The Designer’s Dilemma

Designers have more to do than hunt for images and product information. But when their printed and online designs involve complex data, they need tools to stay productive.

Graphic designers have powerful, unprecedented digital asset management solutions at their disposal. Tasks that once took days or weeks now take only minutes. Instead of waiting for specialists to deliver retouched images and typeset copy, a designer can do it all within sophisticated design software.
It’s a mixed blessing – especially in high-volume, product-intensive design projects. Think about catalogs or retail flyers with versions customized for multi-location retailers. Just because you can create infinite versions of a complicated piece doesn’t mean you have the resources to do so. The more complex a project is, and the more product and price variations each version requires, the more likely it is something will be missed creating more versioning reviews for marketing departments.

The High Cost of Data Handling

For B2B and B2C graphic designers, print and digital promotions very often involve products. Each piece features not only high-quality picture(s) but also descriptions, reviews, sizes, colors, pricing, and/or promotion details.
Now, multiply that by the number of products per page, the number of pages, the frequency of each promotion, and the number of local variations. With so much information to juggle, there’s a real risk of turning talented designers into data-entry operators. Hiring more designers is seldom cost-effective, especially if they don’t have enough time to design! It’s an endless cycle.

Just developing and finding images also consumes a percentage of a designer’s time. One study found that designers can spend 20 to 30 percent of their day looking for the right images – or the right versions – to use in a layout.

Cost of labor is only one factor. Data selection errors – the wrong image or price for one of many versions of a catalog, for example – can result in reprints, refunds, and even legal liability. Not only do designers have less time to design, they are increasingly prone to costly mistakes.

Real Automation to the Rescue

In the early days of desktop design, product and marketing information was available from many sources—often random and disorganized. The rise of Digital Asset Management (DAM) and Product Information Management (PIM) systems began to slowly change that. Designers still had to frequently search online databases and hope that they have the most up-to-date data.

Additionally, product information is very often a collection of related data from multiple sources. Making sure that every detail was correct—and current—was time-consuming, prone to errors, and left production racing to meet go-to-market deadlines.

Fortunately, real process automation between multiple data sources and the designers toolkit is now possible, also outlined in our Modern Day Hunting and Gathering blog covering the power of the LAGO plugin for Adobe InDesign. Using a collaborative workflow, marketing managers can pre-populate an InDesign template with all the required PIM and DAM data, leaving the designer free to design and produce multiple versions of a piece.

Creativity Within Constraints

A templated design workflow may seem like a contradiction in terms, but it’s not. With fewer hours chasing and entering data—and hoping it is accurate data—designers can focus on making the piece attractive and compelling. There are also important design decisions that cannot be automated. In fact, they are made easier because of automation. In the LAGO example, a template may contain a “block” of related data for a particular product, including more than one image for that product. In that case, the selection of just the right image, including color, orientation, and composition, requires a designer’s eye. Since the designer is not overburdened with chasing data details, they are freed up to focus on decisions affecting quality and messaging.

While automation can make the designer’s life easier and more productive, it can never replace their innate and valuable talent.

It’s All About Communication

Since the first cave paintings, designers have sought ways to communicate important ideas visually. Technology has enabled them to do so to a mass audience and, more recently, in a way that relates to each individual. Today, complex data are more relevant than ever. But whether the final medium is in print or on screen, the message always requires the skills of a visual communicator.

Using advanced systems like LAGO’s production capabilities to wrangle the data simply lets the designer focus on the skills that make their communication effective.


Top 4 Ways To Leverage InDesign + Automation To Easily Manage Retail Catalogs

Top 4 Ways To Leverage InDesign + Automation To Easily Manage Retail Catalogs

Ever since the iconic Sears Big Book catalog – and more recently, the IKEA catalog – stopped publication, it may seem like print catalogs are no longer relevant or effective in marketing to today’s retail consumers. We would argue, however, that they are making a comeback and may be more important than ever.

The Wall Street Journal and Mobile Commerce are reporting that print catalogs are very much alive and well – and still result in approximately $850 in average annual purchases per consumer. This comeback is supported even further by mega-retailers Amazon and Wayfair who do nearly 100% of their sales online, but still print and send catalogs.

How Are Print Catalogs Still Effective?

