The origins of communication lie within individual conversations. As print media became more and more popular, information inevitably became more impersonal as it was intended for a large number of readers. But the goal of individual communication has still remained. Now, with current techniques, it can be achieved once again.
Of course, your first thought might be: digital printing. True. But it is not just that. It’s more than that: Mass customization will be the trend in print over the next few years. And it has a lot to do with the Internet, with online shops and configurators – driven by people’s desire for self-realization. Just think of self-publishing, selfies and much more. In this context, the technologies used are not an objective in themselves, but rather a means of achieving additional benefits for each individual. For mass customization is an expression of the megatrend known as individualization, which has been ongoing for decades.
Self-realization or 100% Me!
In their 1993 book, “The 1:1 Future”, the economists, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, describe this trend and its consequences very precisely. Here is an extreme summary: “The assembly line made mass production possible and the rise of the mass media made mass marketing inevitable. Consequently, the 1:1 media will bring about a completely new form of 1:1 marketing”.
Incidentally, 1:1 media refers to the Internet and, if you like, digital printing (if used correctly). In other words: gravure and offset are tools for mass markets. However, mass media with the same information for all recipients requires identical interests, identical needs and identical behavior. And this is exactly what is no longer the case today. Advertisers have long known what fragmentation really means: self-realization or 100% Me!
The formerly beloved concept of defining target groups is becoming increasingly obsolete. Consumers have become more unpredictable and at the same time unfaithful. They no longer stay in their niches but rather commute back and forth and appear to have a desire to behave illogically. They follow fashions and no longer follow a necessary need. They want the thrill of variety without predictable benefits. They know this – and that is why it’s boring for them.
This is why not everyone watches the same things as everyone else. That’s why everyone assembles their car the way they want it. And that’s why the T-shirt, notebook and other printed products have to be personal. There is no uniform advertising! One size fits all – no longer works. It must be thought of in an experience-oriented way and advertised in a way that is relevant to the situation.
Integration of all marketing activities
Although individualization has already played a role in recent years, it will continue to grow in importance. Companies are also looking for individual designs and products without having to dig too deep into their pockets or spend a great deal of time and effort. Online platforms on which customers can design and order their own personal printed matterials by means of simple handling or design templates are therefore a must.
“Consumers have become unpredictable and unfaithful, they no longer stay in their niches but rather commute back and forth and appear to have a desire to behave illogically. They want the thrill of variety without predictable benefits.” – Bernd Zipper
Therefore, printing companies are well advised to become more active in this field, to invest even more, to create easy-to-use tools, to put together suitable offers for all types of companies and to offer appropriate products.
It should be kept in mind here that customers hardly differentiate between offline and online anymore – there is also no differentiation between individual digital channels. The integration of all marketing activities along the customer journey is therefore inevitable and requires well thought-out cross-channel strategies in order to reach customers at every relevant touch point with the right message, which should be as personalized as possible, in order to attract their attention.
Direct-to-Customer with conviction
How is this supposed to work in practice? Perhaps we can learn from a business model that has caused quite a stir in recent years, and which is already fairly widespread and was synonymous with success in 2019: Direct-to-Customer or DtC.
In this model, branded companies avoid middlemen in order to gain several advantages at once: Firstly, DtC allows them to build direct customer relationships; secondly, direct sales provides precise customer data that is normally lost through intermediary platforms; and finally, they are not dependent on retailers to build strong customer relationships. In addition, the margin is wider, as costs are saved by eliminating the middleman, which in turn allows more leeway in pricing.
Ha-ha, you might say, we have always done it this way and sold directly to customers. That is correct. But not with the conviction, the tools and the drive as online players do. After all, the direct relationship between consumer and a brand generates two very valuable streams: data and direct feedback. DtC brands receive very detailed data and information about their customers, which in most cases provides valuable feedback. This can be used to adapt products, design and communication very quickly to customers’ ideas and wishes.
Is BtB equal to DtC?
Of course, the printing industry has been operating according to the principle of business-to-business (BtB) since the beginning of time, which is comparable to DtC. However, the focus here has always been on print runs and not on individual products. But it is precisely in connection with mass customization that new customer relationships and structures will emerge. This is why printers must become more active in online marketing, communication, advertising and sales. After all, the sales force cannot go to every potential customer and convince them of a personally configurable product. This is only possible via online shops – possibly even several.
And if the production facilities for mass customization are even available, they must of course be designed for personalization. With a configurator, with a 3D view and, above all, with cross-selling opportunities.
After all, the joy of personalization also has its limits. Customers do not want to redesign every product. They expect to receive solutions in which, after designing a product, they can order matching items in the same design. Those who design business cards also want the stationery and envelopes in the appropriate layout, perhaps even a notebook or a ballpoint pen. This should be relatively easy to automate. Even the offer of simple repeat orders should be as simple as possible. However, if the customer has to constantly adapt these products from scratch, it will cost him time and effort. Solutions where products can be closely interlinked are therefore convincing arguments for customers to remain loyal to the printing company.
My Take: Today, establishing a brand and selling directly to customers without detours is not that difficult. The business card is not necessarily one of them, but there are far more unusual printed materials and services. The Internet offers a platform for everyone who is committed to advancing their business idea. And printed mailings won’t miss their impact either. But I also know that an idea must first be conceived. And in practice building a brand as a direct sales brand also means that it takes patience, money and endurance. But it’s worth thinking about it!