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The inspiration for today’s blog is from Paul Strack, a fellow printer located in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Paul is truly a unique and innovative print company owner who happened to be the recipient of the 2013 NAQP Printer of the Year award. After the recent conference that I had the opportunity to make the presentation of the award to Paul, he made a great post on the Open Forum discussion area of the association’s website, and having read this I knew that it was worth sharing! Paul wrote…
I received a thank you note from a client yesterday. While that was certainly odd enough, it went one step further. It was a hand-written thank you note. And it reminded me of what we do as a company, and what we do as an industry. It is something that I read a while back, and have frequently shared with our staff. It’s about what we do.
This thank you note was in response to some custom tabs we produced for an engineering firm’s proposal. In addition to thanking us for the quality, the turnaround time and the service aspect, the note went on to explain, “and last night, we were unanimously selected to begin to design an advanced wastewater treatment system that will allow the treated water to augment the water supply. Truly a landmark project for our company.”
After rereading that several times, it reminded me of what we do. Or what we don’t do.
We don’t just print tabs. We don’t just produce proposals.
In this case, we were involved in a landmark project for the largest engineering firm in our state.
In this case, we are part of an advanced method to treat water to augment a water supply.
Think about it. We don’t just print.
We don’t just print menus. We provide a way for families to make nutritious feeding decisions for their families.
We don’t just print coupons. We help people extend their budget and get the most out of every dollar.
We don’t just print prescription pads, or doctor’s appointment cards - we help people get well.
We don’t just print loyalty cards for fitness centers – we help people establish a healthier lifestyle.
In reading through Paul’s post I can easily draw similar conclusions to the many projects that we are involved with. Perhaps the strongest example for me right now are the many year-end appeal projects that we have been involved in for a variety of nonprofit organizations. All of these involve a number of printed elements – mailing envelopes, letters, cards, return envelopes, etc. However, within these different printed elements there are very passionate stories – stories about real live people and their struggles or their successes, and then, the mission of the organizations that are there to help them.
So to use Paul’s example, we do not just print appeals – we help raise awareness for those in need more than us, we help provide support for programs that offer education and assistance, and we help worthwhile organizations grow within our communities! And for that opportunity, I am thankful.
So what is it you do?
I had the opportunity to attend an annual conference of a national trade association I belong to – the National Association of Quick Printers (NAQP). As is typical, we had a number of good presentations to select from in addition to the keynote speakers. Admittedly though I felt this year had a pretty strong group of speakers – or at least ones that I felt would have good relevance for what I was interested in learning about.
The keynote speaker – David Avrin, did a nice job of communicating the importance of defining who you are as a company, and then what is important in sharing that differentiation with clients and prospects. Too often we can get caught up in what we think is important or what we think the marketplace would want to hear, when in reality we are just saying the same old things that everyone else is touting as their strengths as well. To really stand out, we must dig deep to find out the one thing that is truly unique, and then articulate that in a way that people will understand the difference. This is not an easy task, but if done well, it can make a difference for your organization!
Another truly outstanding presenter was Mike Rayburn. Actually Mike is more of an entertainer than a speaker, as he is genuinely a guitar virtuoso whose talents are extraordinary to say the least. His ability to combine Rock n’Roll standards into Country adaptations or convert popular Boy Band songs into a Bruce Springsteen genre is something you really have to hear to even comprehend.
In addition though, Mike also did share in his performance the rationale behind his unique style of entertainment. And, it was this explanation that I thought was a strong message that all of us could use within our organizations when it comes to the process of strategic planning. Mike suggested using the question – What If? If you are looking to find new avenues of business development, or new revenue streams, or ways to streamline your operations, instead of starting out with your current model – start by asking the question, what if?
As you do this, you find that you can “experiment” with concepts and ideas that are not written in stone. One other point I thought he made that was very relevant in the planning process, was that by doing this it allows you to do things “without consequence.” You truly are brainstorming!
