One of the many complicated decisions marketers in any industry have to make is who to trust to produce high-quality print materials, from grand-format signage to print-on-demand flyers or catalogs. Rolling out a great print campaign requires a great print vendor to produce and ship your print pieces, but with so many vendors on the market, it can be hard to know which ones will uphold your brand standards of quality and accuracy without blowing your budget. To help you make an informed decision, we’ve compiled a list of essential questions to ask when selecting a vendor for your printing needs—from POD to grand format and anywhere in between.
Print-On-Demand vs. Grand Format
Before we dive into the questions, though, let’s take a look at the two types of vendors on either end of the printing spectrum. What are their specialties, and why are they both critical for business?
What is a Print-On-Demand Vendor?
Unlike traditional bulk printing, a print-on-demand (POD) vendor allows businesses to order the exact amount of printed materials they require, reducing waste and saving costs on small-batch projects.
Choosing the right POD vendor is crucial for your business’s marketing efforts, and committing to the wrong provider can be costly, resulting in budget overruns and significant materials waste. In order to save costs and build efficiencies, look for a POD vendor that can provide end-to-end services, including not only printing but distribution, storage, and inventory management.
What about Grand format printing?
Grand format printing, also called wide format or large format printing, is the process of printing materials that are too large for most standard commercial printers to produce––anywhere from seventy inches to more than one hundred inches wide.
The best grand format printers don’t just offer printing services, but they also provide expert advice, project management, and other related services. In essence, they are a strategic partner that can help you leverage grand format materials to achieve your marketing and branding goals.
Questions to Ask Every Potential Print Vendor
No matter what your printing needs, these ten questions can help you identify the right vendor for your business.
1. What are their quality standards?
One of the best ways to evaluate a vendor’s capability is to look at the work they’ve done in the past. Ask for samples of products similar to your requirements. If you need a postcard, for instance, ask to see postcards.
Along with sample products, ask about a vendor’s quality control policies, accuracy rates, and (especially if you’re in an industry like finance or healthcare) data security protocols. All of this is critical for your print needs and speaks to a vendor’s quality standards.
Don’t be afraid to ask for references, either, as a vendor’s reputation is a good indicator of their capacity to deliver quality work.
2. What is their turnaround time?
In other words, how quickly can the vendor produce quality work?
While advances in technology have reduced production times, they can still range from hours to days. Will a potential vendor’s turnaround time fit within your marketers’ flow of work, or will long wait times be disruptive to campaign execution?
3. What are their certifications?
A vendor’s certifications demonstrate their standards, experience, and priorities. Look for vendors with industry-leading certifications like G7 compliance, which ensures adherence to the highest quality standards.
4. What are their capabilities?
If you’re torn between several prospective vendors, highlight the products and abilities that are essential to your campaigns, and ask each candidate about the specifics of each of them. The more your vendor can do, the better the fit for your marketing team.
Here are a few capabilities to consider:
- Ability to personalize materials: Personalized marketing is more important than ever. Your chosen vendor should offer variable printing for personalized and localized assets.
- Equipment: Does your print vendor own their own, state-of-the-art equipment, or are they acting as a middleman, outsourcing to third parties?
- Kitting & fulfillment: Will the vendor handle assembly and shipping for you, or are you on your own to either do it yourself or find another vendor (and another contract to manage)?
- Warehousing and Inventory Management: Similarly, do their services extend to storing and managing your inventory, ensuring you’re not overprinting (and wasting money and supplies) or at risk of running out of key collateral when you need it most?
- Finishing: What can the vendor do for your documents besides print them? No matter how good a piece might look after it rolls off the press, folds, perforations, and other finishing details can make all the difference to the final look and feel of the product.
5. Do they have direct mail experience?
If you’re developing a direct mail piece, you need a vendor that understands the requirements of the post office and will ensure your work is appropriately printed and sorted. A great direct mail partner will be able to provide postage savings through USPS discounts, as well.
What’s more, you want to be sure your vendor’s mail match capabilities are second to none so that the right personalized postcards make it into the right mailboxes. This is particularly critical in industries dealing with sensitive information. If Jane Doe receives John Smith’s end-of-year financial statements, that’s not just bad for the brand—there could be financial and legal consequences as well.
