We know there has been a dramatic change in the sign and graphics market over the last five years. Commercial printers have moved into the signage space, and sign companies too, have moved into complimentary markets like commercial and label printing, as well as a migration into display, shopfitting, window tint, design, marketing and brand management.

With technological change happening so rapidly, it's not surprising sign companies are looking to add value to their clients by providing a more well-rounded service, as well as expand on their skill set to be more profitable and stay relevant in a rapidly data-driven and digitizing world.

You only have to look at the distributors to witness how traditional paper suppliers like Spicers and BJ Ball (who recently acquired Aarque) are trying to get a foot into the sign and graphics market, too.

If you don’t already know it, the print segments are merging.  SGIA (Specialty Graphics Imaging Association) recently put out a research study about this convergence that for the first time measures the degree to which it is occurring, and the actual migration paths from one segment to another.

Migration is happening in the print industry as a whole, and that includes sign and graphics.  The biggest merge with signage is from garment printers, with 44% considering or researching this move. Within signage, 40% of sign companies are considering a move into commercial printing.  38% of all segments anticipate acquisition activity within the next five years. 

Get the full report here:  SGIA Convergence in the Print Industry

So what does this really mean for sign and graphics?  It means that business moves exceptionally fast and more change is going to happen across our industry in the next five years, than in the previous 25 years.   

Are you ready?  Do you know what key trends might affect your business in the next 5 years?  Do you know what areas you want to seek out for growth?  Here’s a couple of trends to get you thinking…

1. Technological Change: The rise of AR, AI, and Big Data

In order to win and retain customers today, clients are looking for data-led marketing that can tell them their ROI and measure results in real time, as well as complimenting the end-user experience.  AR (augmented reality) is on the rise and AI (artificial intelligence) will become much cheaper and easier to implement over the next 3-5 years.  AR is essentially a marker on a digital print that comes to life on screen (Ricoh calls their commercialised product, Clickable Paper).   The content can be anything that can be delivered in a digital format, like a 3D video, or simply a website.  Because it's digital, it’s measurable and marketers can see how many people clicked and went on to buy or engage, depending on the objective.  This will open up new marketing models for digital print, as technical innovation breaks down the barriers between print and data and enables brands to connect emotionally with consumers.   Take this a step further, and you have AI and digital screens set to change what’s on their displays depending on the data they are receiving and analyzing.  What it boils down to is big data transforming the way advertising and brand messages are being delivered, and how consumers are interreacting with those brands. 

2. Personalisation:  Customisation and short runs

It’s been a top consumer trend for a couple of years now and it’s not looking at waning anytime soon.  While it may have started with the big brands who offered to personalise a pair of Nikes, now you can personalise a car.  You can build, and completely customise your own Mini online right down to your choice of vinyl racing stripe (or not).  With advancements in technology, personalisation is even easier as it allows printers to make short runs more cost effective. Web2print is now being expanded into textiles, and includes packaging, labels and signs, too.  New Zealand print, sign and web specialists Benefitz recently launched mystorybook.co.nz where you can write and print your own short-run memoir of your life, entirely online.  Brisbane based company ‘Bespoke Packaging’ has built a new business off the personalisation of packaging with very short runs and fast turnaround times, controlling the process from start to finish.  Opportunities exist if you know the growing trends and are willing to take advantage of them, and it plays right into my next point…

3. Change in consumer expectations

Retail demand has changed in the last few years.  You just have to look at the likes of Dominos, where you can order a pizza from an app, and then track that pizza until it's delivered.  Amazon Prime offers a delivery service and consumers expect it same-day.  If you imagine the online ordering process as smooth and efficient and then delivery within a very short time-frame, those same expectations will flow over into business to business transactions as the Millennials who are driving this change become our customers.  Companies that can cover the brand, design, print and manufacture process in-house will be in the best position to manage that smooth transition with limited back and forth between yourself and the client.  We know of many sign companies who also utilise customer logins on their websites so that their clients can directly track and manage their signage assets.  Now that’s adding value in real-time.

4. Demand for environmentally sustainable products

A recent report out from FESPA shows 76% of the industry believe customer demand for environmentally responsible products is shaping business strategy, and one in five believe that it has a major influence.  This includes using energy efficient equipment, VOC-free inks, non-PVC media and end of life recycling programmes.  As governments care more and more about climate change, it may only be a matter of time that stricter regulations on wasteful practices come into effect (the EU already has strict regulations around hazardous materials).  If you want to be ahead of the curve, what’s your sustainability policy within your business?  Solvent inks, petroleum-based products, and plastics are a huge part of the sign and graphics industry but as manufacturers and suppliers move towards more sustainable products expect to see a significant change in these products in the next decade.


Arlette Farland is a Director at Computaleta Group and has a post-graduate degree in Journalism.  She has a strong interest in the future of the industry and is passionate about strategic direction, culture, customer experience and marketing.

Connect with her here.