How To Do Variable Data Printing & Why It Matters

By Drew Galvin on July 14, 2022

Variable data printing can help you tap into the lifeblood of direct marketing — customer analytics. In other words, personalizing your direct mail can help you connect with your target audience, leave a positive impact, and encourage them to further interact with your brand. This blog will explore what variable data printing is, how to do variable data printing, and how personalization is a key component of success in any direct mail campaign.

A set of colorful printed magazines assorted on a table.

What Is Variable Data Printing?

The variable data printing (VDP) process allows you to create individualized direct mail pieces based on one or more data elements. If you’re familiar with the concept of a mail merge, which involves adding names and addresses to a letter or envelope based on information in a spreadsheet, you can think of VDP as a super-charged version of this type of customization.

Data points can include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Customer name
  • Address
  • Purchase history
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Income

When printed on an individual mail piece, these personalized elements capture attention, and eventually, generate conversion. Variable data printing takes the art of customization to a whole new level, using any and all information you may have on potential or existing customers to create more targeted marketing. Occasionally, VDP is referred to as VI (variable imaging) or VIP (variable information printing). 

What Is The Goal Of Variable Data Printing?

VDP allows you to make the most of your customer data by creating individual, personalized printed materials. With personalized offers and messages, you can send out direct mail pieces that are relevant to each customer instead of generic “junk mail”. In fact, a survey by Epsilon indicates that 80% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a brand that offers a personalized experience, creating a higher return on investment for you.

3 Of The Top Benefits Of Variable Data Printing

  1. One print run. One direct mail campaign can be changed to target specific demographic groups with just a few tweaks. One campaign, one print run, one template. This not only makes mailing smaller quantities more affordable but also allows all print runs to be produced with a faster turnaround time.
  1. The personal touch. The one thing that anyone will read on your direct mail (besides the word “free”) is their own name. In addition to printing with variable information, a mailing, flyer, or catalog can be printed with targeted advertising so the customer feels like they’re receiving a customized letter. 
  1. Localization. Are you looking to open a second storefront? What kind of outlets do you sell your products through — brick-and-mortar stores, farmers’ markets, festivals? With custom-printed maps and descriptions of your products, including hours and directions to your stores, you’ll be able to let your customers know how, where, and when to purchase from you.

The bottom line: the more targeted the imagery and copy, the more likely you are to get the recipient’s attention. 

A man examining a piece of printed materials while standing over a commercial printer.

How Does Variable Data Printing Work?

Dynamically generated headlines, addresses, personal names, offers, graphics, or images are inserted onto a static mail design based on variable data in your print files. VDP gives mass direct mail distribution a one-on-one feel through the customer and prospect data your business already has. 

Essentially, VDP is taking what you know about your target audience and turning it into targeted direct mail pieces designed to connect with them.

Example: Personalized Retail Mailers

Suppose you’re sending out an invitation to build brand awareness around your new retail store. Your direct mail piece could include a customized map of the best driving route from the prospect’s house to the store location. In addition to the personalized map, you can include customized offers based on the data you have for each customer.

Wondering how to do variable dating printing well? Focus on personalization. For instance, you could create pieces with highly-personalized images, appealing to specific demographics within your target audience, such as:

  • Images of clothing that appeal to prospects with a family
  • Images of clothing that appeal to female prospects
  • Images of clothing that appeal to male prospects

You could even try a “his and hers” marketing tactic when sending out the direct mail pieces. Sending individual pieces to the same household — with slightly different images and copy for each recipient — creates a more personalized experience. 

Brands like Dove have proven how a more personalized approach can reach a new audience with the creation of their Dove Men+Care line, even though the product is essentially the same as the one aimed at their female demographic.

VDP And Direct Mail Integration

In addition to imagery, you can tie this technology into full-blown marketing campaigns. By using VDP, you can add personalized URLs, which take the recipient to a landing page tailored to their interests.  

At Safeguard by Innovative, our direct mail campaigns offer an integrative and full-scale add-on that allows us to track when a recipient has received the direct mail piece and when they have completed an action (such as a visit to a custom landing page or a phone call). 

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How Effective Is Variable Printing Data?

