Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Art of Creating Goals You'll Stick To

Photo from Flickr by Neeta Lind

 Every year, right around the winter holidays, people all over the world set New Year's Day resolutions for themselves. The combination of an individual's deepest desires, hopes and dreams, forge into an idea, or a resolution and commitment to a particular goal. "This is the year that I'll finally..."

The beginning days of January start promisingly for most goals. Gym memberships go on the rise, new routines are formed and the search for the perfect job begins with great optimism. Then for most people, life gets in the way and very few goals make it past the Super Bowl in February.

Because the beginning of a year is such an epic event for us, the goals we set are usually huge. The bigger the goal, the more we celebrate the coming of the new year. After all, it is hard to get excited about small changes that aren't that noticeable. If you are overweight, you become so sick of being that way that you don't just want to lose weight, you want to be thin! What is the motivation in losing just ten pounds if you'll still be overweight?

A difficult part of changing habits is that often the payoff doesn't come quick enough and for those goals that are more accomplishment oriented (travel to Italy, sky diving, quit smoking, etc), the timing is never right. The problem with New Year resolutions that go unfulfilled however isn't that the goals are unrealistic, it's that very little thought was even put into the creation of the goal itself. Sure, in the back of your head you may have been telling yourself all year long that you need to accomplish this goal. Once the goal becomes a reality though, somewhere is the process, life gets busy and suddenly the goal doesn't seem that important anymore.

Most goals are set at impulsive moments in our lives. Whether it be a New Year's resolution, an unattractive glimpse at your body shape in the mirror or the moment your boss really ticks you off, a goal created in haste is certain to go to waste (no pun intended). If you aren't thinking clearly at the time the goal is created, eventually the rational part of your brain will catch up and say, "Hey, what exactly are we doing all this for again?" Impulsive goals give you an immediate high and aren't all that bad if they help you quickly get over pinned up anger. Once the impulse wears off though, and life returns to normal, it is amazing how insignificant that goal can become.

So how then do you create goals that you'll stick to? Goals created through hard work and by using your whole brain, not just that impulsive amygdala portion of it, are much more likely to stick. Goals that are set impulsively may be fun at the time, but you need to spend just as much time figuring out and reinforcing why it is that you are setting a certain goal for yourself as you will in actually working to achieve that goal. The more energy you put into the creation of the goal, the more loyal and connected you are to it. When you constantly feed yourself information about why the goal is important and how you'll accomplish it, the easier it becomes to trust yourself. If you stop trusting yourself though about why you set the goal in the first place, the resolution is doomed.

To put it in perspective on how your brain gets in the way of accomplishing your goals and why trusting yourself is such a critical component to achieving goals, imagine if you were in a plane about to sky dive. When you step to the edge, how could you not think about how insanely crazy it is to jump out of a plane thousands of feet in the air? You tell yourself that you don't have to do this, and you know what, you're right. So how do you actually come to the decision to make the leap?

There are risks to sky diving, ones that can get you killed, but you also choose to sky dive partly because of these risks. If there was no risk, it wouldn't appeal to thrill seekers. Before you sky dive though, you go through in depth training and learn everything you can about the real risks that are associated with it. This pre-goal training enables you to trust and believe that the knowledge and skill you have acquired to put yourself in this position, will mitigate the risks associated with the extreme situation. It also enables you to clearly, and not impulsively, decide if sky diving is really that important to you. The methodical process of learning about sky diving in a non-impulsive way, help to ensure that you won't lose your wits at jump time. As with sky diving or any other goal, the information that you acquire and the energy that you put into understanding the goal, are the key components that enable you to follow through to completion.

To see a goal to completion you need to set up reinforcements and constant reminders that help trigger the importance of your goal. If you don't set the right goal though, the one you truly want and clearly need to accomplish, all the reinforcements and reminders in the world won't prevent you from inevitably giving up on that goal. In fact, they'll be more apt to make you feel even worse about yourself.

