By Steven Schnoll, Schnoll Media Consultingy [This article first appeared in GATF World, a publication of the Graphic Arts Technical Association] November 3, 2003 -- With its ominous monolithic profile, the sleek humming printing press is an awesome sight. This invention, more than any other in the last millennium, has changed the landscape of communications. The invention of moveable type in 1444, by Johann Gutenberg, made reading no longer the domain of the church or royalty. This outstanding industrial invention coupled with the Chinese invention of paper launched the dawning of the information age and created a prosperous landscape called the printing industry. There have been many well-documented challenges and advances in this almost 600-year-old industry. Now the industry is poised to take on another challenge never seen before in the age of the printed word, variable information printing. The digital age has been relentless in its onslaught of new technology for the humble printer attempting to earn a living. The pundits all predict a reduction in the printer ranks and a slow to no growth prediction in the volume of print. I suggest these sagacious industry leaders are basing their information on old traditional statistics. The number of printed pieces may be growing by mid-single digit numbers but that is more than the 1-3% presented in our oft cited trade publications. This growth, however, is not coming from any of the core organizations from which we collect our data. This growth, I suggest, is coming from mailers, fulfillment organizations, in-house enterprise operations and marketing service providers who are offering print as a value-added service. They are installing digital printing devices and offering print services-- at the expense of traditional printers-- to customers that in the past purchased lists or other database services. These service providers don't fall in any of the commonly tracked SIC codes or trade organization profiles. These companies simply see an opportunity to expand current services into print by asking basic questions of their customers and then providing services to meet those identified needs. By doing so they add value to their current services and take away print from traditional printers. What a novel thought! Every trade publication and association has been preaching this value-added model for years. The problem is too few printers are listening to the message, willing to invest in the call to change or are simply too stubborn to make change part of their future. Many printers perceive this market as too difficult and complex to enter and take to complaining about the economy and pursuing a path of inertia. Because printers have substantial investments in the big, durable machines we call offset presses, offset printing is not going to disappear tomorrow. It will simply be one of the tools in the arsenal of a well-positioned communications company. Successful companies going forward will be delivering content management services via print, web and wireless devices. Many of these deliveries will be personalized based on buying/service/information patterns. Printers can no longer be one-dimensional just looking to deliver ink on paper messages. They must learn what it takes to provide the services their customers will need to thrive in this competitive business climate. After all, printing has always been a service business, so why not learn the new methodology and services required to continue to service the customer's requirements. Personalized Communications Today the business world is filled with critical thinking about CRM, Customer Relationship Management. While there are many theories discussed about the best CRM value proposition it is clear that one of the many customer touchpoints is personalized communications. Direct marketing via VDP, web emails and often telemarketing breed success. It behooves printers to understand the new strategies that their customers are employing and be proactive in helping to manage these programs. If printers can master the fundamental new tools of database management just like they learned desktop publishing, they can again optimize a place in the new marketing and advertising programs. A major challenge is comprehending all the nuances of implementing such a call to action. The Road to Variable The recent road shows of Heidelberg, HP/Indigo and Xerox have done a great job of preaching the gospel, but too often printers have taken their message as simply a method to sell product. So take away the product pitch. The Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF) in conjunction with the Digital Print Council of Printing Industries of America is offering a comprehensive program called "The Anatomy of the Personalization Process". This event in Phoenix, Arizona November 3 to 5 should prove to be an instrument of unbiased learning for all paralyzed printers and companies looking to advance their knowledge in personalization projects. This program will not be your ordinary preaching sessions. It will have two extraordinary keynote speakers, Charles Anderson from Anderson Design, who will discuss how agencies are leading their customers to understanding why well designed and executed personalized marketing has been bringing incredible results to clients. The second, from a marketing executive from Ford Motor Company, will share why Ford has adopted integrated personalization programs to create relevant marketing programs for their products and services. Each day of the conference an in-depth case study will be presented. The first day will kick off with a simple case study of how variable data was successfully utilized in a personalization program. This will be followed by an intermediate project on day two and then culminate in a highly sophisticated project involving web and print on day three. These case studies will be multi-part: 1) the customers will explain why they chose personalization to optimize relevancy of the content message, 2) what creative planning goes into the execution of the project and 3) review all the production workflow details. Breakout sessions will then drill into the specifics of topics like getting the data right, designing for variable data printing, measuring campaign success, web enabling the VI process, software tools, finishing, mailing and distribution, and measuring project success. Roundtables will discuss personnel issues, selling VDP, repositioning the commercial printer, file format standards, and partnering with creatives and database companies. One of the highlights of the program will be a roundup of software and hardware currently in the marketplace. GATF has created a test file that will be used to assess the proficiency/quality of variable data enabled technologies. It will help attendees better understand the complexities of variable printing without being judgmental. This concluding session will detail what exists in the marketplace and how to compare them to make the best decision for your company. This program is not for printers waiting for the economy to turn. If you and your company are ambitious your ultimate goal is to not only survive, but thrive. This hard-hitting program designed to educate and revitalize companies is for you. Leaving aside all the hype around variable being the salvation of the industry, the printer who understands that electronic communications in both print and web is altering the way information is disseminated will also understand the new age business model. Build the business model foundation today for the future. There is no reason for other types of businesses to steal customers away. By building a new business paradigm around the dynamics of digital communications, one can regenerate the successes of the past. Printers need to become modern day children of Gutenberg. Bring printing back into fashion by rejuvenating its influence in the new digital information age. Learning the anatomical parts of personalization will go a long way to heralding this new age of the communicated word.