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Commentary & Analysis

From the Designer's Perspective: VDP and Printers

By Carro Ford Weston Once you understand how VDP can be used,

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: August 19, 2005

By Carro Ford Weston Once you understand how VDP can be used, there probably isn't any organization that wouldn't benefit by using the technology at some level. August 19, 2005 -- As part of the "new business of printing", commercial printers are urged to establish stronger relationships with design firms, ad agencies, marketers and others to capture new opportunities. Another requirement of this new model is offering variable data services as a way to grow the business. In this interview with Kim McBride, a principal of the Williams McBride design firm (http://www.williamsmcbride.com/), commercial printers can gain insight into both variable data projects and working with creative types from the agency perspective. WMG began designing with VDP technology in early 2004, and they have quickly become advocates. "We were introduced to the concept by a client of ours, Exstream Software, who develops enterprise-wide personalization software solutions," explains McBride. "One of their marketing initiatives was to incorporate variable data into all of their direct mail campaigns to help demonstrate their software's capabilities. Their software, called Dialogue, allows tremendous flexibility in using the data, and they were looking to us to provide creative ways to present the information." Some of the results are quite amazing. For a trade show invitation, a line drawing on the cover identified the recipient's gender, with their name incorporated into the artwork. Geographic data showed the direction and city the individual would be traveling from to reach the Dallas conference. To assist Exstream with identifying guests at the event, a nametag was included on a perforated panel. Further pushing variable data technology, nametags were color coded to indicate whether the guest was a customer, prospect or press analyst. The campaign achieved a 7 to 9 percent response rate and captured publicity in industry journals. Just as customers have come to expect the Web sites they shop to know who they are and what they've bought, this same audience is quickly coming to expect that level of familiarity with the printed material received in the mail." Another innovative use of personalization appeared in holiday cards. "Using the analogy that customers, like snowflakes, are one of a kind, we created individual snowflake graphics using the recipient's first and last name. The second level of personalization used geographic data indicating a city's chance of having a white Christmas," McBride explains. The message varied depending on whether the city had a high, medium or low chance of snow. For instance, a recipient in Lansing, Michigan received a message that read, "Keep your fingers crossed! Lansing has a 73 percent chance of having snow on Christmas morning." A high chance of snow would read, "You're in luck! Portland has a 83 percent chance of having snow," and for a low chance, the message was "Better hope for a Christmas miracle! Cincinnati has an 11 percent chance of having snow." When to Go with VDP WMG has since promoted VDP to other clients, and McBride has suggestion for knowing when a business's needs are a good fit for VDP. "Clients who have a dedicated marketing department, a database and a direct mail initiative are a natural fit for working with variable data. Also, if they have an inventory of material that is earmarked for specific audiences or a decentralized sales force where it's advantageous to create materials by geographic territory. Actually, the list can go on and on. Once you understand how VDP can be used, there probably isn't any organization that wouldn't benefit by using the technology at some level." However, she points out "printers and organizations should understand that VDP is much more sophisticated than the Publisher's Clearing House tactic of 'enter your name here'. It's really a marketing opportunity for their clients to speak to customers in a more personalized manner. Just as customers have come to expect the Web sites they shop to know who they are and what they've bought, this same audience is quickly coming to expect that level of familiarity with the printed material received in the mail." What Designers Look for in a VDP Printer Know the limitations of the equipment in order to manage the designer's expectations WMG has not only gained experience with identifying VDP prospects, but also with what makes a printer a good fit as well. "We have worked with several printers for variable data projects. It helps if they can provide fulfillment services, since our variable data work is generally direct mail-related. Typically we seek out printers who have either an Indigo or NexPress, because our experience has shown that those presses produce a high quality product. Of course, the technology is continuously changing, so other presses may be improving, and the press is still only as good as the pressman running it. " McBride offers a veteran's advice for printers interacting with creatives on VDP projects. "When working with designers, be prepared to deal with more than just variable type -- we also use variable photos and color. A printer should have someone on staff who can handle the data integration, as their client probably won't be able to provide that end of the equation. Know the limitations of the equipment in order to manage the designer's expectations for the layout. Select a printing press that can use a variety of papers." Advice for Selling VDP Services In spite of all the publicity VDP has received, McBride feels "there is a mixed interest among the printers we work with. Some understand the concept of VDP and are actively pursuing the opportunities. However, most seem to have entered into digital printing to assist with short run jobs only and seem unfamiliar with the marketing opportunity variable data printing presents. I believe printers are unclear as to how to sell the benefits of variable data printing to their customers. Marketers haven't caught up with the technology yet and aren't requesting it of their printers. This means printers are in the unfamiliar position of having to explain the benefits of VDP in terms of strategic marketing efforts." In most cases, WMG is also in the position of educating clients about the marketing benefits of VDP. "We've found that most organizations are still unfamiliar with variable data printing, but when we show them examples they are extremely interested in pursuing it." Printers interested in selling VDP services should understand their customer's audience and provide examples on how VDP can help them communicate with that audience more effectively. "If they can go into a meeting with just two verbal examples of how VDP can be used to reach that customer's audience, they will have no problem selling the concept," she says. You can always reach Carro Ford Weston at her new email address: carrof@earthlink.net. See More Exclusive Articles

 

 

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