Versioning your store visuals: How it can transform your business

“To save money, you’ve got to buy in bulk.”

While this piece of economic advice stands up, it can mislead business leaders into thinking their visual communications and signage have to be identical (read: impersonal) across every store.

After all, you can’t get customized signage at bulk pricing, right?

As it turns out, you can — thanks to versioning.

What is signage versioning?

Signage versioning is when a sign is printed in multiple iterations — or with varying data from sign to sign — all in the same print run.

Often the terms “versioning” and “variable data printing” are used interchangeably. They are related but slightly different.

For example, a print job of 100 signs may have 20 versions within it — that’s versioning.

You can also take that customization a step further within versioning and print 100 signs with a different city name on each of them — that’s variable data printing (VDP).

This type of printing is possible through the use of digital presses. Unlike traditional offset and flexographic printing, which uses physical plates to transfer ink, digital printing allows nearly unlimited customization — which can open the door to a lot of creativity and cost savings.

When versioning and variable data printing (VDP) might be needed

Not every piece of visual communications in your store needs versioning, but there are several use cases where it can eliminate headaches and create value.

Store variation

Each of your individual store locations is different — from footprints to fixtures to offerings. The same sign sizes, imagery, or messaging won’t necessarily work in all of them.

But versioning or VDP lets you pull from a database of all the pertinent data about your business (what has to be on every sign) — along with the store specific data (what has to be different on each sign) — so you can print all of them together.

This cuts down on issues related to overproduction, reorders, and reprints.

Multiple languages

The same concept applies to varying languages: Research shows that 76% of consumers across the globe prefer purchasing products with information in their own language. In an increasingly global and multilingual marketplace, speaking in your customers’ various native languages helps connect your products and services to a broader audience and eliminates barriers to sales.

With the technology available to automatically translate content, printing signs in any and every language you need can be done seamlessly within the same print job. (Of course, it’s important to ensure the translation is accurate.)

Local and regional markets

This also works for localization needs.

Ask 100 customers which of your products or services they purchase most, and there’s sure to be some variance. You won’t necessarily get 100 different answers, but local geography, climate, culture, and preferences will have an impact.

The same goes for your sign messaging.

You can tailor your messaging and vary product offerings and pricing based on regional markets and local demographics. Varying the messaging on your signs makes easy to promote the products and services that are most relevant to your customers.

Versioning and VDP can help foster the personal connections with brands and products that help drive transactions and encourage loyalty.

To make this all work, you need a well-planned localization strategy. That’s why we partner with our customers on their localization strategy, deploying our proprietary technology to drive efficiencies and cost savings while ensuring accuracy for every order.

Consumers receive more than 5,000 messages a day, so your signage needs to grab their attention with information that connects instantly.”

What are the business benefits of versioning?

In addition to solving the problems surrounding those types of use cases, versioning can bring an entire host of business benefits you might not have expected.

Supports marketing analytics

Versioning and VDP can be powerful data-gathering tools, allowing you to make strategic business decisions.

For example, let’s say you create a campaign with two offers — BOGO and low-price subscription — and you want to determine which is the most popular within five ZIP codes using a random in-store sign distribution.

You can print 500 of the same sign, half of them with the BOGO offer and the other half with the low-price subscription offer, with 100 for each ZIP code — all in the same print run.

Not only does it save printing time, but it also helps automate distribution for strategic testing of each message. Your marketing team can start collecting data faster and make better targeting decisions, which leads to more sales.

Increases personalization

Speaking of more targeting, companies are leaning more and more toward highly targeted marketing. Consumers receive more than 5,000 messages a day, so your signage needs to grab their attention with information that connects instantly.

Personalization is a way to accomplish this and stand out.

Think about the campaigns that are highly personalized down to the customer’s name. Can you imagine having to print each of those separately? Instead, variable data makes it possible to feed the printer all the names that you need printed in one run.

Regional personalization also matters. People in the South won’t flock to a store that has snowblowers on its winter sale signage — except in the case of some freak weather incident. That also applies to price points. What’s affordable in a metropolitan location of your store will be outrageously expensive in a rural location. Signs and countertop displays can be printed with the same branding, same product, and variable pricing.