The biggest goal setting irony is that the impulsive amygdala part of your brain that created the goal in the first place, is exactly the same part that makes you give up. This is why impulsive goals don't stick. They can't stick because you didn't create them, the reactive, fight or flight part of your brain did. Instead create goals systematically, methodically and creatively. Do the hard work necessary to create goals and go through a process. Knowledge, certainty and a clear understanding of the goal creates focus. Focus is achieved by using your whole brain and focus pushes you through because you've eliminated all fear and doubt.

Setting goals doesn't have to be as intense as sky diving. If you realistically want to achieve your goals though, spend some quality time thinking about why they are so important to you. Goals demand that you sacrifice your time and energy so figure out exactly what this commitment of energy will look like. Learn everything you can about the goal in advance, and spend the necessary time required connecting to the often difficult process that you'll have to go through to accomplish it. Having a clear picture of why your life will be better once this goal is achieved, makes it easier to push on through after the initial high has worn off.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Why Upscale Restaurants Don't Have Pictures on the Menu

Selecting a meal at a fine dining establishment is often an arduous task that requires a great deal of food knowledge. The menu never contains pictures and you have to interpret the meal through the written language of food. This is no easy task either as these restaurants are less likely to use descriptors such as tender or juicy, instead opting for a basic collection of ingredients to identify the food.

The simple fact that the menu isn't designed for all to comprehend or understand creates exclusivity not found on picture menus, not to mention that many view pictures as tacky. An upscale restaurant needs that exclusive quality as that is exactly what makes it appeal to someone who is willing to pay a lot of money for their food and services.

By taking a seat, an unspoken agreement is created between the customer and the restaurant. The customer trusts the restaurant to deliver a quality meal and the restaurant trusts that the customer has the know how to order something they want.

A similar unspoken agreement is formed every time an offset printer proofs a job for press. Unless you're printing digitally, seldom do you receive a proof that is printed on the exact same type of paper that your final product will print on. While you might see a collection of unprinted paper samples, there is no way to know for sure how something will look and feel on a particular type of paper until the job is actually printed.

If you specify a particular type of paper, the printer will usually assume you know what you want and that you have the knowledge and understanding to imagine how the finished product will turn out. You are indicating your professional expertise and acknowledging that you don't have to see the final product to order it. If you are unsure though ask the printer, never guess. Just as a waiter in a restaurant is there to clarify menu items, a sales rep at a printing company is there to help you make sense of paper options.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Top Six Greeting Card Apps for the iPad & iPhone

The holidays are the perfect time to express your love for family and friends. Many people do this through the simple act of a greeting card. Whether you send a card in the mail or digitally through an e-card, greeting cards are an excellent and affordable way to solidify and strengthen bonds.

For those iPad and iPhone users, I have assembled this list of the top greeting card apps. I included both apps that integrate traditional direct mail and apps that are strictly e-card focused. Feel free to agree or disagree with this list as the biggest criteria I looked for was the apps wow factor or something truly unique that distinguished it from all other similar apps.

1. Lifecards - Postcards
Developer: Vivid Apps
File Size: 39.9 MB, Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad
Developer Website:
Overview: Lifecards is excellent if you want access to a wide range of templates. With over 350 templates in Lifecards - Postcards and over 50 templates in their Christmas Lifecards version, these apps offer easy customization, a professional look and quick email or submitting options for Facebook, Twitter or Flickr.  Lifecards enables you to apply filters to your photos and finish off each card with your own finger written signature.

2. Postcards From Santa
Developer: Camera Shoot Photo Postcards LLC
File Size: 1.5 MB, Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad
Developer Website:
Overview: As a printer, I have to give this app praise. Postcards From Santa successfully merges digital technology with printed direct mail. This app does exactly what you think, sends your child a postcard from Santa straight from the north pole. After you customize and order your postcard for $2.99, the postcard is printed on a high-gloss cardstock and mailed straight to your recipient.  If you have multiple children you want to send a postcard to, each additional postcard only costs $0.99.

