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Direct Group — Masters of Messaging

August 2009 By Julie Greenbaum
Associate Editor
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TAKING DIRECT marketing to the next level is something the executive team at Swedesboro, NJ-based Direct Group knows a thing or two about. Last year, the fully integrated direct marketing solutions provider invested heavily in new equipment to leverage digital color printing technology for clients in both its direct mail and fulfillment areas.

Since its outset in 1995, Direct Group has transformed itself from a direct mail lettershop that offered only laser printing into a company that now implements and executes multi-channel communications. Today, it offers database management and analytics; e-messaging; personalized digital printing; response tracking; postal processing; mailing services; and fulfillment.

Direct Group’s client base is made up largely of Fortune 100 companies, encompassing a range of industries, including financial services, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, hospitality, gaming, retail, insurance, automotive, non-profit, education and publishing, the armed forces, home security and travel.

First U.S. Installation

In 2008 alone, the company installed 45 new digital/laser printing heads, giving it increased capability to support customers’ sophisticated, multi-channel direct marketing campaigns. One major investment was an Océ JetStream 2200 continuous ink-jet press—the first such system of its kind installed in the United States.

“The JetStream was a significant investment for us because it enables our clients to leverage three significant and converging industry trends—the rapidly increasing adoption of trigger-based mailings, the availability of revolutionary digital printing technology, and the demand for more effective postal strategies to combat recent and future rate increases,” explains Don McKenzie, president and CEO of Direct Group.

And with the installation of a second JetStream 2200 this past December, the company’s capacity to offer fully variable, 4/4 personalized text, graphics, and/or images in a continuous environment, has increased to roughly two million variable color packages a day. Both JetStream systems have the capacity to produce more than 30 million digitally produced pieces per month, as well as to speed production cycle times. 

“We can receive files in the afternoon and, whether the customer needs several hundred, thousand or million pieces, we can get them in the mail the next day,” McKenzie adds. “Years ago, it was a 10- to 20-day cycle, and we have now compressed that into from one day to one week, depending upon the client’s needs.”

Direct Group found that adopting a “trigger” mentality has been very successful in driving response rates, but it also means working around the clock to get the job done. “Trigger-based marketing can be very stressful to our organization because it requires 24/7 capabilities in data processing and client services,” notes Matt Graham, chief strategy officer.

“In mail acceptance, you are constantly on the clock because every hour counts as opposed to every day. We’ve been able to deliver a set of business rules that allows our clients to get up to 500,000 pieces in the mail the next day,” he says.

Last year, Direct Group also re-engineered its laser personalization platform with 32 Océ VarioStream 8750 systems to increase uptime and operational efficiencies, as well boost its color and MICR capabilities. The printers have allowed the company to increase daily output by 25 percent and take on additional business opportunities, without increasing the footprint of its production space. The VarioStreams have the capability of producing up to 300 million personalized letters per month, depending on format.

“By continuing to upgrade our laser installment, we have been able to support our clients’ growing demand for quick-turn work, allowing them to develop programs to leverage recent customer data and to improve response rates,” reports Pat O’Brien, chief marketing officer. “Another major benefit to switching to the Océ platform has been the reduced energy output of the 8750s, which allows us to improve upon our green initiatives.”

Getting More Personal

Other additions last year included three new machines to support its DirectMatch capabilities—an in-house system that allows clients to personalize an additional piece within a package, without adding a lot of cost and time to the process. With the new machines, the company can now insert, match, address and create teasers on up to 234,000 pieces per hour.

“We are continually looking for avenues where we can put a personal touch within the piece,” adds O’Brien. “DirectMatch was a homegrown process we created. We can now put down a clean-release card, Post-it note or label, and personalize it in-line in our laser room.”

To optimize customers’ campaigns by targeting people more effectively and building cleaner databases, the company formed a strategic alliance with CognitiveDATA Inc. As a result, Direct Group has gained stronger skill sets in modeling, analytics, geotargeting and response analysis, and can now build in-house marketing databases.

The company has also added a strong competency around database management, as well as multi-channel campaigns that include e-mail, e-messaging, e-newsletters and personalized URL capabilities.

“We can now help our clients blend not only traditional, land-based communication with an effective e-strategy, but allow them to leverage the sequencing of communication to their audience,”
McKenzie points out. “We have become one of the few firms that can really leverage it, understand it and implement it on a daily basis.”

In April, Direct Group announced that it would unite its direct mail, digital printing and fulfillment operations—currently in two operating facilities—into one complex at its existing Swedesboro location to increase efficiencies and lower costs. McKenzie notes that the newly combined operation is the culmination of a multi-year growth strategy involving more than $30 million of investments in advanced equipment, software and strategic acquisitions. This includes the purchase of database marketing company Enterprise Marketing Solutions in 2007, which will remain in Piscataway, NJ.

Moving forward, the approximately $100 million operation plans to continue its focus on multi-
channel communications, personalized digital printing and database services, both through organic growth and through acquisition.

“We will continue to help our clients maximize their marketing spend and improve overall campaign ROI, as well as offer production solutions for all types of projects,” he concludes. PI


 

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