Special Report by Barb Pellow October 11, 2006 -- Although true variable-data color imaging technology debuted in 1993, full acceptance lagged…that is, until today. As I looked back at the statistical archives, it was interesting to see how much perceptions about the variable data market have changed in a short period of time. In its May 2002 report--"Variable Data Printing: Where Are We in 2002?"--TrendWatch Graphic Arts researchers estimated that at least 98% of digital printing companies worldwide were not prepared to deliver complex variable-data applications. At the time, Vince Naselli commented, "While the appeal of variable data is apparent, TrendWatch’s most recent research indicates that only 11% of commercial printers view this capability as a sales opportunity. The good news: this is up from 4% in 2000." As you walk through the Graph Expo halls, the change in the market view is widely apparent. Graphic communications service providers see variable data printing (VDP) as a viable solution for anyone with a marketing message and a database. They realize the opportunity that lies in addressing the needs of marketers wanting to deliver a more relevant targeted message that yields a return on marketing investment. Innovation and advances in digital print systems make color quality levels more than acceptable for the majority of marketing applications. But most importantly, advances in the software driving VDP are delivering solutions that are more versatile, affordable, and user-friendly than those available just a few years ago. The issue this year at Graph Expo is not “IF” there is a variable data market opportunity, but “HOW” to get in the game. As emphasized at Graph Expo, there are plenty of options and alternatives that can be customized to meet the needs of your customer base, whether your need is large or small. Three Distinct Categories There are three distinct pathways to variable data profitability that are being demonstrated at Graph Expo. Software suppliers are expanding and enhancing offerings for “Web to Print”, 1:1 Variable Data Printing combined with integrated marketing campaign management application software and solutions to extend the transpromotional opportunity. Web to Print Major e-commerce web-to-print applications target both businesses and consumers. The business-to-business space was the first area addressed by print firms who set up Intranets for client orders. The consumer market is also taking hold as firms like VistaPrint reach out to capture volume. Web-to-print applications target users with template driven solutions for the design and purchase of their print jobs from their own computers. The primary focus has been on large corporations with distributed sales forces, agents and franchisees. The remote user has the ability to incorporate variable information with a standard template to make the piece more relevant for a local targeted audience. Individual software solutions providers as well as equipment manufacturers are demonstrating web-to-print applications designed to drive print volume to digital presses. Attendees are also seeing increased integration between Web-to-Print, Variable Data Tools and Mail Solutions. Examples of the offerings you’ll see in the floor include: Objectif Lune/Atlas announced its PrintShop Web. PrintShop Web is a Web-to-Print Solution that offers customer interaction with document service providers via a web interface. It also brings the capabilities of PrintShopMail to multi-channel communications by supporting development of variable data web sites. The solution has appeal for the print service provider that wants to offer variable data services to customers with an eye toward leveraging the increasing importance of multi-channel communications. EFI is demonstrating Digital StoreFront as a customer onramp into the printer's digital production workflow (EFI Balance and MicroPress, and Fiery controllers) and the printer's business management tools. In addition to streamlining workflows, Digital StoreFront enables printers to add value to their products and services via online cataloging, VDP, and full e-commerce shopping tools. Xerox is showing its Freeflow Web Service 5.0 powered by PressSense. The web-based templates are directed into the Freeflow Process Manager that then drives the output directly to the press. Xerox is linking its work flow with the Avanti systems architecture for accounting and billing. Saepio is simplifying use of templates on a global basis to ensure brand protection for multi-national firms. Saepio’s print composition engine/technology now provides full and complete UNICODE character support so that production-ready print files can be dynamically composed in literally any language in the world, instantly, and made deliverable for production in any of approximately 90 different file formats (e.g., PDF, .eps, TIFF, GIF, JPG, etc.). Users access Saepio’s Agilis Print Templates via a web browser, either from Saepio’s Agilis Print Store or Agilis Marketing Suite or from a specially-formatted Agilis Print link embedded on any web page or within any email anywhere in the world. This dynamic browser interface, called the Agilis Compiler, enables the User to very quickly and easily make image selections and/or text choices/edits and then instantly see a proof of the document as it is being customized. 1:1 Variable Data Meets Integrated Campaign Management VDP solutions abound on the Graph Expo show floor. A key trend that we are seeing from the solutions providers is the extension of VDP solutions into the multi-channel world. A full range of software tools is emerging that are starting to deliver on the promise of integrated campaign management. XMPie, Responsive Solutions, Pageflex, and MindFireInc have tool sets that can help the graphic communications service provider develop integrated marketing campaigns. They link the power of direct mail with the interactive capabilities of the Internet. The objective is to convert more direct mail recipients into qualified prospects and valued customers by sustaining an integrated and evolving dialogue with those customers and prospects. These application solutions automate the creation, management and tracking of Personalized URLs and VIP Landing Pages. Responsive Solutions Inc. is demonstrating Variable Data +, part of its Customer + application suite. The solution is an entirely web-based application that you and your customers can access from any location. It is entirely self-sustaining, meaning users are no longer dependent upon other desktop publishing applications. Variable Data+ is designed to help graphic communications service providers with cutting edge technology, that will strengthen their business relationships. Pageflex is demonstrating Pageflex 5.0. Pageflex 5.0 includes a cross media module. Customers who license this module can produce customized and personalized cross media campaigns using a database or Web form to produce print, HTML email, personalized URLs, landing pages, and Web microsites. Pageflex 5.0 dynamically generates everything necessary to deliver these digital messages. It handles the sending of the HTML emails and the dynamic generation and posting of Web microsite pages. MindFireInc announced the release of its Web Services API (Application Program Interface). The overall API development plan calls for a myriad of functions allowing for the automated flow of data into and out of LookWho’sClicking in connection with CRM and sales force automation systems, web-to-print tools, and job ticketing systems. MindFireInc. also announced its new LookWho’sClicking “Private Label” option. This option will allow licensed LWC Solution Partners to customize the “Powered by” link displayed at the bottom of all their Landing Pages. .At Graph Expo, XMPie is emphasizing its recently launched next generation technology in cross media marketing, Interactive Content Ports. With Interactive Content Ports, the data and rules that drive the personalization of print campaigns are shared with any interactive web design software via a standard database connection or web services. Interactive Content Ports make it easy and natural for any web developer to incorporate dynamic, data-driven web sites into any XMPie variable data campaign. Transpromotional…From Transaction Statements to Marketing Communications Transpromo solutions also offer a unique path to profitability for the graphic communications service provider. Transpromo is the inevitable combination of transactional printing and proactive marketing. Transpromo documents are based on knowledge of client demographics and consumer markets. It is a well known fact that statements and invoices are still the most frequently used communication between businesses and clients/consumers. Since consumers expect the documents and know they contain relevant information, they open and read them. The combination of statement information with relevant, personalized and proactive marketing ads can grab the client's attention, enhance perception of the corporate brand and potentially increase spending. Vendors including Document Sciences, IBM, GMC and PrintSoft are showing service providers new options and alternatives. PrintSoft is showcasing innovative new solutions that enable print service providers and service bureaus to extend web-based offerings to their clients for both transpromotional and ad-hoc personalized corporate communications. Its DeskDirect solution opens a huge opportunity for service providers to capture new businessin corporate ‘white mail’ business process automation. Documents are created on the desktop with DeskDirect, but they are not printed and mailed locally. Instead, they are electronically sent to a print provider or centralized production facility where they are aggregated and sorted for production and mailing. With the addition of WebDirect, service providers can offer state-of-the-art capabilities in both desktop mail management and web-based transpromotional document management in a single platform. The Document Sciences booth is designed to let visitors experience state-of-the-art solutions for personalizing customer communications. Its xPression product suite is designed to help users retain customers and improve their experience through the delivery of consistent, relevant and cost-effective customer communications. The xPresso for Adobe InDesign tool focuses on the creation of transpromotional statements that integrate customer transactional data with integrated marketing messaging. Its easy-to-use interface simplifies the creation of template-driven variable marketing applications for personalized, full-color direct marketing offers, collateral and catalogs. The xPRS server can produce millions of personalized customer communications based on these templates through batch requests or from web portals, enabling Web-to-Print functionality. GMC’s PrintNet is a completely integrated, end-to-end software solution for the design, production and delivery of multi-channel personalized communications. PrintNet provides a single platform for producing all types of personalized documents — statements, invoices, bills, direct mail, marketing documents, catalogs, campaign kits — for print and electronic delivery. PrintNet provides full data integration and processing, document composition, on-line collaboration and approval, distributed output management and process automation for the production of interactive and campaign-focused personalized communications. IBM announced that the AFP Color Consortium has begun working on an expanded mission to collaboratively develop all extensions to the Advanced Function Presentation ™ (AFP™) architecture. The AFP architecture is used by clients worldwide for the high speed printing of bills, statements and other customer communications. In September, the consortium unanimously accepted IBM’s proposal to include all new AFP extensions, including those for high speed black and white printing, in the open standards initiative. Open AFP standards will facilitate the expansion of the transpromo market opportunity. Not “IF”, but “HOW” Today, variable print technology is empowering more effective communications, published both on and offline, in all types of publishing. Print technology has matured and marketing executives understand the value. Whether your customers need web to print to support franchise operations, multi-channel integrated marketing campaigns, or want to turn statements into marketing documents, the tools are ready for graphic arts communications providers to “get in the game.” The question is not “IF” the market exists, but rather “HOW” to participate effectively.