April 8, 2009
By GAIL NICKEL-KAILING
For years we’ve talked about how VDP (Variable Data Printing) cuts waste by zeroing in with content that people WANT to get. Now we see VDP (Variable Data Publishing) take the concept of personalized production further with a “news aggregation” model more like that offered by online news sites.
Early Wednesday morning, March 18, I received a Tweet from a friend that said;
“Time Inc customized magazine tries to mimic Internet in printed form with personalized news feeds http://tinyurl.com/cmr3n3.“
OK, so I didn’t read it at 3:30AM Pacific time when it was sent from Boston; but within hours, I had already subscribed to mine magazine.
Two weeks later, at On Demand Expo, in Philadelphia, I sat down with Val DiGiacinto, VP Sales, from The Ace Group, the company that is handling the production of mine magazine. He filled me in on the project and its progress. Clearly he’s excited about being part of something new and different!
Project Time Line – Fast and Furious
In mid-November 08 the Ace Group, Time Inc. marketing team, and Lexus‘ advertising agency began talking about how a magazine like this could be produced. It wasn’t until the end of January 09 that the project really got off the ground. Just over 45 days later, subscribers were already registering for their copies.
That’s a very compressed time line for a new printed publication, let alone one this complex. The project combines:
- A gURL for registration, content selection, and interest identification
- Database management software to collect information from tens of subscribers
- A content management system to store and feed articles from a list of eight Time Inc. or American Express Publishing titles
- A document composition tool that can personalize not only the four full-page Lexus ads, but also selected content and turn it into nearly 1 million different versions
- Work flow tools and presses from HP
Magazines will be produced and mailed on a two-week schedule, culminating in a total of five issues distributed to each subscriber.
mine Goes Viral
At approximately 6 AM Eastern, a press release was distributed on PR Newswire and picked up by a variety of media as well as the Associated Press. Within hours, the slow trickle of subscribers driven by print ads in each of the eight “host” publications turned into a flood of registrations. “The surge in subscriptions was insane,” Val told me. “It really went viral.”
The numbers grew so fast that there has been talk of limiting the signup period, originally intended to run until the end of May. Not knowing what to expect, the project team had targeted 75,000 copies distributed in 5 issues to 15,000 subscribers. More than 20,000 subscribers had registered within a week of the press announcement.
Currently the number of subscribers is nearly double the original plan and will be capped at 31,000 for print issues. Anyone that misses the cut-off for the print version will get a PDF “virtual magazine.”
Marketing Strategy – the ROI?
Because registrations are being taken online, there is a terrific opportunity to collect information that could be used to calculate the return on investment and better target prospects. Were the print ads effective or should Lexus focus on other means to reach prospects, such as social media marketing? Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of processes in place to capture source or demographic information.
The overall plan for the project is to drive sales of the 2010 Lexus RX sport utility vehicle, which is described as “customizable as the magazine carrying its ads.” It’s a cool campaign, but a good direct marketer will tell you that there is a lot more very useful information that could have been collected, such as:
- What drove the prospect to the website to register? Did they read a print ad? Did they hear about it on TV or radio? Did they read about it on a blog, Twitter, or Facebook? Was the information forwarded to them by a friend?
- What prospect demographics are being collected? Nowhere is the subscriber even asked if they own a car and what kind or if they are in the market for a new car.
Undoubtedly we will see more publications looking at new ways to make their content more valuable and to continue to deliver it offline as well as online. We’ll keep you posted on this project! When the first issue arrives, I’ll be taking a close look and providing a detailed critique. Can’t wait!