Variable data printing (VDP) is a service that printers with digital presses can offer to differentiate themselves from their competitors, adding value to their clients and so improving profit margins and avoiding the commodity print pricing trap. But in addition to the equipment and technical know-how needed to produce VDP work, printers need to understand how to sell it, especially if their clients are not familiar with the concept or are not actively asking their print service providers for it.
The key to offering successful VDP services lies in printers adopting a project management perspective. This means working with clients to help them achieve their broader objectives, identifying where VDP could add value to a marketing campaign and justifying its use.
Print providers can help their clients plan marketing campaigns by understanding the clients' marketing goals, which could be customer retention, re-activation, lead generation or conversion. Reviewing previous campaigns should reveal which techniques have been used previously, how successful they were and which formats their customers prefer; in personalised communication, customer preference is key, so effective marketing must address them on their own terms.
The kind of documents that lend themselves to a personalised approach are those that are designed to generate demand. These include catalogues, brochures, inserts, flyers, newsletters and other promotional items.
If it looks like a personalised print campaign (possibly in addition to online multi-channel or interactive cross-media elements) is appropriate, the next question is what customer data is available to personalise it. Many companies already have a customer and prospect database built up through events, direct mail, previous sales or support activity, possibly held in a customer relationship management (CRM) system, so a VDP campaign is simply a way of using this data to establish a more personal relationship with customers.
If this database doesn't exist or when approaching a new market, for example, it may be possible to purchase one commercially, provided that it contains the relevant type of information needed to make the variable element work meaningfully. This could be just address and gender, or considerably more detailed.
One of the best aspects of getting started in VDP is that initial projects don't necessarily have to be very complex, especially with clients who are new to personalised print marketing. Because digital printing doesn't require long runs in order to become cost-effective, it's possible to carry out small-scale trials to test what kind of mailing works best and to refine the variable data documents before committing to larger-scale mailings. Depending on the client's business and the quality of the data available, it may be that a series of shorter, more tightly targeted mailings is the more effective option. Whichever approach is taken, it will be possible to learn from and build on the success of each project as both printer and client gain experience and confidence.
In any marketing project it's usually a good idea to focus on a select set of customers that is likely to yield the highest returns, either by value of spend or ease of sale. Print providers who want to optimise the opportunities for VDP and make the most of their investment in digital presses should do the same by identifying the clients who would be most receptive to campaign ideas that include personalisation. VDP can be particularly effective when combined with 'pull' marketing in which the customer identifies him- or herself so the vendor prints brochures or other collaterals only for customers who have already expressed an interest, thus maximising impact while minimising costs.
This might include those who are currently using direct mail, who want to increase repeat business in sectors where customer acquisition costs are high, who already have a database of customer information or have a website capable of capturing it. Those customers with high-margin products and services or large marketing budgets are also good prospects for VDP.
As VDP is an inherently more consultative sale, it's going to cost more than static print, so the printer will need to be able to justify these costs through improved returns on the client's marketing spend. There must be a means of gathering data on the end-customer's response to the campaign. This can be as simple as records of purchases or phone calls, or could be information captured via a website or mobile app.
The response data should be gathered and reported over a period appropriate to the length of the campaign and the typical buying cycle. From this, an ROI calculation can be made comparing campaign costs to value of sales generated. In most cases, printers won't be gathering the response data or performing this analysis themselves but it's important that they ensure these tasks are performed so that the value of VDP can be demonstrated.
Successful VDP service providers integrate print expertise with database knowledge, graphic design skills and marketing know-how to help their customers look beyond the cost of printing to the overall effectiveness of the marketing campaign. Thus they move up the value chain to become marketing partners rather than commodity suppliers.
This is one of a series of articles based on The ABCs of VDP, a free e-book from EFI that explains the benefits of variable data printing (VDP) and describes with examples how print service providers can produce, promote and sell VDP services to their customers, expanding their business portfolio and increasing profit margins.