Over the last 10 to 15 years, technology has drastically changed workplaces: Mobile devices, CRM systems, cloud computing and big data have all changed the way we work, when we work and how we ‘do’ marketing.

According to McKinsey, technology drives business value in four ways, by enhancing connectivity, automating manual tasks, improving decision making, and innovating products and services.

When considering changes driven by technology for marketing most of us first think about the drastic changes in online marketing and targeting. A bit outside of the limelight, technology around the marketing evergreen “printing” has also changed exponentially.

Print is not dead - it’s going digital

The rise of digital printing has given marketers the ability to carry out small, targeted on-demand print runs. Digital printing as an industry, is set to grow to a mammoth $300bn (£266bn) by 2024.

This is a big change from the days of mass offset printing, when marketing materials had to be produced in large quantities in order to achieve any type of cost efficiency, but there is still much change to come. Cloud technology has enabled global companies to efficiently decentralize printing, enabling targeted and customized print materials available on short notice.

Print’s place in the marketing mix

Print continues to have a place in the marketing mix - because it works. Four-fifths (79%) of consumers will act on direct mail immediately compared to only 45% who say they deal with email straightaway.

Targeted direct mail boasts a 4.4% response rate, compared to email’s rate of 0.12%. That is why 10bn business cards are printed in the US each year and advertising print totaled $45.2bn globally in 2013. Growth averaging 4.5% per year is predicted to continue to 2024.

“We don’t print that much”

While many business processes have been digitalized – resulting in increased efficiency – ordering prints is still a very manual process for most companies. Printing is often handled differently, with different vendors per department, office or brand.

When asked how much printed marketing their organisations produce, most people will reply “we don’t print that much.” They might be right, but more likely is that they don’t actually know how much is being printed by their company. Printing costs are often hidden in many different budgets; marketing, sales, HR, office management - and thus not viewed as a priority for process optimisation and digitalisation.

Digital transformation goes beyond printing technology

Since Gutenberg, printing has been part of everyday life – but at a price. The most effective way to contribute to sustainability around printing is to reduce paper usage, to minimize transport distances and to prevent waste.

To date, paper reduction programmes have been centered around office printing. All major office printing machine and office software suppliers have introduced programmes to educate about, monitor and restrict office printing. Commercial printing (brochures, posters, flyers and more) has not been part of this innovation driven by sustainability goals. Digital printing and the services developed around it are changing things quickly.

Just-in-time delivery or on-demand printing is now possible - even if a sales event is in a few days and on a different continent. There is no longer a need to produce extras for the “just in case” scenario.

Cloud tech

Cloud technology has enabled global companies to efficiently print locally for the first time. This means that savvy global organisations are now printing marketing materials close to where they’re needed. Apart from the obvious cost and environmental savings of this solution, printing locally means physical marketing materials can be produced, delivered and in use within days - rather than weeks.

This is a big shift and very different to what many marketers are used to when it comes to print. In the past, it’s been a complicated and time consuming task for global companies when physical marketing materials are needed.

Combine these technological developments and suddenly an industry that has been around for hundreds of years is becoming extremely agile; fit for modern marketing and allowing companies to make commercial printing an efficient, transparent process in their company.

Printing and sharing creativity has been part of human nature for the last 500 years and now new technology and global platform structures are making printing significantly more efficient and environmentally friendly.