- Every industry will face the inevitability of change. You have two choices—you can fall victim to the changes that are in store, or you can use them to your advantage as you plot your course toward a reshaped future.
- Ongoing research from Keypoint Intelligence suggests that office print will never return to pre-pandemic levels, and I wholeheartedly agree with these findings.
- Although the landscape is undoubtedly changing, there are some areas of print that have the potential to thrive in our increasingly digital world.
By Carl Doty
I joined Keypoint Intelligence in April, and this is my inaugural submission to WhatTheyThink. When writing this, I felt an anticipatory optimism that can only be described as an excitement for new beginnings. Maybe it was the thought of my oldest son graduating high school, or the slight anxiety associated with starting a new job. Maybe it was the very welcomed warm spring air after a typical New England winter. Maybe it was all of these things—a light at the end of the tunnel after more than a year of pandemic living.
Even as I settle into my new role, it’s impossible not to reflect on the past. I have been researching and implementing disruptive technologies across multiple industries for more than two decades. I began my technology career in health insurance. I found that industry to be heavily regulated and set in its ways—to put it politely. During my tenure, the healthcare industry was ripe for a digital revolution and I’m grateful to have played a small role in that. Later in my career and throughout my 13 years at Forrester, I saw firsthand how the digital disruption wreaked havoc across multiple markets. A transformative change had overtaken the retail sector by the early 2000s, and financial services was next. The “media meltdown” came just a few years later, catalyzed by innovations in telecommunications and consumer electronics. Over time, digital advertising became ubiquitous, the entire IT industry moved to the cloud, “big data” spawned IBM’s Watson (also known as “cognitive computing”), and suddenly every analytics software provider was touting itself as an artificial intelligence solution. Cut through all that clutter and there is only one absolute truth: Every industry will face the inevitability of change. You have two choices—you can fall victim to the changes that are in store, or you can use them to your advantage as you plot your course toward a reshaped future.
New Opportunities in Print
So where am I going with this? Well, I chose a new mission to lead the research team at Keypoint Intelligence because I see opportunity. There are plenty of people out there who are convinced that print is dead, but there’s nothing I enjoy more than proving conventional wisdom wrong. In my opinion, print is just getting started on the same journey that I once saw occurring in other industries. Although the landscape is undoubtedly changing, there are some areas of print that have the potential to thrive in our increasingly digital world. Ongoing research from Keypoint Intelligence suggests that office print will never return to pre-pandemic levels, and I wholeheartedly agree with these findings. Even so, I see three immediate growth areas in digital print outside of the office space, with a fourth under an “honorable mention” banner:
- Wide format: As the economy recovers, the demand for large-format applications like banners, murals, billboards, and even floor graphics will increase. We are already seeing the return of in-person events and trade shows, which will of course ramp up the demand for these wide format jobs. As we look toward the future, extended reality will eventually become commonplace in the graphical communications industry, bridging the digital and analog divide for marketers who want to create more immersive experiences for prospective customers.
- Direct-to-garment (DTG): Fueled by a myriad of consumer values-based causes and enabled by e-commerce, the explosion of direct-to-consumer (DTC) apparel brands will drive continued growth in DTG. A high degree of variability and customization at scale will be the keys to meeting consumers’ demands.
- Direct-to-shape (DTS): High-end product and packaging graphics are the norm with the rise of subscription-based business models that we see in DTC brands. This trend will likely accelerate as time goes on, and we’ll see increasingly complex applications that incorporate printed electronics on textiles and other industrial products in the longer term.
- Additive printing: This “honorable mention” is probably the most transformative on the list of potential growth areas. During 2021, funding for the additive printing market has already surpassed that of any prior year. Rapid innovations in 3D printing technology, new generative design software, and advancements in materials science have forever changed the ways that engineers conceive product designs. It’s not about polymer prototyping anymore, folks. Look no further than Boeing and GE for some real-world evidence—additive printing is the digital disruption that many in the manufacturing industry have been waiting for.
The Boeing 777x with a 3D-printed folding wing hinge is pending FAA approval. (Source: assemblymag.com)
The Bottom Line
There is no question that we are at another transformative inflection point in history. The pace of technological change will make this disruption just as powerful as, say, the dot-com boom that occurred more than 20 years ago. The print industry is not immune to any of these changes, and I can assure you that business as usual is not a winning strategy.
I look forward to the changes to come as well as the opportunity to provide our clients with sound strategic advice with the help of my new colleagues at Keypoint Intelligence. As I consider what the future might have in store for all of this, I’ll leave you with the words of the character Mark Watney from The Martian: “…you just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem, and you solve the next.”
Here’s hoping we can solve many problems together!
Carl Doty is a recognized thought leader with more than 20 years of experience helping businesses leverage technology to drive growth. Prior to joining Keypoint Intelligence, Carl was Vice President & Group Director at Forrester where he co-founded the customer intelligence practice and led the global marketing & advertising technology research teams. Carl began his career in health IT at Tufts Health Plan and has held various roles at a marketing agency and multiple startups. He studied Civil Engineering at Tulane University, and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering Management from the University of Vermont.