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Commentary & Analysis

Friday’s Graphics of the Americas Highlights Design for Personalization


By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: March 5, 2008

“Whom the gods would destroy, they first make creative,” said Harvey Hirsch, paraphrasing Euripides, opening the keynote to Friday’s Design for Personalized Communications Conference. Hirsch, president and creative director of Media Consultants and Digital Dimensions3, was talking about his own accidental entrée into the personalized communications space. Indeed, he has become one of the leading proponents and practitioners of what is called “3D VDP,” creating highly targeted marketing “kits” that are often more like works of art than marketing promotions.


Hirsch cited figures that estimate that $30 billion is spent each month on traditional mass marketing communications—and 99.9% of it fails; i.e.,fails to generate any significant response (read: sales)

Hirsch’s raison d’être is to show how much marketing today is based on “vestigial thinking,” or marketing ideas whose origins in the 1960s are well past their sell-by date. Specifically, he’s speaking of conventional notions of direct mail, where you mail out tens or hundreds of thousands of postcards or brochures. Hirsch cited figures that estimate that $30 billion is spent each month on traditional mass marketing communications—and 99.9% of it fails; i.e.,fails to generate any significant response (read: sales). The brave new world of 21st century marketing embraces such avenues as transactional printing (marketing pitches that are incorporated into financial statements and/or are based on data gleaned from sales or other transactions, such as credit card purchases, an Amazon.com buying history, and so forth), multichannel marketing (using print or another medium to drive a potential customer to a Web site or personalized URL), viral or word-of-mouth (such as passing along links to YouTube videos, blogs, etc.), and versioned 1:1 (as simple as a mail-merge or as complex as the 3D VDP projects Hirsch works on.). As the landscape changes, says Hirsch, “Everything will have a name attached to it, and everything will have a link to the Internet.” He refers to this as “dintermediation” or, more colorfully, “direct mail with teeth” (Hirsch’s presentation used a piranha metaphor and, in fact, was entitled “Secrets of the Marketing Piranha”).

Hirsch then wowed the crowd with some examples of marketing projects his company has completed for clients, typically with extraordinarily high response rates—over 50% is de rigueur and 90% is not unheard of. Some of these projects included:

  • die-cut and personalized fish-shaped business cards;
  • a tube wrapped in a full-color personalized label appealing to a favorite football team which, when opened, played the sound of a sportscaster announcing a touchdown;
  • a small box that contained a cardboard camera—festooned with personalized text—that also included personalized text and graphics on a pull-out paper “filmstrip”;
  • a box that included bags of trail mix (with personalized labels);
  • appropriately catchy copy that tied into the physical elements of the kit.

There were many more examples, too. One promotion Hirsch developed for a dental laboratory targeting dentists used the metaphor of being under pressure (which was printed on the outside of the box), and, when a box was opened, featured a walnut in a vise—I needn’t explain the analogy.

Each of these kits—which were developed by a process that Hirsch has patented­—are written, printed, die-cut, and assembled in-house. Quantities are usually less than 100—the idea, again, is to avoid the saturation bombing approach of traditional marketing and instead highly target and personalize each piece so that it has interest and relevance to its recipient. But, above all else, these items are eye-catching—if expensive to produce—yet when followed up by a sales call or visit, achieve results for the client. (Hirsch also points out that such an approach is also more environmentally responsible, in contrast to printing thousands and thousands of postcards.)

Hirsch also envisions a time when digital presses penetrate the packaging industry, and consumers can buy highly customized and personalized items—swathed of course in their own custom packaging. (As if buying cereal weren’t traumatic enough these days.)

Hirsch’s presentation and examples provided ample food for thought for creatives and printers alike. While it will be some time before 3D VDP becomes even remotely common, the possibilities are endless—and, for some in the audience, exciting.

Hirsch’s keynote was followed by Steven Schnoll’s “manic street preacher session” in which he evangelized a paradigm shift for the printing industry. Instead of the “price, quality, and service” triumvirate he says is currently in play in the industry, Schnoll instead recommends a paradigm based on branding/marketing, a roster of features and benefits that create customer value, and, of course, quality and service. Ultimately, “if you can create customer value and get results, the price is negotiable.”

