"Digital print is something of a double-edged sword," says Caroline Worboys, CEO of outsourced marketing communications provider Broadsystem.
"There is nothing more powerful than a truly personalised mailing - and nothing more damaging than a wrongly personalised one."
The experience she goes on to recount is, sadly, not unusual. "Only last week I received a mailing from a mobile phone company urging 'Carolyn', whoever she is, to swap provider. Each of the seven times I read 'Carolyn' I became more irritated, and this stupid mistake cost them a new customer.
"Although I thought the offer was quite persuasive, I absolutely refuse to give my business to a company that can't even get my name right."
As direct mailers use digital print in ever greater quantities, so they are discovering not only its enormous potential, but also the many problems it brings. If you use it correctly, it can reduce waste, cut costs, improve response rates and lift conversion rates. However, failing to focus on the quality of data being used will achieve little more than to alienate potentially profitable customers, such as Worboys.
There are many potential benefits of using digital print for direct mail.
Digital print allows you to send personalised messages to every individual on your database, and to do it while maintaining pack quality and sophisticated delivery or response mechanisms. You can match data with images based around whatever you like. It might be transactional histories, purchasing preferences, or geographical locations.
For example, automotive dealerships, supermarkets or tourist attractions can integrate maps, contact details, photos of store managers, and so on into their campaigns.
Mobile phone companies and financial services providers no longer face the problem of sending out generic information packs from which customers must pick out the information that is relevant to them. Typically, these packs have done more to confuse than enthuse customers. Digital printing means those companies now have to include only what is relevant to individual customers.
Digital printing is also overcoming many of its early problems, as Andy Ruddle, managing director of digital print firm REAL Digital International says: "Until recently, digital technology has been restricted by high costs, low runs of a thousand or so a day, and quality concerns. However, the very latest offerings appearing in the market can print millions of pieces a day with superb print quality and sophisticated production lines that ensure each and every piece is enclosed, verified and hits the post the same day."
Ruddle goes on to say: "With these fantastic new technologies and affordable services the possibilities of digital print are really opening up. You no longer have to restrict your best direct marketing to your most valuable 10 per cent of customers. You can use it for your entire customer base."
He notes, however, as with other areas of direct marketing, that accurate data and customer insight are essential if companies are to fully benefit from the immediacy of digital print and production techniques.
"The better your data and the more you understand your customers, the more digital production can do for you."
It is easy to get carried away by the possibilities of digital print.
But realising those possibilities depends on having good data. Richard Roche, head of media markets for Royal Mail says: "Digital print is the way forward for the industry. However, any investment in digital print to personalise mailed items will be wasted if data is not up to scratch."
Seven steps to getting your data up to scratch:
- Use data intelligently
The most obvious use of data may not be the most successful, as a recent campaign by the Institute of Directors (IoD) illustrates.
The IoD wanted to increase the response rate to its monthly member mailings.
Following research of the IoD's target audience, current response rates, previous mail packs and business plan, DM agency LJDirect Mail identified gender and local appeal as key determinants of likely uptake.
So, each mailing pack carried a printed image of the nearest branch, and used gender-specific images and quotes. They produced the highest response rates, between 4.7 per cent and 6.6 per cent that the IoD has ever managed.
- Consider every eventuality
Matt Ramsden, account director at direct response agency WDMP, says: "The data brief is the most important piece of work you will do in a digital print campaign. You need to remain 10 steps ahead of yourself and cover every eventuality."
- Keep your data clean
Once you know how to use your data, you need to ensure it is clean and accurate. Kerry-Anne Wicklow, managing director at marketing agency Blue Ginger, says: "Many of the database management companies will offer a free report on the cleanliness of your database. Supply it with your database and they will tell you how accurate it is and how much it will cost to run it against the various suppression and cleaning files it uses."
Should you choose to clean it yourself, the first stage is to remove duplicates. Whether de-duplication occurs at individual or household level depends upon the product or service you are promoting. For example, a premium car manufacturer will de-duplicate its mailing file at household level, as it is likely that only one such product will be purchased per household. A bank, on the other hand, would remove duplicates at an individual level to ensure maximum reach for its mailing.
The next step is to apply suppressions. It is essential that you remove individuals who have specifically requested that you no longer contact them. Failure to do so can result in legal action. You should also remove individuals who are no longer at their stated address as well as deceased consumers. Finally, you should remove individuals who have registered with the Mailing Preference Service.
