Redefine Your Value Proposition
How to attract customers for your décor print business.
If the wide-format print industry wants to properly kick off the best decade ever, it’s time to get real and redefine our value proposition.
A majority of us have already concluded that in some décor verticals, wallcovering for example, the debate between digital and analog is a moot point. The benefit of digital wallcovering lies in creative flexibility. It’s a means to produce multiple brands or product lines without expensive tooling and set up, and it provides better adaptability in response to new trends in the market; it’s less about competing with repeat patterns designed for miles of hotel corridors, resulting in bidding wars over pennies per square foot. We have the means to produce just about anything. With faster, color-accurate printing, finishing, and cutting equipment, and more durable and flexible low-VOC inks with certifications as high as Greenguard Gold Certified becoming more common, this is one of the most exciting times in our industry’s history. This includes exterior markets more keenly aware of wide-format print technologies. But what, if anything, is holding back the industry or your décor print business?
When I first entered the digital print industry in 2013, I had very little knowledge of what wide-format printing was or the scope of the digital print community. However, I do remember being skeptical of those giclée fine art prints, which were slowly replacing darkroom prints. But let’s face it, change is inevitable. My career began at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, in 2003. I spent the majority of my time in the darkroom during an era when digital technology, both capture and output, started reshaping everything I loved about film photography: the artistic and technical challenge of using available light, the discipline of carefully composing the perfect shot in-camera so you didn’t waste a single frame (or college student budget), and the magic of processing my own film.
Plus, who could forget the moment when you first saw an image slowly appear on the emulsion of light-sensitive paper? Digital imaging technology democratized the art of photography, at first cheapening it, but mostly opening doors to a whole realm of possibilities.
Fast forward and that same magical moment happened when I began working for a wide-format print media and equipment reseller and saw a tech department full of wide-format printers in action for the first time. Never before did I realize the wide range of applications possible through digital printing: fine art rag paper, canvas, backlit material, adhesive-backed materials, polyester fabrics, banners, and P-O-P signage were just some of the options for photographers with pigment printers. As a newbie sales rep, it was my job to vision cast those options for my clients (photographers and fine artists) and teach them how to leverage their wide-format print equipment to build a profitable print business and unlock new markets. As a creative, I immediately knew I would never be successful as a print industry expert by regurgitating all the bells and whistles of said equipment; it was about building value and helping my clients connect with their ideal customer base with a fresh, innovative approach. A majority of that happened by asking open-ended questions, listening, and story-telling through case studies on our company blog, which I regularly contributed leads to.
Facts Tell, Stories Sell
Today, the same goes for PSPs trying to connect with décor customers. As a creative and photographer by education, who has worked in several roles across the wide-format print industry, I can very much assure you not one artist, interior designer, or décor-savvy consumer is concerned with the mechanical aspects of how it’s done as much as that it’s done. Of course, the environmental impacts and health factors of substrates and inks are key in customer decision-making, but that’s a separate discussion.
Here, I’m pointing out that while showing off your newest piece of equipment might seem like the most obvious way to differentiate yourself from competitors, it’s not exactly relevant to your customer base, which is the difference between push marketing and pull marketing. Lucky for us, Big Picture’s editor-in-chief, Adrienne Palmer, live-Tweeted during the 2020 EFI Connect and captured a simple yet timely statement when Nick Benkovich, strategic account manager, EFI, addressed the elephant in the room: “What are printers the worst at? Marketing. They know how to produce the materials, but not market themselves. Their site shows a new printer or the outside of their building.”
Are you familiar with the phrase “facts tell and stories sell?” I wholeheartedly believe our industry’s current areas of opportunity are marketing, branding, storytelling, and posturing. This means taking a hard look at your print shop and reassessing your competitive advantage. Disregard your equipment, presentation, and the specific value proposition you offer to your customer base for a moment, and ask yourself how you’re pitching your brand to niché segments like interior décor. That process will require a bit of good old fashioned soul-searching and reassessing of your approach to reach décor customers who are more than likely eager to learn about innovative solution-based applications you can offer.
