“Begin with the end in mind”, a missive popularized by self-improvement guru Stephen Covey, is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation. The idea that our direct marketing is re-created over and over as it is produced certainly applies to variable data marketing. Beginning with – or more aptly, keeping the end in mind, is critical to a successful outcome.
In practice, the best implementation of Covey’s mantra is a system that pushes the restrictions of the implementation forward in the creative and data management processes. For example, if our objective is to produce personalized communications in both electronic and print mediums using a common creative and database, the creative and copywriting activities must be restricted by the concept of the physical page used to deliver the message even though such a restriction does not exist in the electronic medium. Similarly, if we have embedded variable data tags into our copy, the design must account for the reality that data of different character counts will move line breaks and alter paragraph lengths as each record is merged. Accounting for the dynamic behavior of variable data creative and copy either through templates, rules or preflighting (or a combination of these) enables designers and copywriters to envision the implementation of their work as they create rather than looping back to the creative process when the implementation fails in production.