There's no doubt that digital print is on the increase in the direct marketing world. "Every printer that does direct marketing either has digital print capabilities already or has it on their shopping list," says Will Mansfield, director of EMEA sales operations at Kodak Graphic.
His optimism is backed up by research that DM services provider Lloyd James produced last month. It looked at 200 direct mail campaigns and found that 32 per cent of them used the sort of variable colour creative that only digital print can provide. The research also revealed that 47 per cent of direct mail campaigns will be using this new technology by the end of 2007.
More than anything else, digital print is being used to personalise pieces of direct mail. In many cases, this is no more sophisticated than producing different imagery for male and female recipients. Some retailers are using it to develop localised marketing campaigns that feature maps of local outlets and geographically specific offers.
A growing number, however, are using it for event-triggered direct mail. Jason Andrews, managing director of direct marketing agency Personal, says: "You can hook up your data files directly to your printing process and print infinite variations on a theme. We've used it to personalise children's storybooks for the Early Learning Centre's Big Birthday Club. If we know a child's name and age, it's simple to make them the hero of a story and send it to them on their birthday."
For some, the main benefit of digital print is that it offers much shorter turnaround times than those associated with litho. "Digital print has definitely become more popular for us, and we are buying about 70 per cent more for our clients than we were three years ago," says Emma Smethurst, operations director at Southampton-based marketing agency Leepeckgreenfield.
"The main benefit is the ability to turn print around in a very short space of time. We can measure the success of a single project or part of a campaign after a short run and then adjust the campaign accordingly."
Digital has the ROI advantage
However, it is the return-on-investment figures that excite clients the most. Digital print is more expensive than litho but produces markedly better results. Adrian Stark, country manager at HP Indigo, gives a few examples. "Wyse Technology conducted a B2B campaign that achieved a response rate of 20 per cent and a conversion rate of eight per cent, four times that of previous campaigns," he says. "A recent seasonal campaign for Sainsbury's provided a 25 per cent return on investment and a 110 per cent increase in incremental revenue. A sophisticated direct mail piece created to promote the launch of the BMW Z4 roadster produced response rates that were 20-25 per cent higher than previous campaigns had managed."
This is not to say that the advent of digital printing will solve all a direct marketer's problems. There are restrictions to the technology, as Smethurst reveals.
"Most digital printing equipment can only take up to SRA3 or SRA2 size paper," she explains. "Also, everything is printed in CMYK and not in Pantone colour, so an exact colour match for a logo or official company colours will not always be possible. And you are restricted by the fact that you are not able to print in metallics."
Even though manufacturers are rapidly overcoming these technical limitations, marketers should not be tempted to use this new technology simply because it is there. Digital print is not suited to every campaign, as John Blyth, head of marketing at Kall Kwik, explains. "You should be very careful and consider your capabilities in terms of equipment and people," he warns.
"Don't underestimate the amount of work that will be involved in getting everything in place. Also, be sure that it is cost-effective for you to produce."
Importantly, the personalisation of direct mail relies heavily on accurate data. The only thing worse than sending out a blanket mass mailing to everyone on your database is sending out a highly personalised mailing to someone and misspelling their name, sending it to the wrong address or tailoring it around a product they do not own.
Despite some possible drawbacks, print firms are bubbling with enthusiasm for digital print. After years of being beaten down on price, coping with ever shorter print runs and trying to maintain margins on an increasingly commoditised product, printers are finding that digital print offers a chance to reposition themselves.
Jon Bailey, director of digital services at ProCo Print, invested in some digital equipment three years ago and now about 20 per cent of his work is digital. Interestingly, the amount of litho work he does has remained constant because all of the digital work has been new business. Bailey does not believe that the future of direct mail is purely digital. "I've just bought three new litho presses," he reports. "There's still plenty of life in that side of the business, and print firms should not jump into digital just because everyone else is."
Indeed, while digital can be very profitable, Simon Guest, marketing manager at Document Express, a Xerox concession, says: "There's a lot to learn in terms of the print technology, workflow, management information systems and the sales and marketing of a digital print service. Companies should think about whether it is really for them, and they should get all the free training that's on offer. If they get it right, though, the benefits are considerable."
Looking to the future, it seems digital will become ever more popular.
Tony Richardson, art director at direct marketing agency TDA, says: "Being able to print an addressee's name using peanuts, daisies, spanners or eagle feathers is only the very tip of the digital printing iceberg. The rapid rise of digital printing technology is allowing the direct marketing industry to get up-close and personal with our audience in extremely practical ways.
"I am looking forward to the future of mass marketing, when digital print technology will enable us to target specific messages more effectively, while making our messages more personal. But let's be careful how we use this new marketing tool."
- Digital print is being used increasingly for event-triggered direct mail
- Digital print is more expensive than litho but can produce better results
- Marketers should be wary of digital print's size and colour restrictions
CASE STUDY - CARPHONE WAREHOUSE
Since July, all new Carphone Warehouse customers have received a welcome pack personalised to their handset, network, tariff and ancillary products. Each pack is unique, containing a guide to the handset's key features, details of their individual tariffs and accessory offers.
The pack is also being used to cross-sell the company's Talk Talk landline and broadband service. If the purchaser is already a Talk Talk customer, they are encouraged to recommend a friend to join. If not, their welcome pack has a different page enticing them into the service. The content is triggered using customer data collected at the point of purchase. A software programme locates the most relevant information for each page and produces the welcome pack.
The creative, by agency WDMP, depicts customers as film stars. "Our philosophy is to give customers a unique and personal service to ensure they feel valued and understood in this competitive and largely impersonal market," explains Michelle Henderson, direct marketing director at Carphone Warehouse.
DIGITAL PRINT WORLD 2005 Where: Earl's Court 2, London When: 18-20 October Website: www.digitalprint world.co.uk
Why visit? It is an opportunity to see innovative digital print applications, participate in expert forums and seminars, and get advice on technical and business issues.
Who is exhibiting? More than 100 companies, including Canon, HP, Konica Minolta and Xeikon.
Sessions on digital print for marketing, and print on demand will include presentations from dsi group, SR Communications and Anthony Rowe. Quark will sponsor expert seminars from suppliers and Pira, the printing and media consultancy, will host four masterclasses.