Taking Chances with One-to-One Communications
For printer and customer, taking a chance with variable-data digital printing made all the difference in the world.
In the fall of 1998, Discover Color (a prepress, image management and print firm based in McFarland, WI) found itself amidst all the "buzz" about variable-data printing. Discover Color was not alone in its speculation about what the future of personalized printing would hold. Suppliers and print buyers were curious about the viability of variable-data-generated print-on-demand documents.
It was in 1998 that Jim Sullivan, president and CEO, Discover Color, began to ponder the idea of providing personalized print services for his customers. Sullivan realized that the process, if successfully implemented, would represent the pinnacle of one-to-one marketing. The uncertainty for Sullivan, however, was: Would the technology allow his firm to properly execute customized documents?
Taking chances on technology
"(Variable-data printing) allows the advertiser the ability to communicate with their customers on a one-to-one level, in contrast to mass marketing," Michael Woodring, Discover Color's vice president of sales, points out. "Research has revealed dramatic increases in response rates when one-to-one philosophies are used."
Putting it to the test
Woodring recalls a partnership Discover Color formed with one of its large catalog customers: "(They're) an automobile company (that) leases 500 cars a month. They know, from market research, that if they start a dialogue with their lease customers three months prior to the lease's end, they have a significant chance of securing a new lease with that customer."
The customer, Woodring adds, was receptive to experimentation. The retailer had compiled a comprehensive, demographic library of data in Microsoft Access. The database included fields for lease dates, auto make and model, and the type of car that individual may purchase when the existing lease expired. The retailer hoped to use the data to generate a variable-image, personalized self-mailer.
"The self-mailer would have a headline reminding the (buyer) of the impending lease end," Woodring explains. "The variable-data software could link to the information in the (retailer's) database and print a photo of (the customer's) old car and a photo of (a prospective) new car, with specifications and a lease price based on the parameters of the (prior) lease deal." The project was ambitious, and a plan was set in motion.
At Discover Color, Atlas Software's (Harderwijk, The Netherlands) PrintShop Mail became the variable-data software of choice. "(It) was chosen … because of its easy integration with (our) Splash RIP (which drives a Xerox DocuColor), and it had … variable-data, variable-image, bar-coding and numbering capabilities," Woodring says. PrintShop Mail offers a solution for integrating information from a source database with layout parameters defined in PrintShop Mail.
The key to this project's success was to find a method for importing the customer's Access data to PrintShop Mail. Sounds simple? It was, until Woodring realized that the Access files could not be moved across platforms without difficulty.
Once the mailer's design was complete, it came time to address the importing/exporting issues. Discover Color received the customer's Access database (supplied by the retailer's IT department). The data, which ultimately had to be proofed by the customer (and by a department that didn't use Access), was then imported to a Microsoft Excel application and e-mailed for approval. With all revisions made to the Excel records, the file was e-mailed back to Discover Color and exported to dBase 4.0, which interfaces more easily with PrintShop Mail, says Woodring.
While the workflow may seem a bit labor intensive on the surface, it proved to be the most efficient way to have the customer proof the data.
With workflow in place, the retailer still seemed trepidatious, according to Woodring, who confides, "The customer was concerned about the print quality of the electrostatic print process. Discover Color suggested a hybrid production workflow that utilizes both electrostatic and digital offset technologies. (We decided to) print the front side of the postcards on a Heidelberg QMDI and print the variable-data/variable-image side on the DocuColor. The stock (we chose) was an 8 pt., Carolina C1S cover," which, Woodring adds, was key in camouflaging the fact that two print processes had been used.
"Consumers expect a high-impact image on the front of the postcard and a less-crisp image on the backside, because the paper is coated only on one side," he adds. "That expectation (was met) perfectly, in making the postcard appear as if it was produced in a homogenous process."
Before the self-mailer's press run, DocuColor proofs were produced. After approval, the job was run, finished and mailed.
As for the customer, Woodring happily reports that the company benefited from a significant increase in lease reorders—attributed directly to the mailer. The project was so successful that Woodring proudly notes every month, Discover Color produces a similar mailer for the satisfied customer—a customer that was willing to take a chance with new technologies.
-Gretchen A. Kirby