Two main drivers for this apparent comeback are the changing retail experience and the overcrowded space available to grab your customer’s attention.

While brick and mortar shopping has declined, consumers still demand the same experience when shopping. A well-designed and branded catalog can provide the feel of in-store shopping with familiar lifestyle images and product display. Some catalogs’ designs are even on par with expensive coffee table books.

While digital marketing is important, it’s gotten more crowded with more barriers and less tracking options to reach your target audience. Getting your full product line and advertised incentives into your customer’s hands can be gold. The catalog is a tangible offering that showcases so much product data through text and graphics, that it becomes even easier than shopping online. All the information they need is right there, and they can mark the products they want to remember.

The compelling beauty of a complex retail catalog page comes with a high cost – the cost of managing mountains of product data.

This can be much more powerful than a banner ad or other display marketing options. We don’t need to convince you of all the potential image variants, product-specific databases, along with text descriptions, sizes, color choices, SKU numbers, prices, and localized inventory and specials. With so many available controls and catalog plugins for InDesign and so many data sources to manage, the potential for disaster is high.

Automation to the Rescue

Thankfully, Adobe InDesign is more than amenable to third-party automation software. It allows ordinary users to accurately juggle massive amounts of product data, in multiple data sources, without sacrificing Adobe’s design elegance and typographic prowess.

Here are four ways that Comosoft LAGO’s approach to automation accomplishes the seemingly impossible. It gives designers the autonomy they need, the accountability their managers require, and most of all, the ability to achieve high page throughput in the demanding retail environment.

1. Leveraging the InDesign Workflow

Since introduced twenty-one years ago, InDesign has allowed users to “place” digital images and text on a virtual page—controlling each element with pinpoint precision before sending the results to be printed. LAGO fully supports that powerful feature but, instead of leaving image and text selection to chance, it makes sure the designer has rapid, unerring access to the right images and text. As a result, LAGO connects the designer with all the correct product data, releasing them to focus on the creative process.

LAGO also leverages InDesign’s basic architecture by supplying templates with pre-selected product combinations for the more mundane sections of the page. (More on these in section 2.)

The designer still retains creative control and can override the template settings to make the page aesthetically pleasing. However, suppose they must make a change that reflects a product’s data in a catalog. In that case, the proposed change automatically goes to the product marketing manager for approval so later versions can be well managed. In addition, designers do not have to worry about the myriad details of pricing and SKU numbers, which are automatically supplied from their respective databases.

2. The Power of the PIM

Product Information Management or PIM databases are at the heart of major retail operations. They contain most business information about each product sold and are essential for ordering, tracking, shipping, and warehousing potentially millions of different products. Sometimes, they include pricing and inventory levels, which can fluctuate at a moment’s notice and vary by season, region, or even unforeseen circumstances – like hurricanes or pandemics.

Product marketing managers use PIM data to plan each sales campaign for most major retailers – usually well in advance. LAGO allows them to continue using their existing PIM, creating a visual whiteboard of the featured products. They can even prioritize products with higher margins, excess inventory levels, or products specific to a season or geographic region. These campaign plans automatically generate “blocks” of related information in a template for the InDesign user. They even include product imagery from a Digital Asset Management or DAM system (see 3., next). Once the catalog is done, the product manager can track the sales performance of a particular product specified for a catalog campaign.

While Comosoft’s LAGO often integrates a retailer’s existing PIM database with its separate pricing and inventory databases, it also offers its own PIM. As a result, they have years of experience integrating and automating data input from product manufacturers. Fortunately for InDesign users, however, all those torrents of product data are managed in the background so that they can focus on sound design.

3. Dynamic DAM Automation

Most retailers also maintain a complex Digital Asset Management or DAM system for managing photographic images, color swatches, text descriptions, product reviews, and other assets related to each product sold. These assets can change at a moment’s notice – with every new product release or modification, as well as every recent product shoot. Therefore, a DAM must not only hold all the available photo and color variations, but it must also keep track of image versions – to prevent an old image from being used for a new release of a product.

As mentioned earlier, LAGO spares the InDesign user from the hours-long task of finding the exact right image – or version of the image – by creating product-specific “blocks” of information. But it goes further than that! For example, suppose a new product image is created and added to the DAM system. In that case, the InDesign layout automatically updates with the correct image (with notice to the right people) right up to the moment the layout exports for print.

