Jacob Aizikowitz, a founder of XMPie and its CEO until his retirement in mid-2019, recently published a White Paper exploring the evolution and impact of Modern Variable Data Print (VDP) on the print industry and the integration of Print and Digital Media into individualized multichannel customer experiences.
Building on his experiences at Scitex (1996-1999) and XMPie (1999-2019), Jacob chronicles the development of Modern VDP, the revolutionary foundations upon which the XMPie platform was built. He also explores why it has democratized the practice of VDP by diverting control from the programmers, and IT teams to the designers, marketers, and communicators.
Although Modern VDP has existed as a practice since the late 1990s and is used regularly by thousands of designers, printers, agencies, and enterprises, many practitioners don’t fully appreciate its revolutionary and differentiating nature. They don’t know the history and how the technology evolved to enable them to compete in the large and fast-growing markets of Marketing Automation, Customer Experience Management (CXM), and, more recently, the growing field of Service Experience Management (SXM).
‘Modern VDP’ has been a game-changer for companies looking to maximize customer engagement with fewer marketing resources. It has democratized and transformed the VDP workflow from its rigid and labored roots in the transactional space into a highly creative variable communications practice accessible to many.
Modern VDP applies the principles of Desktop Publishing (whereby a designer manages the entire process of laying out and designing pages on a desktop computer) to the Variable Data Print world. With this technology, one person can create one file with unconstrained variability – images, texts, charts, styles, and more varying from page to page – and generate multiple versions of the same template automatically during the composition process; All using her creativity, an understanding of how to drive a design with data and logic, and a strategic determination to treat every person in a campaign as an individual. Modern VDP has given printers, agencies, and even small businesses the opportunity to reap the benefits of variable data print without needing to own a print press or be expertly familiar with its inner workings.
Modern VDP is almost the antithesis of the process Jacob refers to in his paper as ‘Legacy VDP.’
To manage the Legacy VDP workflow, a larger team was needed to create the VDP job and essentially ‘program’ the print stream. Using an offset or similar printing technology, the page background would be printed in batches before the variable data was computed, positioned, and printed over the top in designated areas.
This approach was invented to serve the needs of companies that required personalized business documents to be produced at speed. Successful implementation depended on the expertise of those who knew how to take data from mainframes and merge it to the correct place on the document. The whole process was purely text-based, and only certain types of documents – primarily transactional – were suitable. Injecting the data into a block of text to affect the layout, a process we take for granted today, was impossible.
Still, many designers are unaware of the potential of Modern VDP and continue using Legacy VDP-type data merge tools. Training in the practice of Variable Data Print is woefully inadequate or completely lacking in many graphic design courses, and this gap is a huge challenge for the print industry. VDP can be highly lucrative for designers, but they are first and foremost creatives, perhaps less interested in the internal workings of the technology or whether they are using the most efficient and effective practices.
As Jacob has highlighted, not only have designers been blind to VDP’s potential, but marketers have also been slow to question Legacy VDP-type workflows. Even when printing technology evolved to full-page digital printing and numerous digital printing breakthroughs hit the market, including those that could change every part of every page, few challenged the status quo.
The Birth of XMPie
Jacob, and his colleagues at Scitex, along with teams from Adobe, were among those challengers to profoundly democratize the market, and with their innovations, Print became a top-drawer player on a par with Digital Media for the first time. Marketers could fine-tune their messaging within highly creative designs and take advantage of the complete set of modern color digital press capabilities; The entire customer experience curated and personalized to the individual yet still scalable to thousands or even millions of people.
These technological advances led to the birth of the XMPie platform and became critical to producing the creative modern customer experiences that our customers rely on. Across all industries, designers, marketers, and communicators are using individualized content to drive the design of print, printed objects, packaging, labels, and more, all integrated with digital touchpoints to wow audiences and motivate them to respond.
Jacob also looks ahead to how software companies like XMPie are investing efforts towards helping communicators benefit from the next VDP breakthroughs with new automations powered by Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Still, he warns that in whichever direction VDP develops in the future, it must continue to mirror the advances of the digital space in which personalization is the norm. Without this synchrony, marketers will be reluctant to continue integrating print touchpoints into their campaigns.
Whether you’re a designer, a printer, a marketer, or anyone who needs to communicate to an audience using print or digital channels, we encourage you to jump in and download. Some parts take a deep dive into the technology, so don’t be afraid to skip those or stick to the Summaries, Background, and Appendix if you’re more interested in the business impact side of the story. Either way, to learn more about the background and destiny of one of the most disruptive technologies in the print industry, read Jacob’s full White Paper here.