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Driving Relevant Personalization

Taking Advantage of Direct-Mail Possibilities

By Barbara Pellows

Think of all the commercial direct-mail you received in the past week from legitimate companies. How many letters did you actually open? How many did you read all the way through? How many merely were dropped in the trash bin unnoticed? If you’re like most consumers, the majority of your mail finds its way to the garbage can with little or no attention.

Mail becomes relevant when it’s sent in the context of a relationship a business has with a customer. Direct-mail communications must take into consideration what products the consumer has historically purchased. It’s content must demonstrate an understanding of the customer’s behavior and a knowledge about preferences. The campaign should be targeted to the appropriate stage in the buying cycle. The message needs to be relevant. But frequently, both marketers and digital service providers confuse personalization with relevance.

In August, I had the opportunity to participate in LectraMedia’s second annual Variable Data Printing (VDP) Conference and Design Contest Awards Luncheon and wanted to share examples of the truly relevant applications that are emerging in the market. LectraMedia is a 30-person digital print services provider that offers on-demand document solutions. The company transformed itself from an in-plant operation owned by Tektronix (now Thomson) to a thriving digital print operation serving customers on a nationwide basis. Tom Conley, president of LectraMedia, knew that digital print was critical to driving his business. He correlated digital print with its ability to produce variable data communications. As a visionary, he knew that for variable data campaigns to be successful, they need to have a demonstrated return on investment (ROI) for the customer.

A New Approach
Like other printers, the challenge for LectraMedia was building awareness and getting marketing departments to develop applications that leverage digital color print technology.

LectraMedia’s business development manager, Teri Paulus-Bershaw, decided to take a three-pronged approach to driving digital color business volumes. First, under her guidance, LectraMedia conducted seminars for agencies in the surrounding markets to explain the value proposition as well as implementation and design considerations for variable data campaigns. Secondly, she leveraged her relationships with local associations like the Sacramento American Marketing Association. Finally, LectraMedia decided to run a variable data design contest with a substantial cash prize for the most creative entry with the highest business value.

According to Conley, "Designers that wouldn’t talk with us before are all of a sudden excited about the opportunity. They see it as a new way of doing things." This year’s annual contest truly demonstrated how the market has developed.

LectraMedia established a panel of judges including Steven Donaldson, BGDi brand solutions; James Robinson, mail piece design analyst, USPS; Ron Sarne, Kodak business development manager; and Carolyn Valiquette, GM, PODi. They identified the top three submissions against the following criteria:

• How relevant is the variable data content overall to the recipients?

• How prominent is the variable data? Is it one of the first things you notice?

• How good is the overall design?

• How prominent is the call to action? ie., go to a Web site, visit a store.

And the Winner Is
The winning entry in LectraMedia’s VDP Design Contest came from John Paul at Spiral Studios. One of his clients is ACFEA Tour Consultants, a 50-year-old company that organizes customized performing arts tours for choirs, orchestras, and symphonies.

As accomplished musicians, ACFEA staff members know first-hand the special needs and concerns a performing arts group may have when touring abroad. Tours designed by ACFEA are tailor-made to fit each individual group, reflecting that ensemble’s unique interests, abilities, and expectations. Festivals can be incorporated into the itinerary as well as competitions, home stays, exchanges, and other special touches—all made possible by the practice of responding to each group’s particular objectives.

The campaign marketing objective was to reach potential performing arts organizations who are considering going on a customized performance tour, so ACFEA tour managers can respond personally to their request for further information.

The mailer contained multiple variables including both text and images of the destination, based on the group’s past history and projected interests. The tour manager also varied by the location of the specific choir, orchestra, or symphony, and the mailer directed them to the URL for the tour manager.

Gini Crepps from IQ Design was awarded second place based on a mailer that she designed for an educational company. The marketing objective for the campaign was to introduce new 2006 educational resource materials to individual teachers, relating directly to their grade level and specific subject matter. The offer included free shipping to generate Web-based sales. Personalization included name, academic subject matter, and grade levels. Color was also used to differentiate subject areas. The offer was the same across all targets. The introductory text and images in each mailer were related to teacher’s subject matter expertise and the appropriate grade level.

Third place was awarded to Katy Hight for work she completed for the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation. The objective of the campaign was to encourage people who have attended one of their events to participate in additional functions as well as make additional donations.

In this instance, they used photos of the actual recipient as the attention-getter. The front of the postcard had a picture of the attendee at a prior event, the name and date of the event, and information on upcoming activities. The flip side of the postcard included a listing of the next four major fundraisers as well as the recipient’s name.

Building an Effective Campaign
Each of these campaigns demonstrates effective utilization of personalization. Targeted, timely, and relevant communications are the key to profitable, long-term customer relationships. The winning applications from the Second Annual VDP Awards at LectraMedia illustrate key principles surrounding custom communications in today’s market:

• Everybody has a favorite phrase—the sound of their name. A good personalized mail piece should take every opportunity to address the customer or prospect by name.

• The more the direct-mail piece is personalized, the higher the probability of response.

• A picture is worth a thousand words. If there is an image that the recipient identifies with, the probability that the document will be read goes up exponentially.

• More relevant messaging and offers can build deeper relationships and maximize marketing ROI.

• Digital printing offers wonderful opportunities for personalization.

The digital printer can print different names and details on each and every piece. Each finished brochure can look as though it’s been individually created for the recipient.

In Summary
A beautiful marketing campaign isn’t enough, no matter how good the offer. Marketers need to put themselves in their clients’ shoes and send what’s relevant—what they need and can use at that moment. Sure, it’s more difficult. But it ensures significantly higher retention rates and will more efficiently drive satisfaction and sales.

When developing campaigns, the marketer needs to use technology to base marketing campaigns on customer profiles. The marketer should not think only of short-term sales. Customer relationship management means that companies fortify consumer trust. Direct-mail that is relevant needs to be sent at the right time to the right individual, not to an entire database. Personaliza-tion is great. But relevance makes an impact on your bottom line.

Dec2005, Digital Output

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