Graph Expo & DMA2012: A tale of two shows

Both the premiere print trade show and the top direct marketing conference were held in October this year. I had the fortunate opportunity to attend these two shows back to back: Graph Expo in Chicago on October 7-10 and DMA2012 in Las Vegas on October 13-18. As I walked the exhibit spaces and attended meetings, presentations and other gatherings, I saw important similarities and differences between these two events. Each in their own way illustrated how the graphic arts and direct marketing industries are being impacted by digital, social and mobile media technologies. They also revealed the complexities and difficulties facing every organization in our era of data-driven marketing and communications.

The mood among presenters, exhibitors and attendees at both shows was one of cautious optimism. The ongoing perfect storm of economic downturn combined with rapid technological change was on everyone’s mind. Both shows were devoted to providing answers and solutions to the pressing problem of the day; how can business owners and decision makers achieve success by more effectively serving client needs.

One way to compare these events is to look at the numbers. Since the figures for the 2012 shows have not yet been published, I will use the numbers from last year:

Event              Attendees      Exhibitors    Conf. Sessions
Graph Expo      20,000+          490+            50+
DMA2011         8,500+           350+            200+

With an emphasis on technology demonstration, Graph Expo is primarily about the equipment needed to accomplish marketing and communications objectives. And with an emphasis on conference sessions, DMA2012 (Direct Marketing Association) is focused on programs that educate and inform its audience about the processes needed to prepare and analyze initiatives. GraphExpo is for service companies that buy systems for the execution of programs. DMA2012 is for marketing companies that buy tools and solutions for the conceptualization of programs. Taken together, the two represent a continuum of the entire marketing and communications loop; where the one ends the other picks up.

These characteristics can also be seen by the way the event organizers describe themselves to their audience:

Graph Expo: “Graph Expo is the year’s largest and most exciting display of ‘live’ running equipment in the Americas. Watching a machine run and participating in a demonstration teaches you things you just can’t learn by sitting in a conference room or looking at a brochure. This show is a problem-solving adventure designed to help you make informed purchasing decisions.”

DMA20212: “The content at DMA2012 will deliver real-world solutions you can use immediately, as well as strategic guidance to help you plan for 2013. You’ll find an inspiring line-up of key thought leaders and innovators from the world’s leading companies. These gurus will educate and inform you on the latest trends:

  • optimizing content across channels
  • monetizing social media
  • integrating media according to customer preference
  • leveraging real-time analytics for daily decision making”

I arrived at Graph Expo on Sunday, October 7 and entered the expo floor when it opened at noon. Along with everyone else, I noticed immediately the prominence of the manufacturers of digital printing technologies, as was the case in last year’s show. Canon, Xerox, HP, Fuji, Kodak and others have taken over the largest booths in the show. In previous years, these booths were occupied by Heidelberg, KBA, Komori and Mitsubishi. Although Heidelberg stood out by having a large space with many machines on display, gone are the days of GraphExpo as a showcase of large and loud offset printing machinery.

Benny Landa speaking at the InfoTrends breakfast at GraphExpo

On Monday morning October 8, I attended an InfoTrends breakfast meeting that featured a talk by Benny Landa, the inventor of digital printing (he launched the Indigo press in 1993). Landa spoke about what he called the “economic depression of the printing industry.” As he reviewed the new printing technique his company has developed (nanography), he explained that the “98% of the printing being done today” is static, non-variable data printing. Since much of this printing is not profitable, it means that printing companies are unable to invest in new technologies.

Chris Anderson delivering the opening keynote at DMA2012

My visit to the DMA2012 Conference began by attending the opening keynote on Monday, October 15. The featured speaker was Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine and author of the business book “The Long Tail.” Anderson spoke about the implications of “big data” for marketing organizations. Big data is the ever-growing mountain of information about our lives; companies like Google and Facebook are accumulating big data about our online and offline activities, preferences and habits. The challenge facing marketers is how best to use this information since it is not structured and does lend itself to traditional analytical tools and methods. Anderson said that big data is a challenge to traditional marketing models.

From this brief report, it is evident that we are passing through an exciting time in our industry; we are well into the transition from the traditional, analog world of yesterday to the data-driven, digital world of tomorrow. However, the path forward is not obvious; marketing organizations and their service providers are facing a multiplicity of challenges. Among the keys to success in this rapidly shifting environment is taking advantage of events like Graph Expo and DMA2012. In this way, we can grasp the fundamental trends of development, learn from our peers and prepare our own organizations to meet the new demands of our clients.

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