Schnoll advocates the “3 Cs”—collaboration (work with client), connectivity (offer guidance and “handholding” to the customer), and convergence (deliver content in the way that the consumer wants it, whether it be print or not). 

One example that Schnoll cited was a printer who lost a large printing job when a cataloger decided to eliminate its printed catalog and put everything online. The printer despaired, but there was an opportunity for the printer: the cataloger will still need some way of driving traffic to that site, be it postcards or some other printed material. “For every negative, there is an opportunity,” says Schnoll.

In the context of personalized communication, success is a function of the “three rights”: ensuring that you present the right message to the right person at the right time.

The printer’s business strategy should focus on “consultative selling” and “customer relationship management” instead of “just printing things, and the printer’s brand, too, should reflect this paradigm switch. What’s in a name? Well, a host of implications and inferences. There is a reason why many successful printers have taken the word “printing” out of their names and replaced it with “integration” or “communications.” As Schnoll says, “Brand yourself so you don’t say that you are ‘just a printer.’”

After all, Schnoll says, “If you call yourself a printer, you will smell like a printer.”

On the Floor

Prowling the show floor, it is perhaps telling that one of the most crowded booths at Graphics of the Americas was that of Printers Parts & Equipment, an Ontario-based supplier of used printing equipment, parts, and supplies. (Actually, the booth with the scantily-clad “booth babes” was more crowded, for fairly obvious reasons. But we shan’t dwell on that ...) One of most striking debuts at the show was Xanté’s Ilumina 502 digital color laser press, designed to easily handle a wide range of substrates and paperweights, from text to ultra thick cover. The Ilumina 502 is targeted toward small and mid-sized print shops in terms of the applications for which it is designed—and with a $8,995 price tag. The variety of substrates the unit supports make it well-suited for specialty applications, as does the new Myriad Magnetic media, a flexible, rubberized, magnetic digital substrates specially designed for the new Ilumina. To these writer’s eyes, the print quality is simply outstanding. On the show floor, Xanté was also demonstrating its FastCards solution for quickly outputting full-color business (or other) cards on stock as thick as 24-pt. 

MGI has availed itself of Graphics of the Americas to provide a sneak preview of its Meteor DP60 Pro four-color digital press. (The press will be officially introduced at Drupa.) The Meteor DP60 Pro is designed for high-volume printing, capable of printing up to 3,900 letter/A4-size color pages per hour. The press can print on paper or plastic substrates.

Ryobi and xpedx were at the show to discuss Ryobi’s first 40-inch offset press, which was not on display at the show, but would be available in the U.S. next year. The 1050 Series, available in four, five, or six colors, boasts initial speeds of up to 16,000 sheets per hour (there will also be an 18,000 sph model). The new press will also be compatible with Ryobi’s LED-UV curing unit, which, instead of a conventional UV lamp, uses a lower power consumption LED light for UV curing, with which, the manufacturer claims, power usage is reduced by 70–80%, cutting electricity costs as well as carbon dioxide emissions,

Ricoh is demonstrating a wide variety of its digital and offset printing solutions, including the Priport DX 4542 color digital duplicator that supports pages up to 11.7 x 17 inches); the Priport DX 3340 color digital duplicator that boasts speeds of up to 130 pages per minute; the Priport DX 4640PD high-volume duplexing duplicator which functions as either a network printer or a digital; copier; the Priport HQ9000 high-speed duplicator that is designed to handle a wide range of substrates sizes and weights, such as envelopes, vellum, and NCR; the Aficio C7500 high-speed multifunction device; and the @Remote remote management system.

Wide-format output was also well-represented on the show floor, with manufacturers, dealers, suppliers, and finishers showcasing their wares.

Although the InDesign, Acrobat, Pixel, and Vector Conferences were highly software intensive, software—or at least graphics software—was sparsely represented on the show floor. Quark had a fairly dominant presence, showcasing its new QuarkXPress 7. Quite Software was showing its Quite Imposing family of prepress products—Quite Imposing, Quite Imposing Plus, and Quite Hot Imposing—for imposition of PDF files.

And now, it is almost time for the South Beach Party featuring hot local DJ Marvellous Mark.



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