The Best of VDP

One-time classmates Beth and Kellen Becker celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary earlier this month. The two originally had been introduced 30 years ago at Lake Forest College, when they were undergraduates at the small, liberal arts institution (enrollment: 1,500) spread out spaciously on more than 100 acres thirty miles north of Chicago. Six months ago, the 1980’s campus couple received a personalized, Valentine’s Day mailing from their alma mater targeted specifically to former students, like them, who had met at LFC, fallen in love, and subsequently married.

“The Valentine mailing … attracted some donations from people who have never given before,” revealed Derek Lambert, the college’s director of annual giving and himself a 2003 alumnus of LFC. Once a person makes a gift to the college, he or she is much more likely to continue to do so every year, he noted. So it pays to be innovative.

With a new school year beginning, most small, private colleges such as Lake Forest are putting the final touches on creative autumn solicitations to bolster endowments. At $70+ million, LFC’s endowment is relatively generous for a school of its small stature. A few years ago, its Fall Solicitation piece was even more complex than the more recent Cupid mailing this past February.

“We used variable photography and messaging based on alumni majors and sports [participation],” Lambert explained. “We [used] place-holder information about how the annual fund supports financial aid, faculty research, campus beautification, and so on.” In a multichannel twist, he said photos from the printed pieces were uploaded to Facebook, and the people pictured were tagged, creating a further buzz about the piece.

“In the end, people were calling us asking if all of our alums were getting information about ‘chemistry and softball,’ or ‘Were we really being that personalized?’ The president of the college took a call from an alumnus who had never given before, thanking us for sending him a picture of his favorite professor and made his first donation -- over 20 years after graduating. It was a lot of work, but the piece did well,” Lambert concluded.

Now, all of Lake Forest College’s* direct mailings use variable data to one extent or another, he shared. “We ask for specific gift amounts from people based on past giving and past own research. Basically, if you can give me a piece of data, I will use it as best as I can. We only have about 12,000 living, solicitable alumni -- there is no reason not to be as personal as [we] can,” Lambert said.

Adding Value to Data

But such sophisticated versioning and personalization can be a challenge because “90 percent of companies are all messed up with their data sets,” reported John Foley, Jr., CEO of interlinkONE. Beyond using software tools that comply with the U.S. Postal Service’s Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS) and National Change of Address (NCOA) processing systems, what PSPs should be asking their customers is, “How can we help you with your data?” he advised.

“Deduping and merge/purge are basic tasks,” Foley said, noting that software from vendors such as Pitney Bowes and Satori can accomplish data cleansing. “There also are robust VDP programs from vendors including GMC Software Technology, PTI [Printable], Pageflex [MSDH Inc.], and XMPie [part of Xerox] that make swapping out variable images easier. Print files need to be prepared properly for gender-related images,” Foley added. To make a piece more compelling, mail for males may portray a blue car, for instance, while those pieces for female recipients may feature a minivan.

The focus, however, should probe deeper, making their data more useful – “adding value,” according to Foley. He cited the hypothetical example of a customer who has birth dates as part of its list. “A savvy PSP can ‘weigh’ that data by changing birth dates into an age category,” Foley explained. “If the 18-24 age group is their target market, the net value of that category may be only 15 percent,” which can affect perceived direct-mail response rates. The bottom line is that the customer may need more data, he pointed out. “You can save customers a ton of money by using analytics, but you need someone on staff who understands data management, analysis, and manipulation. And it’s not your prepress guy!”

Forrest Leighton, VP of strategic alliances at PTI Marketing Technologies, agreed. “It’s not a prepress guy, nor is it a designer, particularly for larger volume lists,” said Leighton, who left his marketing post at Canon USA a year ago to join PTI. “Our customer mix is all over the map, from [Microsoft] Excel to SQL databases and XML. Larger lists require a more advanced approach to handling data,” he added. “Print firms need someone [inside] who can navigate and give road maps to customers. This dedicated person may be a called a ‘project manager’ or a ‘VDP designer.’ He or she doesn’t have to be a programmer, but they need that mentality.”

His PTI colleague Dustin Ritter, marketing VP, shared an example of a customer who wanted to produce a piece with variables based on percentages. The first variable was a supplied Excel spreadsheet containing predetermined codes that were randomly generated. The second piece of variable data was one of 10 offers ($1, $2, $5, $10, etc). The customer let the PSP know what percentage of a particular offer they wanted printed (e.g., 50 percent of $1, 25 percent of $2, etc.). The print provider randomly assigned the offers based on the applicable percentage to the predetermined codes on the spreadsheet using the RAND() command in Excel and PTI’s FusionPro Desktop 7.2 software.

More complex VDP applications may feature different calls to action, Ritter continued. “One method of B2B customer engagement is to ask them to download a white paper. This can be the next step or resource to cement a deal.” Financial firms use varying loan rates as variable elements, he noted, while variable charts and graphs can serve to illustrate 401K retirement information.

