Stop your mining

For years, I have been given a multitude of statistics that are meant to convince you that customized digital pieces for customers are far better than mass mailings. The customized units cost more per unit and often have a greater total cost than the mass mail counterpart, but everything else that you’d want is there.

The ROI is often as much as three times greater than traditional mass mail. You have nearly five times the response rate. This list just really keeps on going. The beauty of it is that you seem to get nearly the same results if you go with fully customized print as you do by printing a litho shell and then only hitting a few key areas with customized content. So why am I not getting more customized stuff in the mail?

Part of the reason is cost; many companies on a tight budget in these hard times can’t justify spending more money on advertising, especially on a medium as “stale” as print. However, many companies can’t really afford not to try and take advantage of new opportunities and with seemingly no risk, what is stopping them? Perhaps, the data is not sufficient enough to make the process very effective.

You may have heard the term “data mining.” Essentially, this is a process of going through all the data that a company has in its records to try and pull some semblance of value from it that can be used to advertise to a person or group of people. While the concept in general isn’t anything new, the application of this idea to print is. When you print for the masses, you’re trying to hit the masses. You’re trying to show as many things that will appeal to the most people possible. Flyers are the perfect example of this. No more than a dozen pages with several small pictures of products along with a name and price. When you’re selling to one person, you only want to display the items that person would be most interested in. Sending them information about items they are not interested in is a waste of their time and your money. So the data is mined to try and figure out exactly what to send and when to get the most out of each communication point with the customer.

The problem is that the data most places have isn’t great. It’s either out of date, not trustworthy, or doesn’t contain enough actual data to do much with. Before this customizable option was available to companies, there wasn’t much use for a lot of personal information on their clients. Clients fell into broad categories, and those categories relied on market research and not internal data. Now we have the ability to use everything and anything to our advantage when advertising to clients and before we can even get the ball rolling, there has been consumer backlash in the form of concerns for privacy. Now customers want to give you as little information as they can. They don’t want any of their information to be stored, shared or distributed. The wave of identity theft has only increased the concern and reluctance of the average consumer to provide companies with meaningful information that can be used.

So, how do you as a printer, or your client as an advertiser, get useful data and get your clients to give it to you willingly? Before you start trying to get information, you have to decide what information you want to get. Basic information such as age and sex and mailing address are easy, but think up to 10 years ahead with campaigns that you’ll be running. Figure out what sorts of things will useful and make sure you find ways to address that with your information. Often having a focus group at the beginning of the process is a good way to figure out where you might want to go. Then, look at all this information and sort out what you have already, and what you can easily get from your existing data and interpretation of that data. No sense is asking for information that you already have.

Take what’s left and find a way to request that information from the end client in a way that’s not intrusive. A focus group might work, but here are some suggestions. Having profiles for users in an online environment is a perfect way to get going. Users often have to set up a profile when purchasing things online, so the request doesn’t seem intrusive. The problem with this is you only get your online customers and many will merely fill out mandatory fields. A survey with an incentive (coupons or points) is another way to hit a variety of users. You may only have certain demographics responding, or may end up with incomplete data, but it’s a start. Surveys can be handed out at locations, emailed or as part of an online order (“Take a short survey and receive 10 per cent off your order”). The great thing about the survey is you can present it with serious intentions (“In an effort to better serve our customers, please fill out this survey so we can inform you of our offers that matter most to you”) or you can make the item seem more fun and less serious. I’ve even seen games where I’m certain the basis of the game is collecting market research and not so much entertaining the participant. Lastly, you can make it an ongoing process internally to collect the information manually. This is a very time consuming process, but the information would be current and collected firsthand by your employees.

The ability to print customized pieces is something that should be taken advantage of. It offers far too many benefits to be ignored. Getting the client onboard and getting their data up to snuff may take some time, but once you do everyone sees the huge financial benefits. Avoiding mining for those benefits would make the whole process that much more enjoyable.