Personalized Marketing: Past, Present and Future

Today, you can think of your printed materials the same as your digital materials (emails, digital ads, landing pages, etc.). That means you can personalize EVERY aspect of a printed piece, just as you do on a computer screen. Not just text, but also visuals, colors, layouts — every element on the printed page. Each piece coming off the press can be entirely different from the piece before it.

Personal.jpgIn 1996, I had this really cool idea to produce an invitation for WDMI (Women in Direct Marketing International) using 4-color variable data printing (VDP).

This was new printing technology that acted like a color copier on steroids. There wasn’t really any software to drive it, and few people knew what it was — but I was lucky. I’d always watched for new tech, and Cheryl Kahanec (who happened to be my cousin) had one of the presses producing 4-color VDP. Still, computing power was nothing like today, so we had to figure out how to create the design I’d come up with.

The concept was driven by the limited data we had for the club — their names, company and address. Next to the address was the line: “If this is your idea of personalization … ” which was followed by a headline on the inside that said: “Then you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

Below the headline was the recipient’s name in many different fonts, sizes and colors with the name overlapping and running off the page.

Ok, I’m still healing the scars from that project. We were way ahead of the curve. It took over seven days to rip the file (running the data into the file to create a printable file). It then took another seven days to print the 5,000 pieces. That’s right: over 14 days of ripping and printing.

It performed very well, even winning attention from a couple trade publications (it also gave my cousin and me many gray hairs).

Fast Forward…

Today, you can think of your printed materials the same as your digital materials (emails, digital ads, landing pages, etc.). That means you can personalize EVERY aspect of a printed piece, just as you do on a computer screen. Not just text, but also visuals, colors, layouts — every element on the printed page. Each piece coming off the press can be entirely different from the piece before it.

St. Joseph’s College wanted to encourage applicants who had been accepted to the college to commit to attend. So accepted applicants were invited to a special event at the college. To encourage their attendance, each applicant would receive an iTunes gift card when they clicked on the personal URL (pURL) to say they would attend, with a chance to win an iPad at the event.

Every image and text blurb on the piece was changed based on the degree program the applicant had indicated on the application. Their name was used throughout the piece, along with their pURL. This is the most dramatic element: The covers would feature a current student in their program of choice. A testimonial and photo of another student currently in the program was highlighted on the inside, with copy and photos regarding the program.

Each piece off the press was a one of a kind — exactly how your emails and digital marketing piece are on your recipient’s computer.

St. Joes VDPWhat’s in the Future

There’s no way to know the amazing tech the future will bring, but a more challenging element of the future is breaking down silos.

“Over the last 20+ years, variable data software and printing has come a long way. You can easily drive images and text complex business logic and embedded variables from multiple databases. Email, video and online variable data capabilities have become equally sophisticated. The challenge: They typically don’t work together. Adding to this struggle, many brands have agency’s that are digital- or print- only.

For multichannel/omnichannel and trigger programs to allow brands to have a conversation with their customers, all mediums must work together. There can no longer be silos.”

—Cheryl Kahanec, President, EarthColor, Marketing Solutions Group

As Cheryl describes above, the future will blend all communications, leaving no silos. Whether we read our screens, mail or any other marketing material, the blending of data and its capabilities is the future of marketing and communications. Who will get there first? Who’s on their way?

Author: Patrick Fultz

Patrick Fultz is the President/CCO of DM Creative Group, a creative marketing firm producing work across all media. He’s an art-side creative, marketing strategist, designer and lover of all things type. His credentials include a degree from Parsons School of Design with 15 years of teaching at his alma mater, over 40 industry creative awards, and he previously served as President of the John Caples International Awards. Always an innovator, Fultz was credited with creating the first 4-color variable data direct mail piece ever produced. He continues to look for innovative ways to tap the powerful synergy of direct mail, the web, digital and social media.

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