Straw into gold

Information abounds. Reportedly, Google routinely captures a petabyte (1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes) of information every hour. Composed of customer transactions, millions of selfies, social media prattle, business statistics, and more, one petabyte could hold approximately 500 billion pages of standard printed text. That’s a load of data, and most of it is likely worthless to businesses or government. However, the right data can give your company valuable insights that will help you better serve your customers and market to them accordingly. By failing to properly integrate available data into your marketing strategy, you’re underutilizing an asset that could drive profits. But, if you make it a priority, you can take the right data and transform it into gold.

How well do you know your customers?

Knowing your customers and anticipating their needs is an essential element of business success and a cornerstone of long-term customer relationships. One of the most damaging mistakes companies make is believing they know their customers so well that garnering and analyzing information about them is unnecessary, explains Derek Olson, business development manager for Datapak Services Corporation. Datapak Services is a fulfillment provider with a robust recording platform that provides data to businesses. Olson is charged with helping businesses find the best way to utilize data in their marketing efforts.

“In our 30 years of fulfillment, commerce, and data reporting services, we’ve found that for the vast majority of companies, data analysis often reveals surprising information about customer demographics, interests, and buying patterns. This information empowers businesses to more insightfully and strategically grow their businesses. Studying customer behavior and buying or engagement patterns can spotlight brand growth direction opportunities, identify cross and upselling options, and provide intelligence to influence product development strategy,” says Olson.

Not only will identifying and understanding your current best customers’ distinguishing characteristics help you serve them better, it will help you identify and nurture potential best customers. Your next best customer is probably an existing customer.

Knowledge is power

Scienta potential est (knowledge is power) is a Latin aphorism first attributed to Sir Francis Bacon more than 400 years ago and quoted by many, including the now infamous Walter White in season one of the award-winning TV show Breaking Bad. In Walter White’s case, his knowledge of chemistry and subsequent business plan unleashed a powerful Pandora’s box (and had the power to keep millions of viewers on edge for six seasons).The phrase generally implies that with knowledge, one’s potential or abilities in life will certainly increase. This is frequently the case in regards to knowledge of your customers; the better you know them, the greater your ability to serve them. Customer surveys and loyalty rewards programs are popular ways to collect data in consumer markets, but not all knowledge yields the same power. You need to sift through the piles of knowledge and cull to gather the most useful bits (or bytes).

The most essential element of successful data analysis is ensuring that you’re capturing the right information, Olson affirms. “As you use data to drive your marketing program, you should set appropriate benchmarks for evaluation. Evaluate this frequently and make adjustments as necessary,” he advises. “Effective data analysis begins at determining what data should be captured and what opportunities exist or must be created in order to capture such data.”

Capturing useable data is not all that difficult, according to Olson. “Companies with an online retail channel have the most significant data assets, but all companies, no matter the size or sales channels, can capture extensive data from their brand’s website, social media, and email marketing programs,” Olson explains. “Data capture and analysis should play a critical role in your short- and long-term marketing and business development plans.” That’s because data collected reveal consumer buying habits that directly apply to your ROI objective.

But data by itself is only the beginning

With the right data in hand, now the real alchemy can begin. Using what the data have told you about your customers’ needs, you then can appropriately and optimally tailor your marketing to each and every one of them.
“When you deliver a relevant message to an individual—one that is meaningful for them and delivered at the right time—you will get a better response rate [to your marketing campaign],” says Paul Adler, director of marketing solutions at The F.P. Horak Company, a full-service print and marketing solutions provider. “So the more personalized you can make the message, the better the results and the greater the return on your marketing dollars.”

Inkjet yields the personal touch

Inkjet technology is the magical spinning wheel in the mix that enables the data you collect to have extraordinary value. “It empowers you to take the data and marry it with art files so that the output is a very personalized communication with every element—name, images, typography, headlines, and copy—appropriately customized. Every piece that comes off an inkjet printer is different, more relevant,” Adler says.

As an example, Adler cites an onboarding program that financial institutions use. “Each new customer gets a personalized letter welcoming them, and, based on their demographic and existing services and products, they receive additional promotions. If they are in their 20s, they might receive information about their first credit card, car loan rates, or mobile apps. Older customers might receive information about mortgages or retirement plans.”

Adler notes that integrated cross-channel and multi-touch campaigns are still considered the most effective way to get your message across. “Direct mail, emails, social media, blogs, YouTube, smart phone apps, personalized URLs—the best campaigns use multiple channels with multiple touch points. That is very efficient because you are using the same creative and content, so you are leveraging that investment to send a strong cohesive message. Digital plays well with print. Digital delivery per piece is less, but staying power of print is higher. So, when you roll all that together, you are able to develop a solution that delivers a good ROI for you,” Adler says.

Once upon a time…

In the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, “Rumpelstiltskin,” a droll-looking little hobgoblin is able to magically spin plain straw into gold. And, as the king provides larger heaps of straw and demands more gold in return, Rumpelstiltskin spins faster and faster. With increasing speed and efficiency, he produces ever larger mounds of gold…and they all lived happily ever after. Likewise, print technology, data analytics, software, and paper are all evolving so that businesses can transform data into successful marketing campaigns with increasing efficiency and effectiveness, yielding greater ROIs.

It’s inkjet printing technology that is the most significant catalyst for increasing ROI. The print quality and efficiency have improved tremendously along with the quality and the selection of the corresponding paper. “Inkjet has come full circle,” affirms John Crumbaugh, media and ink product marketing manager for Canon Solutions America. “Originally, the quality just wasn’t there for high-end marketing, but now the technology has matured, and we have great paper and great quality. More and more companies are doing personalized internal promotions on their own bills and statements, but the exciting new frontier in inkjet is the direct mailer,” he says. “Commercial printers are embracing the new technology and producing true personalized direct mail pieces. And part of the reason is the quality of papers available. The papers produced by Glatfelter and other companies are allowing direct mail firms to do quality direct mail on inkjet printers. Glatfelter has one of the most complete lines of inkjet papers in the industry, everything from uncoated to fully coated. As Glatfelter brings new papers out, the market moves into it,” Crumbaugh explains.

New cutsheet color inkjet technology from Canon Solutions America (the Océ VarioPrint® i300) offers relatively low acquisition cost, high productivity, and just-in-time workflows at more competitive cost levels than digital toner devices. Crumbaugh says that this press is a game-changer, achieving high-quality, high-production output at top speeds.

But it’s not just the speed of the inkjet presses that is increasing: The pace of innovation is increasing as well. As science and technology writer Steven Kotler purported earlier this year, “Acceleration is accelerating: The future is arriving far faster than expected. For the first time in history, the world’s leading experts on accelerating technology are consistently finding themselves too conservative in their predictions about the future of that technology.”

Some say that we’ve only just begun to envisage how the melding of data and technology can be optimized for highly personalized marketing communications that successfully build and foster deeper, better customer relationships. That is likely no fairy tale.