As we finally find 2020 receding in the rear-view mirror, a new question emerges—how do we pick up the pieces and move forward in 2021? Although this year has no doubt been difficult, there are a few key lessons that we can take from the pandemic:
- E-commerce has become even more important: We have been forcefully taught a lesson during COVID-19: e-commerce is an extremely effective solution for our times. Examples abound—online grocery shopping, Zoom teleconferences with everyone from your boss to your grandma, and e-banking when you simply want to deposit a check. For print service providers, it’s time to take a close look at your web-to-print solution; Customers and prospects will be more amenable to electronic job submission. The pandemic has assured this. If your web-to-print solution is not serving you well, it’s important to make changes now to improve it.
- Signage is critical to our health and well-being: We all have seen signage that clarifies public health information in an easy-to-understand fashion. In addition to keeping us informed, signage can bring a sense of normality to our changing lives in public spaces. It matters even as it guides us to stay six feet apart and use a mask. When incorporated with “divisional graphics” (structural or decorative graphics that are used to separate people in public places), signage can help keep us protected. Meanwhile, lawn signs can help us celebrate events like graduations even when we cannot gather together to witness them. Are your wide format printing services supporting these goals?
- Physical communications have value: The value of printed messages only increases when we cannot be together in groups. Although pandemic signage has demonstrated the most immediate impact of this, the ability of direct mail letters, postcards, and catalogs to reach into every home has a value that cannot be overlooked. Like so many other print applications, direct mail has suffered during the pandemic. Even so, it is well-positioned for a rebound once infection rates drop following broad-based vaccination programs.
- We must acknowledge that some things are not coming back: Whether this is First Class mail volume (which has been on a decades-long decline) or business deal handshakes, some traditions that we once took for granted are unlikely to make a return to prior levels. This will force all of us to reconsider what is most important and to acknowledge that life as we know it has forever changed.
- Some things will survive despite the odds: Some things will persist, but in a different way. One example of this is Black Friday, the traditional huge in-person shopping event that occurs the day after Thanksgiving. This year, retailers still pushed Black Friday sales even though they knew that there would be far fewer shoppers in stores than previous years. They used the event—perhaps as a precursor to Cyber Monday—to promote their brands and drive shoppers to their websites. “Black Thursday” is typically a huge day for newspaper inserts—you might pick up your Friday newspaper and wonder if it is Sunday because of its increased size due to the number of circulars. That trend held true this year despite the pandemic.
- Some things will take more time to recover: In-person events like traditional conferences and trade shows as well as concerts, plays, and sporting events all benefit from live audiences. The void in related marketing activities due to the cancellation of these types of events has been a heavy burden on the printing industry. Although people are hungry for the return of these events, they will be cautious about returning even after a vaccine. The availability of a successful vaccine will not make masks and social distancing go away; these things will be with us for quite some time. This underscores the importance of reassuring marketing, including printed options like brochures, postcards, posters, and informational signage.
With all of that in mind, here are some recommendations for carving a path forward:
- Take this time to improve your workflow. Consider conducting a full workflow assessment. Such efforts will pay off when the economy rebounds and job volumes increase./li>
- Use print to communicate with clients and prospects. Regular mailings to existing clients and new prospects shows them that you continue to believe in the effectiveness of print. In addition, using tools like personalized URLs or QR codes in your printed communications highlights how print can be an effective part of a cross-media campaign.
- Differentiate your services. Now is also a good time to assess the services you provide in terms of their effectiveness to your clients and their profit margin. There is no reason to continue doing something simply because it has always been done in the past. Similarly, new services should not be added just because they seem intriguing. Whatever options you choose, you must find ways to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
We approach 2021 with hope and the relief that 2020 will soon be behind us. At the same time, however, there is much that we can learn from our experiences of 2020 and we can certainly apply those lessons as we navigate through 2021.
Author bio: Jim Hamilton of Green Harbor Publications (www.greenharbor.com) is an industry analyst, market researcher, writer, and public speaker. For many years, he was Group Director in charge of Keypoint Intelligence – InfoTrends’ Production Digital Printing & Publishing consulting services. He has a BA in German from Amherst College and a Master’s in Printing Technology from the Rochester Institute of Technology.