- Remove returns
Tom Burrell, data planner at direct marketing agency Personal, comments: "It is important that you scan and match back all returns against your customer and prospect database. If you don't remove these individuals, you are wasting time and money. However, they should not be removed from your database, but flagged as returns. This will ensure that, should you be contacted by any of those consumers in the future, you will be able to request updated address details and then use the records again."
- Pay attention to database formatting
It is likely that you will be accumulating data from a number of sources, such as a web site, a call centre, and even appended data. You need to establish clear standard formats for data entry. Even if the data is accurate, having the name in the wrong field looks unprofessional. Glyn Davies, managing director of computing services at Lloyd James Group, offers this tip: "Determine the formatting yourself, rather than leaving it up to a computer wizard, which may only check the first 500 records for the longest fields. You should personally produce a layout document that describes the fields and structure of the data."
- Consider recency
Once your data is clean and formatted correctly, you cannot relax. Data, especially business data, decays at a frightening rate. Nicky Keyworth, leader of the sales and marketing division at D&B, says: "Each year, nearly three-quarters of executives change at least one element on their business card. If the custom mailer that lands on your target's desk is personalised for his predecessor, your individualised approach may well backfire."
Peter Worster, planning director at direct marketing agency Presky Maves, describes a good use of recent data: "We have been working for Centraal Beheer Achmea, Holland's leading direct insurer, for a number of years, using data provided from previous quotations to tailor more personal and relevant follow-up mailings.
It is a mixture of personal data, such as name, address, age and gender, with product data such as make, model and age of car, registration number, and so on.
The results have been remarkable, doubling the control approach to response rates of nine per cent for home insurance, and a three-fold increase to a response rate of 21 per cent for car insurance."
- Communicate clearly with your printer
Even if your database is perfect, your mailing can still go wrong if you fail to communicate with your printer. Dave Audley, senior consultant at list broker Experian, says: "It is critical that you automate and formalise the process by which the database and the print process are married. Failing to do so introduces the possibility of costly mistakes."
You should work with your printing firm at an early stage to ensure compatibility of data formats and agree a brief covering the job background, mailing schedule, data processing requirements, lasering requirements in terms of position and font sizes, and details on the way the job will be folded, enclosed and mailed.
You should always get final proofs from your printer. Secured loan provider Picture Financial has been working with direct marketing agency Proctor & Stevenson and its HP Indigo Presses to produce highly variable application forms to send to customers who have contacted its call centre or web site.
Marketing director Julia Dallimore, says: "There are about 500 data fields, such as the loan amount and contact details of the agent with whom they spoke. With this much complexity, proofing was a major challenge, but we made it a priority and the results of the campaign have more than justified the investment of time."
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CASE STUDY: TUI
When someone books their holiday through travel company TUI, tickets and information are sent direct to that customer. So, when the company hired direct marketing agency DSI to make these communications more personalised, the obvious solution was digital print. The challenge was to achieve high quality, personalised mailings to 1.5 million customers, across 22 different brands and 8,000 travel agents, using data from a 20-year-old mainframe.
DSI used conversion logic and look-up tables to convert TUI legacy data into print files to produce personalised holiday booklets for every customer.
These include maps, directions and offers relevant to the airport the customer is flying from. There is also an aircraft layout sheet so that the customer can pre-book seats, and details of the duty free offers that will be available on that flight. The books also contain tailored resort maps and pre-completed personalised luggage tags.
This has reduced costs and increased sales for TUI. Take-up of supplemental offers has increased, as has third-party advertising in the books. Check-in times have been reduced due to a rise in the number of seats that are pre-booked. Finally, because the information provided to customers is clearer, the call centre now handles fewer queries.
A checklist of things to do to your database to get the most out of personalised digital print.
1. Ensure that you capture all data that your customers provide.
2. De-dupe you database regularly.
3. Consider hiring a specialist to run suppressions across all your files.
4. Consider using PAF validation software at your call centre so that all captured addresses are mailable.
5. Where relevant, apply MPS.
6. Apply deceased and goneaway registers to all mailing files.
7. Make sure that your files are compatible with the mailing house print procedure.
8. Get proofs from your printing firm and check them carefully.
9. Develop a culture where everyone in your company sees data quality as a high priority and their responsibility.
10. Test your campaign. While digital print has the capability to deliver personalisation, this does not automatically result in an increase in response rates. It is still essential to test a campaign to gauge the relevance of message, creative and targeting, before rolling it out on a large scale.
- Anthony Hyde, direct marketing manager, Xerox Europe.