Online in press: How Canon is using digital to breathe new life into print

Cathy Bittner, business development manager, graphic arts, for Canon Europe spoke at this year’s Digital Innovators Summit (DIS) in Berlin. Here, she talks us through how modern innovations in digital technology are leading to a resurgence in the power of print.

This article was originally published on 10th June 2019, at FIPP.com

Introducing publishers to the virtues of print media may seem like a strange concept, but in 2019 that’s exactly where we’re at. Canon, an 81 year old multinational once famous for the production of portable cameras, is no stranger to pivoting itself. A whole series of innovations and acquisitions in recent years has led the company into new revenue streams, with an estimated nine per cent of total sales having been reinvested into research and development in 2011.

The company now finds itself in the thick of the digital-print revolution. Where augmented reality is brining digital experiences to physical touch points, so too evolutions like 3D printers and virtual reality are using digital technology to breathe new life into the physical world. Here, Bittner explains the difference between traditional offset and modern dynamic printing.  

“The difference between offset printing and digital printing is that offset is static, and digital completely dynamic,” says Bittner. “So, that means that every page you print can be completely different. We believe now that you can use that in publishing and also in targeting readers by basically curating the content that suits every reader individually. And you can produce that in pretty high productivity ranges.”

With the lines between the physical and digital worlds now blurring, it is perhaps inevitable that the practices and processes from the one realm are spilling into the other. For publishers, this represents an opportunity to apply newfound digital techniques and expertise to the printed product.

“Basically, where digital print is today, it can be an integrated part of the complete communication mix. So you can have digital marketing with programmatic advertising, you can target part of that programmatic advertising as programmatic print. You can put AR, and if you want you can use barcodes, you can use QR codes, basically to use print to trigger online. So you can make that connection in various ways.”

There is also of course, something to be said for breaking free from the digital noise in 2019. The fight for eyeballs in search and social has made cutting through to consumers notoriously difficult for marketeers and publishers alike in recent years. The might of the Facebook-Google duopoly in this area has not helped matters, and in Europe and around the world GDPR, and increasing calls for digital regulation mean that ‘data driven strategies’ do not necessarily hold the clout they once did. Could modern digital printing offer one possible solution?

“Absolutely. I mean, what we see is that the results of a lot of digital campaigns, where curators have just gone pure digital, they're becoming difficult, because people have digital fatigue. So getting the cut through is more and more difficult, because everyone is doing the same thing. Whereas if you can get that mix of targeting with print in a personal way, and then getting back online, then it gives the publisher a much greater traction, actually, with his reader because you're getting through at points where digital online won't get through.”

And as Bittner explains, there are numerous ways businesses can dip their toes into these waters: 

“What we do as Canon is we supply end-to-end digital solutions. But that also includes workflow. So the example I gave with Bonprix, who are using that for their catalogue, mass customizing catalogue, they have some software partners that they work with for the recommendation engine, for creating those templates, and then we take that, or our customers take that and then push it through production.”

“With the postcard retargeting, for example, that can be turned around within 48 hours. So from the time you have been on the net, and we see there's a need, or there's an interest, you can keep that warm and have a postcard or some kind of a communication in print at that customer within 48 hours.”

“I think there's a lot of different starting points. I think for example with the postcard idea, many magazine publishers have very nice and relevant content sites now. So sometimes they have the challenge to get subscribers to trigger them onto the net. You could therefore use something like that in print to trigger consumers to go to your online site, where they then engage with more relevant content, and at various touch points along that reader experience.”

In terms of the types of products that can now be produced on fast turnaround times by digital printing, Bittner explains that there are numerous options. Because of the flexibility provided by this approach, printing is no longer contained to the confines of the printing press.

“It can be a publishing product, like some kind of a magazine. Or it can be a promotional product. It really doesn't matter for the output. For example, say you wanted to do a special interest magazine, for your subscribers. You could even go as far as saying I want to do a targeted version for this subscriber.”

“Maybe it's for a bike, where you can have the advertising that goes around that particular product, with targeting exactly that person. If he’s a fanatical biker you can liaise them with people who are selling that product in his vicinity, so you can add geo to behavioural, if you know what I mean. So everything you doing online, basically - best offer recommendations, you can put into print.”

Finally, for an industry that has been ‘going digital’ for more than 20 years now, the media sector can still place quite a high emphasis on, and segmentation of, digital migration. Have publishers potentially been too quick to cut off print strategies? And even if that was a necessity in days gone by, has technology now caught up to the point where physical products can become a viable part of the mix again?

“Yeah, I think our feeling is maybe [publishers] have seen digital and print as two different paths, and we really see that the onsets and the developments in digital printing could bring those together and bridge it, because I think we need both. And digital printing allows you to have all the good things of print. So, grabbing attention and being tactile and being personal, but also with the online advantages of digital marketing. The targeting, the real precise timely, meaningful offer. So, best of both worlds, I would say!”