4. Solving the Versioning Dilemma

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of catalog production is the need for multiple versions. Each geographic region or even each store has widely different sales needs and priorities. Sports equipment that would sell well in Minnesota would not do as well in Florida, for example. Without InDesign catalog automation, the user would have to create separate regional, store-specific, or language-specific versions of every catalog – mostly from scratch.

Thankfully, LAGO automates the entire versioning process. Multiple variants could be created from a single core catalog, each using PIM and DAM data as directed by the regional or branch marketing manager. The same data from LAGO can populate the retailer’s website or mobile app, further leveraging the “upstream” work by the product marketing department.

Designers using Adobe InDesign are still creating printed content in the form of compelling, beautiful catalogs. The difference is that, with LAGO, they can do so accurately from managed data and amplify output over multiple print (and online) versions in a fraction of the time.

Schedule a live demo

Contact us for a demonstration of how Comosoft LAGO can multiply your efficiency as a retail catalog designer.


Press Release: Comosoft opens new office in Valencia

Comosoft opens new office in Valencia (Spain)

Using the potential in one of the biggest upcoming tech areas in Europe.

Hamburg, August 2021 – Comosoft is happy to announce the opening of another company location located in Valencia (Spain), additional to the valued locations of the Comosoft Inc in Plano (Texas) and Chicago (Illinois).

In the past years the city of Valencia laid its focus clearly on forcing innovation – especially in technology and software development. This found expression in a broad base of technology specialists and highly skilled professionals in the valencian area and all around Spain. To meet the expectations of Comosoft´s fast growing customer base, Comosoft decided to open a new office full of experts in Valencia.

“Well trained people, a good infrastructure and of course a very interesting market made the decision for Valencia very easy.“, says Peter Jozefiak, CEO of Comosoft. „We were able to assemble a very good and passionate team within a few months and integrate them into Comosoft.“

The Comosoft Technology Spain team consists of Professional Service Consultants, Software Developers and Sales Managers. With this team of experts Comosoft is also ready to enter the spanish and latinamerican market with full force, making the marketing material production more efficient with their unique multichannel solution LAGO.

“Betting on an international project in the IT sector has been a great challenge for my career but I could not be more satisfied with the decision, bringing a software to Spain and Latin America with so much added value for the retail sector is just fascinating!“, states Jennyfer Diaz Hidalgo, Sales Manager at Comosoft in Valencia.


LAGOmation: The Real-World Promise of Data Driven Marketing Automation

Industrial automation is an accepted reality. Automating marketing communication production is a much different thing. Is automation even possible in the fast-moving, data-intensive world of multichannel marketing?

Automation has been a fact of life since before the Industrial Revolution and self-regulating steam engines, water mills, and looms. Having one machine that could do the work of many workers was the eighteenth-century industrialist’s dream and the manual laborer’s worst nightmare. Fast forward to today. Robots and high-speed assembly lines are the rule, not the exception.

But automating physical tasks is easy compared with the daunting task of automating data processes—especially when it comes to marketing. There are so many subjective variables, and so many different output channels. The goals are the same, however. Besides lowering costs, automation will accomplish a number of tasks.

  • Increases quality & accuracy (less flawed output)
  • Increases customization within reason (more output variety)
  • Increases throughput (more output-per-hour)
  • Relieves workers of boring tasks (less output fatigue)
  • Increases worker innovation potential (more time for Output 2.0!)

Now, replace the word “output” with retail promotions, or any other marketing campaign deliverable, and you’ll see the potential—and the difficulty—of applying these principles in the real world of marketing.

Mapping the Problem

In simpler times, marketing communication was a linear process. Agencies and brands would cook up the message, test it with a focus group (or not), and start the assembly line of designing, writing, and illustrating the finished product – for broadcast or print production. Budget size mattered, but most of the time everyone knew what to expect.

Today, it’s a lot more complex, with a lot more variables and room for error. We still need well-designed, visually persuasive results, but the “ingredients” of a campaign (the product data) and the sheer number of output channels have made the process difficult, if not impossible to manage.

