variable data printing

Is your business looking for a better way to reach and engage with potential customers? Variable data printing is a smart strategy that’s really catching on for both consumer and B2B marketing.

What is variable data printing?

Variable data printing is a way of personalizing direct mail marketing pieces (or any printed marketing material) that goes far beyond just addressing a letter to a specific person. It uses a combination of digital data and on-demand digital printing to produce highly targeted pieces that greatly increase buyer engagement.

Why do personalized mailings work? Because your pieces become highly relevant to your buyers. High-tech printing capabilities also make them much more compelling than anything you’ve produced in the past.

But, you may be wondering… isn’t direct mail really expensive? And didn’t direct mail go out with the 90’s?

The answer is, not anymore! Let’s explore why physical mailings are not only making a comeback, but have become the secret strategy of the smartest marketers.

The renaissance of direct mail

More and more marketers are turning back to direct mail for a simple reason: it works! When you use personalized direct mail as part of an omni-channel marketing strategy, it can be extremely effective.

As the cost of printing comes down, and with the ability to hyper-target specific prospects with the right message at the right time, direct mail also can be very cost-efficient. That’s what you get with variable data printing.

Why is direct mail working better now than it did in the 90s? Because today it’s become so hard to cut through the clutter with digital communication. Think about it: how many emails did you delete today without even opening them?

Now think about the physical mail you get. The stack is considerably smaller than it used to be, right? Chances are you at least glance at each piece. And those addressed to “resident” go right in the trash.

What’s left? Things addressed to you personally that you NEED to deal with (bills). And, things you WANT to take the time to look at, which often come from companies you have purchased from or engaged with in the past.

With a physical mailing piece, it can be easier to make an impact… when you make it relevant and engaging. Let’s take a look at how you can do that (without spending a fortune on marketing!) using variable data printing.

The benefits of variable data printing

1. Targeting reduces costs and increases response rates.
In the old days, companies sent thousands of pieces out to everybody in the hopes of getting a few responses from somebody.

Today, we have so much data about our buyers. Variable data printing makes it possible to use that data to target specific people with relevant messaging. That means we can send fewer pieces (which costs less). And by sending the right messages to the right people, we get better response rates.

2. Better print technology makes mailing pieces more engaging.
Digital printing has really transformed in recent years. You can get phenomenal quality images even from inkjet printers and multifunction printers. But there’s so much more you can do to provide a truly immersive experience for your customer… such as adding sound and smell to your digital mailing pieces. With variable data printing, you can use personalization to choose just the right elements for every recipient.

3. Connecting print & digital speeds buying and delivers insights.
Your mailing pieces no longer have to stand alone. With variable data printing, you can include QR codes to connect printed pieces with your buyers’ mobile devices. Doing that makes it quick and easy for customers to complete a purchase. It also allows you to measure engagement and collect more data about your customer.

And it gets even cooler than that… there’s technology called near field communication that can deliver augmented reality experiences to your buyers when they move their phone or tablet over your printed marketing piece!

The possibilities are endless.

Variable data printing examples

Here are just a few examples of variable data printing pieces you can create:

  • Different versions of product packaging targeted to a specific market segment
  • Location-specific coupon codes on mailing pieces or point-of-purchase displays
  • Custom proposals for each prospective client (useful for architecture and design firms)
  • Custom enrollment forms and reports (for insurance companies)
  • Targeted newsletters or catalogs for different market segments

We found this Pinterest page that has some really cool examples.

How variable data printing works

Conceptually, variable data printing is similar to the “mail merge” letters from the old days. The difference is, you can change a lot more than the name and address. You can swap layouts, images, marketing messages and offers…just about anything you can think of. Here’s how the variable data printing process works.

  1. Create a digital mailing piece with fields that represent the data elements to swap out for each recipient.
  2. Assemble a database of recipients. For each contact, you’ll need the data that you want to include in your mailing piece.
  3. Print pieces using a digital press (for quality color pieces on heavier stock) or a multifunction copier (for letters). The printer is powered by special software that reads your files and puts together each personalized piece.
  4. Process and mailed out the printed pieces.

What do you need to do variable data printing?

Here’s what you need to get started:

  • Mailing lists and buyer data.
  • Graphic design expertise and software to create personalized mailing pieces.
  • Technical expertise and content management software to set up the variable data.
  • Printing equipment, which can be anything from a high quality inket printer to a full-scale production print setup.
  • Mailing equipment to process mailings efficiently.

It may seem like a lot if you’ve never done it before. Depending on your organization and what you want to achieve, you have two choices:

  1. Outsource some or all of the process to variable data printing companies, or
  2. Get the equipment and do it yourself in-house.

You might need some help determining which way to go. There are many factors that must factor into your decision. The good news is, we can help! At Superior Office Systems, we can help with equipment or the best outsourcing solutions. We’re experts on both and can help you make the best decision for your organization.

Want a quick answer? Take our quiz to get an assessment and no-obligation recommendation.

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