How Automation Makes Print Production Successful

How Automation Makes Print Production Successful

By |Published On: April 28th, 2022|6.9 min read|

Contrary to what you may have heard, print is not dead. In a world where the flood of ephemeral online ads is quickly seen and forgotten just as fast, the humble printed catalog or circular ad can have a long-lasting effect on the consumer. This is not just a matter of personal preference. A report in Scientific American recently concluded that “reading on paper still boasts unique advantages” over screens.

Suppose a printed catalog is well designed and produced. In that case, it is far more likely to remain on a table or counter, a reminder of the retailer’s brand and an open invitation to browse calmly at one’s leisure. The same cannot be said of an online or email ad, which is swiped aside forever in an instant by the next frantic, on-screen interruption. As publishing pioneer John W. Seybold once said, “Print speaks to us, quietly and patiently.”

A well-designed, printed catalog is a reminder of the retailer’s brand and an open invitation to browse, calmly, at one’s leisure.

But no matter how effective print may be, it is still a production challenge for marketing and production teams – especially for large, multi-location retailers. The hard reality is that the complexities of data-intensive printing can mean sacrificing cost-effectiveness, design quality, or both.

The Data Dilemma

By definition, catalogs and flyers are complicated. Retailers and parts manufacturers have zillions of individual products to sell. Each one contains a multitude of information data. The data includes (but are not limited to) the following information on each product:

SKU number Manufacturer ID number(s) Make and model
Full product name Abbreviated name Short product description
Long product description Version number Size or dimensions
Color(s) Material specifications Component parts
Relation to other products Manufacturer Purchase history
Overall inventory quantity Store location(s) Warehouse location(s)
Projected availability Item price Item cost
Gross margin Item price Sale pricing guidelines
Product reviews Marketing campaign history Shipping information
Warranty information Disclaimers And more

Of course, not all these data points will make it into a catalog or flyer, but many will. The others are all relevant to planning every campaign – AND they are typically scattered across many separate databases. If you multiply all those data points by the sheer volume of individual products advertised, then you’ll get an inkling of the formidable challenges every marketing production manager faces.

With all that manual juggling of complex data, there is little time left to focus on design.

Each printed marketing piece includes an array of great products selected by the marketing team for their importance to the company’s bottom line. Item pricing strategies offer specials on desirable but price-sensitive items while charging normal prices on other products to make up the difference. Campaigns differ by geographic region and demographics, meaning that each printed piece must have multiple versions.

Now comes the hard part (if you can believe it). The design goal of every printed piece is to stand out in some way, be appealing and memorable enough to hang onto, and satisfy the quiet but powerful appeal of print. But with all that manual juggling of complex data, there is little time left to focus on design. Print versioning makes it even more critical to have a production process that reliably maintains a solid connection to all data sources during the design process.

The Automation Answer

With so many time-consuming variables, and so many chances to make costly errors, the only solution is to automate the process. Now, it’s true that automation is a hot button issue for many companies, often fueled by fears of consolidation, downsizing, and interdepartmental strife. But, as Home Depot, Lowe’s, and other large retailers have learned, there are enormous benefits to automating the print and media marketing process:

  • Greatly reduced user intervention at each step in the process, accelerating time-to-market and targeted volume of marketing campaigns.
  • Greater and more efficient collaboration among siloed departments within a large organization.
  • Sustained cost savings, among other things due to less cost-intensive error sources through automated correction cycles.
  • Greater return on marketing campaigns that can be targeted and measured with greater accuracy.

Automation applies to everything, from planning the marketing campaign to producing well-designed printed pieces and their umpteen versions. Only by automating the tedious, repetitive tasks can a production team find time to design. Moreover, once tasks become streamlined, other departments are freed to pursue nonroutine tasks, such as SEO strategy and mobile development. Only with a single, controlled chain of events can a marketing production manager and peers survive, and even thrive, in this ever-changing, data-driven world. Here’s how it plays out:

New call-to-action

Start with the planning stage. Single product and product line marketing teams spend much of their time visualizing the next campaign and turning it into practical steps. The goal is to produce a brilliant, attractive campaign, and track its progress and improve future marketing efforts. Even though they know their products intimately, something is always changing. For example:

  • A new version of the product may be imminent.
  • The product’s availability, price, or margin may have changed.
  • The product’s photos or descriptions may have changed.
  • A supply chain problem may affect delivery for some stores.
  • A specific color or size may no longer be available.

These and a hundred other changes may affect which products to feature prominently, if at all. However, marketing teams need access to data in real-time and in one place to make the best possible decision.

Visualizing the printed piece is the next step. Using a web-based whiteboarding environment, LAGO also gives marketers the ability to place high-value products where they belong in a catalog or flyer. The trick is that LAGO automates the data handling underneath the simple, drag-and-drop visual metaphor. For any selected product, all the related data is connected. When the marketing team hands the project off to designers, each product “block” automatically connects to the current product data, images, and any other information the designer may need.

Designing and producing the printed piece is equally automated. The designer receives an InDesign template file, automatically including all the marketing team’s decisions. Thanks to a LAGO Layout plugin for Adobe InDesign, the designer is free to do what they do best – create a memorable design concept – without having to hunt down all the related data from various PIM systems, DAM systems, and other databases. If any data elements change during the design process, like an updated product image, the layout is updated in real-time until the piece is sent to be printed. For example, if a regional or demographic version is called for, the system maintains all the common elements while allowing the designer to customize the new version.

The designer is free to do what they do best—create a memorable design concept—without having to hunt down all the related data.

Review and approval can be a tedious, largely manual process. Fortunately, LAGO also provides a real-time, bi-directional, and auditable process for marketing teams and designers to identify errors, communicate changes, and verify the final layout before printing.

That’s not the end. LAGO is still at work once the catalog or flyer (and multiple versions) have gone to print. The data for that particular campaign can be automatically exported to online and mobile advertising channels. Also, since the data for each advertised product is automatically tracked, the marketing team can gauge the success of each component to help them plan the next iteration.

The Smell of Success

Automated, integrated, and multichannel campaigns have enormous potential, not just to relieve the burden placed on marketing production managers. They can also increase profitability exponentially. Printed materials play a vital role in that success. In a New York Times article on the resurgence of catalogs, retail strategist Bruce Cohen remarked, “It’s a pronouncement in favor of what all retailers are recognizing—that there are moments when people want to slow down, and there’s still an important place for the catalog.”

Print is not dead. It is alive and effective. Thanks to automation tools like LAGO, that prediction is now a cost-effective reality in a data-driven world.

Related Articles