Should Every Digital Printer Handle 1:1 Data?

By | May 25, 2012

Are we living in a world in which every digital printer should be handling variable data? Often, the blogs, the seminars, the press releases act as if they should. I wonder.

Earlier this year, Target got egg on its face when it was discovered that it was profiling its credit card customers for pregnancy cues, then was overtly marketing maternity clothes, diapers, and related products to suspected mothers-to-be. . . including teenagers.  One particularly embarrassing and highly public incident resulted, not in a change to Target’s profiling policies, but in how the resulting knowledge was disguised.

Then there are all those fun direct mail bloopers that talk about how names got mixed up or how some disgruntled employee went into a database and created highly embarrassing fields.

Then there was this recently blog post from a woman who received the previous homeowner’s highly sensitive financial information in her mailbox years after she’d bought the home. It made her wonder whether her financial institutions would be sending her financial information to that home address long after she — like the previous homeowners — had moved out.

Such stories raise the issue that handling data is more than a mechanical process. It requires judgment in how that data should be used. (Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.) It requires the establishment of safeguards to ensure that mistakes such as happened to the blogger above don’t occur on your watch.

In other words, it requires a wealth of judgment and experience that don’t come in a box.

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5 thoughts on “Should Every Digital Printer Handle 1:1 Data?

  1. Gina Danner

    All good points Heidi… Handling complex variable data projects is a challenge. I would guess that responsibility for the incidents mentioned in your post rest more so at the feet of the client, and the database specialists who did the data work as they did at the feet of the printer.

    Taking complex data schemas and creating highly personalized printed pieces (or emails for that matter) is one thing, data mining, profiling and preparation is where the critical errors occur.

    The challenge is that unless you have been through the mistake and have a staff that is very focused on the BIG and I MEAN HUGE picture you are challenged from the beginning.

    If I hadn’t been doing complex VDP for nearly 20 years, I would think twice as a PSP trying to enter this facet of the industry. (And I don’t say that to keep people out of my competition pool.) I say this because obtaining that experience can be very expensive. You don’t know what you don’t know and after 20 years there is still lots we don’t know. Every day there is a new bridge to cross and a client is asking for something we haven’t done before. It is very cool and yet very challenging.

  2. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    Spoken by someone doing complex enough programs to be working with a third-party data specialist. That, in itself, speaks volumes! It seems that printers are being told that, at least at its “simplest,” data can be handled in-house. But I’m not sure data is ever simple, is it?

  3. Marion

    This is a really important topic, and Gina’s comment resonates with me, too.

    When I would talk to customers doing variable data five years ago, it was a fairly straighforward exchange – you knew the customer purchased this or liked this, and then you used it again in a campaign.

    The tools have since evolved, and data mining and profiling has gotten so sophisticated. How, when, and if you use the information gathered with these tools requires expertise that most service providers don’t posses. And when you get it wrong, you really get it wrong.

    Just to note – the Target -pregnancy profiling case that included a teenager? Turns out the teenager actually was pregnant, but Target knew before her parents knew. Creepy.

  4. Colour Printer

    Print publications does not always result in perfect print. With dozens of print work to go through, mistakes are incontrovertible. This is not a multifuntion printers job!

  5. Robert Bloecker

    I think this is one of those “slippery slope” issues. As a printer, we print what we are told, but sometimes you have to question the reliability of the data, and the implications if the piece does end up at the wrong place or to the wrong hands. Its every printers responsibility to make sure they do what is correct for them, their clients, and their company.

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