Beyond inkjet versus offset: Changing your commercial printing model

This issue welcomes Alec Couckuyt as a new columnist. An experienced printing executive, he spent 10 years with Canon Canada where he transformed its Production Printing Systems Division (formerly Océ) to become a market leader in high-volume digital colour inkjet systems. He began his career with Agfa Graphics in Belgium, with subsequent assignments in Canada and Germany. In 1996 he joined Transcontinental Printing and as VP of Direct Marketing, where he focused on one-to-one marketing and combining offset and digital technologies. He’s also held executive positions at Symcor (Mississauga, ON) and EDS (Plano, Texas). Couckuyt holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics from the University of Antwerp in Belgium. He can be reached at aleccouckuyt@gmail.

I’ve come to realize that adapting to changes in technology only covers one aspect in the challenge to become a successful commercial printer. While taking a closer look at companies that set themselves apart from ‘mediocre’ printers, a clear pattern emerged. Inherent to their success was a continuous focus on re-inventing their business model, while also adapting to technology changes that were evolutionary in nature – such as combining conventional offset printing with digital technologies for improved print quality, productivity, shorter run lengths, mass personalization and faster turnarounds. However, a successful commercial printer can no longer just rely on adapting to technology changes. One now needs to re-invent his or her business model, with the focus on technological changes as secondary.

Today, changes in the business model are “discontinuous.” This term may sound counter-intuitive to what we typically hear, but let’s look at the definition of discontinuous change. It’s been characterized as “a non-incremental sudden change that threatens existing or traditional authority or power structure” because it drastically alters the way things are currently done, or have been done for years. Let me elaborate. My interpretation is that traditionally, we had technology driving a commercial printer’s business model. In fact, real drastic change actually lies in the ‘uncoupling’ or separation of technology and your business model.

Looking at the most successful commercial printers, I noticed that they’re all part of what I call the “Communications Services Industry.” Understanding this broader scope opens many new opportunities and fundamentally changes the business model. Companies such as Transcontinental, Cober in Kitchener, PDI in Montreal, Hemlock in Burnaby, Lowe Martin in Toronto and CJ Graphics in Mississauga, come to mind. When we embrace the notion that we’re part of a broader Communications Services business model, commercial printers can substantially increase their “share of wallet” within their existing client base. Successful commercial printers today now offer additional products and/or services beyond the conventional. These can include display graphics products, packaging, web portals, distribution, fulfillment, and even e-delivery. Once a client realizes that a single provider can offer a wide range of related products within their communication services portfolio, the stronger the ‘business bond’ between the client and the commercial printer becomes. Now, more than ever, commercial printers are becoming a trusted, integrated business partner for their clients.

In addition, these Communications Services are all intertwined. For example, a client can run an integrated marketing campaign that requires the use of web portals, data management, direct marketing, e-presentment, display graphics, store/POS distribution, fulfillment and so on. Each of these initiatives is linked in one way or another – through, for example, multi-use of similar files, unified designs, linked data files and interdependent timelines. The advantage to the client is clear – one provider can now offer multiple, coordinated components for an overall communications campaign. Rather than dealing with numerous suppliers and juggling multiple deadlines, the client deals with just one vendor for the lion’s share of their campaign. This, in turn, sharply reduces multiple client hand-offs, simplifies the campaign’s project management, reduces project costs and accelerates the campaign’s go-to-market launch.

As such, the commercial printer today is becoming even more entrenched in each client’s business, while positioning their shop as an integral part of their customer’s communications strategies. Maybe we should call ourselves “Commercial Communication Service Partners” since this covers more than just traditional commercial offerings. Bottom line: We’re now much more than print – a challenging but exciting industry indeed!