Digital Color Printing of Insurance Documents: Challenges vs. Benefits
Despite the fact production-speed digital color printing technologies have been available for over two decades, many insurers have hesitated to implement them in their policyholder communications.
Part of the reason lies in the cost of digital printing and part lies in the operational complexities it presents. Let`s take a look at both of these issues as well as the benefits color printing delivers.
When Xerox, IBM, Kodak, and other vendors first introduced digital color printers in the 1990s the market did not immediately accept the new technology. Much of the hesitation focused on the considerable increase in cost per image over black & white (monochrome) digital printing.
Many corporate users didn`t see the advantages the vendors claimed and print service providers couldn`t justify increased costs they would have to pass along to customers. Interestingly, print systems vendors responded with messages that inferred, “Just wait, eventually the cost will come down to that of monochrome printing.”
It`s interesting to note that the Xplor International Technology Directions Survey did not mention full digital color printers as a separate category until its 1997 issue. And in 1997 only 23 percent of user companies and 26 percent of service providers expressed interest in moving to this new technology. At the same time, 16 percent of user companies and 22 percent of service providers reported moving offset print volume to digital color. Admittedly, this report is from the early days of digital color but it serves to illustrate the slow adoption of the technology.
At the time print system vendors broadcasted the message that eventually costs would come down to equal those of monochrome. So users waited. And waited. This resulted in print systems vendors missing their sales forecasts. Not surprisingly they reconsidered their marketing strategies.
At first they concentrated their efforts on trying to convince service providers that they would be able to charge prices that were to be blunt, wildly optimistic and seemingly out of touch with reality. This approach did not deliver markedly better results than the “wait and see” approach.
What print systems vendors needed was a high-volume print application that, combined with digital color printing, would justify its cost. And eventually they found it thanks to advancements in IT infrastructure and data management.
In the early 2000s a number of individuals in the electronic document industry realized that a combination of new, sophisticated data capabilities, marketing approaches, document composition, and digital color printing could be combined to deliver what came to be known as ‘transpromotional printing.` This promised increased effectiveness in the delivery of marketing messages by embedding them in transactional documents (statements, policies, premium notices, etc.) and by tailoring the content of those messages based on the history and buying preferences of the recipients.
So a policyholder who had home coverage but not auto with a carrier might receive a message telling them of the advantages of combined coverage embedded in their premium notice. Results of this approach showed that policyholders were more likely to read personalized information embedded in transactional documents they expected to receive than messages conveyed via direct mail.
While this approach improved overall acceptance of digital color it did not deliver the results that had been hoped for. Implementation of transpromotional printing was a challenge for most organizations. And while the cost per image improved, many organizations—especially smaller ones—continued to ignore the benefits of digital color.
Nevertheless, the advantages of presenting information via documents printed in color are clear. For comparison, let`s consider another technology that organizations use to present information to customers and prospects.
Unless you`re a fan of legacy television shows broadcast in beautiful black & white you most likely prefer to watch TV in color. In fact like most people in the developed world you have probably grown accustomed to viewing shows on an HD television in color.
So while it was a revolutionary technology just a few decades ago, black & white TV now seems quaint. Human psychology being what it is has caused us to expect to see information in color.
So in many ways, presenting critical printed information to policyholders in monochrome may actually be casting your company in a poor or outdated light. Further, presenting critical printed information in well designed, full personalized, variable color helps to draw policyholders` attention to the data you most want them to read.
Another benefit digital color delivers is the full integration of print with digital media. Let`s face it, few if any organizations have monochrome websites.
In these days of multichannel communications, most marketing people understand the necessity to coordinate the look and feel of all media for branding purposes. What message is your organization delivering if your web presence and printed documents look completely different? Digital color printing can help avoid this issue.
But what about cost? As I mentioned previously, cost was a major inhibitor to the wide acceptance of digital color. Perhaps it`s not surprising that technology has for the most part, taken care of this issue.
In the early days of digital color most of the systems offered were similar to monochrome in that they were toner-based and were relatively slow. Today most vendors offer high speed inkjet color printers. This provides significant cost advantages over toner based systems as well as increased flexibility.
Traditionally, in cases where users want some color on their printed documents monochrome printers relied on pre-printed forms. These are forms printed using offset presses and then run through monochrome digital printers to have the data—names, account numbers, transactional data—added.
Digital color printing (regardless of toner or inkjet) eliminates this issue. Since full digital color allows for “blank white in/color out” document printing, the cost of using and inventorying pre-printed forms can be significantly reduced.
Inkjet delivers all the advantages of digital color printing at a fraction of the cost. According to industry expert, Elizabeth Gooding of InkjetInsight.com, full color inkjet printing costs are between 10 percent and 50 percent of those of toner-based color printing. The determining variables are the type of printer, the substrate used, and the amount of color coverage on the pages.
And when combined with powerful document composition tools, digital color printing can produce documents that are unique page-to-page thereby allowing user organizations to send customers and prospects fully personalized communications. According to Gooding the use of personalization helps control costs by allowing insurers to print only information that`s relevant to individual policyholders and eliminate information the recipient might perceive as ‘clutter.` This can result in fewer pages printed and lower postage costs while improving policyholder engagement.
It`s clear that the development of high speed inkjet printing has made the advantages of digital color available to all forward-thinking organizations who want to invest in the technologies and skills required.
But what about insurance carriers that want to take advantage of digital color without making those investments? Fortunately there are many service providers who have those necessities. Some even specialize in servicing insurers and have staffs who understand the nexus of technology, design, and policyholder engagement.
Is color on your organization`s agenda for 2017? What are you waiting for?