Personalized mailing campaigns can achieve a 3x higher response rate than non-personalized direct mail, as reported by the Data and Marketing Association (DMA).

Compared to a standard direct mail campaign, narrowly targeting certain demographics with highly personalized offers makes the mail piece more relevant to the customer. This results in a higher response rate, and less money spent on pieces that may go straight from the mailbox to the trash.

However, the success of a campaign isn’t determined solely by the response rate. The success is also determined by the return on investment (ROI). In the long run, variable data printing costs typically yield a better ROI than a general direct mail campaign since you don’t have to pay to print as many pieces to achieve the same — or better — response rates. 

10 Variable Data Printing Tactics To Increase ROI

Just because VDP allows you to take the data you have on a target audience and use it for highly-personalized direct mail campaigns, doesn’t mean all the work is done for you. All of that data has to be distilled into actionable marketing steps that will appeal to your target demographics — steps upon which the Safeguard by Innovative team focuses.

Below are ten important key marketing tactics to keep in mind when creating VDP campaigns.

  1. Use variety. Different images and graphics appeal to different demographics. Don’t just think about the words you use, think about the whole package.
  1. Appeal to emotions. Use the data you have to find out about a prospect. From there, tailor your message to generate materials that elicit an emotional response — like excitement, sympathy, pride, etc. A brand worth remembering is one a prospect can connect with deeply.
  1. Personalize. Be sure to include their name, company name (when b2b marketing), and any other personal information relevant to your message.
  1. Build Connections. Let your prospects know your business is more than just a place to shop. It’s a place that meets a need in their life, and a brand they can trust among the sea of competitors.
  1. Get creative. Use graphics and images that are true to your brand. A company that understands how to deliver the total package will be remembered.
  1. Be customer-focused. You can easily scare away a potential client by glorifying your own brand in the copy of marketing material. Always aim to write easy-to-read content that speaks to your target audience’s needs. Put simply: always put the reader first.
  1. Be useful. What does your reader need? When will they need it? The way you show your brand’s worth is not by talking about how great you are. Instead, make sure you understand their needs and have a solution to their problem. This builds trust, and trust is an excellent marketing technique.
  1. Be detailed. Make the recipient feel as if they’re the only customer. With variable data printing, you can use specific details to tailor each individual piece. You can use this information to surprise your clients by including it in your direct marketing strategies.
  1. Prioritize branding. Every business has something that makes them unique, and these features help make up your brand. Your brand’s colors, design, and a logo can have just as much of an impact on your target audience as your mission statement and core values do.
  1. Experiment. Experimentation is vital for marketing success. Test different techniques until you find what works. Just because VDP allows you to customize direct mail pieces much more than a standard direct mail campaign, it doesn’t ensure a 100% success rate every time. Don’t be afraid to try something new and chip away at it until you learn exactly what’s best for your audience(s).
A man wearing a flannel opening a red envelope, reading the postage inside, and smiling.

Variable Data Printing Examples

VDP can be used as an integral part of your marketing campaigns, creating anything from personalized product labels to tailored coupons based on a consumer’s past spending habits. A few ways to use VDP in a marketing campaign include:

  • Coupons and special offers
  • Thank-you notes
  • Envelopes
  • Labels
  • Postcards
  • QR codes
  • Personalized landing pages
  • Personalized visuals

Your main task in the VDP process is to select the variables you want to customize based on the collected customer data — the VDP software and your commercial printing company will handle the rest.

Why Care About Customization?

Today, businesses are able to collect customer data and create highly personalized marketing campaigns, online and offline. Tools like VDP allow businesses to achieve more with less. Sending one piece of personalized direct mail to 500 different people in a target audience is more effective than sending one person 500 pieces hoping something will stick. 

Did you know? According to Salesforce, 59% of consumers believe personalization in marketing influences their decision. With relevant offers and messaging, you can receive more conversions and ROI than with the “junk mail” approach some businesses use.

At Safeguard by Innovative, we have the variable data printing tools necessary to make the process easy by handling everything from creative design and printing, to mailing and postage.

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Contact us today to see how we can help you stand out with highly-personalized direct mail campaigns.