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Print power: innovative, human, sustainable

The future of print in a digital world is a rather more complex topic than you might think. Even before the challenges presented to the industry by the pandemic, there were plenty of questions arising about print’s future. It’s a global conversation and one that was explored in the context of Africa and the Middle East during Expo 2020 Dubai in a special edition of Canon Frontiers of Innovation. It was an apt setting to explore trends in print. “Printing is about making memories that last a lifetime and Expo is all about experiences,” said Dina Storey, Director of Sustainability Operations for Expo 2020 Dubai.

Although the global print market declined in 2020 due to the impact of Covid 19, future growth is forecast and there was a feeling of cautious optimism among the discussion panel that comprised of Dina, Temitope Ekundayo, CEO of Printivo Ltd, Nigeria, Zahir Hassan, Managing Director of Power Print, Dubai and Dennis Micheni, CEO of DiscoverBrands3D, Kenya. “Covid 19 provided an opportunity for us to pause, reflect and assess how to best develop the print industry in the future,” said an upbeat Zahir Hassan. The industry did not by any means shut down, and the pandemic brought some interesting opportunities, with a new demand for health-education signage and exceptional growth in printing for e-commerce and delivery businesses. It also stimulated a shift toward a more hybrid print/digital world with the widespread adoption of QR codes. And customers also began to look at alternative means to print, with online, on-demand and smaller runs, easier updates and reduced storage requirements.

It’s certainly been a welcome shift. “When we launched in Nigeria in 2013, printing online was considered impossible,” explained Temitope Ekundayo. “Today digital, on-demand printing is the norm. Technology has bridged the gap, enabling us to deliver quality print at speed. This is where growth potential lies.” Coupled with a continued improvement in working agility and new efficiencies brought about through automation, AI and workflow integration, it’s a considerably better view of the future for print than one might expect.

Left: five black and white headshots of the discussion participants from the article with their names and organisations alongside. At the top is the moderator, Eithne Treanor, founder and CEO of E Treanor Media. On the right, the Frontiers of Innovation @ Expo 2020 logo, with the text ‘Exploring a dynamic print industry and celebrating the EXPO 2020 partnership. Hosted by Canon, with the Canon logo and Expo 2020 Dubai logo.

A very human industry

In order to meet changing customer desires, print has rightly started to position itself as a creative industry, and Canon’s 2021 ‘Creating Customer Value’ Insight Report found that this is precisely what brands want, with 80% wishing for more creative input from their print service providers. “Creativity in design is important,” stressed Printivo’s Temitope Ekundayo. “It allows you to customise and edit everything simultaneously, ensuring a perfect end product.” Zahir Hassan, of Power Print Dubai shares this sentiment. “The human touch is an aspect of printing that will ensure longevity.” Crucially, the technology is now available for more creative print solutions. 3D printing is an excellent example and is forecast to grow at over 17%. While printing on a wider variety of media is also proving popular, even on traditionally challenging surfaces like leather and fabrics, as well as environmentally friendly plastic alternatives, such as Tyvek.

The personal touch certainly isn’t limited to printers and their customers. The increasing demand for personalisation is driving growth in certain print sectors, as marketing becomes more tailored to individuals and is deliberately customer-centric. “There’s enormous potential for personalised printing at scale,” said Ekundayo.

Print can provide an irreplaceable offline experience, offsetting the digital fatigue felt by consumers and adding a new flavour to campaigns, creating collateral that reflects personal choice. This equally applies to apparel as it does custom travel itineraries or discount vouchers. These integrated, highly personalised campaigns, with both online and print elements, can make marketing come alive in a way that is not possible in a digital-only execution.

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commitment to growing a green economy

Green Printing

Growing consumer demand for environmentally-friendly products has put sustainability high on the print agenda and this was a particularly important area for Dina Storey. “Expo 2020 Dubai embodies the principles of sustainable development. We’re excited to work closely with Canon, to see how the printing industry innovates to be sustainable – environmentally, socially and economically.” Levelling up to meet sustainability goals, Dennis Micheni of DiscoverBrands 3D Printing in Kenya recently received an award in the Under 35 Environment Category Youth Agenda Kenya 2021. His company is piloting an innovative project that recycles PET waste into an affordable 3D printing filament. “We are creating a whole value chain by generating value for our products where we can collect what we create; there’s no loop, no leakage,” he explains.

Innovations like this are just one reason that print is not about to go away. It’s an industry that is both growing andevolving into a powerful tool within a complex digital ecosystem. Research shows that 30% of communication buyers believe print will be an important ingredient in the marketing mix for years to come. So, there will be plenty of opportunities for the service providers who offer creative marketing insights and innovative solutions, as well as demonstrating measurable returns on investment. Print still has power.

Expo 2020 Dubai and Canon will be hosting Frontiers of Innovation talks every month until March 2022. For more information follow Canon Middle East and Africa on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Written by Mai Youssef, Corporate Communications and Marketing Services Director – Africa, Middle East and Turkey.