Print Influencer: Daniel Dejan

With over 40 years in the industry, Dejan is devoted to proving just how effective print communication can be when enhanced with tactile sensations.

Daniel Dejan is the Sappi etc. (education, training and consulting) print and creative manager for Sappi North America, providing value-added marketing, sales and technical consultation. As a graphic designer with over 40 years in the industry, Dejan developed a fascination with paper and its ability to create dramatic pieces of marketing communications. In his work with Sappi North America, Dejan strives to educate and inspire the graphic arts community on the ways in which print communications can utilize tactile sensations to compete in a market continually overloaded with digital content.

How did you find the printing industry as a career?

I grew up in the industry. My father owned an advertising agency and felt it was good for me to learn production. When I was 16, I did an apprenticeship for one of the largest hot type shops in Chicago, which gave me a very strong foundation. I learned type, ink, paper and print production. Of course, most of that now is obsolete, but it was exactly the right kind of indoctrination. Later, I went to college and design school before starting my own graphic design and marketing firm. I ended up buying my father’s advertising agency and merging it with my own company. The rest is history.

What are haptics, and how do they relate to branding?

Haptics is the science of touch and how what we touch shapes what we feel. Humans are a very tactile species. We love to feel things that stimulate a response. At Sappi, we got together with Lana Rigsby from Rigsby Hull, a communications design firm in Houston, Texas. She brought in Dr. David Eagleman, one of the top neuroscience researchers in haptics. Together we created The Neuroscience of Touch: Haptic Brain, Haptic Brand. The book looks at communications through the lens of neuroscience, exploring how media shapes the brain and, consequently, the way a brand is perceived. Addressing haptics specifically, we look at the science behind why our haptic brains respond so well to haptic brands.

How did Sappi first become involved with haptics and the neuroscience of touch?

Sappi was doing research looking at the last ten years in marketing communications since the revolution. We came across a research study exploring what happens to the brain, from a neuroscience perspective, when we read ink on paper vs. the same content on a digital tablet. What researchers found was that, unlike reading on a tablet, reading ink on paper stimulates four of the five senses: visual, auditory (sound of differing papers as well as the pages turning), haptics (touch) and olfactory (the smell of ink and paper). Additionally, volunteers retained the content for much longer than when reading on a tablet. It was the first time we were better able to understand how strongly the senses play in our experience with reading. We now know that we read ink on paper differently than an electronic source, but we also assimilate that content very differently. For Sappi, this was a very important way of differentiating media, which led to the Haptic Brain, Haptic Brand project.

How can printers, finishers and binders use haptics branding to connect with their customers?

The beauty of foil stamping or the feel of soft-touch or quality paper impacts how we regard the company and the brand. By effectively engaging the senses, we can differentiate ourselves from our competition. Ink on paper is storytelling. We often see companies commoditize their communication due to budget restraints. However, when companies take the time to design and create a truly lovely catalog or piece of direct mail, consumers will value not just the content but the company and the brand for spending that capital to produce an aesthetic and impactful piece. People know that print costs money. Psychologically, it shows pride and also says to the recipient, “This is important and valuable. Please pay attention.”

What does it mean for the future of the print industry?

We need to understand the trends. We’re seeing a greater demand from the public for having their senses engaged, which can’t be done on a smartphone or tablet. We get very excited about new technology, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best and only way to connect with customers; it’s just the newest. What we are coming to realize is that while technology is wonderful, 75-84 percent of online orders are stimulated by magazine advertising, from catalogs and direct mail or a piece of collateral. Companies that migrated away from print a decade ago are coming back to it because they’re seeing it’s the best way of engaging their audiences. As humans, we love all the marvelous things the senses bring us. We may order online due to our expectation of “immediate gratification,” but we often are stimulated through print first.

What do you see for the industry five years into the future?

The print industry is growing and will continue to do well. Technology has opened up possibilities to do beautiful work, and that’s going to continue. The industry’s job is to help our customers differentiate their products or services from the competition in their markets. At one time, 4-color enabled that because everyone else was doing 2-color. Then, everyone was doing 4-color, and it became a matter of what to do next. The industry started taking advantage of special effects, such as foil stamping, diecutting and embossing, as part of the brand. It also started promoting soft-touch and sandpaper on magazine covers as part of the brand. It defined who they were. The minute end users saw that little flash of foil or felt that soft-touch cover, they reacted and knew who the company was. I think we’re going to continue to see that, as well as other yet-to-be-discovered techniques.

If we want to stand out from the crowd, we have to stop commoditizing. It’s not about the cost per unit. It’s about response rates and, more importantly, about conversion rates. It’s about getting people to buy the packaging off of the shelf and making them believe that you are the right company to do business with. Psychologically, as soon as we start to show that we are different by using special effects, our customers believe us and they buy more products and services.