• The digital transformation involves becoming completely immersed in the full value of digital from a technical perspective and—more importantly—from a strategic printed product perspective.
  • Although digital print manufacturers have invested a great deal in R&D to deliver innovative technologies and products, there is still an opportunity for these companies to keep working inside their organizations as well as with players in the supply chain and print buyers to increase the commitment to the digital transformation.
  • Regardless of the channels that are used, personal engagements are the most natural and holistic way of communicating, and digital print is a strong and relevant enabler.

By German Sacristan


In today’s digital world, most businesses and people feel digitally transformed in many ways…but what does becoming 100% digitally transformed even mean? Can a company consider itself digitally transformed simply because it manufactures digital technologies or uses them to put ink on paper? As an industry, we’re not quite transformed yet—otherwise, how can the digital printing page share only be in single digits? We have been entrenched in the digital revolution for a few decades now, and in that respect we are actually ahead of the game in relation to some other industries. At the same time, however, there is clearly a disconnect if the share of digitally printed pages is not aligned with digital’s full potential.

What Does a Digital Transformation Even Mean?

Regardless of whether you’re a digital print equipment manufacturer/vendor, a purchaser of the product, or even a print buyer, a true transformation requires more than just investing in a technology. A complete transformation involves a fundamental change to our DNA. In the case of digital, this involves becoming completely immersed in the full value of digital from a technical perspective and—more importantly—from a strategic printed product perspective. We might have made great strides in the shift to digital, but this is not the same thing as achieving a complete digital transformation.

We all know that the printing industry is driven by communication, and digital technology can help empower the human correspondence skill of establishing personal contacts. Digitally printed communications can’t overtake the printing industry and obtain a greater share of the overall communication market without becoming a greater contributor to the personal interaction or 1:1 space. Furthermore, print still contributes a great deal of relevance and value to the overall communication market, and it would be a shame not to use this channel to its true potential.

The Disconnect

So who is to blame for the disconnect between the full potential of the digital printing business and its actual market share? We can all point fingers at others, but the reality is that we’re all responsible on some level:

  • Manufacturers of digital printing equipment have invested a great deal in R&D, marketing, and sales to promote and deliver innovative technologies and products. Even so, there are always opportunities to increase customer commitment and support. Maybe more vendors’ sales professionals could start ROI conversations about digital versus analog while they are discussing pricing and total cost of ownership (TCO). In addition, while explaining and demonstrating the capabilities and applications of digital printing technologies, sales reps could get more involved in discussions about the printing piece strategy as well as ROI. While it is true that many vendors have made that commitment to customers by hiring business development professionals, I believe that more resources are needed. Perhaps existing sales reps could help in this area, enabling their organizations to get into the core value of digital without increasing head counts. This will certainly take time and lots of preparation, but the effort will likely pay off in the long run.
  • Although print service providers (PSPs) have also invested quite a bit in the digital transformation and some are even reaping the benefits, others—especially those on the sales and marketing side—are still doing things that are very similar to what they’ve done in the past. For these businesses, maintaining the status quo in terms of sales responsibilities is not enough to capitalize on the maximum potential of the evolving communications industry. At the very least, some of these PSPs might want to consider further training their existing sales forces and/or hiring sales consultants that truly understand (and can therefore resonate with) their customers’ marketing and business profiles.
  • Print buyers have been reducing their marketing head counts, so they often lack the time and resources to create and execute relevant, timely, and high-quality printing or cross-media marketing campaigns. Some are even putting time to market, cost, and quantity of contacts ahead of a more strategic approach involving target focus, relevance, and ROI. It takes time to evaluate and plan for an effective personal interaction or contact campaign, as this strategy requires more than calling someone by their name or randomly changing content from record to record. Like so many other things in life, a quality product or campaign demands a greater investment in time and money at the outset, but it will likely yield better ROI and greater success at the end. Marketers should also become more mindful about who and how they are engaging the market to avoid upsetting buyers—and by extension authorities—as more data legislation acts are introduced.
  • Market consultants might be able to better navigate the balance between guiding customers on what to do versus how to do it. I believe that there is a great opportunity for these consultants to increase their support, and focusing on the “how” (implementation) which in return might enable better results for their customers.

The Importance of Personal Engagements

Establishing a personal contact for a printing campaign is not difficult to understand or plan, but it does require time. People have been doing this for hundreds of years, and it even occurs outside the business world when people try to sell something to their friends. Regardless of the channels that are used, personal engagements are the most natural and holistic way of communicating—and promoting and selling by extension.

In the business world, we have always separated customers in our own minds based on purchasing potential, history, frequency, and loyalty. As a result, the customer segmentation and strategy must be based on that. Would you or any of your customers (if you are helping them with a campaign) take the same strategy toward a client that is loyal and purchases a lot of A, B, and C products that you take with another client who is not loyal and purchases products X, Y, and Z less frequently? The strategies would be completely different for these two types of buyers, and this is why proper customer segmentation is critical to creating the most relevant strategy.

Once the segmentation is complete, we can work to create the strategy. The strategy will drive customer contact requirements to the different individuals in the segmented database. Because all customers are different and buy for different reasons, we’d need to profile them to create relevant messaging and content. In the past, we did this via face-to-face communication and without thinking. It is important to profile based on what you need to know about your customers to achieve sales. This will enable the creation of more relevant communications that are based on what customers need. Successful sales reps have a knack for asking good questions and obtaining marketable information. Basic profiling based on demographics like gender, income, and age is often quite simple. For the B2B environment, we will usually add industry and job responsibility (which is different than job tittle). More complicated profiling is based on psychographics, and this type of customer information is harder to obtain.

Once we have completed the segmentation based on purchasing habits and created the strategy of what we want to get out of each customer, the profiling can help us develop a relevant talk track centered upon saying the right things, at the right time, and in the right way.

In the old days, we certainly had fewer customers—so segmentation, profiling, and delivery were quicker and easier than they are today. At the same time, however, modern technologies can help us replicate what we did so well in the past. There is one thing that technology can’t replicate, though—the human sensitivity and intuition that is necessary to create helpful, informative, and relevant content. This is precisely why digital printing technology can’t be successful on its own—the right people must be standing behind it. In fact, it is often the human component that can be the difference between success and failure.

The Bottom Line

We can keep talking about the capabilities of digital printing and variable data, and even share case studies or positive results, but this is not enough to create a true transformation. Until we increase our investment and commitment to the strategy of printed products, things will never change as quickly as we’d like them to. Relying on productivity and costs just to transfer more pages from offset to digital will not help us expand our market presence, so we ultimately put ourselves at risk of losing revenues in the long run. On the other hand, taking a more strategic approach to the digital transformation is more fulfilling, fun, and profitable.

German Sacristan is the Director of Keypoint Intelligence – InfoTrends’ Production Print & Media group. In this role, he supports customers with strategic go-to-market advice related to production printing in graphic arts and similar industry segments. His responsibilities include conducting market research, forecasts, custom consulting and development of analyses, editorial content on technology, as well as supporting clients in the areas of production digital printing.