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 ...

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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 ...



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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Marketing and Music – An Odd Combination…

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

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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?


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…


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…


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


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?


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