The marketing narrative that leads directly from an all-print past into an all-digital present and future has always been simplistic to the point of falsehood. As a participant in the printing industry, you know that there is more to marketing than digital outreach, and even at the height of innovation, print's role never quite disappeared. Convincing prospects of this fact is still necessary, though, as they may be convinced that every print offering is old-fashioned.

Fortunately, recent years have complicated the narrative. Digital marketing is no longer novel, which means that hype is being replaced by a dose of reality. The printing business may have an easier time stating its value proposition than it did in the immediate wake of the IT revolution. It's time to seize upon this changing perception and show potential customers how their marketing could improve with an infusion of print.

Omnichannel is the rule
According to WhatTheyThink contributor Cary Sherburne, talk of being all-digital in the marketing sphere is on the wane. This means that an ambitious print service provider can launch a push to become a valued partner in an omnichannel or multichannel marketing strategy. Sherburne urged printers to use one of those terms in sales pitches, as they are more common in the marketing lexicon than "cross-media," which is more print-specific.

Sherburne spoke with a panel of industry experts to examine the trends print service providers have seen among their customers. They have observed the resurgence of paper, with products being sent out in short print runs and targeting consumers more precisely than ever. The nature of print's comeback – as a pinpoint-accuracy engagement tool rather than a blizzard of outreach – means that service providers capable of working with and integrating data seem ideally well-placed to offer what marketing departments are looking for.

With many different channels for marketing and outreach active in today's strategies, there is a persistent need for a company to step in and be the bridge between silos. Sherburne noted that when print service providers take on this role in the marketing landscape, they create value beyond what they offer through simple print products. The physical items are still the crux of a printer's offerings, but they shouldn't exist on an island. Rather, adding this type of outreach to an omnichannel strategy should feel natural.

Will the Third Wave change things?
With the previous digital revolutions fading into the rear view, WhatTheyThink contributor Richard Romano offered a look at the Third Wave, which is expected to crest next year. This latest innovation period should involve smart and consumer-attuned technologies, as well as rich data collected from the Internet of Things. Considering the changes previous digital developments wreaked on the print world, it's worth asking what this means for physical media.

Romano pointed out that while some parts of printing may feel a sting from smarter and more connected digital technology, there are segments of the market expected to fare better than others. These include wide-format printing and specialty products. The author noted that with the availability of more relevant and actionable information, printers will be able to offer new capabilities of their own, especially regarding customization. He conceded that print isn't exactly immediate – which puts it slightly out of step with the rest of the tech wave – but it can interface with the coming changes in other ways.

Print has become a slightly niche proposition in the past few years, but it hasn't gone away. Taking on the aforementioned role as part of an omnichannel marketing strategy is one way that print service providers have survived. Romano posited that being aware of the tech preferences of their customers and playing into those expectations is another route to success.

Print in a digital world
The print sector today is a tough creature – it has survived several waves of transformation, even when prognosticators wondered if its relevance was fading. Being attentive to customer needs and fitting in with the way they market today, adapting to the state of the market rather than living in denial, is a way for print service providers to increase their chances of riding each wave of tech instead of going under. As long as printed items have any resonance at all with recipients, service providers will have a claim to value.