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Dimensional, personalized mail packs a one-two punch

Using dimensional mailers is one way to boost response rates. Another is by personalizing messages through the use of variable-data printing. However, combining the two methods has, until recently, been limited by the available technology.

Most dimensional and shaped direct mail is created using offset presses, with the printing being done first, followed by the die cutting. A new technology, created and patented by Media Consultants president Harvey Hirsch, produces die-cut templates which can be digitally printed, letting marketers personalize dimensional and shaped mail in short runs.

“This opens a whole new world for packaging and marketing,” Mr. Hirsch said.

He claimed he can produce as few as one or as many as several hundred versioned, dimensional pieces in an hour. He envisions the technology enabling consumers to order a box of their favorite cereal online, putting their child’s picture on the packaging and picking it up in the grocery store two days later.

Initial response to the new technology from printers, however, wasn’t very enthusiastic, Mr. Hirsch said.

“At first, no one would print our die-cut templates because they were afraid they would fall apart in the machine and they would have to pay to get the presses serviced,” he said. As a result, Media Consultants, a marketing company in Lyndhurst, NJ, invested in its own digital printer in 2002. Today, the company has a printing division, Digital Dimensions3, with five connected digital presses and more than 60 reusable stock dies.

In January, the Art Director’s Club of New Jersey mailed its first call for entries for its annual design competition, using Digital Dimensions3’s technology to create a personalized, shaped postcard.

“We’ve had an annual competition for 44 years and this is our first departure from the poster that we typically mail,” said Pat Hanley, executive secretary at the ADCNJ.

The nonprofit organization of art directors, graphic designers and other creative professionals made the decision to try something different this year as a way of staying current, Ms. Hanley said. She said that ADCNJ hoped the combination of a personalized message with the shaped mailer would get people’s attention.

Since this year’s theme for the group’s annual awards ceremony is the evolution of communications, Mr. Hirsch designed a postcard that looks like a stone tablet and has rough edges. The copy was printed to look as if had been carved into the slate.

Five different versions of the postcard were mailed: one to ADCNJ’s members; another to non-members who had entered the competition previously; a version to printers; one to creative firms in New Jersey; and another to owners of digital printers informing them that the competition includes a new variable data category.

In addition to a slightly different message for each audience, the postcards were personalized with the recipient’s name and title. However, everyone was directed to a personalized URL, where they could register for the competition.

Since some of the mailing lists contained as few as 30 names, the use of Digital Dimensions3’s technology was key, Mr. Hirsch said. With offset technology, it generally isn’t economically feasible to do print runs of fewer than 1,000. Plus, the data are static – they can’t be personalized. The ADCNJ will use a similar approach for its next mailing at the end of March to announce its May 4 awards dinner.

A total of 3,500 pieces were dropped in January, which is approximately the same number of pieces mailed last year. However, there was an 18 percent increase in competition registrations.

“I think the message resonated with more of the audience,” Ms. Hanley said. “Because it was personalized, they took the time, and just didn’t put it aside like another piece of mail for later.”

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