I have been reading about the future of online search as going beyond key words and into the world of search intent. In other words, “What did you mean by that?” I think it has significant implications for the future of 1:1 printing, as well.
For better or worse, online advertisers are starting to serve up ads, not just based on the terms we search on, but on all of our past behavior online so they can guess what we are trying to do with the information. For example, did I search on Southern spices because I am a 15-year-old researching a school project or because I am 40-something trying a new style of cooking? Was it a random search or have I made this same search or similar searches multiple times (higher level of intent).
To attempt to determine consumer intent, companies like Adchemy are using a variety of techniques (Adchemy calls them Intent Maps) that include search, click-throughs, likes, and other online behaviors. In Adchemy’s case, it uses 430 of them.
This is raising the bar for 1:1 printing. On one hand, it’s a good thing for the market because the more consumers demand relevance in marketing communications, the more they will respond to personalized print communications, too . . . if they are done well. On the other hand, the more sophisticated online targeting becomes, the more clunky or amateur print personalization stands out.
I have now finished writing Pira’s The Future of Variable Data Printing to 2017 and the data continue to rumble around in my head. I look at the numbers for direct mail in the United States (the report contains global data, as well as individual countries and regions), and granted, the decline in direct mail is for analog (down -4.8% CAGR between 2012-2017), but while the forecast for the data for digital printing / overprinting (where the VDP volumes are) is rising, it’s only up .4% CAGR.
If personalization were going to be the savior of the printing industry, the forecast would be higher. Personalization is going to be critical for printers to survive in today’s world of electronic marketing and communications, but personalization alone isn’t going to be its savior.
Personalization will protect the volumes of print, but it has to be personalization that is done well. It has to be done with a high level of sophistication that competes in terms of relevance and helpfulness with the kind of targeting that consumers are experiencing online. That level of personalization increasingly requires data mining, customer profiling, and other data techniques that are foreign to the average printer.
What does this mean for individual printers trying to keep their pipelines full? It means that if you’re going to hitch your wagon to 1:1 / personalized printing, you need to find your niche and do it really, really well. But also look to other ways that personalization benefits your customers, such as process improvement, production flexibility, and cost savings, and for more mundane applications like serialized labels and tags.
1:1 printing doesn’t have to be marketing sexy to bring (or protect) print volume. That’s going to be a critical message for digital print providers going into the future.