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Report from Graphics of the Americas: Insights and Examples

Press release from the issuing company

By Noel Ward, Executive Editor, On Demand Journal; Managing Editor, WhatTheyThink.com Either as a prelude to GOA or as a standalone event, the Xplor Variable Data and Digital Color Printing conference would have to be considered a success. Skip Henk, president and CEO of Xplor International tells me he had hoped for 50 to 75 attendees, but wound up with 173. Some were full conference while others signed up for individual sessions, but to get that many right out of the starting blocks is not bad at all. (By comparison, the first PIA/GATF Variable Data Printing conference in 2003 brought in about 150 people and the 2004 edition attracted some 260.) More important, though, about two-thirds of conference attendees here were at their first Xplor event, combining it with Graphics of the Americas and showing how print providers are looking to expand the services they provide their customers. I spent most of Thursday in the Xplor conference and found about half the audience had some type of digital press, and were looking to learn from the experiences of others and find ways to do more with their equipment investments. Others where on hand to check out the territory ahead and get an idea of how digital color and variable data printing might fit their respective markets. What was clear was that they all saw digital color and variable data as a key part of their printing future. Convergence Kills Technologies Frank Romano's keynote was upfront that digital printing was not a replacement for offset, and that one of the key challenges facing the printing industry was finding ways of keeping print and paper as relevant media choices. The industry will continue to shrink, he warned, and it is the companies that can adapt that will survive. "Convergence kills technologies," said Romano, "It's not the changes that get you, it's the transition." It's important for print providers to continually adapt to changing market conditions and adopt the technologies that help them meet their customers' needs. In a similar vein, Scott Bannor of PrintSoft noted that "variable print is a natural marriage of targeted marketing concepts and digital document technology." There's a clear fit there, he noted, but it can be different for each customer. "A document is your company's face to your customers," continued Bannor. How do you want your face to look.? And if you are print provider, how do you want your customer's face to look?" This means truly understanding your customer's needs and creating the documents--both print and electronic--that ensure that "face" looks the best it possibly can. It means, however, that printers have to think beyond the confines of the printed page. "Are you a printer," he asked listeners, "or are you a document provider?" He encouraged the audience to sell results, not technology, pointing out that customers don't care what kind of digital press is used or what software is doing behind the curtain. But it is how the technology is used that delivers the results. The Coming Change in Direct Mail As an example, he pointed out how some types of customization can be quite covert, almost subliminal. "For example, if you know a person is of a certain age--say above 40--perhaps you automatically increase the point size of the type in a bill, statement or marketing offer so they don't need to have their glasses on to read it. They never know you are doing it for them, but it may lead to better responses or simply result in them having a more positive feeling about the company sending the document." It can be part of the difference between junk mail and WOW mail. "Junk mail is a fantastic offer sent to the wrong person," says Bannor. "The era of junk mail is dying. The era of 'WOW, I got mail!' is coming. Customers Driving Solutions Romano's and Bannor's comments were a good segue to those of Keith Larson from Cenveo, the fourth largest North American printing firm. While the bulk of Cenveo's business is still offset lithography, digital print is on the rise and providing value added services is a core business strategy. "In fact," said Larson, "customers are driving us to be solutions providers." He gave the example of a project Cenveo has in place for a home improvement retailer that relies on data collection, customized printing and direct mail to drive new business and upsell customers to more expensive options. A customer might go into the home center to get a quote on some new windows. Led through a series of questions by a window expert, their responses would land in a database that would create a personalized mailer showing their chosen windows, along with a personalized web URL where they would see not only the ones they asked about but also others that they might consider, including ones a grade or two higher in quality and price. And the images--which match some of those in the mailer-- show the windows in a room not unlike the one they would be in. The program is quite successful for the retailer for four key reasons: It is relevant; it makes excellent use of personalized data; it's cost efficient; and is targeted to people who have already come to a store ready to buy. Cenveo, as Frank Romano suggests, is making the critical transition brought on by convergent technologies between databases, print and the internet. And in doing so is bringing in the 'WOW factor' stressed by Scott Bannor. There was even more examples like these at this conference, and these were but three stories that kept people in their seats and paying attention throughout the day on Thursday. If this is a glimpse of what's to come at the joint GOA/Xplor event next February, it's likely to be a very good conference. But there's much more of GOA to talk about, so watch this space.