Monday, August 23, 2010

Mass Customization

It is said that Americans are exposed to over 5000 advertisements per day. This number rises every year and it is really astonishing if you stop to think about it. Assuming we are awake only a span of 16 hours that equates to roughly five advertisements per minutes. When I started sales I was told I needed to develop a 30-second commercial. However, at five advertisements per minute, it seems that this should be closer to only 12-seconds!

With this much competition for people's attention, it is no wonder that advertisers see such low response rates. It has become increasingly difficult (and almost impossible) to stand out and get noticed as consumers have developed incredibly strong defenses against advertisements. To the marketer, this feels like trying to kick in an iron door. While everyone else can sit there and try to figure out how to break down this door, the successful people are simply going to look for another way in. This is achieved through customization.

Customization used to be putting your own take on a recipe or imposing your own standards and procedures on an existing system. In this type of model, success is achieved by working just a little smarter than your competition and creatively positioning and marketing your brand to get more exposure. Your customers didn't buy, they were sold to. Somewhere this all began to change and increased brand exposure actually started having a negative impact when the product wasn't completely a necessity, outstanding or different to begin with.

Customization can occur on many levels and it doesn't mean just making a different product. You can make similar products that thousands of other people make but perhaps your customization is in the process or service. Whatever type of customization you are involved in, it must speak to the individual core of the person who will buy and use your product.

The internet is fast to this trend as websites have become highly customizable. News, sports, search engines, social networking sites and email provider websites all let you choose the content you want to see. The more you interact with those sites and are able to tell them about yourself, the more customization they can provide. It's like stepping into a store that sells custom tailored clothing. As soon as you step in the door, they are sizing you up and the more information they have about you (body shape and size, fashion preferences and personality) the better they are able to give you clothing that is completely for you.

The food and beverages industry is seeing the effects of customization as well. I did a search on "personal chefs" and was astonished to see everything that came up. There is even a United States Personal Chef Association. The idea that there are families who want a real chef to sit down with them in their home, understand their preferences and diet and help them prepare meals that are completely catered to each person's individual needs should frighten the restaurant industry.

Frozen foods (one of the most convenient and easy ways to eat) are moving towards the trends of customization. The company Personal Chef To Go, delivers customizable and fresh meals (not frozen) that are shipped right to your home in a thermal lined container.

The trends of customization mean good things for craft brewers as well. According to the Brewers Association, a trade group that represents craft brewers in America, craft beer volume sold was up 9 percent for the first half of 2010 despite beer sales overall being down 2.7 percent. In addition, the U.S. now has 1,625 breweries, 100 more than at the same time as last year.  More and more people are starting to support local craft beer producers and turning away from the mega producers. To keep up with the trends of customization, companies like Anheuser-Busch are turning to their own line of craft-like beers such as Bud Light Golden Wheat. However, no matter how many beers a company like Anheuser-Busch cranks out, they will struggle to capture that essence that makes a local craft beer so much more enjoyable. Craft beers are often created by only a handful of people and the labor, local flavor and originality that is put into the process has as much to do with how satisfying the beer is as the taste does.

So what does this all mean for printers and marketers? You see, unlike food and clothing, humans can survive without many types of products such as printing. A person's advertising defenses are going to be higher when presented with something that isn't an essential need to survival. Therefore, despite the trends towards mass customization, a restaurant can still stay afloat on location, cost, convenience or how well they market themselves.  A commercial printer however, who doesn't embrace customization, will be left behind.

Digital printing and variable data scratch the surface of customization. They allow each piece created to be completely unique to the end recipient. You can even have a specific message that is targeted to a specific demographic.  However, this type of product is still produced in a highly standardized process that groups people into "versions" and not as individuals.

True customization will let the end-user choose 100% of the content and it will master the art of empowering the consumer. You see this happening with self-published photo books and storefront sites that let the end-user order exactly the personalized, user-designed marketing materials they need. Digital printing services are a necessity but to service this changing landscape, printers will have to invest in pick-and-pack fulfillment, inserting capabilities and specialized, labor-intensive kitting services. Custom marketing kits, that are tailored to the individual end recipient, will be the norm. The customer will dictate the entire process and printers that cling to their standards (sizes, stocks, turnaround time) will lose market share. Total customization will be the new standard and the ability to be flexible and adjust to new customer expectations will be the ultimate decider in which printers will continue to have the privilege to produce whatever print projects still remain in the future.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sticky Surface

How sticky and absorbent is paper?  If you are producing a print project that the end-user will need to write on, then you need to make sure you select a paper that soaks up ink.  This scenario and consideration is a common occurrence in printing.  One thing I do to help people remember how to choose their paper is to site the frying pan/skillet example.

Non-stick pans have a coating on the surface that helps prevent sticking when cooking.  These pans are especially useful when working with foods such as eggs and fish that tend to stick.  In addition, when working with a regular uncoated pan, it is usually recommended that you add fat, oil or cooking spray (a coating) to the pan to prevent sticking.  What can we conclude from this?  A coated surface prevents sticking.  How does this apply to paper?  Ink will not stick as easily to a coated surface.

If you are conceptualizing a print project and you want people to write on the paper, an uncoated option is the way to go.  Uncoated sheets are more porous and the less coating on a sheet, the easier ink will absorb into the paper.  This is why ink smears when you try to write on a glossy sheet of paper.  If you absolutely must use a coated sheet but you still want the end-user to write on the paper then go with a coated sheet with less coating (ex - matte, dull).  Matte and dull sheets are coated but they have less coating than a glossy sheet with a high sheen.  You'll still get a little smear when you write on a matte or dull but it won't be nearly as bad.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Designing for Digital Printing - Part 2: Design Stage

Avoid large solids on the fold marks to reduce the noticeability of cracking. Heavy ink coverage
along the spine/fold is important for thicker stocks, especially in instances with toner-based digital printing. Toner sits on top of a sheet and doesn’t absorb into the paper. When the paper folds, the fibers pull apart at the fold (crack) and while all printing can show the presence of cracking, toner-based print projects will magnify the problem.

Solids and gradients can be especially problematic when printing digitally and are prone to banding. Avoid large solids and tints in your document by adding filters that add additional noise and texture to help ensure a smooth and even finish. Try to break up solids with photos and other design elements to eliminate any streaking. When designing a gradient, the move needs to be greater on a digital press for it to be noticeable. You might not even identify a 10% to 30% gradient but a 10% to 70% will start to give the effect you desire. In general, avoid long gradients with small, light color changes.

Create smart files. The digital press will most likely print in CMYK so design your file in CMYK. RGB has a greater color gamut and those RGB colors you see on your screen may not be possible to reproduce in the CMYK color gamut. In addition, to ensure good print resolution, create and save images at 300 ppi (pixels per inch). Also, when saving your files, quality PDF’s generated in the proper settings are best for digital printing.

Does your design incorporate variable elements? When designing multiple versions, create a common design and have a few select areas that will be interchangeable with unique content depending on the specific audience. Also, if the variable element you design is to be determined by a field in a spreadsheet, proof and test the longest word (highest number of characters) in the database field to ensure that it fits properly within your design.