Variable Data Printing Begins with your Database

13 Aug

When most people think of putting together a direct mail piece, they think of using a database consisting of  name, address, city, state and zip code.

But what else do you know, or should you know, about your customers?

What if your database of customer information included their purchases? Their birthdays? Family members’ birthdays? Interests and Hobbies?

If you have that (or other) information, you can send out direct mail pieces targeted specifically to your customers. How about sending a postcard suggesting a matching piece to something they already bought? A discount in honor of a birthday? Suggestions and/or discounts in areas of interest?

Last week, we published an article on Variable Data Printing (VDP) basics. As we said in the article, your database is the key to VDP.

VDP is limited only by your database.

Just as ink, type, and paper are components of printing, consider information fromdatabase2 databases as another — and very important — type of component found in variable data printing. A database is simply an electronic file that contains records of information organized in a particular way.

For VDP printing, the database stores text, graphics, and images much the same way a file drawer does — only electronically.

Databases are organized in two ways: 1) by records and 2) by fields for each record. Each record has a predetermined number of fields. In a database about people, each person would be a record. The information for each person would be categorized into fields. A simple database about people, for example, might have fields for each person corresponding to their first name, last name, address, and phone number. The familiar telephone directory is an example of such a database. Likewise, a car dealership might keep a database listing the cars in its inventory, along with the model, year, and features for each car.

A more complex database includes fields such as previous purchases, family information, income level, interests and hobbies, and so on.

Typically, databases store both the static and the changeable (or variable) elements used in variable data printing. A VDP printed piece can pull information from one or several databases. Variable data software pulls these elements from the databases according to predefined rules to create pages and documents that contain different images, text, and even layouts.

Information in databases is  usually manually entered. In the case of a telephone directory, someone typed in all the information. In more complex databases, such as those used by enterprises to manage customer relations, the information is gathered in different places by various computer programs that feed data into a central database. The separate programs might cover different areas of customer contact, such as from the call center, off the Web site, through field service, and from sales activity.

There are many computer programs designed to handle databases. Familiar desktop programs include Filemaker Pro and Excel. In an Excel spreadsheet, each row corresponds to a record, and each column identifies a field. One column would contain all first names, for example, and another, all last names. More powerful enterprise systems include products from Oracle, Sybase, SAP, and Siebel. These store large amounts of information and cross-reference them in many ways. The vast majority of VDP projects, however, require nothing more than a spreadsheet.

There is no such thing as too much data when it comes to customers. You can’t target specific audiences without having the right information. It’s important to periodically review what types of information you are collecting to ensure you are capturing the information you need for current and future marketing strategies.

Print providers can simplify working with databases by extracting only the information needed and putting it into a spreadsheet. Extracting the relevant information is called “data mining.”

Mediascope can help you clean up and maintain your database by removing redundant or obsolete information, or extracting relevant information. Next week, we will talk more about ways of cleaning up data and adding to your database using information from list companies.

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