By Tom Wetjen October 23, 2006 -- Name-only personalization seems inextricably and rather negatively tied to direct-mail campaigns that promise vast riches. We're all familiar with "Dear Tom, You May Already be a winner." Despite its regrettable reputation, name-only personalized printing can be an excellent entry point to introducing customers to variable-information campaigns. When used well, it can be an extremely effective marketing tool. In an often-quoted study by Romano and Broudy, name-only personalization with the name printed in color has been shown to boost response rates by 135 percent over a comparable static, black-and-white piece. When the name was added in black-only, it delivered a 44 percent improvement. While greater personalization increases relevance and response rates, less personalized pieces targeted more tightly toward highly qualified recipients can have the same positive effect. Name-only personalization is gravitating to niches as the starter application, the meat-and-potatoes option and MeMarketing initiatives. Progressive print providers are taking name-only personalization to a new level by producing personalized mementos that, for example, incorporate names into the text of books and the art in calendars and annual reports. For Daytona Beach, Florida-based DME, the applications are the foundation of what they call, "MeMarketing -- perpetual branding through ego response." Many successful and complex variable-information printing programs begin with name-only personalization. Success in Name-Only Once upon a time, automated personalization was limited to names and addresses. The capability first surfaced in the 1940s, with typewriters that used "piano-roll" technology to automatically type a letter's content after a typist keyed in a personalized salutation. Mass personalization began in the 1960s with the introduction of inkjet printing technologies, and the capability to place a name anywhere on the page emerged with the first laser printers of the late 1970s. Today's digital color presses have upped the ante yet again, with excellent image quality and processing power to support full-page, variable-color applications. Name-only personalization isn't going away. It's instead gravitating to niches as the starter application, the meat-and-potatoes option and "MeMarketing" initiatives, where anyone's name can be in lights. It's All About Me At DME, name-only personalization is the foundation of its MeMarketing initiative. The first offering is a calendar, which incorporates the recipient's name into the art displayed on each month's spread. The sender's logo and contact information are also incorporated on the spread's date page. "We're hitting the target where it counts the most, the center of the psyche, the ego," said Alin Jacobs, vice president, creative strategies, DME. He believes people who receive multiple calendars from businesses and fund-raising organizations will tend to use the one that is personalized. DME's MeMarketing calendar offers a choice among a few dozen photos, which are personalized to include the recipient's name on car dashboard logos, on a handful of heart candies and in other artful settings. Jacobs hopes to have more than 100 photos available by 2007, and, possibly, to arrange for custom photography. The calendar's personalization process uses fonts prepared in Adobe Photoshop that blend seamlessly into the environment. "When you do a mailing, you've got three seconds to get the recipient's attention," said Jacobs. "If we can do that by making direct marketing into a piece of art and causing the recipient to stop to ask, 'How did they do that?' then we are bringing value to our customers." A Specialist Approach Specialist Printing & Direct Mail, San Diego, California is among the firms that have achieved double-digit revenue growth by employing full-page, full-color personalized printing in direct mail. Name-and-address personalization accounts for about three-quarters of the volume on its iGen3, including one highly targeted, ongoing offering of free meals and other high-value enticements to attend real estate seminars. "With a strong offer and a targeted list, name-only personalization can work very well," says Jay Pardo, vice president, Specialist Printing & Direct Mail. The real estate application is also interesting to note because it was originally produced by overprinting on offset shells. However, the client now prefers digital printing, because it enables a print-on-demand approach with more design flexibility and eliminates warehouse inventories and associated waste. "If we make direct marketing into a piece of art that causes recipients to ask, 'How'd they do that?' then we are bringing value to our customers." "Many of our clients move to digital printing because they need only 500 pieces for a short run or a test, and a digital press is the most cost-effective way to do that," Pardo says. "When they see the finished piece's quality, they realize that a lot more can be personalized, and they start thinking creatively about using variable information. It's part of the learning curve that leads to more complex applications." Personal(ized) Fulfillment At Rapid Solutions Group (RSG), name-and-address-only personalization is largely for "lead-kit" applications, such as fulfillment pieces, enrollment kits and reminders. Names are interspersed throughout the piece, providing extra conveniences and "ensuring the recipient that our client really knows and understands them," said Julia Lombardo, vice president, RSG. For example, names and addresses are already filled in on savings account contribution forms. Most prospecting efforts use more complex personalization, which tends to generate significantly better results, Lombardo notes. Among RSG's more innovative applications was its 2005 holiday card, designed to showcase the firm's variable-information printing and creative design capabilities. The piece depicted the recipient's name etched into pond ice by a figure skater. Names were created as images and incorporated into each card on the fly during digital printing. One measure of the piece's success: while holiday cards rarely generate new business, RSG's did just that; from new contacts as well as existing clients, Lombardo said. DME, Rapid Solutions Group, Specialist Printing & Direct Mail, and many other print providers are generating exceptional results by pioneering the frontiers of full-page, full-color personalization. But they also recognize that they "may have already won" with the most fundamental form of personalization -- name only.