It’s been three years since I wrote about AT&T’s launch of personalized video bills in partnership with SundaySky, a breakthrough solution at the time, and even until today. There has been some movement in the direction of making personalized video available more affordably as part of a multi-channel campaign and for other purposes with solutions like those from XMPie and others, but I really hadn’t seen anything to compare with SundaySky in terms of the level of personalization it could do on the fly … until I happened to run into Dave Fenske of Fenske Media at Graph Expo.

This privately owned company based in Rapid City, South Dakota, was founded in 1957 as Fenske Printing, Inc., and has 50 to 75 employees depending on workload. In 1995, the company was renamed to Fenske Media as the company increasingly moved its business to database marketing and ultimately to delivering multi-channel communications on behalf of its customers. Fenske says, “85% of everything we physically produce is direct mail, and 85% of our total output is digital.” The company’s primary platforms are inkjet, with a Kodak Prosper 5000 XLI and a new Prosper 6000 that is in the process of being configured for HD inkjet. Fenske Media also has a NexPress 3600 and an 8-color 40” Heidelberg perfecter with coating. “The offset press stays pretty busy with production of static components that go into direct mail packages,” Fenske explains.

But “beyond the box,” so to speak, is where Fenske really shines and differentiates itself in the market. Fenske comments, “As we have worked with our customers nationwide, the challenge for us lay in looking for unique ways to help them acquire new customers or to introduce them to opportunities for cross-sell/upsell or reactivation. In looking at those different buckets of customers, we spent a lot of time and effort on data, including demographic and psychographic data attributes.”  Fenske points out that five years ago, the company was spending money to do enhanced one-to-one communications in direct mail, but they saw response rates declining year over year, even though the pieces delivered to households were targeted and relevant. He adds, “We scratched our heads, asking ourselves, why isn’t the consumer reacting and take an action? That drove our focus to cross-channel communications, which we call Fenske XM.”

A key element in this approach is customer education – introducing them to new opportunities. Fenske XM uses Hiperwall as a tool during customer visits. With this large, interactive video wall, Fenske XM helps customers understand all the multiple channels of consumer activity, including emails, transactions, cash registers, and outreach opportunities that include mail, email, text, social media, and now, video. Fenske explains, “We have different responses in each of those channels from consumers. The key for the marketer is to find the best way to tie all of those inbound and outbound threads into one visual picture of what that consumer means to the business, with real people and real-time reporting. And that’s what we have been able to do. We help them understand how consumers are different today and how we can help marketers speak effectively to those differences by drilling deep into the data and using analytics tools to shape the offer in a way that will be easier for the consumer to understand.”

Many companies have taken this journey, expanding beyond direct mail to other means of communications. But few have taken that extra step into the world of true personalized on-the-fly video. And the Fenske experience shows that you don’t have to be a giant like AT&T to take advantage of this effective means of customer communications. In Fenske’s case, reaching out with a blend of mobile and mail with links to personalized video has been an effective way for them to help marketers engage consumers in a meaningful way. To do this, Fenske partners with Influence Technologies, a provider of interactive video experiences. The result is the ability to connect any form of transactional or behavioral data to a real-time personalized experience.

“This is more than a name popping up,” Fenske explains. “We connect it to a decision tree experience using gamification that allows us to serve up a question-and-answer session that personalizes the experience every step of the way in a truly one-to-one interactive experience.” The example he used comes from the insurance industry. “If I know you already have life and home insurance,” he says, “I wouldn’t present that. Rather, I would work through why an auto policy would be good for you to consider. Through the video, I might ask how many autos the household has, the ages of the drivers and the number of miles driven. That would allow me to connect to an underwriting table that shows, based on ages and miles driven, what the policy would cost per month or year. And if you decided the policy fit, I could tee up a payment system directly into the storefront, with the ability to immediately process the transaction via credit card or ACH, executing a policy that is specifically tailored for that household.”

Wow. And it seems to work. Fenske reported that they have seen up to 284% increase in engagement using personalized video over static communications, and improved click-through rates by 80%, with a click-through being a click after watching the video. “Unlike mail, with this platform, we can tell who opened it, if they started the video, which questions they answered and whether they wanted to ‘buy now’ or ask more questions,” he adds. “For one customer, we served up more than 400 million video views in one month!”

In the sales process, Fenske says, engagement happens at higher levels in the organization to explain this different way of doing business. A sales cycle involves the C-suite, marketing, operations, and, of course IT. “The IT folks like this,” he comments, “because the platform sits outside of their system and doesn’t require bringing in any disruptive technology. But it starts at the top with the CEO’s vision of the customer experience.”

And print remains an important part of the model. Fenske concludes, “You’ll increase print volumes because the Influence Technologies solution is so scalable and measurable and delivers much higher lift rates. You need more print to initially capture the eyeballs and draw them into the experience. This is how we see the future: Highly intelligent print as an integral part of an interactive conversation with individual consumers.”

To accelerate the sales cycle, Fenske Media recently held a very successful workshop event for 30 CEOs. It was structured around the hot topic of Design Thinking, a methodology used by designers to solve complex problems and find desirable solutions for customers – rather than just dressing up ideas that are presented to them. When design principles are applied to strategy and innovation, the success rate for innovation dramatically improves as demonstrated by the results achieved by the likes of Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike, Proctor & Gamble and other major design-led brands.

Fenske believes that increasingly, marketers will be seeking partners that can do print, digital media and interactive all under one roof. This will be driven by the fact that consumers are getting ahead of marketing efforts and forcing marketers to catch up. Fenske is leading the way in this new business model, and our congratulations go out to them for having the courage to break from the pack and try something totally new – and for their willingness to share their ideas with the industry!