Can Inkjet Do Direct Mail?

Written by Dustin Graupman
Vice President/General Manager Ink Jet Business
Direct Mail Sample
There’s a perception that inkjet can’t do direct mail and achieve the necessary image quality. Is that true?
To answer that, I guess we have to start by asking…what is it exactly that direct mail is supposed to do?
There isn’t one answer, just like there isn’t one kind of direct mail. “DM” ranges from the piece I find in my mailbox that tries to convince me that Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is the only time any sane person would consider buying a new mattress, to the glossy Cadillac catalog the company sends to me every year.
Editor’s Note: For those reading who aren’t in the States, the celebration of George Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays in February have somehow evolved into one big furniture sale. Good for the direct mail business. Maybe not so good for history.
Obviously, the IQ requirements for DM at different ends of the scale are varied. But there are some goals that all direct mail has in common.
1. It’s supposed to get attention with color image quality that gets noticed, whether it’s on the cover of a catalog, on a retail sign, or wedged in your mailbox between the electric bill and the delivery from Amazon. Yes, inkjet can do that.
The quality of inkjet is ideal for literally millions of direct mail jobs every year. There are applications that call for the absolute highest levels of image quality. They might be best produced on something like the Xerox iGen4 Diamond Edition. But for so many of the millions of pieces of direct mail that are produced every year, inkjet is ideal. It is the sweet spot for quality that catches the consumer’s eye at a cost and speed that the market demands.
There’s no surprise here—inkjet started as “good enough” quality mostly for the transaction market applications. Good enough to justify the tremendous speeds and other cost reduction advantages. But the quality gap is disappearing at a startling speed. And we’re confident that in seven years, half of the digital pages printed will be printed with inkjet technology.
The industry has come to a place where we all know that image quality isn’t an absolute. But improvement in quality is. New printing technologies, new ink innovations and new substrate capabilities are more than inevitable, they are happening every day at Xerox and other companies around the world.
2. It’s supposed to be relevant to the recipient. And that happens best through the use of customization and personalization. Yup, inkjet can do that, too.
Full-color direct mail with personalization has a track record. Nothing else in print can connect and motivate consumers on emotional, practical, and almost subliminal levels. Based on previous buying patterns and information I opt in to, my direct mail from the sporting goods store can feature soccer cleats while yours might feature golf clubs. The direct mail immediately feels relevant to me in a way a generic piece can’t.
But the industry has been talking about the power of personalization for a while. And all the talk isn’t worth a whole lot unless and until it is turned into direct mail that’s actually generating results. If that’s hard to do, time-consuming, and labor intensive, it simply won’t happen.
At Xerox, we’ve managed to turn the theory into profit for a long list of customers. We understand that many aren’t knowledgeable yet about the subjects of customer data and its analytics. But that’s where we have a history of success…turning a bunch of raw data into profit with solutions like our iGen presses and XMPie software.
3. And it’s supposed to provide a return on your marketing investment. Let’s talk a little about this last one.
Because of the huge quantities and the slim margins, costs down to the penny—or the fraction of a penny—are critically important in DM. So the right solution for Direct Mail is going to be one that controls costs.
Our CiPress Production Inkjet Systems print on the paper you use now. It’s something we hear again and again from customers. “I want to print on the same paper I use now.” It’s understandable that no one wants to redesign their paper supply chain for a new printing solution. In addition to cost, it provides an attractive solution for DM because the waterless ink doesn’t penetrate into the paper—it sits on top so you see the color of the inks directly and the resulting vibrancy.
On the other hand, our iPrint aqueous inkjet solutions can use plain or inkjet treated papers that open up a variety of stocks, including coated. As the technology continues to evolve, there are combinations of substrates and inks that achieve the high levels of image quality that customers are looking for in DM.
But there’s an opposite side to the ROI coin beyond controlling costs. Generating revenue. And to continue with the theme…yes, inkjet can do that.
While everyone is predicting that digital marketing is the wave of the future, banners ads, e-mails, and tweets come and go, with only an instant to get attention and achieve relevancy. Print is impactful. Print has permanence. You hold it in your hand and go back to it multiple times as part of the purchasing decision.
But the key to making print even more powerful does take a page from the digital marketing realm. After all, our inkjet solutions are digital marketing. Using data and understanding data analytics is the Holy Grail in delivering real value in marketing communications and in delivering substantial ROI. From the very beginning and at every step along the way, we’ve envisioned our solid inkjet and aqueous inkjet solutions as more than printers of direct mail. We look at them as a cornerstone of a solution that can change the equation of small response rates and escalating costs.
So can inkjet do direct mail? Of course, and in a variety of ways. One of which is perfectly suited to the unique needs of our Founding Fathers selling sleeper sofas or the leather upholstery of a luxury car. 

Dustin Graupman is the Vice President, General Manager of the Ink Jet Business in the Graphic Communications Business Group at Xerox. He is responsible for Marketing, Business Management and Go to Market for all Xerox Ink Jet product offerings.

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