Here’s how one company made the transition to complex variable data much easier

Are you a commercial printer that would like to add variable data to your product mix? Here’s how one Minnesota-based marketing specialist accomplished that. Remarkably, they did it by using the capabilities of software they already had in-shop!

GLS Companies (GLS), headquartered in Brooklyn Park, MN, was founded more than 30 years ago as a print provider and has evolved over the years to become a full-service marketing technology company. It serves clients in a wide range of industries including retail, loyalty, financial services, insurance, healthcare, government, telecommunications and utilities. With a large concentration of its business in direct mail, the company purchased two digital production presses a few years ago to expand its colour variable-printing capabilities. Eventually, requests for more complex personalized jobs increased. “As the concept of targeting with personalization took off in marketing, our sales team began getting more and more requests from customers wanting to include more sophisticated variable data and images in their direct-mail pieces,” said Kathy Osterberg, Variable Data and Print Manager for GLS. “We initially tried to run the high variability graphic and volume applications on software we had in-house. However, the complexity of the applications and amount of colour variable images slowed processing time to a crawl. We were using GMC Inspire at that time for other production needs, so it was a natural transition to utilize it for this side of our growing business. It quickly became our go-to solution for all our variable data and print production.” With GMC Inspire, GLS’s programmers can develop scripts that automate any variable-data application, pulling data and images on demand from various databases and delivering output in PDF files to their digital presses. Now, preview, proof and sign-off capabilities eliminate errors and speed up time-to-market.

Transforming capabilities for value-added services

Inspire’s features also enabled GLS to successfully transition from B&W applications to full-colour variable-data printing. Often, up to 90% of the content on requested direct-mail pieces is variable. With its ability to produce highly targeted campaigns, scalability and colour management, the software is now enabling GLS to offer new value-added services to its clients. With this real-time access to data, GLS’s clients are communicating with their customers on an entirely new level. GMC Inspire supports the delivery of these personalized communications with its ability to pull data from anywhere within GLS’s existing data ecosystem (including client databases) to create highly personalized, relevant and timely cross-channel communications.

Typical variable-data applications GLS produces include personalized flyers for store openings and new manager announcements for national retail stores. These direct-mail pieces can include maps that are customized for the recipient’s location and variable images depending on other demographic data – such as the gender of the recipient. Targeted and personalized upselling and cross-selling promotions are also possible. The new variable-data capabilities can also produce high-response donor appeals for non-profit organizations. Pulling data from the client’s donor database, the mail pieces reference what the donor had given previously, and suggest a new donation amount based on that information. “I have confidence that no matter what our clients might want us to do with variable data on their mail piece, GMC Inspire has the functionality to get it done,” Osterberg added. “Our customers are happy because it improves the response rate for the mailing piece.”

What GLS did here, was utilize the capabilities of software they were already using in a way that boosted direct-mail response rates and therefore customer satisfaction – as well as their own bottom line. Are you familiar with all of the capabilities of your existing software? Can it be used or applied to other areas of your operation to improve efficiency? Your suppliers are sure to have the answers.

The power of variable data

Direct-mail specialists like GLS utilize sophisticated variable data in combination with the latest high-end digital colour inkjet presses to boost response rates. Here are some facts that might surprise you. The typical direct-mail piece that isn’t personalized commonly yields a response rate of 1%-2%. However, when direct mail is personalized with Variable Data Printing (VDP) technology: Response rates can increase by an astounding 25% – 30%; Tracking results is much easier via bar codes, coupon ID numbers and other technologies; and finally, spoilage rates can be reduced to less than 1% with end-of-line verification and reporting technology.

An independent landmark whitepaper based on actual mailings compared response rates as levels of personalization increased. It began with a basic mailer – a simple, B&W piece with no name. Here’s what was discovered:

  1. Adding a name only to the piece (a very basic level of personalization) increased response rates by 44%
  2. Adding full colour increased response rates by 45%
  3. Adding a name and full colour increased response by 135%
  4. Applying variable-data information (i.e. tying the mailing piece to something you know about the recipient, such as past buying habits or current preferences) increased response rates by whopping 500%.


Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.