Quad/Graphics technology adds personalized cover messages for ELLE subscribers


Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:04 pm

Quad/Graphics Inc.


Innovation: Personalized magazine covers

Founder: Harry Quadracci


When subscribers to ELLE received their April issue, some of them were treated to a personalized message from cover star Kim Kardashian West.

A “handwritten” note scrawled across the cover included individual social media handles and differing messages for 50,000 subscribers.

Sussex-based Quad/Graphics Inc., which prints ELLE on behalf of Hearst Communications, used its variable printing technology on a high-speed digital printing press to add the message for some of the magazine’s 1.1 million subscribers, said Joel Quadracci, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Quad/Graphics.

Personalization is a service Quad has offered for some time, but this is the first time it has been deployed on a national scale on the cover of a magazine. The April ELLE issue served as a test of the personalization strategy for Hearst, since it gets more expensive the greater the number of magazines on which it is deployed, he said.

“Where a lot of this technology’s being used is in direct mail and catalogs,” Quadracci said. “Now we do direct mail pieces where half of it is printed on a traditional printing press and in line on that press would be these digital heads.”

And the personalization can go beyond words into images, as well, he said.

“We’ll leave a place on the printed piece vacant so when your name comes up, maybe you’re getting shoes and I’m getting sandals or something,” Quadracci said. “People react very quickly to imagery, so it becomes very important for response rates.”

Retailers gather that data from customers’ online behavior, such as leaving an item of clothing in a cart instead of buying it. That could generate a 10 percent off coupon in a printed magazine or mailer to convince the customer to buy, he said.

“Whenever you use the data to be more specific to what the consumer wants or likes, the chances for them to buy something goes significantly up,” Quadracci said. “Print can act just like a digital device now with data, so we can vary the messaging, we can vary the product.”

According to Quad’s Customer Focus Research Study, 68 percent of U.S. adults are more likely to respond to personalization when offers are related to things they are interested in.

Variable digital printing technology has been around for some time, but the quality has improved rapidly over the past five years, at the same time big data has opened up new possibilities for advertisers to more effectively market to the consumer one-on-one, Quadracci said. And the printing speed isn’t slowed by the personalization.

“There’s logarithms that are driving this and the technology, everything can be different at high speed,” he said. “It’s like clicking on your tablet to a different page. Everything’s refreshed with different content.”

A makeup advertiser, for example, could show a subscriber of one ethnicity one shade of foundation, but show another subscriber a foundation that better matches her skin. Advertisers invest in the technology if it is demonstrably more effective in converting to customer sales, he said.

“Sometimes we have people spending more on just a couple pages of variable digital print than on the entire printed product,” Quadracci said. “If you just had a page that was traditional versus one that has all sorts of imagery on it that’s variable, that could be a 50 percent increase in cost.”

Quad/Graphics keeps its equipment current so it can add features like a personalized note to its printed products, he said.

“It’s the consistent investment that we keep making in the platform as the technology changes,” Quadracci said. “We’re always upgrading”

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