Placing the customer at the heart of a business is the mantra of the 21st century. But with attention inevitably focusing on the opportunities presented by new media, it is easy to forget the role of print in this customer-focused environment.
This is where digital print steps in. Although a relatively new invention with the first digital presses designed in the early 1990s, it can enable 100 per cent customisation of content.
The Five Year Technology Forecast of Printing and Publishing, a major industry report published by Pira International last year, confirms that: 'One of the key drivers for the future of the printing industry is the demand for customised and personalised products and services'. But how equipped is the print industry to serve marketers and the all-important individual?
Digital printing enables text and images to vary on a page-by-page basis, opening up huge potential for personalised mailings. The implications of this new technology are smaller batch sizes and run lengths, a greater choice of type, rapid turnaround and variable information printing. All of these advances can be applied to direct marketing campaigns, allowing for runs of high quality, individualised mailings.
The British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF) recently highlighted digital print's capability for variable data in their Getting Into Digital Print guide. This explains how the use of 'tailored' print can increase response rates to marketing and sales material.
The opportunities for tailored print include: personalisation (where basic details are changed between every document printed); customisation (where substantial amounts of the content of, for example, a brochure is altered to match the preferences and interests of readers) and versioning (where larger runs of a generic document are broken down into amended shorter runs, like details of a local office on a sales flier).
The cost of digital print is always going to be relatively high compared with litho. But the benefits are higher sales through better response rates, more up-to-date marketing materials, and lower overall costs by, for example, cutting out the need for storage.
Volkswagen has recognised the potential of digital print. Once a customer has bought one of its Golf cars, contact is maintained through a series of mailings customised according to variables such as model and colour.
Each mailing includes a personal message and details of the nearest dealership.
But as with any good piece of direct marketing, the result is only as good as the information you put in. Making the most of the new technology relies on accurate and relevant customer data.
Bringing it all together
It is marketers who hold the data, but it is the printers and repro houses that have the digital printing technology. A company bridging this gap is Digital-Squared, which has brought together marketing, internet, database and digital print technologies.
By analysing clients' data and identifying key pieces of information to be personalised, Digital-Squared's marketing team is able to demonstrate how key database fields can be used to improve marketing effectiveness.
'We work with our client's advertising, direct mail or design agency to create a piece of literature that will contain the information generated by the key fields,' explains David Hyams, managing director at Digital-Squared, which has recently added the Mirror Group and BBC Worldwide to its client list. 'We then work with the client's database or IT department to link the key fields to the Digital-Squared interface.' The interface brings together all the text, data and images needed and the information passes straight into a digital print press.
Moore IMS is another company that has invested solely in digital print technology. Chris Martin, UK general manager, accepts that there is a greater cost attached to digital print but points out that: 'While costs can be high for a complex variable print job the first time round, the costs reduce dramatically on all future projects'.
Moore IMS has produced a jargon-free guide for marketers who want to learn more about how digital print can be used in their CRM programmes.
'The purpose is to explain that digital print isn't just another way of putting ink onto paper,' says Martin.
Computers now allow individual pages to be produced instantly from a database of graphic elements.
One company that has exploited this process is Sage. Based on responses from a questionnaire sent out to company directors, a personalised brochure was digitally produced to reflect its business needs. A letter accompanying the brochure underlined the fact that the information included was based on the answers given in the questionnaire. Attached was a complimentary Sage Line 50 Version 6 tour CD.
Sage announced that the response was high and provided the company with valuable information to add to its customer database.
While the challenge for many printers is to be able to generate high-quality colour changes automatically to allow for powerful direct marketing, the challenge for marketers is to examine their business model in order to take advantage of electronic media and, in particular, online services.
The environment can also benefit from digital print. Because the process allows for printing directly from electronic data, there is no need for films and plates. High quality printed pieces can be produced in exactly the right quantity, at the right time, which means that warehouses are not full of obsolete stock and there is less wastage.
At the moment digital print activity is characterised by short-run, rapid turnaround projects which the technology is ideally suited to. As costs come down and recognition of the need to tailor print material increases, this industry should reap the rewards.
LEVER BROTHERS INVESTS IN DIGITAL PRINT
'What's the best way to remove chewing gum from a soft toy?' That was the question posed by the Lever Brothers' personalised direct mail piece promoting its Persil Careline.
The answer was revealed on a six page information sheet, after the recipient had snapped apart the two bears on the outer carrier. They were also rewarded with a '50p off' money saving coupon, and an invitation to contribute washing tips for a Persil Tip Book via a reply-paid card.
Digital personalisation, an essential element of the Persil mailer, is evident on the outer carrier, the money saving coupon (with bar-coding) and reply-paid card. This was achieved by Scitex digital personalisation as part of the inline process.
Around a million of these innovative direct mail pieces were produced by digital personalisation company Graphic Inline. Its brief was to combine the creativity of inline printing and finishing with the practicality and targeting of digital personalisation.
The mailer format was engineered by Graphic Inline to be printed economically on its high-speed, inline web press. It combines conventional printing with digital personalisation, at a cost of around pounds 60,000, halving the price of producing the mailer by traditional methods which almost certainly would have involved 'hand working'.