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From Print to Information

Avant Imaging and Information Management

By Barbara Pellow

In both B2B and B2C markets, customers expect more from suppliers and suppliers are challenged to deliver to these new expectations. They want clear, simple, pertinent information. In today’s society, consumers ignore or delete information that is not relevant or important to them, or takes too much time to read. The days of traditional communications are over. Visionary graphic communication service providers are beginning to realize that they have to get into the middle of their clients’ marketing mix. It is about the ability to work in partnership with clients to present targeted offers, messages, and services, and to respond to individual requests in a timeframe that delivers the highest value and greatest profitability to the customer’s organization.

The most critical element in effectively dealing with your customer base is the ability to coordinate various communication strategies—delivered at different times—through a direct marketing campaign management approach. While some marketers look at the concept of integrated campaign management as a silver bullet, there are essential elements and ground rules you need to establish with customers to make integrated campaigns effective.

The client needs to have a clear and coherent strategy in place that succinctly defines the target market. An attractive and appealing offer is critical to driving response rates. There needs to be good creative execution with a sound marketing message. The strategy, offer, creative execution, and marketing message need to be backed with quality data sourced either externally or through internal lists. And finally, success metrics need to be clearly established so that campaign offers or targets can be adjusted to deliver expected results.

These principles are core to how Canadian-based Avant Imaging and Information Management (AIIM) has driven and grown its business over the past 20 years.

Where Information is Everything
In 1990, Mario Giorgio, chairman and CEO, and Frank Giorgio, president, founded Avant Litho Graphics in Aurora Ontario, just north of Toronto. Ahead of its time, the firm changed its name to Avant Imaging & Information Management, Inc. in 1995. The firm realized early on that the business was transitioning from that of a print provider to an information handler. The Giorgio’s embraced this philosophy and built an infrastructure around information management. While AIIM’s core strength is commercial printing, the firm has positioned itself to take a leadership position in the expanding world of 1:1 communications. Built on the principles of being adaptable, visionary, and having an entrepreneurial business spirit with employees that are committed and passionate about servicing their customers, AIIM has grown to over 100 strong with year-over-year revenue growth.

From Print to Information
In the early 1990s, AIIM started a JIT Demand Print Division. The firm found significant opportunity with large firms that wanted print experts to run their businesses. AIIM became an outsourcing partner for large print departments and converted much of its clients’ operations to digital workflow.

In 1997, AIIM began its digital smart factory implementation. It invested heavily in print management systems to manage both customer interfaces as well as the factory floor. While some graphic communications service providers looked at the Internet as a competitor, Giorgio looked at it as the emerging opportunity. AIIM adapted a PDF workflow and new technology to reflect opportunities within the changing e-business environment. AIIM decided to embrace the benefits of the Internet and pioneered a workflow process with full on-line project management. This meant that estimating, job submissions, proofing, tracking, inventory management, shipping verification, and billing were managed within the framework of the Internet, allowing virtual project management for reduced cycle times and costs. According to Giorgio, "Our view was, and still is, that the Internet is the new movable type."

Success at Moneris
AIIM’s Internet focus yielded success with Moneris Solutions, who approached AIIM for help as it tried to communicate with its 100,000 plus customers through a franchise flyer initiative. Moneris is a joint venture of the Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Montreal that provides small, medium, and large businesses across North America with advanced credit and debit card point of sale systems. Moneris wanted to revive a franchise program, providing large institutional clients with a private label brochure for distribution to their internal stakeholders and even provide the capability for version-specific and individualized brochures.

Customer requirements for program success were also clearly established. Moneris wanted to reduce project cycle time from five to six weeks to days and reduce program costs by 25 percent. Moneris also wanted its solutions to interact with its customer base faster and with more impact than its competition.

AIIM responded with its proprietary web-to-print solution, Self Service Interface (SSI). Within weeks, the Moneris sales offices were able to author, create, and distribute versioned and personalized campaigns. The sales force used the Moneris branded SSI to access a digital asset management application, select a template, make a revision to the template, enter the job into manufacturing, and track it through shipping. AIIM reduced the cycle time from five to six weeks to four days. The sales force responded enthusiastically and the head office administrative costs declined by 66 percent.

Integrated Marketing Campaigns
"Graphic communications service providers have been communicators for the past 500 years and are still in the best situation to lead the communications process by adopting new technology," says Giorgio. To meet customer needs, AIIM has placed great value on its ability to deliver integrated marketing campaign management. As part of this initiative, AIIM has partnered with various organizations that help educate and promote CRM, 1:1, and direct communications initiatives. According to Giorgio, "We have also found that we can help our customers develop more imaginative and creatively exciting solutions when we build around the capabilities of our digital suite of emitters."

Giorgio went on to say, "Our objective with aiimCRM is to help our customers achieve the new three R’s in direct marketing—getting the right print material, to the right person, at the right time. For example, through aiimDATA, we assist our customers in working with and managing their data—essentially cleansing, parsing, and correcting the data. In order to help maximize our customers’ potential ROI, we provide profiling services through aiimANALYTICS—this is where we begin to understand things like what price point, creative, and language should be used for marketing purposes. This information is then passed along to aiimDIRECT, which prepares and manages this information for digital printing. Given our extensive array of digital print technologies, we are able to completely personalize the print communication, as well as print a personalized URL (PURL) on each piece. We use a PURL to provide unique landing pages for our customers’ clients, and given that the creative on the Web page is driven by the print program, we are in a wonderful position to ensure brand consistency between the printed piece and the Web experience. We provide these exciting Web services through our aiimCONNECT service."

During its digital journey, AIIM has realized it needs to be successful in delivering a high value product that consolidates various media, blending conventional print, the Web, data, and digital print to produce the most relevant and creative print communications programs.

This level of capability doesn’t come without significant management commitment and investment. AIIM developed the infrastructure internally and spent in excess of $2 million on building the support systems; the company has a staff of seven full time IT professionals to deliver marketing ROI to customers. The investment has also yielded ROI for AIIM. In 1990, revenues at AIIM were $3 million and they topped $21 million in 2005.

Changing Market Dynamics
Today, we are in the midst of yet another digital revolution, where customers expect and demand greater performance from their graphic communications service providers. In this Internet-driven age, organizations need to review and adapt technology and workflow to reflect changing customer needs and emerging business opportunities. In order to be successful it is essential to provide the marketplace with high quality personalized communications, reliably. As Giorgio says, "Graphic communications service providers have been communicators for the past 500 years and are still in the best situation to lead the communications process by adopting new technology." Embrace the opportunity.

Feb2007, Digital Output

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