Personalisation of mailings, in this case creating packs which are tailored to each unique recipient, is a big part of we do. Cheltenham-based DMS are a long-standing customer of ours, a multi-media agency which calls on Alpha Response whenever it needs direct mail produced.
Their biggest single client is the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), a charity for whom DMS provides worldwide marketing services.
We have printed various packs for them over the years, including one recent project where they were asking their high value donors to support efforts to improve welfare for endangered elephants.The pack contained several elements, from letters to leaflets, and was to be distributed to donors in seven different countries – the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands, USA, Canada and Australia.
Each of the elements in the 7,000 packs we printed digitally was personalised to the individual donor, not just the letter but the reports and other materials too.
Via the charity, we knew from unique reference numbers that some of the donors would also be distressed to see animals in pain. So our personalisation went as far as manually sticking black masking tape over some of the more graphic photos, for those fundraisers who were sensitive to such images.
Wastage was minimised by avoiding the need for pre-printing. We set the documents ourselves and then printed them on demand, so when they had the final data count for each number we could just produce as many as they needed. Such a solution is not only economical, but it’s good for the environment too.
We also printed the postage paid impression (PPI) for each country on the covers of the packs, so that recipients had postal marks from their own countries on their mail, rather than thinking they were receiving something from the UK.
For over a decade we have worked with the six local authorities in our area – Stroud, the Cotswolds, Gloucester, Tewkesbury, Cheltenham and the Forest of Dean. For elections, they team together as Gloucestershire Councils.
Many of us still vote at the polling stations but as time becomes ever more precious the electorate is turning more and more to the postal voting system. That’s where Alpha Response comes in.
Around 30,000 postal voting packs are now sent out by each of the six councils in Gloucestershire each time there are elections. We also print their ballot papers, often with European, national and local elections at the same time.
These are big volumes of work – around 200,000 leading up to each election day – and it’s very time sensitive too as the window of opportunity, between the close of application for postal votes and when the packs have to be delivered, is small.
There are three envelopes in each pack. One, the voter receives through the letter box. The next, the voter puts the ballot paper in and seals it. That goes into a third and final reply envelope, together with a declaration form to say that the voter is the person the pack was sent to. When the council receives it, the signature is scanned to make sure that the autographs match.
The challenges of the job? Apart from the sheer volume, the forms also have to be very accurately printed to that they scan well and that the signatures can be properly read.
And of course you have to make sure the forms are sent to the right people, in correctly coded envelopes. So we have strict quality assurance procedures to make sure that work is checked, and we compile the packs by hand – yes, all of them – rather than entrusting the work to a machine.
We’ve yet to make a mistake, which is part of the reason (alongside our competitive prices) that we get the work over and over again.
Gone are the days when the head of the household would declare all the people under his or her roof who were eligible to vote. The voting registration has changed this year, in a bid to cut down on electoral fraud and open up new possibilities for people.
Previously, there was an annual canvass done in August and September each year – the raw material for a new Electoral Roll which was issued each December. You had to be on it if you wanted to vote.
The problem was that if you moved house, or changed your name, you became disenfranchised until the following year.
So this year, in June 2014, the government introduced a new system called Individual Elector Registration, whereby everyone registers themselves to vote.
Where does Alpha Response come in? Well each individual voter in Gloucestershire now receives a mailing, through which they become eligible to vote on the return of the form. We print those on behalf of the councils in the county.
The challenges came by adapting to new computer systems and multiple data file formats, as well as an initial increase in the amount being mailed.
And with council budgets always under scrutiny, the challenge after these bulk mailings was to cost-effectively produce regular low volumes of mail. We also have an ongoing daily requirement to send out mail as electors move, change their names, or switch their voting preference. It needs to be done for the best price possible.
The solution to this secondary challenge has been to take data files daily, using our production management systems to consolidate the workflow and printing, on demand, the series of forms required at a fixed unit cost. It gives the councils total flexibility at a low unit cost.
It’s coming out as approximately 1,500 per authority per week – which isn’t a big number for us but we are still able to provide them at a fixed unit cost no matter how many are printed.
It means the councils know how much it costs them to communicate with each member of the electorate. And they can do it on a regular basis when the communication is needed, rather than having to wait for a certain volume of letters to justify a print run.
