The first digital printing press was introduced by Benny Landa in the early 1990s. Since then, digital printing devices have come to penetrate every corner of the market – everything from cut sheet pages to wide format signage. As a byproduct of this new digital era, two new market opportunities have presented themselves – one, the introduction of cost-effective short-run printing and two, variable data printing (VDP).
Unlike short-run printing, which widened an existing market and thus was quickly adopted by commercial printers, variable data printing has proved a much larger hurdle for commercial printers and to this day remains a relatively untapped market opportunity.
Why the Lack of Adoption?
The short answer? Complexity. Variable data printing involves complex databases and intelligent market information. For the printer, it also involves a modified workflow and additional investment. The long answer, however, is that VDP is typically attached to a marketing campaign and that responsibility is rarely assigned to the commercial printer.
Taking on marketing functions as a print operation can be a daunting task. There are a number of new and unfamiliar questions that printers must grapple with: is my data clean? Is my messaging relevant? How do I deliver the materials? How do I price a value-added product? How do I manage the creative cycle? Etc., etc., etc.
Having said this, companies like Vista Print have become hugely successful based on their ability to provide clients exactly what they need in whatever quantity they desire. In this case, however, the data is primarily client-driven with just a few suggestive tips provided by the printer.
What Better Time Than Now?
I suggest the time has come for increased adoption of variable data printing. The consumer demand is already present, and is projected to grow at a consistently high rate in years to come; Stratistics MRC projects that the VDP market will grow at a CAGR of 18.2% between now and 2026. For successful adoption to occur however, printers will have to increasingly engage with consumers and those providing goods to consumers.
Let’s review some of the more well-known instances of VDP implementation so we can better understand how these capabilities can be mobilized for success. On the product side, corporate marketers have embraced the notion that personalized products increase market-share. Nutella offers a great example of their successful use of VDP in this short YouTube video:
Coca-Cola, which boasts probably the most well-known and widespread example of VDP, saw a 7 percent increase in sales among the young adult demographic as a result of their “Share a Coke” campaign. Check out this video, which details the rollout of the campaign in Australia:
These two case studies demonstrate the effectiveness of personalized packaging, and VDP provides the means by which this is accomplished.
“The Start of Something Big”
The key to VDP’s success is personalization, and personalization requires access to personal data. Ten years ago, I, like many others, would have been reluctant to share personal information with marketing agencies and manufacturers of consumer goods. Today, consumers willingly share information about themselves all the time via social media – not just their names, as Coca-Cola so notably capitalized on, but also their preferences for goods and services, for particular design elements, for specific styles, etc. Amazon, Google, et al. have been using data to personalize online advertising for years, and now the time has come for printed media to do the same.
With readily available personal data and information, we are living in a marketer’s dream. Yet, we are still in the very early stages of the deployment of VDP – the crest of this wave is still years, if not decades off. If you are a commercial printer, start exploring connections with personalized marketers – be it through your print buyer, your trade shop or through an industry network. These connections will become invaluable in the near future, and by engaging with marketers now you can keep abreast of developments.
As I’ve said before: print is still very much alive. The world of print is constantly changing but there are major opportunities for those willing to embrace the paradigm shift.