IMG_2133

I love Europe at this time of year. The warm sun and gorgeous countryside imbued with a history stretching back centuries before the oldest cities of North America. It’s really something to experience.

Of course European innovation is also the envy of the world. So last week as I making the most important delivery of my  summer — dropping my daughter off at university in Reims (yes, the champagne capital) — I made a point of reaching out to Jasper Wauters, at Symeta, just outside Brussels.

Symeta is a printer with a long history in Europe. And they caught my attention when I heard they’d sold all their offset equipment a few years ago to focus on digital print — specifically highly personalized data-driven communications. They still have some laser boxes and an Indigo press, but their colour inkjet web presses are the heart of their production and they’ve been leaders in Europe using this technology.  

Having just ventured into the landscape ourselves with the recent acquisition of the elan inkjet printer, I was curious to see how others had successfully implemented the technology.

Stepping out of the car in the visitor parking lot I noted the bilingual welcome signs and a covered bicycle parking spot. I later learned that the company provides employees with free bikes for commuting — which sounds like an excellent idea to promote healthy lifestyles.  

Symeta is part of the sprawling Colyrut Group — I passed dozens of their trucks along the highway — that owns, among other things, a huge grocery chain. They have a strong environmental focus in their business. Wind farms power their operations and variable print has helped them reduce the amount of paper (always recycled) it takes to reach their clients each week.  

The grocery chain’s clients had been concerned about the amount of paper it used each week to promote their store offers via non-personalized door-to-door flyers. So they decided to stop the shotgun approach and use data from their loyalty card program. This increased response to their promotions and reduced print by several kilograms per year per shopper. The addressed flyers are now just four pages and each inch of the flyer is customized to suit the recipient’s profiles and interests reflecting past shopping patterns. They use predictive algorithms to anticipate and suggest additional items. As a quick example, the purchase of maternity vitamins makes it easy to anticipate other baby-care items will be of interest within a few months. That’s pretty cool.

Like our relationship with Canada Post, they have a strong link to the Belgian Post Office and work with them to keep delivery standards high (97% in 2 days) for these kinds of time-sensitive weekly mailings.

While touring the expansive, secure and neat facility, Jasper explained what he considers progressive levels of personalization, from the most basic non-addressed promotion, through to reactive and then predictive modelling, where the data is used for the most detailed and highly productive ROI for his clients.  

Data drives this business and creates the highest ROI. The richer it is, the better the results.  The strength of variable data printing is greatest when used to encourage and steward existing relationships with clients, to increase upselling, cross-selling and retention. Why would someone change grocers when theirs does such a good job of having their favourite products on sale, just when they need them, like a personalized shopping assistant (does that put a smile on your face too?) Similar principles are put to work for other sectors that collect individual data from transactions for improved retention, increasing the lifetime value of clients.

And why is this printed and mailed instead of emailed? Because it’s been proven to work. Not enough email (often less than 20%) is read these days and it does not illicit a response the way print does.

It was inspiring to see how Symeta, on another continent, was successfully using the principles of data-driven print technology to improve ROI for their clients in a multilingual, multi-country landscape like the EU. It’s always enlightening to see the similarities and differences in approach that are taken in different countries. Many thanks to Jasper and the crew at Symeta.