Open Enrollment | Subscribe to Printing Impressions HERE
Follow us on


May 2008
Get the Flash Player to see this rotator.
Channel Surfing for Customers

THIS TIME, it’s for real. It, in this case, being multi-channel marketing.

For years, printers have been hearing about opportunities for growth by expanding beyond ink (or toner) on paper. Computers and digital prepress were supposed to have spawned a multimedia services market for publication and catalog printers, among others. Content was to be repurposed for distribution on CD-ROM and later put online.

The Internet gave rise to the cross-media concept, which has been partly realized, yet fallen short of the predicted revolution. Printed catalogs have been found to be an effective mechanism for driving shoppers online. Conversely, retailers typically post electronic replicas of their printed sales flyers on their Websites. Publishers of all types, however, are still struggling to find a revenue model for their online offerings.

Multi-channel marketing is a slightly different animal. It involves using multiple media to market to consumers with consistent branding and messaging. Campaigns that combine print and e-mail messaging, supported by personalized URLs and landing sites, are the main opportunity for printers, but television, radio, billboards and other media can be involved. Using multiple channels reinforces the message and has been shown to boost consumer response rates.

E-mail messaging has gotten relatively little play in the industry, though, despite all of the talk of variable data and one-to-one marketing. Discussions of both the theory and practice have mainly focused on printing applications.

Maybe digital print providers still see e-mail messaging as a competitor to print, but the low cost and ease of production with this medium mean they ignore it at their own peril as marketers seek to implement integrated campaigns.

[ The Proposition ]

Gannett Co., a major media enterprise, was looking for an inexpensive, yet effective, way to centralize and automate some of its customer retention efforts. As part of its international news and information operations, the company publishes 90 daily newspapers in the United States, including USA Today. It also owns nearly 1,000 non-daily American publications and USA Weekend, a weekly newspaper magazine.

Among the company’s objectives were to automate its direct mail subscription retention efforts, reduce the use of pre-printed materials, increase customers’ use of Web-based self-service and account management options, and increase the percentage of subscribers who auto pay via credit card or bank draft electronic payments.

[ The Solution ]

Utilizing internal resources, Gannett created a comprehensive solution for direct marketing that it dubbed Automated Direct Marketing (ADM). ADM provides a centralized marketing process that automates the sending of retention messaging to new customers.

The system automates the production of direct mail and e-mail communications with personalized marketing messages. Printed materials are produced in-house in consolidated daily production runs to take advantage of postal and production economies. The vendor of Gannett’s company-wide e-mail system distributes the e-mail communications.

New subscribers receive a series of nine print or e-mail “touches” in the customer retention campaign. Everyone receives an order confirmation, start verification, guide to the newspaper and service check that is versioned based on the payment type selected.

In one communication, the newspaper asks subscribers who are not using EZ Pay automatic credit card payment to convert to this plan. If a customer converts to EZ Pay between the time when the “Thank You” e-mail is sent (upon completion of a transaction) and when the “Welcome” e-mail goes out (the first day of newspaper delivery), then the Welcome piece will have different copy and will not contain a switch to EZ Pay incentive offer.

All of the communications (postcards and e-mails) are sent to customers at specific times in their subscription cycle. Real-time automation means any change in a subscriber’s status is immediately reflected in the messages. Each local newspaper market uses a template, but copy, images, pricing and incentives, even the timing of mail drops, can be customized.

[ Producing the Job ]

The customer relationship management system that forms the underpinnings of the system is actually two separate databases. One is a large database that contains the transactional information for the entire newspaper chain.

All of this data is synchronized on a real-time basis, which allows the company to access information as needed for financial management or marketing efforts. The second database holds all of the newspaper publisher’s marketing-related resources and information, such as logos, offers, newspaper names, addresses, etc.

Each night, the system matches up the marketing and transaction information, and the combined data stream is used to print variable data print communications. The e-mail provider receives the data stream in real-time, so that Gannett can send electronic touches within minutes of a transaction having been completed.

Developing the framework to marry data from the two databases took several programmers 18 months to complete. With more than 90 newspapers to support, the demands of ongoing maintenance are also time-consuming.

Printing is done in-house on two Xerox DocuColor 6060 digital color production systems. The software used to drive production was developed internally. Gannett sends out more than 1 million new subscriber touches a year, with digital print production runs done daily.

[ The Results ]

Markets participating in the program of personalized print and e-mail touches reportedly have achieved an ROI in the 20 percent range, with 13-week retention rates boosted an average of 13.7 percent, year-over-year. Subscriber retention rates at the 26-week mark have increased an average of 7.6 percent.

In addition, the program’s automation has decreased customer service demands, freeing up time for more new customer acquisition efforts. Online account management activity is up and a greater percentage of customers are converting to perpetual credit card payments, thereby reducing the organization’s billing costs. PI

This case study was derived from PODi’s Best Practices in Digital Print collection. With more than 300 case studies, it is the largest collection ever assembled of successful digital printing projects. PODi is an industry initiative with hundreds of member companies, including executive board members EFI, HP, Pitney Bowes, Quark and Xerox. PODi members receive free access to the case studies, as well as other resources including presentations, reports and online seminars. Membership in PODi is open to companies and organizations involved in digital printing. For more information on joining PODi or submitting your own case study, visit

Companies Mentioned:


Click here to leave a comment...
Comment *
Most Recent Comments: