Variable Imaging

Chances are that your customers have been building a database of information for quite some time. What do they do with that information? This information may include not only names and addresses, but things like purchasing cycles, personal preferences, all the way down to the individual products they purchased. Variable Imaging utilizes that information to improve the one-to-one communication that companies need to succeed in today’s marketplace.

Most important – the 40/40/20 Rule

According to the Direct Marketing Association, studies have shown that a campaign’s success is follows the 40/40/20 rule – that is, it depends 40% on the list, 40% on the offer, and 20% on the creative aspect of the mail piece.

   • List: The list must be up to date, with good clean addresses, and deduped to the appropriate level. Most importantly, it must consist of the right audience. Modeling your perfect customer and applying that model to the data you need will produce a list of those most likely to act on your offer. In other words, why waste money on mailing a promo for a lawn service to people living in apartments? We work with several well-established data suppliers that

   • Offer: What is your offer? What is your call to action? This part of the equation is where your marketing and advertising skills come most into play. Don’t waste the cost of a good list on an offer that won’t entice your potential customer to act.

   • Creative: This aspect of the campaign involves what the piece looks like. Things such as the use of color, or if the mail piece is a postcard, insert mailer, or self mailer, are only some of the things to consider. Creating a piece that ties in the offer to a unique creative aspect can tremendously increase your response rate, particularly if you can get the recipient
to interact with the piece by using things like integrated cards or labels. Ask us about the many different ways we can make the creative aspect of the piece stand out.

What is Variable Imaging?

Variable Imaging, by definition, is the printing of documents in which each one is personalized for the intended recipient. It can be as simple as just a name and address, but the real impact comes when other information is added to create a piece that includes information specific to the recipient.

Levels of Personalization

Variable Imaging can be divided into four distinct levels of personalization. The first and most basic level is the use of a name and address on the printed piece. The second level adds a certain amount of versioning, meaning each piece has other text or images that vary based on data specific to the recipient. The third level would include transactional information or data driven graphics (like a pie chart or graph illustrating data specific to the recipient). Lastly, the fourth level of Variable Imaging would be a document that was 100% variable – the layout, graphic images, and text would all change from piece to piece.

What’s the payback?

While a personalized document may cost more than a static one, you can get a far better return on your investment with a variable imaged document. It’s all about the cost per sale, not the cost per piece. For example, the average response rate on a generic direct mail campaign is around 1%. A targeted variable imaged campaign can increase those response rates to as high as 30%. The actual cost per response will be lower, as you will not only save money on postage, but you can print fewer pieces and get more responses at the same time.

The added impact of color

Adding color to your variable imaged document produces measurable results. Research has proved that color increases readers’ attention and recall by 82%, and people are 55% more likely to pick up a full-color piece first. Color can enhance productivity, improve communication, and boost sales as well as capture the attention of the intended audience. Many companies will also insist on color to maintain their corporate identity.

Selling Variable Imaging

Typically, Variable Imaging is not sold through the same channels as standard print work. The purchasing agent you may deal with may have very little interest in the marketing advantages of such targeted mailings – the person that really needs to make this decision is in the marketing department. You will also find yourself interacting with the technical people within an organization, like the Information Technology director. We can help you in this process, supplying not only real working examples, but also bringing you the information you need to be able to answer any questions your customer may have.

What is needed

Obviously, the one thing you will need to have from your customer is a database from which to populate the variable imaged piece. For simple addressing jobs, this database could just be a list of names and addresses. More involved pieces will require more data (including perhaps products purchased, any regional information, personal preferences, purchasing habits, etc.). The more data that your customer has, the more personalized the program can be, and therefore, the higher the response rate.

While the data is the key to any variable imaged piece, a functional design is the doorway. Without either piece of the puzzle, the program is destined for failure. Many print pieces can easily be transformed into a variable imaged document, but special care needs to be taken to insure the viability of the finished piece.

File types – what to ask for

Regardless of what data is contained in the database, we can handle many types of data files, including the old standard Microsoft Excel file. However, if in doubt about which file type to ask for, just ask for a CSV file (comma delimited file). A CSV file is a data file that has commas separating each field, and returns separating each line of data. While we have developed many ways of extracting information from database files, you can save time and programming costs by making sure your data is properly formatted – for example, making sure that the city, state, and zip code are in separate fields. In more complex variable imaged documents, there may be other files that are required, like image files, or additional data files that have links to the main data file. If you are unsure of what may be required for a particular variable project, give us a call for a free consultation.

How is it manufactured?

A typical variable imaged piece may be manufactured in varying ways depending on quantity, quality, usage, or pricing concerns. Sometimes it is more economical to image the static and variable information of a document in one pass, utilizing a digital imaging press, or a system that combines traditional offset printing with a high-speed imaging system. Other times, you may find it advantageous to preprint shells in color, then image the variable information as needed (usually in black only). Regardless of the method used, the basic process requires expertise in handling databases, managing images, and maintaining quality throughout the run. At MAR, our many years in the variable imaging market has allowed us to offer Print Distributors the experienced staff needed to meet your needs. Whether you have been selling variable imaged work just as long as we have, or you just want to get started in an ever increasing growth segment of the printing industry, we can assist you in capturing that work and increasing your bottom line.