Variable Data Is Not a Mail Merge!

The invention of the digital press has brought marketers one of the most powerful tools since the beginning of direct mail: the ability to print variable content during the same run. Adding personalized or variable content to any printed piece can increase response rates anywhere from 10 to 50%! This increase alone can spell the difference between an unsuccessful campaign and a wildly lucrative one. For marketers, it’s all about the return on investment (ROI), and nothing can increase your ROI like variable content. But variable content is not just using a simple mail-merge function!


More often than not, I see people using the mail-merge function and calling it variable-data publishing. So what is the difference? A mail merge is simply taking the data you have and displaying it on the printed piece. This can be someone’s name, address, or even birthday. Variable content is taking that data and doing something more than just displaying it. In a campaign for a chain of stores, for example, this could be using the recipient’s address to print a map to the closest store. Some variable-data printing (VDP) pieces are so advanced that without data there is nothing to print. All the images and text are directly related to the data, which corresponds to you. This is what we in the industry call a “personalized piece.” The success of a variable-data piece is based solely on the quality of the data and how that data is used to encourage the customer to take the next step in accordance with your offer. Below are some examples and different levels of VDP.


Mail Merge

Advanced Mail Merge (variable imaging)

Variable Content (displaying names and swapping out images based on preference)

Personalized Piece (name, image, offer)


So, what kind of data do you have about your customers, that could be used in a variable print run, to increase your ROI?

Author: John Mehl


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