Print, Net Relevance Drives Response

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Direct marketers hear every day that the Internet needs to be a part of their communications strategy. This is true, yet print is still the key influence, and it can be a strong tool when coupled with the Internet.


As we all know, the Internet is experiencing explosive growth. However, only 1 percent of the world's population owns a computer, and only 35 million Americans surf the Web each day. The printed piece will continue to strive as it reaches a much larger audience than the Internet.


With printing being the fourth largest industry in the industrialized world, nearly 10 billion documents are produced and distributed every day. Printed pieces reach every geographic, demographic and sociological profile; not to mention, printed materials still have stronger emotional connections with consumers because they can see, touch and smell the finished piece.


With that said, the printed piece is changing. Over 80 percent of everything printed is intended to sell the recipient goods or services. Today, we are no longer seeing pieces with a common message delivered to mass audiences. The broadcast message on a printed piece is making its way to targeted communications, and digital printing is making it happen.


Relevance drives response. We know the printed document is changing, but why? One of the driving forces behind the change is to save the receiver time. It took our fathers a decade to gather the same amount of information that is available to us in a single day. Technology is clearly able to deliver information, but do we have the time to understand it or act on it? All to often, the answer is no.


While the Internet can distribute your message directly to your target, it is still open to a mass audience. More and more today, the message in the printed piece is what drives direct marketing. What's in that message is what drives response.


For communications to work, the message needs to be clearly transmitted, accepted and understood by the receiver. The relevance of that information is the second major issue and the secret to successful targeted communications. Relevance provides information that is perceived to be important to the individual. Relevance saves time and increases response.


Relevant communications pieces are catching on. A recent study by the Aberdeen Group indicates that corporate America spent more than $10 billion during the last 12 months on projects and development specifically related to targeted communications. Because of response rates, the report states that by 2001, that number should rise to $15 billion in program development alone.


Today, insurance companies, stock brokerage firms, banks, retailers and communications companies are all using database, relationship and target marketing as part of their print programs. They are not particularly interested in sophisticated technology, cool graphics or variable pictures - they are interested in results.


Technology is not so key. The printer's key to success is to keep up with ever-evolving technologies. However, as direct marketers, the key to success is to plan, process and to create an efficient workflow. Today, the industry trend is to create short-document life cycles. Short-document life cycles require short set-up times. Long-document life cycles place enormous stress on the ability to set up and produce each job.


There are several keys to creating efficient workflow procedures to produce short-document life cycles:


* Job concept. Direct marketers expect a document to increase loyalty, solicit a response or stimulate retention. Know what your customers expect.


* Data certification. Variable data printing is not magic. The data must be presented in a clean manner. and be certified correctly for postal standards.


* Authoring. Technology today allows direct marketers to create the static pre-print and the variable-data sections of a job in a single design session. Some new systems today are object oriented, allowing rapid change and reuse of prior work in job revisions or in new designs.


* Asset management. Digital asset management tools are critical as the number and complexity of jobs increase. Your system should contain job configuration, job and object versions, and multiple-user views in a usable system.


* Proof and preflight. If you can't proof it, you can't produce it. Preflight goes even deeper, testing the entire job and securing the correct data is in place before going to press.


* Verification. Digital printing presses make errors. You can't ship pieces that have not been verified.


* Audit. Audit reports ensure your clients that the job was done correctly and illustrates when the process went right, or when it went wrong. They also ensure that you get paid.


Lessons learned. As a direct marketer, you may have the correct workflow in place, but there are simple lessons you can follow when printing relevant documents:


* Avoid proprietary tools, environments or processes. Vendor tools will lock you in. Open systems are key.


* Stay away from print streams of any format. Whether IPDS, LCDS, PostScript or PDF, combining these formats and the presentation into a print stream loses the ability to fix problems.


* Spooling kills productivity. Any system that requires spooling is obsolete today.


* Plan on using multiple-print technologies, but keep a common workflow. Each print technology has its own strengths, but maintaining a workflow that is open to multiple technologies is an efficient method of offering relevant information to your targets.


Remember, without a relevant message in the printed piece to your direct target, variable-data printing is nothing more than an expensive miss - by being a waste of money and an extremely frustrating process.

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