The Pros and Cons of VDP

Written by:
Howard Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant
Some experts say that offering Variable Data Printing (VDP) is old news. I however think that VDP offers significant advantages and is another way that commercial printers and in-plant printers can create more value. VDP is still an opportunity and more profitable than static printing but the bad news is that few have achieved much success in selling VDP. Other advantages of VDP are that it is more valuable to customers because it helps them better achieve their goals (i.e. higher response rates) and it’s a less commoditized service or more profitable to those offering the service. But the obvious question is why such limited success in offering the service and so little market acceptance?
The reason most often mentioned is that it’s too expensive. To be honest the total cost of operation is higher for a VDP job than a static job (same pages). And it should be. It takes time to work with databases, VDP software and run tests to confirm everything is working. But it results in greater response rates!
Another “bad” part of VDP is the objection that it’s too hard to do. Yes, without a doubt, sending a printed piece through the mail stream that is a more targeted and relevant piece to someone is harder. Taking the time to learn more about your customer’s prospects or your customers’ customers, their purchasing habits or demographics and using that information in a meaningful way is harder. But because of increased performance (i.e. response rates or sales) it’s better.
We have done a number of research projects at NAPL on what differentiates the leaders from the rest of the industry. There are many critical success factors that we talk about but two of the most important related to this subject are strategic planning and consultative sales. Here are a few quotes from our research reports from some leading companies:

  • Develop your sales and marketing strategy first. Your sales and marketing strategy will determine the applications that you print. The applications you print will then drive the workflow and equipment that you need. Most people in our industry don’t follow that order. They don’t look at sales and marketing first. Instead, they hire salespeople and say go knock on doors and see what you can uncover.
  • Start by asking probing questions and by understanding the client’s objectives. What is your goal? What do you want to accomplish? What are your biggest difficulties and greatest concerns? What is the most important benefit you offer customers? What is the biggest problem you’ve had with a supplier?
  • Staff it: Variable content has many hurdles. For example, most customers’ data are a mess. So you will need someone who understands data. And you’ll need someone who understands digital workflow. But before any of that, if you can’t get to the right people and have the right conversations about the client’s marketing objectives in a credible way, you are just wasting your time.
  • You must have a good understanding of your current customer base and how this new technology can help those customers. Because that’s the first place you are going to go – to your existing customers. Before even sitting in variable-content seminars, you’ve got to be having those conversations with customers.

Why all the excitement about VDP? In the simplest terms, it is more valuable to both clients and service providers. Why is there slow market acceptance for VDP? Because it’s harder to do and more expensive. What is needed to facilitate the acceptance and growth of VDP? The answers start with strategic planning and end with consultative sales training.
Howard Fenton is a Senior Technology Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research. He is a paid contributor to this blog.

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