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Web-to-Print : Hard Lessons Learned

June 2011 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor

It might be said that offering Web-to-print (W2P) solutions to your clients is akin to bringing home a puppy. In both cases, there's a lot of excitement, but the novelty can quickly wear off when you realize that it takes a lot of grooming, training, investment and attention to get the desired results. Otherwise, expect to see a big mess on the rug.

The world of personalized, online print procurement has evolved in its 15-or-so years of existence. At some point along the way, a line was drawn in the sand. Smaller businesses and consumers opted for inexpensive Internet sources, while medium and large concerns had sit-down conversations with their printers and detailed their need for ordering customized brochures and marketing collateral, among other items.

The level of sophistication, and need, for the bigger boys created the W2P niche. The common denominator was evident: companies with a large number of satellites (offices, salespeople, dealers, distributors, independent agents) needed to retain their brand but, at the same time, enable these satellites to customize content/messages for localized purposes. Call it W2P 101.

W2P's adolescence has been a rough one, with printers learning some expensive lessons. They learned how to charge for it. Gratis setups without customer investment generally led to tumbleweeds rolling across unused Websites, which have monetary and man hour investments wrapped up in their design and maintenance. If the client doesn't pay, the client doesn't play.

But, it has also been an exciting time for printers that offer W2P capabilities. Some have tossed away off-the-shelf software packages in favor of crafting their own solutions to meet the needs of particular customers. Included in that group is Batavia, IL-based BFC, which has honed its craft during the past dozen years and now offers a suite of "beyond W2P" tools to address various segments. Its multi-pronged attack consists of Document Manager, for managing customer correspondence; Kit Manager, which allows clients to send variable product and information either electronically or through regular mail; and My Campaign, an automated marketing system for managing the type and frequency of campaigns.

According to Joe Novak, president of BFC, the company has roughly 100 active sites that it maintains for clients, and each day brings new customer requests for updates and changes. The value proposition, he says, is the printer's ability to offer those tools beyond the staid letterhead/business card/envelope offerings.


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