Print's continuing vibrancy deserves spotlight

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For a medium whose relevancy is sometimes questioned in the era of online communication, print is not only making a good case for its longevity, but also making a valiant effort to change with the times.

This summer, the likes of Kodak and Hewlett-Packard - as well as retail brands with a heavy investment in print, including Staples, Office Max, Office Depot and FedEx Kinko's - have all launched new services and attendant marketing campaigns to show how important print is to the world.

With GraphExpo kicking off this week in Chicago, the event's timing gives it the appearance of a coda to a summer's work of printing companies putting their money where their mouths are.

HP's news, announced two weeks ago, was just the latest salvo, with the $300 million installment of its Print 2.0 campaign serving as an opener for a four-year global campaign. The strategy focuses on a next-generation digital printing platform, with an array of printable products on the Web.

Around the same time, Kodak Graphic Communications Group CMO Jeffrey Hayzlett stated that marketers regularly spend more of their budget on direct mail than on broadcast media - a driving force behind that company's multichannel "Print isà" campaign. Thanks to great strides in customization through such tools as variable data printing, "Print is the new interactive media," according to Hayzlett.

Numbers like HP's $300 million ad spend are hard to argue with, and of course the stakes are high for the companies whose bread and butter rolls out on the presses. When a $5.9 billion company tells you what's big on its radar, you listen - such as I did when I met Pitney Bowes' marketing and communication executives last week. For that company, it's all about transpromo - the practice of putting well-targeted marketing messages into standard transactional items, such as bank statements or invoices. In fact, John Schloff, PB's VP of marketing, is presenting a session at GraphExpo on the subject.

Transpromo takes a fixed expense and makes it profitable by using the missives as promotional vehicle. The beauty of the practice is that it has the potential to benefit companies of all sizes - whether it's a small marketer who can buy a tightly focused insert package, or a global bank, which can profit from what is already a line item. Mailing discounts on heavier items also make it much more cost-effective to send promotions with transactional documents than to send them separately.

As Pitney Bowes' Schloff points out, transpromo is not new, but it has the capacity to become increasingly targeted, being based on customer profiles and preferences. As well as variable data printing, advances in customer analytics help make this tactic all the more dynamic.

So, in a week dominated by news of Yahoo's acquisition of BlueLithium, and of course the cute new iPods, the printing world will gather in Chicago, and serve as a reminder that print is not dead; it's just not your father's inky press.

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