Scotiabank and Xerox get personal

At first glance, there’s nothing unique about the direct mail marketing campaign Jim Tobin spearheaded early last year – although, in reality, Tobin said the project marked a big first for his company.

At the heart of the campaign was a five page letter sent to Scotiabank customers over the age of 55 who held Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs), explained Tobin, director of marketing programs and operations at Scotiabank in Toronto. The RRSP market is crucial for Scotiabank; it estimates senior customers hold a combined $27 billion in retirement investments.

Tobin said many seniors fail to adequately prepare their RRSPs for conversion to a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF), which by law seniors must do by age 69. The switch requires new investment strategies and a good understanding of Canada’s tax laws. Scotiabank wanted the letter, which it sent out in 1997, to help customers better understand their financial situation.

An experienced marketer, Tobin said seniors are not easily convinced. “They value personal relationships based on trust and expertise. They also have the time and skills to do their homework and shop around. [RRIFs] are not an impulse purchase.”

He decided that simply sending the relevant information via a standard form letter wouldn’t be enough – each letter had to be tailor-made. That’s when he came up with idea of including a photo of one of Scotiabank’s 170 regional personal investment managers (PIMs), along with their biographical information and signatures, in each letter. “We need our customers to be able to identify with these people, or identify them to begin with,” he said.

That meant letters in two languages had to be mailed to 300,000 customers. Each customer had to be linked with one of the PIMs and a specific Scotiabank branch within the customer’s community. As well, the location of that branch had to be provided. Tobin consulted his direct mail marketing partner, Toronto-based Bassett Direct, with the idea.

Technologically speaking, Scotiabank’s plan was well within Bassett Direct’s ability, said company president Rich Bassett. But its sheer size and scope proved to be a big challenge.

“The combinations and the variations was probably the most complex part of it, because there was a variety of different variable text messages (concerning education levels or expertise) tied into specific PIMs,” Bassett said. And because the PIMs were responsible for providing their own photo, the quality ranged from passport shots to professional portraits “which we had to scan in and then create a consistent-looking format,” he added. This concerned Bassett the most, since the photos were key to the mail campaign.

Using CompuSet software from San Diego-based Document Sciences Corp., a Xerox Corp. partner company, Bassett said he was able to compile the individual information and photos, and output it to a series of Xerox 4635 laser printers.

Gary Jarosz, director of the printing systems division at Xerox Canada Ltd. in North York, Ont., said CompuSet from Document Sciences is an example of what he calls “document automation technology.

“[CompuSet] becomes almost like a document that is a software program; all this conditional processing is done within the document itself using this software architecture,” he said. “It allows you to compose a document using specific individual data, or personalized data, to create a personalized one-to-one document, so that document is printed different for every individual that receives it.”

Bassett Direct used five printer trays to print the letters; the first was used for the Scotiabank letterhead, the next three contained the main body of the letter, and the fifth contained the specific PIM information. Bassett said he was able to output the letter into a 1600 dpi image, both in the text and half tones.

Bassett Direct is also able to work in PostScript and Apple Corp.’s Macintosh environments – platforms used widely by its clients. That means Bassett doesn’t have to translate incoming work into a proprietary Xerox environment. “So you don’t get into things like form set ups that are difficult to do; it’s basically a flow-through process,” Bassett said.

Tobin said the PIM mailing campaign paid off. While he cannot quote exact figures, in the period following the campaign Scotiabank’s RRIF grew four times the regular market growth rate. “(And) this was the first time that we had taken a highly personalized communication piece, utilizing paged variable images, photographs, and different segmentations on customer,” Tobin added.

“That was a new departure for us, in what was a very important market opportunity.”