Personalized URLs and 1:1 Printing: It’s Not an “Either-Or” Proposition

By | March 9, 2009

Recently, I started a discussion on Digital Nirvana about industry interest in digital printing as a category over the applications it drives, such as 1:1 printing and personalized URLs. It sparked an interesting debate, and if you haven’t followed it, a peek might be worth your time.

To follow up and torque things a little more, here is the breakdown of the hits for the various topics on the Digital Printing Reports website:

Digital Printing:  45%
1:1 Printing:  17%
Personalized URLs: 29%
Web-to-Print:  10%

What’s interesting — and perhaps a bit alarming — is the higher level of interest in personalized URLs over 1:1 printing. Why? Because personalized URLs are a subset of 1:1 printing. In fact, you’re not going to be successful with personalized URLs unless you understand the basics of good direct mail and 1:1 printing first.

We know that the industry hasn’t yet mastered 1:1 printing. Thus, the much higher level of interest in personalized URLs suggests something of concern. Printers and marketing firms may be looking to personalized URLs, not as a subset of 1:1 printing, but as a replacement for it: “1:1 printing is too difficult to get your arms around, too difficult to sell, so let’s try personalized URLs instead.”

Unfortunately, personalized URLs and 1:1 printing are not mutually exclusive. It’s not an either-or proposition. And perhaps that’s why so many personalized URL campaigns fail.

Share this post


13 thoughts on “Personalized URLs and 1:1 Printing: It’s Not an “Either-Or” Proposition

  1. John Foley, Jr.

    Hi Heidi,

    Good stuff!

    My thought:
    Am I being too blunt when I say that PURL campaigns, 1 to 1 marketing campaigns fail is due to the lack of e marketing expertise within the service providers who deliver the campaigns?

    Thanks as always for your input! You are a great contributor to the industry.


    Follow me on

  2. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro Post author

    Hi, John — thanks!

    I wouldn’t say you are being too blunt, but I might broaden your statement by saying that it’s not just e-marketing. It’s ALL marketing — print marketing, as well as e-marketing.

  3. Al Kennickell

    We have been doing 1to1 and PURL’s for over three years. The main issue is not that we in the industry don’t understand 1to1 as much as it is the lack of good databases to take advantage of it. PURL’s as you know can be done with just name and address. The hope of most PURL campaings is to collect data that can be used in 1to1 programs. Our focus with many clients now is “how can we collect usefull data”. If you can get good data you really have someting to work with.


  4. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro Post author

    Great point! But while I agree 100% from an implementation perspective, I suspect that’s not what’s happening from a marketplace perspective.

    After all, what are you going to do once you get the tiger by the tail? What are you going to do with the data once you have it? An emphasis on personalized URLs to the exclusion of 1:1 printing doesn’t suggest this is part of a larger initiative to move clients to 1:1 printing. Rather, it suggests that personalized URLs are being seen an alternative — rather than a springboard — to 1:1 printing.

    And that’s the danger.

  5. Bob Raus

    I think the title of this article nails the issue squarely. That is: we are facing a transformation of the (1:1 and direct marketing) printing industry to become a subset, or at least a counterpart to e-marketing. This is the reality and outcome of all the “don’t print this unless you have to” taglines on emails (reference Charlie Corr’s excellent article on and the massive push from major (financial, insurance, etc.) corporations to move all transactional communications from print/mail to the web.

    Two questions to pose/ponder:
    1) Is the printing industry ready to embrace the eventual takeover – and at minimum – coexistence of e-marketing?

    I suggest that our industry needs to fully and actively embrace e-marketing and develop a new commitment to software and solutions that utilize multiple channels of communications. The future is fully digital folks and that’s a lot more than “digital printing”.

    2) Is this the beginning of the end for transactional printing – including the likes of transpromo??

  6. Mark Blanton


    Another good point. Personalized URLs are not a magic bullet, but a tool that when used intelligently with other media can not only increase conversion from Direct Mail and Email, but also add value in real time reporting and enhanced data collection abilities.


