Design and printing of direct marketing pieces have come a long way, but the advent of digital printing solutions have really made the most impact on the industry over the last decade.
Offset printing and other traditional print processes still play a huge role in the direct marketing world. That being said, digital printing is being utilized more and more by many companies because of the benefit and flexibility that digital printing offers such as true personalization.
What is Digital Printing?
So what is digital printing, anyway? It’s the automation and customization of the printing process through computer control. “Digital printing translates a digital file that describes a page directly to the printing equipment. The page is recreated each time, which is why variable data handling is so easy.”(1) Laser and ink jet printers take an input from a computer control system and print media on demand. However, this definition, while accurate, does little to really show what digital printing can do, particularly for direct marketing.
For the direct marketing professional, digital printing allows you to combine static and dynamic elements in your marketing media into a single print process. For example, a traditional postcard may have been printed in a static process, meaning every single piece in the print run is identical. Customized information, such as an address block, is added later through a second print run, usually on a lower quality print process.
On the other hand, digital printing allows all of these elements to be printed in one print run. After one pass through the system, each mail piece will have all of its elements in place and will be ready to mail.
Benefits of Digital Printing
While digital print processes can have a higher per-piece cost, these costs are continuing to fall as technology improves, and the labor and materials associated with traditional printing are nearly non-existent for digital printing. “This means that the time, materials, and expense that the other print methods require for setup and proofing are much lower – in fact, they can be close to zero – for digital presses.”(2)
This means that with digital printing, you can print what you want, whenever you want, at nearly the drop of a hat. What comes out of the printer on the first piece will be the same as what you see on the screen. You can print 3 copies or 300,000 copies, although you’ll need to have hardware that matches your printing requirements.
How Digital Printing Benefits Marketing Campaigns
So, digital printing does sound pretty wonderful, but what’s the real benefit? The answer is personalization. While it’s nice to be able to automatically print address and postal barcodes right onto your mail pieces during one single print process, customization is the real star right now. “Over the past several years, marketers have seen that highly targeted, relevant mailings can be significantly more effective than a non-targeted “shotgun” approach.”(3)
You can create individualized content within each mail piece based on your prospect’s demographics and purchasing history. Digital print processes allow you to pull specific database information into the printing application so that every single one of your recipients gets an offer that is relevant to them.
Here are a few examples:
- If you’re printing a coupon onto a direct mail postcard, you can tailor the item that the coupon refers to based on the buying history of each customer.
- You can easily segment your database so that a specific message is sent to people who have never purchased from you, people who have purchased from you recently, or people who purchased from you a long time ago, but not recently.
- You can produce marketing collateral on demand that is specific to each person’s interests. This strategy is perfect for travel & hospitality companies, colleges & universities, real estate builders and more.
Digital printing puts so much power into the potential of direct marketing. Direct mail is still an extremely effective way to reach potential customers, and digital printing gives direct mail a turbo boost in terms of customization and printing on demand.
1. Whitebread, David, The Design Manual, Revised and Expanded Edition, University of New South Wales Press, Ltd, 2009
2. Kasdorf, W.E., ed., The Columbia Guide to Digital Publishing, Columbia University Press, 2003.
I'm the Director of Digital Services and Partner at Ballantine, a family-owned and operated direct mail & digital marketing company based in New Jersey. and started in 1966 by my great uncle!