Monday, May 23, 2011

May Observations: Up Close with a Memjet Printer

For the last month or so, I have had the opportunity to use a prototype Memjet home-and-office printer, first in my downtown office, and then more recently in my home office. While not a rigorous or official, full-blown evaluation or review, I have a number of observations about my printing experiences that I would like to share in my May 2011 Observations column. I will also offer a little marketing advice for the somewhat mysterious almost mythical company that sprang onto the industry scene in 2007 from Down Under (originating from Australia’s Silverbrook Research) with a formidable threat to seriously disrupt the printer industry.

In the full disclosure department, Lyra Research and the Hard Copy Observer were among the earliest in the industry to be on the Memjet story and have followed the company’s somewhat circuitous march to market with great interest ever since. For me personally, prior to be being employed by Lyra, I was an independent consultant and did some marketing work for Memjet in its very early days. Also, like with many other companies in the industry, I have a number of friends and acquaintances currently employed by Memjet.

Getting hold of an evaluation unit, however, was more of a personal favor on Memjet’s part combined with curiosity on my part about what it would be like to have this oft-discussed super-fast printer at my immediate disposal. What would I think, and would the printer’s performance change my behavior relative to what I print and when? As far as the charge for the marketing advice to Memjet and its go-to-market partners, this time—strictly gratis!

I received the previously used prototype unit via the Eagle, Idaho-based Home and Office division of the San Diego-based company, and this machine already showed 35,000 pages printed on its “odometer,” which came via standardized out-sourced reliability testing prior to my use. So my unit is a bit of a scratch-and-dent model, which I found I appreciated—much like I have learned with buying a car, as I have often remarked that I would rather start with a year-old, “pre-dinged” model because that first little flaw incurred in a brand new car can be so emotionally painful.

Putting Print Speed into Historical Perspective

Memjet’s original promise of delivering 60 ppm color printing to the home and office for $200-$300 has morphed into a machine that offers the same breakthrough speed but at a price point that is multiplied by a factor of two or more. Note that Memjet has not identified any U.S. partners, and of the firm’s Asian and European partners, only Lenovo in China has published target per-page costs of 0.1-0.15 Yuan (2 cents) for monochrome and 0.3-0.5 Yuan (6 cents) for color, compared to color laser printing costs of 10-15 cents for a color page and 1-2 cents for a monochrome page. Early indications on hardware pricing for the Lenovo RJ600N point to a range of $770 to $925 in U.S. dollars.

During the last decades, unlike in semiconductor-driven areas, like computer memory and processors, printers and their technology curves have remained somewhat constrained by factors in the physical world. The speed of drying ink and melting toner and the physics of moving paper comprise some of the factors that work against a pure Moore’s Law progression among printers. So we do not see the many-orders-of-magnitude changes we have seen over the decades with processors or storage. Nevertheless, if Memjet can deliver on even its revised price/performance goal, the impact to the home- and office-printing market could be significant.

Handouts for university classes are potentially a great application for 
the speed and economy of Memjet-based ink jet printers

My Positive Experience

Unquestionably, having the Memjet printer has increased my interest in printing. I have enjoyed printing full-page photos (and confirmed the company’s advice that media type is a huge determinant of photo quality, as with every other product in the industry). I print articles and book sections for my teaching work and have also had good results printing from my Apple iPad using EuroSmartz Ltd’s Print n Share (see “Observations: Interview with Ian Schenkel of EuroSmartz”).

However, my most positive or at least most dramatically positive experience with the printer came one morning a few weeks ago. I was running behind, getting my final presentation materials in place for a university-based event where I was lecturing on using social media for marketing. My handouts, based on my slides, were the last thing I needed on the morning of the presentation, and I was at least 30 minutes behind schedule, with a colleague depending on me for a ride. I needed 60 pages of color (mixed text and graphics), and I had only minutes to print the pages before leaving my home office and making my appointed time for the pick-up. Quite frankly, this seemingly risky schedule, was not really so accidental, as I knew I had a very fast printer that I could use. And so, within the time it took to click “OK” on the print dialog box, which issued the command to print the 60 pages, and move from my upstairs laptop to my downstairs office printer, those 60 printed sheets were peacefully waiting for me on the Memjet printer’s output tray.