Some other relevant points that Mike had made in the presentation were:
- To do things you have not achieved before, you will have to be willing do things you have not done before.
- Answer the question – “are you driving with the brakes on?” If we resolve to be the best at something, then we need to “take the brakes off!”
All of these were great concepts to hear, and all in the form of entertainment. It was inspirational and fun at the same time! If you ever get a chance to see Mike perform, I would definitely recommend him – and the next time you look to do some organizational planning, maybe start the process with the question – what if?
An important lesson in business as well as in life is to learn from your mistakes.
Sometimes though, you can seemingly do everything right according to what you have learned, what you have read and researched, and what are commonly known as best practices, and still not get it right!
This is something I have noted twice now this year! I guess this could mean that either I have not done quite as good a job as I think I have – entirely possible, or perhaps there were circumstances beyond my control. Either way it does give you reason to think it through and try to learn more.
In the first instance, we did a self promotional marketing piece entitled Print Plus… a journey. This was a rather unique concept and printed piece designed around a travel theme. The idea was to create a fictitious travel experience that highlighted a variety of cross-media options that showcased how print could interact within a marketing campaign. And while we received a very enthusiastic response on the creativity and in fact sparked several jobs as a direct result, overall we have yet to generate the impact that we felt it would promote.
The second scenario was for the promotion of an industry conference that I will be attending this coming week. I was invited to be part of the conference planning committee along with several other key association members. Together the committee brainstormed and identified some very unique speakers and timely topics. From a marketing standpoint, we also made a strong commitment to not only “talk the talk,” but also to “walk the walk” with a number of cutting edge strategies including personalization, a pURL campaign, multiple e-mail reinforcement messages, video invitations from committee members, several keynote speakers and sponsors and even telemarketing follow-up along with social media. I can honestly say that this conference was probably promoted as well as any that I have seen! And yet, the registration levels to date are behind what we had hoped for.
Feedback so far is that while members have found the content to be of interest, they are not able to attend due to slow business conditions and the increased competition for industry events this year. Perhaps we will learn more in talking with those who are in attendance and or as we survey other members in the coming months as well. Either way, I do look forward to the conference – in meeting with fellow members, attending the many sessions and learning from the featured speakers. As is typical, I fully expect to gain a great deal from the experience.
So what does all of this mean in the grand scheme of marketing? What is it that I have learned or am able to take away from these two experiences of the past year? I believe, that ultimately one needs to be true to your efforts and your commitment. In any given campaign you will likely see either great results or not so great results – but that does not mean that you give up or lose faith, but rather you keep reaching for the end goal. I also believe that over time we might find that both of these campaigns might actually draw some of the results we had sought out – just in ways that we might not have expected!
What are some examples of your efforts that have not worked as you planned?
For all of us – no matter what our role or position is, it is our responsibility to take our jobs seriously. That means that we need to first, fully understand what the job entails, and then, whether or not they are identified for us, we need to set goals that we look to achieve within a given period. This may be over a quarter, a year, or for the length of assignment.
For many of us this very basic concept is well understood and we embrace it. For others, especially those new to the workforce or gradually working “up the ladder,” the fundamentals of worker responsibilities need to be explained, nurtured, reinforced, encouraged and then validated for a job well done. Of course when we have achieved success at doing a job well, then often times part of the reward means the challenge of moving to the next set of goals!
If we are in a sales position, the goals are often times centered on increasing revenue, adding new clients, opening new sales territories, etc. In the nonprofit sector, the emphasis shifts to gaining new donors, renewing lapsed donors, and securing grants. Production employees are also “charged” with improvement goals – decreasing make-ready times while increasing output speeds. The challenge associated with any given type of job may be varied, but the need to perform at a given level or expectation is universal, and in fact becomes the basis for job reviews and advancement. If we do well, and in fact exceed expectations, then not only can we improve, but with a real team effort of improvement, then the whole organization can benefit! The challenge for each of us then is to embrace this concept and push ourselves to want to improve. To not only take what are the written responsibilities for our job descriptions and commit to fulfilling those responsibilities, but to seek out additional roles or enhanced goals.
