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Understanding Databases For Personalised DIrect Marketing and Variable Data Printing
All forms of one-to-one marketing require information about customers and their interests, first to identify those interested in the product or service being offered and then to personalize the promotion in ways that are likely to be attractive. to each customer.
This information may already exist within the client company, as a result of sales calls, customer surveys and other market research or disclosed during previous transactions, or it may be purchased from commercial data providers. To support an effective personalized marketing campaign, data must be both relevant and complete.
For example, analysis of credit card purchases may indicate that a customer’s children and shoppers regularly shop at a particular children’s clothing store. The card company can use that information to build loyalty by offering discounts on children’s clothing or toys. As long as customers feel that the offers they receive are appropriate and helpful, they will be satisfied that the information collected about them is being used to their advantage.
There is a delicate balance that marketers must maintain between collecting information about customers and giving the impression that they are spying on them. There are also legal restrictions on what data can be collected and how it can be used. These vary from country to country, even within the EU, and it is usually the law of the country in which the recipient is located that applies. It is the responsibility of the ‘publisher’, who is usually the printer’s client, to ensure that these laws are complied with, but printers who plan to hold or develop databases for their clients should be aware.
Customer information is stored in a database, which can be simply an Excel spreadsheet, a desktop-level application such as FileMaker Pro, a large corporate source such as Oracle or SAP, or a customer relationship management (CRM) system. Data can be entered manually, or from other computerized operations such as call centers, websites, field service or sales activities.
Databases are made up of records, one per customer, which include fields such as individual items of data such as firstname and surname, address elements, phone or email, age, gender, previous purchases and any other information that may be useful in selecting customer types. . Product information may also be maintained in a database: A car dealership may maintain a database listing cars with each model, year and features. Relational databases allow links to be made between items of information in different fields and records, enabling vehicle types to be matched to customers in a car dealership example.
Images can also be stored in a dedicated database, often known as a digital asset management (DAM) system, which can be automatically queried during print document assembly, or they can be placed in a special folder that can only be referenced by the database.
It is not necessary for the printer to have a database application as the customer information required for the VDP function can be exported from the database as a CSV (Comma Separated Value) file, in which each record is separated by a line return and field values are separated by commas. These can be opened in Excel, most word processors, or imported directly into VDP authoring software. In Excel, each row represents a record, and each column is a field. Printers that do not want to handle databases need to indicate which fields are required and specify how the data should be delivered.
In typical VDP applications, each record may contain only the recipient’s name and address, but the more graphically rich marketing documents made possible by digital print may also include a selection of images relevant to different customers. The most sophisticated authoring software can visually combine images and variable text — such as photo-realistically inserting a customer’s name into an image — to generate custom images on the fly. Variables are text (and graphics, if used). Business rules are then attached to the template that specify which variables to use and where to place them in the document. These rules, which are written or programmed into the VDP authoring application, use conditional formatting to select text and image content based on information in the database.
Designers who create layout templates used to generate pages containing variable data may be at the printer, at an external agency, or within the client’s organization. No matter where they are, whether they’re using desktop publishing or word processing software or dedicated VDP/cross-media authoring tools, it’s important to understand how it works and designs, considering variable content.
Information in the fields of the database record is used to fill placeholders in the template, so the designer must know which these are and make allowances for how different the content will be, although more sophisticated software will handle image placement, not just text flow. And measure too. Some solutions may also vary the number of pages depending on the content.
For printers new to VDP, even starting with simple tasks will increase their offering to existing customers, as well as help attract new ones. The sophistication of VDP projects can naturally increase as a printer’s database skills and VDP experience develop.
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