by Melissa Donovan
Variable data printing (VDP) and multichannel software enhance marketing communications thanks to powerful feature sets that advance in response to changes in the way consumers interact with brand messaging. With the expectation for customization and personalization at all-time high, it is no surprise that software solutions like these are used everywhere from direct mail to packaging.
Influenced by the latest technology trends—for example APIs and integration—both print and marketing service providers find unique ways to leverage VDP and multichannel software while simultaneously keeping clients happy and achieving return on investment (ROI).
Changes in Connection
Over the last few years the manner in which consumers interact and respond to branding has evolved. In response, marketing tools like VDP and multichannel software improve to offer both print and marketing service providers the ability to effectively address these changes.
“As generations like Y and Z grew up with the internet and mobile devices, the biggest way for companies to achieve a personal connection is through VDP with more targeted personalization. These savvy consumers choose brands that offer choice and convenience, which is why multichannel delivery to reach them at their desired point of contact is so essential,” shares Lisa Weese, director of marketing, production print solutions, Canon Solutions America.
The software itself is evolving. “VDP software today is more powerful in terms of features and has the power to handle more data at a given time. This is coupled with the fact that personalized communications and products are increasingly popular,” suggests Therese McGady, marketing manager, Aleyant.
“Significant changes were made to both the basic functionality and the integration of this software into production processes. Also, the creation of these campaigns is easier and more transparent for marketers. Ordering a personalized VDP campaign was previously long and cumbersome due to the prepress process. The software finally grew to the point where customers can launch such campaigns within minutes,” comments Dmitry Sevostyanov, CEO, Customer’s Canvas by Aurigma.
Software ease of use has tremendously improved, agrees Diego Diaz, worldwide professional services manager, digital print, Eastman Kodak Company. “This makes it faster and easier to program even complex personalization jobs, which allows printers to keep their costs in check.”
Historically, individual delivery channels had disparate infrastructures and specialist teams. It became expensive for a company to coordinate messages across multiple channels as they were forced to create their own integrations and systems. “VDP software has evolved to enable channel switching during the customer experience,” explains Scott Draeger, certified customer experience professional, VP of customer transformation, Quadient.
For example, a marketing campaign may begin as a social interaction and then morph into text messages, followed by transforming into print for a contract, and ending as email after the completed sale. “VDP software advanced to let the channel be an attribute of the message instead of making each channel owner separately manage message content. This saves money, reduces complexity, and speeds time to market,” shares Draeger.
Data mining is also improving. “Companies are getting smarter with their data and are better able to create effective buyer profiles from which they can create specific messaging and communications that resonate,” admits Weese.
John Arnsdorf, senior product marketing manager, CHILI publish, notes that in the past few years, VDP has become a standard requirement. “Rather than commercialized as an advantage, VDP is quintessential for brands and businesses that want to drive up engagement and improve the customer’s experience, making print and other communications more relevant to each recipient.”
Better data management means VDP is much more than a simple name and address on a mass mailing. These are fully customized, personalized printed pieces referred to as “mass customization,” explains Weese.
On the topic of multichannel software, Arnsdorf says for many this once meant email and personalized URLs (pURLs), but this is different in 2021. “Customers don’t want to go to their specific URL, they want to go to their favorite brand’s URL and get tailored messaging. That challenges the technology under the hood to continuously identify unique visitors and deliver relevant content based on their previous behaviors.”
VDP software greatly impacts the position a PSP takes with their customer, according to Arnsdorf. The solution shifted the conversation from speed and cost to strategy and response rates. “This turns intelligent service providers into valuable partners rather than any vendor delivering a commodity.”
VDP and multichannel software solutions are complementary, more so today than ever before. They can be purchased as a bundle or separately.
Traditionally the two were separate, but according to Draeger, both sides have converged—or least moved closer to each other. “Multichannel software solution progressed to offer more communication options from solid design interfaces. VDP vendors evolved to add more channels to a strong infrastructure.”
Based on Arnsdorf’s experience, many VDP software providers typically offer some type of multichannel output. However, he says most digital software providers don’t offer any type of print support.
“With print rediscovered as the go-to touchpoint in a no-touch marketing era, there is major potential for smart print marketing service providers to combine their print expertise with design automation software designed for print. Deliver true omnichannel, while banking on their print expertise,” continues Arnsdorf.
Weese believes combining VDP and multichannel bring effective classification and customer journey measurement. “Coupling VDP with multichannel programs provides the best combination of highly personalized marketing messaging through direct mail, email, social media, SMS, voice applications, and web-based services,” she shares.
