Transformations Series: Polaris Direct

By Kimberly Meyers / Published:

Uncuffing marketers’ hands, ideas and budgets with ROI.

When was the last time you heard this in a client meeting? “OK. You are right, we are going to try one million pieces a week and if this is successful, we will go to four million a week.”

Joe Maloy, President and COO of Polaris Direct, shared the quote above from a client’s VP of Marketing. He said, “We never talked about price. We talked about ROI, speed to market, white paper technology, no inventory, no pre-ordering. It’s not a price sell. We’re creating a new world of options for our client.”

In this installment of the Transformations interview series, Joe discusses how inkjet transformed not only Polaris, but the way their marketing clients approach customer programs.

Polaris Direct is a full-service, direct marketing company specializing in direct mail programs for Fortune 500 companies and their agencies. They provide clients with strategic marketing services, providing end-to-end marketing solutions.

Kimberly:What has inkjet provided to transform your business.

Joe: The ability to have meaningful conversations about ROI. Instead of talking about the price of the mail piece, we are discussing creating programs that include relevant content and imagery.

Inkjet allows us to produce some very high-volume trigger campaigns, and be more responsive. The idea of providing daily or weekly mailings for clients had never been economically feasible. Combining the static print with variable content allows our clients to do that.

And not only cycle time reduction, but the ability to go up and down [in quantity] was also transformative. Another plus is there are no more concerns that the color wasn’t the same as the last print run. Once a client signs off on color and substrate, it’s locked down. Not only in printing, but in personalization. Again, transformative.

For Polaris, it was not a new market that suddenly opened up. It was finding the people who understood our consultative approach to ROI. We gravitated toward those clients that understood the value proposition.

KM: What inkjet presses do you have?

JM: At the end of 2015, we installed the Screen 520ZZ. The machine had unmatched quality at high speed.

At the end of February 2021, we installed a third Ricoh cut sheet device.

KM: What are you providing with inkjet that you couldn’t before?

JM: Speed to market. We’re taking the handcuffs off of marketers. We help them respond to market trends, provide the most relevant offer in the most expedient way.

Prior to inkjet, marketers may have ordered preprinted shells months in advance of a promotion. Now we tell the marketer that they can change offers and provide relevant imagery for 1:1 content right up until the time they release the data. Think about the messaging changes when COVID hit. With inkjet, marketers didn’t discard materials that were no longer relevant.

That’s very transformative. Enabling marketers to be responsive to ever changing market conditions.

KM: Does inkjet complement or compete with the rest of your production portfolio?

JM: It complements. Inkjet isn’t practical in certain areas. Here’s an example: a large fundraiser has one pre-printed form that they simplex print with black text. With acquisition fundraising if you don’t have a lot of variable information, it’s OK to use simple, black and white. We’ve tested with color imaging, and learned that monochrome technology still seems to be the winning way to print for them.

For previous donors, where you have demographic and contribution information, you can show people the result of their donation with relevant imagery. That can be very effective.

KM: How are you educating customers about inkjet capabilities?

JM: Our marketing team prepared a great primer for clients. They created collateral material that showed the same image on a variety of substrates with a variety of ink densities. This provides choices and the ability for our clients to make informed decisions. Our salespeople use this tool to demonstrate our capabilities during client interactions. 

We had a series of open house events with a great turnout. It was an opportunity to showcase the technology and an educational session for our clients. Our clients appreciate the partnership and are still doing business with us.

Also, we are getting away from the traditional sales paradigm, of selling on price. You could say,  we take the handcuffs off the marketers and give them the flexibility to do what they know is the best for their business. We provide flexibility and a more agile approach that offers marketers the opportunity to go to market with their message.

KM: Are you using inkjet for your own, Polaris marketing?

JM: We are. We use inkjet for all of our collateral, promotional materials and mailings.

And our marketing group is still excited about the machine even after six years.

KM: What are the challenges with getting salespeople to understand the market speed for inkjet?

JM: It’s incumbent on management to provide the right tools for the salespeople. The first tool is education. When you show salespeople a current deliverable and then present dynamic imaging on the machine, it’s an eye-opener. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a thousand pictures in less than a minute is an encyclopedia!

Judith [Maloy, Director and CEO, Polaris Direct] and the marketing team developed sales tools and messaging that was relevant for our customers. They reinforced selling the ROI capabilities with a data-driven approach.

The team is off and running and quarterly we share success stories and samples of work. We look at what we have achieved.

KM: …and internal training?

JM: Certainly. We started that endeavor before the machine was here. Everyone from the receiving department to mailing was brought into the loop.

KM: What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of inkjet technology?

JM: That “head to head” inkjet is cheaper, well, it is not. The fixed and variable costs are different than toner and offset. It is more productive, less wasteful and it provides a higher ROI. That is the difference.

At Polaris, we had buy-in from two significant clients before we bought the machine. The discussion with these clients was about enhanced flexibility and ROI. I did not promise that I was going to bill them less.

KM: Share with us an interesting, transformative project.

JM: We had a variable page mailer project. The only way to produce it was to run a 33-inch length form. Previously, it could only be run on black and white toner. The minute we could provide the piece in color on continuous inkjet, the client was ecstatic. There is no longer a maximum number of pages. Instead of six black and white pages, they now include color graphics, their color logo and various colored content. Moreover, they don’t buy separate brochures anymore. The brochure has become part of the mail piece.

Physical transformations like this, using inkjet, is an integral part of enabling clients’ flexibility.

KM: Are there things that you would have done differently in hindsight?

JM: Embraced the technology sooner. I had too much trepidation. I thought, let’s wait, it’s a lot of money.

KM: What advice would you give someone investing in inkjet for the first time?

JM: Do your homework. Read trade information. Understand and investigate the technology. Find the right manufacturer to fill your specific need. There are differences in each device for different markets and verticals. Ask for references from those who are in your line business. Have substantive conversations with your clients. Participate in the Inkjet Summit. It’s an incredibly valuable experience. All of the suppliers and manufacturers are there and are extremely helpful.

If all the stars align, don’t wait to pull the trigger. If you have a cogent reason to buy, do it. It’s not going to get any better six months from now. There’s no time like the present.

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Kimberly Meyers

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