The upward trend for variable data printing (VDP) shows no sign of abating, with the technique growing in popularity across industries due to the unquestionable benefits it offers brands and marketers in creating highly targeted content. Jim Whittington, Antalis’ digital expert, explores how PSPs can overcome common barriers, enabling them to make the most of this lucrative opportunity
Smithers Pira predicts that digital printing will account for 19 per cent of global print and printed packaging by 2022. Amongst our customers, we’re certainly seeing many traditional commercial printers invest in digital presses as they seek to deliver a tight turnaround on short-run projects that aren’t possible with a litho operation. But if that’s all they are using their digital printer for, they aren’t tapping into the tremendous potential of variable data printing. In a way, it’s like buying a car with sexy optional extras – but never using them.
The evolution of VDP
VDP has grown exponentially in recent years alongside the industrialisation of digital printing and the shift from mass production to mass customisation. Personalised content has become second nature and an expectation has been set by consumers, which makes VDP a no-brainer. With consumer expectations increasingly high in today’s market, it’s those that don’t personalise their content, services and marketing materials that stand out – for all the wrong reasons.
Within the commercial sector, print customers are savvy to what’s out there. Increasingly, we will see less demand for a two million print run to be distributed to the masses, hoping it will do the job. Instead, marketing is far more targeted and customers want harder working print, i.e. a print run of 500 which guarantees a 50 per cent response rate, achieved via VDP.
The capabilities offered by VDP fit seamlessly with the USP of online gifting and photography printing companies – presenting goods that can be personalised easily, are available quickly (often the next day) and are relatively cost-effective. This has been capitalised on by online gifting businesses (or e-gifters) and online photography printers. In the eyes of the consumer, why have something standard when you can have something unique, that you can tailor yourself? For the consumer, personalisation is often key and not necessarily the overall quality and finish of the product – the fact that an item has been tailored, either as a gift or for their personal use, can have more appeal than the overall quality and finish of the product.
Around the turn of the century, we saw the birth and proliferation of the online photography printing companies and e-gifters, with PhotoBox launched in 1999 and Moonpig in 2000. In its consumer review, Made-to-order: The rise of mass personalisation, Deloitte identified that more than half of British consumers expressed interest in purchasing customised products or services, with the same percentage stating that customised products can make great gifts. The same report suggested that ‘businesses that embrace personalisation have an opportunity to create a differentiated proposition that may command a price premium…and offer a path to sustainable growth’.
Research carried out by PhotoBox Group (owners of PhotoBox and Moonpig) found that the UK market for personalised and on-demand products was worth more than £1 billion. The survey concluded with a prediction that despite the sizeable figure, research suggested that spending would only increase as consumers turn their attention to new personalised product options.
As a result, the personalised market has exploded and we as consumers can now get anything and everything personalised as e-retailers exploit VDP to its full advantage.
Personalised print packaging is another potential growth area that printers can tap into. Vodka brand Absolut used creative flair to maximise presence on the shelf and behind the bar by producing four million bottles, each with a slightly different design. This was achieved by re-engineering its production plant so that splash guns and colour-generating machines could coat the bottles in a nearly endless sequence of combinations.
Venturing into VDP
We’re not talking about ‘pure players’ here; businesses such as these have bought into the concept of running digital data for some time now and are already exploiting it to its full potential. For those who are new to digital though, the leap to investing in new, high performance equipment is probably perceived as a large enough one for now; and the prospect of venturing even deeper into digital, specifically into VDP, can prove intimidating for three reasons:
1 Data can be terrifying – many of our customers cite this as the biggest disincentive as they are unsure of how to manipulate the data, as well as where their client’s responsibility for data management ends, and where theirs begins.
2 Compliance anxiety – with the rollout of the GDPR, some businesses worry that, by venturing into running digital data, they may fall foul of data privacy regulations.
3 Achieving VDP stand-out – VDP is nothing new, so those who were ahead of the game originally, including the ‘pure players’, have already mastered it and refined their offering. For those entering this market, we’ve witnessed angst around them being able to match this standard, let alone achieve stand-out.
Today however, data is king. Yes, it may be daunting for the reasons listed above. But in reality, these three areas can be tackled very easily. With some market research, a little further investment and a bit of technical knowledge, traditional printers can undoubtedly tap into this sales opportunity which will help to retain their customers and also win new business.
Managing data with confidence
Managing data can be made easy by simply investing in a framework by partnering with the right software company such as Infigo Software, VPress, Transeo Media and XMPie which offer easy-to-integrate, user-friendly software systems for the web-to-print (W2P) market.
At the Antalis Academy, we’ve partnered with Infigo Software to deliver a number of W2P workshops where delegates have the opportunity to find out about the latest trends and advances in the world of W2P. This enables them to make an informed decision about what their business realistically needs to profitably deliver highly personalised printed products.
Before you know it, data will no longer be terrifying and you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll be inviting your customers to hand over a database of 10,000 data entries – confident you can take care of it and easily convert it into a print-ready format.
Achieving VDP stand-out
It shouldn’t be overlooked that, as a traditional print service provider you have the advantage of experience. New e-tailers are launched every day, with the majority offering personalisation of printed goods. However, they may not be set up to deliver the print aspect of the business effectively – it may be that they need guidance on how to fulfil this aspect of their business effectively and with profit margins in mind. So if you can get both areas right, then you’re winning.
What’s essential is that you promote your new capabilities to your customers so they are aware of the added value you can bring to their businesses. Some print customers will themselves be daunted by this whole arena and will be looking to you for a hand-held approach to VDP. It’s up to you to whet their appetite, educate them and show them the limitless possibilities VDP presents.
By getting ahead of the trend and identifying the opportunities presented by VDP, whether within marketing, online gifting, print packaging and other areas besides, printers can provide expert consultancy, especially to start-up businesses, to help manage and/or consolidate their print solutions capabilities – or even outsource their printing. With the right software, running digital data is a great way to exploit the money-making capabilities of a digital press. Those who dare to take that extra leap forward into today’s digital market will surely win as they will have more to offer their customers and will be well placed to maintain their competitive edge.