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Commentary & Analysis

Whose Job Is It to Create Demand for Print?

What do you think the role of the printing industry and printers, specifically, ought to be in demand generation for print? Do printers even have a responsibility to work together to generate demand for their own product?

By Heidi Tolliver-Walker
Published: July 3, 2018

The concept of demand generation for print is something I’ve been interested in lately, so I enjoyed reading Deborah Corn’s Print Media Centr article “3 Takeaways from HOW Design Live to Help You Connect with Print Customers.”

The first two points related to how printers interact with the creative community. But it was takeaway #3 that caught my eye—the lack of representation from printers or press manufacturers at the show.

HOW is one of the premier shows for creative professionals. This makes it a perfect opportunity for printers to help creatives see how print fits into today’s media mix. Yet, Corn pointed out, print representation was nominal. Few printers and no press vendors at all.

But it’s a creative conference, some might argue, not a print conference. It’s not about print. Why should printers be there? This is exactly the kind of the thinking that doesn’t generate demand. I’m not talking about demand for a printer’s products and services as compared to someone else’s. I’m talking about demand for print in the first place.

Thinking about this issue, I went onto the website of Graphic Design USA. There were plenty of ads from the printing industry: an ad for Print 18, for an online printing service, and ads for various kinds of paper. But those ads only work if the audience sees value in print in the first place. Otherwise, readers just glaze over them and focus on the ads they see as relevant. So how do we get creatives to see print as relevant?

I think about the white paper from Compu-Mail that I wrote about in a previous article. The white paper was distributed through Target Marketing and demonstrated the importance of direct mail in generating website traffic. I think about television ads from the Paper & Packaging Board with the little boy using paper airplanes tossed into his neighbor’s yard to communicate with his father deployed overseas (and responded to with a physical box, much to the boy’s delight). I think of what Two Sides is doing to promote paper as a renewable resource and combat greenwashing.

These are among the few companies and organizations actively trying to create demand for print. But is it enough?

Do printers play (or should they play) a role in participating in the effort to generate awareness and demand for print? Do they have a responsibility not only to differentiate themselves from the competition but to work with the competition to generate a demand for the product they all sell? If so, what is it?

I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Heidi Tolliver-Walker Heidi is an industry analyst specializing in digital, one-to-one, personalized URL, and Web-to-print applications. Her Marketer’s Primer Series, availalbe through Digital Printing Reports, includes “Digital Printing: Transforming Business and Marketing Models,” 1:1 (Personalized) Printing: Boosting Profits Through Relevance,” “Personalized URLs: Beyond the Hype,” and “Web-to-Print: Transforming Document Management and Marketing.”



By John Cole on Jul 03, 2018

Heidi -

Could not agree more.

When Agfa launched digital all those many years ago, we focused equally on the end user and the printer. Since then, little attention has been paid to the end user by any of the OEM's.

Can you imagine car manufacturers only telling the dealer about new models and never marketing to the consumer?

Print, as part of an integrated campaign, is the most powerful tool in a marketer's quiver, they don't know that, because nobody told them.


By Jon Kenney on Jul 03, 2018

Great topic! Historically, print was a need as it was one of only a few means of targeted communication with the marketplace. As a need, demand generation for print wasn't necessary. Printers needed to only demonstrate the value of their service, not the product itself. Steady and loyal business just flowed in as long as the printer maintained and enhanced that value. That changed over the last 25 years and at an exponential pace since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. Today communication to a targeted audience can take a myriad of forms so print must compete for a slice of the communications pie. All of us who earn our living by communicating on paper must play the role of evangelist and remind those who sell and create of not only the value of our service but of prints value as well.