We still need well-designed, visually persuasive results, but the “ingredients” of a campaign (the product data) and the sheer number of output channels have made the process difficult, if not impossible to manage.

For one thing, data about a product is never just in one, convenient place. It’s spread out over different product information management (PIM)digital asset management (DAM), inventory, pricing, and marketing management and other databases. Many of these are proprietary, or acquired during a merger, or just outdated. Now, multiply that by the number of products and product variants being sold.

Next, if a business has more than one location, chances are high that each store or region will have exceptions on price, inventory, or sales priority that will affect every marketing campaign. Each location deserves some level of autonomy—which will help them succeed—but the price of customization can’t be too high.

Finally, there seems to be a new communications channel invented every day. Retail and B2B marketers must cope with multiple platforms, devices, and media interactions – and still deliver a coherent, compelling message. It takes time—usually more than we have.

Real Marketing Production Automation

If you’re still with me, take heart. The challenges of marketing data automation can be addressed with the right approach, starting with Comosoft’s LAGO application. Its approach to marketing data automation, or LAGOmation for short, is based on years of experience and a stubborn determination not to fit neatly in any one software category.

  • LAGO has its own PIM system, but it can work with any PIM.
  • The same goes for DAM systems.
  • It can work with databases of any kind—small or large, open or proprietary, local or in the cloud.
  • It works extremely well with Adobe InDesign and other desktop design applications, but it’s not bound by those programs’ manual functions.
  • LAGO is a powerful, print automation system but can output to any digital publishing medium, like mobile apps or web shops.

You get the basic idea. LAGO lets marketing managers plan complex campaigns from complex data, wrangle that data from multiple sources, and automate product placements, exceptions, and channel output. This frees their designers from the drudgery (and cost) of creating umpteen different outputs and versions for umpteen output channels – focusing instead on creativity and innovation.

The benefits of LAGOmation have already been realized by major retailers and other businesses around the world, including several of the largest home improvement retailers and grocers in North America. Time and again, these companies have seen significant cost benefits from modernizing their marketing communications “assembly lines,” while also expanding their marketing reach through regional versioning and mobile channel content – all without adding staff resources.

Twenty-First Century Realities

Retail consumers’ expectations are expanding faster than any retailer can meet with traditional, largely manual techniques. Information must be immediate and personally relevant – on any medium and on demand. Retailers have a vast supply of data to go with their myriad product offerings, but all that data simply will not fit through the traditional “pipes” of marketing communication production. Only true automation will suffice.

LAGOmation, our unique approach to modernizing the marketing workflow, is a way to streamline that vital business process. We would be honored to begin that discussion – and find new ways to connect your data with your many customers.


Webinar: EPISODE III

Episode III: More Than Just Another Proofing Solution – Perform Last-Minute-Changes Without Rocking the Boat.

Join the final episode of our global webinar series showing a fully optimized circular production process with LAGO.

EPISODE III: 08. April – 4:00 pm CET | 3:00 pm GMT | 9:00 am CST | 10:00 am EST

The participation is free of charge. To register for our first webinar click on the button below.

Registration

 

The proofing process within a leaflet production is more than just asking for different page background or price adjustments. During the final days before pages are sent off to the printer, pretty much anything can happen. Product pricing or copy needs to be updated, images may change, products are moved to a new position or switched for a complete new product. When adding regional and/or store specific variants into the mix, the complexity grows even more and the communication needed to perform all these changes starts to become one of the biggest time sinks in your whole production process. This is why LAGO Proof is more than just a simple proofing solution to add comments asking for a different page background. Learn how LAGO Proof in conjunction with LAGO Whiteboard are solving all of the above challenges. Price updates 5 minutes before files are sent to printer? It’s not science fiction. It’s reality!

  • Easy to use proofing application
  • Overview of complete leaflet including all regional and/or store specific leaflet variants
  • Automatic price updates, triggering an update of price mechanics on the InDesign page based on business rules
  • Reposition, removal or adding of products throughout the production process
  • Automatic creation or removal of regional and/or store specific leaflet variants based on data changes

We are looking forward to seeing you there!


Webinar: EPISODE II

Building Bridges Between Category Management and Marketing – Tear Down Your Communication Walls and Optimize Your Workflow!

