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Content is King, But be Aware of the Jury…

I have written about the concept of content marketing several times over the years, and have made my point along with so many others, that this concept of sharing your ...


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 ...


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 ...



Marketing and Politics – It will be an Interesting Show…

  With the first big debate finished up this past week, it ...

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 ...

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It Takes A Village, Plus One…





As I have written about in the past, the concept that “it takes a village to raise a child” is so true within the business world as well. Especially in the realm of the small business arena, the owner must build around themselves a team of people that they can rely on – regularly! This can be in the form of specific responsibilities that are delegated to other employees, consulting services and insight received from industry organizations, and or direct business services that might be engaged through outside vendors.

In addition, almost all successful business owners will also admit to having a group of confidants – individuals who they have known over time and that they can rely on for advice and support. It is these individuals that often times become the true sounding board for the business. In larger organizations they might actually have a Board of Directors to provide this support, and there are even several groups that are available for small business owners to join for this service as well.

In all cases though, it is this additional set of eyes and ears that can help keep us focused. Especially in the rapidly changing business climate that we are in now, it can be easy to get off track of what is truly important, or to get wrapped up in the latest and greatest new fad. We must lean on our support team for this.

There are also the ups and downs of almost every business day that we need to deal with – often times we find ourselves celebrating the news of a brand new prospect that just signed on as a customer after 6 months of effort, only to then find out that there is a big problem on a project in-house with one of your top clients! This part of business was never really shared with us too much in school – rather we have all experienced it and learned from others – including “our own village,” on how to deal with it.

Over time (34 years now), I have leaned on others to be my support group – and yet, I also know that I can always use more! We always need to be open to those who know more than us – who have differing experiences or insight. This may well come from employees, friends, neighbors, membership organizations, vendors, social media, industry consultants and even your own family. I know that for sure, my greatest source of support is my wife! Julie is someone who I can share everything with and rely on to get a second opinion. She is my rock, and for that I am thankful!

By the way, did I happen to mention that we just celebrated our wedding anniversary this weekend? Perhaps that is what inspired me to write this today!

Who is part of your village?


Out of Your Comfort Zone…

ThinkstockPhotos-92850428  There is a terrific quote from Albert Einstein that suggests that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” While many of us have heard this and even acknowledge the logic behind it, it is amazing how often we fall right back into the same routine over and over! Then there is another great quote from Heraclitus that reads… “the only thing that is constant is change” – which very much reinforces the idea that we should be looking to adapt… to alter the behavior of our routines.

In the world of sales and marketing, it is especially important to be willing to try something new! Especially with how technology has brought new media options to our disposal, and how each of our clients react differently to the messages we are sending. In addition, perhaps as compared to any other point in time, we have significant differences in generational trends. Add in the fact that we are more of a global society now than ever before, suggests that we also need to embrace different cultures within our messaging. All together, this makes for very interesting times!

So what is it that keeps us from trying something new within our marketing efforts? I would suggest that it is the reluctance to get out of your comfort zone. We can all get a little too complacent at times and not willing to “rock the boat.” Or, we don’t really understand some of the newer technology, so we prefer to let somebody else try it out first. I understand that it is not always wise to be on the “bleeding edge” of technology, but too often businesses can be overly slow to embrace the new trends – and then all of a sudden you find yourself behind the competition.

Perhaps the best way to fight the comfort zone is to push yourself to do some research – to read industry publications, attend conferences, seminars or online webinars. Seek out a group of your peers and find out what they are doing. Listen to your vendors, and even potential new vendors who are calling on you – to find out what they are suggesting. Visit your client’s websites to see what they are involved in doing and how they engage their own clients – or their social media sites – what are they talking about? Try assembling a focus group of select clients and ask them how they prefer being engaged – how do they seek out new resources? What social media sites do they prefer and why? What publications to they regularly read, or associations do they belong to? How do their customers/donors want to be engaged? After all, it really is not about ourselves when it comes to marketing, but rather our clients and even their clients. If we can find ways to solve our client’s challenges, then we will be of interest to them. Take it one step further and find ways for them to build stronger relationships with their clients and you will truly get the results you are looking for!

Are you open to new ideas? Looking for change? Tell me what has worked for you…

Gaining Inspiration From Sports…

Image credit to Wikipedia

Image credit to Wikipedia

For many of us the enthusiasm and loyalty that we share on behalf of our local professional sports teams can be a big part of who we are, and how we socialize with others. While I personally have never been a “super fan” – one that watches every game or attends multiple games per year, I do very much enjoy watching our Chicago teams and rooting for them to win. I especially like football – and the Bears, although admittedly it has been painful the last few years! I enjoy watching the Bulls, and both the Cubs and White Sox too.