There are multichannel marketing solutions with built-in VDP functionality in addition to marketing automation systems with web to print (W2P) and VDP as separate components, points out Sevostyanov. “From a customer’s point of view, integrating the VDP module into the marketing platform is preferable. If marketers synchronize their customer bases with the marketing platform, then they expect access to all channels, including direct mail. If the VDP module runs separately, they have to keep a copy of the database at different providers,” he explains.
Printed Applications with VDP
Data is tapped for endless print-based applications, expanding in recent years as software becomes more user friendly and of course as print service providers (PSPs) recognize the benefits of utilizing these tools.
Direct mail is one application frequently leveraging VDP. “The simple truth is people trust print more than email or other digital communications. The only way to deliver targeted, personalized content in print to each unique recipient is using VDP software for direct mail,” explains Arnsdorf.
“Traditional mail campaigns are very popular with VDP software,” agrees McGady, “but now PSPs are using more multichannel strategies to sell their products. These campaigns use personalized communications with pURLs, micro-sites, and direct mail.
With roots in direct mail and transactional, Diaz sees VDP becoming integral to every channel in the digital print market. “For example, fulfillment operations in the retail and point of purchase (POP) markets frequently use VDP workflows to print items how they are be assembled and put into a kit. Likewise, VDP might be used in small/single quantity publishing operations such as the photobook market allowing massive quantities of one to be tracked and delivered efficiently.”
VDP is also used in commercial print applications. “With the higher print quality and 1,200 dpi resolution of digital inkjet printing technology, commercial printers that once used multiple-step processes to prepare personalized output achieve new levels of personalization at a profitable price point. Additionally, when multi-sensory elements like augmented reality (AR), quick response (QR) codes, and virtual reality are incorporated or even a pURL, this variable multichannel piece can drive exceptional results,” shares Weese.
“Call centers have been adopting more VDP technology, but these interactive experiences often need to be centrally printed to be compliant with regulations. This shift has raised the importance of web-based design, preview, and approval capabilities. Users want to see what communications look like in each channel to ensure consistency and to remove confusion for their recipients,” explains Draeger.
With growth, comes challenges. In general, McGady cites the biggest challenge is connecting all of these communications together, and more importantly, “creating an overall marketing strategy that will increase leads and sales.”
To this point, Sevostyanov notes that VDP campaigns are generally most effective when there is a way to segment audiences to increase campaign impact.
The print market doesn’t exist in a vacuum and is influenced by some of the trendiest technological advancements we read about today. Integration, the cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), APIs, and QR codes all positively influence VDP and multichannel software.
Software that is able to communicate with other software is essential. “One of the latest technology trends is to connect all parts of your print workflow into an automated workflow—in order to increase efficiency and profits and decrease errors and manual touches without increasing resources,” explains McGady.
For example, Aleyant’s automation print software can connect online design to business-to-consumer and business-to-business online print stores. The print store can integrate with estimating, production management, customer service, and prepress automation. Aleyant software products can be used separately or connect to over 1,500 third-party applications via direct API or Zapier.
The push to integrate VDP into business processes is driven by the need for greater control over their marketing activities. “Some brands are even moving their marketing activities in house. To retain their client base and meet these needs, marketing agencies are giving more control over campaigns to their customers. Clients also appreciate the ability to collaborate on campaigns with multiple team members, which places growing importance on maintaining and managing shared libraries of templates, designs, and assets,” shares Sevostyanov.
Customer’s Canvas by Aurigma announced a recent service to help printers add product personalization functionality to Shopify-based storefronts. The W2P software vendor provides the complete development cycle, which is based on its W2P technology stack and experience in implementing W2P projects of any complexity. Customers don’t need programming resources or infrastructure. The service is based on two main assets—a W2P editor and new technology called BackOffice that simplifies the workflows for managing W2P integration so that even non-technical staff can handle it.
Weese also sees a certain allure in the ease with which “complex transactional documents and marketing campaigns are now integrated with latest generation ERP and MIS. This allows stakeholders to get a full lifecycle view of any current or prospective customer.”
Canon’s PRISMAsync print servers provide VDP support with record-based editing and management, in addition to full compatibility with industry standard VDP workflows including PDF/VT1 and PPML.