  7. Toni Deal

    Your absolutely right, but one thing people forget sometimes is that pURLs are not only for gathering more information, but for tracking response rates. The reality is, however, they can be used both in and out of 1:1 direct mail. Companies are creating pURLs to track all types of marketing outlets: billboards, newspapers, brochures, etc… that may or may not lead to a more relevant, one-to-one advertising campaigns. Companies need to understand the full range of opportunity that pURL’s possess and help customers use them to get more profits from their marketing dollars. Otherwise, their once again selling the technology and not the value of the services they provide for the price they charge.

  8. Cary Wheeler

    I love this banter back & forth. All responses have had valid points. In my particular case / corner of the world, you wouldn’t believe how rudimentary some company’s databases (read that “mailing lists”) really are. Beyond the simple first name, many don’t even know the client’s last name. Beyond address, and phone, many don’t know their customer’s email address. Many “databases” are simply typed Avery Mailing Label templates that they place on the copier glass and copy onto the address labels – that’s the extent of the info many have on their client base!! A furniture retailer of mine – in business for over 75 years – has never sent out any kind of direct mail – beyond a simple thank you card after a purchase – to follow-up on potential ADDITIONAL business. Can you imagine the goldmine of data he is MAYBE sitting on? What a natural – people can’t sell their homes in this economy right now so many are renovating instead and the furniture retailer could capitalize on this.
    So I agree with Mr. Kennickell’s posting. In some cases pURLs are used to gather relevant useful data to THEN BEGIN a meaningful and profitable 1:1 campaign. At least that’s my $0.02 worth.

  9. David Moore

    As Toni Deal says above, the pURL can be used to track static “old school” advertising. At the very least, if a prospect isn’t ready for a full blown pURL/1:1 campaign, we can help him track the usefulness of a billboard and compare results location by location. Or a TV ad, we can insert a pURL address and special 800# to track the effectiveness of the ad. This can be done for just a couple hundred dollars.

    In my case, it’s not that I want to put the pURL in front of the 1:1 printing, but I want to merge direct mail, email and the pURLs into a seamless, integrated campaign.

    I will even offer to participate with the customer. No response, then the campaign doesn’t cost anymore than a standard mailing. Good response, then we share the good fortune on a dollar/response. And if response is good enough, then the customer will not want to share in the future because he has experienced the power and potential of 1:1 combined with pURLs.
    Follow me on twitter

  10. Adam Edelman

    Data is king (besides cash, of course). The finer the filter the greater the value. Mark Blanton’s comment above is right on the money.

  11. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro

    I want to go back to the comment about personalized URLs being used on billboards, brochures, and other static marketing outlets. By definition, a personalized URL is a URL that is created for each person receiving it — whether by print or email. By definition, a personalized URL is not a static URL. Marketers may be creating URLs unique to each marketing medium in order to track where responses are coming from (television ad, billboard, brochure, point-of-purchase display), but those are tracking URLs, not personalized URLs.

  12. Jason Pinto

    We had a great experience with this yesterday – or to be specific, one of our customers did. They did an email blast campaign with a Personalized URL for a university. It was sent to 15K, and 4 people have responded to date.

    Some people might give up when that happens, or assume that client will never do a campaign again with them.

    But this customer handled it superbly. They chatted with the client about the key marketing factors – the timing, the offer, the list, etc. The result — the client signed up to have that customer do additional marketing – a direct mail piece, as well as a program to track down and contact the people that viewed the landing page but did not fill out the response form.

    We posted a few more details about that here:

  13. Kate DUnn

    The industry still sees “PURLS” or “GURLS” as a thing – something to be sold. This is what held back 1:1 printing, web to print or pretty much anything else this industry has been introduced to since movable type. We aren’t selling the purl. We are sellling what the purl gets the customer – trackable response, interactive communication, faster sales cycles, revenue.

    It’s like flour. No one wants to eat flour by itself but mixed with other ingredients – a good strategy, other integrated channels, good questions, scoring, intuitive analysis, a strong sales process, a thorough understanding of your customer – and it can make all kinds of things from playdough to cake to gravy depending on what’s needed at the time.

    Kate Dunn
    Digital Innovations Group

Comments are closed.