On-Demand Printing Comes of Age

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You've seen the ads, heard the commercials and probably even received a direct mail piece or two proclaiming that digital technology will change your life. From digital cameras to digital printing presses, the promise is the same: faster and higher-quality results than traditional alternatives.


Direct marketers are looking for digital solutions to help revolutionize their programs and outdo the competition. The lure of personalization - with its value proposition of higher response rates, greater returns and stronger customer loyalty - combined with today's digital print capabilities make print on demand attractive for direct mailers.


For companies offering these digital print services, however, providing the technology or the hardware is only one small step toward satisfying direct marketers. DMers seek a total solution, not just a replacement piece for their already complicated direct marketing puzzle.


Personalized, print-on-demand capabilities exist today, yet few marketers have taken advantage of the speed to market and personalization these capabilities provide. Companies spend large amounts of money on CRM solutions and data acquisition, so why are so few able to deliver a true one-to-one direct mail piece? There are several reasons.


In part, this lag results from marketers' own lack of demand and understanding of the economic value proposition of using personalization. With virtually no hard data to support the value proposition of personalized direct mail, direct marketers have been slow to adopt the concept. Without this strong demand, digital print providers have been slow to develop the software required to produce deeply personalized direct mail collateral, even though digital print technology has been in the marketplace nearly 10 years.


More recently, however, marketers faced with increased pressure to generate higher returns on direct marketing costs and strengthen customer loyalty are finding it critical to cut through the clutter and "get personal." They're ready, and so is the software.


Finding a total solution. Finding a print provider who has knowledge of and access to digital printing still can be a challenge. Finding one who understands personalized direct mail campaigns is even tougher. The solution is not just having digital presses, it's leveraging personalization technology into a useful direct marketing tool that provides true one-to-one marketing, allowing for both variable text and images in a direct mail piece.


Along with understanding the capabilities of digital printing, the collateral's design must be unique as well to accommodate the power of the technology yet recognize some of its limitations.


An end-to-end solution is critical to drive not only the effectiveness of the campaign, but also to achieve the ultimate speed to market. After all, how can you take total advantage of your up-to-the-minute database if it takes you weeks to get a campaign in the mail, coordinating among agencies, printers, list brokers and mailing houses?


Finally, results for any direct mail campaign depend on the quality of your data. Nowhere is this more evident than in personalized direct mail efforts.


To maximize response rates and return on investment, a personalized printed piece needs to be personal and accurate. If your list includes some first names with initials only, misspelled city names or perhaps businesses combined with consumer addresses, then the results can be diminished.


If you have solid database management systems and processes, you can overcome data issues. If not, companies like infoUSA, Donnelley Marketing and Acxiom specialize in cleaning your lists. Finding a database company that understands the importance of quality data when using personalized direct mail can be an enormous advantage.


The effect of on-demand printed collateral on your direct mail campaigns can radically change the way you measure success. Historical response rates of 0.7 percent to 1 percent don't have to be the norm. Clients using this technology have experienced double-digit response rates.


If you rely on relationship selling to differentiate yourself from the competition, or you are looking to find new customers and keep your existing ones with better results, then spend time finding the right end-to-end solution provider. The investment not only will make your life as a marketer easier but drive response and profit.


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