By Cassandra Carnes
A sweepstake invitation addressing you by name instead of "winner," or "American Express card holder," may not be cause for excitement. But a sweepstake invitation, featuring pictures of enticing products to buy with your earnings, tailored to your personal preference, is something you may not toss aside immediately. Although few letters offer the same satisfaction as a hand-written Valentine’s Day card from a loved one, there is a certain satisfaction knowing the companies you invest in—credit card companies, car manufacturers, mortgage lenders, entertainment groups—are taking the time and money to get to know you a little better. Even if it is only for a more impressive return on investment (ROI).
This article is part one of a two-part series on variable data printing (VDP). Here we focus on the software making VDP possible. Part two provides actual user stories of variable data, providing you with information on real world ROI, business practices, and customer relationship management (CRM).
The Best is Yet to Come
Many vendors believe the benefits of VDP have not yet been reached and the potential for growth is strong. "The VDP market has matured to the point that VDP is well understood," says Marion Williams-Bennett, marketing specialist, Bitstream Inc.
Michael Kaminski, senior product manager, Exstream Software, says that although VDP is no longer a brand-new technique, we are far from maximizing its potential. "The VDP market is reaching a tipping point," shares Kaminski. "The importance of providing personalized, integrated, end-to-end solutions that improve the value of printed business communications can’t be underestimated."
"The VDP market is currently undergoing a stage of massive growth as print service providers (PSPs) and the corporate enterprise continue to realize the sustainable value VDP offers," says Mark Hilger, product manager, Printable Technologies. "Most notably the corporate enterprise has embraced VDP technology to enable personalized marketing, collateral management, and marketing automation solutions as part of their wider integrated marketing initiatives," he adds.
Hardware vendors agree, "From an output perspective the VDP market is in a state of growth," says Maria Wooldridge, senior product manager, RISO. "More manufacturers are building their engines and RIPs specifically to tackle the requirements of VDP."
Deborah Cantabene, VP of workflow marketing, Xerox Production Systems Group, agrees, "Technology continues to improve with advancements that allow for the design and production of variable applications, such as speed, flexibility, and workflows."
So what is causing this growth? Cynthia Osborn, technical marketing and sales manager, Lytrod, Inc. says it may be due in part to "Web sites such as Amazon.com, which retain customer information to target similar products based upon customer browsing and buying history."
"We have entered an age of personalization," says Hal Morrow, CMO, GMC Software Technology. "Whereby the public wants only what is relevant to their tastes, interests, hobbies, or buying patterns. If you sit back and look at how many of us buy books, music, and other forms of entertainment from companies like Amazon.com, Apple’s iStore, and Netflix, you quickly see we are already quite accustomed to personalization and in fact, many of us now take it for granted," he adds.
There are of course challenges that must be faced. "It’s easy to write a rule if you have a basic understanding of conditional logic," says Rich Dunklee, director, product management, Saepio Technologies. "The hard part is convincing someone that they need it and that there is a value proposition in it." Dunklee goes on to say that corporate marketers often use print buyers that are looking at the per-piece manufacturing cost, not the big picture "A marketer will understand the cost per sale model and see the ROI on a well developed VDP campaign. The majo- rity of pure print buyers are not tasked to work using that frame of reference."
"A key challenge is getting good data from customers to produce personalized communications," says Jon Bracken, VP, marketing and channels, enterprise solutions, Kodak’s Graphic Communication Group. "Another challenge is training sales reps to sell VDP solutions to new customers, such as marketers or technical personnel, who have different objectives and needs than typical print buying customers," says Bracken.
Transformation in ProgressWith the tools in place, VDP is only one part of a marketing revolution. Print service providers are stepping away from the drop-and-print structure to become marketing specialists. We are seeing the evolution of cross-media campaigns. In the new age of marketing services providers, print is just one important element in the mix. Adding an online push with personalized URLs (pURLs) to rejuvenate databases is the next step in increasing CRM.
"Industry-leading marketers who are savvy about using cutting-edge technologies are forging a path to the future and finding that the term ‘variable data printing’ doesn’t truly cover all the possibilities," Kaminski says. "Using VDP as a springboard, the more significant issues are fast becoming relevance, engagement, and timeliness."
John Foley, Jr., president and CEO, interlinkONE says a cross-media app-roach to marketing is working wonders for customers. "Printers armed with the ability to use VDP—as well as manage and execute the entire marketing campaign from pURLs to customized fulfillment based on inquiry interest—have a significant competitive edge," he says.
Printable’s Hilger believes that corporate marketers are beginning to feel the pressure to show ROI on marketing dollars spent. "Technologies such as VDP mixed with campaign response tracking through, for example, pURLs, provide the ROI metrics demanded of them."
Jacob Aizikowitz, president, XMPie, notes the example of Reynolds DeWalt, a MA-based printing company that is migrating into an integrated marketing service company. DeWalt views XMPie’s Interactive Content Ports (ICPs) ability to update databases in real-time "as a true market differentiator for XMPie, and thus for itself." Reynolds DeWalt uses ICPs to update databases in real time from recipient responses on Web forms, but to also reflect those changes in additional dynamic pages generated during the same session. The real-time bidirectional database updates allow the system to send background emails to sales and customer support resources reflecting entries made by visitors during Web sessions. "This means that meaningful follow-up contact can be initiated within moments of the site visit, taking into account all the new information the visitor has provided," says Aizikowitz.
Support in Numbers
The benefits of VDP and print personalization are clear to many. As a print service provider, if you have the opportunity to offer clients a value-added product, why wouldn’t you? Even though knowledge and understanding of the technology is growing, it is still a big jump from static. There are many questions that need to be answered before offering VDP services. Having the hardware is the first step, but learning how to maximize its potential is another. Many vendors offer support groups to generate digital revenue for those breaking into the digital field. "The transition to digital and VDP isn’t always simple and many print providers don’t know where or how best to get started," says Xerox’s Cantabene. Programs like Xerox’s ProfitAccelerator portfolio help print providers get started and maximize digital printing equipment investments.