Join the second episode of our global webinar series showing a fully optimized circular production process with LAGO.

EPISODE II: 25. March4:00 pm CET | 3:00 pm GMT | 9:00 am CST | 10:00 am EST

The participation is free of charge. To register for our first webinar click on the button below.

Registration

 

The handover of information related to the planning of a circular from category management to marketing or external design agencies is a crucial step within the production process. Lack of information or mistakes can result in delays and/or higher costs down the road. Usually close monitoring by multiple people is needed. Learn how the connection of LAGO Whiteboard –  the application for digital circular planning – and LAGO Layout – the most powerful Adobe InDesign plugin on the market – ensures that the information flow is not interrupted as well as the automatic layout generator from LAGO greatly improves the speed of page layout & design.
  • Direct integration between LAGO Whiteboard and LAGO Layout
  • Consistent data flow between category management and design team
  • Automatic layout creation using smart templates
  • Placeholder technology to automatically display pricing, copy and everything related to a product within Adobe InDesign
  • Automatic creation of regional and/or store specific variants for the design team

We are looking forward to seeing you there!


Webinar: EPISODE I

Kickstarting Your Digital Planning and Leaflet Production Process – Push Your Category Management Into the Future of Retail!

Join the first episode of our global webinar series showing a fully optimized circular production process with LAGO.

EPISODE I: 11. March4:00 pm CET | 3:00 pm GMT | 9:00 am CST | 10:00 am EST

The participation is free of charge. To register for our first webinar click on the button below.

Registration

 

Everything starts with the proper planning! A circular production process is no different. The category management plays the key role in assortment and product selection as well as assigning both to the individual pages of a leaflet. With growing numbers of products and increasing varieties as well as the market moving towards more regional or store specific leaflet variants, the need to perform this planning in a powerful digital environment becomes more important every day. Learn how LAGO Whiteboard enables category management to perform these tasks efficiently in one central application that is connected to your ERP system as well as the marketing department including the leaflet design and production in the downstream process.
  • Planning of leaflet in LAGO Whiteboard
  • Utilization of product data directly imported from ERP system
  • Planning of regional and/or store specific leaflet variants including switch-out products
  • Stickering: The easy way to see all product related data during the planning process, including historical sales data
  • Assignment of merchandise departments to page space allocations for a streamlined top-down planning process
  • Preview leaflet pages without handing them over to the design team

We are looking forward to seeing you there!


comosoft-lago-pim-dam-system-integrated-marketing-data-production

The Data Decathlon

How LAGO stands out among highly specialized DAM & PIM Systems

Some technology businesses are hard to classify. With its multi-faceted LAGO product, Comosoft embraces DAM, PIM, personalized marketing, publishing automation, and many other, interrelated technologies – in a way that defies easy categorization.

The 2020 Summer Olympics were both a casualty of the pandemic and, like many other traditions, a symbol of hope – assuming their 2021 reboot goes as planned. This time, there will be over 330 events in fifty sports disciplines, from aquatics through wrestling and everything in between.

Of all these sports, the decathlon is one of the more complex, combining ten different running, jumping, and throwing events. There are indeed more disparate-sounding competitions, like the marathon-swimming-biking “iron man” triathlon and the shooting-plus-skiing biathlon. Some of these seem like they were based on a dare. But the decathlon, like its Greek ancestor, the pentathlon, tops the list.

The main point of these combination events is that they defy specialization. Participants must compete in a wide, demanding range of events, each requiring a different set of skills. A decathlete may not out-perform a dedicated sprinter or pole vaulter; instead, they aspire to win in a larger, more complicated arena.

Data “Techathletes”

When it comes to technology, few companies fit the decathlon model. Under the hood, large tech companies like Microsoft and Amazon are actually a collection of smaller business units, united in some ways but mostly focused on doing a specific thing well – or maybe not so well. Data-oriented companies and service providers in particular need to focus on a single, well-defined field of expertise. Disciplines like digital asset management (DAM) and product information management (PIM) are complex and demanding all by themselves.

The challenge was to wrangle vast amounts of interrelated PIM and DAM data, keep it organized, and efficiently render it in dense, versioned, multi-page catalogs—where a single mistake could cost a retailer thousands of dollars.

