by Heidi Tolliver-Nigro May 23, 2006 -- Last month, ODJ held its first Webinar, not surprisingly on the topic of variable data printing. Throughout their presentations, both speakers passed along wisdom about lessons learned. I have gathered similar lessons from interviews recently, so I thought I’d combine them into a list for anyone involved in -- or thinking of getting involved in --variable data print. After all, it’s better to learn from someone else’s mistakes than your own. 1. You don’t need to have lots of variable fields in order to have a successful VDP piece. Just use the data you have wisely. I think of VDP campaigns that create maps or give distances and directions to stores based on recipient address, for example; or that use personalized URLs to drive home the message. In the right situations, this can be very effective. 2. When possible, use multiple media to amplify the effect. In ODJ’s VDP Webinar, Pantone gave the example of its own highly successful VDP campaign, which drove respondents to a personalized URL, then followed up with a personalized email to nudge nonresponders. Using this approach, Pantone saw an 81 percent increase in sales over the previous quarter and results than ran 13 percent ahead of plan. The easier you make it for people to respond, the more likely they are to do it 3. If you are asking people to fill out forms or sign up for something, pre-fill as much of the information as you can. Pre-filling, in itself, can dramatically boost response rates, even without a personalized message. The easier you make it for people to respond, the more likely they are to do it. 4. Make data gathering a lifestyle. You can’t do VDP without data, so make data-gathering on your customers part of your everyday business activities. In order to develop its campaign, Pantone used an in-house database it had collected from company newsletters, sign-ups for a, names gathered at trade shows and seminars, and so on. Also consider establishing a loyalty program. These programs are invaluable data-gathering tools for VDP (see “Inside the Mind of the Ideal VDP Client"). 6. Work with experts. Work with a creative that has done VDP jobs before. There are subtleties VDP print design and campaign development that are different from static ads. If you are new to VDP, don’t be afraid to work with a project management company. 7. Set realistic color expectations. Check to see if your digital press manufacturer has a digital chip book for its output devices. Pantone offers chip books for the Xerox 6060, 8000 and iGen3, for example. 8. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you are new to VDP, don’t overly complicate your first campaign. Keep it simple. Focus on the concept and the message and make the first execution as straightforward as possible. Keep it simple: Don't overly complicate your campaign 9. Databases can bring you to your knees. Before the campaign, get your databases into the hands of a project manager or data handler and make sure the data is clean and de-duped and that all of the data is in the proper fields. Mike Kazakevitch, owner of Kelley Graphics, notes that, if you are not diligent with your mailing list, it’s not unusual for 50 percent of your list to miss the target. 10. The devil in the details. “Keeping it simple” doesn’t mean missing the details. If you are using email, make sure you are using an opt-in email list. If you are running a sweepstakes, make sure the rules are clearly stated. Double-check copyright and royalty issues. Pre-fill order entry forms, whether print or online. Don’t ask 20 questions in online surveys or your bail-out rate will skyrocket. These are the kinds of details that, while seemingly innocuous, can make a major difference in the success (and legality) of your campaign. 11. If you are starting with a very generic list, you might want to use email to qualify your respondent base before sending a targeted VDP campaign. If you are doing a VDP job for a pet food company, for example, and all they have is names and addresses, try sending a prospecting email first. Find out if recipients have a dog or cat, the breed, the pet’s name, and the age of the pet. Then you don’t end up sending a promotion for cat food to thousands of people who own dogs. You can also personalize the promotion by age-appropriate foods and cross-sells. 12. Don’t commoditize the job by quoting clicks. When estimating VDP jobs, price the project as a package. VDP experts say you should never specify the price of printing. You may want to break out creative fees and postage, but beyond that, the job should be billed at a flat package price. Price the project as a package; never specify the price of printing 13. When someone calls to ask about VDP, don’t just quote the job.Get to know the potential client. More than being about print jobs, VDP is about developing relationships. According to Brian Weiner, president of 1:1 Gulf Coast, most printers see print as being 80-85 percent of their revenue. In VDP, it should never be more than 20 percent. The rest should be creative, database handling, campaign development, and so on. 14. Don’t be afraid of challenges — embrace them. Notes Brian Weiner: “Test the waters. Try something new. Be willing to take risks and scuff your knees once in awhile. You might learn that your IT infrastructure bites. You might learn that your database needs to be updated. You might learn that you need a new ad agency, but those are good pains.” 15. Don’t judge results solely by the short-term. I hear regularly from VDP marketers that they are still getting fulfillment requests from programs they did six months, nine months, even a year ago. 16.When you are prospecting, remember that you are in the repeat business. If you set up a job and never see the client again, you will more than likely be working at a loss. Spend your most time and energy on clients who are likely to be loyal customers and who are most likely to be producing long-term, repeatable campaigns. This may mean that you leave some jobs on the table, but in the big picture, this will be a more profitable strategy. 17. Data is great, but you still need a great offer. Mike Kazakevitch of Kelly Graphics tells the story of doing a VDP piece for a local mortgage broker that featured a slice of pizza on the front of the card with the headline. “It’s not delivery. It’s [client’s name].” On the back of the card, there was an elaborate description of the client’s mortgage services, current mortgage rates, and so on, but in order to see it, recipients had to turn the card over. The front of the card said nothing about mortgages. After a dismal response rate, Kazakevitch suggested re-running the piece with marketing copy that said, “We deliver the best mortgage in town.” The response rate jumped. “You have to abandon the advertising agency culture,” Kazakevitch says. “It has nothing to do with branding. You have three seconds for the customer to decide to keep or dump the postcard. So you have to be straightforward and talk only about customer needs --not how great you are.” 18. Track your results, both for VDP and traditional marketing, so you can compare the two. Even if the person you are dealing with at the agency or corporation is sold on VDP, they still have to be able to justify it to their bean counters. VDP may cost the client $20 per lead, but say you spend $50,000 on a radio campaign and it nets you 500 customers, that’s $100 per lead --five times more expensive on a per-lead basis. The challenge is that most clients are used to using mass media, where it’s very difficult to track results, but you can send customers to call centers, use promotion codes, or other techniques to get a sense of what your leads are costing them. Figuring out how to help your customers cost-justify these programs is as much a part of VDP as production of the job itself, and the more quickly printers can figure out how to work with their customers to get that done, the more quickly their own VDP businesses will grow. Thanks to Doris Brown, Vice President of Marketing, Pantone; Brian Weiner, President of 1:1 Gulf coast; Mike Kazakevitch, owner of Kelley Graphics; and Kim Gianakos, Image Director at Super Stop!, for their contributions to this article.