Digitalisation of Print

Moving Print from Mass Production to Demand Driven

The printing industry lived by the motto of “the more, the cheaper” until mass customisation came and disrupted the industry.

Moving print from mass production to demand driven

For decades, the printing industry lived by the motto of “the more, the cheaper”. Mass production enables production at low unit costs, but the wastage of over-production and lack of personalisation that comes with it can make it unfit for purpose.

This means that print runs have to become shorter, update cycles have to increase, and the number of smaller print jobs has to grow, because printing is demand driven. This also conserves resources, such as paper ink and energy.

However, that’s not to say that all the benefits of mass production – economies of scale, high automation and low prices for customers – should be lost.

Mass customisation

Customer-specific mass production or mass customisation is a contradiction in terms. The two ideas seem incompatible. But new technological opportunities eliminate the contradiction between individualisation and costs.

Mass customisation plays perfectly into the personalisation trend, while doing so in a way that is cost effective. That’s because customers are willing to pay more for a unique product – couple this with the fact that machines and robots today can adjust to specific requirements much more flexibly than they could a few years ago and voila! You have the best of both worlds.

Soft vs hard customisation

There are two forms of customisation – soft and hard – and both result in the customer being provided with an individual product.

Products in the soft customisation category are mass-produced, there are no alternative manufacturing methods and individualisation takes place outside the actual manufacturing process.

A basic example of soft customisation is the production of a mailshot, where a label with the individual’s address is affixed only after printing and further processing. Essentially, what you’re doing is taking a mass produced product – where the customer has had played no part in the manufacturing process – and adding a layer of customisation to it post-production.

Where hard customisation is involved, customer wishes have a direct influence on the manufacture of the product. The customer communicates their wishes to the company – via a configurator – in advance of production and the company actions these at the production stage on a customer-specific basis.

Understanding how to manage customisation

Now that you understand the theory behind mass customisation, we turn to the practical side of trying to realise its benefits.

You might be wondering whether it can be truly applied to your unique business. Prof. Dr. Frank Piller, who is head of the Institute for Technology and Innovation Management at RWTH Aachen University and is something of an expert in mass customisation, believes that it makes sense for almost every company, irrespective of product and sector.

After researching companies that are already successful at mass customisation, he found three key strengths that the firms shared:

• They are able to recognise customer wants and needs.
• They have the flexibility to adapt production chains.
• They make it as easy as possible for customers to make purchasing decisions.

There is potentially a huge competitive advantage from getting it right. If we are to take Piller’s findings as the blueprint for mass customisation, it’s about committing to the permanent process of satisfying the wishes of customers – in a way that makes it as easy as possible for the customer to have their say.

Configurators and editors

Consumers and buyers decide for themselves what the products they want to buy should look like and what they consist of. It sounds like a great deal of freedom, and indeed it is, but too much of a good thing causes confusion. It’s the editors and configurators that determine the success or failure of an individualisation experience.

A configurator gives the customer a choice between various options (such as a colour combination of product components), while an editor already integrates customer-specific features into the product, such as its own text.

Whether you adopt a configurator or an editor-type approach, usability is key. Customers needed to be guided through the process of making their choices to adapt the product – but too many navigation elements without a clear focus can reduce the desire to try things out and create uncertainty.

Does mass customisation really work?

Mass customisation makes a lot of sense on the page, but how well does it translate into the real world? This is a good point to include some real-world examples of mass customisation in action…Coca-Cola’s personalised bottles.

Arguably the best example of mass customisation was provided by Coca-Cola in 2013, when all imaginable names were printed on labels and placed on bottles – the name bearers felt personally addressed.

But Coca-Cola Germany went one step further and opened up its store to such an extent that you could upload your own name on to the online configurator and your personalised bottle(s) would be delivered to your doorstep. In the approximately four months of the limited campaign period, 200 million personalised Coke bottles were sold.

Lindt’s “sweet greeting”

Some time ago, Elanders Germany developed a web-to-print solution for premium brand Lindt which enabled customers to send a “sweet greeting” via an interactive microsite inside the Lindt online store.

This personalised chocolate cost 10 euros, about five times the normal price. But that didn‘t bother customers – over 750,000 bars were sold in just two years. And experience has shown that the repackaging is carefully stored once the contents have been enjoyed.

Final word

Not only does mass customisation make commercial and business sense, the integration of customers into the manufacturing process via mass customisation can increase customer benefit, strengthen customer loyalty and ultimately also improve quality. As a result, customers who are integrated into the process receive exactly the product or service they need for their specific problem.

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