Tuesday, 21 Apr 2015 17:15 GMT

The Print Sector

In a world that is constantly changing to keep up with the new and innovative, Joseph Harvey looks at creative processes, speciality technology, and media convergence in a burgeoning print sector

The print renaissance

The controversial and quite frankly, flagrant statement that ‘print is dead’ is one that is well-versed online, gracing the forums of the internet, exclaimed by e-book enthusiasts, and written casually in a journalist’s reflection.

Conversely, there exist many print advocators and supporters of the medium that actively work, naturally, to refute this broad and, at times, controversial statement. These advocators range from abstract creative hubs, printers, print outlets, and enthusiasts, and their message is indeed one that emphatically positions print as far from being dead.

Claiming that amateur zines and creative printmaking are resurrecting the allure we attach to print is one thing, but where do we see large scale engagement in the print medium that supports this statement? Put simply, catalogues, newspapers, and other mass-produced and consumed traditional communication mediums.

New revelations in print, however, change with every coming day and claims of a similar momentum consistently arise. For example, in the following consideration in a Harvard Business Review article titled ‘Why the Print Catalogue is Back in Style’, Lee Yohn talks of a huge resurgence in the popularity for catalogues and the personalised usage of them. She explains that catalogues’ uniquely designed templates, departments, styles, and a well-rehearsed consumer journey bolsters the success of this medium.

Progressive companies have decided to treat catalogues as more of an artistic, creative platform, moving away from your Argos-esque style of consumerist presentation, towards something quirky and of quality

Progressive companies have decided to treat catalogues as more of an artistic, creative platform, moving away from your Argosesque style of consumerist presentation, towards something quirky and of quality.
Innovations in new industrial production and print capabilities, on an industrial scale, have taken ‘the cost and complexity out of versioning’ also. Versioning is the industry term for tailoring different products to specific demographics, therefore increasing communicative power and broadening marketing appeal even further.

Lee Yohn says catalogues have had a surge of popularity

Yohn astutely explains that: “Retailers have also discovered that catalogues can be used for high quality content marketing. High-touch print pieces have proven to be excellent ways to convey a brand ethos and express a brand personality. Great brands integrate catalogues with email marketing, social media, and other tactics into a distinctive, memorable, and valuable brand experience for their customers.”

The digital age

Yohn raises two integral points to the popularity of print catalogues today. She recognises that successful mark-eters in the 21st century ensure an air and feel of quality is experienced through the material pages for one. Secondly, she understands the enormous importance of integrating new and various media channels into the consumer journey. The result is a consumer journey that has been a communicative experience, demonstrating a brand through high quality content marketing.

The power of the catalogue medium relies on re-appropriating print’s artistic aesthetics in order to produce something of quality that conveys a message; a message of brand identity and ethos. Consumers desire personalisation through tailored product choice, styles, and even design in order to deliver and identify with them on a cultural and emotional level. Progressive print techniques that employ speciality inks, paper, and examples of cross-media, like augmented reality (AR), present the winning formulas here.

However—and as a fundamental consideration to quality—quality matrials and speciality inks enhance prints appeal. Luxurious paper, inks, design, and content seem representative of the way printers and marketers are shaping the end-products we receive and the process we engage with from viewing to purchase. It seems symptomatic of the pace of our lives. Indeed some of the most cutting-edge and progressive printers are positioned in urban metropolis, in the corners or archways of gentrified cityscapes such as East London, in the UK at least.

These techniques are instrumental to the aesthetic look and feel. They are influential towards consumers purchasing patterns, especially in the context of catalogue production. Indeed one company, Restoration Hardware, believes treating their catalogues as a true art form is the key to building brand loyalty, awareness and an atmosphere associated with the company, as chairman and CEO Gary Friedman explains.

He says: “We believe what we are doing is moving beyond an intellectual connection to an emotional one. We are beginning to express those things we deeply believe in a way you can see it.” And that is exactly where the treasure chest lies for marketers and printers alike. We like to make associations, build loyalty, and communicate an affiliation with a brand that appeals to us on an emotive, practical, and aesthetic level.

Print mediates these associations and employs all other wide strands of modern media born from the 21st century convergence of media devices (e.g. smart televisions such as Samsung’s 55? HU8500 Curved Smart 3D UHD 4K LED TV and Apple’s iPhone). Both these devices—modern relics of media convergence—achieve this with spectacularly powerful brand enhancing results.

These polished techniques include UV spot varnishing, gold foiling, and embossing. But it is not only about the techniques that are employed. Now it is about the narrative of a company; its atmosphere and ethos that speaks to their consumers displayed through photography, stories, people, cultures, and, vitally, the integration of other forms of media that facilitates this. It is a use of email marketing, and connection with social media in catalogues that demonstrates this dynamic non-medium specific communication.

Ultimately the consumer is presented with multiple calls to action that appear across media channels, made seamless by links to the internet from tangible materials, for instance, a catalogue. Lee Yohn continues: “Multi-channel shopping and buying is on the rise, and retailers know that customers who use more than one of their channels are usually the most valuable. In fact, Nordstrom reports that customers who have a multi-channel relationship with the brand spend four times as much as those who do not.”

Nowadays, printers focus on luxurious quality, and the prevalence of high-value content marketing is in alignment with growing trends in high-value short-run print products adopted by print businesses. Amongst the plethora of businesses that have embraced a progressive stance, Fedrigoni can be assuredly positioned here. With its roots firmly in Italy but boasting locations all over the world, London seems to be leading the company’s innovation.

This imaginative paper company’s site states its ‘imaginative paper studio’ is placed in a ‘trendy Clerkenwell’ surrounding. Fedrigoni makes paper types that are experimental in different weights and specifications, which can provide solutions for a wide variety of commercial and industrial applications. Clearly this progressive stance has links to the city, to the metropolis, where things are perpetually challenged and re-defined; the city is a catalyst for progression and innovation.

Diversification in print

Amongst a digital age of mass communication in the 21st century, and in 2015, printers have diversified. This means a move away from mass production, volume work, into running lines in smaller batches. Smaller batches and an enhanced, conscious effort towards better quality do carry with them a much higher prospective revenue, ensuring a positive cash flow that changes to avoid an over-compensated warehouse.

The current trend for smaller batches and short-run production moves away from large batches of mass-produced products

Regardless of the allure I and others attach to print there is one thing for certain. Media is converging, and media convergence dictates consumer tastes and expenditure, and the path consumers take to reach the purchase stage.

Companies like Antalis Creative use creative, coated, or offset printing paper, graphical board, or self-adhesives, and offer progressive speciality paper grades that present firms with a wide range of creative print finishing solutions. These, crucially, add value. Antalis’s website states that it enjoys and embraces innovation in the marketplace and its speciality paper grades change as a result; a mission statement that is far-reaching in its ambition.

Companies like this supply the material, whereas companies such as Imprint Digital pioneer high-quality progressive short-run printing. Its services highlight the disadvantage of some low-resolution printing methods. Imprint uses the latest sheet-fed presses to avoid the problems that are presented by low-resolution digital web books. Often poor-quality half-tones and over-dark text can be a problem. This company boasts digital presses that are designed, and tuned, to cleverly emulate litho, which achieves exceptional halftones by using the latest generation of emulsion aggregate (EA) toners.

So a trend towards short-run, high-value print products can be seen everywhere, from coffee table books to hardbacks

So a trend towards short-run, high-value print products can be seen everywhere, from coffee table books to hardbacks. These changes are material, as by using speciality inks and printing process to achieve a luxurious finish, the result is a meaningful product that has longevity. Additionally, and as a complimentary process, printers are now experimenting with substrates and speciality paper grades that present all new creative opportunities. However these are still material changes.

So how do printers engage with media convergence, how can a physical medium be connected to the digital world, and how do businesses use innovative solutions to ignite people’s imaginations?

As stated previously, companies must be dynamic to retain a status on par with seemingly ubiquitous digital new-media. One modern application is the introduction of print that—coupled with digital devices—augments reality. With companies like Augmented giving consumers the use of an app that can negotiate the surroundings and read print packaging to provide extra information and even see what something may look like in the home, or its actual size in your hand.

Interconnectivity amongst all areas of life is becoming increasingly more pervasive in developed economies of the global cities. Everything is connected to the other and ‘the internet of things’ is a term that attempts to theorise this inter-connection. Augmented print brings the material medium into its place in the digital world. It shows that media must converge and communicate in order to retain popularity and influence. But how does AR add value?

As recorded in In-Globe Technologies’ white paper, Augmented Reality and the Future of Printing and Publishing, the huge growth in smart phone usage justifies the rolling-out of AR enabled published print material and print packaging. The paper says that augmented reality adds significant value, “…both culturally and commercially to paper-based publishing products, without the need to completely replace them.”

Augmented reality is the future of print: the ability to get extra information out of packaging using technology and interact with media is one modern application that is changing print

The white paper cites massive growth in smart-phone usage to be a huge factor in the growing innovation into augmented reality usage in digital printing and publishing.

With the internet of things dictating mobile units that print in 3D, there is a whole new dimension and possibilities to add to this changing face of the print medium. It is valid also to suggest 3D printing may not even resemble anything that its lesser dimensioned cousin (2D printing) displays today.

Multi-channel engagement

As the market grows and changes in the face of pervasive new media and our rapacious media consumption grows, printers must diversify to engage with a new market. They must adopt new strategies like augmented reality in print, scanable bar codes, and ensure multi-channel engagement through print and apply them to a seemingly antiquated medium.

As the market grows and changes in the face of pervasive new media and our rapacious media consumption grows, printers must diversify to engage with a new market

If and when these advances are honoured in print products then print businesses will see huge success in their engagement and demand from a younger social media literate demo-graphic. So too will companies generally. If they adopt these new media strategies and ensure that they are installed on the right products, interest in their brand can only be enhanced.

Augmented reality is the future of print: the ability to get extra information out of packaging using technology and interact with media is one modern application that is changing print

In relation to other media, print is relatively antiquated and therefore businesses implicated in this digital change must be prepared to be dynamic, progressive, and find ways to integrate new media into their print products.

Just as the printers that are designing and producing these multi-channel engagements onto their products, the benefits a company will feel are far-reaching. Not only positioning your print business product or packaging in a modern progressive light, but ultimately leading to more business conversions as huge swathes of untapped markets are suddenly at your digital disposal.

Joseph Harvey writes on behalf of Instant Print W1. For more information visit www.ipw1.co.uk

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