Preparing for Recovery
Expect the printing industry to grow in 2021, boosted by a sharp upturn in the American economy. There are still too many unknowns to forecast by how much. We can be sure, however, that the upcoming recovery will be very selective, giving some companies a lift, while shutting others out. Key to making the cut: Excel at analyzing and acting on market trends and begin preparing for the post-COVID world now.
From the start of the COVID-19 crisis we’ve seen the difference identifying and acting on market trends can make in a print provider’s performance. During the 30 days ending in early June, sales fell 30.2%, on average, for the 452 participants in the NAPCO Research/PRINTING United Alliance COVID-19 Print Business Indicators Survey. A small group, however, increased sales by an average of 15.8%. They were not companies of a particular size, and they were not in markets that got a boost from the pandemic. Rather, they recognized early the opportunities in COVID-related printing products, personal protection equipment, serving essential industries, expanding e-commerce capabilities, etc., and moved decisively to capture those opportunities.
The research revealed two key lessons promoting success. First, effectively analyzing market trends and acting on the analysis supports profitable growth. Even the best market analysis doesn’t offer a company much benefit if they don’t act on what they learn. Second, no company is ever good enough at either. If we aren’t consistently improving market analysis and execution, a competitor somewhere is.
These resources can help print providers improve their market analysis skills:
- “Where to Get a Good Idea: Steal It Outside Your Group,” Michael Erard, The New York Times. An introduction to the work of Dr. Ronald Burt, an expert on building professional networks. Burt warns that limiting our networks to peers whose companies are similar to our own — thinking that an outsider, no matter how successful, can’t teach us anything about our business — produces homogeneity of thought that deadens creativity. The antidote to creative inertia:
- Join a peer group or attend a conference from outside our industry.
- Read the blogs, articles, and books authored by outside experts.
- Include outsiders in discussions who are not limited by “biases, assumptions, and entrenched mind-sets” or by “that’s they way we do it in this industry” thinking.
- Seek dissenting views and contrary opinions. Maybe the dissenter is on to something the consensus is missing.
One participant in our COVID-19 Print Business Indicator research practices Dr. Burt’s advice by “following everything in the printing industry,” but also drawing on outside resources such as McKinsey and major news organizations for trends in manufacturing and consumer behavior. He reads three hours per day, “not all of it directly associated with technical information about the industry,” and credits the breadth of his sources with keeping him ahead of paradigm shifts, such as the advance from analog printing to digital printing, and freeing him from “this is the way printing is done and the industry has behaved” thinking.
- Outside In, The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business, Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine. This book highlights the dangers of inside-out thinking, or of assuming we know what clients want. Understanding what’s really happening with clients takes more than casual contact and the occasional satisfaction survey. It requires consistently measuring all points of contact that an organization has with its clients — not just in sales and customer service. Digging deeper offers insight into the customers’ world that can be used to create even greater value for them.
- “Planned Opportunism,” Vijay Govindarajan, Harvard Business Review. This article addresses the importance of reading the “weak signals,” or early evidence of emerging trends in technology, client preferences, communication habits, demographics, etc., through which future opportunity reveals itself.
In addition, these resources can help print providers improve the execution of their action plans. While the approaches and terminology of these resources differ, all three lay out a system for defining what companies need to do and how to get it done.
- Traction, Get a Grip on Your Business, Gino Wickman.
- Objectives and Key Results: Driving Focus, Alignment, and Engagement with OKRs, Paul R. Niven, Ben Lamorte.
- The Four Disciplines of Execution, Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, Jim Hurling.
Concerning the post-COVID world, it’s difficult to think about tomorrow when today presents so many challenges. But the good news is that a vaccine is coming. Operation Warp Speed, a collaboration of U.S. federal agencies and nearly 20 biopharmaceutical companies, already has several candidates in critical Phase 3 trials. Additionally, manufacturing and distribution capabilities are being ramped up so that when one is approved it can quickly be made available nationwide. If Phase 3 goes well, that could be before yearend. And that, of course, would be a game changer.
Where will the post-pandemic opportunities be? What will clients need most? Something new? More of something they’ve always needed but maybe provided in a new way? How are their preferences and behaviors likely to change? Are we prepared to address those changes? If not, how will we prepare?
Let’s begin to think about those questions. And let’s begin to beef up market analysis and execution by drawing on the resources mentioned. The sooner we get started, the greater our chances of participating fully in the upturn ahead.
Andrew D. Paparozzi joined PRINTING United Alliance as Chief Economist in 2018. He analyzes and reports on economic, technological, social and demographic trends that will define the printing industry’s future. His most important responsibility, however, is being an observer of the industry by listening to the issues and concerns of company owners, executives and managers.Previously, he worked 31 years at the National Association for Printing Leadership. He has also taught mathematics, statistics and economics at various colleges.Andrew holds a Bachelor’s degree in economics f rom Boston College and a Master’s degree in economics — with concentrations in econometrics and public finance — from Columbia University.