Alon Bar-Shany, Vice President and General Manager of HP Indigo, talks Oreos, individualisation and the benefits of being an Israeli company.
“Brands have endless information about consumers as individuals,” says Alon Bar-Shany, Vice President and General Manager of HP Indigo, “and today you have to talk to customers as individuals. This is standard across social media but brands are excited about how print can create the highest point of communication with their customers.”
Bar-Shany is speaking to us just ahead of Dscoop Tel Aviv and the drupa international trade fair. It’s one of the busiest times in the print industry and while he won’t offer any detail of HP Indigo’s offerings, it is clear that flexibility is a key component in future technology, specifically as end brands are becoming more aware of the power of print within their communication strategY.
Related article: The scoops at Dscoop
Related article: How dreams come true
A few years ago customisation was print’s supreme point of brand interaction – think of the Kleenex boxes that could feature a picture of your children or dogs, or the bottles of Coca-Cola with your name on it. Today that’s the starting point.
“Brands are now profiling the end consumer,” he says. “They want to know what you’d like before you do. With the amount of data they have and sophisticated algorithms, they can be scarily accurate.”
Customers in turn expect print items that offer them an emotional connection – something that is completely personal to them as well as being beautiful and of high quality. The same applies to the packaging world:
“This sector is finally realising that packaging is the strongest way to market your brand. With digital printing you can get your product to market quickly with all the power of personalisation and customisation and without compromising on print quality."
“Print can complement – and be the ultimate reward – of amazing social campaigns,” Bar-Shany says, referring to the Oreo/Mondelez Colorfilled experience in which fans could customise Oreo’s packaging through art, colour and text and have the biscuits delivered to someone. If you didn’t like the colours on offer, or preferred to not use the digital paintbrush, you could order the packaging in black and white, which would arrive with custom markers for you to play with.
So how is HP Indigo going to offer their customers technology that can personalise print and packaging innovation even further?
“We’re going beyond specific print innovation this year,” says Bar-Shany about Dscoop Tel Aviv. “We’re going to be more interactive than usual, allowing our customers to give us feedback on what they see now – and the potential for the next five to ten years.”
The focus on the personal is as important to the HP Indigo clients as it is to their end brands.
“We’re living in a world that’s changing so fast, with innovation that’s quickly communicated digitally but the printing world is composed of a lot of relatively small family businesses,” says Bar-Shany.
This is why the bonds he fosters with all customers – he spends up to 200 days per year travelling to see clients around the world – are so important to him.
“I really believe that face-to-face meetings are key to the long-lasting relationships you need to grow a business.”
At Dscoop, the community for everyone using HP Graphic Solutions, these face-to-face meetings are accelerated:
“Over a few days you hear the good things, you hear the bad things, you hear where you need to improve. It’s really valuable.”
This year Dscoop also offers members the opportunity to visit the home of HP Indigo, “where our technology is created and our strategy is implemented” and Tel Aviv in April is, according to Bar-Shany, beautiful.
The drupa international trade fair, on the other hand, offers the industry a broad showcase of future technology that has become even more relevant as most of the local trade shows have declined or disappeared, says Bar-Shany. The scale of drupa is vast. In 2012 there were 1,844 exhibitors and 314,248 visitors from 130 countries.
“Drupa is where we’ve released new products and formed alliances that have lasted for many years,” he says. “But more than that, it’s a place where you can properly interact with new technology. I know that information can be shared via the internet and there are great online demo centres but nothing compares to being in front of a new product.”
Last year marked Bar-Shany’s 20th anniversary with the company. Way back in 1995, the original appeal of Indigo for him was not only the buzz around the company as it went public, or that it offered him an opportunity to expand his skills in business development and international acquisition, but also that it was a small company with a strong vision and a dynamic culture.
“These were great people producing really high quality work and there was so much potential. It was a company built on innovation, creating products for customers who do their work because it’s part of who they are, it’s not a job for them.”
This relationship with customers is a unique one, he adds: “Usually in business you deal with executives who change jobs every two to three years; here we forge bonds that can last generations.”
While Indigo is now HP Indigo, part of a much larger organisation, Bar-Shany says the original company DNA is still there. “We’ve kept the focus on our customers, on innovation, working together as a team and having fun. We know we are building something together. And because we are so close to our customers, a major source of pride is still seeing them innovate and succeed.”
He believes that new recruits “who might think the print industry is boring and going away,” will find at HP Indigo a “top ten company in Israel that is growing fast as it does amazing things with software, optics, chemistry, mechanical design, business model innovation and more.”
"With digital printing you can get your product to market quickly with all the power of personalisation and customisation and without compromising on print quality."
Being Israeli is a huge factor for both Bar-Shany and HP Indigo.
“In Israel there’s a lot of support for specialist technology development and a strong R&D infrastructure but it’s much more than that. The culture of coming from a small country, one with a real start-up mentality, means that we are by nature nimble and innovative. You get used to living well with risk and even chaos, and by accepting this and trying to navigate quickly through a complicated world, you remain flexible.”
It’s also a small country with a strong focus on family and community, something that Bar-Shany says has coloured his home and work life.
“I try as hard as possible to be home every Friday night to have dinner with my parents and my family, and I speak to them every day.”
He says that this focus on togetherness means that as a team they are more adept at working through change than a team from a bigger, more structured culture.
“The two main lessons I’ve learned in work and life are, first, that being part of something bigger than you, being part of a team, is essential. This was one of the strongest lessons I learned in the army. The second was that life is so much more fun if you go through it with a positive attitude.
“If you think: oh printing is in decline and the world economy is a mess and currencies are all over the place, then you won’t be able to focus on the excitement of an opportunity to change and to innovate. I’ve learned most from the optimists and the team players.”
Bar-Shany says that this attitude has driven HP Indigo’s growth and the products they create.
“When you see the final assembly of presses or the manufacture and distribution of ink, you’re seeing the conclusion of a really long cycle. There would’ve been ten years of analysis, R&D, testing and hundreds of millions of dollars spent. But at that moment you see the tangible item, you know you’re employing people who are passionate and positive about their work and you know this is the base for the future. This is the next stage of innovation and you know it will continue to grow and grow.”
Dscoop in Tel Aviv runs from April 4-8.
TEXT: JANE CHRISTIE-SMITH PHOTO: ALBERT MOLLON