Ink By the Barrel: How changes in printing technology have revolutionized marketing

cmykBy Richard Berman, CEO, VerbFactory

Almost 15 years ago, before founding VerbFactory, I ran marketing for a Bay Area software company. On my first day in the office I was taken to a walk-in closet that was filled with thousands of pages of beautifully designed marketing collateral…all which was unusable. I spent several hours dumping everything into an enormous recycling bin because all of the documents had a fatal flaw. Some had an incorrect mailing address, others prominently featured the name and photo of a departed CEO, and one highlighted a product that the company no longer sold. My guess is that we recycled almost $100,000 worth of collateral in that one afternoon. I was literally throwing money away.

Today things are a lot different, and companies no longer have to empty their bank accounts to produce the materials they need to communicate with their potential customers and partners. Almost all of this change has to do with advances in technology that have fundamentally changed the printing industry and how companies manage document production. But look at some of these shifts:

  • The Internet. Even though the World Wide Web has been in full swing for almost 20 years, it took a while for many organizations to make the information superhighway their primary means of communication. As recently as five years ago it was common for companies to make physical marketing kits, but today almost all of the information that used to be printed can be found online.
  • PDF – the Portable Document Format. There have been many document and image formats created throughout the years, but the PDF format changed the game by making it possible for companies to easily create documents that could be viewed on any platform. The simplicity of PDF allows content producers to send documents via email to folks with Macs, PCs, Linux machines, and all manners of mobile technologies. It doesn’t matter if you have the software or the fonts that were used to create the original document, because PDF documents utilize non-proprietary open standards that can be viewed using the freely available Acrobat (or comparable) software … which is included in almost every computing platform. PDFs make it possible to send high-quality, media rich, documents directly to target readers.
  • PowerPoint. Criticize this much-maligned tool all you want (check out this brilliant satire, but it has saved countless trees because companies can now share their decks without having to print a physical copy for everyone in the room.
  • Cheap color printing. Until recently, the cost of printing a color document on a laser or inkjet printer was so high that it wasn’t practical for companies to use them. That meant that documents usually had to be printed by a professional printer using an offset press. Because of economies of scale and print minimums, companies usually opted for printing far too many copies of their marketing materials. Color printers have now gotten so inexpensive (and good) that companies can print small runs as needed from a print shop rather than a large run.
  • Environmental mandates. A lot of companies and government organizations have put a premium on reducing waste. This has led to a trend away from printed documents in favor of online documents and apps. A major example of this can be found at trade shows, where organizers now distribute all of their conference materials digitally. This is good news for the city of Las Vegas: unused tradeshow materials occupy more space in the Clark County landfill than anything else.
  • Changing expectations. VerbFactory used to design a ton of glossy collateral, but we very rarely get those kinds of assignments anymore. That’s because people no longer expect to be dazzled by fancy printed material. Most of the time, they don’t even want physical copies of anything, but if they really need something to hold in their hands a pdf file – printed on a laser printer in small batches – is usually enough to do the trick.

Mind you, there is still room for professional printing. Laser printers are fine for many documents, but in an industry where image is critically important, collateral needs to look perfect. In our next blog, we will look at the important role that professional printers still play in the marketing field.


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