Variable-data printing (VDP) (also known as variable-information printing (VIP) or VI) is a form of digital printing, including on-demand printing, in which elements such as text, graphics and images may be changed from one printed piece to the next, without stopping or slowing down the printing process and using information from a database or external file. – Wikipedia
Thanks Wikipedia, but let’s look a little deeper. Variable Data Print is the intelligent employment of customer data and technology to create effective, relatable media. Although it’s most publicised use is Direct Marketing, VDP has been adopted by a plethora of different forward-thinking companies across most industry sectors to handle basic mailing correspondence, invoice management and internal communications. But it’s not only letters or flyers that can be optimised with VDP; practically any printed product can become more targeted and personalised with the correct data.
How does it work?
Technically, VDP works by inserting information from a database into pre-designed template files to create multiple documents with different information on. These files are then printed on a digital press – simple. The real magic, however, is not really the programs or processes involved, but the result it creates and the time it can save. It’s no secret people respond better to mail addressed personally to them, after all we’re psychologically predisposed to love our own names,
Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
- Dale Carnegie
as it plays on our social proof (see Robert Cialdini’s exceptional Influence: The Science of Persuasion for more). The power of VDP lays in the fact it goes far beyond mere name-dropping - a basic influence technique today’s ad-conscious consumer is well aware of.
Let’s take, for example, a lifestyle product brochure. Depending on the data you have on your prospective recipients you can create an incredibly relatable document using both variable image and text in a sophisticated template.
Imagine you know their marital status (ever wonder why this is included in so many sign-up forms?). Well if part of your demographic are ‘single’ or ‘divorced’ then:
(A) it would be much more effective to insert an image of your product being used by a single person or a group of friends rather than an image of a family – which you would use for the section of your demographic who were engaged or married
(B). The tag lines would also be more effective if they appealed to this lifestyle type – A: Fantastic with your friends!! Or B: Perfect for family holidays!
If you’d used only tag line ‘B’ you are effectively alienating a great part of your demographic who don’t have, or aren’t planning on having a family at this point.
VDP is also an experience. If you interest the person enough to open the envelope, packet or package you have won half the battle. They have now invested time and effort into finding out what’s inside – they are engaged. Within the packaging there should be a reward, not necessarily a free gift (though in some cases this would be great, see Cialdini’s theory on Reciprocity), but a discovery and a journey. Even if it’s bad news, a Debt Collection letter for instance, designing for emotion – whether evoking or placating – will be key to response.
There have been many studies on VDP and it’s effectiveness, check out this link for an infographic:
But it’s Print! Isn’t that dying out?
It doesn’t have the hype that web and digital does, that’s for sure, but negating print as an effective means of reaching your customer or recipient could be a costly mistake. After all, if the champions of innovative tech, Google, are still using targeted Direct Mail campaigns for their products (I have received 3 AdWords envelopes, informing me of new services and offering free credit) it is obviously still a viable option. It’s not only Google that find Direct Mail offers great results, think about any big corporate body and you’re likely to find they’re still consistently investing in mailing – even as their main form of communication to existing customers.
The majority of insurers and financial institutions will still send you requests or information through the post rather than into your inbox, as it is still a brilliant way to share your new products with your existing customers, after all if you have an account with a company and they’re sending you a personal message, are you likely to ignore it?
But Email and Social are so much cheaper!
Perhaps by appearance, but have you totalled up the man hours involved in managing social platforms, developing new content and paying for spam filters, metrics trackers etc? With the rise in digital social media and the buzz of content marketing, it is easy to forget that physical correspondence was where it all began. Digital is a new toy, still in development and pushing current boundaries. With new platforms, techniques and ideas emerging every day it is easy to become enamored, maybe even a little obsessed (hello, Pinterest) and forget the foundations. Does an email really have an experience? Is there any satisfaction in clicking a mouse or prodding a screen? Perhaps some, because the man hours involved in User Experience for digital mediums has increased exponentially, but fallen dramatically for physical media. If the same fervor and passion were still afforded to print, great things could happen.
Variable Data Printing is an option well worth considering and integrating into your business, whether for simple correspondence or for marketing purposes – it can increase brand awareness and response rates whilst saving you the time spent hassling with a large mail output. It is more than an email, uniform and easily trashed -
after all, what could be more satisfying than being guided through a carefully crafted real experience, rather than a virtual one?