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What on Earth Is Variable Data Printing?

tags Web to Print Direct Mail

What is variable data printing (VDP)? Maybe you’ve heard this term thrown around in marketing circles, but you’re foggy on the details or don’t have the first idea what it means. 

Let’s define this technology and work through an example to show how you can use VDP for powerful personalization at scale.

What Is Variable Data Printing?

Also known simply as variable printing, variable data printing is a type of digital print technology that draws on data to customize various aspects of printed materials without any interruptions in the printing process. Through an efficient, automated print process, you can achieve what would have taken a great deal of time and manual work in the past.

What Printing Type Allows for Variable Data Prints?

VDP requires the right technology. The name says it all—there are three elements you need to make VDP work:

  1. Variable: You need software that can use your data and your settings to tell the printer how to personalize the elements for each print.
  2. Data: You need a database with accurate, up-to-date customer data for your software to pull from.
  3. Printing: Finally, you need a digital web press to print the personalized mailers.

What Is the Purpose of Variable Data Printing?

VDP is a popular tool for direct mail marketers. On the most basic level, VDP provides an efficient way of printing unique recipient names and addresses on mailers, but it does so much more than this.

VDP allows you to move beyond generic marketing materials. Instead, you can create mailers that are tailor-made to appeal to each individual recipient—and do it efficiently at scale. This is crucial because personalization is taking on an increasingly prominent role in modern marketing. 

Research shows that personalization at scale drives up sales for retailers and improves customer engagement. Seventy-one percent of consumers today say they expect companies to deliver personalized interactions! So if you want to truly connect with modern consumers, personalization is no longer optional. 

Speaking of a personalized experience, read this eBook and learn how to tailor  your direct mail campaigns for every customer. → 


What Is an Example of Variable Data Printing?

To understand VDP, it’s helpful to see it in action. Let’s consider an example of how a pet retailer could use VDP to personalize their direct mail. 

Depending on the customer data the retailer has available, they could use VDP to customize a variety of elements on a postcard, such as:

Names and Addresses

VDP makes it easy to include recipients’ names and mailing addresses on each postcard. In addition to the address line, the retailer might dial up the personalization by adding the recipient’s name to a message like, “We miss you, Emily!” If they have data on pets’ names, the brand could include these, as well. A message like “Does Luna deserve a new toy?” is sure to grab the recipient’s attention.


The retailer could also swap out an eye-catching image of a pet on the postcard to match the type of pet the recipient has, whether that’s a bird, fish, cat, dog, hamster, or any other animal companion. The retailer might have this data directly from information the customer has submitted, or they might infer it based on past purchases. 

Geographic Information

Brick-and-mortar retailers should highlight their storefront locations in their direct mail in addition to their web address. VDP can automatically include a map or address for each customer’s closest local store(s) based on where they live.


Nearly two-thirds of consumers say receiving targeted promotions is an important factor in whether they would purchase from a brand for the first time. Returning customers should have an even higher expectation for personalized offers based on their past purchases. VDP makes it easy to include coupons tailored to appeal to each customer, whether it’s a discount on their favorite brand of kibble or a free toy with their next purchase.


Why share a one-size-fits-all message when you can personalize the message to better connect with each customer? The pet retailer could create different messages or ads designed to fit different types of pets, various stages of life, or specific health needs. A message like “Give your senior kitty high-quality food that’s healthy and delicious” is more likely to make an impact than a generic message.


The retailer could even use their customer data on pets’ birthdays or adoption dates to send out personalized postcards celebrating the occasion. Chances are, the customer is going to buy some special treats for their furry friend, and they’re more likely to get them from the store that is already celebrating with them.

Build Adaptive Designs

Reject the Generic: Turn Customer Data into Customized Direct Mail with VDP

VDP is a powerful technology that can help marketers better connect with their customers through personalized messages. Want to learn more about the power of personalization in marketing? Read our eBook, The Customer Experience Just Got More Personal.


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