Rapid Response: Achieve Speed and Personalization

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Direct mail technology continues to push the boundaries of personalization. The number of variable data elements that your direct mail campaign can contain is nearly limitless. Your available data is the only limiting factor to how many variations on your basic piece you want to create.


So what happens when you need to elicit a rapid response to a sudden hot-button issue from your target audience? All of that variation is superfluous, right? After all, how complex can a mail campaign really get if your window to place timely information in the hands of recipients is only a few days?


With the technology available to direct mail service providers, the need to sacrifice personalization to achieve rapid deployment is dwindling. By using a rapid response or quick mail package, your existing data can be used to generate a mail campaign that's easy to get in the mailstream yet personalized enough to get noticed.


Many companies and organizations see the opportunity to place timely information with potential customers or constituents all the time. But they may not use direct mail campaigns to their full potential when the deadline is tight. For example, campaign finance reform lobbyists had a desperate need to get information to constituents when the Enron and WorldCom scandals made instant headlines. The issue was not a priority immediately beforehand, and the window of opportunity for a lobby group to influence lawmakers on the issue was small.


A standard direct mail campaign would get the message across, plain and simple. But a lobby group has a range of constituents it needs to reach, and much personalized data about them. To use this data and still get the mail campaign out in time for recipients to take action, such a group requires a production solution that can handle all of its needs.


Rapid response mail packages can reduce the time for a project to hit the mailstream from weeks to days. Depending on size and complexity, a campaign with an urgent message can be customized and deployed in as little as three days. Inkjet printing technology at the disposal of direct mail service providers allows data segments, logos and images up to 600 dpi resolution to be placed on each piece. Dozens of these variable data segments can be mixed and matched in designated fields.


The key to such rapid production is the use of partially prepackaged direct mail templates. These preprinted templates allow the bulk of production to be done well in advance. Packages can contain several individual pieces, such as reply envelopes and color inserts, each one containing customizable fields.


These packages offer several advantages that bridge the gap between standard, non-personalized mailings and complete direct mail campaigns. The prepackaged elements allow for a quick determination of postage costs and project pricing. Preprinted elements alert recipients to the time-sensitive nature of the information contained therein.


The preprinted elements of a rapid response package are not the key to quick turnaround, however. The laser printing capabilities of a mail services provider determine how many pieces can be turned around.


For example, some companies may have limited lasering capabilities in terms of quality or speed. Others need to print black customized segments separate from color segments with a variety of printing equipment. This may limit their production abilities to several thousand customized rapid response packages. If you need several hundred thousand packages, select a mailer that has the latest in laser printing technology and ensure that you understand the type of output each services provider is capable of producing.


Another key to getting the most from rapid response packages is finding a mail services provider with state-of-the-art variable data capabilities. In addition to high-quality laser inkjet printing capabilities, expert database management is essential.


The speed of data manipulation is a main challenge to rapid response packages. If there are constraints or bottlenecks in the direct mail provider's workflow, they most likely will be at the data conditioning stage, which is where the greatest difference between direct mail providers is typically found. A direct mail services provider with an established, streamlined data processing procedure is capable of conditioning a lot of variable data in a short time - a must for getting the most out a large-quantity, rapid response package.


Templates may be highly customizable in terms of data, but they are less so when it comes to creativity. With turnaround time essential, templates need to be kept reasonably simple to facilitate production. Stock selection and color are limited, and extras such as die cuts and foil stamps should be avoided.


Though quick mail packages are typically used for situations that request immediate action, such as pleas for disaster relief, the prepackaged templates can provide a cost-effective way to execute a direct mail campaign with almost any purpose. Last-minute changes in a date or location for a large event, an alert to breaking news or an update on a company's status are ideal uses for a cost-effective, quick-turnaround package.


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