Case Study: PROSeeds Die Cut Card

We believe that variable data integration can be a key ingredient to the success of many direct marketing efforts. In this case study, we will be taking a look at an extensive variable data project that we worked on in 2011, on behalf of PROSeeds.

Campaign Background

Competition for acres is fierce in Ontario’s soybean industry and PROSeeds, while known for premium IP soybeans, made up just under 4% of acres planted in 2011. Up against some of the big multinationals with huge marketing budgets, they recognized that their success relied on their ability to get focused and break through the clutter. So they opted to try a variable data concept. The agency provided the creative, while we supplied the heat zone mappings, applied the extended data information to the individual records, coordinated the printing of the cards and completed in-house assembly and mailing services. The response was excellent. We were informed that, in addition to direct feedback from farmers in support of the custom messages and recommendations, PROSeeds experienced a lift in sales in regions where they had little penetration prior to the ad running.

Planning and Execution

A well-planned variable data project should run very smoothly. The first step is to ensure that all criteria and associated deliverables are succinctly defined at the outset. To summarize, the requirements for this project were to:

The Creative

There were actually two levels of creative on this project. First, there was the display ad inside the magazine and secondly, there was the die cut card itself (shown in the images below).

Click thumbnails to enlarge images

As you can see, the design of the card was simple and clean, featuring a die cut burlap sack—the type you might traditionally find on a farm. The overall size was kept to about 5” X 7”, which helped maximize the number of cards that could be printed and cut from a sheet of card stock. While the front of the contained only a single substitution, there were actually 10 substitutions on the back, 9 of which were used to include the soybean seeds that were best suited for the particular farm, along with the associated attributes for each variety. There was also an unobtrusive control field that was used to match the card to the appropriate magazine.

Identifying the Data Sources

One of the most important tasks on variable data projects is to look at all of the required outputs and then work back to determine if

  1. they are readily available on file or
  2. they have to be calculated or derived from another source.

On this project, most of the name data was readily available, although there were a few contingencies that had to be accounted for. With the heat zone data already mapped, correlating the seed varieties was fairly straight forward.

Setting Up the Greeting & Name Substitutions

For this project, a combination of the greeting name together with the last name was suitable for most of the name substitutions on the front of the cards. The greeting name was also useable for all but a few of the substitutions on the back. As the name on the front was in upper case, there was a potential challenge with some of the longer name strings. For example, a long name like ABRAHAM & ALEXANDRA SCHWARTZENTRUBER simply would not fit. In these few cases, the team decided to substitute the word “YOUR” for the name. This worked out well, as the effected cards read “SEEDS SELECTED FOR YOUR FIELD”, which still maintained a bit of a personal touch. Interestingly, even though it appeared that there would be ample space for the greeting on the back of the card, a few longer greetings such as “Abraham, Alexandra, Elizabeth & Christopher” still proved to be a challenge. Again, in these cases a generic fallback was used.

Keeping Things in Order

As you may be aware, most Publications Mail is prepared via an LCP (Letter Carrier Presort) sort. This results in a sorted mailing stream where the pieces are sequenced by containers and bundles within containers, for shipment to various delivery and sorting stations. As the personalized cards in this example had to match up with specific magazines, it meant that the cards would have to be printed in the same sequence as the magazines. Therefore, the sort was run first and the sorted file was used to produce the variably printed cards. I would also like to note that, as the weight of the finished piece is required to run the LCP sort, we used a mock up consisting of the same stock and number of pages in the magazine to determine the weight. This allowed us to continue with the printing of the die cut cards prior to the arrival of the magazines.

QA-ing the Process

Ongoing quality assurance (QA) is a prerequisite for these types of projects and was also a key ingredient in the success of the PROSeeds campaign. QA procedures required ensuring that all workstations were set up correctly and that there was a go-to sample that everyone had access to. At the outset, each worker’s pieces were checked to ensure that all matching and assembly tasks were being performed as per the sample. Following the initial QA, continual spot-checking at each workstation was used to ensure that the same work standards were being applied throughout the course of the assembly and mail preparation.


There is no doubt that variable data is a powerful tool that allows us to do some remarkable things. Still, we believe that all successful projects like this one will have the following common elements:

We feel that the PROSeeds project exemplifies all of this elements, and is an excellent example of what can be done to tailor insightful messages for your customers.