Take a look at your smartphone. You’ve probably already looked at it five times in the last hour anyway. Now, let’s take a look around you at your friends and co-workers looking at their phones. Notice anything? Pretty much the same deal. Everyone’s looking at their phones all the time. Have you ever tried to use someone else’s phone to make a call or look something up? It feels weird, doesn’t it? It’s just not the same. So what is it that makes this piece of technology – your phone – so amazing and indispensable?


From the moment you first powered up your phone, you have been feeding it data that has made the experience more specific to you. Your behaviors, your preferences, even your vocabulary – everything about how you interact with your phone changes and customizes your experience specifically for you. This same technique can be applied to your direct marketing. You can personalize and customize the your target audience’s experience and how they interact with your marketing through the use of Variable Data Printing.

In its simplest form, variable data printing just takes what you already know about your customer, client, or prospect and turns that information into a personalized mailpiece. Even if you only possess a basic mailing list, you have enough details to get started. You can keep it simple: A postcard with a field that addresses each recipient by their first name. Or you can make it dynamic: A mailer with a special offer for an item previously purchased and a list of the closest locations where they can redeem the offer. It can start simple, but the possibilities for personalization are endless.

We are inundated with marketing. From subtle product branding to electronic billboards – everywhere we look, there’s advertising. With so many types of marketing vying for your audience’s attention, custom content in a direct mail campaign can be a real game changer. By collecting and maintaining a comprehensive database about your audience, you can make your direct mail message much more efficient and effective. First name personalization is a great start but don’t stop there! Go further than just “Hi John!” If you are marketing athletic shoes in the southwest, for instance, you can use variable data to produce mailers that are specific to gender, type of athletic activity, and region. You can create and print unique pieces personalized to their interests or which addresses common pain points in their demographic. You could consider your mailpiece as a way to break the ice for a conversation that will actually be carried out online or combine physical mail with other channels in a cross-media campaign.

This isn’t just theory, either. This stuff works. There is real, hard evidence that personalization is critical for success in today’s marketing environment. The old days of blind mass marketing to an unknown recipient is dead. Consumers are so much more educated today and their expectations are far higher than ever before. They can tell when an offer is irrelevant to them or is generic and impersonal. In fact, that is exactly what the average person means when they use the term “junk mail.” That old style of marketing is the kind of piece that doesn’t even gain a few seconds of the customers’ time – it just gets thrown away or recycled. What a waste of money and time! And it’s completely unnecessary these days. It just takes a little effort to compile relevant data and, suddenly, you’re playing in a whole new league with your direct marketing.

of recipients between the ages of 18 and 49 thought that customization of the mail piece impacted their decision to open and/or read the contents of the marketing pieces that were sent.
(Source: InfoTrends: Direct Marketing Production Printing & Value Added Services 2015)

More than 80%! And yet, take a look at what shows up in your mailbox every day – more often than not, it is completely generic and does not speak to YOU – its specific, intended audience. That’s a huge missed opportunity to convert you to one of the 80% according to the InfoTrends study.

That same study from InfoTrends showed that a piece’s perceived “relevance” to its audience is closely related to whether or not it is personalized for that audience. This means that “is this relevant to me?” is determined by whether or not you know something about the recipient and their buying habits and interests. More than 50% of those that were surveyed said that for them to open or read a direct mail piece, it had to either reflect their needs or interests or be obvious that the products or services that were being offered were something they were interested in. This was true across all age brackets surveyed and, in some brackets, this rang true for 80% of the respondents! So, why wouldn’t you make sure that your offer was relevant to the people that you were sending the offer too? In many cases, it boils down to a simple lack of strategic planning or an absence of data regarding your customers or prospects. Both of these issues are easily rectified.

It’s clear that personalized, relevant communications are critical to direct mail success. Here are some of the key ingredients to a good direct mail campaign:

A well thought-out strategic campaign plan.

Who are your prospects? Do you know the unique demographics and buying habits of your customers or prospects? Have you thought through your call to action for your campaign? Is it a “one size fits all” offer or can you vary the offer based on a set of customer-specific criteria?

Are you using an in-house list or are you purchasing a prospect list?

Does your database have the information that you need to fully target your customer as determined by your strategic plan? If not, can you GET the information that you need to be successful?

How clean is your database?

What work needs to be done with your data to have a clean, efficient database? Is your data accurate or is it full of typos and misspellings? Is it formatted correctly for mailing? Does your data contain duplicate names and addresses? Has your database been correctly updated by running it through USPS certified software (CASS, NCOA, for example)?

Does your service provider have the right tools and skills?

Do they have the necessary software to work on your database as needed? Do they know how to program a variable data mailing campaign based on your criteria? What is their success record with this type of programming? Do they have the tools in house to do this work or are they outsourcing? What type of variable data software is being used?

Do you have a roadmap?

Have you developed a decision tree for the variable data programming to be done correctly? A correctly constructed decision tree should guide the programmer as they write the necessary logic to give you a customized and unique offer that is relevant and targeted to your customer or prospect.

Has your service provider talked to you about a live audit?

Your service provider should give you a plan for a live audit of your data so that your decision tree logic can be tested on live pieces BEFORE the actual work gets started. It is crucial that every option be tested in the audit process beforehand so that you’re not wasting money and resources.

Are you confident that your offer is relevant?

If you’ve done it correctly, you have used the data that you have on your customer or prospect to create an appropriate offer. But how was that offer determined and does your data really support your call to action based on the unique characteristics of the offer’s recipient?

It is a no-brainer these days that, if you are going to invest in direct marketing (of any type, print or digital), you need to put together a personalized, relevant communication plan. Mass marketing may have its place, but that place is NOT in a direct mail (or email) campaign anymore.

Everything starts with your data! You have to take the time to compile the information that you need to develop a good direct mail campaign. And you have to work with a service provider who gets it – someone who understands how to create solid logic based on a set of criteria. This logic is critical to the success of any campaign. If you are curious how to make a good, variable data campaign work, don’t hesitate to reach out to the experts at VariSpark! That’s what we’re here for.

Have questions?
Ready to get started?