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Variable Data Printing (VDP) 101: Learn the Basics, Pricing & Use Cases

Learn the basics of variable data printing and get answers to common questions around pricing and use cases.

What is Variable Data Printing?

Variable data printing is a digital printing technique that allows for certain elements, like text, graphics, images, to be changed from one piece to the next without slowing down the printing process.

This technique enables marketers to create personalized print pieces with varying degrees of customization depending on messaging or offers, and how they plan to target their campaign accordingly. This can be as simple as printing different names and addresses on a standard print piece, to as complex as fully-customizing mailers to look completely different depending on each recipient’s interests, location, or other relevant information.

Since its introduction, variable data printing is primarily used for direct marketing, customer relationship management, and advertising, specifically for hyper-localization and personalizing mailers. While the traditional mail campaign typically garners an average response rate around 2%, personalized mail pieces created with variable data printing can achieve response rates around 6% or more –– a 200% increase. In addition to better ROI, variable data printing helps marketers eliminate the expense of mailing to prospects that are least likely to be interested in an offer, making their budgets go even further than they could with a standard mailer.

Read on to learn the basics of variable data printing and get answers to common questions around pricing and use cases.

How does variable data printing work?

In short, and a bit technical, variable data printing works by combining a template with the base design elements with variable fields. The static elements on the template stay the same in each piece while the variable fields change from one piece to another according to the chosen variables.

There are different technical processes for variable data printing which largely depend on a print provider’s equipment and the complexity of the print project. For simple variable data printing projects, a template with static elements may be printed first with the variable elements printed on top of them. More commonly, a print provider may use variable data printing software that combines the static and variable elements before or during printing. This allows for faster printing and more complex variable projects.

How is variable data printing used in a print piece?

While the limits of variable data printing are largely the limits of a marketer’s imagination, here are a few common uses for creating personalized marketing and advertising materials––both simple and complex.

  • Versioned printing.
    This is a simpler application of variable data printing. Each piece follows the same general design but has some sections for variable content depending on a specific audience or market. This is a simple, but powerful way to take the same message or offer and target different segments of an audience (by language, location, age, etc.).
  • Personalized printing.
    This uses variable data printing to integrate each recipient’s name and address into the copy of the mail piece to create a unique mailer for each person. Personalized mailers have been shown to boost engagement and response rates.
  • Customized printing. In addition to the name and address, content elements and images are changed to make them more relevant to certain segments of an audience, such as those near certain store locations or those who’ve indicated different interests. This allows for even more finely-tuned messaging and offers.

What are the benefits of variable data printing?

Variable data printing’s growing popularity is due in large part to the advantages that it has over traditional print processes. We’ve summarized a few of these below.

  • It makes better use of your existing data. Variable data printing lets you use your customer data to its full potential by utilizing reporting software, redemption rates, and other analytics to tailor mail pieces to audience segments and optimize subsequent campaigns based on results. With the right print partner, this information can power tailored campaigns with greater impact and engagement rates.
  • It’s customizable. Variable data printing lets you take segmentation to the extreme by creating hundreds or thousands of completely unique pieces for a single campaign that each speak to your prospects and customers on a one-to-one level.
  • It integrates with your multi-channel/cross-media marketing programs. Marketers can use variable data printing to support multi-channel marketing campaigns triggered by specific customer actions and events taken through other channels like website landing pages.
  • It’s fast. Thousands of unique printed pieces can be executed at mass production rates. They don’t require each variation to be ordered, printed, and shipped separately, making it perfect for large companies with multiple locations to personalize and localize their mailers at scale.
  • It achieves better results. When coupled with a detailed mailing list, using variable data printing to personalize your mail pieces can significantly boost engagement and response rates among recipients. According to a landmark study conducted by David Broudy and Frank Romano into the effects of personalization, adding variables like color, the recipient’s name, and personalized database information can dramatically increase response rates as explained in the chart below.
Element Added Change in Response Rate vs. Non-personalized Mail Piece
Name +44%
Full Color +45%
Name and Full Color +135%
Name, Full Color, Database Info +500%

Variable data printing pricing factors

While one-off variable data printing projects vary in price depending on the size and scope of the campaign as well as the level of variability between pieces, many print providers will price individual projects using factors like:

  • Number of mail pieces
  • Size and type of mail pieces
  • Bleed
  • Number of elements of variable data
  • Type of variable data elements
  • Front/back
  • Type of data source

More commonly today, however, marketers are utilizing variable data printing as part of a larger, more powerful end-to-end marketing platforms that allow them to build, execute, and report on hyper-personalized/localized mail campaigns in connection with other marketing activities.

In these platforms, variable data printing is integrated with tools for digital asset management, governed localization and customization, on-demand printing, ordering and fulfillment, budgetary and financial controls, and in-depth analytics.

Variable data printing use cases

Here are a few suggestions on how you can use personalization, customization, and localization capabilities of variable data printing can be used to create high-engagement campaigns. As a local business, retailer, franchise or dealer, localization is key to success.

  1. Local Awareness: Use a variable data postcard mailer to target prospects near specific store locations by printing location-specific information on each piece. Maybe add a map of the nearest store location to their home or a coupon code that’s only valid at that store.
  2. Share Event Information: Use variable data to customize the event date and details for your specific store(s).
  3. Customized Store Kits: Customize marketing assets with addresses and phone numbers of local stores or franchise locations. B2B organizations can use VDP to customize sales and marketing materials by personalizing/customizing the assets with sales rep or distributor contact information.

How end-to-end marketing platforms utilize variable data printing to improve speed to market, lower costs, and increase impact

According to recent research by Salesforce, 52% of consumers are likely to switch brands if a company doesn’t personalize communications to them.

Increasingly sophisticated consumers now expect you to communicate with them on a one-to-one level. While variable data printing is an important tool for creating the kinds of communications consumers have come to expect, the benefits it provides marketers are fully realized when it’s integrated as part of an end-to-end marketing solution that enables you to create, print, and distribute mail pieces easily, all from one place.

Sophisticated marketing platforms like OneTouchPoint’s U.Connect platform allow approved users to localize, personalize and customize approved branded content. Rather than complicating the process, solutions like U.Connect give end-users a simple interface that enables them to ensure their customers are at the center of every piece.

  • Define which areas of the content can be changed, keeping marketers in control, and simplifying the process for end-users
  • Templates make it easy to customize, localize & personalize marketing content
  • Provide national level marketing materials at the local level – allowing for local businesses to capitalize on brand recognition, while modifying the materials to meet the needs of their local consumer

Want to learn more about creating powerful marketing communications that incorporate variable data printing and other tools? Contact us today to learn more.

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