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VDP and ROI in '12

Faced with increasing pressure to validate performance, today’s marketing professionals are implementing more integrated strategies and deploying tools that enable them to better track their return on investment (ROI). Variable data printing (VDP) enables marketers to track campaign effectiveness, optimize direct-mail programs, and calculate ROI. It is no longer a secret that personalized, VDP campaigns can work extremely well, often jacking up response rates into the double- and even triple-digit range.

We have seen the statistics, and here is more proof for the static skeptics and non-believers still out there: The Chick-fil-A restaurant franchise in Covington, LA, saw a direct marketing response rate of more than 120 percent when it sought to establish a customer database and drive business. Its campaign combined personalized plastic postcards, PURLs, and viral marketing via social media, email, and SMS text messaging.

In North Carolina, historic Pinehurst Resort used postcards with a personalized URL (PURL) to drive enrollment in its golf academy last year. Once at the web address, visitors were asked to participate in an online survey to assess their golf game. Then, each golfer was mailed a brochure featuring customized information regarding the weaker elements of their game. One in 10 recipients of the initial mailing responded, reported PODi, the digital printing initiative.

In another example, to increase its membership and raise more funds, the Japanese American National Museum used customer analytics to review its existing donor base and determine what characteristics to look for in potential prospects. A direct mail campaign was developed to reach lapsed and prospective donors. Using relevant messaging, JANM saw a 10 to 15 percent lift in total donation amounts compared to the previous year.

In the political arena, using the power of printing to influence is nothing new, of course. Today’s direct mail is an adaptation of pamphleteering, the 19th-century election tool. Printer/politician Ben Franklin was distributing leaflets and propaganda long before that. And thanks to digital press enhancements, 21st-century print campaigning is more personalized than ever before.

Democratic Demographics

With the fall elections four months away, self-mailers are beginning to, well, mail, deployed to drive people to the polls. While the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, and other “social” networks are garnering a great deal of attention during this election, direct mail is as important as ever. The parties and candidates are gearing up to send out reams of leaflets, postcards, and letters to U.S. voters. Direct mail can do important things that even television ads cannot accomplish. While TV commercials have great reach and impact, their messages are fairly general because they are seen by hundreds of thousands of people across different geographical areas. Many of these people are not in the parties’ target audience: Many already are committed to one of the parties, and some are under the voting age. And others are not watching at all, fast-forwarding with ad-skipping technologies such as DVR and TiVo.

Direct mail can be sent where it is needed most, and it can carry a highly focused message aimed at specific areas or even households or individuals. Localizing the national campaign and sending out targeted messages are seen as vital, especially because of what research shows about swinging voters. These voters are believed to be largely apolitical, interested in neither ideology nor abstract political arguments. But they might prick up their ears and pay attention if the issue at hand is a “hot-button” one – such as immigration or health care. Swinging voters also are said to be less concerned about big-picture themes and more interested in their own circumstances and those of their family and community: so-called“hip-pocket nerve” issues like interest rates, mortgages, food, and gasoline prices.

Southeastern printech is one of myriad firms “specializing” in political campaign printing. Situated near Savannah, GA, and Hilton Head, SC, the company has churned out political brochures, rack cards, direct mail, postcards, and yard signs for nearly three decades. The company is gearing up for yet another busy election season.

Higher Ed, Too

Institutions of higher learning are using personalized VDP to their marketing advantage as well. Sheetfed/digital printer Rider Dickerson, Inc., Bellwood, IL, hosted its second annual printForum conference in May, where Chicago marketers can learn about the latest trends and technologies. “We rely on Rider Dickerson to help us stay on the forefront of marketing,” commented Nicole O’Connell, director of enrollment marketing at Loyola University Chicago, for which the printer created a dimensional package targeted to 700+ high school guidance counselors. Incorporating a cleverly designed, personalized outer wrapper and letter, the box also provided Loyola the opportunity to send copies of its student viewbook, a poster, and other key enrollment communication pieces.

For variable-data applications, the 109-year-old firm uses a two-color, 10-by-15-inch high-speed envelop press along with an HP Indigo 7500 digital press (installed in mid-2011) and VDP software from MindFireInc. “We’ve gone from being a traditional sheetfed printer to offering everything from digital solutions and integrated marketing to large-format and specialty printing,” CEO Bill Barta said of his firm’s five-year transformation.

Rider Dickerson also helped Robert Morris University (RMU), another Chicago-area institution that has grown to 10 campuses, build a recruitment campaign that included targeted letters and postcard mailings to prospective high school students. Rider Dickerson consulted with RMU on how to target prospects by variables including degree preference, scholarship level (test scores), campus location, and athletic talent. From this analysis, the print service provider recommended a cross-media campaign that would invite prospective students to visit a personalized URL. An online dashboard tracked page visits on a daily basis, which allowed the enrollment management team to adjust campaign messages in successive rounds of communications. This targeted, flexible approach helped RMU increase its lead pool over the previous year’s campaign by 79 percent.

