Let me start out by educating the people that are unfamiliar with what Variable Data Printing is.
Variable Data Printing (VDP) is:
Printing letters, flyers or documents with different data on each item so that every single item printed in different from all others printed. It can be as simple as a mail merge letter with personalized names to something much more sophisticated such as a catalog with merchandise tailored to your buying history and customer profile. Variable data printing uses professional digital laser printers rather than traditional commercial printing presses.
So the gist of personalized variable data printing is that you are able to put someones "name", "other item" or "a photo", that is specifically tied to that person, on the brochure (or other printed item). The theory behind this is great and the results some have gotten with it are amazing.
There are some downsides however.
For example relying to heavily on the database and not focusing on the customer. Here is a perfect example I have experienced. For the last 5-6 years I have had printers selling me on how effective variable data printing is because in their words "people pay more attention to mailings that have their personal name on the mailer". Just to clarify this means in the design, not just the mailing label.
This may be effective to some degree, but what if like me you get a mailer from someone you know and the mailer has your name on it. You know like this tri-fold I got from a printer that I have used and knows me pretty well since we were in a business group together for over a year.
The mailer has a guy holding what looks to be a hand drawn sketch with my name on it (oh, how cleaver). Then the headline reads "Design services for those who didn't go to art school". So I am thinking to myself, um, I want to design school. What are you trying to say here, that our design sucks?
So, I open the tri-fold up and the first panel says "Get the attention you deserve with good design.". At this point I start evaluating the quality of the design of this tri-fold– I would say mediocre at best. The next panel says "Dale, let us be your partners in design.". Since I have worked with this person in the past and know that they know very little about design and actually very little about high-quality printing for that matter it makes me question why I got this mailer. Then on the last panel there is a call to action offer "Come in or Call. Ask for xxxx xxxxxxx. FREE one-hour consultation.*". I'm wondering what they are going to do in an hour.
So more then anything, this mailer pissed me off because it was insulting and basically said I personally didn't have art school training. Even if I did go to art school it probably wasn't as good as the poorly trained production workers and laser print jockeys that they employ with no formal marketing background or understanding of business goals and marketing strategy.
So the point here is DO NOT DO VARIABLE DATA, JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN! As you can see if you do not know your audience, you may upset them and loss an opportunity to do business with them forever.
The goal of variable data is to try to make a personal connection that is relevant to your audience. The problem is if you just dump all your contacts in one database and only send one mailer out with their name on it, this looks worse than not having your name on it. In this example, I was personally called a poor designer by someone that doesn't understand design.
How do you use variable data wisely to overcome these problems? Well you need to not be lazy as this marketer was. You need to actually segment your list. This may have been a good mailer if it went out to small businesses with no on staff designers. So have multiple lists and send multiple mailings that are tied specifically to that audiences needs.
For example when talking to the design community may they could have said something like "Poor quality printing but done fast and cheep!". Then inside it could have said "When time and budget are tight, we'll get the job done. Dale, let us be your inexperienced quickie printer." And then close with "Now, excepting files online with free delivery to your office. Never buy a printer again! Call us for more details."
Yes, I know this is a little negative and is a little jab on my part, but honestly if I got a mailer that said this from this same printer, I might still be doing business with them today. Do you know why? Because they were honest, truthful and realistic with who they were. They are not a top design firm and they are not a top quality printer as a matter of fact the do very little if any off-set printing and their digital printing is very weak as well.
So to wind things up. Do not be a lazy marketer. If you must do variable data, do it wisely and as with any marketing, make it targeted to the audience.
Happy variable mailing!