InPrint Webinar: Industrial Inkjet. Is it Crossing the Chasm? Or is it Stuck in a Ravine?

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We will be hosting a webinar on October 12 addressing the question. Is Industrial Inkjet Crossing the Chasm or is it Stuck in a Ravine?

To register for this FREE webinar click here

The reality is, that there are many promising, and some not so promising innovations that have not quite made it into the mainstream. Some because they are plain silly, some because the timing was out, and some because despite their promise and genius, they simply don’t cross over what Geoffrey Moore coined ‘the chasm’ into mainstream adoption.

Whilst of course this is an extremely serious issue, we may as well start with the silly. Do you recall the air-conditioned shoe? The goldfish walker? The anti-hair noodle protector? Or the multi-cigarette holder? Or indeed, last but by no means least, TV glasses?! No, nor had I until I did some research online.

These ideas likely didn’t deserve to generate any interest at all. Because they are silly. But for the purposes of this article, some ideas do spark an interest from what Rogers calls the innovators, the nerds, and the people keen to adopt innovation early as it excites them. None of above even managed that I doubt.

But even some seemingly very cool ideas fail to really make it mainstream. Take the Sinclair C5, the Segway, Google Glasses, RFID, and the QR Code for example. All failed to make it big time despite their potential and their evident cleverness.

Why did they fail to make it into the big time? Because they simply failed to cross the chasm of course is the simple answer. They just did not move from the early market into the mainstream market. This happens, for a variety of reasons too numerous to outline here.

In order for any new idea to gain traction and generate serious revenue. It must cross the chasm from an early market, into a mainstream. What sustains an early market is the interest from a relatively small percentage of the market. It is an energising phase, but one that doesn’t last. It is the early market.

So what is the difference between early adopters and early majority? It is worth us taking a closer look.

Early Adopters. What distinguishes them, what are they like?

According to Moore in ‘Crossing the Chasm’ pp24, “What the Early Adopter is buying is some kind of change agent. By being the first to implement this change in their industry, the early adopters expect to get a jump on the competition, whether from lower production costs, faster time to market, more complete customer service, or some other comparable business advantage. They expect a radical discontinuity between the old ways and the new, and they are prepared to champion this cause against entrenched resistance. Being the first, they are also prepared to bear with the inevitable bugs and glitches that accompany any innovation coming to market.”

What Moore makes clear is that the early adopter is a pioneer. More comfortable with change than the larger early majority– more willing to be part of the development of something new and tolerant of imperfection. This type of personality wants change, is comfortable with it, in fact it wants to be part of the leading of this change. An early adopter is a leader and therefore doesn’t need validation from a higher entity, or from other similar organisations they are making the right decision. Because leading change, is better than having change thrust upon them.

Moore calls this early phase, the early market. Where confidence and hype is generated through enthusiastic exchanges, commissioned projects and a fervent desire from the few to revolutionise production. Inevitably though, the early market will plateau as a time lag occurs between this phase and the next. It is at this critical point that some lose patience, or surrender due to difficulty or simply lose confidence. It really isn’t as much fun frankly. However, those that remain have a chance to convince the early majority and an opportunity to reach mainstream and considerable economic gain, but in order to do so they must convince the early majority.

What are the Early Majority like?

According to Moore, pp26. “By contrast the early majority want to buy a productivity improvement for existing operations. They are looking to minimise discontinuity with the old ways. They want evolution, not revolution. They want technology to enhance, not overthrow, the established ways of doing business. And above all, they do not want to debug somebody else’s product. By the time they adopt it, they want it to work properly and to integrate appropriately with their existing technology base.”

So the early majority, vital to new market formation and growth, are not revolutionaries. Open to change, on their terms, they would rather have something that improves as opposed to being disruptive to tradition. Plus they need proof that something has worked and proof from what they regard as a safe and valid source. Not a pioneering early adopter who is renowned for trying new things and taking risks that sometimes don’t work.

What we have seen with both the décor and the direct to shape markets is early action. Limited sharing of success, but lots of noise of working being done. There have been projects commissioned, but the actual marketplace hasn’t formed yet as it is in an early state. Enter the NDA riddled industrial inkjet development community. There are success stories out there, but they are hard to find due to the NDA. And if there is no proof or evidence of success from companies that the early majority deem as providing effective reference that risk is therefore mitigated then the revolution that we have seen in ceramics and graphics, is less likely to occur.

But what of industrial inkjet? Is this doomed to the same fate to be stuck in a ravine never to be seen again?

