PHOENIX: What does it take to make a successful variable data-based direct mail campaign work? Will it be effective? Is there a way to do it efficiently? Can it be done cost-effectively? Is there a proper approach to generating the elements that will constitute a mailing? And, by the way, what should you do with the gold, also known as “the data?”
This is the second part of a variable data printing series prepared by Best Online Print Service. The information presented is drawn from first hand experience and a variety of published sources. If you’re interested in insights from the point of view of a variable data print provider, this short article should prove most informative. The text of the article follows:
A Printing Primer Online /Part Two
You may recollect reading the first installment of A Variable Data Printing Primer Online, Part One, in the May issue of ADMArketing. That article investigated the nature of variable data printing (VDP) and described several situations in which it had been used. In Part Two, we discuss some of the challenges inherent in the development of a successful VDP project.
Assume that we agree that variable data printing has the power to increase market visibility, one-to-one sales revenues, and direct response rates. We must then ask ourselves how such an effort is implemented. Where to start? What to do?
The possibilities are…to rejigger the phrase…variable. But here are a few suggestions for the design of a variable data printing program.
The first question to ask is where the effort is going. What is the vision? Assuming that you want to create a marketing campaign (After all, this is a direct marketing organization!) the initial steps in the effort are the same as for any standard marketing exercise.
Identify the target audience: current/former customers; respondents not yet converted; and individuals with the right demographics, but no actual history with the company.
Determine the goal. Just how many new customers will be recruited? How many direct inquires will be received? By what amount (X) will market penetration grow?
Define the offer and select the medium. Will this be a direct mail effort? Will the offer be included in variably printed billing statements or perhaps on a magazine wrapper?
Review your database(s). What can you deduce about your target audience from the data on hand? What key data elements will drive your campaign? Are they available? How clean is the database? Are all your records consistent? For example, are all your ZIP codes consistently composed of five digits? Nine digits? Is the formatting across applicable tables consistent? Have you identified minimum and maximum field lengths for any given piece variable data?
Push your creative team to take advantage of the technical knowledge of your database experts and your chosen variable printer from the outset of the project. This is particularly important for complex projects. Their advice may save a great deal of time and very possibly, money, by reducing the number of corrections and revisions required to achieve the desired end result. Ultimately, the end product will be more successful for the collaborative effort.
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Variable data printing is just like other types of printing…only more so. The ability, cost, and effort required to achieve a given result will vary dramatically, depending on experience and the tools available. For example, certain software tools limit the number and type of fonts that can be used on a project. A different tool may offer an unlimited number of fonts, but limit the amount of typographic control (leading, kerning, tracking) available. Yet another tool may make it difficult (or impossible) adjust text or images that exceed the allotted dimensions for that data field.
Several months ago I informed a graphic designer with whom I work that, were he to use variable data printing, he would not be able to control the kerning (letter spacing) of his text. He responded that he simply wouldn’t suggest the use of variable data printing to his clients. That limitation was inherent to the particular software tool we were using at that time. Upgrades and new tools create new options. Because of the variety of tools and capabilities available, and the rapid pace of new system development, you will obtain the best possible results by ensuring that your creative people stay in close touch with the technical experts who have their fingers on the pulse of industry development.
Note that purely digital print processes have different print characteristics than hybrid offset and digital variable solutions. Your choice of paper stock and overall format will be affected by your choices. Costs may vary, too. Purely digital print processes can be significantly more expensive than hybrid solutions, which combine an offset shell with a digital imprint. However, it is also true that purely digital print processes offer more flexibility and control when creating the final product. Since the bottom line is ROI, you will want to analyze the costs of color and black variable printing in terms of their impact.
Allow sufficient time to preview, assess, and correct the initial results. Variable data printing, particularly as it becomes more complex, requires a fairly sophisticated-i.e. time-consuming-workflow. You will want to run print tests (preflight) for the largest and smallest variable data fields incorporated into each document to ensure that spacing and formatting issues have been properly resolved. You may also want to output every 100th record to test the database.
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Consult with your chosen printer about waste control and tracking. This is often a philosophical issue. Some print shops do not view waste as a significant issue. (Traditionally, offset technology always builds a certain percentage of waste into the print process.) However, as I mentioned in the first article of this series, the cost of variably printed pieces is typically higher than standard pieces. Thus, waste during the printing process will add additional cost to the process. Not only is there the cost of the individual printed piece to consider, but also the opportunity and possible sale that is lost when a targeted individual doesn’t receive the piece. Tracking controls, when instituted from the start of a project and adhered to, can virtually eliminate waste. (You wouldn’t tolerate waste in a variably printed invoice mailing, would you?)
It is also advisable to discuss sorting and insertion order controls for mailings that incorporate multiple variable elements. Little errors can turn into big problems later.
This suggests another point. Not every organization is prepared to offer on-site finishing printing services, such as collation, bindery, and insertion. Moving a large number of variably printed pieces requiring collation from the print shop to one or more service bureaus can invite trouble. Find out how your printer will handle this process.
If you haven’t already developed a process to update your databases promptly with the results of your mailing, you will want to do that. Verified data is like a fine seasonal wine: it has a splendid bouquet and a short shelf life. According to some experts, you can anticipate that one percent or more of the names and addresses in your database will become invalid every month.
I know, I know! Some part of your cerebellum is asking another part: Is variable data printing really worth all the fuss?
The trend is clear. “Within the next decade, over 40 percent of all printing will be dynamic (i.e. variable),” according to Frank Romano, one of the foremost authorities on digital printing and chairman of the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Printing Management and Sciences. He has a career spanning more than 30 years in the printing and publishing industries.
The following statistics, from a CAP Ventures study, suggest the potential available to those who get the variable data equation right:
Personalization-and color-can yield significant improvements in direct marketing promotional programs. The percent of improvement by using personalized printing combined with color, on the average, has been:
- Response rate 36%
- Average order size/value of order 25%
- Repeat orders/retention 48%
- Overall revenue/profit 32%
- Response time 34%