Editor's Note: Take a deeper dive into next-generation web-to-print with our recent whitepaper: Web to Print: The Next Generation. The whitepaper makes a strong case for taking web-to-print offerings to the next level as customer requirements have continued to evolve, especially as cloud-based solutions and mobile communications have become ubiquitous and bandwidth is more readily available.

As the Internet began to gain steam in the late 1990s, software developers saw an opportunity to make it easier for businesses and consumers to order, and even design, printed materials. Thus, the web-to-print category of Internet software was born, and the field was littered with players during the dot-com boom. Few of those original entrants have survived, but many others have entered the market as the category has continued to evolve.

Most printing companies today have some level of customer-facing ecommerce capability, sometimes only for a key customer and sometimes more successfully across the board. With the growing maturing of cloud-based solutions for not only web-to-print but just about everything else, now is a good time for printing companies to evaluate their web-to-print implementation to determine whether it is doing the best job possible of creating an exceptional customer experience.

User requirements for these systems have also continued to evolve, especially as cloud-based solutions and mobile communications have become ubiquitous and bandwidth is more readily available. Consumers expect an Amazon- or Uber-like experience. They want to be able to do everything from their mobile devices, anytime, anywhere. They want to be able to seamlessly move back and forth between the mobile and desktop environments (if they are even using a desktop or laptop computer, that is!). And they want more robust capabilities – they want to be able to do more than just put their name on a business card.

At the same time, marketers view web to print as a means of providing marketing and other materials to their stakeholders, moving document creation closer to the point of use while still protecting brand integrity with templates that lock down certain portions of the content. It is a way to ensure higher quality of marketing and other materials while reducing overall administrative costs.

I recently spoke to three fascinating firms who have taken web-to-print to the next level:

  • Michael Heerkens, CTO at Helloprint, one of the fastest growing ecommerce platforms in the Benelux with more than 130 employees. The company primarily serves small businesses, the SOHO market and does business with the trade. Print is produced through its network of more than 150 suppliers in eight countries.
  • Claud Monro, Senior Vice President of Business Development at direct marketing agency SK+G. SK+G is a full-service advertising agency that counts among its clients casinos and resorts, restaurants, hotels and entertainment businesses. It’s direct division, of which Monro is a part, has developed its own technology for a fully automated marketing platform that it white labels for its clients. The platform is also sold by Konica Minolta, a SK+G client and partner, under the name Konica Minolta EngageIT.
  • Andy Ogren, Owner at Blanks USA. The company has taken the Uber-izing of web to print to a new level for the creation of die cut products such as door hangers, labels, boxes, cup sleeves, bottle hangers, tab dividers and more. The company offers more than 17,000 pre-built templates as well as the ability to begin with a blank canvas. Thirty years ago, Blanks USA began its life selling door hangers and raffle tickets. Today, the company has evolved into an industry-leading supplier of security paper and die cut paper products. 

They also joined me on a webinar to discuss their experiences and share their advice, and they are also featured in a white paper sponsored by CHILI publish, The Uber-ization of Web to Print.

These resources provide a wealth of information about how and why these leading companies chose to move to the next generation of web-to-print and the kinds of results they are achieving for their businesses and their customers. Among other things, each shared an outstanding customer story during the webinar that demonstrates how these new solutions deliver value.

Here are a few pieces of advice they have shared. I encourage you to visit the webinar archive and to download the white paper to learn more!

  • Start with a clean-sheet design if at all possible.
  • Choose an open platform, well-documented online editing solution that can integrate with a robust storefront and other workflow components.
  • Make sure the final outcome will yield a platform that is easy to use for inexperienced users but robust enough to meet the needs of more experienced users.
  • Ensure the final platform will be as automated as possible, taking touches out of the process and delivering accurate print-ready PDF files.
  • Leverage native, cloud-based components to keep costs in line while allowing the ability to scale as the business grows.
  • Integration with a variety of databases, internal and external, is critical.
  • Templates and rules need to be created once and be available for use digitally or through the postal system.
  • Once campaigns are designed, they must be deployed on an ongoing basis in a fully automated manner. This “one and done” approach allows for very short to very long runs in a cost-effective manner.
  • Think out of the box. Consult and brainstorm with software providers to better understand what is possible, and then stretch the limits of those possibilities for new and innovative approaches. It is critical to have partners who are willing to work with you in this manner.
  • By making the system easy to use, robust and flexible, and by giving users lots of options, the solution is likely to generate more return business.

These insights just scratch the surface. It’s an exciting time to be in the printing business. Make sure you are taking advantage of the latest technologies so your customers will be excited as well!