Personalized, relevant marketing drives success. Marketing service providers (MSPs) offer high-value, targeted campaigns that often utilize various channels to generate and track results
While the possibilities of variable data publishing (VDP) are seemingly endless, it is a challenge to set expectations and cull the data to effectively and successfully drive these campaigns.
Service providers need to consider going beyond personalization, and start to embark on one-to-one marketing. “Some think that personalizing material with simply a name is enough,” says Karen L. DeWolfe, VP, sales, interlinkONE. However, personalization and one-to-one marketing are two different things. “Variable content should be driven by a marketing database that speaks to the end recipient in subtle ways.”
What is driving the demand for these sophisticated campaigns? Simply put—it is customer experience. “For most enterprises today, it’s all about the customer experience and for print service providers (PSPs) and MSPs, it is all about offering customers solutions that deliver on demand,” says Richard Lloyd, VP, service providers, GMC Software Technology.
Stepping it Up
At a basic level, the use of variable data is widespread. However, it has not yet reached its full potential and many opportunities remain.
Wilson Zehr, CEO, Cendix, suggests that most providers do have the tools that enable personalization in production. Additional technologies, such as Web to print, allow them to ease the submission of orders, check job status, and create completely integrated solutions to a point that he admits, not many have fully embraced. The technology can still offer more.
Obviously, there is variation in how PSPs/MSPs apply their VDP tools. “There are some service providers that truly ‘get it’ and others who don’t,” says DeWolfe.
Ayelet Szabo-Melamed, product marketing manager, XMPie, a Xerox Company, says many service providers offer some type of VDP service and have been for quite a while. “It is not something new, but it has come a long way.”
Shelly Sweeney, VP/GM, transaction printing and direct marketing sectors, Xerox Corporation, points out that personalization has reached a new level of mainstream. “It used to be that the simple inclusion of a name, company affiliation, or recent purchases would be enough to capture attention. Today, it’s not so much a ‘nice to have,’ but rather a necessity. Without some form of personalization, a communication piece almost doesn’t stand a chance,” she adds.
Today’s software tools offer many capabilities, such as the ability to incorporate all of the demographic, geographic, and psychographic information known about customers into direct mail campaigns in clever, relevant ways. “But, what’s even more exciting to consider is that more PSPs/MSPs are extending their personalization knowledge and capabilities to other channels, such as websites, email, and mobile messaging,” says Szabo-Melamed.
She says the key is to start with what you know and grow from there. “Clearly, you need to have a foundation in VDP before jumping into more advanced cross-media capabilities, but if you realize that this is where you need to go, and are willing to make the right investments in technology, people, and possible partnerships or acquisitions, there are a few limitations on what you can sell and deliver to customers.”
When it comes to one-to-one marketing, a strong database and a subtle approach is a winning equation. “Send the woman who loves to shop a piece with bright shoes, send the man who loves to fish a piece with photos of a pristine lake,” suggests DeWolfe, stressing that VDP isn’t about personalizing a document, it is about knowing what motivates the end recipient in their buying process and utilizing it most effectively.
“The organizations that get this do a wonderful job at it. There are still many who believe having the ability to make a business card online or creating a postcard that says, “Hi Karen!” on the front is variable enough. They are missing a lot of opportunity,” she adds.
Szabo-Melamed suggests keeping in mind that there is a fine line when it comes to choosing which data elements to include in a campaign. “Prospects may be offended if you reveal that you know too much about their personal information. A good rule of thumb is to implement campaigns designed to educate and empower your customers, giving them control over how much to share.”
Many PSPs/MSPs have adopted VDP to some level, but there are more possibilities. To get to the next tier, it’s all about the data. Many service providers have not yet honed their data management skills, leaving room for missed opportunity. Collecting and hosting data is one part of the process; however, extracting information properly, and finding ways to best generate actionable insights is another feat.
“Although we are all aware of how much data is collected, too often it is not consolidated into a single accessible format that is available to the MSP/PSP. Even with lots of data, the sort of information that can be valuable in driving personalized communication is often missing,” says Leslie Wengenroth, director of marketing, Pageflex.
Szabo-Melamed stresses the importance of good data to the successful creation and deployment of VDP campaigns. “Only through targeting the correct prospects, learning their preferred communication channels and brand relationship, and offering them something that is personally relevant to them, can a campaign succeed,” she says. “Good, clean data enables optimal personalization and digital technology integration.”
Zehr comments that managing data comes with the territory. “We are at a point where database technology is extremely mature and well understood. This shouldn’t be an issue for most service providers,” he says.
DeWolfe feels differently, noting that in her experience; only a handful of service providers really have the technology to utilize data effectively. “Many don’t have a sufficient database to start with and still more don’t know how to mine the data and use it for future efforts.”
Sweeney agrees, noting that the biggest challenge of true one-to-one marketing is not whether it works, but rather the quality of the data. “Most end-customer data needs to be cleaned up, and often needs to be supplemented with additional data. Print marketing requires the purposeful, intentional creation of a database of customer and prospect demographics, purchasing patterns, preferences, and the like,” she says.
However, she adds that even if marketers don’t have such a database, this doesn’t remove one-to-one print marketing from the equation. “PSPs are becoming increasingly adept at helping customers maximize their existing data, purchase, and append mailing lists, and building databases from scratch—even for smaller budgets,” she offers.
