Industry Insights: Adapt and Thrive

Evolution was the dominant theme of this year’s FESPA Digital 2011 event in Hamburg, Germany, and the phenomenal response to the show suggests that the word—and the thinking behind it—has resonated very strongly with European printers.

It seems that the most successful players in the global wide-format community have fully embraced the notion that they must change to thrive. But they also recognize that change does not necessarily need to be radical. It can be about observing the environment you operate in and adapting your business behavior to ensure your survival and—better still—success.


Obstacle or Opportunity?

It was no accident that we chose the image of a parkour runner, or freerunner, to carry the campaign for the event. If you’ve never seen parkour, quickly Google it, or check out our own video at You’ll come across awesome videos of guys who run through urban environments, using obstacles from walls to bus shelters, railings to park benches to propel themselves forward, adding interest, creativity, and risk along the way.

We see this as a metaphor for what is required of today’s printer. Parkour can be practiced anywhere, but it thrives in a city landscape, mirroring how wide-format print has so dramatically transformed the urban environment in a relatively short time. No longer limited to display frames, sign boxes, and poster sites, new applications are sweeping over bus shelters, vehicles, street furniture, construction sites, and buildings. Thanks to continuing advances in inks and substrates, the great outdoors is an exciting new showroom with enormous potential, one where marketers can project their messages in any location, on any scale, and with virtually no creative limitations.

To the parkour enthusiast, every street is an opportunity. He has to assess the potential that each feature of the landscape offers to help or hinder progress, and the balance between risk and reward. The same can be said of the landscape confronting the wide-format industry. Brand-owners and their agencies need to decide how best to exploit new communications channels for campaigns. And wide-format printers have to do the same, understanding how the industry is changing and what that means for the future of their businesses.

All business managers face obstacles as we emerge from the economic downturn. The key to future success is to leverage those for new ideas, or find innovative ways of circumventing them. (Of course, I believe that FESPA events offer ample inspiration and information to support printers with those decisions.)

Against this backdrop, FESPA set out—together with InfoTrends and Xaar—to delve deeper into the ways that wide-format signage and graphics printers worldwide are evolving, and explore the measures they are implementing to achieve their business growth objectives.


Evolution Is Real

The results of this Evolution Survey are inspirational. They show that the pace of evolution is quickening, as service providers apply innovative strategies in technology, business processes, and sales and marketing.

Despite mixed opinions on whether the sector has recovered from the downturn—49 percent believe it has, 51 percent are less certain or disagree—businesses are exploring an impressively wide range of ideas that change the products they provide and how they deliver them.

The survey divides strategies into those that are operations-driven, providing greater speed, quality, efficiency, and so on, and innovation-driven measures that deliver new services or products to new customers via new business models.

The three most common strategies—followed by more than 50 percent of respondents—are to make pricing a non-issue (56.8 percent), invest in technology to raise service levels (53.7 percent), and launch a new wide-format digital service (51.8 percent). Other popular strategies include developing new processes to fuel growth or enable entry into new markets (47.8 percent) and selling wide-format services in a different way (45.7 percent).

Less common, but equally welcome as a sign of evolutionary thinking, is an awareness of the potential of cross-media elements such as Quick Response (QR) codes: although only 18.2 percent of service providers have integrated such features into creative designs, 13.1 percent are working on it and 20.4 percent plan to. According to one respondent, they were totally ignorant of interactive components less than 12 months ago but now offer QR code integration and website development to clients as a matter of course.

Differentiation from competitors is a key element in breaking out of the price-driven, commodity print business, and a significant number of businesses regard certification in international color standards as a means to do this—24.1 percent are already certified, and 42.9 percent are either in the process of gaining certification or planning to do so.

From my perspective, research like this contributes substantially to our community’s grasp of the commercial dynamics that impact our sector and each business in it. It shows that the majority of print service providers do see the need for exploration and innovation. It also underlines FESPA’s vital role in helping printers channel technology, creativity, and service to meet their clients’ changing needs.

Our team will be using this research, together with the market information and feedback we gather from our worldwide exhibitions and summits, to ensure that we continue to deliver events that help printers along this ‘evolutionary road.’ That’s our mission at FESPA Mexico 2011, which takes place in Mexico City (Augsut 18-20, 2011), and—looking a little further ahead—at the second FESPA Americas show, already scheduled to come to Miami, FL, from March 1-3, 2012.

See you there!