A new horizon for print and communication service providers

By Hennie Kruger, Head of Commercial Print at Canon South Africa

Print and communication service providers specialising in direct mail and transactional applications have come a long way in the last 10 years. To keep pace in our digital world, they have continuously evolved their services to meet the demands for shorter runs and personalisation. Thanks to the introduction of and advances in inkjet, these printers are now able to offer single-pass printing, making way for higher margins, less inventory and shorter turnaround times. Let’s take a closer look at the evolution of this market and how Canon’s ColorStream web-fed inkjet technology is enabling print and communication service providers to enhance their product offering and increase profit margins.

Today’s customer is demanding. Surrounded by always-on digital devices and bombarded by constant alerts, offers and messages, they expect instantaneous interactions with brands. Just as other forms of marketing have become more personalised and sophisticated, even the humble invoice or bank statement is expected to carry a personalised element that goes above and beyond name and address.

While it’s true to say that transactional and direct mail can be more impactful than their electronic alternatives, indiscriminate bulk mailings to unsegmented audiences will not give marketers the return on investment they seek. To achieve maximum impact from print campaigns, personalisation and precise targeting are required. And with 72% of consumers saying that they only engage with personalised messaging[1], it’s clear that it is a key driver for the market.

So how does this affect the print landscape? Historically, print and communication service providers (PSP) have relied on two processes to deliver personalised applications. First, static colour content was printed on offset presses to create “offset shells”, a printed asset that includes all content apart from the variable data, before re-running them through a digital toner press to add the personalised element. In many cases, however, PSPs and mailing houses only had offset technology in situ so the “offset shells” then had to be shipped to a data specialist to digitally print the variable data.

For many years, this two-step print process was the most efficient way to deliver personalised applications but there were downsides to this approach for all parties concerned. It was on these frustrations that the demand for a ‘white paper solution’ was built – to eliminate warehousing costs and wastage, cut turnaround times and enable single pass, personalised printing.

To meet this market demand, Canon launched its full-colour inkjet web-fed press series in 2011, the ColorStream 3000. With the ability to print both mono, and colour, volume requirements, the ColorStream series enables print and communication service providers to print a wide range of applications. From direct mail and customer communications to books, magazines and catalogues, PSPs can expand their application possibilities and add value to their customers.

Combining the quality of offset with an expanded digital run-length flexibility and giving PSPs the option for monochrome-only and full colour, variable applications, this technology has been recognised as an alternative to the outdated two-step process. A highly responsive print technique, it enables brands to reach their target customers more swiftly and to strike while the iron is still hot. Take cart abandonment for example. If a customer is shopping online but didn’t actually complete the transaction, brands can send a direct mail within 24 hours to engage and nudge the consumer to the end of the customer journey and convert their actions to a purchase.

Taking the next step into personalisation with inkjet technology

One of Canon’s customers, MetroMail, is truly reaping the benefits of the ColorStream. From a modest hand-fill packaging operation to one of the UK’s leading ‘full service’ mailing houses producing direct and transactional mail, MetroMail has grown in leaps and bounds.

The main benefit of inkjet for MetroMail is the ability to print customised transactional documents, direct mail and paper wraps in one pass. Whereas historically, as a data specialist with a fleet of digital cutsheet toner presses, MetroMail would receive the pre-printed offset shells and complete the digital overprint, they can now print the full application, from start to finish. Investing in a ColorStream 3900 back in 2014 has enabled the company to migrate volumes away from digital toner cutsheet devices to inkjet, providing productivity efficiencies and expanding their product offering.

Another trend for the direct mail and transactional markets is sustainability, which points towards the benefits of short-run inkjet printing as there is no wasted stock or additional delivery costs for shipping the offset shells to a data-specialist. Pygall also highlighted that, although this wasn’t yet a key driver for his customers, he could certainly see a trend towards sustainable print and one of his clients in particular switched to paper wrapping from polywrapping for this reason.

The ColorStream was initially installed at MetroMail to migrate transactional monochrome work from cutsheet toner to inkjet for applications that needed to be produced quickly. MetroMail saw a dramatic time saving of 75% when compared to production on toner.

Now with three ColorStream printers in situ and with the introduction of Chromera inks, the company saw the opportunity to also move direct mail work across to inkjet due to its increased ink laydown and higher quality. Speaking about the inks, Pygall says, “The Chromera inks are essential to our production. The quality took us closer to where we wanted to be and some customers have switched to inkjet because we can offer one-pass, generic personalised applications at a really high quality.”

“Combining the three ColorStream 3900Zs with a C6 stacker has also been transformational for us, allowing us to get an even greater return on the investment in our Canon printers. Enabling us to print reel-to-reel attracted more efficiencies and a better workflow throughout the factory”, he continues. “These machines do everything that we want them to do for the market space we’re in.”

New possibilities with inkjet technology

For a number of reasons, inkjet technology is particularly well-suited to help print service providers adapt their offering to meet the demands of today’s print buyers. Enabling them to take on work that previously may have been out of reach, inkjet opens up a host of new creative opportunities. And with many industry projections pointing towards inkjet being the print technology of the future – offering a reliable, high-level of quality at fasters speeds – it’s up to us as print experts to demonstrate its value to customers and highlight all the opportunities that are now available with print.

[1]   https://www.smartinsights.com/ecommerce/consumers-personalized-marketing-engagement/#:~:text=In%20fact%2C%20according%20to%20a,concerned%20about%20their%20data%20privacy.