By Mike Wesner April 19, 2004 -- Since the onslaught of variable data printing publicity of the mid to late 1990s, I've been chasing the one-to-one dream. My first experience with variable imaging was overseeing a project where human resource information for a large financial company was merged on a single statement sheet. It was painful, not very sexy and we stayed up all night trying to get it programmed to print. But I had no idea the pain that was ahead of me over the next six years as I chased the ideal state of one-to-one--the moment when everyone is calling me; asking me and pleading with me to help increase revenues in their company with my one-to-one expertise. Before I share with you where all the variable data printing is, let me help you by addressing seven traits that you'll find in most every successful one-to-one direct response marketing campaign. These lessons are all based on lessons learned over several years. 1. It all starts with the data, baby! This area is probably the biggest challenge for most customers. Market sectors that are data rich have an advantage here. The automobile industry is data rich. In many cases they know some interesting things about you: when your lease ends, your financing information, your car mileage, etc. But more often, customers don't have good data. They will struggle with deciding whether they should purchase data or capture and mine their own data with an operational CRM system. Or, their data is held in many disconnected areas within the enterprise. One of the reasons the one-to-one marketing sales cycle can be long for some companies is that the data is not readily available. Bottom line, you have to have the data before you can do the exciting things that variable imaging will let you do. Before you can analyze data and make strategic decisions with the data on how you want to use it to generate “lift” in your direct response program, you have to develop systems and methods for capturing, mining, and analyzing. 2. The data has to have the right analysis applied. Without getting too technical here, there are many statistical tools for understanding interesting things with our data. If you're working with a company that has a CRM system in place, know the difference between operational and analytical CRM software. The tools of multiple regression modeling allow you to look at past data and figure out where future correlations can be. If you're not a statistics whiz, don't fret. Many of us have intuition that allows us to be almost as accurate as statistical modeling. If a woman pre-registers to deliver her baby in a hospital in the next six weeks, it means many life events are going to happen over the next years. Without violating HIPPA regulations, there are many things that health care providers will know that this new mom is going to soon need. 3. There has to be a call to action and it has to be relevant. It has been my experience that many people fall into the trap of using variable imaging to be cute but not effective. At the GATF's “Anatomy of a Direct Mail Campaign” three day conference in November, one of the event's keynote speakers, the leader of a national design agency was asked what he liked about variable imaging. He said that he liked to do cute and creative things with the letters of the alphabet based on the recipients initials. In my experience with one-to-one strategies, being cute is not as important as being effective. Our message and offer has to be relevant and the customer has to know what's in it for him. Your design is more effective if there is a call to action and you are asking for something that is relevant to the recipient. Examples include being offered a discount on the fifth and sixth piece of furniture in a bedroom suite where you have already purchased the basic four pieces. An offer for a discount on a gas grille following the purchase outdoor furniture is a relevant offer. And give it a call to action by having the offer good for a limited time. You may have to apply some analysis to your data to find relevance. Not every company has access to SAS or SPSS software (two popular statistical analysis software tools) to calculate relevance. But again, don't discount what you can do with mere intuition to pinpoint relevance. Recently I had the good fortune of hearing Seth Godin, author of Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, share with the audience that as marketers we must always be aware of the fact that our customers are always asking the question “who cares” when we market to them. Our message and offer has to be relevant and the customer has to know what's in it for him. 4. Big ticket items and repeatable sales work best. I've seen that one-to-one messages clearly work better in some industries than others. We've all seen the success of the automobile industry. The larger initial buy-in costs make it easier to show a more positive ROI analysis if large ticket items are used. I think that more than a particular industry, you must find situations where the item or service is either repeatable or a big ticket item. If you travel several times a month, every month you are a great catch for the airline and hotel industry if a loyalty relationship can be established. If you play golf often and live within a golf community then you would be an excellent candidate to have your own golf cart in your garage. 5. Timing is everything. Many life events can be used to predict other events that can be marketed to and harvested I've seen this messed up frequently. The project team fails to plan for the inconsistent delivery dates associated with standard rate mailing or the message arrives when there is too little time to respond or the decision window has passed. I'm sure you have your example of this if you've been experimenting with one-to-one strategies. Still, some marketers really know how to use timing. These savvy groups use the fact that certain events lead to other events to their advantage. Consider what a mortgage closing can signal, and the first home improvement retailer to your mailbox has the opportunity to capitalize on the moment. Many life events can be used to predict other events that can be marketed to and harvested by the savvy marketing team. A purchase of a big ticket item may indicate that cross sell, plus sell, and up sell opportunities exist. 6. Experience is exponentially linked to success. I recently attended a forum with a group of direct marketers where I saw the importance of doing the mailings more than once. Research shows that on your second, and even more on your third mailing, you will see increased activity with direct mail campaigns. This is also linked to experience. Marketing teams get better with one-to-one techniques the more they do them. My research has shown a tremendous learning curve in variable image success. Those who are good at it are distancing themselves rapidly from their competition. You are going to be more successful if the team that you are working with understands many of the traits in this list. In one-to-one marketing, experience matters. If you are selling to an organization of novice one-to-one thinkers, it would be a good idea to sell the second and third project as well and discuss the exponential improvements that will be realized once a one-to-one marketing strategy is initiated. 7. Beauty is still the first attraction. I've got to be honest. My wife's looks were the first thing that caught my attention when I met her in college. Don't worry about it if you're ugly: I'm living proof that it will not affect the level that you mate at. Only about six percent of the people in the world are considered truly good-looking. Some of us can't do anything about it. But we can keep our mail from being U-G-L-Y. And people don't respond well to ugly mail. Fortunately for those in the business of selling one-to-one solutions, every American household has a daily experience that the USPS refers to as the “mail moment.” It is one of the few things that we still allow to interrupt our lives--that moment of time between our mailbox and the kitchen trash can where we are looking at our mail and deciding what we keep and what we toss. On average the designer of the piece has 1.5 seconds to get the recipient's attention and keep the piece from being tossed. Designers must understand their role in getting mail opened and, once opened, to use one to one design to be more than aesthetically pleasing but also be effective. In summary, it has been my experience that if you can find customers who can put a check in these seven blocks, you can almost assure an increased response rate from the way they are doing things now. You might even want to try this as a good marketing tool to increase your business.