In a race between technology, society and skills, it doesn’t take a genius to guess what the podium would look like. In fact, every day it feels like a new technology supersedes the last. Yet, if the slow rollout of 5G has taught us anything, it’s that it’s hard for us to translate theory into real life. Humans need time to understand, experience, even play with new tech in order to fire the synapses required to create with it. Nowhere has this been clearer than in the print industry. What can be achieved through today’s print technology – when put in the hands of creative humans – is nothing short of groundbreaking for marketers.
Yet campaigns that take exciting new print technologies and use them to their full potential are not at critical mass, and this (with the heady dose of irony that accompanies it aside) is largely down to... technology. Traditionally – that is, in a world where business was always conducted face-to-face – Print Service Providers (PSPs) enjoyed a role as trusted adviser, consultant and comrade to designers, print buyers and marketers. But with every new smartphone release, productivity app and communications platform, life began to move faster, changing work, relationships and, crucially, how we connect with people.
“We used to plan things,” laughs Marcus Timson, Director of FM Future, the consultancy behind this year’s FuturePrint Virtual Summits. “Now everything’s instantaneous. Plans morph and shift. It’s not about being disorganised, it’s about being in a fluid state and it’s how the new generations are.” He, of course, speaks of the way in which the young work differently. Their time is limited, and they are naturally attuned to expect change – digital is in their blood. But perhaps because of this, they have also been largely invisible, having entered into their careers when a global recession loomed large behind them and work lives became increasingly, and necessarily, lived online. However, in migrating to entirely to virtual events, FuturePrint Summits have been something of an eye-opener in terms of attendance, as it unwittingly became a hub for these “young guns” – PSPs, marketers and creatives alike – to experience the full breadth of the industry over five themed days of speakers and networking.
The attendance figures tell quite a new story about people in print today – and tomorrow: “The demographics are quite different,” Marcus explains. “45% female – you don’t get that at trade shows. A younger profile too – 57% between 18 and 35.” It turns out that by turning all the preconceived notions of what a ‘summit’ should be upside down, Marcus and his business partner Frazer Chesterman have created a space that is more inclusive than anything that came previously. Through it, a swathe of new faces were able to gain live access to key industry figures, such as Canon’s Ekaterina Atroshkina and Duygu Sanac Keçeci in conversation with Nick Gawreluk of Heidelberg and Miki Rubin of Imprimu. It was always a place to make discoveries and gain practical knowledge, but first-time attendees did not have to worry about budget limitations, a lack of comfort in reaching out to each other or the simple disconnects in how they prefer to communicate.
This broad mix of people flies in the face of the misconception that print is no longer de rigeur. It clearly plays a key role in campaigns, but in places there has been a simple lack of alignment between what can be done with print and who knows about it. For a period of time, despite incredible advances in print technology, digital marketing was the number one conversation point, an entirely natural response to a new discipline and in the clamour to not be left behind. Yet all the time, the most successful brands never lost sight of print as part of their mix. Marcus cites the purchase and unboxing of Apple products as probably the peak of the digital-meets-physical user experience and demonstrate print’s reassuring presence, how it shows us the value of our purchase decision. Print sends a message of investment in the things we choose to buy and has repercussions in sales as we seek to reflect our own version of status. This perceived ‘artistry’ with print is, in Marcus’ words “really, really cool. If you’re investing in a luxury item, print is incredibly important.”
‘Coolness’, creativity and new directions are where the perception shift can really take place in bringing print to the fore for creatives, marketers, PSPs and new, young, print entrepreneurs alike. “We can exploit print in really interesting ways. It’s not about mass production, it’s about on-demand, high impact, special effects,” says Marcus. Which, of course, comes down to today’s PSPs working closely with print buyers and creatives to show them the possibilities and inspire. Events like FuturePrint Summit show how this works well in the comfort zone of a virtual setting, democratising access to knowledge and people, and allowing the younger generation of the industry to be inspired by what and who is out there, indulge in a spot of futuregazing and stir the pot of ideas.
Marcus sees this as a turning point. “It’s about people being able to see, visibly, other people leading. Regardless of age, gender, race etcetera. Giving voice to the next generation. There are some really cool young print entrepreneurs out there, with some inspiring stories, who are doing things differently,” he says. “Print companies who invest in a younger, more diverse workforce are better equipped for success. Different types of people bring different value and understanding how the new generation communicates is a key ingredient.”
The last FuturePrint Virtual Summit was held in October, but future events are in the planning. To register your interest head to the FuturePrint Virtual Summit website.