The Viability of Print

The print industry, of course, has been under pressure for some time now as people migrate to web and mobile methods of communicating and reading. Millennials in particular are seen as rejecting printed pages and laptops and tablets, preferring to rely on their cellular telephones for everything, including socializing and doing business. There is something about cell phones: sometimes you see two babies in a double stroller, maybe 2 and 3 years old, both with their own phones, both totally absorbed in them as their parents push them through the airport. Unbelievable, but undeniable.

Yet despite this significant head wind, there is good news: for one thing, as people get older they find themselves needing print more. Print is still considered more secure and trustworthy than digital. As spending increases--especially on things like cars and a house and a family--the need to be able to trust that a bill is legitimate and that your payment will go to the right place, is more important than enjoying the viewing experience. Mail tends to accumulate in the mailbox as you rise in stature, financially and socially.

Further, there is a thing called "digital fatigue" that suggests that people will want to diversify their communication--including socializing and doing business--and that the continuing importance of providing a good customer experience can include values inherent when you capture information in print. The Internet of Things, faster network speeds and more data to consume is expected to lead to information overload and more fatigue. For example, according to Gallup, 6 of 10 millennials already say they need to cut back or take breaks from social media.

Digital only is not the way to go. More, 78% of millennials prefer to spend their money on a desirable experience rather than a desirable object. How you communicate with them matters. They want it visual, not text-based. And they want to block advertisements from interfering with their digital experience. They want the experience to be theirs only, not mass produced. They are willing to spend more for the right experience, so competing on price and mass producing is not the way to go. Using Big Data to generate programmatic mass personalization is currently in vogue-- but if the content is blocked it may not offer long term viability. The old adage continues to be true: we know we are wasting half of our ad spend, but we don't know which half.

In addition to other aspects of their behavior, Millennials are noted for their cynicism toward all things that are mass produced, well-established, one-size-fits-all traditional brands. Only 6% of Millennials report that they believe the advertising they read in digital media. Moreover, with attention spans roughly the same as goldfish, millennials are impatient with how things are and more interested in what is coming next. Their consumption of content is more dispersed, diversified and diffuse and quick. So while there are more channels than ever, print still has a role.

For example, printed content has more staying power than digital content: persistence gives you more opportunities to grab their attention. The number of eyes on content isn't as important as the amount of time spent with it. A print magazine, a printed transactional document, if done well (interesting, colorful, useful) can add value to the lives of those that hold it in their hands. So Red Bull, a brand that is ubiquitous on college campuses, has a print magazine that they send to those that self-identified as faithful followers.

The tricky part is that it is the recipient that determines the delivery method, whether in digital (e-mail, web, social media) or traditional analog form (letter, fax, etc.). Yet we must recognize that context matters, context driven by circumstance, so that a customer’s communication behavior may change in a flash, requiring companies to remain open to all channels and be able to integrate them into their existing output management structures. Flexibility is the key value.

Print can be more influential than digital channels. You'd better start by being customer focused, value driven and flexible. It means that you need to provide content across channels, exploiting the value inherent in that particular channel. You don't print pages anymore. You print content.

So if your goal is to communicate effectively and (hopefully) efficiently, you need to plan ahead. Without a plan, a goal is merely a wish. We can't wish our way to success. We see some forward looking organizations working hard to plot their future course.

At Comparting, a conference dedicated to multi-channel content delivery, Allianz Deutschland, a market leader in the insurance industry, presented on how they plan to meet the demands of their customers and take a pioneering role in content delivery. One of their largest IT projects in the last several years was the formation of a completely new output management system (OMS), still very much a work-in-progress. At its core is a central data hub that controls delivery for all channels, including print and e-media such as E-Post, De-Mail and Short Message Service (SMS).

Swiss Post Solutions, one of the leading output service providers in Europe with an annual output of 1.2 billion pages, developed the ePostSelect hybrid mail platform, a solution for the physical and digital delivery of documents. For the Post, connecting the physical and the digital in the world of communication is unavoidable if they are to survive.

They leveraged their proven expertise in workflow optimization in document management and mail processing for customers, such as distributing incoming business correspondence, which is automatically forwarded to employees in digital form and electronically archived. At Comparting, Alexander Schäfer, senior manager in Global Solution Design at SPS, discussed the opportunities for growth presented by new business fields such as cognitive computing (artificial intelligence) and robotics process automation (RPA) in document processing.

In the final analysis, data is paramount, and metadata is extremely important, and both must be available in every context in which modern communication occurs. Formatting and layout need to be done immediately before output, that is, much later than typically done today. The closing keynote speaker at Comparting, Michael Carl from the “2bAhead Think Tank,” discussed future forms of customer dialogue, which will be increasingly individualized. Instead of standardized communication, which still predominates in many companies, the analyst predicted that communication would be divided into premium and economy segments. People will have the opportunity to differentiate themselves from the mass if they are willing to pay for it, and indications, as noted earlier, is that they will. That's an opportunity waiting to happen, but the planning had better start soon.

Or just make a wish.

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