26 Feb 2014
Unless you’re living under a rock, you know web to print is one of the biggest buzzwords in direct marketing. But what actually constitutes a web to print platform? Is it simply an ecommerce storefront that allows users to customize and order personalized printed materials over the internet? Or should it be something more?
Web to print is often thought of as a software system – a product. Companies who take that approach will probably find themselves shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a system that looks nice on paper, but fails to deliver the benefits promised in the brochure or website. Whether the features ever really existed isn’t the question, but the learning curve and difficulty of adherence that comes with every new technology of this complexity is what will kick these businesses in the butt.
Recent research shows that the greatest hindrance of successful web to print implementation lies in the adoption rate. The truth is, investing in a web to print platform is just as much about investing in the provider as it is the software. For this reason, 90% of businesses need to change their perspectives and look at web to print as more of a solution, and less of a product. With that in mind, these are some of the qualities and features you should be focused on when trying to choose between the various web to print solutions on the market.
1. Ease of Use
It doesn’t take a genius to understand that if the product isn’t easy to use, no one will use it. This is especially pertinent to web to print – where the main benefit lies in the ability for companies and brands with distributed sales-forces (franchises are a good example) to standardize and simplify their marketing efforts.
Make sure to walk through the visitor flow, customization and ordering process for any and all web to print solutions you are considering. Put yourself in the shoes of any end-user and ask questions. Ease of use is often overshadowed by other, more glamorous features. Simplicity is not only one of the most overlooked, it is also one of the most important qualities of a web to print platform.
2. Higher-than-Average Adoption Rates with Current Clients
To understand how important this is, here are a couple benchmarks. Nearly 60% of web to print users report usage levels of less than 5%. Ponder on that statistic – 3-5% adoption is average!
Adoption rates between 5-10% are strong. That means if 10 out of 100 affiliates are using the software, you’re doing something right. This number is still incredibly low compared to other technologies…and the recentness and complexity of the solution is to blame. Think of buying dinner for 100 people, and 90 out of those 100 don’t touch it. Would you be satisfied with that investment? No? Well neither would I.
A good web to print provider will make it their main goal to ensure the solution is utilized to its full potential. The best providers will even offer suggestions, content and even entire portfolios of customizable sales collateral (emails, mail pieces, brochures, website graphics, etc.) that you can utilize to help spread the word to your affiliates. The importance of this cannot be overstated!
3. Elimination of Extraneous Features
Sell sheets for web to print platforms often read like novels. I’ve seen companies promoting many dozens, even hundreds of features that are too convoluted to even understand, let alone gain benefit from. I would take 10 solid, well-developed, easy to use features over 50 sloppily thrown together “features” any day. The fact is, and this is true with most technologies (think Microsoft Excel), only a limited number of features will be taken advantage of by the majority of your users. Why make an already complex platform more difficult than it needs to be? Investing in a product like this will only hurt your adoption rate and waste a considerable amount of time and money in the process. Try to narrow down your 5-10 main needs and goals – then focus on how those can be accomplished by the platform.
4. Customer Service and Support-Focused
There are two parts of this quality – service for the corporate-level administrators, and service and support for the end-users – both equally important. The fact is, no matter how easy the software is to use, there will be a seemingly unlimited number of support tickets and customer-service related issues that need to be addressed. Other marketing and sales related technology companies (Salesforce, Hubspot, Neolane, etc.) even require you to purchase a certain amount of training when joining the platform. This all comes back to adoption rate. If you can’t understand how to use the product, the product provides no benefit; if the product provides no benefit, you don’t renew your contract. It’s a lose-lose situation for all parties. For this reason customer service and support should be responsive, effective and helpful so that the web to print platform is adopted.
Look for a provider who does most of the hard work for you – sets up templates, adds new products, responds to end-user customer service, troubleshoots the UI/UX, handles refunds and returns, etc. The less you have to worry about, the more benefit you will receive from web to print.
5. Flexibility and Scalability
There are two main types of web to print platforms out there – ones that are built by pure software technology companies, and ones that are built by printing/marketing companies. Each has its own pros and cons.
Technology-based web to print solutions can come with more bells and whistles than you can shake a stick at. The problem is, in addition to higher monthly fees, the adoption rates are often abysmal. Because these companies aren’t fulfilling orders created in the web to print platform, there isn’t as much incentive for them to increase adoption. These companies usually work with a network of 3rd party providers to allow you options for printing and fulfillment. While this in itself is great, the downside is the lack of comprehensive, efficient customer service and support. The more middle-men there are, the worse the support will be (can you say foreign call center?).
Printing and marketing based web to print providers are usually more focused on the end-result of the software – the print that comes through their building. The problem with that is, while the monthly software fees are usually lower, you end up paying more per order. You don’t want to be stuck using one printer, who may or may not be the best man for your job (or even able to fulfill your job for that matter).
Try looking for a web to print provider who can bring the best of both worlds – A web to print provider who does fulfillment themselves, but also works with a network of partners. Some (like our own DME Connect) even provide API access so that you can choose your own print and fulfillment partner. It’s important to understand this type of flexibility and scalability before committing your time and effort into a solution that can’t grow with you.
While the web to print industry expands and evolves, more and more businesses are beginning to understand the various ways they can benefit from web to print. In this new gold rush, make sure to not get blinded by all of the shiny features and big promises – you’ll lose sight of the obvious.
Take a careful and methodical approach when deciding whether or not web to print is right for you and your business – and when choosing the best provider. While web to print might not be the silver bullet for all business, when implemented and used correctly it can be an effective go-to tool in your arsenal. It has the potential to bring massive benefits and rewards. Just make sure you understand how and when you’ll use it – as a famous physicist once said, “The technologies which have had the most profound effects on human life are usually simple.”…and I couldn’t agree more.