I will also suggest, that at times in order to achieve your goals, it requires assistance from others. It is okay to seek out not only advice, but even professional resources to help reach certain targets. This could mean utilizing sales consultants, media resources, software or IT specialists, etc. – and knowing when to do this can often mean the difference between making your goal, or not.
At C L Graphics, we often times refer to ourselves as a resource for our clients. It is one of our goals to be that contact that you can lean on for advice or ideas on how to help you achieve your goals. Sometimes this may include a brainstorming session, or perhaps just sharing samples of what other similar projects have looked like. Leaning on the experience of others to help you with the challenges in your job can be a good thing – how is it that we can help you?
This is my 100th Blog post… a pretty significant achievement! One might think then that I have put a lot of thought into this post. Of course one might be wrong as well – actually, I was not even sure this was the week for me to write, as I do it every two weeks and I had just returned from a weekend out-of-town when it occurred to me this was the week.
I will admit that the inspiration for my Blog posts can vary. Sometimes they hit me and seemingly flow nonstop – very concise and to the point. Other times I can fight over what to say for a long time and even then it does not seem to flow very well. And tonight? So far it is the latter!
But perhaps that is okay too – after all, a blog is meant to be a personal statement, a way to share my ideas and beliefs on what I think are relevant business subjects. Over time, these have concentrated on the areas of marketing, management, and personal growth. And being personal, it allows you the reader to learn my perspective on these topics. If they are of interest, you might even choose to pass them along – to your friends or co-workers.
In today’s business world, business relations are more and more built on developing a comfort level of understanding what a business does – and how, even before a first contact is made. In his book “It’s Not About You, It’s About Bacon,” Brian Basilico explains it well by suggesting that clients need to first know you, then like you, before they can trust you. And in order to do this well, it means being able to communicate on a personal level – to let people get a real feel for who you are and how you think.
Which ultimately brings me to the point of this post – Blogs can be a great way to share who you are with your intended audience. Not only can you talk on timely topics or promote business concepts, but you can do it in a more personal way and one that can position you as a thought leader. I have found that over time, the posts that I have written have also helped me to better organize my thoughts and strategies as well. In fact, another use for the various blog posts have been to create a number of “compilations” that have become the basis of marketing materials that we utilize within our direct marketing engagement as well.
Reaching 100 posts is a neat milestone. It is also just one more step in the process though, and soon enough two weeks will pass and it will be time to write again! Any more ideas for me?
A funny thing happened recently, it was about 3 to 4 weeks ago. Right about the time that schools started up again actually, and although I am not sure that it directly has anything to do with education per se, no doubt that in our minds at least, this marks the time of year that all of us get back to “it” - whatever “it” is! Here at C L Graphics we started to pick up activity. This is not uncommon, as the Fall time tends to be one of our busiest. And yet, it was funny to me how the rise in activity was almost in perfect alignment with beginning of school. People everywhere know that summer time is over and it is time to get busy again.
To be sure there are many other “mile markers” that trigger our minds to react in certain ways – instinctively we remember just how great that steaming cup of hot chocolate can taste when the first snowfall hits. Or, suddenly we know it is time to start the diet again along with the gym memberships come the start of the New Year. And after a long, cold winter, we all begin to feel renewed and refreshed when the first Spring days invite us outside again!
I am not sure if there is anything specific that signals this, however this time of the year does begin the process of looking ahead for year-end planning. Barely three months to go before the budgets are due, which means we will need to look at past strategies and analyze what has worked or not. What new markets are we looking to penetrate? Are some products or services becoming obsolete? How about funding sources – are they as reliable as in the past? Questions are a great way to begin the process and challenge us to dig a little deeper. In fact, you might even look to gather your troops just to brainstorm a contrarian viewpoint, if nothing else then to confirm that your current strategies are in fact correct!
