Quality Assurance in CCM: Checking Multi-Channel Offers in a World of Infinite Variability

"Like" something and you'll see it magically pop up everywhere you go on the Internet. Click on an item and it is yours forever--or at least until you click on something else. (The Internet has the attention span of a gerbil.) It's the result of what they call "Big Data."

Big Data is driving the world we live in, the world we work in and the way we shop. The data crunchers are out there tracking our every movement, collating our preferences individually and in aggregate in order to determine trends, understand our preferences and draw conclusions about us (and/or our geographic or demographic category) to drive marketing.

Click on a pair of boots on Etsy and Amazon wants in, flooding the margins of your browser screen with offers for those very same boots, dangling offers of similar boots or trying to make hay out of what else you might like to purchase that would look darn good with those boots. Remember when catalogs were the nuisance of our snail mailboxes in the Nineties? Remember how Kramer on Seinfeld gathered up all those Pottery Barn catalogs he got in the mail each week so he could dump them all at once right into the store in revenge? Who would have thought those would be the good old days?

Variable Data Content Drives Marketing

That same doggedness and persistence is ubiquitous on the Internet because they know, just as the catalog people knew, that eventually they will be right and you will click on that image and buy. It's a numbers game. And variable data content drives marketing. In truth, it’s a complicated game because, you see, none of us are one-dimensional and most of us are more than two dimensional. We don’t just like one thing, or two things. We like a whole bunch of things in various categories and to various degrees. And we can keep going, really, because we aren't three dimensional or four dimensional but like sixteen, seventeen dimensional. Some of you out there are even more than that. And each dimension--each "like"--leads to a different potential offer.

So you may get one offer this week and another offer next week, both based on your preferences, or you can get one offer this week on mobile and another offer tomorrow in your email in-box. The ability to “mash up” distinctly different likes in a way that combines them is a case in point. A middle-aged man might want a Grateful Dead t-shirt and/or a NY Giants sweatshirt—but put them both together and you almost guarantee a sale. Two of his favorite things together? That’s irresistible. That’s the beauty of variable data.

Programmatic is adding a whole new wrinkle to this: programmatic ads are pushed out across the web and then evaluated in a whole host of ways: by geography, day, time of day, audience segments, venues, etc. -- to help ad buyers narrow down their spending accordingly. Once upon a time, marketers bought a certain number of ads with a certain publisher and were locked in by contract until the campaign was over, at which time they tried to determine what was a waste and what worked well. Executives knew they were wasting half of their spend--they just didn't know which half.

Nowadays all that is done pretty much on the fly, with adjustments made early and often. Executives find out which half is being wasted--and they do something about it.  The programs get more and more complex with more and more variability. For example, someone might like Bass Pro shops, also be thinking of taking a cruise, but love to fly Jet Blue, need new shoes and be due a smartphone upgrade. And the program is trying to cover every combination, every likelihood and every version possible. So if you are marketing a credit card and want to market it with something the recipient really wants, you need to try some different variations.

And there are a whole bunch of other criteria based on data, too. And it is multiplied by the number of individual mailings, each with their own thing. Welcome to the world of variable data and inkjet printing.

The old light table approach won't do anymore.

So how do you track all these offers and make sure that they aren’t inadvertently pushing a text block out of place or obscuring a bar code or otherwise ruining the perfection of a piece? And so how do you keep track of all that variability?  The old light table approach won't do anymore, meaning that back in the old days of mass communication, before a company actually began printing mass quantities of a piece they would print one copy and put it on a light table to make sure that it was up to standard and there were no mistakes as far as the eye could see.

These days that approach won’t work because with variable data you have incredible amounts of variation. You don’t have enough eyes to verify that the white space is managed with accuracy to the millimeter on the X and Y axis and that every pixel is in the exact right place.

It’s important for print because you don’t discover the error after the fact, especially when there are slight variations in terms and conditions by location or state or demographic or customer value and you sure don’t want to throw away a ruined print run because of an error.

In terms of digital delivery the fix may be easier -- but the damage to the brand can’t be repaired as fast. So the old light table needs to join the plates and presses in the Print Museum. You need another approach. One way to do it is to purchase an automated QA solution that is capable of detecting the most minor variations. You want to make sure that what you intend is what you are sending. That's the essence of Customer Communication Management

More variability leads to greater complexity that can't be tracked by the human eye and requires sort and match capabilities that are beyond our natural ability. For that we turn to technology. At any given time a given profile can yield 3000 different versions of a 3 page piece that is prepared to be sent out any number of times a month by mail, email, web or mobile, whether or not it is actually sent out. And it all needs to be verified in terms of quality and accuracy.

If Variable Content is the Cornerstone of CCM, then QA Matters

Customer Communication Management is more than document composition. It is operational efficiency, analytics, use of variable data, process workflow, omnichannel delivery, roundtrip and feedback loops, and, yes, automated quality assurance. If you can’t assure the quality of a piece, what right do you have to send it to a customer? If the cornerstone of CCM is variable content, QA is a big part of the equation. The amount of variation possible can’t be measured and managed and checked with the human eye, so automation software is a key component.

The Changing Role of Print/Mail Service Bureaus

A number of direct mail print service bureaus are increasingly interested in helping out their clients with marketing services and the physical act of creating and delivering multi-channel variable data pieces, thus far mainly limited to adding email and web to the traditional print/mail offer--but mobile is coming on fast and video is not far behind. The technology that drives the offer and composes the piece is in place, the hooks to big data and/or CRM databases are readily available, so the next step is ensuring that one can keep it all straight and that the sheer amount of variability possible doesn’t destroy the integrity of the individual piece. So it is clear: CCM relies on automated QA.

On March 30 at 11 am EST, Compart and Prinova will discuss this further in a free webinar regarding Automated Quality Assurance: to sign up for that free webinar, please go to www.compart.com/en-US/webinar-quality-assurance.

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