If the response rate to your direct mail campaign skyrockets - would you want your competitor to read about your success in a case study?

Someone recently told me that like Vitamin E was a cure looking for a disease, variable digital printing (VDP), especially fully changeable text and graphics, is a solution looking for a problem. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in VDP, and I believe that it is the solution to many problems, but exactly what problems? Frankly most of us don’t know yet what the many problems are that will be solved by the solution of VDP. That’s because we simply haven’t heard of many great successes.

To be sure, there are the case studies published by the manufacturers, software developers, and, of course PODi; however, how many of them tell a compelling story? There are a few, but not many relate a true ROI – an ROI that includes the full investment made through the entire process from data development through finishing which is then compared to the actual return on that investment in dollars.

Even without such data, there are many of us who instinctively believe in the process. We have that gut feel that it is the right thing to do and that its future is amazingly bright. Frankly, however, not much of this belief is based on case studies. It is part logic, part faith, and in most cases information that is a result of research as to the effectiveness of variable digital printing. At this point, it is like many religious beliefs that are based more on faith and logic that anything else.

When I speak like this, I am speaking about the vast majority of us who are involved in the digital printing industry. However, there is a group within the industry that knows something we don’t know. They are the insiders. They are ones who have seen the light through pure facts. They have seen great successes. They know about the cases with terrific ROI’s. They don’t believe simply on faith, but on cold hard facts and results.

So why is it that when you walk from booth to booth at OnDemand, to both press manufacturers and software developers, it is so difficult to find these stories of great ROI’s? Why is that you find so many studies that say something like: "This large Fortune 500 financial institution had a problem and we solved it." - and they take four pages of a brochure to say it without telling us any useable and compelling facts? The answer is simple. They can’t. It is not they don’t know, but that they are not allowed to.

Our great guru Frank Romano said in his keynote that there are many case studies that the customers simply don’t want their printers to disclose. It is obvious that they want to maintain an advantage over their competitors. Consequently, there is a sub-current of information about various confidential case studies that many of us are privy to in one way or another, but we can’t share. Then we become part of the industry conspiracy to keep things hush-hush.

Recently, I had the privilege of visiting a leading digital printer in the Northeast. The owner proudly showed me a project they were producing which has the potential of saving his client tens of millions of dollars! A project which could not be done in any other way then by using variable digital print. Of course, it was confidential, and I was sworn to secrecy. Two days later I was sitting with three individuals who had just visited the same facility. We danced around the subject, until one of us said something like "Did you see what I saw?", and, without discussing the project, the answer was "Yes, wasn’t that fantastic?". Now we know but you don’t!

But how about all of those folks in the industry who haven’t had a chance to go into the shops doing successful variable print jobs? And, more importantly, how about the potential customers who also haven’t had that opportunity?

Case studies are a form of witnessing. We need to convince potential customers through personal experience. We need to become witnesses to the effectiveness and profitability of variable digital printing. Of course, the most effective witnesses are the sales representatives who are armed with case studies pertinent to the client’s needs.

In the meantime, PODi’s Best Practices are by far the best effort we have in compiling case studies. You can download the 2000 case studies for free at www.podi.org The 2001 case studies are available for a fee at the same address, and the 2002 report is due to be published in September. You can also find out how to contribute your case study to the 2002 report. In addition to PODi’s effort, you can find many case studies on the sites of print service providers, integrators, press manufacturers, and software companies.

So what is the answer to publishing more effective case studies – case studies which state actual ROI’s – case studies which are going to move new clients to action? I have some thoughts, but I would like to hear from you - the WhatTheyThink readers. Please send me your comments at [email protected] or call me at 518-587-9635.

I throw out this challenge to the entire industry. The best way to light the fuse for the explosive growth of variable digital printing is to inform potential clients, and the best way to make them believers is making them aware of successful case studies in their niches. So it is up to each of you to do whatever you can to make that happen. You all have to think about ways to liberate the information so that we can share it with everyone – not just with clients, but also with competitors. There is no question that great things are happening, and greater things will happen if you all share as much information as possible.