. New spot materials and coatings make it possible to create 3-dimensional, textured surfaces on regular paper. Imagine an image of a beer bottle where you can see the water drops running down the side. Now imagine that those drops are really 3D, and stand out from the paper. Or a surface that feels like fur, or leather, or rubber…
These new print techniques allow a unique tactile experience that was almost unheard of before. They may be more expensive than standard printing techniques, but they create pieces that stand out from a crowd and ensure people remember your business!
I remember when getting banners for a trade show required either simple graphics with very limited colors that could be cut from vinyl, or costly printing that required weeks of advance notice and a big budget. Today, that same project could be turned within a day or two, for under $150, with photo quality graphics.
Creating large custom images for walls or windows used to be extremely expensive, and it was often cheaper to have an artist come in and paint them, rather than having them printed. Now, it’s possible to get high-quality graphics printed on durable materials for temporary or permanent use, solid or transparent, in previously unimaginable sizes. And all of this can be done at a reasonable cost, making customized décor or attention-grabbing retail signage a real option for smaller businesses.
In addition, new laser cutting technologies make it possible to cut out complex shapes from a wide range of materials at low cost compared to traditional die-cutting or cutting by hand. Creating a custom die for trimming out a piece is extremely expensive, meaning that you need a large volume to offset the initial cost.
If you only needed a one-off or very limited number of prints, hand-cutting was the only option – something that is labor-intensive and costly, as well. Laser cutting offers precision, speed, and is an awesome solution for low-volume pieces, especially large print projects like wall or window graphics.
Data management and merging
Another aspect of digital printing and the technology behind it is that it has become much easier to print customized documents. You may remember receiving mailers in the past that were customized to include your name or other personal details into the ad or a storyline, and it was often obvious which parts were added “after the fact” to customize it.
Now, it’s possible to merge data into documents much more easily, to create a unique experience for clients. A perfect example of this was a custom calendar produced by a printer I have worked with for many years. Every month featured a different image, and my name was a part of the image, appearing in the flames of a campfire, or the flowers in a meadow, for example. A coworker received a similar calendar featuring her name. 20 years ago, creating something like that would have been almost impossible without great expense.
Think about how this technology could be used to create unique, custom experiences for your customers? We talk about the importance of segmenting our target audiences, yet often send them the same mass mailer or email. Why not make it personal?
Which brings me to another big shift in the industry…
Not so long ago, you would have a document printed and either brought to your location to store and distribute. Or you would send it to a separate location that would then unpack and mail it out to all of your target recipients. This meant a lot of extra handling, possibly working with many locations. And if you were sending out everything yourself, it required a lot of manual labor and time. Imagine printing a quarterly newsletter, then addressing it by hand and sending it to all 5,000 people on your customer list? Even if you don’t need to fold it, put it in an envelope or put a sticky seal tab on it – no matter what, it’s a time-consuming, labor-intensive effort.
Many larger printers now offer fulfillment services. Using automated equipment to prepare, address, and apply postage to printed pieces, they can complete this process far more quickly, and at lower cost, than could be done internally for most businesses.
In addition, many printers are able to handle ongoing fulfillment needs. For example, if you have a printed catalog that customers can request through your website, the printer maintains a quantity of the catalogs in their warehouse, and when that request comes in, they automatically pull and ship the catalog to the customer.
With many of these fulfillment services, they can also support far more than just printed pieces. Some may handle promotional items, or even mail-order or replacement parts, taking advantage of high-volume capacity to provide services at a cost that most smaller companies can’t touch internally.
Print on demand
Another growing trend that merges several of the new print technologies is “print on demand”. If you have a product that you build in high volume, perhaps 100,000 a month, it makes sense to print at least 2-3 months’ worth of materials at a time. But what if you only build 100 a year?
Is it cost effective to print 1,000 or more copies of a document and store them until you use them all? They take up space, and odds are good that the document will be obsolete (and maybe even dusty and faded) long before you use up your supply. Plus how much are you paying for your space? Is storing a document you barely use cost effective?
With new digital printing abilities, it’s possible to print those same documents essentially as needed. No, I don’t mean at the photocopier in the front office. Printers can use digital printing tools to store your print-ready files. They then print and ship documents in quantities designed to meet immediate needs. And they can do this at a net cost that is typically much less than printing a multi-year supply and storing it somewhere!
To make your print-on-demand message even more powerful, you can add personalization. We mentioned data management and merging earlier. New digital print technologies make it possible to individually address each piece, or add agent/salesperson information on brochures. You can even include custom relevant images based on the age range or geographic location of recipients.
Print marketing is far from dead, in fact it’s making a resurgence. New print technologies, cost-effective services, and exciting effects bring fresh life to an industry that many expected to fade into irrelevance in our digital age. Whether you’re just starting a new business, or you have an established company, it’s worth taking a fresh look at what is possible with today’s printing capabilities.