Who Buys Wide-Format?
A key factor in successfully selling wide-format print applications is to understand customers’ unique requirements and challenges and offer them products that meet their needs and improve their results. An essential factor in this strategy is identifying what is important to customers, which can vary based on a client’s industry.
About the Research
NAPCO Research (a unit of NAPCO Media, the parent company of In-plant Impressions and Wide-Format Impressions (WFI)) surveyed marketers that purchase or influence decisions regarding sign and display graphics to uncover buyer needs, purchasing criteria and areas of opportunity. The primary goals of the research study were to identify important purchasing trends, demands, and requirements in key industries that purchase products produced on wide-format printing devices. More than 1,000 marketers participated in the survey; marketers represented many industries but there was a high concentration from the following industries: education, financial services, manufacturing, media/entertainment, nonprofit, and retail. This article presents preliminary research findings. The full study will be made available in the resource section of www.wideformatimpressions.com.
Sign, display, and specialty graphics are powerful communication tools, compelling marketing vehicles, and effective décor enhancers for marketers. These applications, typically printed on digital wide-format printing devices, often dominate the visual landscape. Banners, posters, billboards, soft signs, window graphics, wall coverings, floor graphics, and others — the list goes on — all help organizations communicate with people. With today’s technologies, nearly every surface can carry a message or image that was printed on a digital wide-format device.
Strong Demand for Sign and Display Graphics
Marketers surveyed reported that demand for signage, banners, and posters is growing more than declining (Figure 1). Industries reporting the highest demand were education, retail, manufacturing, and media/entertainment. In addition, many respondents across all industries studied reported demand for sign and display graphics was holding steady.
A key finding from other WFI research supports this trend of strong demand and opportunity in sign and display graphics. According to another recent WFI/NAPCO Research survey of sign and display graphic printers, 87% reported they were optimistic about the wide-format market and two-thirds of respondents reported increasing sales and volume growth in wide-format products and services, a trend that more than 75% of respondents expected to continue.
Most Purchased Applications
Respondents reported purchasing a variety of applications, but banners, signs, and posters were the most common (Figure 2). These top applications are those most commonly used by organizations to promote products and services, call attention to events, or to educate and instruct customers.
A closer look at demand for specific sign and display applications revealed that spending on newer types of products — such as soft signage, garments, and textiles — were increasing the most. Of respondents that purchased textile applications (soft signs and garments), 46% reported spending on this application was increasing. Fabric graphics are starting to see more adoption and could almost be considered the “new darling” of the industry. A key benefit of soft signs is that they weigh less than vinyl substrates, so they often cost less to ship.
Other applications, where 30% or more of respondents purchasing them reported increasing spending, included photography, fine artwork, POP/POS displays, vehicle graphics, window graphics, backlit displays, billboards, maps, and posters.
Sign and display graphic applications serve many purposes, from calling attention to a business to conveying safety information or providing directions. Usage is limited only by imagination. Signage is an application that stands out and communicates marketing and promotional messages that current and potential customers can’t miss. Some uses are obvious while others are more subtle. Survey respondents reported the top reasons they use sign and display graphics are to generate attention for products, promotional purposes, or education (Figure 3).
Responses to this question revealed the following uses by industry:
- Attracting customers’ attention to products was the top objective of marketers in retail (77%), manufacturing (71%), media/entertainment (69%), financial service (66%), and education (54%), while it was No. 2 for nonprofit marketers (47%).
- Promoting products, services, and events at other locations was the top objective for respondents from nonprofits (48%), and the second most important objective for marketers in financial service (54%), manufacturing (51%), nonprofit (48%), media/entertainment (47%), education (45%), and retail (44%).
- Offering product or service information/education (for example, how to use a product safety instructions) was the third most important use of sign and display graphics for marketers focused on manufacturing (38%), media/ entertainment (34%), education (32%), retail (32%), and financial services (30%) industries.
- Wayfinding or providing directional information (maps, arrows, diagrams, etc.) is an important objective of respondents in education (33%) and nonprofit (27%) organizations.
- Promoting product sales at the point-of-purchase was a key use for retailers (33%).
Selecting Print Providers
The survey asked marketers to identify their top three criteria when selecting a sign and display graphics provider. Respondents were limited to three responses and the top criteria, not surprisingly, were quality, best prices, and fast turnaround. Across industries, quality, price, and turnaround were the top three. The top criteria marketers selected reflect what is expected from all providers (Figure 4). What is interesting is that the next three criteria focus on customer service and are the areas where a provider can differentiate from the competition. Beyond price, marketers are looking for providers that offer excellent customer service, a knowledgeable staff, and offer a wide range of products and services.
By industry, manufacturing and media/entertainment identified knowledgeable staff as its No. 4 criteria, while excellent customer service was next on the list for education, financial services, nonprofit, and retail. Understanding what customers value and expect is essential for effectively selling wide-format printing services to existing as well as potential customers.
Understanding key demands and purchasing trends in the industries that use sign and display graphics can assist wide-format print providers in increasing sales and forming stronger customer relationships. It also can help organizations better use resources as they target those industries best aligned to their capabilities. By understanding the specific needs of a target industry, an organization can best leverage its internal capabilities to deliver the right mix of offerings.
Lisa Cross is the principal analyst of NAPCO Research (a unit of NAPCO Media) where she conducts market research and analysis on emerging trends and changing dynamics in the commercial, in-plant and packaging industries, and the market forces that are driving those changes. With decades of experience covering the graphic arts and marketing industries, Cross has authored thousands of articles on a variety of topics, including technology trends, business strategy, sales, marketing and legislation.