2013-07-20_13-28-16_759

Springtime On The Deck…

One of the neat things about writing your own blog is that you can pretty much write about whatever you want – you don’t really answer to anyone! And while ...

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It Takes A Concentrated Effort…

You often hear that one of the true benefits of being in business for yourself is that you get to be “your own boss.”Well those of us that actually do ...

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Content Marketing is More Than the Written Word…

There is a tremendous amount of buzz in the world of marketing now centered on the concept of “content. “Ultimately the idea is to share your knowledge on a given ...

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Direct Mail Resurrected…

This is a thought I have had stewing in my mind for ...
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Spring is More Than a Season…

For almost all of us around the country, this has been a ...
Grateful Dead

Marketing and Music – An Odd Combination…

The fun thing – and also a challenging aspect, about writing an ...

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Marketing On Steroids…

Rick There is no doubt that the world of marketing is in a state of change. In reality though, what we are seeing now is much more of a major disruption – a “perfect storm” if you will, caused by the rapid evolution of technology that was spurred on by the creation of the internet.

We can easily acknowledge that the internet has drastically changed how we can now search for information about a company or brand well before we ever choose to do business with them.  For so many years we had been ruled by the ad agencies that developed the identity and taglines that built the brands that we chose to support. They “told” us what we needed to know, and for the most part we even believed it! However with time, and the power of Google and other search engines, we found that a little effort on our part could really help us to learn more about who we were doing business with.

And then things got really interesting! Not only could we search out information, but we could now share information – and experiences that we had in purchasing products or using services. We could create online reviews that spoke of how pleased we were… or not pleased. Now it was not just the company that drove the buying decision, but in fact each of us as well. Social Media expanded this phenomenon, but also allowed businesses to market themselves in new ways as well – and engage their followers to once again build their brands.

With this ability came the shift to “inbound marketing” as opposed to the more traditional “outbound” model that we had been so accustomed to. Content marketing became the buzzword. In short, businesses now look to share information in various media formats that pull people in and establish the source as a “thought leader.” We now want the search engines to find us and the expertise that we have to share – and then to get people to talk about it with their friends.

At the center of all of this change is technology – and our knowledge of how it can help us market ourselves. There is a tremendous book available online by Scott Brinker – it is titled A New Brand of Marketing. In this short book, Scott talks about 7 “meta-trends” that have shaped how we need to think about marketing. He explains in detail much of what I have touched on here, and helps put the perspective on how we all need to adapt to the changes. The book is a free download (great example of content marketing!), and is available through this link: http://chiefmartec.com/2014/03/new-brand-marketing-technology/ . At the end of the book, Scott quotes another marketing strategy consultant – Gord Hotchkiss, who had written in an article, “As a marketer, you have two choices: adapt and survive, or stand still and die. The ones who do the first the best will emerge at the top of the marketing food chain.”

I suspect we have all heard some iteration of this quote before – but it really does serve to push us to act in this new world.

Where are you at in the process?

 

Finding The Next…

ThinkstockPhotos-56371314   It is definitely an interesting time that we live in.

While I have often thought that my grandparent’s generation had seen the greatest amount of change within their lifetimes, in reality the millennial generation is likely to witness even more advancements. Or at the very least, it will be so much faster of a transition from one technology level to the next.

To be sure, the technological change we have seen since the advent of the internet has changed how many businesses operate. There are easier ways to find and compare businesses, applications to manage the process and whole new types of businesses even. Some traditional business markets are being replaced and others are being reinvented. At some point even, I question whether the typical retail type store will even exist – rather they will be just locations to pick up an item you ordered online.

The challenge for many of us in business is in finding the next new version of what we will be offering. Will it be just finding new markets, or will the whole business model change? How will our clients find us – or, how will we find them? How will technology streamline the process even more than it has to this point? And ultimately, can we find any of this before our competition finds it?

This can be rather scary, and it requires us to be willing to take chances similar to what we did when we first started in business. However now we are required to change with so much more at stake – ongoing investments in equipment and people that work for us, and clients that count on us to provide ongoing services.

And yet, if we choose not to change, then we will also run the risk of falling behind and not being relevant anymore. Now more than ever we need to keep current on what is trending, and be open to new opportunities. And, if we are really smart, we may even want to seek out advice from the younger generations – after all, they are the real future!

What is your next move?

Communicating Your Value – Part II…

ThinkstockPhotos-87568095   In my last blog I talked about how technology has changed so much in our world over the past several years, and because of this it is more important than ever to be able to communicate your value to not only your existing clients, but also to all your potential prospects. It is this value proposition that will share the why you do what you do and for who. It is also what will help you rise above the “commodity” level that so many of us find ourselves in today.