Another potential part of the process that we can sometimes overlook is to actually include our client base in the process – to ask them what is important to them when we market ourselves, and what they most typically respond to. Perhaps we are “spot-on,” or then again we may find out that our money is being spent in a way that really does not impact our existing client base and they only continue to work with us because they already know of us! This will not help much if we look to introduce a new service or product to them, and likely what does or does not work with them will also be the case for your prospecting efforts.
So this year, before we fall into the same old routines that seem to happen every year about this time, what do you look to do differently when it comes to year-end planning?
The content of this post is very much multi-faceted, but all centered around the same concept. The title was in fact inspired by a book by this name – “It’s Not About You, It’s About Bacon.” The book is written by Brian Basilico, and it talks about why relationship marketing is what makes social media “rock.” Not only is the book a great primer on the use of social media and how important it is for all of us in business to embrace this form of marketing, it also really brings home the important message that to be truly effective within this marketing platform, we need to engage our intended audience on a personal level – talk to them in a way that they will respond, and not make it a conversation just about us. Don’t try to sell, rather let them get to first know you, then get them to like you, and eventually they will trust you – and that is when you will have succeeded.
Another similar concept that comes to mind in business is that to truly succeed one must first take care of the customer, then in fact they will take care of you! The more we are willing to give of ourselves without expecting to receive anything in return, is when we actually will gain much more than we seemingly give out. There is a great book that also talks about this concept – “The Go-Giver” written by Bob Burg and John David Mann. As the inside front cover introduction begins, “most people just laugh when they hear that the secret to success is giving…”, the book is an inspiring tale that again reinforces the notion that it is not about you.
And finally, this weekend was the main focus of my blog today. My wife Julie was presented with the Education Award of Excellence by the Printing Industries of America. This ia a most prestigious award that I had actually nominated her for several years ago with support from several other industry colleagues. Julie truly is well deserving of this distinction and I am quite proud of her. As the weekend approached the standing joke was that in fact this weekend was “all about her” – that I was there to escort her and make sure she was on time, was able to get good pictures, etc.. I was actually just fine with this, because in fact as far as I was concerned, it was her time to shine! Interestingly enough though, as she was presented with the award and given the opportunity to say a few words, Julie chose to make it not about her, but rather began by thanking me for all that I had done to help support her! Once again the lesson learned is that in our lives, the things that matter most or that can make the most impact are those times we choose to think of others first – not ourselves.
So what have you done with someone else in mind lately?
Over the last several years the printing industry has changed quite a bit, just like many other industries. Anymore, we cannot just put ink on paper – rather we need to embrace a variety of cross-media options and share these with our clients. What is interesting though, is that although we recognize this need, often times it takes a while before some of these new options are truly utilized.
For many of us the concept of dealing with the future is a little scary! Not that we don’t realize that change is imminent, it is more like we don’t always fully understand what the new practices might do for us, or we don’t necessarily want to be on the “bleeding edge” of the next new trend.
And yet, it is critical that we push ourselves to investigate what new trends or strategies are being utilized.
If one looks at the vast majority of the workforce today, you could easily segment it into several broad categories. First off are those who just do what they are told to do – no real push or desire to learn, or perhaps they were never even exposed to the concept of growth. The next group would be looking to advance if given the opportunity, and in fact will even take the time to take a class here or there to gain some knowledge. Then there is a group that regularly pushes themselves to learn more – routinely looking to read about new ideas or go to conferences to stay in touch with the leaders within their industry. It is this last group that have advanced their careers and look to stay at the top.
