Commentary & Analysis
Selling VDP to a Skeptical Market
by Heidi Tolliver-
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: December 6, 2004
by Heidi Tolliver-Nigro Selling VDP, even in the U.S., is a difficult task because marketers are like the people of Missouri -- "Show Me:" they only believe results they can see. December 6, 2004 -- In my last column, I shared some thoughts about getting into the VDP business based on many of the questions I've received from printers wondering whether it is too late to get into the market. However, just having VDP capabilities -- and even using them well -- does not guarantee success. It's the ability to garner customer confidence and get out and sell these applications that makes the difference. In fact, this was the concern of an HP Indigo dealer in Columbia who emailed me recently, concerned about how to develop the VDP market in South America. Considering that the U.S. also had once been an embryonic market for VDP, he wanted to know if I had any advice for convincing skeptical customers. He wrote: "Some VDP buyers still prefer general mail ("un-personalized") instead of personalized because the results from personalized mail are lower than they were expecting. VDP buyers think that if the cost is the same (the price of 500 direct mail personalized is the same as the price of 2,500 general mail), why would they send fewer letters if they can send four or five times for the same price? It is a missionary task -- we have to evangelize. So I have a couple of questions on how to face companies who still doubt the power of VDP. Some of them say, "there are no results with VDP," or "there is no market for that…." Do you have case studies or different experiences to share? How was the beginning of this market in the States? In Europe? Everywhere? Getting started in Colombia is difficult because people don't believe in VDP and they don't know how to sell it. How can I help them?" This reader is correct. Selling VDP, even in the U.S., is a difficult task because marketers are like the people of Missouri -- "Show Me:" they only believe results they can see. (For international readers, U.S. states have nicknames, and Missouri is the "Show Me" state.) This makes the task all the harder in an embryonic market like Columbia where there aren't yet a lot of success stories Someone has to get the ball rolling. Even here in the States where the market is more developed, it is still a challenge to convince marketers of the benefits of VDP and the rationale for paying more per piece. Fortunately, there are success stories out there, and while there are not as many as some would like, formal case studies are starting to crop up. Some printers use client names and actual numbers from their VDP campaigns, but more often, they generalize based on typical results. This allows them to promote their successes without giving away client secrets. Don't Got 'Em? Find 'Em! If you do not yet have case studies of your own, this doesn't mean you can't market the benefits of VDP. There is actually quite a lot of publicly available information that can be put it together as part of your marketing program. To find this information, you can… Do searches on trade magazine websites. Go to association resource centers. Join print-on-demand groups and ask them to provide you with any case studies that are available (the Print-on-Demand Initiative -- PODI -- for example, maintains an extensive searchable database of case studies). Ask vendors for any materials they might have. If they don't have any recent studies, ask them to write some. Check the OnDemandJournal.com case studies link on a regular basis. Look on the websites of successful VDP printers. Check for customer testimonials, ROI studies, or case studies. While VDP printers and their customers used to be extremely closed-mouthed about their successes, as the market develops, they are starting to market their successes, creating a library of public information. Start compiling it. From there, cull it down to the information that best fits your market. (Remember -- much of the information on the Internet is considered public, but information obtained through memberships in associations and other discrete sources is not. So don't plagiarize, follow the fair use guidelines of the U.S. Copyright Office, and when in doubt, ask permission.) At first, you might not see the benefit of using case studies from other printers, but if you can get a volume of these studies, from a variety of sources, suddenly, you can start to build a case for the success of VDP because, at this point, it's not about one company or another. It's about broad-based market success. This, in combination with examples of VDP jobs you have produced, even if they are only samples, can help your customers "connect the dots" between your technical capabilities and the benefits of VDP. You should also tap into the industry trade events where VDP is being discussed. PIA/GATF, for example, has an annual VDP conference at which all of the major players gather and many give talks and seminars on their applications. The information provided there can be invaluable. Listen for ROI studies, techniques for presenting VDP to customers, and how these companies overcame obstacles in the sales process. Keep in mind, however, that while presenters are typically open and candid in closed sessions like this, they are often sharing information they would not make public on a broader scale (such as in the trade press), so respect their privacy. If you use information from the conference, do so in-house, and circumspectly. If you do use some of this information with customers, genericize it. Overcoming Obstacles Profitable VDP players have to be committed to the market, not just testing the waters. The experiences of the reader in Columbia mirrors those of the early adopters in the U.S. They overcame these obstacles by understanding the target market, understanding what applications would be most successful, and carefully choosing their prospects, and then exhibiting persistence, persistence, persistence. Newcomers can be successful using these tactics, too. It's taken many years for the market leaders to develop solid customer bases and long histories of successful applications. That's why profitable VDP players have to be committed to the market, not just testing the waters. It's extremely difficult to be successful unless you (and your customers) have a long-term commitment to variable data and are willing to take a few lumps along the way. So here is my four-step recommendation to the reader in Columbia and any newcomers to the VDP market: Develop a press kit of well targeted case studies, even if they are not your own. Produce sample projects in-house. This is important, both for developing your skills and for creating printed pieces you can take with you on sales calls. Use VDP in your own marketing. If you can't be successful targeting your own customers with VDP, you will have a hard time convincing customers you can be successful helping them with theirs. Invite customers in for training days. Let them see the equipment. Let them see sample VDP programs being printed. Let them attend training seminars at your location. It's all about education and establishing a track record. Fortunately, with so much good material circulating these days, that track record doesn't have to be your own.