06 June 2019 Digital Printing Technologies

Print hits the precision personalised spot

What if a printed catalogue could work in the same way as a web page, serving up a pot pourri of products that precisely matched an individual’s purchase and browsing history? That is what First Move and Complete Care have managed with the online business’s first foray into ink on paper.

First Move chairman and direct mail futurist David Amor calls it the most complex direct mail catalogue produced to date. And he may be right.

“We are not aware that anyone in the world has ever produced print with so many variable items of data,” he says of the Complete Care catalogue. “As far as we know nobody has done this before to this level, with the degree of variation and sheer volume of different products.”

This a first venture into print for a ten-year-old business that specialises in all manner of products for what is euphemistically called “senior living”.

It has amassed a considerable customer base in the ten years, and is currently moving to a larger warehouse as its range of products and customer volumes increase. Until now, however, it has relied exclusively upon a web portal to bring in the sales.

“I have been waiting for ten years to do this and am really excited about its potential to communicate with our customers on a one to one basis and lift customer engagement and life time value,” says Complete Care’s managing director Jon Price.

‘This’ is a catalogue with as much variability as the website, delivering to customers products that their profile indicates that they should be interested in. In the database there are 6,421 product descriptions, images and messaging that can be retrieved to create unique 16pp catalogues for 5,000 customers.

These were printed on the First Move Xerox Trivor 2400 using the Xerox HF ink to create something that is very comparable to a litho printed catalogue – if a litho press were able apply this level of variation. The ink can print on standard litho papers, helping mitigate the cost and making the project viable. It meant that the end result was printed to “good commercial litho quality”, Amor says.

A further challenge was that the words and images had been used on the website and were optimised for online viewing. The descriptions needed to be trimmed automatically and the images automatically optimised for print resolution. They also had to flow correctly into the template design created for the catalogue and to do so without repetition or deviation.

Most of the catalogues that First Move and others print have designs and images intended for print first and then repurposed for the web using the legacy information. This is what First Move was used to, Amor explains.

This was switched on its head for Complete Care which had never previously considered creating content for print. Hence the choice of pictures needed to be made with resolution in mind. The personalisation that was required, with 240 products and descriptions sorted for each customer, ensured that the publication was absolutely relevant to each individual.

“They had been talking to the Royal Mail, but had never used print before,” says Amor. “We met at a Marketreach seminar I attended.” It led to work on building the templates for the variable content pages and to ensure that the image size could be managed in print. This step accelerated the process as products did not need to be reshot in a studio just for the print project.

It did need a script to take the images from the web and to store them ready for the artificial intelligence algorithm to match picture, description, pricing and the target customer in a smart way for each catalogue. In all more than 1.2 million lines of code were needed.

Fewer will be needed next time. And the intention, says Amor, is to produce a second edition. “The first is deemed to have been a success,” he says. The next will have a different array of products and may well be larger. “We will certainly do some things differently. It has been a learning curve.”

It is an experience that First Move believes will also help others. Retail websites he explains are sitting on vast amounts of customer data that frequently lies undisturbed, when it could be tapped to create messages along the lines of Amazon’s recommendation algorithm, but in print rather than on screen. A number of other online only businesses are starting to think about print and to test the efficacy of a mailed catalogue.

And this is a way for the printer to break free of the commodity trap. “We have seen where print is headed in driving lower and lower prices with more and more commoditisation.

“We can now offer more customisation, perhaps combining offset and digital to talk to consumers in a more professional and relevant way, by being more intelligent about what we print.”

By Gareth Ward

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