So here we are…well into another new year, yet dealing with many of the same challenges that plagued us throughout 2020. The most optimistic among us might have thought—or at least hoped—that the global pandemic would magically disappear when we rang in the new year, but COVID-19 is proving to be stubbornly resilient in the United States. Even with vaccines being distributed, it will likely be quite some time before coronavirus becomes part of our history rather than our daily reality.
The events of early 2020 caught almost everyone by surprise. Many businesses entered the new decade cautiously optimistic about the opportunities of the future, but those expectations were shattered virtually overnight when the lockdown forced non-essential businesses to shut their doors (at least temporarily). Many print service providers (PSPs) were deemed essential and were able to remain open, but their traditional businesses still suffered as would-be purchasers postponed or even cancelled their orders.
Although the pandemic has proven difficult for everyone, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccination process has begun, and research shows that the print industry is recovering (or at least improving). This blog explores the actions that various printing companies are exploring so they can maintain—or even accelerate—growth as we emerge from the pandemic.
New Market Opportunities
When COVID hit, many PSPs found that they needed to pivot because the businesses and industries that they traditionally supported—like restaurants, retail establishments, events/trade shows, and travel and tourism—had really begun to struggle. Marketing budgets dried up seemingly overnight, and businesses of all sizes were suddenly forced into “survival mode.”
PSPs must find a way to remain profitable during these difficult times so they can come out stronger on the other side of COVID-19. Many are exploring new market opportunities like divisional graphics, social distancing aids, face masks, and other types of personal protective equipment (PPE). PSPs have been forced to pivot during these unprecedented times, but the good news is that many of today’s new and emerging applications incorporate the same procedures and methods that these printers were already using. For example, most PSPs already have the equipment that is required to create printed face masks, social distancing graphics, directional signage, and other in-demand applications. So although the opportunities themselves are new, they involve technologies that are already well-known, like digital printing. Digital printing solutions enable unparalleled opportunities for flexibility and customization, which are more important than ever in today’s changing business climate.
PSPs that have shown a willingness to step outside of their comfort zones to support the sudden need for a variety of health and safety products have been able to carry themselves through the pandemic—and in some cases grow! Although the need for PPE is declining, it has not gone away. Many businesses are hoping to return to an in-person or hybrid office environment in the future, but many employees remain at home for the time being. Once the pandemic begins to subside, there will be new opportunities in supporting companies that hope to get their employees—and customers—back into their buildings in greater numbers.
It's About the Experience!
The pandemic has put many people—consumers as well as businesses—on edge. Now is the time for PSPs to develop a better understanding of their customers’ specific challenges and what is important to them. The focus must shift to the overall experience, and this experience must be consistent across all channels.
Some PSPs are delivering value to their clients by carefully considering what they can do to help. All verticals were affected by the pandemic, and businesses need support with following CDC guidelines and re-establishing customer trust. “Re-opening” kits that include a bundle of products to support businesses as they welcome back their customers and employees (and students within the education industry) have proven popular. These kits may include directional signage (i.e., for one-way aisles), floor/wall decals, sanitation stations, and parking signs.
Many establishments have re-opened since the lockdown phase of the pandemic, but consumers are still uneasy and concerned about their health. Consumers want to feel safe and protected when they venture out of their homes. Some applications communicate protection better than others; for example, floor graphics that are precisely placed every 6 feet will have more of an impact than a simple sign that reminds consumers to practice social distancing on their own. Graphics that have been pre-measured and applied help take the guesswork out of health and safety guidelines. This, in turn, makes customers feel confident that the venues they visit are taking their health seriously, which creates a better customer experience and helps foster loyalty.
The Rise of e-Commerce
If consumers and businesses weren’t excited about online shopping in the past, the pandemic certainly gave everyone a violent shove toward increased e-commerce adoption. Most physical locations are open, but some consumers simply aren’t comfortable entering enclosed areas unless they absolutely have to. Others don’t want to deal with the inconvenience of venturing out and taking the necessary safety precautions (mask wearing, hand sanitizing, social distancing, one-way aisles). COVID-19 has basically forced businesses to have an online presence, and the printing industry is no exception.
According to Keypoint Intelligence’s most recent vertical market research, over three-quarters of businesses that were shipping products or packages directly to their customers were striving to enhance the “unboxing experience” by enhancing the packaging that their products are shipped in. Since businesses have less of an opportunity to connect with their customers in person, they are using packaging to maintain this connection.
|Enhanced Packaging and the “Unboxing Experience”|
The rise of e-commerce ties back to that ever-important customer experience. Packaging is just another touchpoint that businesses can (and should) use to establish and maintain a connection with their customers.
The Bottom Line
Even in the midst of a pandemic that will likely be with us for some time, PSPs are uncovering new opportunities for growth. One good strategy is to focus on what you know because many of today’s in-demand applications incorporate the same procedures and methods that your company is already using. The offerings themselves may be different, but they are produced using technologies that are familiar and well-understood.
Above all, it’s important to listen to your customers during these trying times. Businesses and consumers are struggling, so the sales process requires a different approach. In some cases, you might need to shift your focus from securing a sale to establishing that connection so your customers will come back to you when things improve. In other cases, you might need to sell different things because needs and preferences are changing all the time. In many cases, you can leverage your existing capabilities to fulfill new market needs.
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