Print shop owners and retailers alike have found that without a presence on the Web, their businesses are practically on an island, lacking the worldwide exposure that an effective website provides. The easy part is putting together a webpage, even if it’s nothing more than filling in the blanks of a cut-rate template. The difficulty lies in the choices you make between using your website for marketing versus utilizing technology to facilitate workflow.
A static website these days is about as effective as an “Open” sign in the window and a phone recording stating your store hours. Successful printing companies do more—much more—on the Web.
When it comes to marketing on your homepage versus completing the pre-print process (uploading a customer’s document), it is important to realize that the key to success is not one or the other. The best printing companies utilize both.
Basics of Web-to-Print
In the printing industry, the name of the game is Web-to-print (often shortened to web2print or W2P). Maybe you’ve heard the term Web-to-print so much that you are tired of the phrase, much like “social media.” If Web-to-print sounds more like a new term, you are likely dragging your feet in a way that’s holding back your growth, so let’s cover the basics.
Websites are evolving to higher levels of interaction with the consumer, which is benefiting the printing industry by moving more items ordered by clients to an online storefront. Web-to-print, in very basic terms, describes a website that allows orders to come through a Web interface, which then pushes them into a workflow of some kind. The printing company can then direct the orders to some type of output device, whether that is a press or a digital printer. From the customer’s standpoint, they have no idea what Web-to-print means and they don’t really care. What your customers care about is that you make it easy for them to do business with your company.
For the most part, printing companies just like yours use similar equipment and similar technology. Although there are no major developments in current technology, user interfaces will continue to be refined for ease of use, whether that involves document management or client-to-business interaction. The technology that is behind Web-to-print will become easier to implement as the software advances. As a result, printing companies can choose technology that best suits the needs of their business in terms of order integration, pricing, and workflow without being held hostage to one vendor or supplier.
DIY, but Not Hands-off
What is critical is how a printing company embraces that technology and finds creative and innovative ways to use it in order to set itself apart from the competition. This is the same in Web-to-print technology. It’s not what a printing company has, but how it chooses to use that technology. Customers might think of the interface as self-service, but your website and your staff must serve as consultants every step of the way.
Setting yourself apart means providing outstanding customer service. The content of your website surrounding the Web-to-print capabilities could very well make or break your online success. Online instructions—or coaching, if you will—can be the difference between a customer uploading a large print job or moving on to the next printer’s website.
Even though Web-to-print favors the autonomous, do-it-yourselfers out there, you must remind your customers that you are, indeed, a real live print shop with real live employees. That might mean calling the customers after their orders are received, but it could also be done electronically. A confirmation email written and signed by an individual, with his or her phone number included tells customers they are being taken care of.
Additionally, you must assume that many jobs that come through aren’t quite right, meaning, there is something questionable about the formatting or about exactly what the customer is ordering. Again, plan to communicate quickly to resolve any questions. Customers may think they know exactly what they are doing (and many actually do), but remember who the professional printer is. If that is not enough incentive, just think about who will be blamed if the job doesn’t come out right, even if it was caused by a customer error.
Most research on Web-to-print indicates that buyers are more comfortable reordering than placing new orders. There are several reasons this is true, the most prominent of which is the notion that in a reorder, all the hard work is already done. Consumers don’t order items online that are complex, difficult, and time consuming to them. Most new orders require the customer to perform tasks from formatting the file and uploading it to your site to making all of the selections regarding paper, collating, cutting, and finishing. That’s why reorders are preferred; the customer doesn’t have to think.
In the Driver’s Seat
Will this trend continue in the future? Most signs indicate that consumers, especially price-conscious ones, will use Web interfaces to place orders for simple items such as business cards, postcards, etc., but for the more complex jobs and marketing campaigns, buyers will continue to work face-to-face with a marketing professional or printing company. This means there is all the more reason for you to continue to pay attention to the marketing aspects of your website. In short, if your company has a Web presence that focuses solely on Web-to-print, but isn’t using the Web for marketing and driving customers through your storefront, then you are potentially missing opportunities that are at your fingertips.
Studies of the print industry also show that using direct mail to supplement online marketing campaigns increases online purchases. In other words, it is smart to mail out your own postcards, brochures, and fliers to drive traffic to your website. Strategic strikes in your marketing materials will send potential consumers not just to your homepage, but to other landing pages that specifically address their needs. In fact, landing pages will play an increasingly important role in Web-to-print and the overall structure of marketing and print provider companies. Potential customers are going to use the Web to educate themselves prior to purchase.
Whether you are driving traffic to your Web-to-print capabilities or through your front door, your marketing must be consistent and persistent. Do your research on the best electronic marketing techniques, search engine optimization, keyword best practices, e-newsletters, promotions, and feature products and services. Explore YouTube and discover how a clever instructional video might very well be the best trigger for compelling a potential customer to utilize your Web-to-print services. Printing companies that have a Web presence and use it to drive traffic, set up online ordering and storefronts for key clients, accept orders through their sites, and use variable document technology are the companies that are not only succeeding but also finding profitability in today’s competitive environment.
Tawnya Starr is a former successful print shop owner who is now president of FireSpring’s PrinterPresence. She has dedicated her career to educating the printing industry on proven website and marketing strategies. In 2005, she received the Industry Award of Distinction from NAQP for her service as a consultant and educator to the industry. Contact her at Tawnya.Starr@Firespring.com.