However, to all print service providers reading this, please know you are not just a service provider, a dying trade, or afterthought. You’re part of an industry with the technology and tools to manufacture and customize end products. Part of conveying that is using the right language with your initial lead-gen content and throughout your sales process. Take a look at textiles, for example. PSPs who have strategically invested in advanced digital textile print platforms and finishing equipment aren’t merely service providers – they’re now micro-factories. Notice the difference? By elevating your approach with market specific language, you will attract your ideal customer base, and their perception of your business can shift from vendor to business partner. We’re missing killer marketing opportunities by leading with print industry jargon instead of showing audiences our value and how digital print can impact their businesses with high-quality finished goods, not just poster prints. I also believe the print industry is still inward-facing in terms of our language because we’re marketing to one another. That’s our weakest link when it comes to reaching exterior markets. In the décor space, it’s especially crucial to make connection points with your niche audience, beginning with your website, social media (no excuses; you need it), and face-to-face interaction during consultations or site visits. My point? Live it, breathe it, be it.
There are also clues indicating trends and shifts in décor applications you can leverage to develop new products and utilize as marketing content. Are you aware of Pantone’s 2020 Color of the Year and the meaning behind it? After lengthy trend analysis, the philosophy behind the newest color trend, “Classic Blue,” is that it’s a foundational anchor shade that acts as a classic neutral, yet it has an energizing effect that can be interpreted as traditional to unexpectedly bold. As a familiar color, it engages and enables other colors to interact in an aesthetically pleasing way, yet stands strong on its own. Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, says, “We are living in a time that requires trust and faith. It is this kind of constancy and confidence that is expressed by Pantone 19-4052 Classic Blue, a solid and dependable blue hue we can always rely on. Imbued with a deep resonance, Classic Blue provides an anchoring foundation. A boundless blue evocative of the vast and infinite evening sky, Classic Blue encourages us to look beyond the obvious to expand our thinking; challenging us to think more deeply, increase our perspective, and open the flow of communication.”
If you’ve happened to notice, two words in 2020 that keep appearing are “intentional” and “authenticity.” It’s a reaction to the previous dizzying, fast-paced decade where technology advancements fueled décor trends like maximalism in home decor. We know one benefit of digital print is customization and personalization, but that isn’t new anymore, so how will you define your competitive advantage? In a Forbes article about dissipating design trends in 2020, interior décor contributor Amanda Lauren quotes Christiana Coop, cofounder of Hygge & West, pointing out that trends like accent walls, be it traditional paste application or peel-and-stick, are phasing out: “We still love the wallpapered accent wall as it serves as more of a large art piece, but next year we’ll be seeing more rooms with all four walls wallpapered or painted in bold colors.” The fifth wall, also known as the ceiling, hasn’t gone away either, and is gaining more popularity. So repurposing the same material in a new application and marketing it in a fresh way is another way to maintain your edge. (Tip: Check with general contractors and building codes for required fire-ratings and third-party testing you may need to conduct after ink and coating.)
Faux everything-type finishes are also losing speed, but that doesn’t mean faux can’t be used authentically and intentionally. Along with authenticity and intentionality comes the responsibility of deeply knowing your customers and the markets they serve. That means faster printers and your ability to customize with just-in-time delivery will be more in-demand than ever, but converting your printers into revenue-producing machines also lays in the hands of your marketing strategy. If you’d like to continue the conversation, let’s talk. I’m currently looking to connect with like-minded people seeking to make a change in our industry.
Rachel Nunziata is a digital print business and market development specialist with an undeniable enthusiasm for interior and home décor segments. She is a graduate of Ringling College of Art & Design in Sarasota, Florida, and has a knack for enabling synergies between artists, interior designers, and industry experts. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter @RachelNunziata.