And then there are the Blackhawks! This past year was pretty inspiring, on many levels. While I have never been a real strong  hockey fan, I would periodically watch games and definitely keep track of how the home team was doing. Over the last several years this became even more exciting to do, considering they had won the Stanley Cup twice since 2010, and they were projected to win again this year. Over the course of the year I found myself watching more hockey than I had in probably the past 10 years – and actually got to understand what was happening most of the time.

What also made this year so interesting, was the enthusiasm that spread throughout our company. We have a few very loyal fans and the talk about the team throughout the year became a good way for all of us to bond – a reason for us to socialize on a personal basis, and not just talk about work! When the playoffs began this discussion increased more, and it was genuinely fun to not only share highlights of the past games, but to project ahead for the next ones. When the Hawks did finally put away Tampa Bay in game six of the finals and won the Cup again, it was especially exciting and a reason for all of us to celebrate.

What I also came to appreciate throughout the success of the Hawks this year, is an appreciation of how they were genuinely a focused team. There was very little about the individual stars, and more about how they all supported each other, even after one of them might not have had such a good game. There was no doubt, that the end goal was to win the Cup! And speaking of the Stanley Cup, I find it very interesting about all of the history associated with this trophy and how each team gets to embrace the honor of winning it by being able to take the Cup to events and even travel with it to their home towns over the course of the offseason. I am not aware of any other sport that has this tradition, and it truly is a fantastic way for teams to engage with all of their fans and supporters.

Another huge inspiration from this victory was the celebration that took place within Chicago after the victory. It was estimated that 2 million people attended the parade and rally – with people lining up at Soldier Field for the presentation as early as 5 am! Compare this to the 400,000 that showed up for the Golden State Warriors parade after winning the NBA championship, and you can see what it means to be a Blackhawks fan. The loyalty and support were fantastic, and this was duly noted by all of the players, coaches and team owner, Rocky Wirtz, who went out of their way to  express thanks to all of their fans – many times over even.

I found all of this to be very refreshing and genuine, which is not often found now days in professional sports. All too often it is about the superstars and all the money that they make, or the individual records that they set. To truly get inspired and learn from our sports heroes, it takes teamwork and the right attitude. I tip my hat to the Chicago Blackhawks and hope that they can do it again next year!

What sports teams are you a fan of, and why is it that they inspire you?

Paying Attention to the Generational Trends…

portrait of grandparents with their family

As a small business owner I am continually looking at and reading about trends that affect my business, and just as importantly that affect my clients as well – especially when it comes to marketing. One area that I have found very interesting to look at is information with regard to generational trends. Recently I was reading a report on “The Next Generation of American Giving” published by Blackbaud – a major technology and software firm serving the nonprofit and education markets, and this provided the inspiration for this blog post along with some other sources. While the report was specific to fundraising, I believe that some of the information I am highlighting today can apply to pretty much any business.

As a printer by trade, I was very interested to read with regard to the effect that direct mail had amongst the various generations. Admittedly the trend is for more online giving, even for the Boomers (born 1946 – 1964), and yet both Gen X (born 1960-1980) and Gen Y (born 1981-1995) say that direct mail is a perfectly acceptable medium of communication. I had also read recently that the Millennial generation actually finds mail to be preferred over other media forms (Valassis Shopper marketing report).

The report also found that multichannel marketing is the “new normal.” While the ideal mix varies between generations, even the Matures (born 1945 and earlier) give online (27%), view videos (22%) and read or post to  blogs (9%). Important ways to stay in touch for the Gen Y’s is to visit an organization’s website (44%) and receive e-mails or e-newsletters (34%), while all of these percentages drop in importance for the Gen X’s and even more so for the Boomers and Matures. An interesting note was that while receiving a text message was pretty low on everyone’s interest, both the Gen X and Matures ranked this media format the same, at 4%!

Social Media is definitely growing as a way to communicate and share information, and as you might expect, the Gen Y group places the most importance on this at 29%, then 20% for Gen X and only about 5% for Boomers. This will likely change in the future and become even more prevalent amongst all generations, and as the report highlighted, while then number of Boomers might not be that great right now, the ones who are connecting will matter a lot in the future. Word of Mouth sharing of information also seems to be much more comfortable for the younger generations as compared to both the Boomers and Matures.

