Commentary & Analysis
Leading the Way with Customized Communications
By Barbara Pellow June 28,
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: June 28, 2004
By Barbara Pellow June 28, 2004 -- Based in Moonachie, New Jersey, Applied Printing Technologies (APT) is one of the top 50 commercial printers nationwide. With billings in excess of $100 million annually, APT specializes in print production, finishing and fulfillment. Services include prepress, short and long run sheet fed printing, half-web and full-web printing, full service finishing capability, point of purchase production, on-site facilities management programs and new media. The right solution, the right customer, the right sales force and the right value proposition need to be in place to drive customized communications. Understanding the flexibility customers needed to communicate more effectively with their audiences, APT saw digital 1:1 printing as an opportunity to introduce a new venture that focused on fully personalized document creation services. In early 2000, APT announced the creation of APT Digital Marketing Solutions, a division dedicated to providing customers with high-quality, variable digital printing. The mission for APT Digital was to take customers beyond simple mail merge applications. The organization was designed to help clients produce fully-personalized, 1:1 marketing materials with images and content relevant to the recipient, for direct mail, high volume statements, and newsletters. This past week, I had the opportunity to interview Nicholas Brusco, President of APT Digital Marketing. Brusco said, "APT Digital Marketing was formed with very succinct objectives. Our primary focus was to deliver customized communications. The vision statement was to deliver business communications that helped our customers make money, save money and create awareness." Getting Started Once the decision was made to move forward, APT followed its tradition of using the latest technology to bring customers value added services. APT was the first print service provider in the U.S. to install an IBM InfoPrint 130 Plus and later complemented this with an IBM InfoPrint 2000 and a NexPress 2100. APT also found that Dialogue from Exstream Software was well-equipped to handle its high volume applications that required imaging and text composition on the fly. Selling to the Right Customer…Developing the Right Value Proposition Brusco had three specific recommendations relative to ensuring success in selling customized communications. First, he notes, "You need to sell based on return on the marketing dollar and delivering communications that will reduce the overall cost of sales." His second key suggestion was that the sales force needs to be well equipped to deliver this value proposition. Customized communication materials are not a commodity sale. Finally, says Brusco, "Success requires reaching the 'right' customer that understands the value. The key contact needs to be a marketing executive, IT executive or any key 'C' level executive." The right solution, the right customer, the right sales force and the right value proposition need to be in place to drive customized communications. These characteristics are clearly demonstrated in the delivery of APT value-added communication programs. Helping the Financial Services Market Standard & Poor's came to APT to develop their Plan on Demand System. They wanted to create a Web-enabled tool allowing defined contribution plan providers to build 401K enrollment books and related documentation easily with the ability to store partial progress, proof books electronically, view content, and submit and track orders. The initial application is versioned by plan sponsor with the ultimate objective being to customize the content at a participant level. APT Digital Marketing Solutions, together with Standard & Poor's, designed and implemented a Web-enabled tool that defines the question path based on previous responses to key questions, presenting only relevant questions. The site is hosted by APT Digital Marketing Solutions and orders placed through the system are processed, printed, and shipped within 48 hours or sooner. The Web system, in conjunction with Exstream Dialogue, creates a variable page count document that is capable of being proofed online as a PDF, or printed directly on preprinted shells. The print engine allows for printing on up to six different preprinted shells so that enrollment books are printed in collated order ready for binding. The system is easily updated for new functionality and content with little down time or testing required. Despite variable page counts that can exceed 30 pages or more, document creation has been both efficient and reliable. APT is supporting other financial services providers with a client-specific direct mail programs. Financial advisors can log on to a Web-based system, select a specific mailer designed to cross-sell new services and upload a mailing list. APT will print and mail the documents and notify the financial advisor that the mailer has been sent. Supporting Tourism in Bermuda Bermuda Tourism includes a customized brochure containing variable text and lush imagery aligned with more than 11,000 individual preferences. APT also worked with Euro RSCG and the Bermuda Department of Tourism on market expansion. Bermuda is one of many popular vacation destinations, yet the island's Department of Tourism has recorded a decline in bookings since 1982. The Bermuda Department of Tourism was responding to vacation inquiries by sending an assortment of brochures in a single envelope, using a "pick and pack" method of fulfillment. If you called 1-800-BERMUDA, you would be asked for your name and mailing address, and in about a week an envelope filled with Bermuda travel information would arrive at your door. Although, the printed materials were printed with variable information, the print quality and delivery times were inadequate for the Department of Tourism's needs. The Department has reduced the quantity of printed brochures by more than 30 percent and lowered its creative services costs by $500,000. Faced with increased competition, the Bermuda Department of Tourism took a fresh look at its communications. Teaming with Euro RSCG Brann, a leading direct marketing firm, and APT, Bermuda Tourism leveraged digital color customization capabilities to launch a fully coordinated communications program that would generate more effective, cost efficient and timely messages. Today, telephone and Web inquiries are processed by an efficient call-center team that collects contact information and preferences for lodging, activities and dining. The Department then sends out personalized e-mail and print communications, conveying a vacation experience tailored to each caller's interests. In addition, Bermuda Tourism includes a customized brochure containing variable text and lush imagery aligned with more than 11,000 individual preferences. Recipients respond well to the timely and relevant messaging, and the department benefits from the efficiencies of not printing and shipping unwanted or outdated materials. In fact, the Department has reduced the quantity of printed brochures by more than 30 percent and lowered its creative services costs by $500,000. Using the new personalized communications campaign, the Bermuda Department of Tourism connects more effectively with prospective vacationers. One year after the campaign, Bermuda was named the top island in the Caribbean and Atlantic by readers of Condé Nast Traveler magazine. Lessons Learned Nicholas Brusco has a tremendous perspective on the market and a great deal can be learned from both his attitude and his approach to the market. The target market and application mix need to be clearly identified. Having a clear market focus is essential. APT started the business in 2000 with a very succinct vision of delivering relevant communications and didn't deviate. Once the target market is identified, print service providers need to build a sellable value proposition and deliver that message to the appropriate visionary in the client organization. Fully customized communications are yielding marketing ROI. While APT has done a good job at producing product for its customers, the company also has systems in place that track value to the client. APT demonstrates to its customers how it can help them make money through better communications, save money and build awareness. This is essential to the longevity of key 1:1 marketing initiatives. The higher revenue growth potential is linked to expanded service levels that integrate database supply chain management, Internet customer-facing applications, and customization of documentation. This requires support infrastructure and appropriate IT staffing. APT identified the right infrastructure to deliver customized communications and implemented it well. Listening to the customer and translating technology into a solution is essential to effective delivery of sales and marketing communications. In the majority of applications that APT Digital delivered to its client base, customers understood that they had a problem and together with APT Digital, they built the solution. Staying in front of technology is critical. Brusco said, "APT has always been—and will continue to be—a technology leader. It is essential to achieving and maintaining market success. It is more than hardware….It is software and people skills." Brusco convinced me that personalization is real. Over and over again, people say that the market isn't ready. APT Digital Marketing Solutions has proven that applications like Standard & Poor's Plan on Demand and Bermuda Tourism's custom communications make a difference in business results—for both APT and its customers.