We’ve been working with Just Go Holidays for four or five years, ever since they came to us with the situation where their sales staff were missing telephone bookings because they were downstairs printing and enveloping booking confirmations.
With a demographic market which is predominantly over the age of 50, printed confirmation letters – rather than just emails – are important. But until we helped them, the sales staff had no way out because the company’s proprietary system meant no one else could access the data.
So we worked with Just Go’s IT department to get the raw, unformatted and disorganised data into a version where it could be used to generate the documents. Now, it all runs like clockwork.
We produce daily booking confirmations for Just Go’s customers, as well as final confirmations in the week leading up to the holiday.
As with much of our work, the documents vary depending on the individual booking. Initial confirmations need to go out as soon as possible after a booking is made so customers can check details and know when payment is due.
Conversely, final details of precise itineraries often need to be changed close to the departure date, so as to maximise the revenue made by the company. So there’s great flexibility required and that’s something we specialise in.
We also print luggage labels – awkward to include by machine – which are a crucial factor as they not only help the drivers identify whose bags to collect, they also assist Just Go with its policy of limiting each holiday maker to two items of luggage.
Because of our own flexibility, the services we offer are done on a fixed cost regardless of whether Just Go wants to print out one item or a thousand.
And it gives us great satisfaction to know that we’re a partner with the business, adding value rather than just taking payments, and giving the company’s staff the time to get out of the print room and back to making sales and taking bookings.
Countrywide Farmers is a leading supplier of goods and services to the rural community and is actually a combination of five different businesses which have all come under one banner. These five brands still exist and in many cases trading is done locally under these names.
So to create a unified system for printing transactional documentation would be challenging enough from a practical point of view, without the issue of amalgamating a number of complex and unrelated IT systems.
But that’s what we do best at Alpha Response – coming up with solutions for working with bespoke software and collaborating with a company’s IT departments make the complicated seem simple.
It’s all unified at our end. We have taken Countrywide Farmers’ requirement and provided documents which look how they wanted them to, printed on demand with a range of logos to suit the brand across the various elements of the wider company.
The on demand aspect of what we do is key. Countrywide Farmers doesn’t want stacks of stationery – piles of printed letterheads, and so on. We just provide them with what they need, when they need it.
And as they continue to incorporate new businesses, they will continue to inherited new systems from those companies. We’ll be there to make sure that their print service can continue uninterrupted, on demand and cost-effectively.
As an added extra, we also provide a twice-weekly collection of their mail and work out the best way of posting it for them, helping them determine the best solution in terms of cost and speed. It’s not something we do often but it’s just another example of how we tailor what we do to suit our customers’ needs.
Tia Tia is a small fashion company in Cheltenham for which we provide a regular email campaign to customers and prospects, and twice yearly postcards alongside their summer and winter catalogue.
We design and create the postcard and a template email containing the same message, to provide continuity, and both are personalised.
Before we started working with them, Tia Tia had a database of 3,000 email addresses but was only able to send 200 emails per hour with its office based email system. It was taking 12 hours to send a mailing out. We now offer them an online tool to manage their emails, without the limits set by their internet provider. It’s a revelation.
Alongside this, Tia Tia also had around 2,000 names and address of customers to whom they wanted to send a postcard promoting their seasonal sales.
What’s really neat about the service we provide Tia Tia is that we hold all the data – postal and email addresses – which enables Tia Tia to analyse what’s working and communicate with those customers, for whom they hold email and postal addresses, in a variety of ways. So if an email is deleted, or remains unopened, we know. We can send them a postcard instead, and see if that works.
As inboxes get more and more full of rubbish, and as spam filters get better at making sure this stuff doesn’t get delivered, we at Alpha Response believe that there is a market for that crossover.
So a customer’s lack of responsiveness to digital methods doesn’t have to be the end of the road – and there’s an opportunity there for companies that are looking to engage with different methods.
And we suspect that while some customers are happy to receive promotional emails, others are growing ambivalent or actively opposed to receiving them. For these customers, the message isn’t getting through. So why not try something different?
There aren’t many print companies which offer email marketing as well – most of our competitors see digital marketing as competition. We don’t. We see the two things as complimentary and all part of the marketing mix, generating income for our customers as well as for us.