Web-to-Print : Easy Does It for CustomersAugust 2012 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
If you think being a commercial printer is difficult, well, that's nothing compared to being an online-only printing company. Those guys really have to battle in order to survive.
Uttering the preceding statements in a room full of printers would likely elicit a barrage of rotten fruits and vegetables. Sometimes there is truth in seemingly outrageous statements, however, or at least perspective.
The Internet is teeming with low-priced printing offers from firms serving both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) clientele. For example, do a Google search for "brochure printing." Now, imagine operating as an online-only printer, hanging your hat on being one of the first 50 search results yielded. Cold calling sales doesn't seem so bad now, does it?
Yes, our tongues are firmly planted in-cheek. Online printers either learned, or knew, what traditional print providers had discovered long ago: Competition is tough, regardless of where business is conducted. Technology, including the Internet, has only raised the stakes and—coupled with the brutal economic conditions of the past five years—helped to thin out the printer herd.
Point of Differentiation
The survivors aren't the "marketing service providers;" they are the differentiators who set themselves apart from the herd. A Web-to-print (W2P) workflow is a prime vehicle to achieve separation from competitors, whether for wrangling in new customers just surfing through or enabling long-term clientele to order customized marketing collateral through a password-protected interface.
New York-based Mimeo.com is one of the first online printing companies, having debuted in 1998. It offers an array of documents—presentations, manuals, brochures, booklets, flyers, posters, newsletters and rack cards/postcards—to corporate clients on a non-contractual basis. Thus, the firm has a unique perspective on the concept of online ordering interfaces. And, according to Chuck Gehman, vice president of product platforms, W2P is an ongoing quest for the perfect beast.
"(Co-founder) David Uyttendaele bought a DocuTech and connected a Website to it," Gehman observes of Mimeo's first W2P solution. "There was no other way to do it back then, as there were no off-the-shelf solutions. We're constantly making improvements; we do releases every couple of weeks that add functionality."
Gehman is an ardent supporter of having a great user interface. Though he says it may seem obvious, many Websites he's seen aren't as user-friendly as they could be—an overly-busy layout, a nonlinear shopping process and needless stumbling blocks toward a quality shopping experience. Considering that retailers such as Amazon and eBay have made great strides in taking online ordering to the next level, Gehman believes online shoppers won't have the patience to tolerate perplexing Web interfaces.