Three Strategies for Differentiating Your Wide-Format Business
As a printing segment, wide-format is mature. While the technologies continue to be refined, and the materials used get upgraded or reformulated, the core concept behind what the segment does has remained unchanged for quite a few years. Gone are the days of revolutionary, new print platforms, such as when flatbed inkjet was introduced. It’s the same with ink systems: Even latex inks, which could be viewed as the “new kid on the block,” were introduced more than a decade ago.
Today’s wide-format segment has become more commoditized than it has been before. More people are using similar technologies to serve similar product areas in similar ways. Even areas previously considered “niche,” for instance digital textile printing, have become commonplace and competitive. As the segment becomes typified by sameness, the points of differentiation that were once critical selling points for a wide-format business lose their punch. So, then, what can wide-format producers do to differentiate their businesses?
Do It Better
High-quality printing — including exemplary color — is essential for any company operating in the segment’s key markets. But it is also an expectation. Given improvements in technology, software, and materials, excellent print quality is fully achievable. Color, however, is but a component of the broader package we sell our customers. Differentiation today must include excellence in that and all other elements: versioning, kitting, perfectly-executed finishing and more — all steps that make life easier for the customer — presented as a solution-based approach.
Do It Faster
Print speed is a figure widely discussed when inkjet printing is involved, and the speeds of inkjet printing systems continue to grow incrementally. But the production of signage and graphics is, in most cases, a process. Speed is maximized only when the throughput of the entire process is harmonized. This means it must include order taking, inventory control, automation to move materials through the shop, finishing, and shipping – a symbiosis between potential and reality. In a print segment where turn times are decreasing as the need for customization is increasing, those who can truly manage both print speed AND production speed are those who stand out.
At the pinnacle of the wide-format segment is a group of companies for which printing is a means to an end. Sure, they take their printing seriously, and they do it well, but is not what differentiates them from their direct competitors. Their greatest value is instead logistical – the ability to manage complex jobs, thus realizing the vision or the specific needs of the customer. A couple of real-life examples of this type of service is location-specific, customized printing, shipping, and installation of graphic elements for a 500-store big-box roll-out. Another is the printing, management, and installation of graphics to completely outfit a stadium for a major sporting event, all done within a short timeframe. Few companies can say, “We can do that.” Those who can, have a leg up.
A mature segment offers many opportunities to do business, usually operating within the competitive confines of the segment as it is understood by both producers and customers. But as commoditization creeps in and margins fall, profitability is challenged, and consolidation commences. Staying ahead of this and taking an active approach toward the true value of your business is what makes its differentiation so essential.