By Olivia Cahoon
Part one of two
Affinity groups help professionals and organizations form strategic partnerships between peers and vendors. These groups bring people together with similar interests and/or goals for the purpose of education and networking.
The goal of an affinity—in some cases a vendor-sponsored user group—is to provide an atmosphere where members can collaborate, attend classes, and network. These groups can be either vendor sponsored or independently run.
Here, we provide background and structural information of three affinity groups serving the digital print industry, the Digital Solutions Cooperative (Dscoop), Print on Demand Initiative (PODi), and thINK.
Dscoop is an HP-sponsored user group founded in 2005. According to John Rogers, global executive director, Dscoop, the organization began as a small group of HP Indigo owners whose goal was to share key learnings, obstacles, education, and build a collective environment of shared knowledge for success. Today, Dscoop is a community of HP Graphic Solutions professionals and business owners who use HP Indigo, Scitex, Latex, and PageWide web press equipment.
Dscoop serves the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, as well as Asia Pacific, and Japan. Rogers says it is the largest digital print user group in the world and provides a worldwide community focused on printing with the entire HP Graphic Solutions portfolio of equipment.
Today there are more than 8,000 global active members. Memberships are open to companies and employees who are qualified HP technology owners or users. Rogers adds that since 2015, Dscoop has waived the annual membership fee to provide broader access to companies.
“Our goal is to encourage as many individuals to join the community as possible. We see this as a way to go both deeper and wider within the industry—enabling more companies to join the community and more individuals within those companies connecting to contribute to and take advantage of the power of the Dscoop network,” comments Rogers.
Members have access to newsletters, online worldwide forums, webinars, white papers, regional events, a global print director, and eligibility to attend the annual Dscoop conference.
“One of the biggest reasons members are attracted to the Dscoop community is the direct connections that are made between the members and to HP and other partners. There are opportunities to share best practices, network, and attend year-round education and development. The community includes operators, sales, and marketing professionals,” shares Rogers.
The Dscoop conference for the Americas takes place each Spring with about 5,000 attendees across the regions. The Europe, the Middle East, and Africa conference occurs in late spring and the Asia Pacific and Japan conference in the Fall. The conference showcases educational breakout sessions, keynote speakers, and offerings from partners and HP.
Dscoop is led by both a board of directors as well as regional directors. “Board members are Dscoop members who are very active in the community and have shown commitment and dedication to the users group through volunteerism and leadership. Applications are considered and submitted to the board to be voted on,” says Kathy Popovich, North America regional director, Dscoop.
Established in 1998, PODi formed as a development group within the industry to provide the Personal Print Markup Language open standard language to improve the performance and economics of personalized printing. Since then, PODi has expanded to support print and marketing service providers educate members on the capabilities of digital printing through case study research and leading industry vendors.
Aimed at educating the digital printing industry, PODi markets service providers through sales training and partnering with industry experts to teach leadership roles.
PODi’s industry experts are professionals in a multitude of vertical market areas that arrange instructor-led courses. The courses are self-paced, need-based webinars that cater to the budgets and schedules of sales people, business owners, and solutions architects.
Members of PODi vary between VPs of sales, sales managers, owners of varying print services, and marketing professionals who strive to increase digital and electronic communicational productivity.
“PODi has over 170 member companies encompassing close to 3,600 contacts. Our print service provider membership also includes corporate franchises such as SirSpeedy, PIP Printing, AlphaGraphics, Allegra and Imaging, as well as PostNet. The PODi membership dues are paid annually and are structured based on the company size with the focus being digital printing and desired growth,” shares Tracey Burkovich, operations manager, PODi.
PODi members have access to the PODi blog, a bi-monthly newsletter that includes PODi activities, industry trends, and links to the newest tools available from PODi. Other benefits include exclusive access to a wealth of resources that help members sell more.
“In today’s competitive marketplace, everyone wants to sell more and operate more efficiently. A PODi membership can help make those goals a reality,” says Burkovich.
The group recently finished its decade-long run of the annual APPForum with intent to continue online. While a physical conference will no longer be held, PODi plans to share its best content in an online, interactive format.
PODi is dedicated to providing training and industry information electronically and offering a range of educational benefits for members.
Announced in 2015, thINK is a community of Canon Solutions America Production Print customers. It started when these users felt the need for a forum where customers could network, gain knowledge, stay updated on technological advancements, and discuss challenges.
“Our customers were the driving force for this user group, and it is being led by some of the most successful inkjet service providers in the country,” shares Eric Hawkinson, director of marketing, Canon Solutions America. Hawkinson shares that Canon’s support allows thINK to deliver information on industry trends and to keep participation complimentary for members.
At thINK, the focus is to deliver team encompassing and world class education. They also concentrate on best practices and innovations for members. “thINK is diligent in creating value for all stakeholders, not just to drive business for them, but to foster meaningful relationships and engagements that make companies more effective at what they do,” says Hawkinson.
As of June, 2016, there are more than 1,000 thINK members with the target audience being inkjet business owners, production, and sales customers. “thINK membership is free and provides year round communications and full access to forum resources,” says Hawkinson.
Benefits for thINK members include access to the forum, which provides industry guides, webinars, white papers, and conference presentations. Also, member networking from successful inkjet service providers, monthly communications, and access to Canon Solutions America Leadership with the ability to influence inkjet product development.
thINK is open to Canon Solution America production print device users or those considering use. “Our goal is an active member base that engages all stakeholders end to end,” says Hawkinson.
Live webinars and communications take place every month. In September 2015, thINK held its first annual conference and made news with over 300 leading inkjet service providers.
The thINK 2016 conference is expected to have over 400 attendees with educational opportunities that range from marketing inkjet capabilities to technical sessions on color management. Over 25 introductory and advanced specific content sessions will be offered at the conference.
Hawkinson shares that the user group is headed by board members that are comprised of Canon Solutions America customers. “Size of company, industry, geography, and equipment are some of the many factors that go into recruiting and selecting board members. At the individual level, the most important trait is understanding and embracing thINK’s mission to offer valuable programs to members for their business today, but anticipate and plan for what the industry will look like in the future,” says Hawkinson.
Canon’s thINK user group strives to build a community and focus on education and networking for all of its members. “As the leader in both continuous feed and cutsheet inkjet, we are proud to support our customers in this effort. We believe this user group will provide long-lasting benefits to the entire print industry,” shares Hawkinson.
The Playing Field
User groups help print providers to connect with consumers on an equally beneficial playing field. They bring together common individuals in the industry to network, collaborate, and create whether it be online or at a physical event. It’s important for print providers to meet their consumers so they can better understand their customers. Likewise, consumers benefit from the advantages of networking with print providers. Dscoop, PODi, and thINK connect with members to create organizations that facilitate relationships.
The second part of our series focuses on one company’s user group experience. dps
Aug2016, DPS Magazine