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VDP: The Smart Approach

Following a couple decades of hype, variable data printing (VDP) seems to have settled into its niche markets—markets that the large format print supplier may already be serving.

By Gretchen A. Peck

2 of a 4 Part Series

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. That’s a good creed to live by, and one that’s quite apt when talking about VDP. Certainly digital printing enables the concept of personalized print, but VDP continues to be a strategy best employed by certain key vertical markets, and by print suppliers dedicated to serving them.

The advent of digital production printers promised not only the possibility of cost-effective, short-run print, but also more targeted messages that would, in theory, provide the print buyer with more profit. Variable data technologies—the hardware and software that comprises the workflow—enabled the Utopian one-to-one communication and on demand printing the print customer craved. No longer just a theory, personalized print could speak to a specific individual, making each document within a single run truly unique.

Needless to say, VDP shook up the direct marketing world and other vertical markets, causing content creators and print buyers to think about print in a whole new way. Imaginations ran wild at the mere prospect that a print campaign—whether it was direct mail piece, a corporate brochure, a catalog, or other print product—might contain 100-percent variable information. Every single element—graphics, photos, copy, pricing, and products—could be precisely chosen for the recipient.

But VDP proved that it didn’t have to be so complex. Typically, a document may only need to vary between two or three bits of key information. And those marketers who learned early on how to create personalized print smartly—for the right reasons and situations—profited from it with above-average response rates measured by direct and immediate sales or the initiation of some desired behavior.

In commercial printing today, VDP is still very much limited in scope. By and large, the practice is best suited to transactional and marketing applications—financial, insurance, direct mail, catalog, and corporate communications.

By its very nature, large format digital print wouldn’t seem a natural fit for VDP, as most big-print jobs are "one and done." But on occasion, even in the large format specialty, the basic principles of VDP can apply.

Take, for example, the regional supermarket chain that needs consistent branding for a series of posters or point of purchase (POP) displays planned for multiple locations across several U.S. states. Based on customer demographics and prior store performance, marketing executives may decide that each display requires one or two elemental changes—a different graphic or block of copy, to entice different customers in different regions.

The question a large format print supplier must ask is whether such scenarios occur frequently enough to justify making an investment in a VDP workflow.

Most likely, large format print companies will see promise in VDP as an extension of its current business model. By investing in smaller format digital print engines and VDP prepress tools, they’ll be more apt to become a one-stop shop for its marketing and corporate customers. Increasingly, commercial printers are adding wide format print capabilities to their service rosters in order to achieve this same goal. Certainly, the reverse may present new opportunities for large format print companies, too.

Click here to read Part 1 of this exclusive online series, Getting Personal.

Feb2008, Digital Output

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