By Wally Barr on Jul 03, 2018

It is up to printers to create demand. It is a segment of marketing. It used to be the most cost effective way prior to digital. The key is setting up some sort of network. Traditionally printers try new things and want every thing to take place in house. Printers get new content everyday. Yet they only put that content on paper or other media. They don't use the content on all avenues. This is also a big reason why top level talent is not attracted to the industry. It is no longer the "inner circle." Like most industries you can help every single inquiry. You just cant do it all in house. Referrals and partnerships must be created as each has a specialty. The demand is there but because of other marketing choices the segment is shrinking. They also have to change pricing model as large runs are rare.


By Stan Tan on Jul 06, 2018

As someone who is new to the industry, print people in general who have been in the industry don't know how to sell and market themselves.

They have businesses coming to them for a long time that they forget what it is like to serve the customer.

They have the mindset of "Take it or leave it because I have another client I am printing for."

They think their machines will help them sell but everyone now has a machine of their own.


By Heidi Tolliver-Walker on Jul 06, 2018

Thanks for your comment, Stan. I would be interested to hear more about your experiences. Can you give specific examples of poor customer service (no names, please)? That would be very helpful, I think.


By Stan Tan on Jul 08, 2018

I wouldn't say it is poor customer service. I see it more towards the speed of adaptability of traditional printing companies.

From how I see it, the printing companies are getting destroyed not because of other printing companies (this plays a part too) but by their range of their services.

Back in the day, print was the only way businesses could market themselves. Today, businesses have a wide range of marketing channels that are open to them (Google, Facebook, Email, Cinemas, Bus Stops, etc.).

Looking at it from a marketing manager's point of view, print is an expense that is bought because the company has been buying them for so many years.

The marketing manager isn't going to allocate more of their marketing budget to print because that isn't going to lead to their next promo or bonus. But digital marketing channels such as Google and Facebook can. They can go to their boss and say "Because of our $100,000 spend on Facebook, we generated 12,000,000 impressions which led to 8,700 new clients."

"We spent $10,000 on 100x 200gsm fabric banners and everything was delivered on-time to all our retail stores.". Good luck getting your next promo with a fabric banner.

With that said, only a handful of traditional printers see this. They put the reasoning of declining sales and margins to competitors' lower prices or more jobs getting outsourced to China.

But in reality, the ones who are killing them are themselves. The golden age of printing has come to an end. The barriers to entry are getting lower. Machines are getting cheaper, easier to use and more automated. eCommerce giants like Vistaprint and Pixart printing are eating up the bottom half of the market. Digital signage is right around the corner and their costs are dropping fast. Print managers and agencies are there to offer a wider range of services as well as printing capabilities.

So with all those roadblocks in the way, how are traditional printers going to market themselves? What are the traditional printers going to do to adapt?


By Heidi Tolliver-Walker on Jul 09, 2018

Thanks for such a thoughtful response! While digital responses may be easier to capture, it's not that these responses cannot be captured in print. Rather than just write print off as a dying process, why not emphasize using tracking in print instead? The addition of mechanisms such as personalized barcodes, campaign-specific landing pages and phone numbers, and so on?


By Stan Tan on Jul 09, 2018

Print will still continue to live on. As of today, I haven't found any good and accurate tracking system for print.

So looking from the marketing manager's point of view, they wouldn't go out of their way to allocate more budget into print based on the examples from my response above.

Regardless, it is not the industry that is killing the traditional printing companies. It is the speed to adapt.

Are the printers going to market themselves based on the materials they sell, the machines they have, etc.? Or are they going to start marketing solutions to their clients?

If you look at all the traditional printing websites, the former is what they are marketing not the latter.


By Maeghan Nicholson on Jul 12, 2018

We believe in interacting with our local creative community and generating demand for print from them. So much so that we are having a creative poster design contest for them this summer (https://www.suttle-straus.com/creative-throwdown) and hosting our own paper show event this fall. https://www.suttle-straus.com/papershow

Additionally, I'd note that schools have cut back printing programs and classes that not only do we now have to drum up demand for this product from designers, eventually we're going to have to educate them how to create it as well.


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