3. Simply Postcards
Developer: Simply Postcards
File Size: 4.1 MB, Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad
Developer Website:
Overview: There isn't anything flashy about this app except it is another great option if you want to digitally create postcards from your phone or iPad and have them printed, stamped and mailed the old fashion way. This is an easy to use and free to download app. Considering the low cost and high quality of the printed postcards, this is a must have app for any fan of postcards sent through the USPS.

4. Jubilee - Birthday Cards
Developer: Vemedio & Marfil
File Size: 9.6 MB, Compatible with iPad
Developer Website:
Overview: While this app would not make the list for the most customizable template options, it does make it on account of it's integrated calendar feature. Simply keep a list in your calendar of important contact birthdays to remember and never forget to show your congratulations again. This is ideal for the sales rep who has multiple birthdays logged into CRM software or just for the person who wants to be a better friend!

5. Build-a-Card (Holiday Edition)
Developer: ISBX
Files Size: 6.5 MB, Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad
Developer Website:
Overview: This is a great app if you want to have a little fun with your cards. The "Picturizr" tool allows you to add a variety of items to your photo such as a Rudolph nose or an elf hat. Another great feature of this app is the ability to easily pull photos straight from your Facebook account.

6. Card Shop
Developer: miSoft, LLC
File Size: 10.0 MB, Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad
Developer Website:
Overview: Card Shop enables you to create and send an array of cards for all seasons. The app features a custom stamp and postmark creator as well as a Clip Art gallery that you can use to enhance your card with a variety of graphical elements. This is also one of the only apps that enables you to add an audio voice message attachment to your card.

Others to check out:
Vintage Holiday Cards

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

No Press Checks #2: Florence, Italy

On the steps of the Duomo in Florence, Italy

In late September, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit Italy for the first time and see Rome, Florence and Venice. For foodies like us, this was the trip of a lifetime. I can still vividly recount almost every hour of the week long journey and I'm currently working on a Blurb photo book to help capture the memory.

Between all three cities, Florence was my absolute favorite. From the Tuscan food and wine to the overall city vibe, I have never been happier from simply being somewhere.

While Florence is most commonly known for leather markets, great food and amazing renaissance art, a lesser known fact is Florence's association with printing and paper. Back in the 17th century, Florentines invented a marbleizing technique to create hand-decorated paper goods. This same technique is used today and the skilled craftsmanship used in this creation of highly customized paper products, makes Florence the stationary capital of the world.

Many specialty stores throughout the city specialize in these high-quality paper products. The hand-decorated paper isn't just made for common stationary items either as you can find an assortment of custom books, journals, photo albums, notepads, leather-bound diaries, calendars and other paper products.

To give you a printer's taste of Italy, I have listed below a few of the specialty paper stores found in Florence. I have left many off this list, including some of the most noteworthy (Johnsons & Relatives Stamperia Toscana), as I only included shops that I was able to find a website for. Ciao!

Giulio Giannini e Figlio
Il Torchio
Il Papiro

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Be a Yes Man? No Man.

Is what you want to hear different than what you need to hear? One of the biggest problems in business communications, is that too many people are out there screaming yes. We call them yes men. Yes offers immediate gratification and seems harmless at the time but often results in future peril. No requires discipline and the ability to think clearly. Yes is easy. No is hard.

People sabotage themselves on a daily basis by agreeing to the impossible or just hiding the hard truth. It is easy to view no as disappointing, letting someone down, not coming through or not being a problem solver. However, sometimes no is exactly the right answer.

Reasonable people shouldn't expect you to be perfect all the time but if they do, are those the type you want to sustain relationships with? The only thing people should expect of you is to live up to what you say you will do. By always saying yes, you are setting yourself up to let them down.

While I'm an advocate for the power of no, saying no and thinking no are two different things. If your propensity is always to please, you can still say no while thinking yes. Just because you can't personally produce for someone or tell them what they want to hear, doesn't mean you should leave it at that. Instead, try offering an alternative solution or recommending a competitor. People will grow to respect you more as a result.

