Print Helps Businesses Punch Above Their Weight

by Ayman Aly, Senior Regional Marketing Manager, Canon Middle East

With a year of COVID disruption behind us, businesses of all sizes have weathered a storm that was on nobody’s radar at the beginning of 2020. A year on, the day-to-day focus of most business owners and leaders is still on maintaining continuity, with an eye on medium-term recovery. But, with the roll-out of vaccines promising a gradual return to life as we knew it, the mood is changing. We can finally look to the horizon and dare to imagine a time beyond the pandemic when business can thrive.

I’ll leave macro-economic predictions to the experts, but we can all take heart from the fact that 14% of firms across all sectors actually increase revenue and margin during a downturn, according to Harvard Business Review.  It’s clear that this crisis, like others before it, has accelerated growth opportunities for businesses with a positive attitude and a good grasp of what their customers need and want.

Unimagined Opportunities to Reach new Customers

We’re all consumers and we’ve witnessed first-hand how the pandemic has changed the way we live, work, shop and socialise. This radical change has forced businesses of all sizes to innovate fast. They’ve had to embrace new business models, devise new product and service propositions, and think differently about their go-to-market strategies.

Digital transformation has made a quantum leap, even for the most technology-resistant among us. For example, we’ve all played our part in the seismic shift towards online shopping, which has increased e-commerce by 26.3 per cent in 2020.

There was reportedly a 300% increase in demand for e-commerce services in the UAE during the first five months of 2020. In May 2020, the e-commerce sector had the most number of licenses being issued in the country among other businesses. Analysts say that the demand is driven by millennials who account for more than 45 per cent of online shoppers, with the online shopping trend increasing by six per cent annually. Furthermore, online shopping of essentials such as groceries is projected to grow by 30 per cent annually until 2025.

The so-called ‘parcel economy’ has become a fact of life and it’s likely to have a lasting impact on our shopping habits, even in demographic groups which previously shunned online. Clearly this has benefited corporate giants like Amazon, but it’s also created unimagined opportunities for thousands of small businesses, creators and producers who’ve been able to tap into the power of online selling and reach new customers by delivering to their homes.

Personal, Local, Ethical: Shifting Consumer Priorities

Our shifting consumer priorities, reinforced by the pandemic, amplify the opportunity for SMEs. This period of being confined to our homes and localities has grounded us, stimulating us to buy locally and ethically where possible, and to support the businesses at the heart of our own communities – and this behavior looks like it will stick. According to management consultancy Boston Consulting Group, 41 per cent of consumers intend to buy more locally in the future.

We feel more connected than ever to the local suppliers who’ve seen us through the year, and I suspect they have a renewed appreciation of us as individuals too, understanding more than ever that every client relationship is important. Businesses which have shown community focus and ‘paid it forward’ have been rewarded with loyalty and word-of-mouth recommendation.

Additionally, the trend towards personalization and customization that was already in full swing pre-pandemic has intensified. We’ve gravitated towards products that are individual, bespoke and reflect our individuality. Look at the success of global online marketplace Etsy, with its mission to “connect [consumers] directly with makers to find something extraordinary” (much of it enabled by personalized print-on-demand). According to Forbes, the platform has seen active sellers grow 42 per cent year on year as of Q3 2020, active buyers up 55 per cent, and gross sales up 119 per cent.  

New Touchpoints Create New Connections

Businesses large and small have harnessed social media to build communities, engage prospects and stimulate demand for their products. Without physical retail and events, they’ve discovered a new and vital touchpoint with the customer – the ‘unboxing’ moment when the product reaches them in their home.

As part of the customer journey, this has become more significant than ever. Brands are realizing that this is an untapped opportunity to intensify customer engagement and build a relationship using promotional print and packaging. We’re seeing food box suppliers sharing printed recipe cards; luxury hamper deliveries inserting leaflets offering product explanations; online clothing and beauty purchases including printed promotional offers and dynamic coupons; boxed floral bouquets shipping with a personalized greetings card.

These targeted promotional marketing and merchandising efforts are actually fundamental to the customer experience. They create an emotional connection between us and the brand, making the product more memorable and increasing the likelihood that we’ll recommend and make a repeat purchase. The businesses that make us and our loved ones feel special will reap the commercial rewards. 

The Future is Human

When businesses can stand back and reflect on this year, many will realize that they’ve gained priceless new insights into their customers, along with a wealth of new data. Savvy brand owners can use this knowledge to take a more individualized approach to marketing, with a strong emphasis on optimizing their customer experience.

