There's one fact that's evident to anyone following the story of the modern printing industry, whether that individual is pessimistic or optimistic about the sector's future – things have changed. The millennial generation, the young people of today, have come of age in a world that's very different from the one that existed a few decades ago. They are the digital natives, the ones who have had easy access to modern communications technology for much of their lives. How relevant is the printing business to these individuals?

The much talked-about battle between print and digital methods in fields such as marketing is in some ways a generational matter. The future direction of the printing industry may be determined by its relative level of success in making sure its products and services are relevant to millennial audiences. The people buying print products aren't the only ones who grew ups as digital natives, either: The talent pool for potential employees is also increasingly filled with millennial candidates.

Every print service provider facing life in today's industry must tackle millennial relevance from two directions: These companies must stake their claim as sellers of valuable products and services and as interesting places to work. It's a battle against the perception that the printing business belongs to the past, and each company will fight in its own way.

Appealing to candidates
In a recent WhatTheyThink column, Nick Gawreluk tackled the challenging question of how printing companies can secure top young employees for their workforces, a process that will require printers to reverse the perception of their industry as old-fashioned. Gawreluk, a millennial himself at 26 years old, noted that there is a feeling of pessimism about print's future going around among young job seekers. Companies that can find clever ways to overcome this stereotype may have a chance to snag top recruits and refresh their workforces.

Interestingly, one of print's challenges is also a great selling point for the industry. Young candidates are interested in taking roles where their careers won't stagnate and they'll have paths to advance. As Gawreluk explained, the aging of the current print workforce and subsequent high-level openings at print service providers can serve as beacons to ambitious applicants. Millennials who show great talent in the print world aren't likely to stall out at entry-level roles, and printers can use this as a recruiting enticement.

It's important to make such appeals, as print companies that don't reach out to young candidates may find that they have become out of touch with the people buying their services. Gawreluk described the symbiotic relationship that is springing up between young employees and print service providers. These individuals are coming aboard to take the place of retiring baby boomers and advance into important roles. Once there, they can give printing companies a dose of present-day knowledge, helping them tailor their products to younger customers.

Marketing to millennials
Print service providers have to understand that the audience for their services has shifted from the one that existed even a few years ago. It's time to re-introduce all the things that physical media can do for a client's business, and to integrate new capabilities that have emerged over the past few years. A recent Printing Impressions report, based on insights from the Print 17 industry conference, stated that tech-enabled concepts such as interactive print are making their way into the industry, merging age-old products with relevant new elements.

Printing interactive and scannable elements on physical mailings and documents is quickly becoming an indispensable part of any printer's offerings. Ricoh USA's Kurt Konow told the new provider that the need for interactive features is driven by millennial preferences – and the choices of the generation that will come after. With millennials rapidly growing up and starting families, members of Generation Z are preparing to graduate from college and join them in the professional world. If anything, these youthful people are even more tech-influenced, and will look for interactive print.

Features that bridge the digital-physical media divide could help print keep its place in the world of marketing and communications. The impact of holding a document in one's hands remains compelling. However, unless there is a way to seek more information on an online platform, printed items might not live up to their potential. Interactive features help bring print products into the digital customer management ecosystem, which is a valuable and relevant part of brand communications today.

The present and the future
Time only goes in one direction, and print service providers looking for a previous market to come back may end up disappointed. Instead of pining for the past, these companies can focus on tailoring their experiences to suit millennial and Generation Z tastes, both as employees and customers. There are ways to make print appealing and exciting to young people, and these changes may be simpler and more natural than print providers assume.