The digital seduction of communication was quick and intense; marketers didn’t just walk away from print, they sprinted. We are all guilty of having jumped onto the digital bandwagon and for a while the consumer was just as thrilled about it as we were.
For the past 15 years we have been surfing the crest of a technological tsunami that has not only forced us to rethink the way we interact with consumers but, more significantly, has empowered consumers in a way we haven’t seen before. The consumer is now firmly in control; he decides what he sees when he sees it, and what he does with it.
Digital is here to stay and rightly so—it’s fantastic—but the novelty has worn off. Technology is now so deeply integrated into our lives it’s almost invisible. Consumers have long since stopped feeling flattered and rewarded by personalization, it has become an expected minimum. Today we’re all busy weaving marketing automation into our strategies and letting behavioral tracking drive recommendation engines. Stalked by abandoned shopping carts, the poor consumer is starting to feel like the digital equivalent of a gazelle on the African plains; hunted rather than served.
So, what’s the problem? If the technology is working and the consumer expects it, why are more and more companies finding it harder to sustain engagement through their digital channels?
The reality is that technology has moved on but our brains haven’t. You can’t tweet your way around evolution. Memories, particularly brand memories, don’t come easily. It can take up to two years for a memory to propagate into our long-term memory and at any time during that process our emotional brain can reject it. It isn’t our logical brain (the neocortex) that drives decision-making and memory formation; it’s our emotional brain (the limbic system). The emotional core of our brain rules the roost and the simple facts of evolution can’t be disputed. When it comes to forming a memory, repetition is vital, definitely, but repetition of the same flat digital message is pointless.
Emotions and Values are the key elements
Digital lacks the things we need most to quiet our unconscious, highly suspicious emotional brain—a presence in the real world. Just seeing or hearing something isn’t enough. We need to touch, smell, taste; we need to really ‘feel’ it. Memories are associative and without the qualification of more tangible emotional inputs to balance emotionally deficient experiences, the brain finds it super easy to reject a concept—no matter how many times an individual has received a message.
Smart marketers are putting print back in the mix. But, really smart marketers are using print in ways we haven’t seen before because the technology wasn’t there. Print serves an incredibly important role in the mix. Not only does it stick around when the power goes out, it feeds neural activity in a way digital alone simply can’t match. You can feel it.
Most printers have some form of digital capability these days, but very few have the technology or expertise to integrate with digital channels at an immersive level. Print is an emotional medium and thanks to digital technology we can use it in ways that ignite experiential strategies. If you want your brand experiences to be cognitively sticky, you need to put print back on the agenda. Period.
I got wind that Hudson Printing (based in Salt Lake City) had installed an HP T350 Digital Web Press—this machine is setting a new standard in digital printing, it’s very exciting stuff. As a neuromarketing geek, I had been desperate to see one of these machines up close. One of the biggest gripes we neuromarketers have is that applying the full spectrum of behavioral adaptations has always been prohibitively expensive; consequently, most clients scale back and do the bare minimum. When I say adaptation I’m not talking about adding a name to the headline or swapping out a picture here and there, I’m talking about real adaptation; cognitive fluency, gender fluency, priming, variable content etc.
Hudson Printing has a long, distinguished history with web printing and its offset, digital and fulfillment capabilities are impressive. With over 100 years behind them, you can feel the commitment to service in the air; the place buzzes with it. Their diverse and very stable client base allowed them to not only weather the economic downturn, but pop out of it stronger than ever. Good to know, but I’ll be honest I was expecting the standard tour of their new ‘publishing’ capabilities with the usual rhetoric about customization of print and the benefits of large-scale digital printing. I wouldn’t have been disappointed either, but I was totally unprepared for what I actually got. Mind officially blown.
Hudson has been quietly ramping up their immersive capabilities and digging deep into the digital world. Paul Hudson, president and descendent of the Hudson family, is a man on a digital era mission—immersive integration, true flexibility, with a tiny environmental footprint. Hudson has customized its installation of the HP T350 in a truly unique way—even HP is excited about it. Their vision for this installation is to provide a seamless bridge between traditional offset and digital printing. Paper technology is rushing to catch up with digital, but this press can handle traditional as well as digital stock. Long and short of it, you can run a web job on the traditional press and finish it up on the digital press; or you can just use the T330 to run sophisticated variable jobs in quantities that were previously too large for most companies to afford.
The T350 has many outstanding features, obviously the implications for complete behavioral adaptation got me excited, but as a lover of all things printed, I have never been ok with the some of the limitations of digital in terms of finish. This inkjet printer has got that licked. State-of-the art bonding techniques and a killer drying system means that the finish off this press is as close to off-set as you’ll ever get. An added bonus is that because the inks are aqueous, they are virtually VOC free. It’s an outstanding installation (which includes some killer first-in-North-America finishing solutions), which I’m sure will be copied as word gets out, but right now this company is doing something amazing with this technology.
The new press was impressive enough, but it’s their vision for the future that really blew my mind. Paul Hudson has gathered together a team of people who have deeper expertise in key strategic areas than any printer I have come across. Paul Gardner, director of Media & Publishing Solutions is obsessed with aligning printing and digital media—his enthusiasm is infectious and his expertise is really impressive. Chris Ross, Chief Marketing Officer, is a ‘proper’ marketer who really knows his stuff. The Hudson team is made up of people you can talk strategy with; they get it and they’re driving it.
Paul Hudson is passionate about adding value at every stage of the process, but his commitment to adding value to the ultimate consumer really stands out for me. This is a guy who is determined to create an amazing future for his company and his customers. What he probably doesn’t realize is that he is creating a new standard for print shops. I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s next out of this group. One thing is for sure, when I need full-blown adaptation, immersion and integration of print into a multi-layer program, this is the place I will be going to achieve it.
I literally walked out of that building and thought, “Wow, I just met an industrial
By Joanne Bloomfield
- Digital Printing involved in Fashion, Marketing and Survival! (screengraphicsimagingnews.wordpress.com)
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- LG to Reveal World’s Smallest Pocket Printer at CES 2014 (tomshardware.com)