How to utilise VDP (Variable Data Print) and VDPA (Variable Data Print Automation) to its full potential.

Print continues to have a strong and enduring place in the marketing mix – because it works. And it provides a very good case-study subject as to why personalisation in any field of marketing is such a powerful motivator. Why? Because the personalisation of a physical object excites emotion, it stimulates multiple senses and thus improves memory retention, and because it is simply tactile, and therefore more human, than a digital device.

Indeed, recent research carried out by Canada Post has shown that motivation from direct mail is consistently 20% higher than that of digital communications. This climbs even higher when the print is personalised and appeals to more senses beyond touch. And when asked to cite a brand from an advertisement, recall from focus groups polled by the US Postal Service was 70% higher when exposed to a personalised direct mail piece. ​

What is more important to consider though is not what the outcomes are, but what is driving them. Why does print perform better with direct consumer engagement? Well, for the recipient, the personalisation of a product can give an extra special touch that a standard generic version simply cannot achieve. It helps it to stand out and conveys more emotion that strikes a chord with the recipient in many different ways.

A powerful call to action

Don’t take our word for it, research from the Royal Mail cited by international print finishing technology developer Duplo found that the addition of touch to traditional print translated into a 24% increase in value perception for the brand being advertised, and that motivation from embellished and personalised direct mail outperformed digital media’s motivation score by more than 30%.

Personalisation is everywhere and has been growing for many years in all sectors and is becoming the norm. Within a number of sessions within The Crown Pub on LinkedIn, particularly those participants who are referred to as Generation Z, confirmed that anything personalised is far more likely to be engaged with, acted upon and possibly kept. This generation is the future, so their opinion matters. If you do not offer personalisation within your product range, you are missing out, because someone else does or is building something that will.

The reason this matters so much is that there is no doubt that data driven personalised print, which is delivered through automation platforms such as Web to Print software –– so that it is cost and time-efficient to produce –– will be the life blood of thousands of print businesses in years to come.

So, In this article, we are focussing on a summary of the common aspects of this technology, which is simple to deploy and offers a rapid return-on-investment. Those aspects that can easily be achieved from using multiple technologies, including the Vpress Coreprint platform.

The fact is; personalisation sells.

Henry Ford’s first vehicle was famously available in any colour, as long as it was black. Now you can buy any car in a vast array of colours, exterior and interior styling options. They seem endless, all in order to tempt the buyer with the lure of having something personalised to their needs and style preference.

Another famous brand that has embraced the idea of personalisation is Nike footwear. From their main website, the buyer can personalise every part of the shoe with multiple colour options, even down to the stitching colour on the logo and personalised initials on the heel.

The chances of anyone having that same product with the same personalisation options are infinitesimally small, around 250 million to 1 –– even discounting the personalised initials. So, it’s a genuinely unique product.

When it comes to personalised print, it has the tactile power to cut through that noise to stimulate the brain in a very different way to digital marketing and communications.

Sensory stimulation is a proven tactic in retail, and a consumer’s likelihood to purchase is in fact correlated with the number of items they touch. In fact, personalised print campaigns that use an element of touch – for example, textured or speciality paper – will see an increase in brand value perception by 24% according to the mentioned above research.

For the manufacturer, personalisation can attract a premium price point and gives a competitive advantage over other manufacturers of the same or similar product. In the case of Nike, they are adding an extra 15%* to the selling price over the standard product. Thus, increasing their overall margin, whilst allowing the wearer to feel they have something very special and a talking point with friends and family.

The ability to personalise is also only available via the main Nike website. Retail stores and their online presence do not have the ability to offer this level of personalisation, because it is something unique and allows Nike to charge that premium and it cuts out the middleman.

For those of us within the graphic arts industry, personalisation offers just as many benefits for our customers, either B2B or B2C, as for the manufacturers via increased margin opportunities.

If we relate back to Nike, who would have to invest millions to provide the plethora of options on each part of the shoe, we don’t have to invest anywhere near that to offer this service. It still takes effort and investment to offer personalisation, but not on the sheer scale of other industries. Sectors, including B2C for greetings cards and photobooks, and B2B for POS and marketing collateral, have already embraced personalisation opportunities.

A variable future

Research from Smithers Pira shows that within the next five years the value of the global print industry will increase by 6.5%, from £650bn in 2019 to £692bn in 2024, with this growth driven strongly by a move towards data driven personalised marketing.

Previously we have only really discussed where a single user personalises a single product. VDP (Variable Data Print) enhances the personalisation opportunities further, with not only one, but two more enhancements to engage the purchaser to a higher level, thus adding value to your product offering.

VDP allows the user to upload a set of data to their personalised product. This can be used for creating multiple individual versions quickly. For example, these could be business opening offer postcards to a mailing list of prospects or wedding invitations to a set of guests with their home addresses.

As an extension of VDP, VDP/A** (Variable Data Printing Automation) is a new technology standard developed by Vpress that takes this to a new level.

Rather than the user preparing and uploading a file, VDP/A collects the data from a third-party application such as a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system on a daily basis.

It validates, prepares the data and passes it through different templates to generate multiple sets of PDFs delivered to the appropriate print suppliers via secure FTP.

