Why Printers and Mailers Should Take Data Security Very Seriously
You’re probably tired of hearing about it: data breaches. Privacy concerns. Data cleansing. Data management. But just because you’re tired of hearing about all the ways data can and should be maintained and used doesn’t mean you, as a commercial or direct marketing printer and mail services provider, can afford to ignore it. Data is the lifeblood of any business in today’s society, and knowing how to get the most out of it, and how to safeguard it for yourself and your clients, can mean the difference between a booming business and one that struggles to get by.
“Business runs on data — and commercial printers are no exception,” David Spencer, president and CEO of SpencerMetrics, points out. “Data represents truth — where you are and where you’ve been — and can be the basis for where you should go next to excel, or at least to stay competitive. Commercial printers have been behind many other industries. Fortunately, they are increasingly realizing this need and taking the necessary steps.”
Complicating things even further is the hodgepodge of data laws around the country — some states have enacted laws with varying degrees of severity and enforcement, and a push for federal-level Congressional data laws have stalled in committee as debates about what should and shouldn’t be covered, who should enforce it, and even whether or not a federal law would overwrite state legislation, have dragged on. This means, for printers and mailers, that figuring out how to use and secure data can be a minefield at the best of times.
Data in Motion
There are two ways to think about data in printing and mailing operations, and both are equally important. First, for anyone who mails anything, data integrity is critical to ensuring the success of the job. If the direct mail campaign isn’t going to the right demographics, the right addresses, or the right names, then it won’t actually generate the response rates and ROI the clients are looking for. While some brands and marketers maintain their own lists — and therefore are in charge of keeping their own data clean and up-to-date — many are increasingly relying on their print and mail services providers to manage that process for them.
“Our clients have expectations to maximize postal savings,” Carroll Schiley, director, Production Technology Applications, at Chanhassen-Minnesota-based IWCO Direct, notes. “With the ever-increasing USPS rates, this makes data cleansing functions — including merge/purge and presorting of their data — highly valued processes in the overall flow of a project.”
Second, is data security — and this applies to both the printing company’s own data, as well as the databases it safeguards for customers. “We unquestionably live in a world where data management and cybersecurity — at all levels and in all areas of every organization — are of the utmost importance,” George Forge, VP of client technology, at Sussex, Wisconsin-based Quad, says.
As more and more data breaches make the news all the time, brands owners and marketers are always looking for ways to stay ahead of bad actors in the security space. For printers, this means staying educated about current technologies and best practices, and ensuring all processes for handling and storing data are kept current. It’s not enough anymore to have a password-protected server and call it a day. You need to have a comprehensive data security plan in place if you want long-term success.
It’s easy to dismiss data management as a nebulous concept when you have actual printed pieces to create and handle. It’s easy to forget just how critical data is to every stage of a print project.
That is especially true with campaigns that span multiple touchpoints and channels. “Marketing partners should consider data as the backbone for empowering brands. Consumers discover, explore, purchase, and provide feedback to brands through a multitude of channels — social, search, video, TV, radio, in-store, out-of-home, and print, to name a few,” Forge reports.
He continues, “Successful brands depend on real-time signals and marketing automation platforms to ensure they’re meeting the consumer where they want to be met. Brands and their products must be seamlessly represented, regardless of channel. This multidimensional, always-connected ecosystem is built around quality data management and integrations with media partners.”
For the direct mail component in particular — the channel many commercial printers will be the most intimately involved with — this means keeping track of what information needs to be shared, who it needs to be shared with, and even which pieces need to get to which customer. Transactional printers have been managing this process for many years, but that degree of personalization and versioning is slowly moving into other types of mailers as well. Mass mailings of thousands of identical pieces are becoming far less common. And ensuring it all goes to the right place is part of the service that commercial printers and mailers can offer.
“While especially important in financial and healthcare, no printer wants a mail piece lost, mis-addressed, or sent twice,” Spencer points out. “Management and customers want to know that each mail piece has the correct content and address, from printing through folding or other processing until it is securely out the door.”
Getting the Most From Your Data
First and foremost, when it comes to managing data, it’s time to talk about automation. There are simply too many pieces of information, going into too many different projects that all have to work in complete harmony with one another for it to be handled by a person in any operation that wants to grow over time. Spreadsheets are not, in this case, your friend.
“Core data processing steps can be automated with good success,” IWCO Direct’s Schiley contends. “This allows more time to focus on the clients’ customized process needs and validation of those results.”
“Data is both simple and complex,” according to Spencer. “Manual processing is fundamentally error-prone — and expensive. Automation is not a luxury, it is a necessity, and good automation can provide significant cost-savings,” he adds. “While many firms try to improve profitability by increasing sales — more revenue can cover more sins — it is far more effective to reduce costs by simply eliminating waste. And wasted labor and machine time can provide much more fertile areas for cost reduction.”
Automation isn’t just about making it easier to move the data from one system to another, however. It is also about making sure the right data is available at the right time. Quad’s Forge notes, “Data for data’s sake is not meaningful in marketing. We’re using data to create a better way for the human experiencing the technology, the product, the ‘thing.’ We handle innovation, ideas, and marketing at the top of the funnel, as well as production, delivery, logistics, and execution at the bottom.
“There is no hand-off to another vendor, point-of-contact, or system, which causes loss of time, money, and consumers,” Forge says. “This ‘through-the-line’ offering allows us to remove friction wherever it is in the marketing chain. Quality data management and integrations are central to a seamless, efficient, and successful experience for our clients and their end customers.”
If all of this seems overwhelming, Schiley notes that the best place to start getting serious about data management is standardization — making sure all your data adheres to a basic structure and format. “Start with a base house layout, and build standard data processing steps and the workflow upon that to feed your composition and manufacturing processes,” she advises.
Spencer further breaks it down, noting printers should assign resources to manage data and to act on the results of the analysis. “Understand your priorities — what you’d most like to know; learn about solutions that can address these priorities and grow with you over the longer term, and don’t let cashflow kill your profitability. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) can give you a very fast ROI.”
On its best day, data management is challenging and complex. But it’s also critical to the success of any marketing campaign — and that makes it exciting, Forge points out. “Evaluate your talent and your systems, and ensure you have a strong vision for why and how you are doing what you’re doing. Being in service to our clients’ success is incredibly motivating for moving forward, even on the most difficult of days.”
Data management is a key component to success for any print job in today’s world, and that is doubly true for any job that includes a mailed component. Understanding how data flows through the operation, making it easy to access and analyze, and keeping it secure for both your own business as well as your customers are all elements that make a difference between the print providers that appear in the top half of the Printing Impressions 300 ranking, and those that don’t appear at all.
If you want to see your business thrive in 2022 and beyond, start with getting serious about your data.