The Tipping Point: Is the Do Not Call List the catalyst for variable data & personalization applications? by Chuck Gehman July 28, 2003 -- Just about everyone--with the obvious exception of telemarketers--is ecstatic about the new National Do Not Call List. Estimates are that more than 60 million people will sign up. Within those numbers are the most sought-after demographics targeted by marketing professionals today. Graphic Communications World (www.quoinpublishing.com), in its July 7th, 2003 issue, declared the list a "boon" for print. According to GCW, telemarketers made 104 million calls daily, capturing $80.3 Billion in revenue from their customers by hawking products in this way. That money has to go somewhere--certainly, printing industry trade associations and analysts (not to mention printing company owners, as well as publishers) are among those that are extremely happy about this development, and almost universally assume that it will benefit print. This is most likely very true, but it is important to consider just how these benefits can be achieved. The fact is, print advertising and direct mail already targets those same families and individuals who have now added their phone numbers to the Do Not Call List. It's hard to imagine that increasing the volume of advertising in the same channels will compensate for the loss of telemarketing. And that money probably won't go to TV or other media, either, for the same reason. The Do Not Call List eliminates an important weapon in the direct marketer's arsenal: direct, personalized communication. Telemarketing has been an effective tool because, armed with specific information about you, marketers have been able to directly target you with offers that are more likely to be attractive to you. Author Paul McFedries, on his "The Word Spy" web site (www.wordspy.com) defines a "tipping point" in epidemiology as "the concept that small changes will have little or no effect on a system until a critical mass is reached. Then a further small change tips the system and a large effect is observed." The Do Not Call List could well be the catalyst that brings variable and personalized print applications into the mainstream to reach critical mass. These applications have been growing over the last couple of years, but still have not reached their "promise" as projected by industry pundits and digital color press manufacturers for the last ten years, Except for some notable successes by forward-looking marketers, variable data applications and database-driven print campaigns have been a solution looking for a problem. This isn't to say that "statement stuffers" from companies like American Express haven't been highly successful-they have. The difference is that we're likely to see a whole new range of application of these technologies being applied to business communications efforts as companies look to replace the campaigns they formerly waged over the phone. Are printers going to be the ones to bring about this revolution? Quite frankly, probably not. Not because printers who have purchased variable printing technologies don't have "a vision," but because the need is driven from outside the normal domain of the printing professional. The national Do Not Call List is an opportunity for creative marketers in corporations and ad agencies to apply personalization in ways that haven't yet been conceived. It's up to printers and technology vendors to educate these players on what is technically possible, and to help them implement their ideas. Do printers have a great opportunity to capitalize on this situation? Absolutely! Because printers are ideally positioned to provide solutions to the technical problems that marketers now have, as created by the Do Not Call List. This is truly something new and unique that printers can bring to the table for their corporate and ad agency clients. It's the kind of application that will differentiate printers from their competition, and that can be highly profitable. And diverting that $80.3 billion formerly spent on telemarketing to print would mean more than a 20% jump in overall industry revenues in the U.S. To me, that sounds like just what the industry needs.