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VARIABLE-DATA SOLUTIONS--Refining Raw Data

February 2001
BY MARK SMITH


Mining the rich potential of variable-data printing has proven to be tougher going than early assays may have indicated. The biggest obstacles have been, and continue to be, inadequate customer data gathering on the part of potential users and/or limited understanding of how to capitalize on such information.

Early on it became apparent that selling and executing variable-data work required direct interaction with marketing types. Trying to go through the normal channels—i.e., print buyers and even creatives, to an extent—wasn't effective. The right place to start is with the marketing goals of the organization, not the capabilities of the process.

The need to educate buyers and the nature of work result in a longer sell cycle. The sale is further complicated by the relatively higher cost per piece of variable-printing work, so the focus must be shifted to return on investment. On the plus side, the upfront investment required means the work tends to be longer term programs, not one-time projects.

At a minimum, potential users must be educated about what is possible with variable-data printing and how to set up a job. Depending on the resources of the customer and supplier, it may make sense to move up to a complete turnkey service. This can include program development, mailing list procurement, database management, design/creative services, print production and document distribution. A company that has found success going this route is Digital Marketing in Minneapolis, which is featured in this issue (see page 18).

Technical Difficulties
The technology has presented a few barriers of its own. Initially there were issues with the amount of variable data the tools could handle and their ability to drive presses at rated speeds. Upgrades have largely dealt with these problems. However, as the market started to mature, concern arose that the use of proprietary, closed file formats might stifle the technology's adoption.

The class of products generically referred to as variable-data tools really is a mixed bag. They range from QuarkXTensions and stand-alone software applications to printer drivers and hardware caches. Some are proprietary solutions from the press manufacturers themselves, while others have been introduced by third-party developers. The level of functionality and cost vary greatly.

For the most part, variable-data solutions have been device-specific. This means projects have to be targeted to a specific printing system almost from conception. Repeat jobs become captive to the platform/ workflow for which they were originally developed. Such constraints have the potential to restrict the growth of any new technology.

 

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