Saturday, October 31, 2009

the purpose of the document

Last time, I gave some suggestions about starting a redesign project. But I ended with the statement that you MUST determine the main purpose of the document first.

Most of the variable data documents I work with are perfect vehicles for marketing or cross selling or transpromo and no whatever you want to call it, they are all the same.

But bear in mind that each of these documents have one and only one main purpose. All other uses are secondary and should be treated as such.

So we agree, don’t we? There is only one main purpose. Let’s say it is an invoice and the company needs to get paid as soon as possible. The example I have included is my own lease invoice (shown above). This invoice (the company shall remain anonymous) has a detail section that consists of one line with the principal, interest and total (top of page 2). This is all the detail information I need to pay the invoice. In fact, this whole bill including my mailing address, return address, due date, etc. would actually take up only about ½ of a page. So it is safe to assume that one side of one sheet of paper is enough to do the job. Yet, there were months when four, yes I said 4, messages (listed as “important”) were included and preceded the detail information. This pushed the detail section to a second sheet of paper. Towards the end of the lease, the detail began appearing on the back of the first sheet, so only one piece of paper was used.

These four messages included: pay on line, pay by phone, in case of accident and remittance. All of these messages are important to a certain degree, but all are secondary to the payment of the invoice. These messages should have appeared after the detail and only those that could fit on one page should appear and in some kind of hierarchical order. Not every message is “important.” Generally speaking only one message is important, while others are “nice to haves.”

The simple answer to why this happened, I would guess marketing may have been involved, no one took the time to determine the purpose of the document, the user and the cost of adding pages, either the back of the first page or the second sheet.

I didn’t even talk about how often and how many of these messages get read. So, determining the main purpose and sticking to it, is critical.

1 comment:

  1. I think your idea that there is one important message in a bill needs a little nuancing. I'd suggest that bills are read in stages, during which the focus switches:

    1. read/don't read - who is it from and what is it?
    2. check/don't check - is this the amount I'm expecting? If not I'll look at the detail.
    3. pay/dispute - assuming 'pay' is most common choice, how can I pay?

    So at each stage a different kind of information becomes the most important.

    Sinec you discuss the role of marketing, I'd be interested to know your opinion about 'transpromo', which seems to be exciting a lot of people in the document industry... but worrying me. it isn't actually a new idea - we used to talk about 'relationship communications' to cover personalised transactional documents - but it is framed in a way that encourages 'white space management'. In the wrong hands this seems to amount to sticking an ad in wherever there is room. But whenever I've researched advertising on bills with customers, they have been sensitive about the issue. They see the bill as their territory, and about stuff they have chosen to buy. They don't like ads on bills unless they are in a clearly differentiated space that can read or ignore as they choose.