No, I am not saying that industrial inkjet just a silly, bad or merely novel idea that won’t make mainstream. No I am not saying that at all. But the fact is right now, particularly in the industrial segments such as decorative flooring, automotive, flexible packaging and direct to shape product and packaging, we are in the early market phase. We have not crossed the chasm.

It is also worthy of noting that inkjet has already proven itself to be a good idea. It is working well in commercial printing, in wide format printing, textile printing, and ceramics. It is also arguably gaining traction in label printing and to some extent can therefore be properly defined as being already an mainstream industrial print technology. In these applications.

But how is it doing with new applications? As mentioned, decorative laminate flooring, direct to shape printing, and even flexible packaging? To answer this question properly, I read Geoffrey Moore’s ‘Crossing the Chasm’ book for inspiration and to attempt to explain where industrial inkjet is on the growth curve.

What is clear from his book is that the difference between something truly becoming mainstream and entering a tornado phase – is the difference between early adopters and the early majority.

Why has industrial inkjet not crossed the chasm yet when it already has in graphics and ceramics?

Well, there are different challenges and different conditions in each and every market. And now, with inkjet dominating in graphics and ceramics, we can see the patterns at play were different.

Let’s start with graphics. First off, arguably the technical challenges are greater. When inkjet entered graphic, it entered a market directly linked to the shop floor. It connected with a customer group who were mainly small businesses able to adapt quickly with relatively short supply chains. It also came together with a market that accepted that the finished product of a poster, when seen at some distance, didn’t have to be perfectly printed. So the technical tolerance of the finished product fell away quickly when the economic and commercial advantages of this disruptive new technology were properly understood.

Secondly ceramics. Centred in two small locations in Europe, this industry adopted digital quickly in large part due to their economic need and the unique characteristics of the Xaar 1001 head. As written in the Xaar Ceramics Guide, “These (Ceramic) manufacturers have all cut production costs, reduced waste, work-in-progress and stocks of finished products, and improved responsiveness to design changes and customer demand. They are also producing higher-quality tiles that offer more realistic reproduction of marble and other natural materials. And they are doing so in the short runs that buyers demand – using digital, a single ceramic tile can be produced cost-effectively. Instead of competing on price, these manufacturers can compete on creativity and innovation, and do so in new markets. As the global economy recovers, these companies are well-placed to reap the rewards of their forward-looking investment.”

Both ceramics and graphic are examples where the market tipped to digital inkjet printing almost entirely. It is still debateable as to whether this will take place in the new markets such as DTS, Decorative and Flexible packaging. But regardless, a successful crossing of the chasm is vital in order for any kind of market to form. And for pragmatists who are the type of psycho profile for the early market – they need the comfort of seeing their peers succeeding with the new technology.

Moore continues, “Because of these incompatibilities, early adopters do not make good references for the early majority.”

With little or no obvious sources of success from other early majority companies – due to secrecy with NDA’s, the present positivity and growth expectations of industrial inkjet starts to make sense. We are looking at growth predictions on a low base of current adoption.

Moore concludes, “The only suitable reference for an early majority customer, it turns out, is another member of the early majority, but no upstanding member of the early majority will buy without first having consulted with several suitable references.”

But of course, eventually an early majority purchase will take place, if the underlying reasons for adoption or change are significant enough.

So market the product!

Whatever ones opinion, the company or the technology that has the clearest case for adoption is simply more likely to win, and the most powerful stimulant for change for industrial inkjet is economic. And once this is realised, and the technical problems are fully solved, it is mostly a social, marketing and communication challenge that will ensue.

The Chasm is a real thing, then in order for this to be successfully bridged, a tipping point, or a critical mass will need to be reached. According to Malcolm Gladwell in his ‘The Tipping Point’, there are, within any successful movement where change is a core focus, and one where there is opposition in from the incumbent, the likelihood of success is heightened if you have a certain type of people on your side, within the business or community as a whole.

Connectors

Connectors are the people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions. A connector is essentially the social equivalent of a computer network hub. They usually know people across an array of social, cultural, professional, and economic circles, and make a habit of introducing people who work or live in different circles. They are people who "link us up with the world...people with a special gift for bringing the world together".[5] They are "a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack [... for] making friends and acquaintances".[6] Gladwell characterizes these individuals as having social networks of over one hundred people.

