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VDP Supplement: Hard Lessons Learned

October 2006 BY HEIDI TOLLIVER-NIGRO
ONE OF the topics the industry has been hearing a lot about lately is Web-to-print. As the business world increasingly shifts its marketing tasks to Internet-based models, it is no surprise that print would move in this direction, as well. But is success in Web-to-print as simple as adding an online interface for print ordering? If it were, Web-to-print would have caught on years ago. So what’s different now?

Certainly, something has changed. Many of today’s top printers are offering Web-to-print capabilities, and many leading-edge marketers, especially those in the financial and pharmaceutical industries, are rapidly embracing them. Has the ability of printers to more easily (and inexpensively) allow customers to personalize and customize marketing collateral, rather than offering only basic fulfillment of static and moderately customizable documents like corporate identity materials, made that much of a difference? Yes, and no.

To a certain extent, the ability to more cost-effectively create personalized and customized marketing collateral has opened a host of new opportunities for Web-to-print. But that, in itself, isn’t the answer in full. It has more to do with the printing industry’s change in business model from print manufacturing to marketing service provider to complement the change in the way customers use—and, more fundamentally, think about—print.

As printers begin to understand this shift and adjust their own business models to become more consultative and marketing- oriented than being strictly (or even primarily) focused on production, they are learning how to change their relationships with customers and position a variety of print- related (but not directly manufacturing related) services to fit within these new marketing structures.

Thus, being successful at Web-to-print involves a lot more than simply buying the right software and hanging up a shingle. There have been a lot of hard lessons learned by those who have paved the way. Let’s take a look.

1. Web-to-print exists successfully within a larger shift away from manufacturing and toward marketing services.

Of all the lessons learned, this is the most critical. One of the characteristics of leading Web-to-print providers is a fundamental commitment to marketing-oriented business models rather than manufacturing ones. This is a commitment that starts at the top, from the highest levels of executive management.

For a long time, the industry has been talking about a shift from “printer” to “solutions provider” and the need to transition to consultative selling and business development. This transition is finally taking place. The printers that have embraced Web-to-print with high levels of success are fundamentally different kinds of companies.
 

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