As I also suggested, now is when I take the initiative to share some of what I believe makes us as a company different and unique within the world of the printing industry!

While so much of what we produce – the ink on paper – is considered a commodity, what I believe we can offer clients are the many resources that can help you plan for better, more effective communications. We look to offer ideas, and information on how you can better engage your clients, donors or prospects. And we offer ways to streamline how can you order the communication materials. Examples of these resources can be found on our website and are easily accessible for downloads, and a link for this section is here:  http://www.clgraphics.com/resources/   . Not only are their “tips and tricks,” “frequently asked questions” and marketing checklists available, but we also have 13 different seminar downloads available – all of which we have presented over the years to clients and prospects with the intent of helping to educate and promote new ideas http://www.clgraphics.com/resources/seminar.html . I don’t suspect many other print or marketing firms have a library such as this!

And speaking of sharing relevant thoughts, our social media strategy is very much centered on engaging you with articles and stories about your specific area of interest. We regularly post information for the nonprofit market that we work with and also libraries along with general business information. Examples of our active sites are: https://www.facebook.com/CLGraphicsInc , https://twitter.com/CLGraphics , and to view galleries of some of our client work, visit our Pinterest site: https://www.pinterest.com/clgraphics/ . We take pride in our participation in these cross-media platforms, and not just with a periodic post, but a very active involvement – so please join us!

In addition, we also look to engage our clients in ways to help improve their business. Through the annual surveys that we conduct and share results with participants, we are able to offer ideas and strategies to improve upon  their results. We also offer a unique program called Stand Out In a Crowd – this is an offer to print either a set of company note cards, a promotional buckslip or company notepads for free, once per year. The intent is to provide you with a way to help market yourself and share your company with others, and to differentiate yourself within your market.

Of course every year C L Graphics has a tradition of preparing a Marketing and Planning Calendar – a very practical and useful tool that not only provides the basic weekly calendar, but also very relevant marketing ideas and strategies. This tool had become very helpful to many clients and we find them reaching out in expectation every December!

Lastly, there is the C L Graphics Blog. While many companies have a blog listed on their website, following up on the advice of marketing experts everywhere, not too many can say that they have consistently posted a blog for well over 5 years now! My goal is to share relevant marketing strategies, business practices and even some personal content at times. So as you reads through this latest posting, I hope I have shared some of what we at C L Graphics have done to communicate and share our value. While all of this may not ensure a strong relationship with all potential clients, it does at the very least give you a good idea of who we are, and the resources we can offer you.

How do you look to communicate your value?

Communicating Your Value…

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A few years back a common business term evolved that described how times have changed and in fact would remain this way – it was referred to as the new normal.

Well to be sure, the world of business has changed and I am not so sure that we even still know the full effect of all this change. Technology has played a large part of this , increasing efficiencies  and streamlining operations to the point that fewer people are often needed to do the same functions. It has also modified how businesses market themselves – with a wide variety of new media options and strategies. There are also entirely new products and services that in many cases have transformed what some industries had offered as a premium in the past, to nothing more than a commodity now.

Within this new normal, it is more important than ever for an organization to fully identify its purpose – what it does, how it does it, why it does it, and for who. You need to be able to share your mission and in fact your passion with your clients/donors and prospects. But even beyond all of this, it is so important to offer value beyond what your competitors do. What is it that makes you different or unique? Is there something that you can provide that establishes your product or service beyond just the commodity it may well be in the eyes of the customer? How does working with your business make for a more simple transaction than with your competitors? What resources do you offer your clients? All of this and more is what you should include within a Value Proposition statement.

Here though is where the real trick comes in… how do you make sure that your clients and prospects know your value proposition? How is it that you will communicate this value? Within all of the new marketing strategies and media options the idea is to not just push out this information, but to engage your audience by providing avenues for them to learn more about you. And this process needs to be ongoing – it is not enough to just post your value proposition online and hope that clients and prospects find it. Ideally, you will share all that you provide in value over time through avenues such as e-mail blasts, social media posts, downloads of resource information, seminars, blogs, videos, case studies, testimonials, printed brochures and even personal visits. You will need to be relentless in your communication, knowing that not every message will reach who needs to really understand it. Be sincere, not artificial. Be proud of what you have to offer, and be sure to back it up with service. As it has been said many times by those much smarter than I, the more you give, the more you will receive!

What is it that makes your organization different? What is the value that you bring to the relationship?

p.s. I suspect that my next post may well be an example of how we at C L Graphics don’t just talk the talk, but actually walk the walk!

