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Tech and print: Friend or foe?

New opportunities arise when print intertwines with latest digital solutions

March 8, 2024  By A.J. Rai

By unifying digital data and print capabilities, printers can access new markets. Photo © andresr / E+ /Getty Images

Why does the second oldest industry in the world have a tough time staying relevant? How is it that print can date back hundreds of years and withstand many new inventions but come to a standstill as soon as the digital era exploded? I asked myself these questions several times before entering this industry.

Now, don’t get me wrong; the industry has made great investments and strides into assembling some of the greatest and coolest technology out there. From new advancements in sheetfed printings to short-run digital print, variable capabilities, web-to-print, and expanded colour gamut, the list goes on. But how do we perceive these advances against what’s happening in other industries that are inhabited by our (as well as potential) clients? Print lovers who have lived in our industry over the past decades will tell you there is still a place for print in the world, that it means something to folks and can still be useful to organizations outside the publication sector. But do we really agree with that? More importantly, do our future customers and partners agree with that? Do we know our future customers? Why is it that we, as a collective group, only see advancements in technology as a way to better serve our current crop of customers, a group that is constantly dwindling due to market variables. Have we thought about the lack of knowledge regarding print in the digital-native generation, which includes millennials and the groups that came after them. With the age of AI (artificial intelligence) upon us, how will we, as an industry, shift focus to educate the world on print.

Power of data

It’s time for us to not only look at print technology, but also how we can incorporate print into existing tech. Online privacy laws have become much more restricted with stricter ad-blocks for digital advertising and a need for opt-in-consent of emails. As a result, organizations will lose the ability to reach out to the masses and generate revenue. Variable printing is an attractive option in these times. It is extremely powerful and has a higher success and open rate than traditional printed pieces, but let’s dig a little deeper.

Our clients have powerful CRM software that houses a lot of data about their customers. They might not understand how to target market different segments of that information to maximize their objectives. They may understand that they have data, but at the same time, they might be purchasing new leads lists because they want to grow by X per cent year over year. How about helping them better understand their own data? What if you could show them that 60 per cent, for example, made it to the checkout page and only 18 per cent made the purchase. What can we do with that information? Well, for starters, we take the time to help clients understand the metrics behind variable print—explain to them variable printed pieces have an open rate of 79 per cent, per my company’s internal data metrics, and if you sent an individually messaged note to more than 10,000 prospects, there’s an eight/10 chance for them to make a sale or garner more attention to their physical or online storefront. The key is to incorporate digital data the client has and automate it into a print process. If we can unify these two worlds, then we will have a two-pronged approach to generate revenue. This will open doors to new markets.

I bet you’re wondering what the ROI is on these types of personalized notes. However, what’s more important is to understand what that ROI means to a customer and where it can be seen along the sales process.

Is there a place in this world for print? Absolutely. Can the industry be perceived as cool and fun in the global marketplace? Yes, no doubt. There is a place for print to be more functional, a place where we can intertwine it with the latest technologies and provide our industry with a different set of product offerings. These solutions will continue to educate people on the relevance of print for generations to come and in a world where we stand as tall as digital.

The bottom-line is that print is here to stay, so let’s get creative albeit in a different way.

A.J. Rai is the vice-president of sales at Mitchell Press, Burnaby, B.C. He can be reached at

This column originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of PrintAction.

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