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Getting Personal

Variable data—or personalized—communications are a staple in many segments of the commercial print world, but how profoundly will it impact large-format print in the years to come?

By Gretchen A. Peck

1 of a 4 Part Series

Some call it one-to-one marketing; others refer to it as personalized communications. But folks in the print industry know it best as variable data printing, or VDP, for short.

No matter what you call it, VDP is a highly effective marketing strategy that elicits far greater response rates than non-personalized messaging. Certain segments of the commercial and publication print world have known this for many years. Although VDP first became prevalent in transactional documentation, today, it continues to be broadly adopted in direct mail, catalogs, publications, and even in the high-end book market.

How does it work? Simply speaking, variable data content—the parts of the message that are unique to the recipient—are married with templated, static content from a digital printer’s raster image processor (RIP), enabling the printer to essentially generate one-off documents, but in long run lengths.

Surprisingly, the greatest barrier to variable data printing is not technological. Digital printers have been around and widely used for years, as have database-driven programs for managing variable information.

What has prohibited even faster adoption of VDP in commercial printing is the lack of good, clean data on the front end. The greatest challenge presented to an organization is capturing accurate information about consumer behaviors, and utilizing it in a meaningful way.

But these challenges are being slowly and surely overcome, and that’s evident—or perhaps not so evident—in the type of personalized communications print suppliers are creating. Gone are the days when a VDP piece is obvious to the recipient, with perhaps the person’s name ink-jetted in—and, often, in a different font. Consumers today are savvy; they’re not as easily wowed by such simplistic marketing tricks. By and large, they’ll appreciate a specialized piece of print that’s created just for him or her, but the messaging must be truly unique to generate three- or four-times the response rates typically achieved by static print.

Take, for example, the automotive industry, which is quite adept at utilizing personalized marketing. Based on prior buying habits and specific requests a potential buyer may disclose on a Web site, for example, an automobile manufacturer that can tailor a high-end, glossy brochure suggesting, explaining, and illustrating the must-have car designed specifically for that individual.

Thanks to VDP and digital print, catalogers can create customized direct mail pieces based on prior buying habits. A business man, for example, who has recently purchased dress shirts of certain colors may receive a promotional piece alerting him to a special offer on ties in complementary colors.

There is no limit to the amount of information a personalized piece of print may contain these days. Indeed, even an entire publication or direct mail package can be created with 100 percent customized data.

While some may think that VDP is better left up to the experts in commercial printing, others are finding that personalized large format print—with variable images, graphics, and copy based on geography and precise demographics of those who will see it—is an emerging opportunity that large format customers will soon come to expect.

Stay tuned for the next three installments of this series, in which we’ll examine cutting-edge variable data software solutions and personalized print strategies that large format print suppliers can deploy to ensure their customers get the greatest response rate.

Feb2008, Digital Output

 

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