Francois Martin - A New Beginning for Digital Print

Francois Martin has been a key part of the Digital Print Revolution during his time at HP

Francois Martin has been a key part of the Digital Print Revolution during his time at HP

Francois Martin led HP’s Global Marketing for their GSB Business during a revolutionary time when the industry was in a state of rapid change. During the 2000’s, when I joined the print industry (2006), HP’s acquisitive and technological innovation led the way for much of the change for the graphics industry. It was during my time as FESPA’s marketing director that I got to know him and come to admire his energetic and enthusiastic commitment to inspiring printers to adopt digital printing technology.

More recently, he has left the digital print giant but has decided to continue his work to helping his industry develop by sharing his insight at events, conferences and tradeshows. Indeed we hope to see him at Pure Digital soon. I caught up with him during a recent trip for him to the UK and we talked about technology, consumer change and where he thinks the future of printing will occur.

Francois, you are an incredibly reliable source of information relating to digital printing development, and much of the discussion about Pure Digital was had with you and HP right at the start. Could I ask you what kind of state do you think that digital print is at right now?

Well for starters, Pure Digital is coming at the right time. No longer is the challenge about technology. The traditional commercial printing industry has been going through a structural change. First it was the technological shift from analogue to digital. But now the digital technology is available from all the suppliers, and even the most conservative (Heidelberg and KBA) have digital.

Digital printing is established now. So the next wave is not about technology is about the right business model. And this must be oriented around inspiring the designers and graphic agencies. This is the next wave of change and print production companies need to step up to the mark to both inspire customers but to continue to create the right results for their business.

So you think digital print is in a good place right now?

Yes, broadly it is. But there are challenges, which is why it is now a commercial challenge as the technical ones are largely solved. But this is a broad question, as is the potential for digital printing so great so I will answer this by tackling each application.

Commercial print

Pretty much across the board, we have weathered the concerns that print was going to lose huge ground to rival technologies.

In fact, there has been a big debate about print dying completely due to competing technologies and this was around 5 years ago. But this has not happened and I think it never will. All the pages that had to die are already dead. The best (and possibly only) example where other digital technology has replaced with print is the humble user guide. These days you just use google now to see the answers.

In decline are also retail catalogues. They still exist but have declined considerably, due to there being a good online alternative. This is a major benefit to print want you need whereas before we had a lot of waste so I suppose it isn’t all bad. The remaining catalogues are thinner and more targeted.  They have value and remain.

Direct mailing

Everyone thought this would simply die as emails are cheaper and easier. But now we know that printed direct mail pieces are ultimately more effective than email blasting. Because people are bombarded with digital touchpoints and this is perceived as pollution. In UK 78% of respondents do not see the advertising banners on the websites that they are looking at. And you have the development of ad blockers and this is preventing you from seeing the advert itself.

In contrast, a cleverly designed and well thought through direct mailing campaign which is emotional, personalised or customised with the right tone of voice, will work far better than a quickly written and distributed email. If they don’t create instant demand they establish the brand value whereas an email does not, because in contrast it is cold.

A good piece of print conveys to the brand that it must pay attention and it lasts longer. It takes longer to open, but you are much less likely to throw it away. Whereas quite often promotional emails are instantly deleted.

The same goes with books. Many people forecasted that books would shift entirely to tablets and e-readers, but the majority of people still like books. So all of these predictions such as TV killing Radio and Internet killing TV, haven’t really occurred. Just because the waves of change occurs doesn’t mean it is always destructive, as often new possibilities are created and the value of the original paradigm is still valued, but it makes room for the new one. This has occurred in nearly all cases I think.

Wide Format

For wide format we have the huge decoration opportunity and this links directly with the evolution of retail. No longer are they a place to buy but a place to experience. It has to be emotional, memorable and a customer must feel the value of the brand as this is a key part of their justification process for their purchase.

The advantage for printers is that decoration has to change often, sometimes quarterly, and sometimes monthly. This is providing opportunity to shop decorators as this increase in demand for décor work will be done with digital printing.

What about the threat of digital signage?

I really do not think that we will be surrounded by digital displays. They have their place but the content is costly it has to be heavily managed and often this leads to static screens which looks dreadful.

The print industry was scared of digital screens around 5 years ago. But it simply hasn’t been the revolution that was initially thought. The screens haven’t made their presence felt in a big way.  Only where making sense. Another reason is that too much movement doesn’t inspire people. If everything moves, you feel dizzy and people don’t like too much visual stimulation as it is distracting and annoying.

Now what we value around us is a clean environment and we want to feel relaxed in order to really immerse ourselves in the brand. The consequences of online shopping means the experience now has to be good and when people have their retail experience they want to spend quality time to understand the value of the brand, how the product is made, what their sustainable credentials are, to learn about the thing they are buying.

Interesting stuff - so not everything will shift 100% to online retail?

I doubt that will occur, because online and instore are really two sides of the same coin. The brands are very clever as they have shops where they display products and give advice, and they are changing. The store is often not where the consumer purchases. And they have a very nice website where you buy whatever you want from that once you have experienced the product and feel good about it.

Everything that is changing is reflecting what is happening in the supply chain. I have millennial generation kids around the age of 25. The way the young generation purchases is totally different to the way I behave. They don’t have cars, so when they buy something they don’t mind testing it in the shop and then they buy later shipped home and no need to carry. They don’t need to own the equipment immediately. So in today’s and tomorrow’s retail store décor is very important indeed. This is where you can establish the values of the brand.