“Maybe It’s Maybelline”

For Xerox and its customers, “an integrated system works best, where print and digital are blended” into a cross-media mix, contended Judy Berlin, worldwide marketing director for Xerox’s XMPie subsidiary. “Print [components] should not be separate from online. Print is outbound only. By adding elements like QR codes and microsites, ongoing conversations with customers are enabled,” Berlin said. Data for such endeavors can include demographics, social patterns, and purchasing behaviors.

One cross-media example is Maybelline New York, a subsidiary of French cosmetics company L'Oréal, which has taken integrated marketing a step further by blending a print component with social media touchpoints via Facebook. In the cosmetics business, consumers tend to use multiple brands for their range of makeup needs. Maybelline sought to leverage its No. 1 worldwide ranking in mascara to boost its business in categories where it had smaller shares, such as foundation products. But many consumers are unaware of technical considerations in makeup choices, such as how foundation products behave differently based on dry or oily skin types. The firm has improved customer loyalty with the help of Strategies Relationship Marketing of Quebec, Canada.

Strategies developed a “B2Me” campaign -- direct marketing that applies deep personalization and content marketing to create relevant messaging based on rational, emotional, physical, and relational characteristics. The campaign goals were to educate consumers about choosing and using cosmetics, and to recommend which Maybelline products best suit them, based upon their physical characteristics and makeup personality. The main component of the campaign is a series of three, full-color and fully personalized 20-page, 4.75 x7-inch booklets containing cosmetics lessons, personal product recommendations, and personalized, trackable discount coupons.

The ambitious undertaking required a great deal of unique data, a high degree of variability, and high-quality digital print production capability. So, the campaign began with mass and social media efforts to drive consumers to the Maybelline New York microsite where information about an individual’s ethnicity, hair and eye colors, eye shape, skin conditions, and other qualities was collected in a 12-part questionnaire. As a side effect, mailing addresses were captured, which essentially built the beginnings of a loyalty club for Maybelline New York.

The data that consumers entered was used by Strategies, along with the XMPie uCreate Print plug-in for Adobe InDesign, to personalize content in the booklets, enabling an astonishing 3.5 million options for each booklet. “It’s mind-boggling, but that’s what XMPie does -- puts together all of our components and makes them run right,” praised Mark Morin. president of Strategies Relationship Marketing. Montreal-based Pazazz Printing used its XMPie production capabilities and Xerox iGen4 digital press to print the three booklets, which were delivered sequentially over several months.

Sales, as measured by the coupon redemption rate, are multiple times greater than those from previous, non-personalized campaigns – the most coming from new business from people who previously bought competitive brands. The campaign also has delivered a lift to Maybelline’s brand appreciation and improved the likelihood that consumers will recommend the Maybelline New York brand. According to Morin, highly satisfied consumers have credited Maybelline with improving their lives by changing the way they feel about their personal appearance. So many consumers recognize the value in the booklets, that fully half of the microsite visitors complete the longer-than-usual questionnaire, consistently providing new targets. A mobile component is under development for future campaigns.

*Editor’s Note: contributing editor Mark Vruno also is a graduate of Lake Forest College, where he double-majored in English (writing concentration) and education as well as quarterbacked the school’s football team.

Print Firm Self Promotions

With the 2013 holiday marketing season fast approaching, consider the Standard Group’s interactive marketing effort, which garnered best-practice recognition from PODi, the print on demand initiative, in the self promotion category. The Reading, PA-based printing firm developed a campaign to express its appreciation of customers and prospects and showcase its marketing and personalization expertise. The multi-touch campaign began with nearly 2,100 direct mail holiday cards printed on an HP Indigo 7500 Digital Press. Powered by Pageflex Campaign Manager software, the cards featured more than 12 personalized elements, resulting in over 40 possible combinations based on the recipient’s sales and customer service contacts. They also had multiple call-to-actions directing recipients to a personalized landing page via a Personalized URL or a personalized Quick Response (QR) Code.

At the personalized landing page, visitors could select one of eight charities to receive a $5 donation from Standard Group on behalf of the participant. They also could create a free photo calendar via an online storefront that showcased the firm’s marketing portal development and variable-data printing capabilities. The Standard Group reported a 19.6 percent response rate and received business inquiries regarding creating similar personalized calendar promotions.

Smaller Scale

When Prisma Graphic, a Phoenix, AZ-based marketing solutions provider, added a wide-format printer in 2012, the 30-year-old firm captured the attention of its top 200 clients in a creative and engaging way. Prisma introduced the benefits and marketing potential of the new grand-format capabilities by implementing a fun, visually enticing, multi-touch marketing campaign. The road trip-themed campaign, which was developed entirely in house, included teaser mailings, email blasts, PURL landing pages, and a YouTube video. The results exceeded expectations with 45 percent accessing their PURL and 10 percent of the recipients contacting their Prisma account representative.