Finally, it goes back to the CRM and updates the records to log the activity has been complete and moves the prospects to the next stage of their buyer journey. It’s a complete lights out daily process, all automated and performed in the cloud. This technology lends itself perfectly to billing, mailing, welcome packs and special offers with its underlying architecture built to manage further functional expansion in the future.

Proof in practice

Let’s now take an automotive example. A car manufacturer owns a database that includes all the sales engagement data from recent years. They can create a brochure where the special offer follows the latest customer engagement and/or purchase decision.

The family of six will receive a brochure with the MPV on the front with a special offer on finance. The young executive will receive an offer on a roadster with additional imagery of a premium interior in a specific colour and extras all based on the last purchase. All of those will have their names highlighting the key benefits based on their previous activity patterns.

Another example could be a Chinese takeaway, where the menus contain a dedicated special offer section showing clients’ favourite meals. On a single page, the printer can insert the favourite meals that have been ordered over the last six or twelve months and create a family deal based on average order size.

Finally, the travel agent could create a holiday catalogue with the specific sections at the front relating to the client’s previous preferences such as the type of holiday e.g. family, extreme sports, region or a price range. The bespoke holiday catalogue delivered to the client then shows a specific attraction on the cover and related content within the special offer section, all based on the choices the client has made when they previously purchased holiday packages with the agent.

Whether it’s within a B2C or B2B environment, personalisation also brings an additional set of benefits. You could argue, printing several thousand brochures and having them stored in a warehouse is a viable decision and makes business sense.

The brochures are called from stock and sent to a customer with a personalised cover letter. As a counterargument, the personalisation of the entire pack means the department responsible for the repetitive process of the document preparation can use its staff more efficiently.

The process of creating and printing the brochures and the letters is then automated. This approach reduces the cost of storage, the cost of repetitive work by a dedicated person and most of the time reduces the scrap rate of the pre-printed brochures due to change of content.

As previously stated, the personalisation of an offer can not only be limited to the recipient’s name, but the entire pack could be personalised through bespoke imagery and copy to increase engagement and sales.

All these examples can be created automatically as long as the data from the CRM is available.

How to Personalise at Scale

Most readers will already be aware that the most effective print personalisation needs a “tool” to build the PDFs on the fly, normally an online Web to Print system. Buyers can select products from a catalogue, personalise them, approve the proof, order, and it is submitted into any production system.

Within the B2B environment, buyers can upload the entire document template for products such as leaflets, menus, brochures or even a catalogue. They upload variable data such as images, product details, recipient names/address’s and the software will automatically generate a selection of bespoke promotional materials aimed at each specific target audience.

These orders are then sent to the suppliers’ systems to be processed, fully automated with no manual intervention. Any intervention will cost both time and money, meaning the margin gained from the increased price or the efficiencies in production will be lost.

Automation is a pivotal part of personalising at scale to make it financially viable. Software products such as workflow automation platforms, file optimisation software, MIS along with others can all help with parts of the automation that is essential.

Some MIS products such as Tharstern MIS (among others) have inbuilt imposition and automation software. It can receive all orders with PDF assets, but wait until the required number of orders for a particular product reach a level where it should start ganging as efficiently as possible grouped by stock type, colours etc. positioning orders correctly on areas of the printed sheet ready for guillotining then parts of that original sheet go onto other processes such as laminating or folding.

The key to personalising at scale is software automation.

The key to making greater margins on products is personalisation.

Personalise and profit

The product sold by printers is not, and never has been, ink on paper, that has always been the method through which it was delivered. The product has always been facilitating the ability to convey ideas or information to educate a target demographic of consumers or alter their mindset. It is a fact today that print still carries out this function very effectively. It can be touched, it stimulates more than one sense, and thus it connects with recipient on a deeper instinctual level than digital marketing alone — and when it is personalised — it can even perform the magic trick of making the target recipient feel special.

The personalised leaflets delivered to your door, most likely grab your undivided attention. A personalised product from a loved one will be cherished and stay with you for a significant period of time and act as a great brand awareness tool.

The younger generations such as Gen Z and Millennials, our future customers and decision-makers, have learnt how to consume online content and become somewhat immune to digital advertising.

They delete emails without reading them (that’s if they get past the spam filters) and the online adverts are scrolled over. On the other hand, they have confirmed that traditional handwritten letters or anything else personalised that comes in the post is unique. They consider it looks purposely created for them and as such is seen as unique, handled with care and attention. It is also perceived as a product of greater value. Wouldn’t you want your brand to be associated with those characteristics? Personalised direct mail is tangible and brings a feel-good factor. 73% of people said that they prefer direct mail as an advertising method. And 57% of people said that receiving mail makes them feel valued.***

Multi-channel personalisation combined with behavioural marketing is one of the most advanced yet due to technology advancements now available. It’s a simple technique to enhance the customer experience.

Utilising intelligent personalisation, whether through direct mail reminders, or more advanced personalised campaigns, guarantees a much higher ROI (Return on Investment). Not only this, but it also extends brand awareness, positive experiences across an entire target audience with the added benefit of increased loyalty for future decision making. Is it not worth consideration?


* Prices correct 24 June 2020. Airmax footwear. Standard RRP 129.95 GBP. Personalised product price 149.95 GBP.

** VDP/A Copyright 2020 Vpress Ltd