Print plugs in to data-driven marketing

If you could combine the production values of print with the targetabiity of online ads, how long would it be before you said ‘Yes’? Chances are you’d be booking a meeting with whoever could provide that type of output as soon as possible.

If reports about a new development by HP Labs are to be believed, then you may well need to add this to your schedule quite soon. Digital printing may be about to realise its long-promised ability to provide a fully-individualised experience to the reader, not just in the context of direct mail or customer communications created by a single advertiser, but as part of the conventional publishing model.

Probabilistic Document Modelling builds on a system already developed by the company and puts it to work in the world of classic printing. When publishers have tried to create versioned productions of their titles in the past, variants have tended to be limited to pre-set areas within a pre-laid out magazine. Digital presses allow different ads to be put into those spaces depending on the demographic data available on a subscriber.

The new model allows all of the content – editorial, advertising and design – to be dynamically-driven by data without having to design each version separately. Produced on the fly in a single run, the final magazine becomes a unique, one-off edition closely aligned to known characteristics of the reader.

For publishers, this could be a major gain since it would allow them to charge a premium for positions alongside tagged content for every advertiser, not just certain spots. The slate of advertisers in each issue is also no longer fixed, since it can be as diverse as the print run and data on subcribers allows.

By increasing the relevance of commercial content, publishers could win back some of the cash that has leaked into digital channels as advertisers chase targeted opportunities and lead generation. Immediate response may not be available, like an online click-through, but dwell time and consideration with print are much greater than for online content.

There are bound to be issues to resolve with the solution. For one thing, even existing dynamic content printing, such as TransPromo, has barely been tested despite being available for a decade. For another, will a publisher be willing to make the leap into a 100 per cent variable issue or will parallel production be necessary until the business case is proven?

Despite these questions, it is positive to hear about a centuries-old communications channel gaining some of the dynamism of the decades-old Internet. Advertisers should not rule display advertising out of their media plans just yet.

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