Letters, we get letters

May 1, 2006

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

I'm holding in my hand a letter I received from one of the trade organizations representing our industry. The envelope and accompanying letter are addressed to me. To clarify: By “addressed to me” I mean it has my name and address on it. Unfortunately, I’ve never heard of the company whose name is wedged between my name and my address.

I don’t mean my company’s name was misspelled or its corporate name was used instead of the trade name. Nor is it the name that of the printer down the street, or even someone else in my ZIP code. The company name on the envelope is not even close to my firm’s name. I don’t recognize it at all, and I’ll bet the company isn’t even located in my state.

The report this outfit wants me to purchase sounds interesting, but I don’t think I’ll be buying. I’m not sure I’d ever receive it in the mail! Of course, if my mysterious counterpart whose firm name appeared on my letter orders a copy for himself, it might wind up in my hands. Then, everyone can blame the postal service.

The association that sent this piece has been mailing to me for decades. They’ve kept accurate track of my company through five moves and a name change. Suddenly, some ghost in their machine has juxtaposed the “company” fields in their database. How long will it take to catch this problem? Will it ever be fixed? Was it just me, or did everyone on the mailing list get a “wrong company” letter?

As I write this column, I’ve received another mailing with the same mistake, so no one caught the problem the first time.

What is important

If an organization is holding seminars and promoting speakers to tell us variable printing is the savior of our industry, they had better be able to get the name printed correctly on the invitation.

A great portion of the variable print volume produced on digital presses is for “inhouse” promotions, extolling the virtues of a shop’s newly installed digital press.

If you screw up the variable data in your own database, you don’t have a snowball’s chance of selling variable. If you get the information perfect but screw up the color, you’ve still shot yourself in the foot.

When I receive a coupon from a pizza joint, I don’t care how it spells my name. Literacy isn’t a factor in the pizza equation any more than my opinion regarding anchovy freshness matters to my customers. We as printers are rightfully held to a higher standard of accuracy. We had better live up to this standard, or we aren’t adding any value.

What is not important

Before we start encouraging our clients to go slapping variable fields onto their printing, we should be familiar enough with our business and theirs to know what is and isn’t important.

The letter that prompted this story was in no way improved by the addition of personalization. It could have been printed as a static piece with only the envelope addressed. My secretary would have discarded the envelope, and I would have been none the wiser about the database error.

Less personalization? Heresy!

No, just common sense. “Because we can” is a poor reason to add extra expense and effort to a project, be it for a customer or for ourselves.

Who is not important

It is good for my soul to be humbled, now and then. Just when I think I’m the next up-and-coming lion of knowledge and virtue in the graphic arts, I receive a mailing that reminds me nobody is paying any particular attention to me.

The mailer in question helped my spiritual development by reminding me that I’m no more important than any of my fellows. I thank them. Unfortunately, I am certain that aiding my progress toward sainthood was low among its marketing objectives. Selling reports and building membership was far higher on its list of goals, and mailing to the wrong company don’t work well in that regard.

Who is important

While my status as a celebrity or guru is rather dubious, my value as a potential client to mailers targeting print executives is certain. If variable printing is to be employed at all, it is worth doing right.

Next month, many printers will converge on Chicago for this magazine’s Variables conference (http://variables.americanprinter.com) to learn about the latest in variable-data printing. We’ll hear case studies about staggering creativity, and we’ll spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on software and millions on new digital presses.

When we find ourselves succumbing to the enchantment of personal URLs and digital asset management, let’s first silently ask ourselves: Can we address an envelope accurately?