I blame the Internet. Back in the day it was easy for a printing company to print a brochure and send it out to its customers along with an impressive plant list and sit back and wait for the phone to ring. Well now that no longer happens does it, thanks to the bloody Internet.


Now we need to be connected with our customers through websites with multiple ‘touch points’ and have an understanding of data handling. In fact we’re having to re-think how this medium, that has sucked us all in like a giant digital black hole, can work for us in helping us build better businesses in the modern age. 


Look, even if you are an ardent web hater, it won’t be long before the Internet catches up with you in the end. Not long ago if you wanted to find out anything going on in the printing industry you would have read a trade press magazine. In the Internet age you no longer have time for passive reading, you want instant results instead - and the Internet gives you that. Look at how the word Google has become an everyday term like hoover. You can’t escape it. I only have to look at my two teenage children for living proof of that. They aren’t interested in laptops or desktop computers because they do everything on their mobile phones, so much so that even the ancient practice of sending text messages to their friends has now seemingly become old hat. 


The Internet has now penetrated to 42% of the world population with ever-wider use of both mobile phones and social media (51% and 29% of world population respectively), and there are now more mobile-connected devices than there are people on earth. Yeah I said that. More mobile-connected devices than there are people on earth! That makes you sit up and think doesn’t it? 


What’s more, if you are old enough to remember The Beatles, then like me, your children were probably born in the internet age. They won’t know anything else. My kids don’t care when I go on about how we once had to walk to a phone booth to make a phone call in the sheeting rain only to wait outside in freezing soaking weather until the person who had got there before you finished making all their calls. They roll their eyes when I bang on about when having a computer at home meant you had to wait for a tape drive to load for half an hour only for the damn thing to repeatedly crash while loading. Try telling any of this to a young person today and they won’t bloody believe you. They don’t care about any of that. All they know is that Uber can now deliver McDonalds and this is a good thing. And young people only want good things. Good on ‘em!


The young now have access to more information via their smart phones than at any time in history and as such the Internet has revolutionised the way that they live, but this is also impacting on how we all live, and as such we can expect data driven technology to evolve at an ever increasing pace in the next five years or so - and more home food deliveries accessed via smart phones probably. 


What this will ultimately lead to is an increase in data collected by all the millions of apps and programs that young people the world over like to engage with, and an ever increasing desire for brands to engage with the young in ever more inventive and clever ways. 


Data, or to give it its polite printing term - customer information - is now the core driver of increased business for almost every major brand, and plenty of smaller ones too, and handling and manipulating data needs to be a core skill for all printing companies if they are to thrive in the digital future. We may not like it but we’re getting older while our customers are getting younger. Think about it? Gone are the old fashioned corporate Print Buyers who knew the trade inside out, only to be replaced by twenty something graduates who couldn’t care less about how you actually print stuff. What’s a plant list anyway and why would you bother with one? They just know it’s a requirement of their job to procure print, and they will do it according to their methods - which means they want everything connected. They don’t much like chatting on the phone but they will respond immediately via What’s App. Huh?


So what this means is that younger people are not interested in how we ‘used to’ do anything.  Today, it’s either their way or the highway.  “What do you mean you haven’t got a web2print portal? So-and-so printing company has one so it’s easy for us to work with them in future. Bye.”



So what are we, or rather what are you going to do about it? Yes, you could hang on, milk it for a few years before selling the old printing business, but is the business going to be worth much when that times comes? This is why it’s important to tap into new technology and do things a little differently today. Get connected. Join the dots. Learn a new trick. Inform your customers about the things that matter most to them. 


For example, my local garage has just moved over to text messaging its customers with service and MOT reminders etc. rather than via a letter in the post. I am not keen, but the business owner tells me he is saving a lot of money in the process. I like to receive the letter and put it somewhere to remind me that I need to book the car in for a service, but then again I am a little old fashioned and traditional, but his customers are not. All of his older customers (like our friend the print buyer) are selling their houses to fund their retirement on the coast somewhere, and the people buying their properties are mostly young, digitally savvy, professionals who tend to prefer all things digital when it comes to communications. They are moving in at an alarming rate and it’s understandable that the local garage is now having to move with the times. Which also means it’s probably time that you did too. 


So we have established that the younger modern age consumer likes stuff that is digital. So give them digital. Sell the customer a campaign that includes mobile messaging, but sell them some print to go with it. Flog them a poster campaign but add a Near Field Communication (NFC) touch point to a mobile app and help your customer build their brand engagement while you are at it.


Take a few moments to bone up on NFC and what it can do for your customers and how you can supply it. For example, here is a link to a story about how Antalis has launched an amazing paper product called PowerCoat Alive which is an intelligent printable paper with embedded NFC technology that allows the recipient to connect and engage with brands in exciting new ways through their smartphone. 


What this means for you - and importantly what it means for your customers - is that that printed matter can begin to come to life in the hands of younger consumers through interactive magazine advertisements, display advertising, packaging, retail labels, supermarket shelves, book covers, cosmetics and Uncle Tom Cobly and all. I could go on, suffice to say you are only limited by your imagination, and if you don’t have a mind for such matters then you really should employ somebody that does!


We must expect to see continual shifts in the way that consumers communicate with each other, and we can expect brands, corporates and even governments to follow suit. This Internet thing is no longer an emerging trend; it’s an everyday fact of life, and it’s not going away either. Therefore the way we print today needs to reflect and exploit the technologies that are driving change. So get a web2print system put in place, invest in an MIS and trust it to do its thing, and learn about NFC and other technologies that will enable you to sell smarter digital type stuff to your customers. 


Print will continue to evolve long after you and I have gone. It always has, and it always will. We just have to learn to evolve along with it while we are still here.