Commentary & Analysis
The SNAFU Diaries: PMS, Databases and Up-front Costs
by Heidi Tolliver-
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: November 17, 2005
by Heidi Tolliver-Nigro November 18, 2005 -- Last month, I told you about some of the real-life VDP unexpected challenges and snafus discussed by industry consultant Jim Olsen and industry analyst Richard Romano at their VDP seminar at PRINT 05. We'll continue that theme this month, with three more examples of how things can go wrong. Dealing with PMS Color The third example came from Dow Corning, which wanted to streamline its global literature management system and allow local sales reps around the world to create their own materials and add their own logos and customization to existing materials, while still maintaining the brand. Its existing "kludge together" approach was described as a "pandemonium," so it put out a RFP for help. The global savings were astronomical, marketing flexibility was increased, and liability was reduced, so compromising on getting a perfect PMS match was a small price to pay. One printer, F. P. Horak, put together a Web-to-print solution that allowed Dow Corning to maintain its documents in an online repository, with sales reps able to access, modify, create, and order print from anywhere in the world. This application, created almost a decade ago, was cutting-edge at the time. The challenge, though, was that the documents were output to a digital press, and when the solution was developed, digital presses weren't capable of outputting PMS colors. So Dow Corning had to accept a trade-off between the tremendous cost savings, both print and design, with the flexibility and tremendous project and brand management capabilities, with perfect PMS match. There was no contest. The global savings were astronomical, marketing flexibility was increased, and liability was reduced, so compromising on getting a perfect PMS match was a small price to pay. Today, companies no longer have to make this trade-off. Many of today's digital presses are Pantone-licensed for creating spot colors --even four-color machines like the Xerox iGen3-- and the Indichrome inks of HP Indigo presses are Pantone-certified, as well. While not every digital printer has a press capable of outputting PMS colors (yet), a growing number do. Even if they don't, as witnessed by the Dow Corning example, this isn't make-it-or-break-it situation. At least, it shouldn't be. It's part of the larger value these applications have that overshadows any minor limitations in output characteristics or print quality. How Clean Is Your Database? The fourth case study came from a manufacturer of boating equipment and supplies that wanted to send out a promotion to the members of its loyalty program to boost sales of boating equipment during the Christmas holiday (not exactly boating season!). So it created a glitzy VDP piece with the recipients' names spelled out in the sand, their identification number and address, a $20 off coupon, and a bar code on the back to track responses. The snafu announced itself when the piece was printed. It became clear that someone had neglected to clean and prepare the database. The name "William," for example, contained an extra "l" -- "Willliam." Oops! Watch Your Front-End Costs The fifth and final example came from a digital printer in Myrtle Beach that wanted to create a promotional brochure to promote its own VDP seminar. The piece included name and address, as well as a perforated badge that respondents could remove and wear to the seminar. The piece also mapped the distance and mileage from the person's location to the event; and included a bound-in pencil (presumably for taking notes), as well as fancy die-cutting. The invitation was a success. It netted a 20% response rate, as well as winning the printer VDP work. However, it cost a fortune. The invitation was a success. It netted a 20% response rate, as well as winning the printer VDP work. However, it cost a fortune. It was the first time the digital printer and its designer had produced a VDP piece (it had installed its HP Indigo only two weeks earlier) and each piece had to be hand-assembled. In addition, the creative was very expensive. The design took 40 hours, and at $100 per hour, the total was $4,000. With 150 piece, that was $26 apiece for each mailer. Okay, maybe, for an in-house experiment, but not something you want to do for a client! Amortizing Costs, Reducing Risk These are all examples of why printers and their customers don't want to hang their hats on one-off VDP jobs. Most successful VDP marketers set up long-term campaigns that amortize the cost of the design and database work over the length of the campaign, or, even better, create an repeatable or replicable program they know will work the same way every time. It's also one of the reasons for the success of Web-to-print, which allows modification and personalization/customization of templates that can eliminate design costs for certain types of jobs altogether. In the Dow Corning example, this was a significant portion of the cost savings for the program. Its sales reps were producing their own case studies, including paying for their own designers, so when F. P. Horak set up the Web-to-print solution, this wiped those unregulated design costs completely off the table. Hopefully, these and last month's snafu examples give you an idea of some of the unexpected bugaboos that can beset your VDP programs. But, as we discussed last time, the potential for them to occur should not scare you off from producing VDP altogether. They are all part of the learning curve and-- you can bet -- for each of these marketers, they happened only once!