Don’t Need Web-to-Print? Here's Why You’re Doomed
I was lucky. As a naive 25 year old, my career began as I stumbled into one of the largest North American in-plants. My luck was having the early realization that Web-to-print (W2P) would be the future of our industry.
In the ’90s, the University of Missouri set out to turn its shop digital. We bought Xerox DocuTechs, DocuColors, an iGen3 and more. We knew that finding a better way to send orders to the presses would allow us to achieve a more desired state. MU was among the pioneers that saw an immediate need to implement W2P technology within the production process, especially because of how spread out the campus was.
The adoption of new technologies and workflows during that time was met with varying levels of skepticism within the industry. The relationship between printer and client, after all, is critical. Some feared W2P would jeopardize it. Yet technology does not replace that relationship; it provides an opportunity to strengthen it. Technology done right removes a barrier.
The benefits of leveraging W2P technology are most obvious in how the customer benefits through their workflow; manual touches are removed, as are unnecessary correspondence and human errors associated with submitting specs and approving proofs. Even after the end content is delivered, the measurement piece of W2P can help organizations make better business decisions.
Why Are You Not Online?
Even today, some printers resist implementing W2P technology. Although every shop has its own reasoning behind important strategic business decisions such as this one, remember that anyone can work with your customers online. In today’s market, not leveraging W2P is asking to be displaced.
Marrying technology on the front end simply makes a better customer experience. It enables your customers to better access your services and ensure that their specifications are met in a reliable manner. On the back end, it allows the printer to reliably fulfill these orders, receiving customer-supplied information through standardized methodology. It also allows you to scale your print operations without sacrificing consistency in product and process for your customers. The end result is the empowerment to continuously improve and scale your print operations — something all your customers (and future customers) will benefit from.
The ‘A-Ha’ Moment
I knew we were on to something at the University of Missouri in creating an early iteration of W2P technology. This ‘A-Ha’ moment was a career gift that I’ve been chasing ever since.
Technology empowers a better customer relationship because it allows for a strategic decision to be made about the best place for a print job to be produced to meet the business objectives.
In 2014, IPG published an article of mine on the myths and realities of the industry. A portion of that article explained why measurements are king. W2P provides the visibility needed, in a scalable, automated way. This gained insight benefits the customer in understanding the effectiveness of the content that they are distributing, as well as the costs associated with doing so.
Data-driven decision making is a great way to manage upward. A lot of in-plants are suffering from an inability to do this and show their value. W2P can answer the questions of:
- Who is distributing content?
- Where are they distributing it to and from?
- How much time exists between content being press-ready and its end delivery?
- Where is the audience located that the content is being delivered to?
- How frequently is this content being personalized?
- What problem are we solving for who, why and how?
Answering these questions allows organizations to make data-driven decisions that would only otherwise be possible if all of the manual correspondence was aggregated internally — the costly and unscalable method used before the advent of W2P. It’s another practice of our industry’s stragglers that continues to surprise me; they’d prefer to still rely on this old process, or not have one in place to improve their client relationships.
Decision Making With Relationship Data
Strengthening the relationship between printer and client empowers both parties to spend more time discussing strategic business decisions. Developing real customer-driven data will help ensure your alignment. One way to do that is to ask questions like these:
- How much time did we save you?
- How easy were we to work with?
- How would you solve your problem without us?
- Would you recommend us to a coworker?
This information exchange should be centralized in one place: your W2P system. This allows you as a print provider to watch it, adjust it and take care of it. It also standardizes this exchange so that if you are managing print and fulfillment to and from thousands of locations, you all speak one language, not thousands, while making the exchange possible.
I was excited to be able to do new things with the bandwidth we gained each time W2P freed up more of it. The more we developed, the more we could create.
From Push to Pull
In-plants commonly operate in a push model, fulfilling orders that a customer is pushing out to their end audience. But without the capabilities of a web storefront, it’s difficult to operate under a pull model where the end audience is accessing those materials themselves and placing the order on demand. An example of content used in a pull model is when an employee from a regional office needs to order a course packet for new hire training during the onboarding process.
W2P lets you explore different models. Mimeo has four wholly owned print production facilities in the U.S. and Europe. Our core business is complex bound documentation, delivered as early as the next morning. We work with businesses, distributing content to a single location or thousands of locations within a single order. We enable our customers to use a push model, pull model or both, through our Mimeo Print and Mimeo Marketplace online tools; you can build proofs and ship materials to your end audience, or your end audience can access these materials through a branded content portal. W2P is the only way to work with us.
W2P is a great way for in-plants to offer more than they currently produce; customers can discover and order products through the in-plant’s W2P that are actually outsourced by the in-plant to an external provider. The workflow looks identical to customers. This, in effect, allows organizations to print smarter. Leveraging this model allows you to overcome sourcing limitations — and who knows the organization’s communication needs better than the in-plant staff?
In addition to our wholly owned facilities, at Mimeo we also maintain a network of Print Service Providers for our global marketing customers. By utilizing Mimeo PrintX, our customers are able to overcome geographical limitations through in-region production of their marketing materials. Again, W2P makes this other business model possible.
I joined Mimeo because we’ve lived W2P since being founded and wholeheartedly believe that our technology is the crucial ingredient for building powerful relationships with our customers. I’m living the vision here at Mimeo that I stumbled upon in my early twenties.
When my team completes a feature release at Mimeo, I know that instantly more than 5,000 current customers have the potential to have better business outcomes and therefore have a stronger relationship with our organization.
Just because you have a legendary relationship with your best client today does not mean they will be your customer tomorrow. W2P technology empowers the possibility of being a living legend to them.
The versatility of W2P opens up the question to our industry’s players in today’s business environment: are you going to work with your customers in the same manner that virtually every other industry currently is, or will your refusal make you different?
In this case, not all differentiation is positive.
Related story: Myths and Reality
Heath Cajandig is VP of Product at Mimeo (Mimeo.com), an innovator of online managed content distribution and printing. Prior to joining Mimeo, he served as the global Web-to-print Product Manager at NowDocs and Electronics for Imaging (EFI). Before focusing on Web technologies, he gained operational experience as a workflow consultant for Xerox and was the digital production manager for University of Missouri Printing Services. Connect with Heath at firstname.lastname@example.org.