The overriding impact of the pandemic is the emphasis it has placed on human connections. We’ve learned that all the functionality of the virtual world doesn’t replace our need for real-world interaction. Our own recent research among brand owners underlines rising ‘digital fatigue’, which has consumers reaching for things they can experience with all their senses, not just via a screen.

The brands that thrive will grasp this and – while their business models may be online – they’ll see the need to nurture customers with creative, personal products and empathetic marketing that treats them as real people, not audiences or data points. Print fits the bill perfectly, offering brands of all sizes creative scope and immediacy, balanced with trust and authority that digital alone can’t match.

Fertile Ground for Innovation

The pandemic has undoubtedly stimulated innovation and entrepreneurialism at an inspiring level, with new company registrations rising sharply in many developed economies, according to the FT.  Looking ahead, we can expect the post-COVID landscape to be fertile ground for new enterprises to flourish. Some legacy businesses will have gone, by choice or extinction, leaving space for fresh, viable ideas to thrive, supported (hopefully) by government stimulus and alternative sources of funding for SMEs, start-ups and high-growth firms. The MENA region has also seen a spike in fundings for startups with more than 200 startup transactions taking place last year alone. Agility and first-mover advantage will be key, and this may well play to the strengths of smaller enterprises over more cumbersome, multi-layered corporate organisations.

The region has been witnessing a steady rise in the number of startups and given the high investments being made, and considering the unprecedented crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses need to rethink their strategy to accommodate consumer demand.

Adopting digital solutions such as third-party platforms and social media to connect to their customer base and offering a more personalized experience when it comes to e-commerce are key factors to success.

New trends will inevitably emerge as we exit lockdown. We can probably expect a new era of frivolity as consumer confidence turns into increased spending on travel, leisure, eating out and other shared experiences that are founded on interaction. Cosmetics group L’Oréal recently predicted another “Roaring 20s”, as consumers leave their homes and resume their social lives.

I’m sure that those who benefit will be those with the determination to make it happen, combined with the creativity to see themselves through the eyes of the customer and deliver unique value. This doesn’t necessarily demand huge investment – it can be a question of using the tools and technologies they already rely on and leveraging the potential to turn them to commercial advantage in another way. Pivoting or course-correcting doesn’t need to be confined to a crisis; it can be about taking a lateral approach to solving a problem or stepping back from the obvious and spotting a new opportunity.

Creating New Value

I’ve seen great examples of innovative lateral thinking in our own customer base. Lots of SMEs that work with our multi-tasking imagePRESS C165 production printer recognise its capability to produce great quality print on demand and put this at the heart of their value proposition in different ways. It is especially true for the Middle East region where the print market is valued at around USD 20 billion.

Take the example of, a German online business that designs and sells charming personalized stationery, gifts and home décor products; from christening books and calendars to meal planners and children’s height measurement charts.  By handling their own personalized print production using their C165 printer, they have control of quality and optimal speed to market. This gives them the confidence and autonomy to consider expanding their customer base internationally.

Generating revenue from print may not be about selling a printed product to an end consumer.  Belgian full-service creative events agency Conrad Consulting bought the C165 printer to create stand-out documents for pitches and proposals. Clients loved it so much that it’s now given the agency a new B2B revenue stream, producing their customers’ marketing collateral. In their own words, it’s enabled them “to perform something special that nobody else can do.” So a 30-year-old business now has an extra USP, thanks to creative, ambitious thinking.

These growth stories might be from small businesses, but they’re thinking big, grounded in a razor-sharp focus on how to exceed their customers’ expectations. In my experience, this ‘can-do’ spirit, combined with the willingness to try, examine and refine, almost always brings its rewards.

The pandemic has given every enterprise a golden opportunity to stand back, reassess and push for a new way of thinking. Using new understanding and intimacy with their customers, now’s the chance for businesses to do things differently, creating new value for their clients, their communities and themselves.

Source: HBR – 2020 –

Source: eMarketer – 2021 –

Source: Deloitte

Source: Forbes – 2020 –

Source: Forbes – 2020 –

Source: Canon Insight Report – 2021 –

Source: FT – 2020 –

Source – MENA Entrepeunrship –

Source – McKinsey –

Source – MENA Entrepeunrship –

Source: Ink World Magazine – 2020 –

Source: YouTube – 2020 –

YouTube – 2020


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