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Making the Most of Variable Data Printing
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It’s not news that variable data printing delivers results. As printing technologies have evolved, customizing print marketing campaigns based on customer demographics and/or buying patterns is easier than ever. With the rise of inkjet and digital printing, it’s even possible to produce 1:1 print marketing campaigns, where each piece is unique to the recipient.

Variable data printing works because it delivers results — anywhere from double to 15 times the return on investment of a traditional campaign. And compared to generic print marketing, personalized print marketing:

So what is variable data printing? And how can you maximize your return on investment with this technology?

What Is Variable Data Printing?

Everyone has received personalized direct mail advertising — perhaps a postcard with a tailored message or a catalog with an exclusive offer. But variable data printing can — and should — be so much more.

“When the average person thinks about variable data, the only thing they think about is name and address,” says Vanecia Carr, director of customer and brand marketing at Domtar. “We’re focused on not just customer names, but also customer preferences, demographics and buying behavior. As people shop more and more online, websites can capture all of that information, so companies can really use that data to deliver highly targeted marketing.”

Variable data printing can be as simple as name and address fields printed on static shells or preprinted forms. Or it can be as complex as images, offers and other content that is unique to the individual. And it’s all based on the type of data companies already gather on their current and prospective customers.

Carr shares a personal example of shopping at a major outdoor retailer. “I primarily cycle, so I’ve bought cycling shoes and seat pads and that kind of thing, and that’s what they market to me,” she explains. “But one time I bought some hiking gear, which is out of the norm for me. And wouldn’t you know, they started sending hiking and outdoor information to me. I started getting mailers with different types of images and products based on my purchase history.”

The trend in direct mail marketing is shifting from mass campaigns to more targeted, segmented communications that speak to customers when, where and how they prefer.

“One-size-fits-all messaging is so irrelevant these days,” Carr says. “You have to figure out how to adjust your content to match the needs of the customer, which may mean varying the channel as well as the data.”

Best Practices for Variable Data Print Marketing

Printers, researchers and firms that specialize in direct mail marketing offer the following suggestions for making the most of your variable data printing and marketing efforts.

  • Think Solution, Not Technology — Variable data printing technology is just that — a technology. By itself, it doesn’t do anything to drive sales. It’s how you use the technology that makes a difference. Variable data printing should be part of a well-planned, well-executed marketing campaign that is based on solid research and well-defined business objectives.1
  • Stick to the Facts — Don’t make any assumptions about ethnicity, gender or other consumer traits; use only facts that are currently available and verifiable.2
  • Mine the Data — The more data you have, the more you can target and segment your variable data campaign. Consider all available customer information when determining how to approach a campaign.2
  • Get it Right — Accuracy is absolutely critical. Variable data printing requires higher quality control than traditional printing. Put steps in place to check for accuracy at every step of the project, from design and list generation to printing and mailing. The success of the campaign will depend on getting every element right.2
  • Test Everything — Segmenting and targeting campaigns with variable data printing is great, but if you don’t test which offers work best with which audiences, your efforts could go to waste. An educated guess based on solid data is a great starting point, but real success comes with testing that delivers lessons for future campaigns.1
  • Rethink Cost — Variable data printing drives greater results than static campaigns, but sometimes upfront and/or per-piece costs can cause marketers to avoid it. Experts recommend looking at this type of campaign through a different lens. Greater response conversion rates, lower costs per lead and higher revenues per sale all factor into a return on investment that can far exceed traditional campaigns.1
  • Make a Long-Term Commitment — Look at digital printing and variable data print marketing as a shift in your overall marketing model, rather than a single experiment or a series of campaigns. Some benefits are immediate, but others accrue over time. The marketers who see the greatest success are those who have a deeper, longer-term commitment to the idea of targeted, personalized, 1:1 communication with their customers.1

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Contributors

Vanecia Carr
Customer & Brand Marketing Director
Meredith Collins
Customer & Brand Marketing Manager
Jill DiNicolantonio
Blog Contributor & Parse & Parcel Founder
Paige Goff
Vice President of Sustainability
Becky Lee
Digital Marketing Manager
Ashley Maydak
Brand Marketing Manager
John Parke
Customer Marketing Manager
Lori Slovik
Technology Manager
Tammy Tufty
Marketing Communications Manager
Charles Angerson
Print Production Specialist
Erin Potter
Nicholas Pearson
Marketing Specialist