As you gather with friends and family on this Thanksgiving, take a moment to remind yourself of the power no. Perhaps you can check out a classic Thanksgiving Day movie, Miracle on 34th Street, that certainly embraces this concept. One of the class scenes from that movie shows Kris Kringle, a Macy's store Santa Claus, sending a mother to the competitor Gimbels for a pair skates that her young daughter wants. Word of the generosity spreads like wildfire and Macy's ends up with even higher sales as a result of their new strategy to send customers to competitors if they don't have it.

Now Kris could have said yes and over-promised on something that he couldn't deliver on (after all, Santa Claus isn't real). He also could have simply said no and left the young girl very disappointed and sad. Instead he chose to truly provide the maximum value to the customer by saying no but thinking yes, I can still help. All people would do good to remember this timeless business principle that truly wins customers for life.

Friday, November 19, 2010

How To Make Paper Look Old and Create Direct Mail Guaranteed to Get Opened

Marketing and advertising has been increasingly over produced for many years. The mass production of media means that consumers give less time and attention to advertisements. The supply of marketing is greater than the demand given to it and the bubble is bursting on ineffective forms of communication. Total customization or the ability to create a unique experience for each and every consumer is the marketers new goal.

Today, only hand-crafted, highly-customizable printed materials consistently get noticed. The new art of printing begins with a creative idea, is achieved through a unique process and shipped with a personal touch that connects to people on a human to human level.

The creation of an aged mailer offers a perfect opportunity to create a real connection to the past and revisit a time in printing when the artisan was more powerful than the machine. An aged mailer offers you the ability to touch people's senses and send them back in time.

Just think about all the times we hear stories in the media of letters delivering decades later? People emotionally connect with the past and the dated look of an aged mailer immediately makes one think of the old and forgotten times.

As a fellow print chef, you can begin aging paper right away and rekindle the past with uniquely, hand-crafted printed materials.  To create this highly-customizable printed item right in your own kitchen, here are a few quick and easy to follow steps:

  1. Print your message on the paper before beginning the process
  2. Pre-heat an oven to 200 degrees
  3. Soak paper in tea, coffee or vinegar and plan on your mailer still smelling like your ingredient of choice (If aging an envelope, while soaking, carefully open flat at the sealed areas as glue will now be ineffective)
  4. Remove from liquid and sprinkle coffee or tea grinds on paper
  5. Rub in grinds to create an assortment of random stains
  6. With a dry towel or cloth, carefully pat the wet paper to remove any excess liquid and brush off remaining grinds
  7. Place the paper on an oven proof pan 
  8. Put pan in oven and frequently check paper every minute to test for dryness and ensure the paper does not stick to the pan
  9. Remove as soon as dry and let cool (once cool, if aging an envelope, re-seal with a glue stick)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Masking our Authentic Self

In life we wear masks. These masks are of all shapes and sizes and they hide our true, authentic self.

Think about it, everyday...

...a salesman is making a promise they know they can't deliver on.
...a company is re-branding just to re-brand (GAP). employee is working to build and promote a product they don't believe in.
...a printer is lying to themselves about the effects of e-readers on the printing industry and not taking steps today to adapt and change.
...someone is deceived by falling into a relationship built on lies.
...blame is assessed to an undeserving scapegoat because the fear of taking ownership of an issue or fixing the real problem overwhelms others. artist becomes a suit.
...a musician or band goes mainstream, moving on from their raving fans.
...a teacher is forced to adhere to a system of education as opposed to touching student lives on a daily basis with unique, thoughtful and tailored methods.
...the truth is hidden.

We wear these masks out of fear of reality. Sometimes we are forced to wear these masks to make a living while other times we wear them because the truth just doesn't seem profitable.

Halloween gives us the opportunity every year to dress up and wear a mask in a more obvious way. In some weird way, many of us represent our true, authentic selves on this holiday more than any other day of the year. As an adult, if I like to emulate a Will Ferrell character (Mugatu) on Halloween because it's fun and makes the other people around me laugh, why is it so hard bring that same honesty, energy and laughter to work on a daily basis?

