Print is a dirty word in some quarters of the enterprise world. Leaders may see prin products as slower or less efficient than digital methods, an impression only accelerated by the concept of going "paperless." Faced with this situation, you may be wondering what path you can take to convert new buyers in a potentially pessimistic industry.

Fortunately, conditions aren't actually as grim as the above assessment indicates. While it is possible to run into those who doubt the print business has a future, your performance and place in the field are in your own hands. If you stay with the same methods, technologies and strategies that have been use for decades, you are part of an outdated model. However, if you evolve in step with the times and change your outreach, it is possible to become a new breed of print service provider.

If organizations today aren't looking for an old-fashioned print service provider, your job isn't to convince them that they're wrong. Instead, it's up to you to come up with a lineup of offerings that promise real value for potential buyers and give them what they're looking for.

A promise of evolution
As WhatTheyThink's Barb Pellow recently explained, it's useless to pretend the printing industry isn't becoming heavily digital. Instead of disputing the basic facts, it's time to work with them and refit your operations and appeal to suit the market as it stands now. Pellow prescribed the model for industry transformation recently described in McKinsey Quarterly, which breaks down evolution into five easy steps, from determining what your new approach will be to making sure not to walk back your changes.

It's important to understand and embrace comprehensive business change because the role of printer no longer means what it once did. Pellow made it clear that print shops tend not to make an impression as pure manufacturing businesses. Instead of simply producing items to order, you'll have to step up and take a serious role consulting with your clients. You can help other firms provide a targeted and situationally appropriate digital experience, but only if you make digital processes a regular part of your offerings.

When you sell products and services, you are merely one of many companies that can give a similar experience. No matter how high the quality of your printing becomes or how low a price you can offer, a printer without value-added digital components is replaceable. Pellow urged companies to make the shift right away, following McKinsey's five steps:

  • Figure out what the new approach for your company will be, discarding the way things have been done in the past, even if the habits have become very natural.
  • Stretch to achieve full potential, going all the way to a new business model instead of being satisfied with small steps. Set ambitious goals and reach them.
  • Develop a different "cadence" of business, with the departments working on transforming operations not also having to keep up with day-to-day duties under the old style.
  • Cut down barriers to change and implement incentives, making sure the whole organization is aware of why the change is coming and the importance of keeping up with it. Potential rewards can keep staff members engaged, even during the potential chaos of a digital transformation.
  • Ensure new processes are repeatable, because a transformation that falls apart almost immediately is no good to anyone. 

Pellow specified that when printers become more modern, they're tuning up their shipping, packaging and general tech performance. If you implement broad-based change across your operations, you stand a chance of keeping your place in a field that's charting a new course.

Mixed indicators
The commercial print sector is a field that could be worse, but could also be a lot better. These middling numbers show why it's important to be as modern and attentive as possible. Another WhatTheyThink contributor, Joe Webb, explained that print shipments are mostly on pace with 2015, falling 0.1 percent year-over-year in September. Furthermore, employment in the print sector is down 9,000 jobs from the year previous.

The relevance of these numbers is clear: If the print field was growing, keeping operations steady could be a way to pick up business. With enough demand, there would be business for the taking. However, with the past three years of commercial print staying essentially the same, and this year softer in some months, your ability to compete and differentiate yourself will determine how your business fares.

Carving out a place
The customer is always right. When print industry clients demand more digital services, that's what you have to provide. There's no need to see this as a burden or an imposition, either. Instead, it's a way to rise to the top of the industry, becoming a value-added provider that's not easily replaced. To make the transformation, you'll have to go through a few steps, but it's nothing your company can't handle. Furthermore, the destination is worth it.