Several other user support programs are available to print service providers. Last year, Canon announced its Essen-tial Business Builder program in an effort to help commercial printers grow their digital printing business using the Canon imagePRESS C7000VP. The program is designed to help printers with effective marketing applications from short-run, on demand printing to more advanced and sophisticated direct marketing campaigns that utilize variable data and cross-media solutions.
DICE, the Digital Imaging Customer Exchange, is an independent users group for owners of high-end digital color presses. Entirely run by and for owners of digital printing technology, its mission is to provide an exchange of information that facilitates growth and enhanced profitability for digital press owners.
Hewlett-Packard (HP) Indigo users worked the HP Indigo team to form the Digital Solutions Cooperative (Dscoop) to better their print businesses. Dscoop targets business owners and executives as well as technical professionals. Users of HP Indigo—and other HP digital equipment—can also seek assistance from the HP Graphic Arts Capture Business Success Program. The program includes a collection of tools, training, and programs—including job estimators, market research, marketing templates, and online resources.
Kodak’s Graphic Communication Group’s MarketMover network helps participants grow their customer base and drive revenue. The MarketMover network is a component of Kodak MarketMover business development services, a program offering tools, services, and support to help expand businesses. The MarketMover network is an online community for print providers, suppliers, and buyers. Its goal is to connect those who need print services to those who provide them, in the meantime increasing market exposure and expanding product services and offerings.
A Collaborative Effort
The relationship between vendors is important to sustain and promote growth opportunities to a wide range of clients. There are many vendor to vendor relationships making it all happen—whether it be design applications partnering with Web-to-print providers, database management solutions with variable data software, or software pro- viders with hardware manufacturers—both in terms of reselling agreements and open standards for easy workflow. Below are just a few notable partnerships and collaborations working to offer end-users a more comprehensive approach to VDP.
"Those who have not [begun to offer VDP services] need to transition to being value-added service providers and marketers, and not simply manufacturers," says Kathy Wilson, director of product marketing and strategy, EFI, Inc. "One way to achieve this is to collaborate with companies who enhance or complement your offerings."
EFI, Inc. partners with leading VDP software vendors. The company is a reseller of XMPie technology, as well as OEM, integrating XMPie personalization technology directly into its line of Web-to-print solutions, including Digital StoreFront, PrintSmith Site, and Printer- site Fulfillment.
GMC Software Technology collaborates with many leading providers of digital printing and other related technologies. "One example of such is a partnership with MindFireInc., whereby both companies collaborated to provide print providers and enterprise users with the ability to develop highly-personalized marketing and TransPromo campaigns using pURLs in conjunction with personalized print," explains Morrow. "As a result, GMC now offers a powerful multi-channel marketing and personalized transactional communications solution with pURLs acting as personalized landing pages for better conversion of prospects, detailed response profiling, and in-depth tracking of campaign results."
Kodak collaborates with a number of third-party digital press vendors to allow variable data print output from KODAK INSITE Variable Data Print System to these various presses. Driven by KODAK DARWIN software, the solution enables merging of data and templates that produce VDP jobs. Kodak’s Print On Demand Solutions Group, part of Kodak’s Graphic Communications Group (GCC), collaborates with Press-Sense, Adobe, Quark- XPress, MindFireInc., EasyPurl, Direct-Smile, and DirecType.
Pageflex, a division of Bitstream, Inc. works with a range of industry partners. "These partners are integrating Pageflex solutions with a range of applications including image personalization, mail list acquisition, prepress, print management, and MIS products," says Williams- Bennett. Pageflex also has business partnerships with a range of output devices, including Canon, HP, Xeikon, and Xerox.
QuarkXPress brings a different app-roach to VDP software. Its Server 7 fuses design-rich documents and the power of server-based dynamic publishing technology to create, target, automate, and deliver content that looks like it was designed by a top agency. "We collaborate with developers and system integrators who harness the power of QuarkXPress Server 7 for the rapid development of automated publishing app- lications for customers, including one-to-one marketing, catalog production, Web-to-print, and advertising automa-tion," says Nick Howard, director of enterprise product development, Quark, Inc.
Xerox’s 2006 acquisition of XMPie, "truly strengthened our software solution offerings by providing a platform for enabling end-to-end production workflow automation with a cross-media solution," says Cantabene. Since the acquisition, XMPie focuses on bringing a combination of variable data printing and cross-media capabilities regardless of print-engine affiliation. "For example, our work with Adobe and EFI, Inc. is better than ever and progressing steadily," says Aizikowitz. "There were always questions about how [XMPie] would behave in the marketplace post-acquisition, but people see that we are pushing forward with a vendor-agnostic approach."
"There is still a lot of potential growth for VDP," says Wilson of EFI, Inc. "Despite the tough competitive environment of the past few years, there are still many print service providers who haven’t seized on new ways to increase their profitability and their profits," Wilson continues. "What’s more surprising is that only a small minority view variable data printing as a top sales opportunity. But savvy printers get it. When they start to offer this value-added service and realize that VDP offers their customers a means to increase response rates, increase the value of an average order, improve response time, improve customer retention/repeat orders, and improve overall revenue and profit, the business benefits of VDP become clear."
"We believe we’ll see other examples of unique applications over time as the technology—both hardware and software—becomes more refined and new forms of demand emerge," says Morrow. "We may soon see a day when VDP becomes mainstream, with offset taking a smaller and smaller role over time."
The next issue of Digital Publishing Solutions features part two of this article. The segment will feature actual user stories of variable data in action.