Simply put, variable data printing (or VDP) is a digital printing technique that changes certain elements, such as text, graphics, images, and so on for each print.

If your business uses or sends print marketing materials, variable data printing – sometimes referred to as variable imaging or variable information printing – is something you should consider.

For example: imagine you want to send your customers personalized thank you cards for their loyalty. With VDP, you can select the layout, fonts and basic text, and print each card with a different name.

How Does Variable Data Printing Help Me?

Put yourself in your customer's shoes for a second and see things from their perspective. They receive tons of junk mail, emails, ads and other promos that have nothing to do with their needs or interests. It gets annoying pretty fast.

VDP changes that dynamic and helps you make a good impression.  Taking the time to personalize communication shows customers you value their business, and understand who they are and what they want. Not only will variable data printing save you a lot of time (because you won’t have to change the name for every card manually), it can also shift perceptions.  Prospects are more motivated to buy from you when making their next purchase.

Related: Why Your Digital Marketing Still Needs Print

How Does Variable Data Printing Work?

Instead of just creating a single message that's delivered to your entire list of customers, VDP allows you to print unique documents that you can use in your print advertising and marketing campaigns.

There are three ways to use it:

  • You can change the header information. This is the most common use of variable data printing - it keeps everything the same except for the name of the person to which you address your material.
  • You can change text and images based on the group demographics you're targeting.
  • You can change everything for every name in your target list, also known as full variability printing.

Your design will have a couple of static elements that are the basis (or template) for your material. When combined with the variable fields, the base design remains the same for each document, and the changes in composition are defined by the variables chosen.

The actual process of VDP largely depends on the company handling the printing. But, there are some common methods used:

  • Printing the static document first and then printing the variables over it. This is one of the simplest variable data printing styles. Keep in mind that it usually works best for simple designs with fewer variables.
  • You combine the static elements and the variables before printing by using standard software. While this method allows for more complex designs, it slows down the printing process.
  • You produce optimized print files by combining static and variable elements through special VDP software.

What is Variable Data Printing | Ironmark - Annapolis Junction, MD

Examples of Variable Data Printing Done Well

1. A university sends a direct mail campaign to 100,000 prospective students. By studying their data, the university knows all of these students fall into 1of 24 courses of interest. Using a static direct mail design, the university’s printer sets up the artwork so that one piece of the design is variable. The designer on the job creates 24 different sections, one for each course of study; Physics looks different from English, etc.  The static design on the rest of the brochure remains consistent – general information about the college intended for a broader audience.   However, the student interested in physics receives specific information from the award-winning science department.  By leveraging their data and using variable data printing the university has targeted their marketing to every potential new student. 

2. A car dealership wants to up-sell their current customers.  Their database is segmented by vehicle type - who bought a Camry, Rav4, Highlander or Pilot. Using variable data printing, they can send different information depending on the individual’s car purchase history. Now that’s one-to-one marketing.

3. A nonprofit sends a direct mail campaign to their current donors asking for an end-of-year donation. Their data breaks down individual contributions by cause, so the message is tailored within the variable section of the piece.  The contribution request is now personal; by tugging at the heartstrings the individual donor is now more likely to give. Nonprofits that use variable data printing for direct mail solicitations can see a 40% increase in donations because they took the time to personalize the ask.

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What Do I Do Next?

Use the information in this article to help map out your next variable data printing campaign.  Consider running a standard direct response campaign (control) and a variable data printing campaign, then measure the response rate against the control group.  Get in touch so we can talk through your goals and devise a solid game plan.  

At Ironmark we have the skills, knowledge, and equipment that deliver the highest quality to your prospects.  Contact us today to get started on your next VDP and watch your conversions grow!

Written by Lynne Kingsley

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