One-to-one marketing goes broad at digital printer WMSG

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Whereas short print runs drive sales for many digital print providers, WMSG Inc. is finding significant growth in enterprise acquisition and retention campaigns that have as many as 500,000 pieces.

The Williamson Printing Corp., with roots that go back more than a 100 years, formed WMSG as a subsidiary in 2001. Two years ago, it split off as its own company.

"The Williamson brothers knew that digital was a different industry [from traditional print] and that a different environment was needed to be successful," said Jim Liszewski, president at WMSG.

Around the same time, WMSG hired several employees with strong backgrounds in direct marketing and the decision was made to focus on high-end variable data printing (VDP) at the enterprise level.

"Right now, less than five percent of the people who could potentially get value out of high-volume complex VDP programs are using them" even though it is a proven and successful medium, Mr. Liszewski said.

With agencies beginning to really grasp the concept these days, he believes there's potential for significant growth in this portion of digital print over the next five to 10 years.

One of the factors that has made WMSG (www.wmsginc.com), Dallas, successful is its recognition of the fact that digital printing is still a fairly slow process. As a result, the company is continually investing in acquiring new presses so that jobs can be shared across units. As of September, WMSG owned six digital color presses. This enables it to output a 500,000-piece campaign in 3 to 4 days with the presses running 24 hours a day.

"Almost everything we do is time-sensitive, so speed is obviously an important part," Mr. Liszewski said.

Eventually, he foresees the company owning as many as 20 presses scattered around the country in various facilities close to key distribution points.

"The equipment is becoming easier to manage, which means the ability to remotely manage this network is becoming easier," he said.

WMSG's clients are typically marketers whose customers spend thousands of dollars with them. Examples include an automotive company or a utility, cable or satellite TV subscription service that, over the course of a year, is charging customers a thousand dollars or more.

Cost is a significant reason WMSG seems to attract a particular type of client.

Mr. Liszewski said in some cases the pricing is four to five times higher for a four-color, personalized direct mail piece than one printed on an offset press with no variable data.

"If your goal is to get a ten percent response rate, you better know a lot about that customer," he said.

WMSG often does a lot of the data management for its clients. One service WMSG doesn't offer is Web-to-print fulfillment.

"Every time we've tried to foray into that, it has not been profitable," Mr. Liszewski said.

A typical campaign for an automotive client might include 16 different car models, each with a different marketing push. WMSG can print a direct mail campaign encompassing all of the models but with different messaging and creative based on the person it is targeted to. Instead of using a pre-determined template that images are dropped into and out of, each piece is dynamically laid out.

For example, for a piece marketing a truck, the grill might take up the entire interior portion of the mail piece and the colors featured would be blacks and browns. For a family van, there would be several images of the van itself and the interior and the colors would be pastels or bright shades.

"Each piece could have hundreds of layers based on the targeting of the piece," Mr. Liszewski said.

The response rates of these campaigns are typically two to three times higher than for an unpersonalized direct mail piece. Plus, these results have held up over a period of four to five years now.

"Where we're excited is that most of our growth is organic," Mr. Liszewski said. "Clients that we've had are bringing in new business or growing existing programs," he said.

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