Print personalisation was supposed to be the big driver of digital presses - but for all the talk, case studies and hype the reality is that there is relatively little personalised print being produced, despite costs continuing to come down, quality improving and processing times getting faster. So why aren’t more people using variable data printing today?
Primarily it seems most marketers still believe it’s too expensive. The price may have come down significantly, but a personalised print job is going to cost more than a traditional per-piece rate for a regular catalogue - maybe three times more, by some estimates. And with the economy what it’s been, nobody is interested in increasing their expenditures, even with the promised ROI that personalisation seems.
Variable data print may still be cost prohibitive for multichannel merchants. For many, the systems still are more expensive on the front end, so there is a need to gauge the projected upside increase in sales versus the added costs.
The returns on personalised print do tend to be higher, and there seems a direct correlation between the amount of personalisation on say a mail piece and the level of return.
Assuming all other factors are equal - offer, timing, audience, form factor – the range of returns for a fully variable job range from two times to 15 times the rate of return for a static job.
Buzz Borsitzky, chairman of print and mail business IMS in Melbourne says, “We believe personalised mailings are increasing by about 10 per cent a year, which is not surprising as all the studies show that kind of communication generates the best response from the organisations intended audience. Variable data printing, with variable text and images does deliver the kind of ROI that gets marketing managers excited, and that means good business for their service providers, companies like IMS.”
How do you increase your chances of a higher return? Relevancy of content and the quality of the data are the determining factors. Simple personalisation and addressing will likely yield an ROI on the lower end. The best results come from actually customising content to specific intelligence about an individual consumer.
IMS is pioneering data and print, for instance the mailshots it is producing for sporting club memberships may have 20 or more pieces of variable data printing on, including text, graphics, bar codes and images.
Borsitzky says, “If done correctly the presentation of personal data in a graphic way should elicit a response, after all the recipient should be looking at someone he recognises in the mailshot – himself.”
Obstacles in the uptake of variable printing include education and status quo. Printers who have not yet experienced VDP often have reservations and find it easier to continue doing things the way they’ve always done them.
The conversation about a VDP campaign is one that needs to be had with a marketing executive as against someone in a purchasing or procurement role. The nation’s biggest printers including PMP are all aiming for a place in the marketing discussions of their clients, in other words to become true marketing services providers, rather than order taking manufacturers of print.
It may not be natural for printers to engage in discussion with their clients about marketing objectives and strategies rather than production requirements and costs, but it is a conversation that savvy printers are having, as they move away from a commodity based business model.
If there is a lack of understanding or awareness at any point along the supply chain as to the objectives with the print product the conversation tends to bog down into cost comparisons.
However it is in data manipulation that IMS has really scored. Borsitzky says, “We have always been proactive in looking at where we can provide value add services. We deal in data, and the manipulation of data. The customers have the data, and they often don’t realise what they have, our job is to extract that data and make the most of it. If done correctly the presentation of personal data in a graphic way should elicit a response, after all the recipient should be looking at someone he recognises in the mailshot – himself.”
The technology is only one part of VDP. Merchants have to be ready with the content (all of the graphics, copy and the creative layout templates) and data (the analysis and rules that build into the specific targeting of the information to a specific audience). And the content has to be tagged and managed in a database that can accommodate automated page building to rapidly and efficiently generate custom pages.
And when it comes to the data, custom catalogue generation can be targeted as finely as you have information. Digging into the data and performing queries on identification of certain buying triggers, patterns and purchase life cycles can pay significant dividends in building your plan. This will help you to understand what messages, channels or timing of communications will be most influential in generating maximum returns.
Part of the issue in the slow uptake of variable data printing is that the transition from print or mailing house into serious variable data printing is not something that should be undertaken lightly. Borsitzky says, “You need IT professionals. It is a complex business, you could learn it, but much better to hire the expertise. The step between generic and personalised is significant, get it right and you can do well, get it wrong and it will take some doing to recover. Having IT professionals means you will be able to get alongside your clients and really understand what they want and explain to them how you are going to achieve that. You need someone who understands the dynamics of variable data for that.”
Technology can help here - there are content management systems that presuppose multipurpose and multichannel uses for graphics and editorial copy. For instance the XMPie, PageFlex systems are improving with each release version. Kodak has its Campaign Manager and there are others that work well for printing applications.
Using these types of content management systems allows the printer to automatically generate the customised content in a print-on-demand stream. This significantly reduces the cost of content acquisition.
It is in data manipulation that IMS has really scored. Borsitzky says, “We have always been proactive in looking at where we can provide value add services. We deal in data, and the manipulation of data. The customers have the data, and they often don’t realise what they have, our job is to extract that data and make the most of it. If done correctly the presentation of personal data in a graphic way should elicit a response, after all the recipient should be looking at someone he recognises in the mailshot – himself.”