 

Marketing Ain’t Easy…

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Marketing for small businesses really is not easy – in fact it is down right tough!

This is the second blog post that I have written with the exact same title, and so maybe it is one that really resonates amongst the small business leader. I have talked with many customers and other business owners that have likewise shared this belief. On one hand there has never been more ways to share your message and branding, then on the other hand… because of all the media options available, it truly is difficult to determine the best use of your resources. In fact just today, I started out with a conversation with our social media associate discussing new strategies to engage our audience amongst several platforms, then I worked on the content and presentation materials for an upcoming seminar that we are hosting soon (1 of 2 actually in the next month), and now I am writing a blog post  that will be published through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and our company e-newsletter. That is a lot for one day!

Ultimately though, all of this marketing effort comes down to the basic concept of engaged communication – or, how is it that we can communicate with our clients and prospects in a way that is engaging for them on a personal level? How is it that we can share our knowledge, resources, products or services with those who will have an interest? And of course, where is it that this target audience likes to “hang out?” Is it on social medial, or perhaps they prefer the old-fashioned printed word? Do they want to attend an educational session – and then would it be in person or online? The choices can be overwhelming at times, and hence the title for today’s blog!

For each of us, it is important to identify first who that target audience is – and then to try testing the different options to find where you get the most engagement from. Although we need to be active in many of the cross-media platforms and have them interact with each other, it genuinely is not effective if we try to spread ourselves too thin. You also need to determine which options you are comfortable communicating in. For instance, I am very comfortable in doing seminar presentations and in writing content for blogs or white papers – but I am not interested in doing multiple tweets or Facebook posts each and every day. I just do not have the time, and hence I work with someone who does enjoy this.

Once you do identify the right options for your audience and for yourself, then the key is to try to make the communication as personal and real as possible. When your passion shows through, the engagement will happen – and that is when all of the effort pays off!

What is it that you have done to market your business today?

Beach Inspections… A Nasty Job

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Part of living in a democratic society is that we also help contribute to the health, well-being and justice of the communities we live in. And as part of this comes a responsibility to also participate periodically in the social responsibility known as Jury Duty – where we give up part of our daily lives to the service of the community, in helping to determine justice for those amongst us. Another responsibility that is not as well-known, but also just as important, is that of Beach Inspection. This duty is very similar to that of Jury Duty, however only a select few will ever get called to this duty – it is totally random, and once chosen you do not have the liberty of backing out. You must serve!

Service typically means going through extensive background searches, removal of all known metal devices from your clothing – removal of shoes and even sometimes a manual pat down even after going through screening devices, all to make sure that you pose no threat whatsoever to the local environment of the beaches that you have been chosen to protect. Also, you have no real jurisdiction over where you must serve in this inspection process – it could well be in the upper coastline of Maine, along the shores of California, or in our case – along some beautiful stretch of Kiawah Island in South Carolina!

Once you arrive – you are shepherded into a community nearby the beach itself. Often times there are bathing pools in these compounds so that you can cleanse your body and soothe your mind after working all day. Your role is to basically walk up and down the beach to inspect the sand and all of the materials you may find on the beach – such as shells, crabs and such, and determine if in fact they are authentic. Have they been there since the beginning of time, or were they in fact bogus. This can be hard, especially when you do not have a great deal of experience, and that is why these assignments often take a full week to fulfill. When completed though, you can return home feeling genuinely refreshed knowing the impact the past week has had on your soul… or oops, did I mean the beaches? Well, either way, I think you get the idea that this is an awesome responsibility and one that must be taken seriously. Really!

And oh by the way, if I had not mentioned already, I happen to be on vacation this week and since it was also my regular time to blog I needed to come up with something! It is important to take some time away from work periodically and do something just to unwind – such as some creative writing and walking on the beach!

When is your next beach inspection scheduled?

How to Make an Impact…

PRINT-PLUS-EMAIL-COVER In today’s world of marketing it is not enough just to put your name out there, you have to figure ways to stand out – to make an impact!

How you do this could be the subject of many discussions – the type of media you use, the message you convey, communicating the spirit and passion of your organization, etc. Today though I am going to key in on the value of print, and how a truly unique presentation can help engage the reader – peak their curiosity, tease their senses, and make an impression. A truly creative printed piece can make a difference in how your company, your product or your service is perceived and remembered.

To begin with, think of the paper that you specify for the printed piece. Do you look to use an uncoated sheet to match the images best, or a coated stock? Want to really stand out – how about a textured paper? There are a number of truly unique finishes such as; stippled, felt, laid, linen, metallic, Oxford cloth, wood grain and so many more. When used appropriately with the right images, they will intrigue the reader and stimulate their sense of touch. With a wide range of colors, you can also get creative. Studies have shown a greater response when stock colors are used as compared to plain white.

