Making a Difference with Data

Direct Mail marketing generates heightened engagement and customer response when incorporating the use of data to leverage personalization and versioning. Study after study, year after year, this is a well-documented and proven fact. With today’s data analytics tools and advanced print technologies, marketers can create highly targeted print pieces with an infinite number of variable elements per page—including fonts, text, images, graphics, and positioning.

How does it work? When creating documents with variable content, you are merging a file from a design program (such as InDesign) with a spreadsheet or database file. This can be as simple as using data from programs like Excel or Filemaker, to a more advanced approach of designing custom data integrations with CRM platforms or ERP platforms. The key to executing these projects properly is preparation and planning, so let’s look at some basic guidelines for ensuring a successful campaign.

1. The best variable data campaigns start with the data. Build a functional database with information stored in an easily searchable architecture, including basic data such as first name, last name, and mailing address, layering in adding additional data points such as individual purchase history, engagement history, demographics, gender, age, or any other element you deem useful. Your data points should include information that will help place, promote, and sell your product or service to the right people. From that database, determine the messaging, offers and timing of your variable campaign to each segment of individuals from your list will be the next step. You will have the ability to customize each recipients printed piece to each individual.

2. Assemble the data before undertaking the design. Let the data determine how to best create the design of the piece, letting the design adapt to the data.

3. Talk to your print service provider early on in the process. Their experts will have valuable advice on how to set up your data and art files, preferred formats, and other guidelines that will save you time and money, increasing the success and ROI of the campaign.

4. Each row of information on a spreadsheet represents a unique document, while each column represents a corresponding field within the document (designed as part of the artwork). Data columns can also serve as criteria for selecting variable text or images. Variable text fields can include offers, unique messaging, dates, or any text content within your database. Variable image fields can include any set of pre-chosen images that can be assigned to an image box within the document. Ask your print service provider for specific data file guidelines such delimiters and qualifiers, and guidelines for the use of multiple images that can be changed per field, per printed piece.

5. Use a simple, but consistent naming protocol for the columns, such as name, image one, image two, and place the name of the image to be used in the field into the corresponding field in the database. Be careful to use the precise name of each image. You can use .jpg, .esp or .tif extensions.

If you are doing more complex variable documents, you may have to employ a VDP application that can work with a relational database and extract the data to be used.

6. Use a program like InDesign to create the art file. Create a sample or proof indicating the positions of all the variable elements and use the precise name for the fields and for the images in each field.

7. Keep all images in one folder and be sure to not use any subfolders. Again, use precise names for all fields.

8. Best Practices when creating your art file:

  • The Long and Short of it. Check that the longest variable text from text fields will fit in the allocated space. Also check the shortest text field. Pay particular attention to text that may re-flow and wrap to the next line.
  • Don’t Be Caught Empty-Handed. Specify a default value to use if a row contains blanks in a variable column, otherwise it may result in an empty field when printed.
  • Image Size Matters. The size of your image files should be between 1 – 5 MB (not to exceed 5 MB) with a resolution of 300 dpi. Keep the range of images to be used in any specific field to be similar in size (dimensions), otherwise prepress programs will scale to fit them into the provided image box and you may experience your images being enlarged, reduced or skewed in some manner.
  • Fonts Can Be Finicky. Include all the fonts you plan to use in formats such as .otf and .ttf. Remember some styles and effects don’t carry over in the variable text, so you must attach all the fonts.
  • Decoding Codes. If you’re adding items such as barcodes or QR codes, send the information embedded in those codes.
  • Addressing Address Fields. It is best to keep address fields as individual fields rather than one single field that has all address information in it. Split the address into Address 1, Address 2, Street, City, State, Zip. BONUS: By keeping the zip code in its own field you are able to take advantage of favorable pricing for pre-sorted postal rates.

Your custom-designed variable print project deserves customized attention. Bolger understands this and has experts on-staff to guide you through the entire process—from the first step of data collection and data management to the design of the piece and each variable characteristic. We have a wealth of knowledge and assistance available to help you.

For Designers: Fear of Data

The world is awash in oceans of data. Every time each of us engages in a transaction, answers a survey, browses a website, hands out a business card, or contributes to an online thread, we leave a bit of information behind.

All that knowledge can be a huge help in honing relevant marketing messages that resonate with consumers. But the data ocean can also be intimidating. Before you can turn those information bits into data-driven marketing campaigns, they must be processed, organized and manipulated—a prospect that can push up anxiety levels. In addition, designers and creatives can be leery of too much data for fear it will dim the creative spark.

Some reluctance is understandable as data manipulation does require specialized skills. The good news is that Bolger Printing has an entire team of data experts on staff to help you evaluate and leverage your data. Handling the data tasks and executing on successful data-driven marketing campaigns is our goal.

Let’s look at how data can be used for maximum effect:

Data backs up the gut feel

Marketers and creatives use data even when they don’t realize it. When creatives tap into a gut feeling and energize their talent, they’re tapping into experiences, prior successes and failures, and knowledge of their audience. That’s data. A more structured approach simply brings order to the process.

Data makes messages relevant and clear

Information lets you know what your customers want. It identifies their challenges and offers insights into their buying behavior. You can use this knowledge to decide what message to send to each client or group, and when it should be delivered. This detailed audience profile—a design brief in designer speak—focuses the message, unleashes creativity, and produces a better customer experience because the targeted individuals are receiving pitches that matter to them.

Data creates fully customized experiences

Having the right data is the only way to create variable, customized, and personalized campaigns. Studies consistently show that when marketers customize messages for recipients, response rates rise along with trust in the brand. Think about the many companies that stream or recommend content based on user preferences. Your campaigns can be just as relevant and well received.

Data proves what works

Tracking the response and engagement rates of various creative approaches and campaigns will indicate what resonates with audiences, giving creatives deeper insights into the emotional triggers that hit the mark.

Data helps keep up with consumer tastes

How often have you read about companies that failed because they didn’t keep up with changing consumer tastes? If executives had been keenly attuned to purchase and browsing patterns, comments, foot traffic, or other metrics, they might have avoided business downturns. Data helps you keep up with your customers’ preferences so you can fine tune your creative initiatives.

Data can tell you how to communicate

By examining where and how your audiences receive your messages you can choose the best-working platforms. If you know that younger clients respond to social media offers and older clients like direct mail, for instance, you can adjust accordingly.

Data prioritizes your outreach

Data identifies patterns of dissatisfaction, highlighting at-risk customer segments. Are you losing long held clients? Perhaps it’s time for a customer appreciation marketing campaign. Are you not gaining traction with a younger crowd? It’s time to do something inspiring for them.

The expertise required to collect, validate, organize and manipulate reams of data is at the heart of this process. Our experts can help with all your data-management needs, leaving you to focus on finessing your strategy and your message.