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One-to-One Printing -- Where Are the Repeat Jobs?

March 2009 By Heidi Tolliver-Nigro
THERE IS no question that one-to-one (personalized) digital printing works. Just skim through the case study archives of the Print On Demand Initiative (PODi). Click through the case studies on vendor and printer sites. Read the articles and the blog posts. View the Webinars. Proof that variable data printing (VDP) works is everywhere. 

No wonder. The industry is neck-deep in tools to help sell these applications. There are templates for personalized printing jobs and client presentations. Training tools through the S3 Council. Consultants. Every digital press and software vendor offers templates and customer training programs. 

Digital printers are selling these one-to-one applications. Clients get results. Applications get written up all over the trade media. Yet, when you go back and look up even extremely successful VDP applications—say, a retailer gets a 38 percent response rate to a holiday promotion—more often than not, these applications are not repeated. 

This raises a puzzling question. If one-to-one digital printing programs are so successful, why aren’t more clients repeating them? There are always individual cases. One software manufacturer, for example, used one-to-one printing to jumpstart its cross-selling program, and was so successful after two campaigns that it no longer needs the program. Or a printer developed a highly successful VDP application for a vertical market that has since taken a body blow.

But what are the broader reasons? 

1| Clients do not follow up and verify results. Too many customers do no track the results of their programs. When the sales come in, they get blended with the sales from all of their marketing efforts—which they aren’t tracking, either. Consequently, it’s impossible to tell what role one-to-one printing played.

If you don’t have proof that personalization is giving you a greater return on your investment, why bother repeating it? Many clients don’t. 

2| When clients do measure results, they track response rates, but nothing else. As an industry, we’ve grown used to talking about response rates, but response rates don’t always mean much when it comes to ROI. What was the conversion rate on the back end? What was the dollar volume of sales generated by each customer? What was the ROI of the entire campaign?

Unless the client is connecting its response rate to the revenue generated or another meaningful metric, the response rate itself makes for great case studies, but has little value in justifying future targeted marketing efforts. 

3| Even if customers are tracking beyond response rates, they often aren’t set up to track them long-term. The true benefits of the campaign can easily get lost. According to Peter Wann, industry consultant, “Some companies are not particularly sales-driven, and their sales processes and systems may not support this technological process [of tracking results all the way through].

“Thus, after one attempt, too few salespeople are following up on too many leads, and some leads get lost or flushed without a concerted sales effort. Management looks at the ROI after six months and decides the campaign is a failure, when they should be looking at their systems and retooling.”

4| Despite great results, clients feel that the projects take too long and are too time-consuming. Let’s face it. Marketers like the results of one-to-one printing, but unless they have a personal passion for it, or their jobs or their salaries are tied to their results, most people want to go home at 5 p.m. 

Writing on his blog Total Sales Success, Tom Hackelman, graphic communications specialist for Xerox, put it well. In a post titled “Dump Mediocrity,” he writes that we’ve become a world of managers. Managers operate according to the status quo. They hate change. Managers have specific goals: Keep the business functioning; deliver product; hit sales targets; make a profit. That’s basically it.

Put this is the world of the marketing department, and the problem becomes apparent. Marketing departments are geared to crank out the same type of campaign, season in, season out, and management often accepts the results as “the way things are.” If the security or salary of marketers’ jobs is not performance-based, it’s just easier to go back to producing a traditional campaign. 

5| Turnover at the client means that the printer loses its primary personalized digital printing champion. This is a real hazard in one-to-one printing campaigns because of the length of the sales cycle. Once a project is completed, the original marketing team or individual at the company who spearheaded the project, often has moved on. The team may have been given a budget for a one-time project, and without its VDP champion, the project never gets renewed. 

6| The printer doesn’t follow-up with customers and encourage them to repeat the application. Many times, if you ask printers why their clients didn’t repeat a successful VDP application, they have no idea why. They didn’t follow-up to ask. 

The issue of “more work equals more results” can be a stumbling block for printers, too. It’s more work to sell these applications. They have long sales cycles. There are more “moving parts” to deal with than traditional campaigns. Plus, you can end up with a lower commission for a greater level of involvement. Unless a printer specializes in one-to-one printing campaigns, inertia plagues them, as well. PI

About the Author
Heidi Tolliver-Nigro is an industry analyst specializing in digital, one-to-one, personalized URL and Web-to-print applications. Her Marketer’s Primer Series, available through Digital Printing Reports (, includes “Digital Printing: Transforming Business and Marketing Models,” “1:1 (Personalized) Printing: Boosting Profits Through Relevance,” “Personalized URLs: Beyond the Hype,” and “Web-to-Print: Transforming Document Management and Marketing.”


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