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EVP, Marketing at Specialty Print Communications

Against the Grain

By Dustin LeFebvre

About Dustin

A third-generation printer, Dustin LeFebvre delivers his vision for Specialty Print Communications as EVP, Marketing through strategy, planning and new product development. With a rich background ranging from sales and marketing to operations, quality control and procurement, Dustin takes a wide-angle approach to SPC


Hybrid: Lateral Thinking to Invigorate Print


Go to a Whole Foods and try to get through the parking lot without encountering a hybrid car.

I dare you.

Hybrid comes from the Latin hybrida, or cross-bred animal. It was first used around the turn of the 17th century in connection with breakthroughs in biology. The use of the word has since pushed into electrical power generation, electronics, and so much more.

Today, hybrid is understood to be the mashup of almost anything. It reflects the nature of the world today—multitasking, multipurpose, multifaceted. Mashups such as Web apps combine data and functionality from multiple sources to deliver new services. We use them every day and recognize them as GPS devices, news aggregators, and Augmented Reality. They represent new products, but not necessarily new technology.

There are very few genuinely new ideas, but the lateral application of existing concepts applied differently can lead to breakthrough innovations. In 2003, Phil Kotler, the “father” of modern marketing, along with Fernando Trias de Bes formalized this process with the release of “Lateral Marketing: New Techniques for Finding Breakthrough Ideas.” They established a framework “that offers a high chance of creating new categories or markets.”

In case you’re not a reader, Lateral Marketing focuses on leveraging existing customers to identify and satisfy additional needs, or adding functionality to existing products to generate new applications. In the latter version, new products can be derived from current products.

Have you heard of many new categories or markets developed for print lately? Truly innovative thinking may not be commonplace in our industry, but there have been a few examples.

A couple of years ago, Kodak released the Prosper S10 imaging heads. The new, 600 dpi resolution enabled high-quality reproduction of halftones and images, far beyond the reach of previous 240 dpi technology. At SPC, the new imaging heads were not an option, as a chorus of existing clients insisted on the higher resolution.

What came next at SPC, and at a number of other in-line direct mail printers, is a lateral application that resulted in a genuinely fresh and valuable combination of technologies that contribute more efficient and effective direct marketing programs for the marketers who are forward-thinking enough to take advantage of them.

Four-color hybrid imaging delivers the much-anticipated, long-awaited combination of data-driven, variable imagery on an affordable, scalable platform. It achieves this by combining the operational efficiencies and functionality of complex, in-line web printing with the variability of full-color digital printing. So, when someone asks you what kind of new thinking categories or technologies have been developed for print lately, you can answer “four-color hybrid imaging.”

For years, color inkjet has provided the buzz in our industry, and technology providers have long been working to improve quality and lower price points to yield commercially viable products. Applications such as proofing and wide-format signage were faster to come, but high-speed, high-volume applications such as direct mail have posed a more challenging hurdle.

If you’ve received an e-mail from someone at Kodak lately, you may recognize the tag line being used at the bottom of their e-mails. It asks, “Did you know we can make your offset press DIGITAL?” Kodak didn’t develop the application, but adapted their communications to printers’ innovative mashup of their technology.

Four-color hybrid imaging isn’t going to save printing, but it represents the requisite forward-thinking that will create new applications and keep print relevant as most markets shrink. During the last 40 years, print consumption per capita in real dollars has fallen by 50 percent. In order to compete with electronic media and new channels, we’re going to have to think laterally and mash things up to drive new markets and applications.

Like I said, you can’t avoid a hybrid.

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