Supports sustainability

Another benefit impacts the environment. Climate change is no longer an issue that business leaders can choose to ignore.

In fact, almost 30% of executives say their organizations are experiencing the impact of climate-related disasters and more than 25% are dealing with resource scarcity as a result of climate change. They know the world is at a point where we all have to take action to stave off further effects of climate change.

Companies like Target, Starbucks, and American Eagle Outfitters have aggressive minimum sustainability material requirements. When we work with customers that have broad sweeping goals, we understand they are no longer just saying, “we're trying to use less plastics.” They are telling us how much post-consumer waste they have and the minimums we need to meet.

And we are able to meet if not exceed their expectations consistently — partially thanks to versioning and VDP.

Why is that?

Versioning and variable data printing can help significantly reduce waste because this type of print is data-driven. You know exactly how many signs, labels, or mailers you need printed, which can help your company reach its sustainability goals.

And you’re not printing 500 more of each variation than you need just to get bulk pricing. Instead, you pay incrementally more per unit and get the quantities you truly need.

Satisfies local requirements

Versioning also helps companies handle some of the unique sign requirements in local ordinances.

Many of our clients have retail locations in towns and counties across the U.S. that have local requirements related to communicating sales tax, specific disclaimers, or even minimum font sizes for pricing information.

And they’re all different.

Instead of having to print each of those signs and displays separately, we can include them in the same run, assuming the correct data is sent to our presses This saves so much time and ensures the right information is printed on the right sign or display.

How does signage versioning compare to digital signage?

We do get asked about digital signage and how that compares to versioned signage. There are benefits to both.

Digital signs are really just giant flat screens, which means you can vary what’s displayed simply by sending a different message to the screen.

We are big fans of digital signage — in the right application. But they are pricy and don’t always work with a retailers budget.

For a retailer with 11,000 stores, digital signage for each location would be outrageously expensive. Assuming each sign costs between $225 and $325, that’s millions of dollars just for signs. Not to mention the costs associated with installation, electricity, and Wi-Fi in every location, plus a resource at each location to update and upload data to the sign or troubleshoot when things go wrong.

And, when you consider most digital signs have a life of three to five years, you also have to pay someone to disassemble it, where biodegradable signs can simply be recycled.

Instead, we’ve seen digital and versioned signage work well in scenarios where the flagship stores have digital signs and the rest get backlit signs specific to their region, location, demographic, etc.

A hybrid signage approach contributes to sustainability

Waste doesn’t just apply to paper and plastic materials.

Go to any recycling center and you’ll see how many TVs are stacked up. When you consider that the average digital sign has a life span of about three to five years, one company can contribute quite a bit of waste if they change out digital signs each time the technology upgrades.

By being strategic with digital signs and printing versioned signs on a substrate that biodegrades (or at least can be recycled), you can further contribute to your organization’s sustainability KPIs.

One fun example we’ve worked on was for a chain of well-known convenience stores. We were able to cost-effectively produce printed pole signs that varied based on sales per region. We used a plastic corrugate that is biodegradable and holds up well outside in any weather for 90 days.

This allowed our customer to quickly and inexpensively keep the messaging and visual communication up to date and customized per location — while literally weathering any storm!

The first rule of thumb: Garbage in, garbage out.”

Best practices for signage versioning and VDP

To get the most value out of your versioned stores signage and visual communications, there are a few best practices to put in place first.

Make sure your data is accurate and organized

The first rule of thumb: Garbage in, garbage out.

Ask any data analyst. Your data has to be correct and in the order you need it printed. That means your team should spend some time checking and double-checking the data before it goes to print.

This is especially important with VDP, where every piece has different data.

Choose a partner that understands your business

It almost goes without saying, but you also need to have a partner experienced with versioning and VDP.

The printing partner you choose to work with should be able to tell you what they need from a data perspective to complete your print job efficiently and correctly.

When you work with a partner with expertise in variable data printing, you can reap the benefits of versioned store signage and visual communications that have a much smaller impact on the planet… and a much bigger impact on your customers.


Ready to personalize your print campaigns? Connect with one of our VDP experts to get started!

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