Occasionally, however, a company or platform achieves a multi-disciplinary level of achievement. System integrators in particular learn to master more than one data process, since their job is literally to make one business system work well with another. One such company, combining its dedicated software with a deep “bench” of integration expertise, is Hamburg and Dallas-based Comosoft.

Founded in 1994, the company developed a multichannel media and data system, originally for an equally complex medium: consumer product and business catalogs. The challenge was to wrangle vast amounts of interrelated PIM and DAM data, keep it organized, and efficiently render it in dense, versioned, multi-page catalogs – where a single mistake could cost a retailer thousands of dollars.

Over the years, Comosoft’s LAGO platform became more versatile, as its staff became more adept at integrating different systems and transitioning from print to online and mobile output. It incorporated direct individualized marketing (DIM) to meet its clients’ need for more direct, one-to-one messaging based on customer preferences. It also had to meet increasing demands for greater automation and efficiency. In other words, the company had become a data decathlete.

Apples and Orchards

With this success came some unique challenges of perception. The company was often compared to specialized DAM and PIM developers, especially in web searches. Following each successful marketing campaign, would-be competitors’ pay-per-click campaigns surged, using keywords that said, in effect, “We’re just as good as Comosoft at DAM (or PIM, or…).” It was a compliment of sorts, but it missed the point. Comosoft and its product compared favorably with developers of DAM, PIM, and other systems, but it was harder to see the company’s full scope. There were plenty of search terms for “apples” but not many for the whole orchard.

For a relatively small firm, this meant it was harder to gain the attention of clients who really needed a wide-spectrum solution. Faced with new challenges like the pandemic, retailers and manufacturers had to find new ways of communicating – turning their enormous, often disjointed piles of data into targeted, effective communication.

This was not only a perception issue. The company could not simply say they covered all the required disciplines. They also had to live up to that rigorous standard. Like actual decathletes, the Comosoft team had to master and keep up with multiple disciplines. This “intensive training” in the field was also reflected in their software platform. LAGO had to grow and change – not just for the sake of adding new features, but to compete in many different “races” at the same time.

Gold Medal Results

Increasingly, Comosoft has been winning the event, and not solely based on its DAM and PIM expertise. Rather, their success was based on their ability to do more than one “event” – to run, jump, and throw, so to speak.

Most of Comosoft’s success stories began as a complex set of needs. Large retailers in particular were not looking for a single-solution DAM or PIM system. In fact, most already had systems in place. The problem was that the systems did not work efficiently together or were encumbered by manual workarounds and legacy systems. In other words, they needed a data decathlete.

Faced with the growing pains of its stores’ success—complicated by many regional variations and a recent merger—the company relies on LAGO and Comosoft’s integration expertise to “transform a mass-market channel into a one-to-one connection.”

The is a case in point. Faced with the growing pains of its stores’ success – complicated by many regional variations and a recent merger – the company relies on LAGO and Comosoft’s integration expertise to “transform a mass-market channel into a one-to-one connection.” Today, Bass Pro automatically manages thousands of individual SKUs in its multichannel marketing efforts, including hundreds of regional variants, using LAGO.

Another striking example is Comosoft’s success with the . The company’s goals—to streamline its complex, in-store flyer program and provide store-specific data to its mobile shopping app was met by the Comosoft team, in tandem with its integration partner, PureRED. Following a series of diverse, successful milestones, Lowe’s had a multichannel marketing approach to be proud of.

The Finish Line

In today’s world of big data “versus” the need to offer personalized marketing communication, there is little room for a single-technology solution. Only an agile, multi-faceted technology company can run all the different “races” necessary to achieve success. Fortunately, for retailers and manufacturers with tons of product and marketing data, Comosoft is the right sort of digital athlete.

 


Cancellation Port of Thoughts 2020

Port of Thoughts 2020 is cancelled!

Dear Port of Thoughts guests,

the health of each individual and the protection of society are very close to our hearts. Therefore, we regret to inform you that we have to cancel the Retail Summit – Port of Thoughts scheduled for May 14, 2020 due to the current protective measures against the spread of the coronavirus. In view of current developments, we believe that this is the only sensible step to ensure the health of all concerned.

We will, of course, keep you informed about a new date.

We ask for your understanding.
Your Port of Thoughts Team