High-End UV Flatbeds and the Changing Dynamics of In-Store Marketing
The use of screen-printing for P-O-P and retail graphics declines as orders for short runs of customized materials continue to rise.
It’s hard to believe that it’s only been about 15 years since the first flatbed inkjet printers to use UV-curable inks hit the market. So much has changed since 2000, both for firms that started out as screen printers and their clients in retailing and brand marketing.
Those first flatbeds were primitive by today’s standards. But they did open the door for large-format graphics firms, commercial offset printers, and others to compete with screen printers for short runs of large-format graphics on rigid, display-ready materials. Now, the throughput speeds and print quality of high-end digital flatbeds have advanced to the point where they have become economically viable options for producing longer runs of high-quality large-format graphics for P-O-P signage and retail displays.
According to SGIA survey data, about 98 percent of the association’s members who started out in screen printing now use digital technology, and some have retired their screen-printing equipment altogether. “The primary driver has been the low set-up costs for shorter run work,” says Ford Bowers, general manager of the graphics center for the Miller Zell in-store marketing firm. “The economies of digital print are too attractive to pass up.”
Scott Crosby, owner of Holland & Crosby, a P-O-P and retail-signage production company, says, “Screen printers are looking at run length, number of colors, and lead time to determine where the screen-versus-digital breakeven point occurs.” Depending on which digital flatbed press you buy (and how automated your prepress, printing, and finishing operations become), it can be more cost-effective to digitally print jobs of 500, 1000, or even 2000 large-format sheets than it is to set the job up to run on a screen press. The cost advantages of highly automated digital workflows will become even greater as labor and material costs rise.
Knowing the breakeven point for digital printing matters because customer expectations are continuing to evolve. Today, brand marketers and retailers understand that digital printing can help them respond to ongoing shifts in how consumers select and purchase products. According to Bowers, the rapid improvements in the speed and quality of digital printing equipment have changed the ordering habits of many print buyers. Today, retailers are seeking increasingly shorter runs, lower inventory quantities, and the ability to provide more regionalized offerings. Instead of sending an identical kit of graphics to each store in a retail chain, some buyers are reducing waste by sending kits customized to fit the physical configurations of individual store layouts.
Oriol Gasch, HP’s director of large-format graphics, Americas, agrees that the demand for shorter runs of more versioned and variable content is helping to drive the conversion from analog to digital printing. But he believes the transition is also being driven by the development of new applications and the availability of more productive, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly digital flatbed presses with higher image quality.
“In the past three years, we have seen a substantial number of our customers replace screen-printing equipment with high-end digital flatbeds and de-commission or sell their screen-printing equipment,” says Gasch. Crosby agrees that digital flatbed presses are no longer regarded as “complementary” to screen-printing equipment. His company was among the first in North America to switch completely from screen to inkjet seven years ago, and, over the past two to three years, the trend has accelerated.
When you examine some of the massive changes occurring in retailing and brand marketing, it’s easy to understand why more P-O-P and retail graphics work is migrating to high-end flatbed printers.
The Point-of-Purchase Is Anywhere and Everywhere
Today, the “point-of-purchase” isn’t limited to the checkout counter of the local grocery or department store. Now, anyone can buy anything wherever and whenever they choose. We can research and buy products online and/or visit stores to physically touch the merchandise and read the packaging.
The Adobe 2014 Mobile Consumer Survey confirmed that many consumers are using mobile devices in brick-and-mortar stores to aid their shopping experiences. After inspecting products on store shelves, consumers use smartphones to research and compare products, look up customer reviews, or download coupons. Research conducted by JWT Intelligence showed that 63 percent of Millennials and 44 percent of Gen Xers are willing to purchase products by using their phones to scan codes on images of items displayed on billboards and signage that they pass on their daily commutes.
As media channels have multiplied, brand marketers must figure out how, when, and where to deliver the right mix of product information and discounts to motivate consumers to actually make the purchase. Right now, retailers and brand marketers are doing a lot of research and experimentation to find the right mix of online and offline media for promoting their products.
In its “2014 Mass Merchant Study,” POPAI examined how people make purchasing decisions within three major mass-merchant retail chains. One key finding was that 82 percent of purchasing decisions are made in-store. This is a jump from a 2012 study of grocery-store shoppers showing just 76 percent of purchase decisions were made in the store. The 2014 study also found that 34 percent of mass-merchant shoppers don’t enter the store with a shopping list, and 62 percent didn’t use direct mail, newspapers, circulars, TV ads, or information from electronic sources to plan their trips.
