For many years I have guided digital embellishment users on how to market what were originally very new concepts to their existing and potential customers. It was part of my role at MGI as we developed the JetVarnish range of inkjet-based digital varnishing and foiling systems, and was broadened out when I established Taktiful last year to offer consultancy on all aspects of all types of digital embellishment.
Mostly I think I was along the right lines a decade ago, but there’s one thing I now believe I got wrong, though for all the right reasons.
First, with digital embellishment very much a hot topic at this year’s LabelExpo and PRINTING United shows, this seemed a good time to ask some established users about how they market their services and what levels of customer awareness they’re finding.
I talked to four U.S. service providers who offer digital embellishment, using either MGI or Scodix inkjet-raised UV varnish and foiling systems.
Darren Kenning, founder and owner of Sugar Print in Minneapolis, Minn., uses Scodix digital embellishment equipment.
Matt Greer, CEO at DMS Color in Birmingham, Ala., launched into digital embellishment four years ago with a pair of MGI JetVarnish machines.
Michael Dillon, chief revenue officer at Meyers in Minneapolis, Minn., has had an MGI JetVarnish for just over a year.
JohnHenry Ruggieri, president of SunDance Marketing Solutions in Orlando, Fla., bought a second-hand MGI JetVarnish digital embellishment unit five years ago.
Target Your Messages
DMS launched into small cartons around the time it installed its first digital embellishment units four years ago. It found a niche in packaging for the growing legal cannabis and CBD markets.
“When we’re talking to our customers about digital embellishment, we not only talk about the benefits from a short-run perspective, but about sustainability and how digital production is cleaner on the environment and our carbon footprint,” Greer said.
“We are really packaging that into an entire message that is delivered to the market that we’re targeting. So, if I’m going to use digital embellishments to produce greeting cards and birthday cards, then I need to develop a channel or a web-to-print platform, with a marketing message around that particular customer base.”
DMS Color’s use of eye-catching dimensional effects for light packaging.
Research Your Customers’ Needs
Dillon thinks the marketing message needs to be tailored to reflect what the client does.
“You have your mass marketing and then when you get a chance, you should do some better-targeted marketing.
“Sometimes we’re using it to show off what embellishment is capable of, from essentially the perspective of creating ‘bling.’ For a lot of groups, this is about catching somebody’s attention from a distance, down an aisle or across a store, and getting them to come closer to pick up your package or to pick up your product.
“We’re talking differently when we’re marketing to emerging brands, who need to catch people’s attention and draw them in and get them to interact with that product and get to know that brand for the first time, compared with how we’re talking with established players who might have a particular product that they want to highlight.”
Dillon recommends researching the potential end uses of digital embellishment out in the real world.
“I would say just spending time out in a store, getting familiar with who’s already using gloss, who’s already using foils and thinking about how this would be different?
“You need to separate who this is a fit for. If you’re talking about a very earthy health and cosmetics brand, this is not going to be the same kind of a fit as for ultra high-end cosmetics. And that’s where with time, some trial and error, and spending time out in-store, you learn how to better tailor that to these different audiences.”
Incredible detail work on this poster from DMS Color.
Show Off Your Work
Kenning says that putting results in customers’ hands pays off.
“Samples! We created a presentation folder with a bunch of different samples and effects, with overview instructions on how to create a digital file. That’s what we hand out to our potential customers, because really it’s that touch and feel and seeing it.
“I think we do a pretty good job on our website to show close ups of the effects. Getting a close up in the right lighting to really show off that enhancement is great.”
Trial and Error
Ruggieri admits that it took time to get the marketing right with SunDance’s original foray into sleeking.
“We tried to brand it on our own. That was relatively unsuccessful other than for our major clients that were using it.”
He also feels his sales team initially needed help in understanding how to sell it.
“In my opinion, they were just using it as a cheaper way to get foil stamping. But now I have a few salespeople who are basically my rock stars, my solutions sellers. They get it. They use it in the right applications.
SunDance Marketing’s digital embellishment client sample pack.
Boosting Customer Awareness
So, the whole digital embellishment sector could benefit from lifting market awareness. Whose job should that be?
Dillon says it should be a bit of everybody’s responsibility.
“When we saw these machines and thought what they were capable of, we knew that we wanted to be able to bring that to brands and help them understand how they could do things they weren’t yet doing. So in that case, it’s really on us. But it also took the people who create these machines, MGI and others, to be in a position to explain to us that ‘this is out here, and this is why it’s different from what you’re doing today.’ So everybody has their own part to play in that.
“Some brands are just not in the position to have people out exploring. So if you want to bring something creative and new to brands, whether you’re a consultancy, manufacturer or design agency, it’s on you.”
Finally, here’s my marketing mea culpa. I went around for 12 years telling everybody, “Hey, listen, here’s what you do. Come up with a really cool name for your digital embellishment offering, put your name in there, copyright it, and market the hell out of it. Create your own digital embellishment brand and establish that your secret sauce is unique to you.”
That made sense at the time.
I’m realizing that pushing that line may have caused significant confusion at the brand or agency level, because now they have hundreds of different names for essentially the same thing.
If everyone uses different brand names and terminology for what are broadly the same set of effects, new customers might find it difficult to understand what they’re being offered by different service providers.
By contrast, everyone is likely to know and use the same terms for traditional embellishments, such as hot foil embossing.
Ruggieri came up with the brand name SunShimmer when he adopted foil-over-laminate, which is generally called sleeking.
“I think it was a major mistake and that we confused the market,” he said.
Establishing standard terminology is one of the goals of the new Digital Embellishment Alliance, an offshoot of the Foil & Specialty Effects Association. This promises standardization initiatives, designer outreach, trend analysis and brand education.