Production: Foundation for Automation
Step 2—For the creative team, this step begins after a majority or all of the digital assets are approved for use. It will generate a mechanical similar to that used on a traditional print project to give the service provider a basis for the layout and areas of static and variable content. This can be given in native formats such as InDesign or Quark to allow subtle creative nuances to be transmitted. The mechanical is important to the provider’s programming team, since it will be the basis for VDP programming. Note that for many complex VDP programs, multiple creative layouts will be submitted during this step to take advantage of the variable output ability. As an example, for an auto client’s program, 10 distinctive vehicle creative layouts were submitted to show variances to images, offers and creative.
With the data file layouts in hand, the provider will start the most important portion of the process—VDP programming. This programming process will be the intelligence behind the execution and will determine the output content. Not just if-then statements, but creative elements, such as formatting and changes to the layout, are coded at this time. Most complex programs require a comprehensive matrix be developed to house the programming commands and triggers to build the individual pieces. The marketer’s data team must be constantly available during this step to ensure any technical issues that arise are addressed quickly. In many cases, weaknesses in the data are discovered and corrected.
Step 3—For both teams, pre-production audits are the most important quality-control step during the entire setup process. Most complex VDP programs may allow as many variations as the number of data records provided. For most enterprise programs, it will be near-impossible and impractical to review each individual record. The marketer and the service provider will determine a reasonable sample of records that can be used to ensure accuracy. Two sets of identical sample records are printed and submitted for review; one set goes to the creative team, the other to the data team.