In another higher-education application, Keiger Direct, a Xerox customer and the direct mail and variable data printing division of Keiger Printing, Winston-Salem, NC, used a one-to-one cross-media campaign to help nearby Salem College boost its incoming enrollment by more than 10 percent last fall. Salem is a small women’s college with an enrollment of approximately 1,100 students. Keiger’s strategy employed separate marketing tracks for high-school sophomores and juniors. The campaign aimed at sophomores leveraged much of the previous year’s strategy. The initial e-mail included a PURL linking to a survey and was followed by a mailer that also included the PURL as well as a new personalized QR code. A brochure using the survey responses was then sent out, with 562 possible variable combinations, including images directly related to the recipient’s intended major and ethnicity and supported by targeted response e-mails.

For juniors, the initial e-mail included a different PURL that linked to a new landing page, which asked what the student’s favorite activity was. Once their name and e-mail address were confirmed, they could access a virtual tour of Salem College. This page was completely interactive and included YouTube videos, slide shows and links to the college’s social media sites, such as Facebook. The high school junior would then receive a personalized, eight-panel brochure highlighting what life would be like at Salem College, integrating images based on the activity that they indicated in the survey as well as a variable picture and bio of their admissions counselor.

Approximately 73,000 unique QR codes and PURLs were generated for this campaign, all using MindFireInc software. To integrate each of these variable elements into the various Adobe InDesign layouts and ensure consistent, automated content across the various media channels used in the campaign, Keiger Direct utilized XMPie (Xerox) software and technology. Production was handled by the iGen4 Digital Press paired with a CX Print Server powered by Creo.

Within 24 hours of sending out the first campaign email, 1,500 students responded to the PURL, with 56 percent completing the survey — a 2 percent response rate in a single day. Overall, the campaign netted a 31 percent response increase over the inaugural campaign in 2009. At the same time, Salem College reduced campaign mailing quantities by another 7 percent through precise targeting, decreasing related costs. Salem College saw the highest number of first-year students and transfers since 2004, an 11 percent increase in enrollment over 2009.

A Xerox iGen also was used for a print firm’s self promotion in Pittsburg. PODi member AlphaGraphics in the Cultural District wanted to enhance its database by learning more about customer' direct-marketing needs. The company developed a cross-media campaign expressing appreciation to loyal customers and encouraging them to provide feedback on their marketing challenges. The campaign incorporated direct mail, PURLs, and email. AlphaGraphics achieved a 22.5 percent direct mail response rate, identified 39 marketing services prospects, and generated new business.

If your firm is not offering VDP services to customers on a regular basis, what are you waiting for? It’s a win-win for everyone’s bottom line.

Breaking Bad (in Print)

When it comes to mailing data, “dirty” lists need to be cleaned and purged. But in an example of VDP and mailing lists at their worst, a voter registration form was sent in June to a Rosie Charlston in Washington state. The problem is that the recipient could not read and has been deceased for 13 years – oh, and she was a dog (a black lab, to be precise).

Brenda Charlston wasn't the only person to get documents for her pet. A Virginia man said similar documents arrived for his dead dog, Mozart, while a woman there got forms for her cat, Scampers. The auditor in Pierce County, WA, estimated that about two dozen residents have contacted the county about registration forms arriving for dead relatives. “They’re fishing for votes,” Charlston told the Associated Press.

A nonprofit group called the Voter Participation Center touted the distribution of some 5 million such registration forms targeting Democratic-leaning voting blocs such as unmarried women, blacks, Latinos, and people under the age of 30. These groups historically are under-represented in the election process. The group says it has helped register 1 million people since 2004 and some 300,000 people in the current election cycle. But residents and election administrators around the country have reported a series of bizarre and questionable mailings addressed to dead people, non-citizens, people already registered to vote, and animals such as Rosie, reported Mike Baker of the AP.

The Voter Participation Center acknowledged that the databases it uses to contact possible voters are imperfect because they are developed from commercially collected information. The group also said it expects people who receive misdirected mail to simply throw it away. But the mail looked very official, arriving in privacy envelopes with the headline “VOTER REGISTRATION DOCUMENTS ENCLOSED.” Some information was already completed on the voter registration papers, and recipients also got an envelope to send completed forms to local elections officials, several of whom told Baker that they believed the voter registration systems were secure enough to catch people who might improperly submit the misdirected documents.

But there’s cause for concern in New Mexico, a potential swing state in the 2012 presidential race. Administrators there warned that ineligible voters who complete the documents could make it onto the rolls. (New Mexico is one of two states in which noncitizens can qualify for a driver's license by simply proving residency — not necessarily legal residency — and state elections officials have no way of verifying the legal status of those who file registration documents.)

Ken Ortiz, the chief of staff at the New Mexico secretary of state's office, said some noncitizens have contacted the state asking why they received the forms when they'd previously been told that they could not vote. “We fear that some of these individuals who receive this mailing may feel that they are being encouraged to vote by our office or county government,” Ortiz told the AP.

The Voter Participation Center works with a vendor that has access to multiple commercial databases that could include people who subscribe to magazines or “junk mail” using names of their pets, said Page Gardner, the group’s president. She said the nonprofit tries its best to target only eligible and unregistered voters but that some other names inevitably get on the final list.

“Is it a perfect process? No,” Gardner admitted. Ultimately, she said they rely on the integrity of people and the security of the system. She also noted that the same forms are available to anyone at county offices or on the Internet.