6. Can they print all kinds of marketing materials?
A versatile printing partner should be able to accommodate a wide array of print materials. For POD, this includes:
- Direct Mail
- Marketing Collateral
For grand format printing:
- Building Wraps
- Other Large-Scale Projects
7. Do they have a centralized digital asset management system that’s easy for end-users?
Many print vendors are strictly that. But the best ones offer true end-to-end partnerships, starting with asset creation. The time employees, field reps, franchisees, or other end-users spend searching for approved branded materials can compromise efficiency, brand integrity, and the bottom line, but a robust digital asset management system can boost productivity and streamline processes. Even better if it’s connected to the print vendor’s ordering system so approved marketing users can place orders with the trusted printer directly from the platform. Whether you need POD or grand format printing, the vendor should offer a platform that supports various file types, allows access from anywhere, and lets users manage branded content with ease.
- With the right digital asset manager, approved users should be able to:Manage all types of content from a single platform. Supported file types should include PDF, .EPS, .JPG, .PPT, .INDD, and Microsoft Office files such as Word, Excel, etc.
- Access the system from anywhere. Your end-users should be able to access, create, and order materials from wherever they are.
- Access branded content and assets. Users should be able to access pre-approved libraries of content and creative assets created by your corporate team. This makes it easy to create professional-level collateral with ease.
- Access and download marketing and sales collateral. In addition to a library of design assets, end-users should be given pre-built marketing and sales materials they can customize and use to address the entire buyer’s journey.
Define which areas of content can be changed and which ones are “locked.” This keeps marketers in control and simplifies the process for end-users.
Use pre-designed, editable templates to customize, localize and personalize marketing content without jeopardizing brand guidelines or approved messaging.
Localize national level marketing materials to capitalize on brand recognition while meeting the needs of local consumers.
8. How secure do they keep your data?
Don’t assume you can trust a vendor’s system with information from your marketing database. An insecure system can expose you and your customers to serious data security problems and put you in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Make sure your print-on-demand vendor takes data protection seriously by following appropriate security protocols and certifications like the following:
- G7 Compliance
- 3M MCS Warranty Certification
These certifications speak to a vendor’s commitment to helping you protect your customers and keep your company in compliance with data security regulations.
9. Do they save you money by fulfilling and distributing orders in-house and at scale?
Your ideal vendor should provide in-house fulfillment and distribution at the scale you need. This ensures timely deliveries and reducing shipping costs. Without streamlined regional distribution, frustratingly high fulfillment and shipping costs can quietly eat away at ROI.
If your business has a national reach, a partner with multiple fulfillment centers can save even more money than one with a single facility by fulfilling orders close to where you need rather than halfway across the country.
10. Can they provide tracking and reporting on key metrics?
Finally, executing print marketing strategies is just one piece of the puzzle (albeit a big one). Keeping track of your marketing supply chain before, during, and after is another, and a comprehensive view is crucial for making informed decisions about how to prioritize spending. Make sure your printing vendor can provide modern analytics and reporting tools like:
- Inventory reports
- Order reports
- Usage reports
- Mail reports
- Billing reports
- Cost-saving reports
All of these insights will help you save money while homing on on just the right strategies to engage your current and potential clients, and the right vendor can provide them for you.
Choosing Your Vendor
Choosing the right print vendor for either print-on-demand or grand format printing can make a significant difference to the success of your marketing campaign. It’s not merely about who offers the lowest price, but about who can deliver the highest quality, adhere to your timelines, ensure data security, offer versatility and customization, and provide value-added services like in-house fulfillment and tracking capabilities.
Remember to ask yourself these ten questions as you vet candidates, keeping in mind that a well-chosen print partner can not only save you time and money, but can also elevate your brand, enhance your marketing efforts, and ultimately, help drive your business growth.
At OneTouchPoint, we know the value of a true partnership. From our U.Connect digital asset manager to our printing and fulfillment capabilities to our host of vendor-managed services, we strive to enhance every piece of our clients’ marketing supply chain, supporting their brands and saving costs along the way. (For example, in a single year, a company that partnered with OneTouchPoint for print-on-demand saved $120,000 in freight costs alone thanks to our network of regional fulfillment facilities.)
When you’re ready to select a new print vendor for your business—whether you’re looking for print-on-demand, grand format, or both—give OneTouchPoint a call to talk about how our end-to-end solutions can support your marketing strategies from conception to fulfillment.