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What Is Variable Data Printing?

Variable data printing utilizes digital technology and a spreadsheet of information or curated data, to create unique, often personalized printed materials.

July 17, 2020     2 minute read

It’s no secret the internet has changed the way companies market to consumers. Businesses can curate content based on what you’ve read already or offer a product suggestion following a recent purchase. With a wealth of information provided through forms, purchases, cookies, and more, they personalize messages to match your preferences and behaviors.

Did you know that’s also possible with printed materials? Personalized messaging can be achieved through variable data printing. With digital printing technologies, companies can customize just about anything on collateral—text, the background colors, even an image—in one print job.

The process involves uploading a spreadsheet to a digital printer (or cultivating data) and producing unique collateral based on the information provided. Businesses have utilized variable data printing to send out printed mailers externally and order business cards internally.

And as technologies improve, marketing and buying behaviors change, and companies invest in creative solutions, the possibilities for variable data printing have increased. Here’s what you need to know.


Traditional Variable Data Printing

Examples of variable printing existed before digital printing emerged, but the process was far less efficient. It involved multiple steps—ink-jet printing on an offset postcard, for example—with limited room for customization. The address was usually the only thing that changed, because anything else would reduce the cost-effectiveness of the run.

Digital variable data printing, on the other hand, is an inline, one-step process that allows for advanced customization. Traditionally, companies have focused their efforts on marketing collateral—from personalized printed mailers and newsletters to business cards—and communications such as invitations.

Regardless of the printed material, the goal is largely the same: The more personal you can get with the message, the better the response. That’s obviously a technique we’ve seen online with pop-up ads, product suggestions, and email campaigns, and it’s difficult to match with traditional marketing efforts. But with modern digital printing technologies, it can be done.


Modern Possibilities

What can you do with variable data printing now? What can’t you do?

The improvement in technologies has opened the possibilities for digital variable printing. Yes, the traditional applications still apply. After all, companies still equip their employees with fresh business cards. They still send out mailers.

But there’s so much more they can personalize with the right marketers behind projects, the creativity to match, and a strong printing partner who can deliver a quality product.

Packaging, for example, can now be customized with digital variable printing, and organizations have taken advantage of it to great effect.

Consider Sunday for Dogs, a company that produces healthy dog food. It sent out samples to more than 400 celebrities with custom packaging. Each featured the celebrity’s social media handle, a picture of their dog curated from social media, and a personalized brand label. Only it wasn’t personalized for the celebrity. It was personalized for the dog: Sundays for Dogs became Sundays for Baxter, for example.

They’ve done the same for some of their earliest supporters. Here’s Food for Butz:

The campaign was a hit and generated buzz for Sundays for Dogs even if their actual brand name wasn’t prominently featured on the packaging. That’s a unique effect considering “brand” is everything in modern markets.

Then there’s mimicking digital ad techniques to boost sales. Large companies follow buyer behaviors just as they might online. If you’ve purchased certain products consistently (say, from a grocery store chain), they’ll send you personalized coupons for those products specifically, instead of generic catalogs.

While those examples are more complex, the age-old marketing methods have been updated as well. Take printed mailers. Insurance companies can send out the same basic flier to all of its customers but alter the messaging based on the policies those customers have: Auto insurance customers would receive information on home or renter’s insurance, and vice versa.

If you know something as personal as your customer's birthday and favorite color, voilà, you can put a special offer in their mailbox just as they light the candles on their cake. 

You could also send special, personalized kits to customers around the holidays. You name it. 

The point is, variable data printing started out as an advancement in communication. Coupled with imagination, it's now a useful marketing technique that any company can take advantage of. 



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