Other options to consider are enhancing a design with either foil stamping, or embossing or you can even combine the two. Foils stand out from the printed image in a way that immediately attract attention. They can be the traditional metallic gold or silver, but in addition you can select a wide variety of holographic foils or different shades of colors. For embossing, or debossing as well, the tactile effect can add interest – although many times you might find the need to add a colored “hue” to help embellish the effect and make it more visible. Typically these options are a little more costly, but for the right design they can make a difference. Die-cutting a shape within your printed piece is another great way to show a difference.

There are also a wide variety of coatings that can be applied to the printed sheet. Whether as an overall coating such as a soft-touch, or combination of gloss/dull coatings, you can change the effect or visual appearance dramatically. It is interesting to see people pick up a seemingly plain brochure, but when they feel the softness of the finish, they repeatedly will rub the piece and comment on it to others – even pass it along, all because it is so different than a plain piece of paper! For added effects, try the use of a glitter coating to add some sparkle – or a raised spot UV coating. Readers will touch the raised image and then continue to hold the piece at different angles to see where the image starts and stops – only to stop and think “how cool is that!”

To engage other senses, consider the use of a scratch n sniff image – there are a wide range of stock scents such as flowers, fruits, foods and perfumes – we could even mix up a special scent to match something custom. There can also be heat activated coatings that will show images hidden underneath when rubbed or exposed to warm air. For a more simple way to hide a winning prize, the use of a common scratch-off will do the trick!

While doing something a little creative does add cost to the printed piece, often the value realized through increased response rates can more than pay for the technique used. In addition, the number of added touches received from your piece being passed around to others extends the impact even more!

To see live samples of what I have suggested here we have developed a creative piece called Print Plus… a journey – contact me to receive a copy to touch and feel yourself!

How can we help you stand out in a crowd?

What Have You Done For Me Lately…

stk22466btm  In this ultra competitive business environment that we all work in today, it is all too easy to make an assumption that all is well, when in reality your clients may be thinking… what have you done for me lately?

Let’s face it, over time we can all get used to doing the same thing for our customers – and it can even be a good thing! We can deliver the projects on time, respond to calls in a timely manner, prepare new quotes, provide accurate and timely billing, even make that call to say thanks on a fairly regular basis. But is that enough?

We all  go out of our way to impress new prospects, show them creative ideas, highlight our services, etc. But once we have them signed on as clients, we tend to concentrate more on the given task at hand – the most recent order. What we all forget is that our competitors are also out there looking for new business. There is a good chance that one of them is calling on a pretty important client of ours and doing their best to sell them just like we did before! This can often strike up the thought in the client’s mind about what value you as a vendor bring to them – whether it be about price, service or quality.

It is not easy as a supplier – even a trusted one over time, to genuinely keep up with all of these concerns. You may have been quite competitive at one time only to have new technology offer less expensive options. This will mean you have to now respond to potential inquiries from you client as to how you can be more competitive – are there other material vendors you can seek out or new equipment investments you can make? And then can you explain this in a way that does not appear that you had been “overcharging” all along? Likewise in service expectations – are there more streamlined ways to manage production or order entry now that you could offer? And of course quality can be a big part of any business relationship – no matter how good you are or what systems you have in place, there will likely be a time when your product is delivered at less than the client’s expectations – it happens! The key here though, is what you can do to a.) make it right and stand behind your mistake, and b.) what you will do in the future to ensure that it does not happen again.

Another key component of helping to bring value back to your relationship is to continue to bring new ideas, options or resources to your existing clients – just like you strived to do in the beginning! This can be difficult over time to keep coming up with new ideas, however this is also what can help keep you “fresh” in the marketplace. Can you sponsor surveys to find out the success of client’s work, can you offer educational seminars to enhance their knowledge, or how about writing educational “white papers” on relevant topics? Could you possibly offer new design possibilities or material options? Or how about customer focus groups, to learn more about what challenges they face or concerns they may have? These can all be great ways to not only offer more for your existing clients, but help to keep them engaged as well.

So what is that you have been doing for your clients lately?

 

Sports and Business #2…

stk136433rke   To continue on with the theme of sports vs. business, there really is much we can learn from the professional sports world. In so many ways, it is all about teamwork!

