Printing in an Accelerating Information Age

Marketing guru Regis McKenna predicts that a marketer's job description will change from one of building brand awareness to one of statistician, crunching numbers minute-by-minute to stay on top of customers' buying patterns and changing attitudes. While we shouldn't expect the transformation to happen overnight—although it should be noted that Wal-Mart already updates its database every 90 minutes—marketers, designers, ad agency professionals, and the printers who serve them, should consider the implications.

A changing landscape. The trend toward an ever-increasing abundance of information, delivered faster via a growing array of electronic media, is undeniable. For years now, print runs have gotten progressively shorter as marketers seek to reduce warehousing costs and outdated inventories. The advent of the Internet has provided marketers with a faster means of communicating with customers. And smaller computing chips with greater processing power are enabling everyone, not just scientists breaking the genetic code, to process and distribute information in nano-time.

Of course, the big question yet to be answered is the consumer's acceptance of the onslaught of all this electronic information. If current anti-spam and Do-Not-Call initiatives are any indication, we may be witnessing the first stage of a consumer revolt that will seriously curtail e-marketing's future. However, permission-based e-marketing should thrive in this environment, as long as marketers respect the customer's privacy and preferences.

Changing expectations. Perhaps the most critical factor in this new age of marketing is the "faster, cheaper" consumer expectation that's emerged along with advancing technologies. This mentality creates a continuous price-versus-value cycle between buyer and seller, with the seller bringing value by adding more functional benefits to products and services, such as providing software that automatically computes response rates. The "faster, cheaper" phenomenon also forces all parties involved in the sale of a product or service, including supply chain partners, to become more efficient in order to turn a profit.

Another big change in the new marketing environment will be customers' increasing fickleness, as a continual flow of new information about products and services reaches them. Brand loyalty will become a thing of the past; consumers will make purchasing decisions based on perceived value and on the spur of the moment. McKenna labels it "the age of the never satisfied customer."

This is not to say that marketers cannot gain market share and customer loyalty. As I discussed in a previous column, purchases are often made for emotional reasons, not just price. For instance, some customers will choose to do business with a printer because of its commitment to protecting the environment. One print buyer may stay with a provider based on the "peace of mind" of knowing the rep will take care of everything, whereas another likes doing business with a printer who has a gleaming high-tech facility because they like the feeling of being on the "cutting edge."

Marketers will gain efficiencies by employing technologies that enable their messages to become more personalized and targeted. The rising popularity of digital printing is one such technology. In just a few years, digital presses have dramatically improved in speed and quality, as well as in their ability to handle an increasingly high volume and more complex data load for greater personalization.

Printer as information router. Despite these advancements, however, a printed message—with the USPS as the delivery mechanism—will always take longer to reach consumers than one that's distributed electronically. This is one reason print industry analysts have been encouraging print providers to reposition themselves as communications businesses, not just ink-on-paper manufacturers. Printers who take on this challenge will redefine themselves as information managers, publishing marketing messages across a full range of marketing media, from print to the Internet, wireless devices, digital billboards, etc.

While the printed product will remain with us for many years to come, it will gradually lose share in the marketing mix to electronic media. I predict, though, that the aesthetic value of the printed piece will grow exponentially as we become increasingly bombarded by cyber data. Perhaps then, fine printing will again get the recognition (and margins) it deserves.

Charlotte Mills Seligman is president of Traversant Marketing Communications. The firm specializes in planning and executing integrated marketing programs for printing and allied graphic arts companies, with nearly two decades of expertise in the industry. Previous columns and issues of the company's Ti Monthly e-newsletter are posted on Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte

© 2003 Charlotte Mills Seligman

May 20, 2003
Print & Graphics
Column #50, 5/10
Printing Journal
Column #50, 5/10
Future of Printing in Information Age
By Charlotte Mills Seligman

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