Back to Posts

An Argument for Print-on-Demand

Written By Shannon Bailey

March 17, 2021

In my recent post, It’s Time to Rethink Your Inventory Program, I touched on the risks associated with inventory management. So if my recommendation is for you to move away from inventory, what’s your alternative? It’s print-on-demand (POD). 

The speed at which things change greatly impacts the use and application of your print. Your business, your audience, and your content are constantly evolving. It’s important to know exactly what you have in inventory and be pragmatic about the relevance of those materials. Thanks to the advent of digital print technology, which continues to be more and more sophisticated, print-on-demand offers a great alternative to inventory management. 

A solid print-on-demand strategy starts with data. Data will provide insights to product demand like the volume and frequency of use (i.e., the shelf life of the products). Pro tip: the shorter the better! Your data also provides important audience insights to help you understand how to deliver the right message at the right time—in other words, how to deliver relevant print. This information should be central to your strategy of what products are better suited for POD. Let’s unpack how you might pivot your collateral management strategy to take advantage of this technology.

Audit your current inventory.

Step one is to understand what and how much inventory you have. Pull a current inventory report with a list of all products with current inventory counts. Upon review, it’s likely that you’ll be reminded of products you totally forgot about. Some products are likely dated, and you may also find the context or application for the print has changed. (Hopefully your inventory items don’t date back to prehistoric technologies.)

It’s pretty common to identify collateral that has become obsolete on your inventory report: discontinued course books or even event collateral dated for conferences from years past. We once found a box of snow globes our client used in a promo three years prior. These materials need to be trashed (or hopefully recycled).

Materials with long shelf lives probably need to be refreshed or even redesigned completely. If the art and messaging no longer reflect your organization’s brand or position, you should recycle it. 

Finally, you may also find that the application of the print has changed. COVID disrupted how people interact with content—training materials once delivered in person in a group setting are now delivered individually and/or virtually. Employee welcome experiences aren’t placed on an office desk; they are shipped to homes. How might the shift in these interactions affect the collateral and customization used in these touchpoints? 

What would your onboarding materials look like fully POD, like this one we created for Mythos?

Decide what to move to POD.

Once you have a handle on what inventory you are carrying, the first items to consider for print-on-demand are out of stock items or inventory that is almost depleted. What might those pieces look like in a POD model? Run a cost-benefit analysis to understand the impact on both your process and bottom line. Do you need to reprint the inventory at all? 

If you are waiting for the one-off request to prompt the reprint, plan ahead and ask your vendor for a smaller, digital run. Are you spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to restock one item that gets intermittent requests (at best)? Of course you need to respond to the customer or member asking for the materials, but it’s also important to be a good steward of your budget. Sometimes it makes more sense to spend $40 on one book versus a bulk order that costs hundreds or thousands of dollars just to get that unit price down to $8 per piece—especially if most of that inventory never gets used.

Rethink your content.

Luckily, we no longer need to send everything for everyone in one single (rather large) book.

Your data is not limited to the inventory report. Armed with your audience data, think about how you might deliver your message differently if you’re not limited to static content off the shelf. In lieu of a one-size-fits-all brochure, consider paring down the content and splitting it into versions. Can one big book be converted into three, four or five versions? Instead of sending the “Sears Catalog” edition of your content, break it down into versions or sections, and use data and purchase history to deliver information tailored to the individual and where they are in the customer journey. This offers a more relevant (i.e., valuable) user experience. Less but more targeted content also alleviates decision fatigue by not sharing too much information at once. Design with your audience in mind, and leverage versions to make the most of the interaction. This type of redesign can lead to cost savings when printing smaller, more relevant versions. And with a lighter weight piece comes lower postage or shipping expenses.

The bottom line.

Print-on-demand can seem onerous. It can mean printing more frequent, smaller volumes. POD may require redesigning products or shifting to templates or versions so you can be more intentional with your content. But this does not have to translate to more work for your team.  Smart design and smart workflows can streamline the print management process, relieving the strains often associated with managing print. You can also consider print asset management tools as well as print automation to replace legacy, offline and often clunky print management processes. It’s really about making the most of your print budget. 

Shifting to POD does not happen overnight. It is a process. But the bottom line is, print-on-demand offers better cash flow management while delivering relevance—a true win win.