Mailing, USPS, Postal Regulations

Variable Data Printing: How It Works

High-quality variable data printing (VDP) offers you a wealth of possibilities to create powerful, relevant direct mail that speaks to individuals on a truly 1:1 basis.


By tapping into data, the lifeblood of direct marketing.

Think about how much digital marketing depends on personalized data that creates a unique, individual experience for you any time you’re online. Personalization is a major driving force in today’s direct mail because companies want to move beyond the days of mass mailings and “spray-and-pray” direct mail.

Instead, they want to create messages and offers based on customers’ preferences and histories, as well as where they are in the sales funnel (or customer journey).

What is VDP?

Variable data printing is a digital printing process that you can use to create individualized direct mail pieces in a single run based on one or more of data elements you have about a customer or prospect.

These data points can be anything:

  • customer name
  • address
  • purchase history
  • gender
  • age
  • income
  • and many more.

By themselves or in combinations, these customized unique elements capture attention, and eventually, generate conversion when printed onto a one-of-a-kind mail piece.

How Does VDP Work?

Variable data printing works by pulling dynamically-generated headlines, addresses, personal names, offers, graphics, or images from a file and inserting them onto a static mail design or template based on a variable piece of data they’re matched to in your print files before the preflight stage.

For example, if you’re mailing an invitation to visit a new retail store, your data files can include customized maps showing the best driving route from each customer’s or prospect’s house to the store location matched to their exact street address. The customized map is then inserted onto the mail piece along with any other individual details that are in your data files.

With the right digital press and software, a run of hundreds of thousands of mail pieces can be printed at high speed, each with whatever tailor-fit elements you choose to put on them. All that is required – besides clean, accurate data – is software (and a press) that can handle large amounts of data and rapidly respond to each change from one printed piece to the next without significantly slowing down the printing process.

Best Formats for VDP

VDP works very well with direct mail formats that are easily customized.

So what can VDP be used on?

These popular direct mail formats can engage customers when they use VDP, as noted before, to capture attention and convey value.

  • Postcards
  • Envelopes
  • Folded Self-Mailers
  • Brochures

Potentially, nearly every component of a direct mail piece can be personalized, like letters, headlines and subheads, body copy, inserts, images, graphic charts, CTA reply devices, and offers. Anywhere there is data that sets one prospect or customer apart from another, there’s an opportunity to use a variable element.

Effectiveness of VDP

According to surveys by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), mailing campaigns that use personalization achieve response rates of 6%, a big improvement over an average of 2% for non-personalized direct mail.

However, keep in mind that it’s not the response rate alone that determines the success of a campaign but its return on investment (ROI). When you take into account the total campaign cost and dollars generated per order, VDP – when executed well – can produce excellent ROI.

Compared to a standard direct mail campaign, narrowly targeting certain demographics with highly personalized elements and offers on a mail piece makes the campaign more relevant and valuable to the customer, leading to a higher response. The smaller-volume mail campaign increases the ROI due to lower postage and printing costs.

Example of Variable Data Printing

VDP can be used in a wide variety of industries, including financial services, retail, non-profit fundraising, telecom, utilities, and healthcare.

In this example, a prospect was mailed a postcard with several VDP elements on the front side to promote a homeowners insurance quote:

  • Personal name
  • Personal address
  • Home data
  • Image of home address
  • Customized insurance quote

Wrapping it up

VDP is more than just personalization. It is data-driven, targeted marketing at the micro level, part of an overall strategy that treats each individual as a person, not part of a group or mass audience.

In short, VDP flips traditional marketing on its head by centering product and service offers, among other elements, around the individual needs and wants of each customer. It zeroes in on the customer’s preferences, experiences, and more, and builds the mail piece around how your company can fulfill those desires and needs.

Want to know how to incorporate personalized data in your direct mail campaigns? Our data team at would love to talk with you about variable data printing and share our expertise!

Call or contact us today for a free quote!

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