Can COVID Accelerate the End of Offset Printing?
A look at what needs to happen for that to take place
The world has learned that COVID-19 impacts individuals differently—from being asymptomatic to hospitalization or worse. The pandemic is also affecting businesses, industries, and even industry segments differently. In the printing industry, we have seen a surge in many packaging applications…but what about commercial printing? Where does this leave analog/offset printing? Is COVID-19 accelerating the death of offset printing and a speedier transition to digital printing?
The Marketers Choice
It makes sense that brands need to be more targeted and effective when communicating with customers and prospects. In this vein, digital printing is better suited than offset for personalization. Most marketers also have had tighter budgets during this crisis, forcing them to decide between mass marketing to reach the highest number of prospects or to use more targeted marketing to increase the likelihood of conversion.
Digital printing businesses would hope for the second one, as would the majority of consumers tired of often receiving irrelevant and unhelpful junk correspondence. There is still hope that digital print service providers will be able to convince brands of the value of more focus and targeted communications but, at the same time, there is a risk that many marketers will follow their traditional trend of rushing campaigns to engage as many consumers as possible. This means they will be looking for the lowest cost per contact even when jeopardizing the quality of the marketing product and potential marketing effectiveness. Unfortunately, this approach will favor offset as well as other lower cost marketing channels.
The good news is even though it is not clear that offset will end in the near future (as some might have predicted), there is still a very strong possibility that this crisis might favor digital in some areas. Print budgets have not disappeared and digital printing still supports more holistic and effective communication due to shorter runs (more targeted) and variable data printing (more relevant).
Can Commercial Printers Sell Marketing Services and Accelerate the Shift to Digital?
There is no excuse for any commercial printing sales rep to not know the methodology and process of a personal marketing engagement, which can contribute to helping their customers to sell more.
Sales reps do 1:1 marketing every single day while talking to customers and prospects. They naturally segment all their customers and prospects based on their buying habits (e.g., size and frequency of purchase, loyalty, and product history) and build a customized marketing and sales strategy linked to that. Then, when it is time to get what they want, these reps naturally and unconsciously profile all their customers and prospects to achieve more relevant, informative, or even entertainment contacts/engagements. Beyond all that, they know how to make it easier for them to buy. This is precisely what their print buyers (brand marketers) are struggling to accomplish, and many experienced commercial printers’ sales reps could help.
A Closer Look at the “End of Offset”
Going back to the perhaps misleading prediction of an approaching end to offset printing due to the coronavirus, let’s focus on the online buying market. This pandemic is accelerating the trend of online purchasing, and print is not an exception.
Such a trend is expected to favor offset printing more than digital as large online printers with B1 presses are automating and ganging thousands of short run jobs every day at a very low cost. Even though there is an opportunity to shift more digital print volumes from analog to digital in the offline world, I am not sure this is the same online (except in applications such as brochures and other publications that would benefit from inline finishing).
The truth is, for offset printing to go out of business, all run lengths (unless digital printing vendors can come closer to the offset running costs) will have to be around less than 10,000 A4s and the ones that aren’t will have to be 100% customized. In the more commoditized online world, it is even more challenging due to offset automation, ganging, and lower cross-over points. We do not see the end of offset happening anytime soon. To this point, Keypoint Intelligence estimated that digital printing would only have a CAGR of 2.5% over the next few years. If offset was to end, the CAGR will be much higher as digital will be capturing a large portion of those print volumes.
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