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Variable Data Printing and the New Age of Print

There is no denying the overwhelming growth of online marketing. We work in the print sector and recognize this…which is why we  just refreshed our website again.

And if you read the trades you’ll often see an “us against them” approach to coverage of print versus other channels. Sure, it makes a pretty good narrative to frame online advertising and print as being in some sort of pitched battle for the marketers’ soul.

But really? That’s just ridiculous.

There is no doubt online marketing is a disruptive technology. And as the shiny new thing, everyone wants a piece. But it doesn’t mean print is dying. Not by a long shot. Disruptive technologies often spark innovation across industries. And print is no exception.

The fundamentals of a successful campaign remain the same – in order to be successful they have to be both strategic and tactical. And to that end a campaign that includes both online and print components will achieve maximum effectiveness.

Can print be as interactive and variable as online marketing?

One of the strengths of online marketing is it’s ability to deliver variable content to individuals based on their behaviours. It’s most often seen with something like Google ads – a car ad pops up after a search for an auto dealer or fitness ads magically appear when you look for “yoga.”

I remember when the idea of variable content online was considered very scary. But now we’ve not only accepted it, we expect it. If I want pizza, it’s great that Google serves up a map with the closest pizza places in my area. Or when I go to the Canadian Tire website I can put in my postal code and get not only the nearest store to me, but also the specials that are appearing in the local flyer.

What might surprise you is that print can do the same thing – with better results. In the right circumstances, variable data printing will show a much better ROI. By its nature printed materials are more impactful and drive a higher rates of response.  But when coupled with other channels – online and phone, for example – the success rate just soars.

So what is the new age of print and why is variable data printing leading the way?

The online experience that we’ve all become accustomed to is now a part of the print experience.

Organizations can take customer information, gathered in-store, online or through purchase history and use that to drive variable data print campaigns that speak more directly to clients, by switching out text, images and offers in response to customer or donor data. In essence the print experience now mimics the targeted online experience. But unlike online, the flyer, postcard or letter you send will actually appear for more than a few seconds on a screen.

The online experience that we’ve all become accustomed to is now a part of the print experience. #marketing Click To Tweet

What this means is an audience is more likely to spend some time looking at the information you send, be engaged and respond to the call to action.  And, importantly, once engaged they will hop over to the digital platform for more information or to place an order. It’s a multi-channel experience.

So what do you need for a proper variable data print campaign to work?

First, you need to have customer data. Without data, your campaign is just a mail drop. You can start with geography, but the more data you have the greater your customization and the more successful your campaign will be.

Names, addresses and some history – what they bought, when, value or how much they donated, how often, etc. – are all very powerful.

Second, you need to consider your target audience. Ideally the recipient should be a client or prospect with a relatively high lifetime value, who comes with ongoing repetitive opportunities for engagement.  A one-time purchase of a specialty object or service of low value is probably not suitable.

But if a donor can be engaged effectively multiple times or a customer returns to your restaurant or store on a regular basis, then it pays to have as much data as you can gather.  These are the types of clients where the ROI of a more expensive, but effective integrated print and online campaign pay off.

Online marketing and search has been disruptive to print. And that’s actually a good thing.  The variable data print solutions available today are light years ahead of where they were just a few years ago.

So build your online channels in concert with your variable print campaigns.  Support them with collaborative content, online chat, e-commerce, webinars and resources. Even follow up calls have been proven to work dramatically better when supporting a printed mail campaign.  The variable data print revolution has created more opportunities for your online and offline marketing efforts to work more effectively together.

Don’t be missing opportunities to grow your business.  Bring targeted variable data printing into the marketing mix.

*NOTE – watch for our next blog post on triggered marketing where data drives small run super-effective variable print for communications such as thank-you notes or renewal reminders, invitations for test drives etc.

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