As a sales rep and marketer, I struggle with this constantly. I'll get so caught up in coming across as professional and portraying a certain image, that it becomes easy to lose sight of who I really am. No one can expect perfection out of people and sometimes just being who you are makes more business sense than the mask that you think you should put on each day.

Long term relationships are build on the kind of tough honesty where people are willing to take off their mask.  However, being your true, authentic self means you are probably not standing in the middle on every issue. When you take a strong position or represent a more clear image of who you are, then you will certainly have more enemies but you'll also create bigger fans. Fans like this will stand behind you through thick and thin. Fans like this make it profitable to take off the mask.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dutch Cut

Have you ever cooked in such a way that requires you to arrange your food on a baking sheet in different directions just to achieve the best fit? Think about a time where you were trying to fit strips of chicken on a pan or pieces of dough like the touloubakia pictured above. When you try to fit as many in that pan as you can, sometimes you might turn a couple at the top or side in a different direction just to get a good fit. You've probably done this before when cooking although you may not have realized that you were doing something that printers do on a daily basis - creating a dutch cut layout.

When a printer is figuring out the best way to fit a job on a press sheet, sometimes turning some of pages in a perpendicular direction allows them to fit more total pieces on a press sheet. This may not seem like that big of a deal, but in a scenario where you are printing 100,000 postcards, the difference of fitting 16 versus 19 postcards all on one big sheet amounts to 1,000 total sheets of paper!

Achieving small savings in printing adds up overtime and it can significantly reduce your overall marketing costs. To achieve savings though, you have to be open to suggestions and small size adjustments in your specs. While you hope all printers will offer suggestions on their own accord, printers still need the occasional nudge or trigger from customers. Sometimes all it takes is a customer to let the printer know that when quoting, if there is a slightly different size that works better for them, to quote that as well.

A dutch cut layout requires real thought by the printer, as computerized quoting systems often aren't sophisticated enough to layout such a scenario. It's just like baking where you can't possibly foresee that you will need to turn a couple pieces at the end to make them all fit. You may even have to reshape a few to get them all in. Printers do the same and the flat sheet of paper is a printers baking sheet and the postcard is their dough. Enabling a print chef to make things work for the resources they have will put put money back in your pocket.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Customization to the Masses: Digital Web Printing

When you think of digital printing, typically what comes to mind is low quantity, customizable, short turn around and on demand printing. With fixed material and digital per click rates, that idea is that if you want to print highly variable and versioned pieces then you better keep the quantity small or resort to printing offset and creating the variable message through a lasering or inkjet process. If you are making 100-200 variable catalogs or brochures this is perfect, but if you want to produce 100,000-200,000 variable pieces, then this just isn't economical. In high quantity variable scenarios, you print a full color shell or template on a traditional offset web press and take those forms to a high speed laser or inkjet unit to overprint all variable data. You might even create a few different color versions to target varying demographics but you must limit your versioning due to the high make ready and plate change costs associated with offset printing.

Web printing has gone on about its business just like this for years, pumping out high quantity, static materials and digital printing has continued to play the role of the quick turn, low quantity job. Recently though a new technology has surfaced, digital web printing and it literally will forever change how we perceive the role of digital printing.

Marketers recognize the need to create highly customizable marketing materials but the challenge has always been keeping the costs down. With a digital web press, a marketer is easily and affordably able to achieve the goal of printing materials for a large audience and at the same time, making each one of those print pieces completely unique to the end user. It is revolutionary technology that will only grow as people seek out more ways to connect with their target audience in a world that is swarming with advertisements.

Does this suggest the death of commercial offset web printing? Not yet, as there is still a place for the mass production of print where each piece is identical (product catalog, books, coupons, etc.). However, offset web printing has seen a decline in volume over the past few years due to the internet and other electronic and more affordable forms of advertising. If printing is to compete and win against new media, it has to create a unique to user experience and digital web printing is one step in the right direction to print's sustainability.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Master Sommeliers of Printing

A sommelier is a trained expert on everything to do with wine. They are extremely knowledgeable individuals that understand all aspects of taste and how these tastes will pair with an entire menu of food. Among other things, a sommelier might build a wine list for a restaurant, create suggestions for wines that complement particular foods and assign wine ratings.

