Variable data helps make print personal

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Luke Teboul
VP, IWCO Direct

Our No. 1 critical recommendation for clients using variable data printing is that they must have a relevant message. Many marketers implement various kinds of geographic and demographic segmentation, but fail to make the message relevant to their audience. Second, while many people go to the Nth degree with segmentation, many of our customers tell us that this can bring the law of diminishing returns into effect. It's possible to spend huge amounts on print by doing more segmentation and adding more revisions and controls and still not get the results you want.

Testing is the starting point and an indispensable part of using VDP, particularly with color digital print. The cost of testing is not as high as it used to be, so marketers should test as many different variables as they can to ensure that the message is accurate. Furthermore, it is the foundational elements of the project - the quality of the data, the offering, the timing and the creative - that will help you discern and establish success.

It also helps to know what you expect and to do some analysis up front to manage these expectations. Record the rate of response by phone, mail, e-mail and personalized URL to make sure the customer has the opportunity to respond with the best data. Give consumers a code they can reference when they call in to give them a sense that your offer is special and personal.

Going back to the basic elements, marketers should use a scientific cycle of testing, launching and constant refining, particularly if they have an ongoing or trigger campaign. Refine the message and alter the creative, as well as the offering and the timing. Ask yourself, "Was the piece persuasive? Did we miss our window or get the timing wrong? Did we address the pain points of the consumer?" Going through a constant cycle of multiwave mailings is a good way to check that your timing was right.

The Takeaway
After personalizing offers, marketers should test and improve their campaigns


Clay Sanders

Graphics communications expert, McClung Companies

The most important part of variable data printing is knowing your market, and knowing what message is going to be effective to it. Marketers want to make sure they are customizing not only for the personalized piece, but also tailoring the message for the recipient. The more information you can use, the better results you are going to get.

As a company, we use integrated, personalized URLs as a means of response for the recipient. We also have a complete back-end system that, once the person responds to the URL, notifies the marketer of the activity so they can act accordingly.

Another major part of measuring is testing. I encourage all of my clients to set up tests to see what portions of their variable data activity generates the best results.

Marketers also have to look at campaigns from the complete marketing perspective. For example, we have done some work for colleges, ranging from getting students to attend their initial open houses to pursuing them as applicants. The measurability was that you could see what the students inquired about and even who actually attended the event. From the measured results, you could also see who enrolled. These were very complex campaigns with multiple components.

Any marketing campaign needs to have multiple components. I've even turned down the opportunity to do a single variable data piece because there were no other marketing components to the campaign.

While using data to enhance your marketing technique, it's necessary to continue maintaining your core marketing components. If you don't have these core components down, the VDP can fail dramatically. I learned that the hard way with one specific campaign: It failed primarily because the markets we sent it to had never heard of the organization. From a VDP perspective, it was one of the more targeted pieces I had ever been involved with, but because it wasn't managed from a complete marketing perspective, it wasn't successful.

The Takeaway
Marketers should use VDP in the context of the whole campaign


Scott Sipherd

North America marketing manager, HP

I see variable data printing as a key element of multichannel marketing. Both HP and our customers on the graphics side of the business use VDP as the entry point into multichannel. For instance, I might know that you were at a trade show and be able to see the information you provided, and I can send you a personalized message. The questions are always whether you read it and whether you are interested, and the fact is, personalized messaging gets a better response rate.

A technique we often use is layering on personalized printing supplemental elements, and potentially including among them a URL that is personalized for the consumer, or a personalized 1-800 number. A campaign could also have a business reply card that is already populated. When a company makes a consumer fill out a card, the abandon rate is very high. However, pre-populating the card allows the consumer to just break it off and send it in, reducing your abandon rate.

With a personalized phone number, by the time a consumer dials, he or she is automatically routed to the right business team with the right offer. This tightens the relationship with the respondent so we know what he is looking for and what information he is seeing.

Using the business reply card, I can reduce my abandonment rate, and using a personalized telephone number, I know I can serve the customer better because I'm sending her to someone who is prepared to talk to her. These simple techniques are measurable, and they tend to have good response rates.

If a variable data piece has captured a customer's interest and he follows a personalized URL, the page where he arrives should be personalized for his needs. Therefore, a marketer should build a different page for each recipient and have every page clustered by industry segment, size of business and geographic coverage. The usual response rate on a static piece is 1% to 2%, so out of 1,000, I typically would get a handful of responses. If I personalize it, I bump up the response rate several times.

The Takeaway
VDP tactics like PURLs and 1-800 numbers increase customer response

Kevin Klein
Director, production intelligence consulting, Pitney Bowes Emtex Software

Marketing effectiveness happens when you have relevance and an understanding of the customer. Variable data printing can offer a look into the customer's preferences, which you can use to establish relevance.

People are generally annoyed when they are targeted with marketing offers that are not relevant. But we believe that when content is relevant, there is an opportunity for successful transpromotional marketing. When receiving relevant messages, customers come to view their relationships with marketers in a different light. They say, "The company gets me. They understand what I'm about. There could be something here that interests me." A major component of successful VDP is focusing on that relevance and building it.

There are several techniques for building relevance at various layers. One key tactic that builds relevance, but doesn't approach the "creepy factor," is using psychographic profiling based on the consumer's address. The concept is that each address has one of 72 psychographic clusters associated with it. The clusters are mapped across all addresses at the block level, allowing you to understand what sort of audience you have. For example, a retirement community is a fairly easily understood audience, but it is has a different kind of demographic profile from an up-and-coming urban sprawl neighborhood with a lot of young families and children, and a level of relevance can be established from this distinction. You can also get much more granular by acquiring customer-specific information, either from client databases or other sources of analytics. We provide, for example, information that is based on information repositories, like census data.

Another opportunity is to use consumer information if there are no privacy concerns. This is the beauty of variable data. Take, for example, a marketer who sells high-end audio-visual products. This company may want to market to people who have platinum credit cards. Those data can become complementary factors to use, together with a set of business rules, to drive the campaign and to drive the targeting.

The Takeaway
Build relevance at various layers by using both broad and specific customer data

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