The many uses of variable printing

Variable printing (also known as one-to-one marketing, variable-data printing, or variable-information printing) is a type of digital printing in which elements such as text or images can be changed from piece to piece without stopping or slowing down the printing process. The elements are varied using information from a database or external file.

Variable printing can be used for something as simple as a person’s name or address, or a complex as entire messages or images.

 Why use variable printing?

Variable printing gives you the opportunity to connect individually and effectively to each of your customers or prospects based on information you’ve gathered about them. It creates a more personalized appeal to the receiver and could be the difference between your piece getting tossed out or generating a sale.

Variable printing increases response rate by capturing attention more effectively and increases response time because it has more of an effect on the receiver. It also reduces your labor time by eliminating the need to stamp, hand write, or affix stickers to each individual piece.

Kodak, the manufacturer of the machinery we use to do variable printing, highlights different levels of application for variable printing:

Version Printing – follows common design and layout, but has some unique content or language changes for specific audiences or markets.

  • eliminates need to pre-print “shells” and overprint in a second process
  • images and text can be versioned to be more relevant to different groups
  • versioned information meets the needs of different groups (languages, store location, etc.)

Personalized Printing – seamlessly integrates the recipient’s name and/or address into the copy, producing a unique document for each recipient.

  • further increases participation and response rates
  • encourages a stronger customer/user/member relationship
  • ability to use color and reverse type as opposed to black in used with ink jetting onto shells
  • printing of all information in one pass

Customized Printing – includes personalized elements along with image changes to make them more relevant to particular groups of people

  • customize graphic content for the individual recipient
  • reflect a more-important customer/user/member relationship
  • Marketing programs can be fine tuned with specific information, benefits, offers and results.

Fully Customized Printing – includes complex personalized/customized applications that are designed to incorporate images, text, graphics, and even layouts that are unique for each recipient.

  • true one-to-one communication
  • solidifies and maintains a very important customer/user/member relationship
  • allows individuals to receive highly relevant, timely print information tailored completely to their needs and interests

Need some ideas?

The uses of variable information are much broader than the list below, but here are a few ideas:

  • languages
  • mailing addresses
  • store locations
  • salutations
  • messages
  • photos
  • ticket numbering
  • barcoding
  • and much more!

To create tracking ability for your pieces, you can also use variable printing for:

  • PURLS (Personalized URLs)
  • QR Codes

Below is an example of a simple postcard that uses many types of variable information. While the example used is from the retail market, the same ideas can be applied to the full variety of businesses and marketing needs. Even if you’re not involved with retail, chances are you’re still interested in strengthening your customer relationships.

Variable Numbered

  1. Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, states that “a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” No other word catches your attention as effectively as your own name – so why not use that knowledge and put your recipient’s name on your piece? Not only does it immediately catch attention, but it lets the recipient know this piece is specifically designed for them. That personal feel generates a greater effect for your message.
  2. Make the people pictured in your piece more relatable to the person you’re sending it to. If you’re picturing a person with the product you hope they’ll buy – use someone that looks like them. You could have two images for gender, or multiples for each gender if you happen to know the race of the receiver.
    Depending on what information you have in your database, you could have it narrowed all the way down to a Caucasian red-headed female with short hair and glasses. Putting that easily relatable image next to your product makes it almost unavoidable for the receiver to imagine himself or herself in that position.
  3. You can take full sections of copy (or all of it) and have it vary from person to person. Want to try out a few different offers to see which is most effective? Split up your list and have that section of text variated.
  4. Direct people to your digital media with QR codes and PURLs. Using PURLs gives you the ability to track who is responding to your piece, and including it with a QR code makes it that much easier for them to get to your landing page.
  5. Are the receivers of your piece already affiliated with one of your representatives? Or, would you like to direct them to a certain person within your company? Include that information in your database along with their contact information to give the receiver someone specific to talk to, influencing that personal relationship even further.
  6. Tired of hand writing addresses on your mailed pieces? Since every piece is customized for each person, his or her mailing address can be included directly on the piece.
  7. If your company has multiple branches and you usually use a stamp, label, or hand write the different branch addresses on each piece – stop wasting your time! Your return address can be variated for each branch.
  8. If you’re in a market where a person’s income has great influence over which of your products they would be able to afford, you can even variate the product image on your piece. Just decide which product would be best received by different income levels and set up your data to reflect that.

There are many uses for variable printing, and this article only lists a handful. If you’d like to see the impact personalizing your pieces can have, contact a Printing Partners representative to get started!


About Mallory MacDermott

Marketing Manager at Printing Partners, Inc. Indianapolis, Indiana.
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