Make Print Personal

Personalization can be very complex or pretty simple. It can be effective or ineffective. It can be print-only or multi-media. In other words, the term covers a lot of territory.

On the complex, print-only side, Kroger tracks all of our purchases. It induces us to let them track our buying habits by offering gasoline discounts when we purchase a certain dollar amount of groceries each month. Periodically, we receive in the mail a printed booklet with coupons offering discounts on the sort of stuff we buy regularly. This involves very complex database tracking and personalized four-color printing. It is highly effective.

On the simple, print-only side, from time to time I receive printed offers addressed to Box S. Hall. At one time or another, a company I did business with entered my name into a database with that spelling. That particular database is being repeatedly sold to firms which think my presence on the original database makes it somewhat likely that I will be interested in a similar product or service. This sort of personalization involves an assumption and a simple mailing list that is incorrect and, therefore, ineffective.

Only as Good as the Data

As you can see, no matter whether the effort is simple or complex, personalization is not possible without good data. Judy Berlin, director of worldwide marketing for XMPie recommends that printers recruit someone familiar with working with databases. “The data quality is important to success,” she says. “Whatever is variable and associated with each recipient must be clean, de-duped, and accurate.”

Roger Buck, director of marketing at The Flesh Company agrees on the importance of having good data and the need to work with customers to build a workable database for any personalization campaign. “Printers must understand the interview process that must occur to gather the necessary information,” he says. “Where is the data kept? How complete is it? What data is needed? What data is missing? How will they capture the data? What’s the timeline for securing the data? What will it cost? How will they segment the target base?”

A database can consist of something as simple as names and addresses or something as complex as past buying habits or preferences. Berlin says print campaigns can be augmented “with e-media components such as email, Web, and other media,” which would require a different data set.

“Once the preferred channel is selected, deciding how to personalize the message itself must be determined,” says Pitney Bowes vice president of Mail Finishing Chris Giles. “Today there are hardware and software solutions that allow for personalization to be added to the outside of the envelope, the message itself, and even auto triggered based on the customer’s behavior, response, or preference.”

Where can printers look to find these solutions? QP columnist John Giles (no relation) says there is “a wealth of videos on YouTube that give instructions on how to handle almost any VDP or personalization situation. “He also suggests checking out Adobe’s website for step-by-step instructions for creating personalized documents using InDesign. Also, most major vendors of digital print production hardware and variable software have personalization resources their customers can use. XMPie’s Customer 1to1 Business Development program is one such resource. So is Pitney Bowes website.

Walk the Walk

It is pretty obvious that, while the idea of personalization is appealing, the reality is that it is much more complex and demanding than setting up a simple mail merge. It takes work and many printers either cannot or will not put in the effort to acquire the skills needed to offer personalization as a product to their customers. Those who do, however, need to figure out how to sell the benefits and realities of a personalized campaign.

“Most printers will immediately throw out quotes on how it can increase response rates,” says Buck. “They often miss other values such as reduced print volume once the database has been cleaned, qualified, and segmented; reduced postage due to this reduced volume; reduced cost in returns due to bad addresses; increased conversion rate due to targeting a higher prospect level; etc.”

There is a huge amount of data that can be used to back up the case for the benefits of personalization, but in the end it is much more effective to show someone than to tell someone.

“If printers would start a regularly scheduled marketing campaign using the technology they already own, customers could see examples of the benefits,” says John Giles. “Printers should have personalization in the newsletter they send to their customers each month. They should be using personalization on the postcards they are sending out to promote their business. If a printer isn’t using the tools available and don’t think they are important to help increase sales, then the customer will never be convinced of the value of personalization.”

Buck agrees. He also segments printers into two categories and offers specific advice to each.

For those with experience in personalization, he recommends building case studies of successful and unsuccessful campaigns and using pre-recorded webinars to give short clips on how a personalization program can work. “Develop a whitepaper on personalization that breaks down the process into segments and timelines so the client will understand that successful campaigns may require six to 12 months.”

For those new to personalization, he says practice with your own company first. “Find a good client who is willing to let you use them as a test case and document everything,” he advises. “Run a campaign, study the results, alter the database, the offer, the context, the graphics, or the format and test the campaign again.”

With these “show me” tools in hand, you can then approach customers with the proof that you walk-the-walk and the evidence of both the value and the variety of personalization options.

For both beginners and old hands in the personalization game, Buck cautions that “beyond explaining the benefits of personalization you must explain the steps and processes that must take place prior, during, and post campaign so that the client fully understands the long term commitment that is required.”