When it comes specifically to giving, both the Boomers (43%) and Matures (26%) are by far the strongest generations. And while the Gen X outpace the Gen Y’s, it is not as much as you may think. It is interesting to note that the Gen Y’s would plan to increase their giving at a higher level than all other generations, and would also be more inclined to give to more different charities than the other groups!

There is so much more to look at when it comes to how different generations react within the marketplace, and I suspect for each business it might vary as well. We should all be very conscious of not only how generations react to marketing trends, but how our own employees look to engage with our clients and prospects. For sure we need to make sure we are communicating in the ways that our clients best react, and at the same time make sure we recognize that all of our future clients will likely be those from the younger generations!

How do you interact with the different age groups?

Thank You…

DSC09081 This last week I attended the annual Crystal Lake Chamber Dinner, just as I have for probably the last 25 plus years. It is always a great opportunity to see fellow business owners and to learn of all that the Chamber is doing – and pay tribute to those who have done some great work for the Chamber and the community in general.

What was a little different about this year, was that I was surprised with recognition and an award that I had not truly expected!

The award that I was presented – the Carl E. Wehde Award, is in honor of Carl Wehde – a longtime business owner, School Board President and Mayor of Crystal Lake for 12 years. Carl was very much the epitome of a community minded individual and after his passing, the Chamber established this award for individuals that likewise were very involved in the community. Since its inception, several individuals have been presented this award, including Mayor Aaron Shepley just last year.

This was indeed a very humbling experience for me as I would not put myself in the same category as Carl, Aaron or many of the other past recipients. And since it was such a surprise, I will admit that I probably did not do much justice to the short acknowledgement remarks that I made that evening… and so it is now that I am going to take the time to share some of what I should have included that evening:

This was truly an honor, and especially since I had the benefit of actually knowing Carl Wehde! Back when I first started in business – 34 years ago now, I had done a few small print orders with Wehde Shoes. Carl was very engaging and eager to work with a local business – you could tell his interest in supporting the local economy and his ethical approach. I also have had the pleasure of meeting and talking with his wife Verla many times over the years at the Chamber Dinners – and it was Verla that had presented me the award, so thank you!

Additionally though, I would suggest that much of what I have done in the community is a direct result of the impact that my Chamber membership has had on me, and the because of the many individuals that I have met and learned from in the Chamber. Individuals like Arlene Kerns, who was the Executive Director of the Chamber when I first joined, or Daphne Starr, who was one of the original Ambassadors of the Chamber. Bob Blazier had a huge impact on myself and so many others in the Chamber – in fact he was the President back when I was Chair of the Board back in 1993, and also when I was the Ambassador Chair in 2000. Gary Reece, the most recent past President, and Mary Margaret Maule the current President have also been an inspiration for me.

There are so many others as well over the years that have had an impact and I have had the pleasure of working with through the Chamber – much too many list all of them, but a few that I would make mention of are Mike Splitt, Jerry Shaffer, Mark Elmore, Patti Lutz, Kim Martens, Ken Koehler and Tom Stock. And the many Chamber staff who I have worked with, including Joan Knoll and Bonnie Miller.

I found early on in business, that the more you get involved in the community, the more you will ultimately benefit from it! I learned this as a Chamber member too – when I first joined, I did it only because that is what I thought you should do as a business owner. It was not until a few years later when I chose to become more involved, that I actually gained new connections and had the opportunity to learn from them. Next thing you know, I was on the Board – and then Chairman! From this experience I met many others around the county, and chose to also work with many nonprofits within the community. One of my most gratifying experiences has been as a member of the McHenry County Community Foundation’s Board – and also as Chairman. The Foundation’s Robin Doeden, John Small, Russ Foszcz, Cheryl Wormley and Mark Ehlert have been and continue to be inspirations for me. Over the years I have also been very active within the printing industry and have likewise sat on the Boards of two national associations – NAPL and NAQP, and have received recognition from them. Without my introduction to service that I had through the Chamber though, perhaps I would not have been as active in these organizations as well.

I would also be very remiss in not recognizing the support and encouragement from my wife Julie – she has truly been my greatest fan over the years and has joined me at so many events and dinners, as part of the “team.” I truly wish she had been able to attend the dinner and to also receive my thanks, although her recent hip surgery precluded this.

In looking back now, I realize that perhaps I have had somewhat of an impact within the community. But as I did make note of when I received the award, the more you give, the more you get,  and this was indeed an example of that.

So once again, thank you to the Chamber for this recognition – it is truly appreciated!

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?



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