Wide-Format Outlook - Part Two: Print Service Providers

In the previous article, excerpted from the recent InfoTrends and Wide-Format Imaging study called Who Buys Wide-Format, we wrote about the outlook for the wide-format printing, the outlook for specific wide-format digital printing applications, and the length of time wide-format graphics are typically displayed. That data came from professional print buyers, which is very valuable as an indication of the intentions of those that create demand for wide-format printing. Another element of the research was with wide format print service providers (PSPs), who reported on a wide variety of market trends. One of the interesting comparisons that can be made between these two constituencies is the way that PSPs told us they market their services compared to the ways that professional print buyers indicated are the best ways to market their services. The chart below compares these findings. What it shows is that there is a good match between the most effective ways that buyers want to be marketed to and how printers market their services. This is not a perfectly fair comparison because printers could choose all of the options that apply while buyers had to choose the three most effective methods.

One of the uses for this data would be benchmarking. For example, 86 percent of the PSPs surveyed reported that they use “word-of-mouth” marketing. Perhaps that means they have developed a simple referral program but it could also mean they are leveraging social media web sites such as LinkedIn.com. Have you developed a proactive “word—of-mouth” marketing strategy that includes Internet tools?

Analysis of the findings on the wide-format print buyer side show that their preference is for non-intrusive marketing methods such as “word-of-mouth” or recommendations from friends, as well as direct mail, and interestingly, e-mail marketing. Indeed “word-of-mouth/recommendation” was identified by both groups as both commonly used and highly effective. However, while only 24 percent of wide-format print buyers reported that a direct sales force would be one of the best ways to market print services, in a separate question 30 percent of PSPs reported that a direct sales force was the most effective way to market their print services, second behind only “word-of-mouth” in terms of effectiveness. I write “interestingly” about e-mail marketing because, let’s face it, who wants more marketing e-mail? But as I noted, this is a non-intrusive approach, your customers, these print buyers don’t seem to mind getting them and it does provide an opportunity for the PSP to offer visual examples of applications and capabilities.

Speaking of print buyers, another of the findings from the PSP research indicated that it is important for PSPs to try to work beyond an accounts’ traditional print buyer. When we asked who their key print buyer contacts are, the answer is frequently the business owner or department manager, or people with marketing titles such as brand manager, marketing manager or merchandising manager. Only about 16 percent of the PSPs reported that they are working with print brokers/print management companies or professional print buyers.

When we bring these two sets of data together it makes sense that direct sales would be such an effective sales method because the salesperson/account manager would be on-site, working these accounts and developing the relationships at client companies enabling them to understand that frequently the people at the company that are driving wide format printing business are not in traditional “print buying” roles.

The study had a lot of interesting findings regarding applications, technologies, and service. Service, or the ability to meet very tight deadlines, is of course an extremely important part of wide-format printing according to both print buyers and PSPs. Buyers identified it as one of their key vendor selection criteria, and PSPs reported that more than 63 percent of wide-format print jobs have to be turned around in 48 hours or less. Wide-format print buyers said that as much as 20 percent of the jobs they buy are produced either “immediately” or on the same business day as the order is placed. The ability to turn a range of wide-format print jobs or different order sizes around quickly is the reason there is consistently a demand for faster and faster wide-format digital printing equipment.

The last important set of findings from this study that I want to write about are related to sustainability. Sustainability gets a lot of hype in the wide-format digital printing market, I think because of the high levels of use of solvent-based inks and print media and substrates that are challenging to recycle. Forty-three percent of professional wide-format print buyers reported that their wide-format print purchasing reflects a preference for “green” printing, either because it is their own personal preference, or because the company they represent mandates it. Indeed PSPs agreed that their customers are increasingly asking for “greener” printing options and for them to use more easily recyclable print media. For PSPs, the goal of using “greener” inks and substrates would probably be easily achievable if print buyers would bear the premium for these more eco-friendly supplies, but they generally are not. The chart below shows that, even among those print buyers who try to specify “green” printing, they are generally unwilling to pay the required premium for that service. The mean premium these wide format print buyers are willing to pay for “green” printing is just 10 percent, which is often not enough to offset the use of more expensive “green” inks and media.

The finding to the left is one of the reasons InfoTrends is very bullish on UV-curable inkjet as a wide-format graphics print technology. Not only does it offer the opportunity to print directly to rigid substrates, allowing PSPs the opportunity to reduce both labor and materials costs, but the use of variable droplet size inkjet print head technology and improved ink formulations provide better ink efficiency, further reducing the post to produce wide-format graphics. We also see that there are a fairly steady stream of lower-priced wide-format media product introductions that are more environmentally friendly, and we know there are many more to come.

The results of these separate surveys show that PSPs continue to shape their business and operations to meet the demands of customers both from a marketing and operational standpoint.

Editor’s Note: Please see Part One of this research study, looking at who buys wide-format graphics, in the August ebook edition of Wide-Format Imaging. Please see Part Three, focusing on consumers, in the August ebook edition of Wide-Format Imaging.