“Displays have a huge untapped potential to drive unplanned purchases in store,” says POPAI study collaborator Kirk Henderson, CEO of the Eye Faster eye-tracking video service. Eye Faster tracking data used in the study found that 16 percent of unplanned purchases were driven by a display the shopper saw while shopping. According to Michelle Adams, president of Marketing Brainology, “In-store marketing is a $17 billion industry that brands and retailers should tap into more. We know from the POPAI shopper engagement study that displays can entice shoppers to buy.”
Necessity is the Mother of Reinvention
Old-school ad agencies that helped customers develop ads for placement on TV and in print have evolved into “brand experience” specialists that help clients deal with the proliferation of communication channels and technologies. Their goal is not just to help advertisers make an impression on customers, but to build relationships with them.
In a 2014 report published by SoDA (the Society of Digital Agencies), Joe Olsen, the president and CEO of Phenomblue, says his firm uses technology to help connect people and brands. He observes that traditional media is fixed, whereas digital is iterative. Digital technologies have made it easier to prototype and tweak creative concepts. Nearly 70 percent of the clients who responded to the recent SoDA survey said being regarded as an early adopter was key to their brand position.
Some digital agencies have reinvented themselves as technology incubators and innovation labs. Other firms see an opportunity to help their clients become more proficient in analyzing the huge streams of incoming data and converting it into creative, highly targeted, and interactive marketing programs that combine online, social, and print media. In an interview posted on The Creative Group blog, Joseph Corr of the innovation studio Deeplocal says he believes the creative team of the future is likely to include “creative technologists” – people who are nimble, experimental, and comfortable in an environment of constant change.
These innovation-focused marketers and agencies will prefer to work with print service providers who are also nimble and willing to experiment. Right now, that means knowing how to use tools such as iBeacon, NFC tags, QR codes, SMS codes, and augmented reality to make printed displays more interactive with smartphone-carrying customers.
Interactive print technologies are likely to become more mainstream in the next few years. Adobe is teaching marketing professionals and designers how to use data analytics to drive creative decisions and integrate online, mobile, and printed communications. The three million-plus subscribers to Adobe Creative Cloud can now use InDesign or Illustrator plug-ins to add QR codes and augmented reality markers to designs for packages, displays, and signs.
At Graph Expo, Kate Dunn of InfoTrends explained that marketers want to make print more interactive and engaging so they can learn more about what customers are thinking and gain insights into what motivates them. Dunn said that printed communications, including P-O-P displays, are critical to the customer-engagement process. If the printed communications have campaign-specific URLs, marketers can measure which printed pieces were most effective in bringing visitors to a website or landing page.
A recent AT Kearney report on omni-channel marketing concluded that while digital retailing is capturing headlines, 95 percent of all retail sales are captured by retailers with a brick-and-mortar presence. Retailers are using their physical stores to help retailers drive online sales: “It’s not physical or digital. It’s physical with digital. Having multiple channels is good for business.”
Some stores are becoming more theatrical and immersive – designed to be more of a life experience than a place simply to buy something. According to the 2013 JWT Intelligence report “Retail Rebooted,” retailers are redesigning spaces to be more visually appealing and to accommodate special events. As more of our lives are spent online and we become more disconnected from the physical world, JWT says that people will place a premium on sensory stimulation: “Retail environments can serve as robust complements to the digital ones.” Many firms that started out as online marketers (including Amazon) are now establishing retail stores.
Some brand marketers regard retailing as form of communications – just one more media channel in an integrated multimedia campaign. In a brick-and-mortar retail site, customers can “experience” the brand, feel the quality of products, and/or get friendly, face-to-face advice (e.g. the “Genius Bar” in Apple Stores). The JWT report also cites examples of retailers who are turning store windows into shopping platforms so that products featured within the store can be purchased even when the store is closed.
The transformation of marketing is occurring not just in stores, but also in corporate offices, hotels, and healthcare facilities. Designers who belong to the Society of Experiential Graphic Design bring an organization’s brand to life at multiple touch points, including architectural signage, physical graphics, wall décor, digital signage, and interactive kiosks throughout their facilities. All of this experimentation is helping to fuel the demand for shorter runs of frequently updated graphics.
Another trend driving the demand for shorter runs of graphics is the more effective use of data that is being gathered about which types of products are purchased most often in individual stores. Retailers started gathering the data to help minimize inventory costs, but the same information can also be used to determine which products should be featured in the displays within each store. While many brand marketers still struggle to use all the customer data that is flooding in, some experts believe the use of big data to drive marketing efficiency will be standard practice by 2020.
All of this is contributing to rapid declines in run lengths. “If you look at printers adopting digital and shutting down analog lines, we’re just at the bottom rung of that ladder,” says Ken Hanulec, VP of marketing, inkjet solutions for EFI. “Screen printers are going to see that marketing folks don’t need 500 or 1000 of a print any longer. They want 100. They want to do test runs of 50 or 100, get the graphics into stores, and see what’s working.”
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