Is Data Readability on Your Preflight Checklist?

By | January 25, 2011

Heidi Tolliver-Nigro pictureWhat does it take to get the data right? It’s more than ensuring that all of the fields are filled in correctly and the data itself is accurate. In addition to all of the technical issues, you also have to look at the data in terms of how it will actually read on the page. That’s a whole different ballgame.

For example, you might buy a list that tells you how much money each recipient makes. But you aren’t going to send out a piece that says, “John, you make $156,000 per year, so you might be interested buying one of these . . . .” Instead, you’ll identify John as part of a group of people in a defined income range, then use the appropriate images and wording to address John as part of that group.

Also, just because data is accurate doesn’t mean it’s going to read naturally. Let’s say you are looking to sell graduate programs to an audience with specific undergraduate degrees. It would not be unusual for the data to come in abbreviated. Here is a list of the first few undergrad degrees offered by the university here in my backyard, Penn State:

  • Actuarial Science (ACTSC)
  • Advertising/Public Relations (AD PR)
  • African and African American Studies (AASBA)
  • African and African American Studies (AASBS)
  • Agribusiness Management (AG BM)

Imagine dropping the raw data into a personalized piece! “Hi, Bob! Now that you’ve received your degree in Agribusiness Management  (AG BM), you might be thinking about advancing your education.” Or, even worse, “Hi, Bob! Now that you’ve gotten your AG BM . . .”

Or it might not be an abbreviation. It might be the formal name of the program or institution that would never be used in everyday conversation. If you purchase the name of recent college grads, “Congratulations on graduating from Boston College!” will work just fine. But you don’t want to say “Congratulations on graduating from The Pennsylvania State University!” You’ll want to say “Penn State.”

Now imagine combining snafus! Nothing screams, “We just dropped raw data into this postcard” like sending out a communication that says, “Congratulations on graduating from The Pennsylvania State University with a degree in AASBA”!

The point is that you have to look at data as part of the larger communication. Sometimes the data will read fine as it comes arrives in the file. Other times, you have to massage it or be sensitive to setting it up in order for it to read correctly. Abbreviations and formal names not used in everyday language are just two examples of the many data faux pas that can plague even the most seasoned 1:1 practitioners.

Is data “readability” on your data preflight checklist?

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2 thoughts on “Is Data Readability on Your Preflight Checklist?

  1. Dwight Polglaze

    In theory, of course, Heidi. The detail you talk about is just that–theory–to many who are engaged in VDP unfortunately. I think they sometimes just get to the point of actually putting data on the page, and go “Wha-Hoo! Look at that, we’re doing VDP!” As you pointed out, there’s so much more to it than that. Although getting there is often a big task, it’s just a small step in the whole process. To really make VDP/W2P work, data-processing, pre-media and graphic design must commit to whole new idea of proofing.

  2. Elizabeth Gooding

    Think of it this way: if your clients want the best success rate on mailings they need the data to be proofed. There also need to be variations of the mailing that gracefully eliminate personlized data when the data doesn’t make sense. THESE ARE ADDITIONAL SERVICES YOU CAN CHARGE FOR. It makes you sound smart to warn of potential issues in the design and there are tools and methods to help with the data preflight. A clients’ challenges can be your opportunity.

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