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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: Consistent Branding via Web-to-Print

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I read an article this week that combines much of what is new out there in commercial printing: web-to-print, digital printing, VDP (variable data printing), and the concepts of branding, brand consistency, and brand loyalty. I had to take a breath. This amalgam of words and phrases can mean the difference between a company’s being at the top of their client’s awareness or being invisible. All together these concepts and technologies embrace art, psychology, custom printing, and computer science.

The article I found is entitled “Establish Brand Consistency the Easy Way.” I found it on the Ironmark website, and it was published on 08/24/20 by Juliet Hulse. The article bears serious consideration if your design work, print buying, marketing, or pretty much anything else you do involves promoting a service or product.

What Is a Brand?

First of all, what is a brand? When I was growing up watching Westerns on TV, a brand was a mark on the side of a cow. It was burned into the hide to be permanent, and it reflected (even back then) the essence of the owner. Presumably back then a brand on cattle destined for market reflected the quality the buyer could expect. At least that’s what stuck in my mind so many decades ago. A brand was always recognizable, always the same, always meaningful.

Now it’s pretty much is the same. Think about the Starbucks logo. If you walk into a grocery store with a Starbucks kiosk, you can always recognize the signature green of the logo, the typefaces, and the antique wood-cut image of the two-tailed siren. Whether you are buying hot coffee from a stand in the grocery store or coffee-related products to take home, you know exactly what to expect.

Moreover, if you enter the grocery store for coffee and you see a Starbucks mug, you will probably assume that all of the care (and the values you have associated with the logo and other Starbucks branding) will be reflected in the quality of the mug. (I once made this same assumption with Timberland. I had seen the TV ads, I had bought the boots—granted, on sale—and when I found a nylon, zip-up notebook case with the Timberland logo, I wanted it immediately. The branding made a difference. That was twenty years ago, and I still have the notebook case.)

Consistency Is the Key

The title of Hulse’s article, “Establish Brand Consistency the Easy Way,” contains the essential word, “consistency.” If you are establishing the branding of an organization, or a product or service provided by the organization, you have to realize that everything your company makes, sells, or sends out in paper or digital marketing form is an advertisement for the brand. The brand is not the logo, the logo typeface, or the color (like the particular green of the Starbucks logo). It is more than that. It is the consistent experience the company projects through these design elements. If the brand exposure is consistent, it will be far more likely to be memorable (hence the terms “brand consistency, “brand exposure,” and “brand recognition”). Consistency fosters brand success—if, of course, it authentically projects the values with which the consumer has an affiliation.

Consistency in Company Publications

Not all custom printing products produced by all organizations come out of a single graphic design studio. Hence, maintaining brand consistency can be a challenge. For instance, all it takes is a satellite branch of the central corporation to produce flyers, letterhead, business cards, or signage for a corporate event with logo colors that are different from the established brand. (The same goes for logo positioning, type choices, or type placement that differs from brand expectations.)

Oops. That inconsistency can send a message of confusion. It can imply (or at least the viewer might infer) that the corporation is not a nimble, crisply organized machine with purpose, intent, and stellar values. Rather, it might look downright clumsy.

I know it sounds shallow to focus on appearance, but on a psychological level (perhaps even subconsciously), the colors, typefaces, and (again) consistency of the entire brand look can be a powerful motivator, even if it just attracts the attention (and triggers recognition) of a customer or potential customer. The quality of the goods and services has to be there, but the brand look is the initial hook, and its consistency is of paramount importance.

Web-to-Print to the Rescue

Juliet Hulse’s article, “Establish Brand Consistency the Easy Way,” notes a very contemporary and popular method of controlling brand exposure by using a web portal. (That is, a company design department can provide controlled access through the internet to a virtual storefront through which managers and employees of the company can access collateral publications, signage, flyers, or any other printed material–perhaps for trade show attendance–that will by definition be consistent with the company’s accepted rules for use of the logo and other brand elements.)

Online software, including SaaS (software as a service) applications that replace programs like InDesign, will allow certain fields in a publication (such as the name, address, phone number, and email address) to be altered online by an employee (sales manager, etc.) while locking down other fields (perhaps the logo, color choices, access to other text, etc.).

This provision for including variable information is called “variable data printing” (VDP). It can be particularly well suited to digital commercial printing technology, allowing you to take a print product like a flyer and include personal customer information (like the prospect’s name, contact information, or perhaps even likes and dislikes) culled from marketing databases.

So to again reference Hulse’s article, “Establish Brand Consistency the Easy Way,” web-to-print relies on “digital asset management” and “dynamic content customization.” The first term pertains to the collection (or perhaps curation) of the logo, colors, textual content, and relevant photos and images. The second term pertains to the ability of digital commercial printing to tailor a different sales message to each recipient of any printed piece of marketing material.

And all of this happens over the internet through a corporation’s web storefront. The process is called “web-to-print.” As Hulse’s article notes, everything is 100 percent centralized and 100 percent “brand compliant.” A sales rep, marketing person, or any other company employee knows exactly where to go for printed material. And, if the printed products are digitally produced, there is presumably no waste, and there are no (or only limited) storage requirements for the printed material.

What else could you ask for?

What We Can Learn from This Article and Concept

As referenced earlier in this blog article, about thirty years ago a marketing consultant at an educational foundation where I was the art and production manager said, “Everything you print and send out to anyone is an ad for the organization.” These words have stayed with me ever since. They reflect the essence of branding.

The most important thing I can leave you with is the suggestion that you go to school on “branding,” studying everything from psychology to marketing to graphic design, as they relate to this marketing concept, the essence of the two-way communication between a corporation and its clients. Study typefaces. Study the psychology of color. Look up terms like “brand affiliation,” “brand loyalty,” “brand awareness,” “mind share,” and “wallet share,” and learn how they relate to sales and marketing, graphic design, and business in general. You will get a good education in what people buy and why they buy it (and these needs go far beyond the needs for survival items like food and shelter).

Also, learn about the use of the computer in general and the internet in particular within the sales/buying process (“e-commerce,” “the distribution chain,” “SaaS”—software as a service). You’ll see how computers have integrated the entire manufacturing and buying process, from research and development to product design and manufacturing, from marketing to product selection, and on to purchase and delivery (think about Amazon). This is powerful stuff.

And from a marketing perspective, always keep in mind that the greater the number of consistent exposures you can provide to your buying audience of the brand image you have crafted, the more successful your marketing and sales initiatives will be.

Web-to-print and cross-media marketing (projecting the same brand image through both print media and online media) can be the proverbial unstoppable force in marketing.

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