By Cassandra Carnes
Data is intimidating. This is a sure reason why those truly exploiting the power of variable data are in the minority. We know the benefits of personalization and we all like relevant promotions. So, itís a win-win, right? While even simple campaign changes, such as the inclusion of a personís name rather than "customer," are able to elicit a more meaningful response, the potential for exceptionally effective, relevant communications is within reach.
Industry pundits have talked the variable data publishing (VDP) talk for some time, but whoís walking the walk? Marketers and print service providers (PSPs) are aware of the potential, but penetration levels are still relatively low among those with the capability to utilize VDP. Understanding data is key, as well as incorporating the right tools.
There are varying levels of VDP sophistication in practice. In a sense, anything individually addressed is considered variable. The latest advancements in high-speed inkjet addressing technology plays off this, adding color and variable image capabilities to engage recipients right on the envelope. Those with digital printing capabilities beyond inkjet addressing dabble in personalization with mail-merge campaigns. Some opt for more complex data mining, tailoring designs and offers based on a target segment.
If internal data is lacking, overlays enable list owners to add key demographic or lifestyle information. When a customer file is matched with new data, marketers have a clearer view of their audience. Based on this, promotional messages are targeted to best fit the recipientís logical preferences in accordance to residence, gender, or ethnicity.
Software solutions serve a range of VDP needs, from document creation to multi-channel management, data analysis, and reporting. For a list of specific solutions, refer to our Target Chart.
Beyond tools, it is important that marketers look for profit potential within the VDP opportunity. Examples of excellent variable data campaigns are touted by leading hardware and software providers, but itís difficult to put a number on actual real-world usage.
Digging into the Data
Most often, those utilizing VDP do so at a basic level. Beyond mail merge, the next phase often involves advanced data manipulation. Canon U.S.A., Inc. defines VDP in two waysósimple and complex. "Simple VDP is summarized as creating personalized addresses or versioning of a document, which we estimate is performed by approximately 80 percent of our digital press customers," explains Joseph Schember, product marketing specialist, Canon U.S.A., Inc.
Complex VDP takes on data-driven components for content creation, requiring a higher level of technical and marketing expertise. "Itís hard to quantify the percentage of the market performing this level of expertise, but we do see it as a growing service offered by our customers," adds Schember.
VDP helps PSPs change the conversation from print to marketing. This development improves relationships through the use of value-added campaigns. Similarly, in-house print providers and marketing departments combine expertise for the best results.
Defining a strategy is essentially the most important part of any marketing campaign. It should incorporate the right mix of hardware and software as a platform, but data should also be addressed up front. The implementation of VDP is directly relevant to this strategy. Within the varying levels of VDP, there are different ways in which information is kept and utilized across applications. Mike Herold, worldwide product manager, production color solutions, InfoPrint Solutions, a Ricoh Company, offers an example of two college professors teaching the same course and using digital print capabilities to alter their textbooks to align with their instruction style. In another example of VDP, Herold points to utility customers that receive water bills including personalized information on how to save water based on consumption history.
Direct mail and related promotional materials are prime real estate for VDP. Marketers and print/marketing service providers (MSPs) should look deep into their data to determine what is possible with basic address information. Start thinking of ways to build on the list and incorporate this goal into every campaign moving forward. Expand or merge customer data files to achieve a holistic customer view that includes gender, email address, and communication preference.
William Vuong, marketing manager, L2, Inc., says too few maximize the potential of VDP. "It is too often that campaigns shy away from exploring VDP opportunities beyond the recipientís name and maybe a varying image."
Behavioral data is used to determine valuable insight. Examining which data segments show a pattern of conversion, or gain no response, helps drive effective future campaigns. Taking the step to analyze data is fundamental to growth.
"The crawl-walk-run approach is still the most effective," notes Pat McGrew, M-EDP, CMP, data-driven communication segment evangelist, Eastman Kodak Company. This allows time for appropriate testing and adjustments can be made to ensure success. "Starting with simple mail-merge is fine, but it should be the first step, not the final step," she adds.
Whether a PSP/MSP is new to VDP or a seasoned guru, there is always room to improve. Remember that itís important to start with a strategy and data, adding software and hardware components to fulfill current and future VDP needs.
A natural progression from VDP is cross-channel marketing campaigns. Many software solutions incorporate functions for managing multiple channelsósuch as print, email, SMS, and Webóas well as reporting to determine results.
"With the growth of interactive online media, we have seen more PSPs begin to incorporate personalized URLs, and email, as well as SMS text messaging and personalized videos into their customer campaigns, complementing the VDP component," says Karin Stroh, VP of marketing, XMPie, a Xerox Company.
When incorporating new channels into a campaign, presentment across many mediums is also a consideration. Jason Pinto, CMO, interlinkONE, points out that elaborate landing pages that include many personalized elements might look fine on a PC or laptop, but may not translate well to mobile users.
VDP and multi-channel campaign management software is only one step, it is important to consider the entire process. A seamless workflow enables profit and relies on several technologies, including digital printing equipment, software, and digital front ends.
To aid in the efficient creation of complex VDP campaigns, personalized print mark up language (PPML) was written by PODiís standards development group. It is an open, interoperable, device-independent standard that supports a full range of on demand print. Chris E. Yanko, MBA, workflow solutions manager, Xeikon North America, describes PPML as the Rosetta Stone for VDP and credits the acceptance of the standard as one factor fueling VDP adoption.
Those with digital capabilities that have yet to tap into the potential of VDP and personalization should make it a top priority. Take the time to determine goals and gauge customer interest.
Whether itís based on economics, capability, or anxiety, adoption of variable data is relatively low compared to where it could be