How Belgian Broadcaster VRT Turned to Adobe I/O Runtime to Dynamically Create Newsletter Content

Belgian public service broadcaster Vlaamse Radio- en Televisieomroeporganisatie (VRT) sends out multiple email newsletters with various layouts to tens of thousands of subscribers each day — a massive, very time-consuming challenge for its editors. To help them easily create dynamic content, Adobe came up with a unique solution that used I/O Runtime to extend the functionality of Adobe Campaign Standard (ACS), which VRT was already using.

Belgian public broadcaster VRT used Adobe I/O Runtime to extend the functionality of Adobe Campaign Standard, allowing them to build content picker applications so editors could select existing content and start a newsletter blast with it.

VRT broadcasts several TV and radio stations, which all have their own websites and applications. The broadcaster also uses a few different content management systems, including Adobe Experience Manager and Drupal, and chose ACS in a bid to move to a new multi-channel marketing platform that allowed it to create dynamic content newsletters.

“We wanted to create content picker applications inside the CMSs, which allow editors to select existing content and start a newsletter blast with it,” explains Tobias Lohmann, a consultant at Adobe. “The content would be merged into pre-built templates, matching the layout of the respective TV and radio station design, and sent out to subscribers with the click of a button.”

The challenges

The requirements included letting the editors continue to use the familiar CMSs that they were used to. As ACS doesn’t support such a functionality out of the box, Adobe and the team at VRT came up with a solution that would use .CSV files from the VRT CMSs, which would then be imported into a custom resource (a custom database schema).

“The plan was to merge the content into the emails with some workflow and personalization data magic,” Tobias remembers. “It soon became clear, however, that it wouldn’t work. Even if it had worked, over time the solution would have been too complex.”

Another challenge was the limited structuring capabilities of CSV files, as ACS can only import flat file formats. VRT, however, had more complex scenarios in mind. The broadcaster not only wanted to publish newsletters with a straight list of articles, but also create newsletter sections with different matrix layouts (for example, a header section featuring one big article, or a main section with a 2x3 table layout, which would be able to accommodate six articles).

“Then I saw the ‘get content from URL’ option in the ACS email editor,” Tobias explains. “With this option it’s possible to advise ACS to query a URL and place the resulting HTML in the email body.”

Adobe I/O Runtime to the rescue

Tobias already had some experience with Adobe I/O Runtime and wondered if a simple Runtime action could provide the HTML (and not just a JSON result) for the email content. He built a simple demo of a web-enabled Runtime action and developed it to return a JSON structure with one ‘HTML’-keyed node, which contained the HTML as value.

“I discovered that it automatically redirected the browser to <url>.html and returned the pure HTML (also with content type ‘text/html’).”

Tobias also realized that the Runtime action meant they weren’t limited to CSV anymore and found that when called the Runtime action would HTTP-get the content as JSON-structure and the HTML as template, merge both together, and return the result.

The VRT team liked that they could now provide the content as structured JSON files and decided to use Nunjucks by Mozilla as the templating engine. It’s a very simple placeholder-oriented engine that serves all business requirements, and as the template file can be developed with limited programming skills, VRT could still work with their current agency setup.

The process for VRT’s dynamic content delivery.

The JSON content gets rendered dynamically by the CMSs on query time, while the templates have to be hosted on a web server, which VRT chose an Amazon S3 bucket for. In ACS the team then provided campaign templates that include a readymade segmentation workflow and a delivery template with the most important settings.

“With that missing piece in place the team at VRT was able to build the Nunchucks templates completely on their own and create campaigns for all their newsletters,” Tobias concludes.

Extending ACS functionalities resulted in a successful email blast with dynamic content

The Adobe I/O Runtime solution ensured three main benefits:

  • Only one template with all content variants for a newsletter
  • Switch to JSON as a content-format instead CSV
  • Easily extendable and can be done by the marketing department

After just a few weeks of tinkering, the first email blast with dynamic content ran successfully to around 53K recipients. Using Adobe I/O Runtime, the team managed to extend ACS’s functionalities to serve a very special use case, and the customer, meanwhile, got to happily implement a very simple and easy solution.

“Creating content to inform, inspire, and connect people is our mission at VRT,” Emilie Nenquin, head of CRM, said. “Adobe helped us to create newsletters in a very efficient way and made sure we could reuse content from the website in the newsletter without any content duplication.”

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