With so much “web centricity,” print design is a graphics niche not to be taken for granted at marketing agencies and design firms. There is ongoing concern within the print and design communities that graphic arts students are graduating with only basic print knowledge. “I graduated [from...
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With more detailed customer data becoming available, designing for digital VDP is even more of a specialty for graphic artists in-house and out. To reach VDP’s potential, printed pieces need to be properly planned. While the fundamental design “bones” are pretty much the same, “the biggest difference,” Alexander said, “is trying to pull out what is the most interesting aspect not only to the client but to the end recipient as well.” Digital production limitations, such as fewer paper stock choices and lack of PMS colors, he added, are outweighed by the ability to highly target the audience. “Headlines are more important,” Alexander stressed, because each is different.
The first step is to think differently about the project. It’s actually more of a mindset than a skill set – being creative in a different way. One key is getting to know the end customer. Alexander cited the example of a VDP mailer that Reactor designed for a bank client in Missouri. “High school football is a big deal in rural Missouri,” he explained. “Small towns live and die with their teams.” So the Reactor creatives developed a tailgating theme tied to a simple promotional offer with a regional twist: Open a new checking account and receive a stadium blanket customized for your local team.
The bank targeted seven different markets with a relatively small print run of 15,000 prospects. “Some people got a Salem Tigers blanket, while others got St. James Bears blankets,” Alexander said. Diecutting was performed inline on Mail Print’s high-speed T200 Inkjet Web Press from HP, which touts, “Now you can talk to Sally Sample with true relevance, even on the largest, full-color runs … however you need to customize, segment, and target for your customers.”
Three customization tactics to consider:
- Make greeting messages relevant to a customer’s age.Use images that reflect previous purchases.Adapt offers and prices to match individual interests and buying patterns.
- A fourth strategy is to use vibrant, personalized graphics, which is difficult to do without printing in color. Color is a very powerful tool in variable-data design. In transpromo applications, for instance, adding color can deliver extra impact that helps statements to stand out, especially “because you can give relevant detail to each customer,” HP explained. “Color graphs, pie charts, and sliding scales are best-practice tools for communicating quickly with your audience and reinforcing your message. Documents engineered with color can deliver heightened engagement” for print jobs such as benefits statements, giving statements, stock portfolio updates, and color directional maps.
- VDP campaign developers can counter privacy concerns about excessive “data mining” simply by being observant like Reactor was about the importance of football. “Even if census or national statistical data is not available, you can generally learn more by identifying characteristics of neighborhoods,” HP’s marketers explained. “Is there a marina, a golf course, a hiking trail, or sports field close by? Is the post code populated with high density housing or single family dwellings? How are the schools?”
Hewlett-Packard cited another financial VDP example where the offer is for a research report. “You can personalize it by offering each reader a different report depending on which trade publication they prefer,” explained the HP literature. “Then, to highlight this personalization, you can feature a color image on the front of the report relevant to the reader as well as an image on the front of the envelope” to draw attention to the offer and encourage a response.
Loyalty Lives Here
Remember, this was a young guy who came out of an acclaimed design school 13 years ago not knowing diddly about print. So how did he learn?
“It truly was baptism by fire,” Alexander said. After several “bad experiences” with area printing companies, much of what Alexander and his Reactor creative partners have learned over the past six years or so is knowledge gleaned from A.C. Printing Co., a diversified, 40-year-old commercial offset shop in nearby Olathe, KS. Sales rep Tim Whitmore has helped A.C. earn status as Reactor’s go-to print partner – the envied position of being the printer who gets a second look at price quotations. “They produce 100 percent of our [offset] work,” Alexander said. “Even if I know AC cannot print a job [in house], I quote it through them because there’s a high trust level there. Their prepress guys are top-notch. We have a reciprocal relationship. When they go above and beyond for us, I bring them homemade cookies or brownies the next morning.” It’s old school, and it works.