Coloring Outside the Lines
When the word “omnichannel” is used in the print industry, nine times out of 10, it is referring to the marketing, direct mail, and/or transpromo side of the business. The omnichannel approach to branding, however, is spreading to encompass every printed component, which means wide-format printers can no longer afford to ignore the concept or fail to find ways to integrate it into their own business models.
Before going into how the omnichannel mentality is impacting the wide-format space — and how it will continue to do so — it is worth defining. In this context, it means that brands are no longer looking to have their marketing splintered and fractured across platforms and segments. The direct mail needs to match the mobile app, which needs to match the banners and posters, which needs to match the billboards and bus wraps. Everything from the color matching to the messaging has to be cohesive, which is challenging enough when considering the vast numbers of media — substrates, inks, screens — involved, nevermind trying to coordinate it through multiple specialists.
In the past, that coordination was a given. A brand or agency would have a direct mail printer for the smaller items, a wide-format printer to handle the larger prints and, likely, components such as vehicle wraps if they were needed; and then a digital house to design and implement the app. Perhaps even a web staff charged with designing and maintaining the online presence.
Today, however, brands are looking to have fewer touchpoints with fewer experts — they want one shop that can offer it all. The omnichannel approach to branding is, in fact, a major driving factor of the convergence of the print world as shops stretch themselves outside of their traditional boxes in order to serve the specific messaging channels their particular client list prefers.
“It is interesting, what is going on,” says Jacki Hudmon, VP of sales & marketing, Komori America. “There is convergence going on, whether [printers] recognize it or not. The shops taking advantage of it will be the winners. People who do a lot of wide-format are calling on brand owners and marketing people to get their messages out, and now saying ‘oh by the way, while I’m there I can do those brochures, or direct mail, as well.’ They are taking a different approach to selling their product and realizing they can sell an entire portfolio of goods.”
Taking the concept of omnichannel and putting it into practice in a traditionally wide-format environment won’t look the same for every shop. Omnichannel encompasses marketing communications in every shape and form, and each shop will need to spend the time getting to know their specific clients’ needs to know which additional services will be the best fit — and the most profitable.
For 35-year-old, Wisconsin-based Color Ink, the transition began 20 years ago, when the shop began to focus on serving several specific vertical markets rather than providing general print products. At that time, notes Todd Meissner, president — whose father first started the business — in-store retail signage and direct mail were the additional services that helped propel the company forward. Ten years later, he says, they began expanding further, into areas such as folding cartons and merchandising displays.
“The greatest [vertical] for us,” Meissner says, “are retail clients who, in addition to providing them in-store graphics and signage, also have us produce their loyalty marketing materials. We do direct mail with coupon offers, or offers specific to repeat customers, for example. Those have to be cohesive — the in-store materials have to match with the direct mail piece. They all have to tie together.”
He notes that in situations like that, it’s not just the messaging that has to be consistent, but the graphical elements all need to look like they came from the same place. He uses an offset press as well as two cut-sheet inkjet devices, but for wide-format work, he relies on an Inca Q40i Onset, Inca SpyderX, and Agfa Jeti Mira LED.
StickerYou, based in Toronto, came at the business from a completely different place. The shop started as an online-only business selling wide-format, diecut stickers before eventually expanding its offerings.
Andrew Witkin, founder and CEO of StickerYou, notes that for him, moving into the omnichannel world came about because his online business was changing, in his mind, the way that consumers and businesses alike purchased print. He started his business in 2010, and felt that giving people a better, faster way to communicate their messages, regardless of the platform, was a step in the right direction.
“Those traditional ways of looking at things started to blur,” Witkin says. “It became less about the [printed product], and more about the entire customer experience. We say ‘when and how does a customer need it… ” and then determine how you can serve them.”
For Witkin, the journey has taken him from an online-only operation to a retail store, which opened this past summer, serving a niche in the marketing space that he felt was underserved. It allows him, he notes, to serve both those who want to create their marketing messages and place their orders at all times of the day or night, 24/7, as well as those who still want to have that personal, in-person experience. For him, going omnichannel has meant adding additional services, such as vinyl floor decals and labels, but it also means expanding the way he, himself, messages to his own customer base.
A Brave New World
Given how broad the definition of omnichannel can be beyond an admonishment that everyone should be thinking about it, where should the average wide-format printer start?
Dan Johansen, Ricoh’s marketing manager, commercial printing business, says, “It starts with having detailed discussions with your customers.” He notes that, today, most wide-format printers simply have too narrow of a focus, taking the print orders as they come in, doing the work, then sending the invoice. “But it’s the opportunistic business that sits down and says ‘What else are you doing? How else do you communicate this message?’”
For brands, Johansen says, the messaging is “precious cargo” that the wide-format printer is being entrusted with. “They care about things like color and message integrity,” he says. “So, it starts with asking how else are they communicating that message, and how can you help. And then once you start working with those assets, you can identify how to better use them.”
For example, Johansen suggests that a wide-format printer might be doing a client’s signs and banners, but should find out who is producing their business cards. He notes that while that might seem simple, too many aren’t recognizing or capitalizing on the broader opportunity, which is where true omnichannel operations start.
Komori’s Hudmon notes that another path wide-format printers can consider to quickly ramp up omnichannel capabilities is acquisitions. She says she came across one visual communications company that had actually purchased a small commercial printer, then folded that litho offset business into one that provided a wide range of marketing vehicles.
The key, she says, echoing Johansen’s advice, is to start in the shop. “Delve deeper into your customer base. Try to expand the business — it really is a different model of selling that printers are not accustomed to. It’s going in a different door — the marketing or CMO door is a lot more successful [than the print buyer.] You can provide them with a lot of viable products that help them generate more revenue for their products, increase their response rates, etc.”
The reality is that today, most brands aren’t interested, necessarily, in a specific marketing vehicle. They aren’t starting by deciding they want to do a postcard or create an immersive retail experience. Rather, the starting point is the message itself, and then trying to find the best methodologies for ensuring it reaches the right end-users, at the right time, in the right place. This is where a wide-format printer who has transitioned into an omnichannel visual communications company can shine. Rather than selling print, it becomes about selling the results, and print is just one of the tools used to get there — but the printer remains the pivotal person in designing and executing that vision.
As the back half of 2019 continues to roll forward, and the fall trade show season begins to pick up, start thinking about the current client list, the types of products they need, and start asking questions about what other types of channels they use to convey their messaging. Use events such as PRINTING United to kick the proverbial tires on a wide range of services and technologies, any of which can be the missing element that allows a business to transform into a profitable omnichannel operation.