The most successful franchises indeed have all of the elements working together. It starts with the ownership that has a genuine commitment to making it all happen – which basically means they are willing to invest the money that it takes to continue to grow. This includes the stadium infrastructure and training facilities, just like business owners need to stay current with the equipment needed to remain technologically current. It also takes the money to invest in the employees – both the players and the staff to lead the players -coaches. This investment is definitely ongoing, not only with the initial hiring, but also in player development which is akin to encouraging and paying for continuing education, sales training, seminars, and conferences.

Successful franchises rely heavily on the head coach – the ultimate leader of the team, to teach, inspire, motivate and evaluate each of the individual players. To assist them they have a variety of assistant coaches – or as in business, department managers. Each of these assistants need to continually look at ways to improve performance. This could be in developing new plays, or processes in the business world, and making changes as needed to keep the whole team moving forward. It is the experience of these coaches that needs to be translated and communicated to each of the players. It is not enough to just have a “play book” on the shelf – rather they spend a tremendous amount of time in training camps looking to run plays, assign responsibilities, and practice – then keeping track of all the stats. This is the same in the business world too – we need to continually train our people, track the progress and hold them to standards – all with the idea of improvement. If we cannot consistently hit the quality or efficiency standards, then ultimately our clients will look elsewhere – just like the sports fan that chooses to support other teams when the results aren’t achieved on the field.

Then there are the players themselves – the employees on the production line. Okay, this might be more of a stretch in comparing them with some of the high paid, demanding athletes! None the less, these are the ones actually playing the game. With the right coaching and support from management, they will make the plays, hit the balls, score the goals. Over time, with the right players on the team and coaches to push while also holding them accountable, you will find a very passionate group of people who will drive themselves to achieve a common goal – winning a game, a divisional race, a championship, or business success! Everyone has to be on the same page, and “all in.” When one team player or employee lets you down, you need to find out why – is there something that you did not give them to do their job, or perhaps it just was not a good fit?

Teamwork is an ongoing challenge. Just when you think you are all set, things change – technology, people, spirit. Then the game starts all over again!

How is your team doing? What are the challenges you are facing? Are you giving them all they need to win?

Sports and Business – What’s the Connection…

78461030   This is a pretty busy sport’s weekend, especially if you are football fan – which I am! Although I do follow other sports, I will admit that I do not spend nearly as much time watching other sports as I do football – just do not find them as interesting.

So as I sit here today watching the playoffs evolve and then get tasked with writing my blog post, I got to thinking a little about how sports and business really have quite a bit in common. After all, the argument could be made that in reality sports is nothing more than big business! Sure we get hung up on who makes the playoffs and wins the big game – especially if it is our very own team, but let’s not forget that each season there are franchises that count on a budgeted amount of revenue from tickets sales, apparel sales, food and drink sales and even parking income to help fund the huge amount of player salaries that we read about every year. And don’t forget the income from television and radio as well!

To continue the analogies,  just as businesses are tasked with advertising and marketing, so too are your favorite sports team. They continually are out there promoting themselves across a wide variety of media – radio, television, print, social media, etc. The better job they do, and the more revenue they will generate – sound familiar? Of course they typically have a pretty strong budget to work with, but even more the reason they need to try to “knock it out of the ballpark” with a new campaign, and one that is typically very interactive with the fans. They will even team up with other businesses to offer co-marketing opportunities, such as those that provide giveaways at games or pay huge amounts of money to have a stadium named after them.

Another area that has a strong correlation to business is that of player personnel. While most of us in business could not even think about paying the type of salaries that sports teams do, none the less we also have similar personnel challenges. Fortunately most of our changes are not as public as those in sports, on the other hand, perhaps we could learn from them! Sports teams are continually evaluating talent. Who are the new draft picks that will make a difference, versus perhaps some players that have passed their prime? Do they have contracts that become excessive over time, when someone is not living up to the expectations? Do they make a trade for some one on another team? When a mistake is made, they hear about it, and the pressure is always on to make the right choices – we should be as diligent in business!

When a business does a good job, they will receive a testimonial. If they are continually doing well by their customers, they will build on this and grow. It will become a place that others want to work at.. a reputation will be built and they will truly become successful! The same can be said about the perennial champions in a given sport. Their fans will go crazy and paint their faces even to show support! They will flood the streets after a championship is won – just to celebrate and promote their favorite team. The enthusiasm and faithfulness is unbelievable! On the other hand, when a team loses – and regularly, then the fans are not bashful about letting them know – this just is not acceptable! Social media will go crazy with people offering their advice – the press will take every opportunity to evaluate the problems, and at the end of the year… the drop in ticket sales or revenue loss from apparel sales will make an impact and reinforce the need for change. Want an example of this? Just check out the Chicago Bears this last year!

What other similarities are their between sports and business? Who are your favorite teams?

 

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