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15 March 2017

FESPA Challenges Printers To Expand Their Boundaries And Print Different

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The strapline for May’s FESPA 2017, ‘Dare to Print Different’ is a clear, resounding call to the FESPA community, to arrive with the ambition to explore and identify something that could expand their boundaries and give them fresh impetus. For many PSPs, ‘Dare to Print Different’ is not only an acknowledgment and a challenge, but a mantra that they already live by.

‘Dare to Print Different’ can be read two ways. On the one hand, it acknowledges the entrepreneurialism that has fuelled wide format’s growth over the last decade; according to the latest FESPA Census, overall revenues grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 9% between 2007 and 2015. On the other, it challenges wide format and speciality printers to stay brave, using FESPA 2017 to explore the latest innovations and create new products and services to showcase their creativity and build their customer base. Meanwhile, the stunning image accompanying the strapline, a robotic hand releasing a brilliantly-coloured butterfly, highlights the essential role technology plays in the process.

But strapline and image do more than simply promote FESPA 2017 as an important venue for the wide format community. They are also powerful reminders of how printing, and what it means to be a printer, have changed in the digital era. Several of the overarching trends identified by the FESPA Census reinforce this message. For example, the Census noted the continued shift away from high-volume commodity print towards customised, higher-margin products. It reported a much tighter focus by PSPs on the evolving needs and expectation of their customers. And it found that while manufacturing economics remain an important factor in allocating capital expenditure, strategic planning is equally important, with 45% of those investing doing so to move into new markets with new products and services.

Digital media competitors may have made the printing industry smaller, there are fewer PSPs and overall volumes have fallen, but they have made PSPs’ horizons much wider. Pre-digital, printing was a smaller, more predictable world. Offset and screen were well-established stable technologies, the variety of printed products was limited and familiar, and customers’ demands—what they wanted, and when—were also largely predictable. Under these conditions, manufacturing economics were what usually determined investment; new equipment was needed to speed production, add capacity or improve quality. For most businesses, ‘the competition’ was the printer down the road, not the volatile, fast-moving world of digital media.

In this world, printers could survive and prosper simply by continuing to do what they had always done. They didn’t need to be constantly on the lookout for competitor technologies. Neither did they need to concern themselves with what their customers were doing; it’s doubtful many printers showed much interest in why a customer needed a particular print job.

Today, print is just one medium among many competing for a slice of the marketing budget, but it is a medium with unique advantages. Digital media cannot match print’s multisensory quality, its ability to exploit and enhance so many materials. At a time when digital communication has shortened people’s attention spans, print can make them stop, feel and think. Print has the all important element of surprise.

None of this is news to the thousands of PSPs travelling to Hamburg in May, they know all about print’s advantages. Unlike their predecessors, they also know what their customers want, and why. This is clear from the FESPA Census, which painted a picture of an energised community in which business leaders’ strategies for the future are based on responding to clients’ changing needs and diversifying their product portfolios accordingly.

It is an optimistic community, in which 80% of respondents to the Census were very, or fairly, optimistic about their business prospects. This optimism is largely founded on a grasp of what is happening both inside and outside their own businesses. Over 70% recognise that customers’ needs are driving change, for example. And they are ready to venture outside what they know to take wide-format technology into new areas; hence while there is a familiar look to the top four applications: banners (49%), posters (40%), signs (38%) and billboards (37%), almost 80% of PSPs report increased demand for garments, décor and packaging samples. Many PSPs (over 75%) also anticipate that digital display will impact their wide format business in the foreseeable future, which suggests that the European Sign Expo event for non-printed signage will prove a popular draw.

Upcoming FESPA events include FESPA Africa, the region’s largest, focused exhibition for the wide format digital printing, screen printing, garment decoration and textile printing, which is co-located with Sign Africa and Africa Print the region’s leading events for the signage industry. The event is taking place from 13-15 September 2017 at Gallagher Convention Centre, Johannesburg.

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