USPS Supports New Print Initiative

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Print On Demand Initiative (PODI), a nonprofit research and advocacy group, will attempt to accelerate the growth of variable data printing technology by direct marketers through a new initiative, which has the backing of the U.S. Postal Service.


Variable data printing lets mailers personalize mass quantities of marketing pieces by linking profiling databases to digital printers. In addition to names, text and graphics can be customized to produce a unique mail piece for each recipient.


The Variable Data Printing Initiative (VDPI), Rochester, NY, seeks to eliminate the obstacles limiting widespread acceptance of the practice through education and evangelism. It is being launched Nov. 1 at the request of the PODI member community of digital print providers, including Xerox, Adobe, Scitex and Electronics for Imaging. VDPI also has attracted the support of nine other printers including one-to-one marketing proponent Agfa, Minolta and Tektronix, but adding the USPS gives the effort more credibility.


"We believe the postal service is a key part of the infrastructure needed to make any of these applications work,'' said PODI president Rab Govil. "And the fact that they are willing to put dollars and time into this initiative shows us we're heading in the right direction."


VDPI is the first program to focus on a specific application of digital printing. It is meant to increase acceptance of the medium and get users up to speed on the best practices by serving as a clearing house of information. VDPI wants to involve all companies in the mailing process, from the database to the mail stream.


The postal service joined the effort primarily to participate in the research process. Kent Smith, director of market research and analysis at the USPS, said his goals are to determine mail industry trends, mailer needs and which applications are feasible to answer those needs.


"We have an interest in improving the value of paper-based communications now and in the future, and this initiative is something that seems to offer a lot of promise in terms of making paper more effective as a medium of communication," Smith said.


The initiative will conduct market research to determine which industries use VDP, which industries could benefit from it and how much investment would be required. With the help of participating members, it will measure the effectiveness of programs by examining such criteria as customer acquisition and retention rates and increases in average order value. Success stories will be made available to participants for marketing purposes. Govil expects the first research reports to be available after six months.


VDPI also will seek to eliminate confusion in the practice of VDP by establishing a standardized work flow that can integrate the components of different vendors into a seamless production cycle.


The financial services industry has taken the lead in the use of VDP, but Govil said there are pockets embracing the technology in every industry. The challenge is getting these companies to join the initiative and share their experiences.


"The biggest problem we are fighting against is people who are using it don't want to talk about it because they see it as a competitive advantage,'' Govil said. "There are a lot of successes, but we need to build on them."
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