If print-based companies are going to continue to coexist amidst paperless initiatives, they need to invest in the use and application of data analysis. Jennifer Matt of What They Think made the point that while data-driven businesses are starting to become to norm throughout all industries, it is a particularly important attribute for print companies to have as they constantly evolve and revisit the merit of traditional methods. 

Eliminate instinctual decisions
Organizations that do not use data to influence their decision-making processes are stuck having to do things instinctively, Matt reported. Feeling out a situation without the benefit of research is conducive to poor choices being made, and long-term instability as a consequence. If print businesses are to remain sustainable in the future, it is likely they will have to rely heavily on data to inform strategic planning. 

So what does it mean to be data-driven? Matt indicated that keeping track of your own business's expenses, ROI, revenue and cost-effectiveness and using these figures in comparison with the rest of the industry will provide a solid understanding of how to best address future pursuits. Finding comparable companies to measure yourself against – and observing the moves these companies make and the level of success they achieve – is a foundation for advancement within the industry.

Digital Lizard's success
There is perhaps no better example of data-driven success in print than the astronomical growth of commercial printing company Digital Lizard, Greg Cholmondeley wrote for Printing Impressions. The primarily design-based startup began as an in-plant for a real estate magazine publisher. It made an unconventional move in 2007, selling the parent company, and striking out on its own in the commercial print field. The business has grown at an unprecedented rate since, including a 15 percent rise in 2015 already. 

Digital Lizard has infused new technology and an aggressive scheme to fuel its remarkable expansion. The company used data analysis of itself and the market it existed in to influence its bold moves, and it's paid off in an overwhelming way. 

So how can other paper distributors and printers hope to mirror this success? Matt suggested, in addition to keeping track of simple statistics, developing metrics that reflect the company trends and efficiency. She prefers to use lead generation velocity, profit per employee and profit per job. 

Lead generation velocity is a measure of the growth of consumer interest garnered by your company, and the rate at which it did so. Profit per employee is fairly straightforward: total profit during a period of time divided by the number of employees you have. Profit per job, on the other hand, quantifies how profitable a job – or product – performed by your company actually is by considering the amount of money you spent to produce it juxtaposed with the price the consumer paid. 

There are other ways to measure the success of a business, and not all companies will see the same opportunities for growth that Digital Lizard did, and took advantage of. But for the most part, data analysis and metric use will help printers see larger profit margins and expansion options if utilized correctly.