Sometime back, I wrote a post about whether or not we should call 1:1, rules-driven personalization and batch printing of one-off or other ultra short-run jobs created in a Web-to-print environment both “variable-data printing” (VDP).
My position was that the end result might be the same — a whole lot of unique jobs — but these documents are created in different environments, under different conditions, and the sales process and cycles are different, too. Thus, they should not be referred to as the same market or using the same terminology.
This post prompted a response from Jacob Aizikowitz, founder and president of XMPie, who took a different position. He argued that both processes result in unique documents, each potentially 100% different from the other, produced on a digital press. The front end might be different, but the back end result is the same. Thus they should not be considered different markets.
It took a few weeks, but Aizikowitz and I finally caught up for a lively and wide ranging phone conversation about our differing points of view.
Said the XMPie president,
When we started, we thought about personalization the way you are writing about it. You can take a document and decide what elements in it are dynamic and how rules and data will drive the dynamic content or design. Then you can provide a list of recipients — say 100,000 different individuals — and the batch process will create a print stream that will produce 100,000 different printed pieces that are all variable.
But as we went along, I started thinking in a different way. At the very back end, digital print technology allows printing a stream of pages where each can different from its predecessor. The fact that the variability of these pages was defined through rules and data, and that these pages were created through a batch process covering — say — 100,000 records in advance, is not so critical.
Personalization (or varibality) can be defined by 100,000 people interacting with a document template from a web site, adjusting dynamic areas according to their choices and through that creating a personalized version of the template. Assuming they all want to print it, then either this will result in a 100,000 print jobs, each handling one document (an extremely inefficient way of implementing it), or all these requests will be aggregated, resulting in a job of a 100,000 different pages printed by the digital print technology.
I feel that both of these scenarios — the batch one and the aggregated on-demand one — are VDP.
I get that. So it depends on whether you are defining “VDP” from the front or back end. On the front, it’s different. On the back, it’s the same. Which end of the horse are you looking at?
Then we moved on to the issue of sales processes and sales cycles. Aren’t these applications sold differently? Using different value propositions? For different applications? Yes, Aizikowitz said, but while they are sold at different levels of the company, they are still sold essentially to the same types of companies in the same verticals. If you think of them as fundamentally different markets, you might be missing the opportunity.
I don’t agree that these are different markets. At the end of the day, the print provider comes to the car dealer. They can offer them a campaign of monthly or quarterly distribution to their customers or they can offer them a portal where their sales managers can do customized communications to their customers or prospects. All of them are engaged in different flavors of personalization yet the same type of print. The same thing can happen with supermarkets or other verticals.
By putting yourself this notion that interaction-based personalization and rules/data based personalization are fundamentally two different markets, maybe you are missing an opportunity.
Of course, someone can be in W2P at the very basic level that has nothing to do with variable data.
Agreed, said Aizikowitz,
But when you get into customization, branding, and lists, I don’t know that there is such a clear distinction between those who are interested in W2P portals and those interested in direct mail. It’s my intuition that it’s the same customer.
The bank will be interested in direct mail, triggered by the central entity. At the same time, agents or branch managers would like the ability to do projects in which they select and customize documents intended for their, local (and small) distribution list.
If you aggregate all of this individually driven smaller-scale personalization projects, then you are getting a big VDP job as if you manage it all centrally. Yes, these are two different workflows on the front end. But it’s a bit difficult to accept that they are disjoint markets.
Again, I can see his point. But these workflows still aren’t identical, which was my point. Maybe we can agree that they can both be called “variable data.” The question is whether and how to distinguish where the variation is generated from. If we call them both VDP, then perhaps we need subsets of VDP — rules-driven VDP and user-driven (or, as Aizikowitz suggested, interaction-driven) VDP.
Do you think the distinction matters? I do. I think the ability to make those distinctions and understand and articulate the variations in the worlds of production, consumer behavior, and marketing are important. Even if not from a production point of view, the from a marketing, sales planning, and strategic point of view.
What do you think?