Some of the new uses of variable data printing include PURL (personalised URL). A printed piece includes a personal URL tailored to the recipient; the recipient can respond by going directly to that PURL to answer questions, see a flash promo, purchase and so on.
VDP can also be used to include QR codes on catalogues and mail pieces. These work like conventional barcodes in that they store information – namely mobile website URLs - that can be read by devices with cameras, like cell phones. A user with a web-enabled camera phone equipped with the QR reader software can scan the image of the QR code, then decoding software reads the information and prompts the phone’s browser to go to a programmed URL.
QR codes have been slow to take off outside Japan. But are now beginning to gain traction, and will continue to do so as more new smartphones are outfitted with the latest scanner applications. So you can print a QR code for someone to scan and, when they do, it takes them directly to a site they can see on their phone.
For digital printers personalisation through variable data printing still in theory offers tremendous opportunities for growth and business development. Whether the theory translates in fact remains to be seen though.
With all the emphasis at drupa on digital inkjet printing, particularly the new breed of B2 sheetfed inkjet printers, you could be forgiven for thinking that not much happened in the booths of the current kings of cut sheet, the toner based A3 presses, and actually you wouldn’t be far off the mark.
The latest developments for cutsheet digital presses at drupa tended to focus on workflow, with emphasis particularly on finishing.
As far as the toner based printers themselves went there were no dramatic developments, it was more about consolidation of position and particularly productivity, with the vendors looking not just at sheets off the printer but at job completion, and this meant finishing integration.
For the likes of Ricoh and Konica Minolta this was only their second drupa, their first appearance on the graphic arts stage was in 2008, so this show was important for them to highlight their credentials as they are now both serious players in the market. Ricoh is in fact now one of the biggest developers in print, with its own brand, its InfoPrint high speed web division, and as the exclusive supplier to Lanier, which is part of the same conglomerate but operates as a stand alone entity. For Canon and Oce it was their first showing under the same banner since the former bought the latter. Fuji Xerox and Fujifilm were also on one booth.
The interest in cut sheet digital printers seems higher than ever, Kodak’s NexPress for instance was constantly surrounded by crowds at drupa, while HP Indigo had some 50 presses on its booth.
The prevalence of toner-based digital print solutions, and the floorspace of they occupied, demonstrated how essential they are to print today.
Canon also had finishing on its mind, with a new high capacity stacker launched for the imagePress printers. The stacker is designed to run alongside an open standard finishing device interface that offers unlimited stacking capacity, thanks to an unload while you print functionality.
Taking the spotlight in the Xerox drupa booth was the new 150 sheets a minute iGen4 150, with the company also focusing on finishing solutions across the stand. Simon Lane, national business marketing manager at Fuji Xerox Australia says, “The new iGen4 150, with a 660cm sheet size and 2400x2400dpi resolution provides the highest quality digital print with tremendous throughput. The inline automated finishing solutions that we are now providing mean printers will have complete production lines.”
HP had a raft of new Indigo presses at drupa, including the new HP Indigo 10000 Digital Press, the first B2-format sheet-fed HP press on the market and one of six new HP Indigo presses introduced, others included the new HP Indigo 5600 and 7600 presses. HP was also looking to end to end solutions though, and had the new HP SmartStreamworkflow solutions, as well as Exstreamcommunications management technologies and web-to-print and MIS solutions based on Hiflex technology.
Konica Minolta showed a new colour bizhub Press C1100, its fastest yet, which is slated for launch next year; it will be the company’s fastest digital colour press. The company says it only requires a low skill level to operate, and will have a digital workflow that accommodates last minute changes, web-to-print ordering and inline finishing. Konica Minolta also announced the new monochrome bizhub Press 1052 and 1250 will be launched next July.
The emphasis from Kodak’s NexPress is now on the fifth imaging unit, which provides a host of inline added value solutions for print business. The newly released trio of gold, pearlescent and neon join others including raised print. Kodak also showed an extended infeed, and a new turbo mode, which will allow printing at 166 A4 sheets a minute.
Lanier markets itself as a solutions supplier, with marketing manager Raj Chandiok focusing at drupa on inline finishing for its Ricoh printers form partners such as Nagel, Plockmatic and Schmedt. He says, “Automation is key to profitability.” Lanier also launched its Total Flow automated workflow at the show.
Kathy Wilson, general manager of Production and Business Solutions at Ricoh Australia, says, “Ricoh is looking at meeting the needs of printing businesses. Finishing integration and automation is a key to maximising efficiencies and Ricoh is providing inline finishing solutions that will enable printers to make the most of opportunities. The finishing solutions integrated with Ricoh printers allow the printer to run at maximum speed; there is no slowing down.”