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VARIABLE DATA PRINTING -- Building the Variable Data Base

May 2005
BY MARK SMITH

Technology Editor

Even as variable data printing (VDP) capabilities perennially failed to become the next big thing in the industry as a whole, the original business model for success has endured.

This archetype is an all-digital operation that identifies itself as a marketing communications firm and not as a printer. It sells solutions and offers marketing expertise to help clients identify opportunities and craft effective applications. The firm also boasts strong IT resources and is likely to offer design, mailing and fulfillment services. It may or may not track responses for clients.

A bit more variation has been seen within the target markets for this service. Clearly among the best prospects, though, have been companies that sell through dealers and distributors. Implementing template-driven, Web-to-print solutions enables such a company to empower its channel to do customized and personalized promotions while maintaining control over its brand identity.

Digital printing in general has had to overcome a bias for offset quality, but that has been much less of an issue for variable data applications. Early adopters have encountered several other barriers to adoption that have proved difficult to break down:

* Simply making potential users aware of the technology and how to exploit it.

* Convincing marketers about the return on investment since they are used to buying based on price per thousand.

* Database issues—clients not having the prerequisite customer data or databases in a usable format.

So where does variable data printing stand today? How far has the industry expanded beyond the now-classic business model? Most of the available market information remains anecdotal, but there have been some attempts to assess the market in more formal ways.

Rochester Institute of Technology's Printing Industry Center recently published a monograph of findings from a research project that sought to validate the models for digital printing success identified by a previous work. "Digital Printing Success Models: Validation Study" was written by Patricia Sorce, Ph.D. and administrative chair of RIT's School of Print Media, and Michael Pletka, an MBA student in RIT's College of Business.

The breakdown of markets for digital printing established by the research includes versioning, mail merge, personalization, transaction printing, Internet on-demand (or Web-to-print) and fully customized communications.

Three to Think About

According to the monograph, the three challenges cited most by the survey respondents were "a need to communicate the value of personalization to customers" (84.1 percent), "clients do not have a retention or customer relationship strategy" (82.9 percent) and "clients had poor data quality" (80.6 percent).
 

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