Variable data printing (VDP) can be a cost-effective way to speak to consumers based on their individual needs. Because graphics and text can be changed on the fly without slowing down the presses, VDP allows marketers to capatalize on information gleaned from database marketing activities to deliver a more personalized message. This week, TM Tipline caught up with Florida-based AutoNation’s Director of Database Marketing Scott Zientarski, who shares his experience implementing on-demand variable data printing, its advantages and challenges.
Target Marketing: How did you decide to use variable data printing to customize mailings?
Scott Zientarski: Our segmentations and data assets provide tremendous insights into customer behaviors. However, all of this would be nothing more than an expensive book report if we did not bring the segmentations to life through variable print processes. An excellent example of a custom messaging opportunity is the full-size, pickup truck market. Most individuals picture the sort of “blue collar” working man’s vehicle: a pickup driven for its function and, in many ways, a tool for this individual to make a living. Another major market segment is the “lifestyle consumer.” Owning a truck is part of their outdoor lifestyle. They index higher on income and have lots of toys such as boats or off-road vehicles that require a tow trailer. As you can see, communications to these two different types of individuals would be vastly different. Variable print technology enables marketers to leverage those differences in direct communications. That is something that cannot be done in most print or electronic mediums.
TM: How does variable data printing improve campaign performance and ROI?
SZ: The benefits [of variable data printing] are the improvements in campaign performance and particularly ROI. The key, of course, is the ROI. It used to be that many customer insights were not actionable because it was cost-prohibitive to differentiate through customized messaging. The performance lift had to be so much higher just to pay for the added production cost resulting from plate changes or the high initial cost of the technology. Today, it is an entirely different situation. The cost for variable print processes have come down so much that a slight lift over the marketer’s control position can now be monetized.
Another key benefit is the ability to aggressively test. Testing is the key to a marketer’s future. Variable data printing enables very robust testing. We all know speed to market with improvements over the control position is essential in driving performance. The variable printing is actually less expensive to utilize when testing. Small quantities can be produced for placement in multiple test cells. What may have taken a year to work through in traditional print processes can now be done in a month.
TM: What challenges did you encounter when implementing variable data printing, and how did you overcome them?
SZ: The biggest challenge is developing the targeting models and segmentations. In the former one-size-fits-all world, we needed a single creative and an excellent response model. Response models are not segmentations and typically do not drive a lot of insight for the purpose of creative development. In the past, that wasn’t a major issue. Today, the effective marketer needs to borrow from the traditional segmentation approaches, which are often deployed in product development or general advertising. We take these segmentations to drive the creative process and build response model segmentations from there. No longer is it one creative and one response model. The real work is for the marketer and their analytic resources.
TM: Do you have any tips for readers implementing VDP?
SZ: My advice is to seek out and build a rolodex of highly skilled and specialized service providers. Start with the segmentations and model development, then move to the creative process. I don’t have a direct agency working on my business. I do, however, have the best modelers, designers and copywriters working on my business. It is all on a freelance basis. Our job is to be the director of this sometimes complex orchestra.