Going beyond personalization

Steve Murray would be the first to admit it. Creative director with Vickers & Benson Direct & Interactive (VBDI) and the man behind 'It's All In the Details,' an RSVP-award winning direct mail campaign for the Bank of Montreal, Murray says...

Steve Murray would be the first to admit it.

Creative director with Vickers & Benson Direct & Interactive (VBDI) and the man behind ‘It’s All In the Details,’ an RSVP-award winning direct mail campaign for the Bank of Montreal, Murray says his team’s hard work would have been for naught if the printing job itself hadn’t been up to snuff.

‘Printing and production is one of the most important [components], not just of direct mail, but of brand equity, and that brand equity has to be seen right through to the production values,’ Murray says. ‘That’s the first thing the recipient sees.’

The bank wanted to pitch its purchasing solutions card – a kind of hyper-intelligent credit card system – using a two-tiered approach. Corporate CEOs and financial officers received one package, and their purchasing managers received another. But they weren’t mere letters folded into an envelope.

‘We had to break through,’ says account director Deni Baschiera. ‘You are lucky when secretaries don’t screen out your direct mail. Our way was to make it big.’

How big? Try an embossed three-dimensional package that was 24 inches high by 9 inches wide and 1.5 inches thick. The package for senior executives contained a pocket organizer, as well as information about the card. Purchasing officers received a less-elaborate package sans pocket organizer. But the personalized letter within pointed out that their CEO or CFO – who was named – had also received a package. The letter was designed to prompt the purchasing officer into action once he or she realized his or her superior was also on the list.

‘We were targeting Fortune 500 firms and they don’t have lots of time to sift through the mail,’ says Murray. ‘We had to capture their attention immediately and help them cut through the clutter. High-quality production has a role in that, just as creative does.’

Given the success of the campaign, it appears those two elements came together. The campaign was so effective at generating leads, says Murray, that the agency had to suspend the mailings, since the bank’s sales team couldn’t keep up with requests to discuss the purchasing solution.

‘The work we produce has to walk the walk,’ says Baschiera. ‘When you mail something to a CFO, you want to make sure you get their attention and live up to your own brand positioning.’

Among the tools helping agencies and clients cut through the clutter is the latest wave of commercial printing technology.

Printers such as St. Joseph Direct, Quebecor and Transcontinental Printing are on the cutting edge of the trade.

‘We’ve got what we call creative engineering, because our customers are pushing for it,’ says Alec Couckuyt, vice-president of Transcontinental’s direct marketing group in Toronto. ‘They don’t want to lose time with hand-offs.’

Couckuyt says printing technology today goes beyond mere personalization. For example, Transcontinental’s Yorkville Printing division, which handled the Details campaign, can change name and address information at ‘Web-press speed.’

‘It’s what we call ‘Print for One,” he says. ‘We do that by putting portable ink-jet heads on the presses. This enables us to print any combination of material at Web-press speed.’

With ink-jet printing, a computer-controlled array of ink nozzles produces images on a moving sheet or web of paper. In the continuous approach, electronic deflectors position the drops. Another method spits out the ink only as it is needed. Simple ink jet printers are used routinely to print variable information such as mailing labels, and can be installed on the end of a conventional printing press or bindery line.

‘Opportunities are limited only by a physical area on a piece of paper,’ says Couckuyt. ‘But it’s within that area where true personalization can occur.’ As an example, he mentions special discounts on specific products, different coupons for different locations and customized letters for premium customers.

‘And all of this personalization can be done during the web print process. That’s an advantage that not only optimizes the cost of personalization but also the time it takes to complete the project.’

At St. Joseph Direct in Concord, Ont., the printer offers full web heat-set printing, combined with high-resolution (240 by 240 dot-per-inch) imaging, all funneled through its extensive in-line finishing system.

Dubbed ‘The Intelligent Self-Mailer,’ one such offering utilizes a specialized web press to glue, perforate, die cut, plow fold, rotary cut, slit, and do scratch-and-win or scratch-and-sniff in a single pass. Daimler Chrysler uses the system to print personalized letters to its customers, prompting them to get their cars serviced.

‘The entire program was driven by an elaborate database,’ explains Christian Montini, senior sales manager for St. Joseph Direct. ‘Through the use of in-line finishing and imaging, we were able to deliver at the end of the press a complete mailer, in postal sequence, ready for the post office. It took no more than 48 hours to complete, and reduced our customer’s traditional budget by 35%.’

That’s important, because these campaigns can often take up to three weeks using conventional printing technology. And as Montini points out, the traditional approach of carrier envelope, image letter and coupon doesn’t really grab their attention the way it used to.

Although Montini says he’s not privy to the campaign’s results, DaimlerChrysler has since repeated the program. ‘We think they’ve enjoyed better-than-historical results,’ he says.

Ed Strapagiel, senior vice-president with Kubas Consultants in Toronto, says printing today is as much about the integration of data as it is about producing a good-looking piece.

‘For example, at one time when you wanted to do direct mail, you’d have to hand over a whole bunch of sticky labels to get a mailing done,’ he says. ‘These days you just e-mail over a file. Printing tech has kept up with that but, more importantly, it’s allowed the use of these database marketing techniques to be really well applied and practised (see sidebar p. D12).’

Strapagiel says there are really two areas where printing has advanced in the last couple of years.

‘One is personalization, but that goes beyond simply printing a name and address on a piece of paper. It gets into putting the name of the target in several places,’ he says. ‘It will involve variable text, where a group of recipients gets paragraph 2-B instead of 2-A, for example.

‘It also involves controlling some of the inclusions in a direct mail piece. It involves all sorts of ways to more finely target sub-segments of direct mail. That is something that printing technology allows people to do.

‘All these things are a nickel here and a dime there,’ Strapagiel continues, ‘but they really add up. For the people in the printing industry, their big decisions are going to be what equipment they should get.’ ‘They have to be very careful about that, because the cost of it, and the cost of running it, is skyrocketing.

‘Otherwise, it’s hard to sit here and say they should be doing this or that, because technology is changing so rapidly.’

Also in this report:

* Faster, better, smarter and cheaper: The marriage of database marketing and printing technology has put more control in the hands of the client p.D12

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group