Print Marketing Isn’t Going Away! It Just Looks a Little Different
At ANRO, our mission is to help businesses and enterprises execute their marketing. We provide an all-digital direct mail platform for marketers. Digital channels have changed what is possible for marketers and print service providers (PSP). We need to change to stay relevant. Today, it is all about time. Our clients manage multiple communication channels, with direct mail being an important and difficult one. Historically, the formula was simple with print marketing and direct mail: In order to achieve better results, you simply had to print and mail more pieces. Now, the marketplace needs marketers to have the right messaging at just the right time—regardless of the channel. This requires service providers to have the necessary sophisticated digital infrastructure to provide the shortest possible cycle times and analytics.
With the USPS' strict requirements and postage as barriers to entry to the mailbox, direct mail is often not considered as an option. Marketers have switched to digital channels for their flexibility and the scope of what was possible. With digital channels, you have incredible analytics that can tell you, in real time, how many people your material reaches and the direct impact it has on them. That amount of flexibility and data has put a lot of stress on the conventional print channels of marketing to be more nimble and responsive.
ANRO has assembled a unique value chain that delivers time and flexibility back to marketers, allowing them to execute a wider range of possibilities in print and digital marketing. We have made sure we have the necessary equipment and personnel in-house to meet client project requirements and better control quality throughout the production process. To facilitate the delivery of analytics on the back end, along with more data and input on the front end, PSPs require a team of database and application specialists. We call them "Marketing Developers." This combination of software, people, and equipment allows our clients to build sophisticated continuously running marketing workflows and simple one-off campaigns, quickly and accurately. We can take those relevant data streams and incorporate them into our campaigns as content, offer triggers, drive versioning or segmentation.
Y2K, PDF, and the Internet
I came to ANRO as an IT consultant in 1997. We were approaching the year 2000 and every organization was tasked with the Y2K IT burden. Would computer-based systems work after 1999? It was just inherent to any company or organization using computers at the time. PSPs also had Adobe Postscript, PDF, and desktop publishing revolution to consider. Our businesses were profoundly changing.
As a commercial print and mail shop, we needed to keep our production systems online and enhance our digital production. We decided our applications and scripts needed to be replaced and purchased a new PDF workflow application. We survived Y2K only to find we would need to change production applications again in 2003. We needed a more flexible and robust workflow to meet client project requirements and timelines. We required a technological partner that would help ANRO keep our position in the marketplace. We selected Quadient (GMC Software at the time) because of their position in the marketplace and what they could do for us at the time. We could never have anticipated the dynamic nature of how they have continued to broaden the scope of the application's capabilities.
GMC Software PrintNet T was a great end-to-end PDF workflow for customer communications, but at the time the platform didn't support other digital channels. This required us to use other applications for the HTML and email work we needed to do for our clients.
Today, Quadient gives every print service provider the opportunity to have an in-house production platform that can include advanced marketing options like customer experience journey-mapping. With it, we can take data from customers and flow documents back to them in a secure tool that allows for a seamless workflow that includes all necessary rules and logic to ensure proper use and governance is applied. Before using Quadient Inspire, we had an application that was very good for mailings and could do many other things well, but couldn’t scale up to meet our customers' needs. Rather than needing to invest in a new product every three years, Quadient Inspire has given us the ability to grow our platform and change without having to go back to the marketplace and find and learn a new application.
Quadient also has a very robust PostScript processing engine. When all of the revisions are done, you have to take the data sets, apply rules and logic, and merge to a template to create production PDF files for print or HTML files for email. When you're producing 5,000, 50,000, or even 500,000 records, any application platform is going to work for you—it just might take hours longer to produce.
You can throw hardware at it, but at some point, your production application has to be able to execute very accurately and quickly. To be able to do millions of records, you need to have the best-in-class applications and equipment. Once the data has been approved and PDFs are created and proofed, you are locked into that file. If a client calls to make a change, you have to re-create all of those files, resulting in lost time and missed deadlines.
With Quadient, we are able to make the needed changes and produce the PDF quickly, so we can get back into production without losing the mailing window we originally promised to the client. With Inspire you don't build one-off projects, you build application workflows with rules and logic to enforce governance and support analytics. The workflows, templates, and applications that you build will be utilized over and over. From there, you can pull in new data sets, apply them to your template, change any rules, modify logic, and the application creates the new PDF. We can then send that to the client for approval or to into digital production for printing at >200K letters an hour.
The Inspire platform has made us more agile and responsive to our clients. With the right tools, awkward conversations about missing delivery windows went away. We no longer have to say "no" when our clients need a change, or explain how we will miss the in-home date they targeted because of a change from their art director.
The Importance of Scale
Recently, we were approached by one of our clients that had been with us for many years and had grown dramatically. They came to us about the changes happening in their business and notified us the mailings would increase from to million pieces; they would now be 7.5 million pieces. “And the production timeline is the same. Can you participate?” Suddenly we had to make the commitment and start working immediately to get everything in place. Almost overnight, the scope and scale of this project fundamentally changed, and we had to be nimble. It was do-or-die. If we were going to be successful, then we need to be something different than we were. We turned to Quadient's tool Inspire to help us through that massive transition.
In the Inspire product, we create workflows that are so dynamic that when we get client data, we actually execute the document and produce the PDFs almost immediately. We tell the client how many times a particular offer was issued, whether a particular framework would be effective, or whether it would be better in Spanish.
We can also tailor how they want information back on how the engine interpreted the data sets, applied their governance, and created the different offers and mailing pieces. I can’t imagine how we’d handle projects of this size—or agility—without Quadient.
If I Had One Piece of Advice...
Be careful when you say yes to a client who is asking you to change how you do everything. If you are going to say yes, you need to be confident you will have the appropriate toolset to execute projects that will revolutionize the way your company runs.
Some PSPs just look at cost, hardware, and capabilities, but don’t take a step back and look at the range of capabilities of new technology. Does the company control the most fundamental pieces of technology, or do you? Where does their ownership end? If you had the winning bid on a large job—which you’ve never completed in the past—could this new tool do it for you?
For ANRO, we chose the right tool for us in Quadient. This helped, because we didn't know what our journey was going to be like, or that we would be challenged by some big customers. We had very high expectations for digital but they were still surpassed.
If my story can deliver one thing, consider price and technical capabilities carefully, but consider your staff make sure your team is capable of ingesting this type of operation and benefiting from all of your technology’s capabilities. The technology is an important part of the puzzle, but the rest is up to you.