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The What, Why, and How of Print-On-Demand Technology

A recent United States Postal Service survey signaled more than 60% of millennials place great value and attention on the direct mail pieces they receive — this has been especially evident in the last few years as consumers continue to respond positively to direct mail in the wake of digital burnout.

But even with this captive audience, there are still several challenges marketers face in conceptualizing and executing direct mail campaigns, specifically: 

  • Supply chain issues
  • Labor shortages
  • Longer than usual lead times
  • Databases that are missing accurate customer data like job titles, mailing addresses, and lifecycle or sales funnel stages

These factors can create headaches for marketers who are looking to create dynamic direct mail campaigns as efficiently as possible with an eye toward ROI. Plus, working within the constraints of these challenges often means less flexibility or ability to pivot on messaging, design concepts, and distribution strategies. However, print-on-demand (POD) technology is a valuable tool in making direct mail campaigns more flexible, targeted, and cost-effective. 

First, we’ll define print-on-demand technology, and then we’ll briefly examine how POD can help direct mail campaigns succeed in today’s variable-laden environment.

What is Print-On-Demand? 

It’s easy to confuse print-on-demand with short run printing, though the two are quite different in definition and design. Short run printing allows for small, complete print runs of common direct mail pieces. For example, you might need 2000 postcards this year but choose to print 500 per quarter to avoid having to find storage for the entire quantity. 

Short runs can be printed using traditional offset printing or digital printing; what defines a short run is its volume. While printing in short runs can help with storage costs, it can still result in print overages if a logo or brand color needs to change or if a product is unexpectedly discontinued. Recycling unused, outdated marketing materials is an inefficient spend of critical marketing budgets. 

On the other hand, print-on-demand uses digital printing technology to print the exact quantity you need, when you need it, with rapid turnaround and no printing overages. No matter the number of direct mail pieces necessary, print-on-demand technology can easily produce high-quality mailers and marketing collateral with greater flexibility than other printing technologies on the market today, which helps to save you time, money, and resources.

The Benefits of Print-On-Demand in Direct Mail

Aside from the flexibility and ROI-boosting ability of printing the right number of pieces for your direct mail campaign without waste, on-demand digital printing provides marketers with a handful of key benefits to ensure your targeted messaging hits home in the most efficient way possible.  

First, a simplified revision process for either design or content means marketers can adjust the messaging, color scheme, image selection, and more based on things like typographical errors or overall direct mailer performance. Plus, POD makes it easier than ever before to create seasonal or one-off campaigns or those that capitalize on current trends with little effort — and web-to-print solution can make these specialty campaigns even easier to upload, edit, and produce. 

Second, variable data printing (VDP) is even more powerful and effective with POD, especially given the uncertain nature of creating personalized direct mailers in a post-COVID world where job titles, addresses, and other critical data points can quickly shift. Whereas using a short run printing model can create unnecessary expenditures if marketers discover inaccuracies in their Customer Relations Management (CRM) system, POD allows for fast, simple changes to VDP data. 

As a sandbox for creativity, POD technology allows marketers to test-drive ideas or concepts without the up-front cost of a complete print run. Whether you’re refining your messaging, experimenting with new designs or images, or exploring different paper options, POD makes it easy and cost-effective to create several different variations of a piece with quick turnaround and very little overhead cost. In addition, POD offers the flexibility to respond to increases in demand or fluctuations in sales cycles by printing only what you need when you need it. 

Lastly, storage and inventory concerns are eliminated with POD technology, and while this may sound like small potatoes, marketers who engage with high-volume direct mail campaigns or multiple direct mail campaigns simultaneously understand the value of reducing the time and energy necessary to store excess inventory. With POD, gone are the days of costly and inefficient warehousing strategies due to overestimates in customer demand. 

POD technology is much more than just a quick fix, and several large industries have experienced major shifts as a result — for example, the book publishing industry has been transformed by POD, as small publishers can operate more efficiently and effectively with leaner budgets. For marketers, POD is a powerful printing model that can take their direct mail game to the next level. 

Ready to use the power of direct mail to engage your customers? Tell us about your next project and we’ll work together to ensure success.