4 drivers to a VDP campaign

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Variable data printing is a convergence of technology and print as well as highly personalized direct mail and, if you have your ear to the industry buzz, is the cure for all of our marketing ills.

Through today's high-end digital presses and the in-depth data resources now available, VDP lets marketers generate direct mail ad pieces that communicate one-to-one with the recipient. VDP builds relevance, which is critical to increasing response. For years, marketers have tried twists in their direct mail to raise response rates by 0.25 percent or 0.5 percent. Now, VDP is becoming the king of higher response, as many marketers see rates double or even triple.

However, before jumping into VDP, marketers must ensure they are capitalizing on its benefits and maximizing ROI by addressing four critical elements.

Data. The data in a VDP program control not only the target of the mail piece but the content. Therefore, the data need to represent the individual accurately and properly drive the placement of personalized copy, messaging, images and other variable components.

The richer your data, the more personalized you can make each piece. Standard mailing information lets you use an integrated name and geographic location, but additional information such as family status, age, gender, income, homeownership or even personal preferences lets you heighten relevance and customize offers. In addition to raising response rates, you can generate higher revenue per order by aligning higher-priced products or minimums with customers or prospects when appropriate.

When creating or preparing your house file for a VDP program, gather as much information as possible to boost relevance. You can append your house file from hundreds of demographic, psychographic and business data enhancement selects through several data providers.

Whether using your own list or buying data, ensure the list is clean and accurate. For example, if you use the gender variable and you mistake a likely female name such as Robin and deliver female content to a male, it could hinder effectiveness.

Copy and components. An important part of devising a VDP campaign is using data to build relevance while maintaining a certain level of subtlety. You are not trying to impress prospects or customers with how much you know about them. You simply want to use your knowledge to engage the recipients and elicit a positive response.

Many people feel uncomfortable or angry when a marketer blatantly uses personal information in a marketing piece. An example is a mortgage marketer who thinks that listing his prospects' debts in a mail piece will generate a response. This could be done more effectively by using a hypothetical situation where the message is, "If you have $400,000 in total debt, we could lower your monthly payment to only $1,778 a month, saving you $3,600!"

When creating the components of your mail piece, you need to structure the relationships between your data and your messages and/or images.

Here are examples illustrating how information is segmented:

Each variable component is mapped out in the above fashion with all of your assets and content organized and named to correspond with these maps. This process makes it easy to integrate the components into the design.

Design. The designer of a VDP piece needs a comprehensive list of all options that will be integrated into the mail piece. To get a high-quality and visually appealing mailer, design must be capable of displaying all possible options when the data are integrated.

In a static design, the offer remains constant. With a variable design, the offer is meant to change. In the example above, the income-based offer ranges from eight words to 35. The designer needs to build the flexibility into the design so that one line may be positioned, if necessary, into three lines that vary piece by piece.

When inserting a name or city into the piece, you need to account for how short and long names affect the surrounding text and design. Once the design is created it will be tested by the production company using one of the several VDP production systems currently available. For design needs, a quality layout system such as Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress is recommended to facilitate final creation of the VDP project.

Implementation and production. In the final stage, you need to select a production partner to print and mail your piece. Choose a company that has experience not just in digital printing, but in VDP campaigns. As part of this process, your design work and database will be integrated using a program such as XMPie or Page Flex, where links are generated from your design to your database, driving the changes throughout the document. Programming may be required to create business rules that drive variable messages based on certain logical statements or mathematical equations. Once the links are created, the integrity of the design must be tested to ensure all of the fields are supported and fall within the proper areas of the piece.

When the direct mail item is printed, the address is integrated in the direct mail document as well, so that only one pass is necessary. The outgoing mail is printed in presorted order; it is then bundled and placed in trays to take advantage of postal automation discounts. As a result, it is best to select a vendor that handles both print and mailing services.

VDP direct mail is no longer a bleeding-edge technology used only by the most tech-savvy marketers, but a proven solution that is quickly gaining in popularity due to its quantifiable successes. VDP does come with a premium price, and you can expect to pay more for the print portion of the program. However, the combined cost of the program is only 15 percent to 30 percent more than offset printing. With a doubling or tripling of ROI on the program, it quickly becomes a fantastic investment.

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