Mavens

Mavens are "information specialists", or "people we rely upon to connect us with new information".[4] They accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace, and know how to share it with others. Gladwell cites Mark Alpert as a prototypical Maven who is "almost pathologically helpful", further adding, "he can't help himself".[8] In this vein, Alpert himself concedes, "A Maven is someone who wants to solve other people's problems, generally by solving his own".[8] According to Gladwell, Mavens start "word-of-mouth epidemics" due to their knowledge, social skills, and ability to communicate.[9] As Gladwell states: "Mavens are really information brokers, sharing and trading what they know".[10]

Sales People

Salesmen are "persuaders", charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, which makes others want to agree with them. Gladwell's examples include California businessman Tom Gau and news anchor Peter Jennings, and he cites several studies about the persuasive implications of non-verbal cues, including a headphone nod study (conducted by Gary Wells of the University of Alberta and Richard Petty of the University of Missouri) and William S. Condon's cultural microrhythms study.

Tell a Story

In order for any tipping point to be realised and for new value to be achieved, effective storytelling is important. Particularly for a business or product that is pushing boundaries, challenging tradition, or disrupting markets.

Personally, I think that too much of our market (that happens to be industrial inkjet) is focused on analysis, with technical facts and features. These are not irrelevant ingredients for success. But for effective storytelling, they are only a part of the picture.

To break into new markets, to attract new customers, to resonate on a higher level, effective storytelling is essential.

Humans are hard-wired for stories. We respond to stories of struggle, of overcoming adversity, of winning against the odds. We are enthralled by good against evil, of courage and ‘derring’ do, and of failure and success.

Too often I hear business stories that simply merge into a standard format: Established in 1992 blah blah, and then a chronological history of the company and then the technical features of a product. It may present credibility in some way, but it doesn’t make we want to talk to the presenter afterwards.

Of course, the story has to be real, and true, I am not suggesting we need to ‘spin a yarn’.

Carmine Gallo in ‘The Storytellers Secret’ says that the most compelling business storytellers of all time, including the lauded Steve Jobs, dedicated 65% of their content to emotional and non-logical storytelling.

And in the book, Gallo cites Aristotle as a great source of inspiration for modelling great storytelling – he draws this from a TED Talk which achieved the longest standing ovation - that given by Bryan Stevenson who Gallo describes as a master persuader. He says that if a story has Pathos (triggering emotion through narrative) then it will be more successful and impactful. Then 25% is given to logos (facts, figures and statistics) – whilst 10% is given to ethos – (credibility and track record).

This may make some people squirm a little. But fear not, one doesn’t have to concoct a story designed to make someone emotional, overly excited, or distressed in any way. This has to work with whatever style it is you have, the brand values you have and personality you possess. But a story that connects on a human level is simply going to be more powerful than one that misses the mark.

In need of some logos?

For the scientists among us, this argument is indeed backed up by fact. If the heart is more powerful than the brain in terms of persuasion, then the path to the heart is through the amygdala which is obviously a part of the brain. As Gallo says in his book, “Scientists are finding that the very same reward centres of the brain are also involved in persuasion, motivation, and memory.” So if you can trigger an element of empathy from the listener, then that person will automatically identify with you.

To discover this fact it was discovered through brain scans that the same part of the brain that is stimulated by taking drugs, drinking alcohol, eating food, gambling etc were triggered by great storytelling. It is simply a potent method for moving people.

Of course, humour, relevance, and surprise can be factored in. But the building blocks of a good story are based on those three factors.

The point is, once you’ve moved the audience, you can educate them far more effectively as they have accepted you, like you, and your chances of success are therefore heightened.

So is inkjet crossing the chasm? Or is it stuck in a ravine?

Inkjet is not a new idea. It is proven in many markets and become mainstream. This is fact and therefore should provide the developing community with the necessary patience and confidence that reluctant markets will adopt eventually. Of course there are technical complexities and significant commercial challenges, but these are not insurmountable.

It is just taking time for inkjet to be fully understood, for the projects to be realised, for evidence of success to be made public and for the economic case for adopting inkjet made clear and compelling.

This will no doubt happen. Underpinning interest in industrial inkjet is a huge interest in the digitisation of manufacturing. Quite when the chasm will be crossed is another matter and nobody knows the answer to this. But those who remain committed to developing projects and technologies are clearly going to have a chance to capitalise when the next segment truly tips. Whether this is a wholesale change or an evolutionary one is debateable – personally I think inkjet will not replace in these markets.

So in answer to the original question. Inkjet is not stuck in a ravine, but it is still yet to successfully cross the chasm into early majority.