Another trend is the cloud, with many software providers eliminating on-premise solutions in favor of managed cloud services. “This allows software companies to be more nimble, provide a more consistent experience, and scale. It also helps their customers too because they no longer need to buy expensive hardware or manage infrastructure,” says Arnsdorf.
CHILI introduced CHILI publisher Online in April 2020. CHILI publisher Online was developed in compatibility with Microsoft Azure to supply service providers with the cloud-collaborative technology stack they need to ensure business continuity and/or optimization via their W2P platforms. It is available in four different tiers—Starter, Business, Professional, and Private Cloud.
The move to the cloud is the biggest trend, according to Diaz. “Managing and integrating multiple software applications is expensive and inefficient. Protecting your business data against cybersecurity threats is now a top concern for printing companies of all sizes. These trends point to the need for a secure, end-to-end software platform for the entire print organization, managed in the cloud.”
Kodak PRINERGY On Demand Business Solutions was announced in December 2020. Collaborating with software providers like Microsoft, PrintVis, and VPress, Kodak PRINERGY On Demand Business Solutions provide scalable, automated, end-to-end solutions that cover order to cash and procurement to pay. Hosted on Microsoft Azure, the print-specific ERP/MIS component based on Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central comes from PrintVis while VPress contributes advanced W2P, ecommerce storefront, and VDP authoring functionality.
While AI is used by other software solutions to identify the experiences best suited for self service or chatbots, VDP and multichannel software turns “old content into new forms,” according to Draeger. “When they identify good conversation candidates, the challenge is to streamline the associated VDP communications to end users without forcing additional complexity on the infrastructure teams. Quadient gives a lot of thought to making transformation a dual leverage effort where the customer experience is improved while delivery costs are reduced through system efficiencies,” he adds.
Quadient Inspire makes personalized content and VDP easy, affordable, secure, as well as trackable.
QR codes aren’t a new technology, but Arnsdorf explains that more recently the print industry started to grasp the potential when the COVID-19 pandemic began. “It is a great way to encourage a touch-free interaction for many businesses. Not to mention everything from in-store signage, browsing restaurant menus online, and ordering food to easily making payments without cash or credit cards to checking in for your in-person appointments.”
Savvy print and marketing service providers utilize VDP and multichannel tools beyond the traditional sense.
Innovation is represented in multiple ways, but Draeger’s favorite example of service providers using tools in new ways is when they sell more communications. For example, when a print-based campaign uses informed delivery from USPS to also send a preview email and/or a follow up after delivery.
“This is an easy way to build excitement for the printed piece, increase response rates, and show clients that it makes sense to hire a single service provider,” he explains.
One change that stands out in particular to Sevostyanov is how digital and print channels have intertwined in recent years. Technology has matured to a level where this is economically possible.
“For example, store owners can use VDP to reach different customer segments visiting their online stores that were previously only reachable through online channels. Many automation systems now allow you to create and manage campaigns from a single administrative panel, often with the same marketing materials prepared for online and print. Additionally, marketing platforms with complete direct mail applications that work with local SMBs have recently appeared,” he adds.
VDP and multichannel software enable creativity with data. While the print or marketing service provider may not have all the data available for a recipient, they should be able to leverage the information they do have to create targeted communications. “As recipients interact, more information is discovered and added to the database,” explains Arnsdorf.
Offering VDP and multichannel services is one thing, but marketing effectively, winning the sale, and achieving a ROI is the ultimate goal.
“PSPs can achieve a ROI by utilizing the software to create more campaigns and measure leads created from this channel,” recommends McGady.
Arnsdorf point outs that customers probably don’t care as much about how the software works, but how it will positively impact their business. “If you have customer success stories that demonstrate ROI then share those with new customers or prospects.”
Sevostyanov agrees, noting that printers and marketers should educate customers how to leverage VDP and which tools will help.
He also says it’s a good idea to focus on usability and integration with the customer’s business processes.
Draeger suggests maximizing ROI by paying attention to design. “You need to balance your channel mix to deliver amazing design capabilities across all channels. If you do this, you earn that experienced design premium for more communications,” he adds.
Drilling Down with VDP
VDP software plays a large role in a successful print marketing campaign. This goes beyond traditional applications like direct mail and expands into commercial printing of photobooks, POP displays, and packaging. Paired with multichannel solutions like QR codes, pURLs, and AR, captured data allows brand owners to segment down even further, sending pointed, direct marketing to prospective buyers. Leveraging these tools effectively makes the print or marketing service provider an influential part of any branding experience. dps
May2021, DPS Magazine