The introduction of color inkjet technology more than a decade ago has changed the world of print, and with it came numerous opportunities for the transactional printing industry. Transactional communications are business-to-consumer (B2C) communications, such as statements, bills, and customer letters, and span a variety of highly regulated verticals such as financial, insurance, healthcare, and utilities. These communications, historically regarded as documents that were required to satisfy regulatory requirements, are now being revitalized as part of an omnichannel communications strategy to enhance the customer experience (CX) with eye-catching and colorful document designs, personalized content, and targeted marketing messages to cross sell or upsell to existing customers. The availability of electronic delivery and other digital delivery mechanisms fueled predictions about the demise of print; yet, despite the decline in USPS mail delivery volume for 2017 — down approximately 3.6% or 5.0 billion pieces — print has not come to its demise yet.

“If you build it, they will come” is a familiar quote from the movie Field of Dreams that (for those in the business world) has come to mean if something useful has been built, people will come to use and pay for it. This is true in many instances; however, when it comes to color inkjet technology and transitioning away from monochrome print, our latest research showed otherwise. Just ask the service providers who participated in our most recent research.

Since its introduction, there have been significant improvements in color inkjet technology, including faster print speeds and better output quality all while the price point for a color image dropped to a more attractive level. So what gives, and why has color adoption been slower than anticipated?

For the past 10 years, Madison Advisors has conducted research efforts within the print and mail industry, including the migration from monochrome to full-color for both enterprise in-plants and service providers. Our focus within the transactional print industry includes market pricing research for the service provider segment and our Best Practices Assessment (BPA), which collects hundreds of data points for both service providers and enterprise in-plant operations alike. Our research shows that while the price point for a color image has decreased to a significantly attractive level, the use of color for transactional communications does not concur with the anticipated rate of adoption.

In February, Madison Advisors released a research report “Color Migration and Digital Delivery: Trends in Transactional Communications.” The participants surveyed included print service providers and enterprises who operate an in-plant production facility or have outsourced print and mail. As the author of this research, I decided to expand our purview beyond monochrome vs. color image volumes to include the role color print plays in an omni-channel communications strategy and trends in digital delivery. In addition, I decided to dig deeper and understand the barriers to color adoption from the perspective of print service providers and enterprises.

Even though all our study participants (excluding enterprises who outsourced print and mail) have made the investment in color inkjet technology, there is still a high percentage of output printed monochrome – 75% for service providers and 79.5% for enterprise in-plants. Several reasons were noted for the high volume of monochrome print; however, the service providers indicated that cost per impression when compared to monochrome was the primary barrier inhibiting clients from making the transition. In addition, many clients do not understand the benefits of using color for transactional communications as it relates to customer experience.

In the CCM industry, we often hear the terms multi-channel and omnichannel delivery in reference to how organizations communicate with their customers. Despite predictions made years ago that print will be a thing of the past, the truth is print is still an important communication channel and one that – in my humble opinion – will not completely go away any time soon. Of course, there are regulatory reasons why certain communications have to be printed, but despite the push for electronic delivery, not one participant in our research can boast overall adoption rates above 50%. This means that organizations must still consider print as an important component of an omnichannel communications strategy.

However, the proverbial elephant in the room is preference management, which is a critical component of an optimized CCM strategy. I believe that it is still a gap based on experience working with enterprise clients and the results of this research. Since preference data is used in the composition process to optimize the content and the output based on the selected delivery channel(s), it presents an opportunity for print service providers to offer a robust solution in addition to composition services and multi-channel delivery.

But the question remains, if service providers build out a complete CCM platform that includes composition services, preference management and omnichannel delivery that includes color print – will they come?

Gina Ferrara is Senior Analyst, Madison Advisors. She has more than 19 years of experience in the banking and financial services industry working as a project manager/business analyst in e-commerce, with several years focused on online banking, electronic bill payment, e-commerce, and print and mail optimization.