'Data Everywhere' is Presented as Both Challenge and Opportunity at Inkjet Summit
In an opening keynote on April 8 at the seventh annual Inkjet Summit, conference chair Marco Boer predicted that soon, data preparation would claim a greater share of labor and value in print production than all the other steps in the process. The following day, a panel discussion titled, "Data Everywhere ... How Do I Get in the Game?" suggested that the forecast may be coming true even sooner than expected.
Moderator Elizabeth Gooding (Inkjet Insights) affirmed that data is indeed everywhere and that its applications aren't limited to transactional print. It is being embedded in print of many different types to enhance security, for example, or to trigger omnichannel experiences when people scan printed codes.
The challenge for printers is to locate and acquire the data they need and turn it into the kinds of result-getting printed products their customers want. The difficulty there, noted panelist Ron Jacobs, president of the marketing agency Jacobs & Clevenger, is that customers are the sources of that data – and that they themselves often don't know what they have or where to put their hands on it.
He offered the audience a refresher in the basics of data classification: first-party data, collected and stored by an organization; second-party, referring to data collected and shared by a partner; and third-party, purchased from another source. He also drew a distinction between "big" and "small" data, pointing out that the latter (for example, demographic and credit information) is organized and searchable while the former (such as purchasing intent and behavioral traits) is harder to search and extract value from.
Big data, according to Jacobs, is the raw material of artificial intelligence (AI) and other new tools that marketers are eager to employ. But, he said that despite the "big breakthroughs" they are all searching for, "most clients aren't doing small data well enough to move into big data." What's more, their approach to storing data can be chaotic, as in the case of the client that was found to be storing its information in 40 separate "electronic shoeboxes."
Jacobs said that when his agency works with print service providers, "we want to make it easy for the printer to understand what we're trying to do" with variable text and images and other data-dependent elements of multi-channel marketing campaigns. Expected in return is guidance in striking the right balance of quality, price and timeliness for the agency's customers.
"You don't have to be data scientists, but you do need to understand data science," Jacobs counseled printers wishing to do business with marketing data experts like Jacobs & Clevenger.
John Gaspari, VP of manufacturing at Specialty Print Communications, talked about how printers can rise to the challenge of providing service to customers who are serious about controlling the uses made of their data. "Strong data knowledge will win you customers and will retain your customers," he said, noting that many Specialty Print Communications customers ask about the company's data management expertise before proceeding to anything else.
He added that everything is customized in the kinds of commercial and direct-mail printing the company does for clients in the retail, insurance, health care, travel and leisure, automotive and hospitality markets. Six digital presses – four inkjet, two toner – are at work in the digital division that the company launched 14 months ago.
Gaspari pointed out that as an inkjet printer, the company has had to become adept at color management on inkjet-receptive as well as non-inkjet-receptive stocks. Although "customers used to be OK with giving up quality for variability," he said, they now insist on having their color managed as carefully as their data. Color management, he added, is a major component of press uptime in that it keeps machines from being stopped due to reproduction errors.
Gaspari called workflow "the key to everything" in data-driven production and emphasized the need for standardized procedures to onboard projects after the sale is closed. Production data culled from workflow makes it possible to know "how many pixels or droplets of ink we're going to use ahead of time," an insight that may suggest ways to reduce ink consumption while still meeting the customer's quality requirements
Something else Specialty Print Communications believes in is equipment redundancy. "Almost like Noah's Ark, have twos," he recommended, explaining that clients don't like to think that a shop's only press is going to be responsible for producing all of their work. The sight of a second device reassures them that their jobs won't be interrupted should anything happen to the first one.