For many years the printing industry has scheduled its major product launches around drupa and other major exhibitions. This meant a regular cycle of product development and launches for all concerned.

Then the Coronavirus ravaged the 2020 calendar and companies were forced to choose between virtual launches and waiting for postponed events in 2021. Will the seeming success of these online ventures mean that the ‘rules of engagement’ change when it comes to when products are launched and the way they are introduced to customers?

Olaf Lorenz
General manager, international marketing division, Konica Minolta 

Before the Coronavirus, virtual conferencing was often an afterthought due to the need for human interaction. But now the rules of engagement have changed, many possibly forever, and we need to look at the ‘new normal’. Engaging with customers in new and creative ways has been an important topic of conversation for years, but now event more so in the wake of coronavirus. We very much still believe in the power of personal relationships and of course the power of seeing our machines and touching/feeling the print products from our machines and are evaluating the potential combinations of virtual and real-life concepts.

Any meeting that offers a way to participate online can be considered a hybrid meeting. Such events can involve small groups attending face-to-face discussions but also reach out to a broad audience through multiple digital channels. It’s another option we are considering.

With drupa postponed in June, we have had to adapt. One example was the launch of the our AccurioJet KM-1e digital inkjet B2+ sheetfed UV colour inkjet production press. We held an online, interactive event for stakeholders – and we were extremely pleased with the response. Also, we have launched a virtual showroom that holds many features for an interactive exploration of our manifold product offers in the printing area. 

But personal interaction will always be important and should never be underestimated. Around the world, around the clock – we help shape ideas for our customers in a partnership approach, whether face to face or through online communications. In a true collaborative approach as a relationship-orientated company, we actively source expertise from customers and partners, not just pushing out what we think is best for the markets.

Bobby Grauf
Inkjet sales manager, UK and Ireland, Agfa

There’s no doubt that online is taking a greater share of our overall market engagement. But we need to put this into perspective: it started before the Covid-19 pandemic and will continue after exhibitions and conferences return. Those two are not mutually exclusive, on the contrary. Visitors at face-to-face events are very well prepared to make the most out of their stay, so it’s important that we inform them up-front as best we can. A well-prepared online launch will create a greater incentive for customers to visit an exhibition, because ‘seeing it in the flesh’ will remain a crucial part in making an investment decision. After all, we develop, build and supply systems that print, and the printed product is something people will want to see live. 

Duncan Smith
Country director, production printing products, Canon UK

No companies had a plan in place for coronavirus, but at Canon, I know we’ve responded to an extremely challenging set of circumstances really well. The important thing is to keep the customer at the centre of everything you do. If you are not engaging them in a way that works for them, then you are failing.

For much of 2020, this has meant launching products virtually, and we have already seen great success with the products we have introduced this year. In difficult circumstances, we have been able to connect with customers and showcase the benefits of our latest machines. This year, we launched the varioPRINT iX3200 and iX2100, the ProStream 1800 and the Arizona 2300 flatbed series to great success. While the route to market was not the one we had originally envisioned, we are pleased that we have connected with customers and are continuing to deliver products that have a strong resonance within the marketplace.

It has been important to be flexible and adaptable, to listen to our customer’s needs, and engage in the way that fits them best. Flights, and travelling in general, are currently much more difficult so we have put in place digital and virtual solutions. Our customers can engage with our facilities in Poing and Venlo and our UK customer experience centres virtually, book in time slots, have the products demonstrated to them and receive samples where necessary. More locally, we have showrooms in Birmingham and London, which are fully compliant with the latest safety guidelines, where customers can visit the products in person if they wish. This flexibility has been at the heart of all our recent customer engagement.

We will not see the large exhibitions and events disappear, there is still a great demand for them. Product launches will always be about reaching the biggest audience possible, but in the future, we will likely see greater flexibility as companies look to engage with their customers in a wider variety of ways.