“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.
The digital print revolution- and more so the advent of multi-media marketing that combines print, email and push messaging- has changed the way business speaks to its prospects forever.
That the days of producing 20,000 of the same message, checking addresses for the longest record, sprinkling a few seeds into the list, reviewing one piece for quality and pushing the send button are numbered is a prognostication we’ve all accepted. For over a decade vendors have been extolling the virtues of variable data and one-to-one marketing with demos that often seem as miraculous as a Las Vegas magic show. And yet, the old one-size-fits-all direct marketing lives on in spite of the increasingly obvious shortcomings. The majority of the effort to sell marketers on variable data marketing has been focused on gimmicky creatives that spell a prospect’s name in shells to advertise a beach resort travel package.
The exercise of bridging the gap between a flashy demo and putting a process in place that gives the marketer confidence that Joe didn’t receive Jane’s creative, or that the VIP pricing wasn’t pushed to the entire list, is rarely discussed. Such questions as those below are rarely included in demos and many service providers end up wrestling with these as they move from demo to deployment:
- How should information be gathered and managed?
- How does a marketer proof variable data marketing?
- What needs to be done to validate information?
It’s often at this juncture between the flash and the process that variable data marketing fails or succeeds. Not surprisingly, it’s also where the most innovation is required and the hard work has to be done if variable data marketing is to become a trusted tool for majority of direct marketers.