Current campaigns are a good catalyst for collecting future data. Szabo-Melamed points out that with bi-directional, cross-media campaigns, PSPs/MSPs shouldn’t be put off if the data isn’t complete. Instead, they should develop and design the campaign so that data is added throughout the process.
Sweeney offers the example of customer loyalty programs as an effective method for building a database of customer preferences and spending habits, while at the same time, allowing PSPs to reward customer behavior. “PSPs can also use personalized URLs to send recipients to their own, personalized microsites, where they can survey prospects, qualify them, and gather additional information to be used for future campaigns on behalf of their end clients. This information can be automatically appended back into a database, taking a simple mailing list and turning it into a sophisticated tool for personalized marketing,” she suggests.
In addition to collecting and extracting data, successful service providers have the ability to analyze and use it to the best advantage for the customers.
Nick Romano, CEO, Prinova Inc., suggests that good data will always be a challenge, but that true MSPs now have a handle on it. “The bigger challenge they face is their ability to help their customers execute on that data. It goes back to having the right tools to unleash the insights garnered from the data to produce successful, one-to-one variable communications.”
As service providers become more accustom to one-to-one marketing, it is essential they market the service effectively.
It comes down to understanding that with VDP, you are really selling return on investment (ROI), suggests Lloyd. “It is a fact that you may be producing less, but if you can get customers a higher ROI, you can charge more selling ROI versus volume,” he explains.
A fundamental best practice is to convince executives and marketing professionals that VDP can improve marketing results, and not just focus on print buyers. “Highlighting the strength of VDP technology in regards to improving marketing return on marketing investment, market share, and sales volume is key,” says Szabo-Melamed.
This is also important in the context of the relevant vertical in order to determine which VDP or cross-media application best serves the prospect’s needs, since marking goals vary. “Get everyone on board with the transition and hire any new staff or specialists to fill the gaps as your staff transfers their skills from selling a commodity-based item—print, to selling client-focused and often complex business solutions. Strong sales people are critical in today’s market where customers can do most of their early research online. They don’t need sales representatives to repeat information that they can source themselves. Rather, they are looking for targeted guidance as to how VDP can address their business needs,” she adds.
Zehr says the biggest challenge to selling VDP is that most service providers are used to selling printing and not solutions. “They are still trading pennies with each other to see who can offer the least expensive print. It doesn’t help that most requests for proposals are set up that way and that is the mindset of most print buyers,” he cautions.
Wengenroth points out that since VDP and multi-channel campaigns are solutions that need to have the value and potential ROI clearly defined, it’s not the same sale that service providers are accustom to. “PSPs in particular are often not talking to the right people—even with their current customers. A print buyer is typically looking for low costs and good service, and isn’t focused on the numerous benefits of personalized communications. It tends to be a longer sales cycle, and defining ROI and profitability can be tough, so it often doesn’t fit well with the typical compensation plans. Many PSPs tell us that sales doesn’t want to sell it.”
Further, as a solutions sale, it needs to be clear to the customer how the campaign will help solve their problems. “This requires sound knowledge of the customer’s market, needs, and challenges. Pricing should not be the first thing discussed,” adds Wengenroth.
She explains that the goals and anticipated ROI should be defined in advance, be measurable, and be committed to by all parties.
Romano jokes that the best practice for selling VDP is not to sell VDP. “The best sales technique is to align with the customer’s perceived value of the solution. VDP on its own leads to commodity selling where the lowest price wins.”
DeWolfe promotes the idea of case studies as a way to market high-value digital products. “As a service provider, case studies are gold for your own prospecting and selling; let the prospect see firsthand the impact that your work can have,” she offers.
Another way to sell VDP as a high-margin digital print product is to emphasize the growth opportunities. “An area primed for tremendous growth in the near future is digital packaging,” comments Sweeney. “The two primary benefits of digital versus offset packaging are flexibility and personalization. Examples include industries such as pharmaceutical and retail, where changing legal requirements and SKUs can quickly render inventory as obsolete, whereas digital print solutions allow a customer’s specific information to be integrated automatically within the packaging production. This can help simplify shipping and tracking or create more value with a personalized application, like gift boxes.”
It is essential to add value around your VDP solutions by involving the customer. “By providing clients with business user control over their content, rules, and templates, you empower your customer to be part of the process. Rather than simply asking for the artwork and the customer file, provide a platform for self service, management, and tracking. The more control and insight they have, the more comfortable they will be giving you more business,” points out Romano.
Growth and ROI
When used to its full potential, VDP can provide an opportunity to engage recipients, improve ROI, and grow a business database. The best campaigns are both strategic and subtle, and are therefore not always a quick sell.
“With the technology that exists today, we have the potential to deliver much richer solutions to customers that solve bigger problems, add more value, and are much stickier. However, it all starts with training—the salespeople need to understand what is possible, how to identify opportunities, and then sell the value. That is really a different way of thinking for most traditional commercial printers and agencies,” says Zehr.
While many MSPs/PSPs have adopted VDP technology, sometimes out of necessity, the traditional mindset of print as a commodity has not yet been broken when you look at the market as a whole. It is important that those with the tools invest in the training, technology, and staff to support a solutions sale that truly represents a one-to-one marketing approach. dps
May 2015, DPS Magazine