So you mention commercial printing and décor as positive, but surely packaging is the biggest opportunity of all?!!

Yes it is most likely, but also technically the most difficult, and from a supply chain perspective, and when you factor in all the types of packaging, it is complex. But packaging remains an exciting area for growth.

Why? Because 80% of the products you have on the shelf are sold without any advertising campaign. That in itself gives a huge amount of power to packaging. So the purchasing decision is made inside the store. So they are sold by what they say on the shelf. It could be a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, or cereal. For brands therefore print is very important. For example, L’Oréal’s recently announced 5 key pillars say a lot and point to a very positive and strong future for digital printing.

L’Oréal’s Pillars:

Accelerate time to market – this will have a big impact on design and will influence analogue to digital

Increase weight of connected products – this means connected print packaging. This means you print a special shampoo, cream and with your phone you scan the box or the product.

Make factories and production lines more agile – this is digital all over. Digital printing is lithe and agile and can add huge value here.

Bet on product personalisation – there really is no need for me to talk about the possibilities of personalisation and digital print as this is so well known

Make service to consumers a business drive.


L’Oréal’s pillars, I would venture are not vastly different to that of P&G’s, Unilever or any other major producer of consumer goods. Obviously digitalisation enables producers to meet the needs of the modern consumer and whilst the IoT (Internet of Things) is a reality, I think one step on from this is the IoP (Internet of Products) as everything will be connected with any product you purchase. You just need to print using a specific image and with an algorithm in it and when you scan the image you are connected.

So, I am really not worried about the future of print. I am more concerned by the PSP’s being too slow to adjust their business models. They need to be separating value of print from the printing itself. PSP’s and printing requires operational excellence and you don’t need to do everything on its own.

What kind of vision do you have of a modern commercial and wide format printing business that is future proof?

To be a marketing service provider fundamentally. To not just sell print but be a strategic partner – this is a must right now. The printers that transact will never grow or go anywhere, this is in the past. A printer must be a marketing service provider now. In the future. I am recommending to commercial and wide format printers to mutualise their equipment to bring together printing hubs that will print 24/7. You will and you have specialised print operators and you could have the latest technology from companies like Massivit (3D Printer) as well as all the famous digital printing names we know. It is going to be financially sustainable instead of every company individually buying their own equipment and then ultimately competing on price. This, I believe, is the best way to tame the beast, instead of feeding the beast, why not work together?

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I really believe in the following African proverb:

·         If you want to go fast go solo

·         If you want to go far – go together

So I say to printers, sell services to your clients. You cannot justify to invest in new technologies all of the time if it is too expensive and the new digital presses are extremely productive, you won’t feed them with your existing jobs. Why not collaborate? Use this overcapacity to mutual benefit.

The future will see a transition from product and services to networks and platforms and creating a solution that works for customers, by sharing equipment and getting the right results for the customer. And not just the right result for ourselves!

Which is the next big thing for digital?

I think décor. Durst and Mouvent for example they have launched recently new digital printers delivering high quality water resistant ink, super-fast and high quality.

There are 2 big waves – packaging and textile/décor and it is not only walls, the flooring is now possible too, it is incredible the possibilities with digital printing now.

What is your thinking about Pure Digital?

I completely agree with the mission for Pure Digital to inspire the creative industry. This is the key to growth and something the printing industry has failed to achieve.

The challenge is that to drive personalisation you need to go to the printers - but more importantly you need to influence those who are ordering it. Agencies, graphic designers and brands. They order print and need to be made aware of what is possible.

I guess some companies will not know how to exhibit. They should just think like a creative and show their possibilities and not emphasise the technology too much. Brand owners, graphic designers, creative agencies in packaging and décor and interior designers and architects need to be exposed to a world of possibilities with digital printing that they are unaware of.

If they could understand what digital can be done to their business – whenever I talk to them – each time they are blown away!! Can I do that? Is it possible now? Is it a preview of the future?

And no, it is possible right now.

If you take the example of digital wallpaper – this is 6-7 yrs. old. Still nobody knows what is really possible! It is still unknown which is a shame as it could help many designers to do things differently. It has to be presented without showing the equipment. When you talk to the creative industry they don’t want to see the machinery as this is scary – they want to see the output and the possibilities. They want to understand the cost but don’t want to see how you do it. When you eat something you are happy to see your plate but you don’t really want to see how it is made.

These graphic designers when you give them access they are creating amazing things. Recently I did a test for corrugated and they designed boxes you wouldn’t have thought possible using mosaic type effect.

So Pure Digital is an excellent idea and is most certainly needed. If you want digital to be successful you need to talk to printers, and obviously the key is the people buying print. We should remember that the people putting the money into the industry are the brands. The brands are investing their money and the printers print for the brands and the manufacturers are inventing new technology to make the printers life easier and to allow the brands to do new things.

Pure Digital I think is a must visit type of show for architects, graphic designers, packaging innovators, interior designers, brand managers etc. They will discover in one day more than they can find on the internet in a month. And it will be real and possible. At Pure Digital you will see things that you can put into production next week. It is not about a crystal ball for the next 20 yrs. It is pragmatic, and immediate and the creative industry is doing itself a disservice by not being up to speed with the possibilities.

To contact Francois: 

Francois Martin - Senior Graphic Industry Consultant - Digital Print Evangelist

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