On a side note, the prototype printer I am testing is not always quiet, as the ink-management system involved in keeping the page-wide print head ready to go at 60 ppm requires quite a bit of hydraulic magic—even seemingly on an intermittent basis while idle—but the company assures me they are working to minimize the noise. Size-wise, all the fluid and paper movement clearly requires an industrial design that at first look seems quite a bit larger and more substantial than the commonly seen low-end ink jets and lasers of today. A closer look, however, reveals this size issue to be more in reference to the printer’s overall mass (height, weight, and depth) rather than its footprint. In terms of desk space, my HP Officejet Pro 8000 takes up nearly the same square footage. Finally, although supplies cost are not my concern at this point, the company has stated that the average cost per page will be half that of a typical ink jet or color laser printer (see above for target per-page costs of the Memjet-based Lenovo RJ600N).

Print speed demos via video have created excitement around Memjet's print speed capabilities

Of course, speed is not the only consideration, but it is the main focus of Memjet’s promotional materials (see below). The printer’s 60 ppm performance, whether viewed via the company’s many videos, but especially in person, is almost other-worldly. However, given that HP OfficeJets (including one I have been using for several years now) have a rating of 30+ ppm, is a doubling of that speed combined with a potential halving of the supplies cost going to transform the home- and office-printing market? My answer is a big “yes,” at least for situations like the morning when I needed a big stack of handouts in a hurry. Granted the raw (theoretical) speed comparisons indicate only a minute’s time-savings, but setup and processing time and the variability of print speed among competitive printers based on the content of the page should also be factored into the equation. The Memjet printer roars through all pages with the same gusto, and as can be seen from the comparison videos, others do not. 

Memjet's current tag line and branding emphasize the breakthrough print speed of the firm's technology

The reality, based on my recent experience with the Memjet and in the past with myriad inkjet and laser printers from other suppliers, is that the 2:1 theoretical performance improvement could actually net out at something more like 10:1. And what if I needed 600 pages and not just 60 pages? Regardless, the fact that the necessary pages appeared almost instantly made a big difference in my day.

Marketing Basics—Benefits Versus Features

Thus we near the end of my Memjet observations, and I cannot end without offering a little marketing, specifically product positioning, advice that applies to Memjet and its partners, and equally well to everyone else in our industry: Understand and stress the unique benefits of your technology, target those customers who will appreciate and reward you for those benefits, and try to remember the features are just enablers to deliver those benefits.

Regular readers will know I devote quite a bit of time and energy these days to teaching university-level marketing, and in actuality, devote even more time and energy in thinking about marketing and related subjects. After consulting the experts, here’s what perhaps the world’s most consulted marketing text (Kotler & Armstrong, 9th edition, “Marketing: An Introduction,” 2009, Prentice-Hall) says about putting benefits into market positioning.
“[Positioning based on] Benefits Sought: A powerful form of segmentation is to group buyers according to the different benefits that they seek from the product. Benefit segmentation requires finding the major benefits people look for in the product class, the kinds of people who look for each benefit, and the major brands that deliver each benefit.”
So Memjet (and partners), who are the buyers that value knocking out reasonably large volumes of color pages in rapid fashion? The team at Memjet includes marketing pros who are top-notch thinkers and practitioners, so none of this analysis is new to them, but I cannot resist reinforcing the idea that finding enough of those users and communicating the benefits of print speed will go a long way toward success for Memjet and its go-to-market partners – by no means an easy challenge, but one worth pursuing nonetheless.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

HP Printer Metrics, Q2 FY2011

Wow - it really snuck up on me this time, and the pull-in to this morning (based on a leaked CEO email) really made it seem early! Here are the numbers, while waiting for the transcript of the conference call. All in all, pretty good quarter for IPG, despite the HPQ overall picture not looking so good and the shares being savaged today.