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Understanding databases for personalized direct marketing and variable data printing

All forms of one-to-one marketing require information about customers and their interests, in order to first identify those who are likely to be interested in the product or service being offered and then personalize the promotion in ways that can be attractive. . to each client.

This information may already exist within the client company, as a result of sales calls, customer surveys, and other market research, or may be disclosed during previous transactions, or it may be purchased from commercial data providers. To support an effective personalized marketing campaign, the data must be relevant and complete.

Analysis of credit card purchases may indicate that a customer has children and regularly purchases at a particular children’s clothing store, for example. The card company could use that information to build loyalty by offering discounts on children’s clothing or toys. As long as customers feel that the offers they receive are appropriate and useful, they will be satisfied that the information collected about them is being used to their advantage.

There is a delicate balance marketers must strike between gathering information about customers and giving the impression that they are being eavesdropped. There are also legal restrictions on what data can be collected and how it can be used. These vary by country, even within the EU, and it is the laws of the country where the recipient is located that generally apply. It is the responsibility of the “publisher”, usually the printer’s customer, to ensure that these laws are followed, but printers planning to maintain or develop databases for their customers should be aware.

Customer information is stored in a database, which could be simply an Excel spreadsheet, a desktop application such as FileMaker Pro, a larger corporate resource such as Oracle or SAP, or a relationship management system with the customer (CRM). Data can be entered manually or from other computerized operations such as call centers, websites, field service, or sales activities.

The databases are made up of records, one per customer, containing fields corresponding to individual data elements such as first and last name, address elements, telephone or email, age, gender, previous purchases and any other information that may be useful. to select customer types. . Product information can also be stored in a database – a car dealer can maintain a database that lists the cars in their inventory, along with the model, year, and features of each. Relational databases allow you to link items of information in different fields and records, allowing you to match vehicle types to customers in the car dealership example.

Images can also be stored in a dedicated database, often known as a digital asset management system (DAM), which can be automatically queried at the time the print document is assembled, or can simply be placed in a folder. specific that the database can refer to.

It is not essential that the printer has a database application, as the client information required for a VDP job can be exported from the database as a CSV (Comma Separated Values) file, in which each Record is separated by a line return and field values ​​are separated by commas. These can be opened in Excel, most word processors, or taken directly into the VDP authoring software. In Excel, each row represents a record and each column is a field. Printers who do not want to handle the databases themselves should indicate which fields are required and specify how the data should be delivered.

In simple VDP applications, each record can include only the recipient’s name and address, but the more graphic-rich marketing documents that digital printing makes possible can also include a selection of images that are relevant to different customers. The most sophisticated authoring software can combine images and variable text in visually striking ways, such as photorealistically inserting a customer’s name into an image, to generate personalized images on the fly. They are then combined with the template according to business rules that specify what variable content to use and where to place it in the document. These rules, which are written or programmed in the VDP authoring application, use conditional formatting to select text and image content based on information in the database.

The designers who create the design templates used to generate the pages that contain the variable data can be at the printer, at an outside agency, or within the customer’s organization. Wherever they are, it is important that they understand how this works and design with variable content in mind, whether they are using desktop publishing or word processing software or dedicated VDP / cross-media authoring tools.

The information in the fields of the database records is used to fill in the placeholders in the template, so the designer must know what they are and take into account how much the content will vary, although more sophisticated software will handle not. only the text flow but also the location of the image. and scaled too. Some solutions may even vary the number of pages depending on the content.

For printers new to VDP, even starting out with simple jobs will improve your offering to existing customers, as well as help attract new ones. The sophistication of the VDP projects undertaken can grow naturally as the printer’s database skills and VDP experience develop.

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