by Heidi Tolliver-Nigro That more VDP-capable printers are not going after the creative community, however, reflects one of the least-talked-about trends in the VDP marketplace July 27, 2005 -- I was leafing through a recent issue of Graphic Design USA when an advertisement caught my eye. It was bright orange, so that helped, but it was the phrase "variable data" that made me look twice. It wasn't just the words, but the fact that the advertisement had been placed by a printer -- yes, a printer. It's a smart advertisement. It not only did it prominently utilize the oft-cited CAPV data point that VDP has the potential to lift response rates by an average of 34 percent (more on this and similar data points in a future column), but it directly addressed the remaining concerns of designers, namely quality. "Using ink instead of toner, our HP Indigo presses offer superior high-resolution image quality and color matching. Rich, vibrant one-color to six-color printing at 800x800x16 and 180 lpi means that you're not sacrificing quality for speed." Nice job. It's one of the most effective tools in sales. Understand your prospect's concerns and counter them before they even have a chance to raise them. Practicing Inclusion It's nice to see the print community finally starting to solicit the creative community for variable data. According to TrendWatch Graphic Arts, only 12 percent of graphic arts firms, both printers and trade shops, see "selling to designers and ad agencies" as a top sales opportunity for their business. Even among digital printers, who have the capabilities to produce variable data, this rises to only 18 percent. What a missed opportunity! VDP requires design skills unique to these applications, skills that VDP printers are in a unique position to have. The fact that more VDP-capable printers are not going after the creative community, however, reflects one of the least-talked-about trends in the VDP marketplace, and that is that most of the successful applications are being developed between the printers and the marketers directly. Rarely do we hear about middle-men in the form of creative agencies being involved. In part, this is due to the fact that the creative community has yet to fully embrace variable data print (for a variety of reasons). But in part, it is also due to the fact that VDP requires design skills unique to these applications, skills that VDP printers are in a unique position to have. How do you design a piece so that it will look terrific, regardless of the length of name in the field? Or so that any combination of text and image boxes will still fit within the parameters of the layout? Most -- if not all -- experienced VDP printers offer their own in-house design teams. These teams have lots of experience designing VDP jobs and anticipating and neutralizing the potential issues that can arise. Thus, it makes sense to do their own design rather than bringing in a third party with, most likely, less experience than they do. Why Bother? While the creative community still has yet to fully understand or embrace variable data, these guys still buy a lot of print. So why market to the creative community at all? We have to remember that, while the creative community still has yet to fully understand or embrace variable data, these guys still buy a lot of print. They are responsible for recommending printers and directly and indirectly influencing the print buy, especially as it relates to the client's larger marketing strategy or campaign. As key players in developing marketing and branding strategy, they are also in a position to influence how the marketing program will roll out. If you can get creative agencies excited about variable data, and if an opportunity arises to migrate a client's program from static to variable print, they are an important ally to have. This is why it's so encouraging to see printers starting to advertise directly to the creative community. There is starting to be a recognition of the broader and longer-term market education opportunities. To me, this is a sign of the increasing maturity of these applications. We've moving beyond the low-hanging fruit to a more strategic and long-term perspective on the marketplace. Speaking of maturity, I'm still compiling responses to my column, "The Great Maturity Debate", which looks at whether or not we can say that variable data printing is mature. If you have an opinion on the subject, please weigh in. Send me your responses by August 1 so I can include them in next month's column.