02 JUNE 2020

Indian signage industry in the post-pandemic world


DCC Print, a large format printing solution provider based in Mumbai, organized a webinar – The next big unexpected disruption – on the last day of the countrywide lockdown in India, May 30, 2020. The webinar aimed to address the apprehension and concerns of the Indian signage industry at the end of the lockdown. The country started unlocking economic activities and movement from June 1, 2020. 

The webinar was moderated and hosted by Santosh Nair, associate director, DCC Print, and the speakers included Amit Kanodia, director of Illuminati, Kamal Singh, CEO of Comart Group, Pankaj Goswami, a management consultant for SME businesses, Prakash Pardeshi, retail brand marketeer, Surya Tikekar, head of VM for watches division, Titan Company and LK Vasudevan, business head of Epson. Nair began the webinar stating that DCC donated 100 INR for every registration to the PMO fund and the company received a whopping 400 registrations.

Stringent marketing

Nair directed his first question towards Tikekar and asked how Titan, being a ‘non-essential’ product provider, is dealing with the new segregation among products in terms of ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’, and if the company will still rely on print for marketing. Just over half of Titan’s stores have been operational during the pandemic.

Tikekar answered that cost has more than ever become a priority for brands and they are seeking value for money. Print will certainly remain a part of the company’s marketing strategy, but needs to be more targeted. The number of campaigns is likely to decrease but they need to be more impactful. He added that consumers prefer to shop on their own and that is where compelling and interactive in-store signages can be helpful. Lastly, he said that omnichannel communication will become a part of the “new normal.”

Continuing the theme of product segregation, Pardeshi said that the market flow will be towards essential products for the coming nine months. Luxury shopping might begin again with reopening of the economy, but impulse shopping will no longer prevail. He believes that online and brick and mortar spaces will function separately and will not merge.

The need for in-store communication

As a retail print solutions provider for the last 18 years, Comart has an extensive understanding of the needs of brands.  Singh said that COVID-19 has changed the dynamics of retail brands, as fearful consumers refuse to go out to shop even when stores are operational. Singh suggested that retailers need to offer consumers a sense of confidence in the safety of a retail store as part of their omnichannel marketing strategy. In-store communication will continue to play an important role in reassuring and informing buyers.

However, the installation of in-store signage by outside contractors might increase the risk of spreading the disease, so brands need to learn a DIY (do-it-yourself) approach where they can learn to install signage on their own. PSPs need to provide solutions that can be easily installed in a store without external help.

A new business model

Nair steered the conversation towards changes and innovations in the signage industry in the post-COVID-19 world. Kanodia said that PSPs will now be differentiated by their business ethics, trustworthiness, workplace efficiency, and quality of service. They need to build a relationship of trust with their clients, provide error-free work, take safety precautions, invest in better infrastructure, work in harmony with suppliers and learn to work with a limited workforce.

He added that while price will certainly be an important consideration, companies should not resort to ‘temporary’ solutions. Businesses should not abandon their core business model. Companies need to do better financial planning and reserve cash flow to restart their regular business. He asserted that every link in the chain has to be well-oiled and functional.

Safe and sustainable printing 

From a technology provider’s perspective, Vasudevan said safer printing technology will be an increasingly important factor. He vouches for sublimation printing technology as a safer alternative particularly to solvent and eco-solvent printing but also to UV curing.

He promoted fabric as an environmentally friendly alternative to other flexible media. Fabric materials are easier to handle, lightweight, and also reusable compared to other materials. Indeed, there are states in India where film is banned altogether and that is where fabric is gaining popularity. 

Fabric is also capable of high quality print results, creating impactful in-store graphics, particularly where florescent inks are used.

Fewer but compelling campaigns

Needless to say, the pandemic will change the world. Pardeshi stated the conventional ways of doing business will no longer work and he estimated that the after-effects of the pandemic will last for the coming two years.

Pardeshi actually sees print as becoming a more important medium for brands to tell their stories, and he repeated that PSPs need to find ways to integrate print with digital technologies to create impactful signage.

While most brands focus on the metro cities, rural areas are often ignored despite the untapped potential in the rural segments of India where COVID-19 has not yet reached, he said.

Pardeshi uses the example of Japan which has learned to function in a recession, banking on the importance of customer experience. He urged that print should play a central role in creating that customer experience. Cost will not be a problem if PSPs focus on providing high quality and compelling solutions to tell a story. Brands will seek ‘fact-based’ marketing activities that are likely to be effective as opposed to the earlier strategy of mass marketing.

A new approach towards old tech

Singh argued that in India’s signage industry where 95 percent of businesses make less than INR 2 crores a year, many might find it difficult to survive the pandemic. To survive they will need to invest in sustainable and safe technology and employ fewer but more skilled operators.

Agreeing with Singh, Vasudevan said that PSPs will have to choose technology which can promote better campaigns for brands while ensuring the safety of their own employees. He said that in China, 80 percent of signage is printed with aqueous inks, while India uses hazardous VOC-based inks. He implored printers to understand the health implications of using raw solvent for printing and to move on to safer technologies.

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