For many decades, if you wanted to discuss the infrastructure investment required to start a printing business, you would have discussed buildings, presses, electricity, labor, and management. For the most part, asset heavy, capital investments that required financing and long term return on investment scenarios. Today is different; we have two very different infrastructure investments virtually all businesses need to make; one in the online world and one in the offline world. Most printers have made little or no investment in their online infrastructure, in fact our industry isn’t thinking about the online world as an infrastructure investment at all. It’s time to start.

The “traditional” print industry is dabbling in the online world, while new “pure online printers” enter the established and mature print market and devour market share by focusing their primary infrastructure investments in the online world. In fact many online businesses are sprouting up that never intend to manufacture the print themselves – just drive the traffic, create the demand for pages and strategically source the printing. They are creating asset light, capital light companies which can have much shorter return on investment scenarios.

In case you’re not paying attention, the world is moving online, 2.4 billion people are online today, and this number grows by 8% every year, adding another 198 million people online each year. Commerce is moving online and is expected to reach $1.3 trillion in 2013. Customer engagement is moving online. Marketing is moving online. Yet, less than 50% of U.S. printers have adopted web-to-print and in other regions of the world, the adoption rate is even lower.

What do I mean by a printer’s online infrastructure?

In order to effectively do business online you need to control three key things: your content, your commerce, and your customer engagement. Content is everything you say, do, produce, and spread about your company. Commerce is what you sell online. Customer engagement is the bi-directional communication you enable to happen online – customers expect to be able to talk back now via multiple channels. Today most printers aren’t thinking about their online business in a holistic way. You may assign someone to “do” your website, you may assign another to research web-to-print, and you may assign yet another to engage in social media. The result is frequently three very different approaches to building your online business and brand which can in some cases work against each other.

The primary characteristic of the online world is connectivity. Everything can be connected and your online strategy should be optimized to connect all parts of your online business strategy. I like to use the analogy of real estate holdings for your online business strategy. Your goal in both your online business strategy and the associated infrastructure investment is to build/grow your online real estate holdings. What I love about the online world is that unlike the physical world of real estate holdings you can compete with more than just cash.

If you have more money than brains, you should focus on outbound marketing. If you have more brains than money, you should focus on inbound marketing.

  Guy Kawasaki
  Former Chief Evangelist, Apple


Inbound marketing is defined as promoting or advertising a company through the creation of valuable content that attracts new customers rather than outbound marketing which interrupts many in the hope of finding a few.

The source of your online real estate is your domain; it’s your home on the web. You can build a larger and larger home (online real estate) by creating content (e.g. blog posts) that build out the pages that get indexed by search engines and make your home more findable on the web. Your online strategy needs to be aligned with the holistic goal of building up your online real estate and maximizing all efforts to promote your brand, your commerce, and your customer engagement.

Your online infrastructure investment is the platform in which you execute your online strategy on. It may not be a single piece of technology but the pieces should work well together if there are multiple technologies involved. Be careful, lots of technology companies use the term platform, just like they use the term integrated, scalable, and robust and all the other meaningless marketing blather. Most technologies are products, not platforms.

Here’s a good example of a platform decision vs. an isolated project decision. You need a new website, you hire an HTML programmer who builds you custom pages and launches quick and easy, very low cost, and you’re done. That is now an isolated point solution to your online strategy. The alternative is you choose a platform for controlling content like WordPress (free) and you build your website on that platform because WordPress is a platform that has built-in connections to other technologies, plug-ins, and most importantly allows you to control your online content. In the HTML programmer scenario – you don’t have control of the content, only people who can write code in HTML do. WordPress is an excellent content management system and blogging tool, especially for the price. Remember blogging is the easiest way to grow your online real estate holdings; every blog post is another page for the search engines to index against your domain.

I use the term infrastructure because I want printers to realize going online is a long-term and strategic decision. This is a serious move for your business, don’t take it lightly. Your online strategy always comes first, once all they key functional areas (especially sales) of your business are in alignment around your online strategy, then and only then start looking for the online technology infrastructure pieces to execute on that strategy. Your goal is to control content, commerce, and customer engagement online. In some cases you’ll engage with customers using free tools like Twitter but you’ll always be driving them back to your real estate holdings on the web (your domain). In other cases you’ll be using a third party commerce / web-to-print software like the technologies featured in the W2P Finder, deploy it as part of your domain so it too builds on your real estate holdings.

In today’s information age of Marketing and Web 2.0, a company’s website is the key to their entire business.
  Marcus Sheridan
  Author, The Sales Lion Blog

An online infrastructure investment should be made against a documented and agreed upon online strategy. Ask yourself, how are you controlling content, commerce, and customer engagement online today? Do you have a strategy that ties them all together? Are you building out your online real estate holdings? This is your homework before you start shopping for technology.