Using the press to impress

The marketing community may just be getting a little gutsier when it comes to printing and production.
Granted, clients have always sought out the 'Wow' factor for their mailings. However, many stuck to the set format - the tried and true - often due to budgetary restraints and track results. But according to David Engel, president of Toronto-based Innovative Graphics, marketers are trying to get out of the box and break through the clutter.

The marketing community may just be getting a little gutsier when it comes to printing and production.

Granted, clients have always sought out the ‘Wow’ factor for their mailings. However, many stuck to the set format – the tried and true – often due to budgetary restraints and track results. But according to David Engel, president of Toronto-based Innovative Graphics, marketers are trying to get out of the box and break through the clutter.

‘If you’re a direct marketer, you have a standard price-per-package – let’s say $1 – and you’re always stuck to a number-10 or six-by-nine envelope with a letter or brochure – and you’re stuck on that format because you’ve set that price point,’ he says, adding that often – as the industry has grown more ‘commoditized’ – preferred vendor lists that increasingly exist are based on price-per-thousand.

‘Certain clients always tried to do things a little differently. But for most it was, ‘Here’s the set format….’ It was always about the creative. Today it’s not only the creative, but it’s the format and the technology. There is a push today to do breakthrough stuff,’ he says.

Ultimately what’s new and different gets better response rates, contends Engel. And in many, he says, the technology – like in-line printing and certain personalization equipment – actually allow them to reduce their cost-per-thousand.

‘Neat doesn’t always mean expensive. People see things and lament how expensive it probably is, but that’s not always the case. Yes, in some cases, but if you spend money, sometimes you get better response rates,’ he says, adding that even if you spend more money, testing should always done.

Some of the newer formats that Engel has worked on with clients include: a break-apart pouch like Sears’ ‘Break the Bank’ piece, with a jagged perf that lets customers ‘break open’ a paper piggy bank to reveal a savings coupon inside, in-line formats (a closed-face package with a letter and envelope all done on one piece of paper and/or with one pass of the press); pop-velopes (envelopes that open with a piece that pops up – like in children’s book); and grommetless wheels. (Engel’s portfolio includes each of the visual examples used in this report.)

In her experience, Gladys Bachand, VP, director print and production at Leo Burnett of Toronto, says most clients with experience in direct mail demand cool, new formats – whereas clients who don’t have as much experience, require a little bit more of a sell, although, they usually buy into it in the end, she says.

‘You always have to consider your overall cost-per-piece. You’re usually trying to reach as many consumers as possible, yet in an innovative, impactful way,’ she says. ‘So you’re always balancing, ‘How can I do great creative [with an] innovative format cost efficiently, and reach as many consumers as I can?’ Obviously, technology and press equipment play much more of a role in this type of production than any other production.’

The beauty of the Sears’ ‘Break the Bank’ campaign was that it was all done in one pass of the press, printed up to six colours on both sides, die-cut, glued and folded, adds Engel, who worked with Sears on the piece. And almost two million pieces were produced in two days.

That’s a prime example of a campaign that turned up a better response rate for a couple of extra coins. According to Beth McIlroy, manager of print and Internet marketing for Sears online, the bounce-back coupon for customers who received their catalogue orders has already generated a response rate of about 5% (at the end of July), and customers have until the end of September to redeem the coupon.

‘That is a considerably higher response rate compared to the last time we used the methodology of a parcel stuffer, where we saw a 2% response rate,’ she says, adding the primary fulfillment method was as a parcel stuffer, included in a customer’s catalogue or online order between April 15 and May 29.

‘Our customers are used to receiving offers from us to save money and most recognize when it’s a good deal. But they do like the variety of formats and they’re proving it to us with the response for this one, for sure,’ she says.

McIlroy consults various sources to keep up with all the new technologies and innovations, including agencies, printers. ‘We really value that because when you’re stuck in an office, you’re not really out there seeing what’s new. But I’m the one that needs the ideas in a hurry, so I try to cultivate some trusted resources where I can get those ideas.’

There’s a lack of education in the business, and a dearth of people trained specifically in this area, says Engel, who agrees partners and suppliers are the places to start. ‘Your printers and your agency will know who is doing breakthrough stuff and who’s doing regular run-of-the-mill,’ he says.

In fact, a lot of the technology – like in-line printing – is not that new, adds Bachand. What’s new is that people are learning how to use it and getting more experienced with it.

‘People are getting smarter at really using their presses and pushing the bar. We call it paper engineering. You have different finishing capabilities available on the press and it’s all about how you use them and combine of them.’

‘For the larger direct-mail runs, all that equipment is available to you on the press, so you might as well maximize it – and you’re always trying to do as much as you can in one press run to reduce the offline finishing and offline imaging,’ she says, adding that she also attends trade shows like the DMA annual conference and exhibition in the U.S. to collect samples and build-up Leo Burnett’s library of samples for ideas or mixing and matching certain formats.