Deliver: Print on Demand: A Magician or Monster?

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There's a lot of confusion about the capability and classification of something called digital print. If you asked 10 direct marketing professionals to define digital print, you likely would get 10 different answers.


Here's why:


Descriptors like POD, VDP, static print, digital asset management and content on demand are broadly applicable, but each has a slightly different meaning. They all refer to a process designed to apply variable data and content to a digital print execution mode, in black and white, color or a combination of the two.


So what's the bottom-line implication? Where should you use this technology, and how can you mobilize it to create one-to-one communications to prospects and customers? How can it increase your response rate and decrease your overall costs?


The best way to move from consideration to exploitation of print on demand lies in the ability to view it as a powerful tool - a means to an end - rather than focusing on it as a magical end in itself.


The POD tool contributes value by offering the ability to distribute variable content - both graphics and copy - to targeted audiences. Therefore, the two most important questions to ask yourself are:


· Do I have a "variable" audience?


· Will variable content improve my chances of making a sale?


The answer to the first question points to one of its most natural fits within the marketing plan: Wherever you have access to rich data, you are in a position to maximize the benefits of this technology. Often, the audience population where this most naturally applies is customers. Hence, POD is a perfect fit for all kinds of retention and cross/upsell campaigns. For instance, if a clothing retail company wants to promote a sale on ski vests, it has only to mine its customer purchase data, segment out the likely purchase pool and send them a POD postcard.


To take the application further, it will be relatively simple to develop a variable couponing strategy, one that rewards most valuable customers with the most favorable discount rates - or one that takes the opposite tack and offers the steepest discounts to low spenders with high potential. The permutations are endless, and POD can be the perfect tool when data points are readily available.


A second rich-data scenario can be found in fulfillment; i.e., any time an audience has asked for additional information. Here is where the concept of a one-size-fits-all type of mailing has become inefficient, and POD can solve the problem.


A relevant example is a medical services client who in the past delivered generic fulfillment kits to various audiences. Many types of information, formatted into several discrete brochures and fliers, were included in the packets. But not all the information applied to all inquiries.


After thorough analysis in which we mapped "need" to "information" to "audience," we reconfigured the fulfillment package into a single, saddle-stitched booklet. This more successful and less expensive piece had two important advantages: Recipients got only the information that was relevant to them, and they were addressed in a personal voice. The sales closure was dramatically improved.


Now let's consider the value equation attached to our second question: "Will variable content improve my chances of making a sale?" As with any new technology, it is tempting to test all kinds of creative iterations and then make a premature judgment about whether the technology works.


Our rule of thumb, however, involves strategically determining, through research, testing or both, which copy/graphic elements are ones on which a purchase decision may hinge, and then determining whether POD will be a cost-effective means through which to put them in the spotlight of the solicitation.


A perfect example of this point can be found in a client that offers a college lending program to a universe of recent graduates. Through prior testing, the client had discovered that its response rates rose significantly when it co-marketed the product under the brands of specific college alumni associations. Our application of POD to the mail acquisition process let us efficiently match each student population to their alumni association via variable graphics.


POD is not just a new buzzword. It is a new tool with laser-precision power. It enables the delivery of distinct messages to unique customers or prospects regarding sales opportunities that uniquely fit their needs. When you consider the above-mentioned questions, and determine whether your program strategy forms a good fit, then you can be confident you are using this powerful technology to its fullest potential.


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