Of course there is even another more select category – those individuals who actually become the source of innovation, that challenge the rest of us by recognizing and articulating the new trends before they are mainstream. We can often see their thoughts in books – authors such as Stephen Covey, Jim Collins, Seth Godin, Thomas Friedman. In fact a popular author that writes about the future - Alvin Toffler, was the inspiration for this blog post. As he suggested in his book Future Shock, written over 40 years ago, “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
That is a pretty powerful statement that we should all acknowledge. Perhaps what is most “scary” about that is that in todays’ world the rate of this process is becoming shorter and shorter – which means all of us need to embrace the concept even more! I would suggest we should also encourage all those we interact and work with to likewise embrace the new ideas and strategies – after all, there is strength in numbers and businesses need to be cohesive in their business plan.
So what group do you belong to? Do you push yourself and embrace the future? What have you relearned as of late?
I had the chance to spend some time away down in Charleston, SC this past week. As I have written about in the past, the idea of getting away is good for rejuvenation. I would also suggest there are other benefits as well – such as just the idea to see new places and learn the history of the areas you visit. Within our country alone there is such a wide range of phenomenal sites – from the low country and coastline in South Carolina and the rest of the southeast, to the mountains throughout the west. The deserts in the southwest to the many lakes in the great north woods of Wisconsin.
As a child I remember taking numerous road trips throughout various areas of the country. I suspect this is what planted the seed for seeking out new adventures, and now they continue with even more destinations. Ultimately the goal is to visit all 50 states plus several foreign countries as well.
Not only was it good to get away in a pretty neat place, but it was also planned as a family get together – with my parents, brother and sister joining us. We have coordinated these joint trips several times now, from up in Wisconsin to the northeast in Maine, to Seattle, a cruise to Alaska and now South Carolina. Each time we have enjoyed the time to catch up on what is going on in our lives and talk about future plans. While we all tend to stay in touch via the phone or e-mail, when you get a chance to spend extended time, the discussions are a little more involved and insightful.
Taking the time to travel and explore is a great adventure in itself. When you make the effort to share it with others, it’s even more fun! What are some of the trips you have taken recently? What are the most interesting places you have seen? And, how have you shared these travels with others?
If you care to share your adventures, check out https://www.facebook.com/printplustravel and post photos, memories or reviews of your most memorable trips!
I have found myself thinking several times over the last few months about the status of business, the economy and the overall mindset that so many of us seem to be in right now. Back in 2008 everything seemed to be moving along at a pace that almost begged for a pause – there was solid growth and expansion, but at the same time we were not really sure it could continue. There were a number of factors that were not really sustainable, such as almost unlimited credit. And sure enough, when one or two things snapped, then just about everything else followed suit. The effect on business and the economy were drastic and many businesses and individuals found themselves just hanging on, happy to just stay in business or employed.
Well we know that over the next couple of years that scenario did not play out well either – many businesses went under, and way too many individuals are still out of work. While many people will suggest that once the economy really starts to pick up again is when the jobs will return, I think in reality that there have been a number of other factors that have all come together that fundamentally changed the business environment – and it may well be another 5 to 10 years before we will really be able to look back and understand the what and why of how things have changed.
Just as one example, the continuing high unemployment is more a result of technological advances and shifts in business models than it is a struggling economy. Online banking and ATM’s are so prevalent now that there is little need for banks to hire tellers or other staff… why bother going to a retail outlet to rent movies (Blockbuster), when all you need to do is go online to pick a movie (Netflix). The examples can go on further when we think about it, which brings me to the real intent of my blog here today.
For any of us in business to really stand out from those around us, we need to think of how our business markets have changed… evolved over the past several years. We need to identify what it is our clients and prospects are looking at, or should be looking at, and then look to adapt. What are the strengths we can bring to them? What are new services we can provide? How can we educate them about new opportunities or technologies? How can we attract their attention and get them to take notice? These questions are critical for us to consider, and then act upon before our competition does to establish ourselves as a leader.
For C L Graphics, we have been working on an example of this very concept for some time now. What first began over a year ago has just recently been completed. Our introduction of how print will interact and integrate with other communication forms and can help you to better market your own organization is being presented now. Print Plus… a journey is an example of how we stand out - once you see it, let us know what you think!