The idea of personalization is not new. When I think of the tradition of personalizing goods, I think back to monogrammed towels, robes, and suitcases, or an anniversary gift that celebrates a milestone. There is just that special feeling when you have something personalized for you, whether it’s an item or a service. It is those warm and fuzzy feelings that give personalization power in business communications and consumer promotions.

    There is a long tradition around the world of personalization; it is even evident in print and mail in-plants or service providers (often referred to as Print Service Providers or PSPs). Before we let the train leave the station, let’s define what the print and mail industry means by personalization. This definition also applies to digital communications creation and delivery industry (e.g., email, push notifications, SMS, portal messages).

    A good starting point is with Merriam-Webster, an old favorite since 1828:


    : to make personal or individual

    specifically : to mark as the property of a particular person

    // personalized stationery

    For print and mail (and digital channels), personalization can come in many forms. What we often think of first is the personalization of the salutation. For example, “Dear Jonathan,” as opposed to “Dear Valued Customer,”. This is a basic form of personalization, but it is not the only form. Personalization may come in the form of offers that speak to a recipient's lifestyle and interests or the images, colors, and references included in the messaging. Connecting a customer to resources near them is part of creating relevant and personalized communications, especially in transactional, direct, and marketing mail. Customization is another way to describe what is being offered when differentiating it from your standard name personalization.

    Forbes published an article in 2020 sharing 50 statistics they believe show the power of personalization and how it impacts decision-making. For print and mail providers, there are a few that stand out and drive home why paying attention to personalization can create an uplift in Return on Investment (ROI).

    -80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase from a brand that

    provides personalized experiences. - Epsilon

    -63% of consumers will stop buying from brands that use poor

    personalization tactics. - Smart Insights

    -66% of consumers say encountering content that isn’t personalized would

    stop them from making a purchase. - CMO by Adobe

    -89% of digital businesses are investing in personalization. - Forrester

    -88% of marketers say their biggest driver in personalization is to deliver a

    better customer experience. - Evergage

    -80% of companies report seeing an uplift since implementing

    personalization. - Econsultancy

    -95% of companies that saw 3x ROI from their personalization efforts

    increased profitability in the year after their personalization efforts. - Monetate

    That is just seven out of the 50 stats that Forbes shared in their article right before the challenges we all experienced in 2020. However, there are conversations today that suggest that these market behaviors not only hold true but may also be elevated. The takeaway is that personalization has proven value to both recipients and businesses providing goods and services. For printers and mailers, this is a great time to take an assessment of your offerings. How many offerings to your customers offer personalization?

    Adding in personalization doesn’t just happen with a touch of a button. It adds more complexity to print and mail work and requires additional coordination when dovetailing print and mail with digitally delivered communications and experiences. It is important to evaluate what your current workflows are today for creating work, accepting work, onboarding work, make-ready and prepress, postal optimization and presort, production, finishing and delivery.

    To gain the most business success from personalization as a print and mail service provider, analysis of best practices prove that there need to be tools in place to help move work from manual processes to software solutions that can be automated, providing monitoring, tracking, and reporting. These solutions can range from composition systems that help you create personalized content for print and mail to Web-to-Print (W2P) solutions that let you accept print-ready work.

    The key is looking a bit deeper. Do you have a solution that is marrying your in-house produced or composed work to print-ready work coming in through a W2P channel? If you leverage a Print MIS, how does it talk to your preflight and prepress operations? Following along that same thought, how are postal presort, address cleansing, and postal optimization managed and automated? Now, carry that through the production, finishing, and delivery processes. This is important because the more variable or unique each piece is, the more crucial it becomes to know where each piece in a larger job is and if it was indeed produced and delivered.

    Having grown up in the software side of the print industry, I have seen firsthand how software solutions can create lift in print and mail businesses. The ROI boost can be considerable. For example, I work with a print and mailer that has leveraged both postal optimization solutions and print production workflow solutions to achieve increased postal discounts and take 3,000 minutes out of their production process each day. To make that more relatable, that is 50 hours a day and represents the ability to reallocate multiple employees to higher-value and more business-critical tasks. Today, it is also a way to mitigate risk around labor issues, reduce the costs of producing finishing goods, and sustain a flexible hybrid workforce.

    When you have the solutions in place to make personalization part of the business practice, your organization is primed to also make hybrid or remote working sustainable. If you follow best practices to track that work so you always know where it is and when it is complete, hybrid and remote become less problematic as your customer work becomes more variable and personalized.

    One customer I have worked with prints and mails for many departments of a State government. As they began to offer more services, including for personalization and customization options, they were faced with the long-term prospects of workers who were not going to return to the offices in some of the departments. This drove a requirement to be able to request print, get updates on the progression of submitted work, and know when it was complete and delivered. And, it needed to be available to people on-site and offsite – the hybrid workplace challenge.

    While personalization doesn’t require automation and visibility, it makes it possible to run super-optimized workflows that can be managed in a meaningful way for print and mail businesses. Optimized and automated processes that have visibility solutions connected to them may make hybrid and remote working possible for print and mail environments that might not have seemed practical in the past. The result is a powerful set of business processes that drive increased revenue, boost employee morale, and increase customer satisfaction.

    Jonathan Malone-McGrew is Senior Director of Engagement, Solimar Systems.

    This article originally appeared in the March/April, 2023 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.