Any person who has a great deal of expertise on wine can become a certified sommelier but only a small number of individuals can claim the title of Master Sommelier. Master Sommeliers have gone through years of rigorous training and these individuals can claim the right as masters of their trade.

Just as the case with a sommelier, any person with a great deal of expertise in printing can become a certified commercial printer however only a small number of printers can claim the title of master. Master certification in the printing industry is conducted by IDEAlliance and G7 Master & Expert certifications are given to those small few who can prove they are masters of the print trade.

G7 Master Printers are able to ensure the highest level of color match consistency from proofing to printing. This standard means the company uses the most modern technology and techniques as it applies to proofing, printing and color calibration controls. G7 Experts are individuals that are deemed as master specialists in color management, proofing, plate making and printing of all varieties. To put it simply, a G7 certificate deems you an expert on all things color as it relates to printing.

Does this mean that non-G7 printers aren't good at color management? Absolutely not as many printers have a number of practices and procedures in place to ensure their proofs match what prints and that color remains consistent from press to press. You can still rely on the expertise of a non-G7 certified printer as after all, this is what they do for a living! In addition, there are numerous other certifications available that prove a printer has high-quality control standards.

I am still of the belief that the most successful printers will always be the ones that place the client first, care and are passionate about the work they do (master certified or not). It's just like walking into an established wine store and seeking out the expertise of the owner. It's highly unlikely they are a Master Sommelier but these people have the knowledge and resources to guide you into a purchase you'll be happy with to ensure you return in the future. However, there is something to be said for the printer that takes the time to go through the certification process to prove they are masters of their trade.

Related Links and References:
Guild of Sommeliers
International Sommelier Guild
Court of Master Sommeliers
Sommelier Facts on Wikipedia
G7:  What is it - and Why Should Print Customers Care?

Friday, September 3, 2010

No Press Checks: Printer's Alley

Entrance to Printer's Alley
On the popular Travel Channel show No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain explores the globe in seek of food that defines the culinary habits and culture of people living in foreign countries throughout the world. As a viewer, this show offers a fresh look at the real way that others eat and live their lives.

Within the spirit of No Reservations and in the mind of a Printchef, I want to take you on a journey that explores the remarkable way that printing has put a unique stamp on cities and countries throughout the world. When you see a post appropriately titled No Press Checks, be prepared to be dipped into the printing culture of unfamiliar territories.

All trips start from home, so my first No Press Checks occurs right here in Nashville, TN in the famous Printer's Alley. Printer's Alley, located between Third and Fourth Avenues just off Church Street in downtown Nashville, was founded in the 1800's as a mecca for the printing and publishing industry. If not for country music, many might have considered Nashville the Printing Capital of the World (History of Printer's Alley). Around the turn of the 20th century, Printer's Alley was home to two large newspapers, ten print shops and thirteen publishers (Wikipedia).

So what exactly happened to Nashville's home of printing and publishing? Well it turns out all those printers had a dark side too as saloons, gambling halls and speakeasies sprouted up all over the district.  Judges, lawyers and politicians joined the crowd also and quickly the area became the center of the city's nightlife. I can only imagine what a press check might have looked like in 1910. It gives new meaning to Mad Men's Don Draper when he conveniently tells his secretary he's "at the printer" when he needs a cover to get away for dirty deeds.

Printer's Alley of today
Today, the only traces left of printing in the alley would be the glow of neon signs inviting you into the various bars, karaoke saloons and adult entertainment clubs. While Nashville is still one of the major U.S. market's for printing and publishing, you won't be headed to a press check anytime soon in Printer's Alley as the area is no bigger than some of the large web-presses that you'll find in modern printing. However, with the rise of digital printing, a glimmer of hope still resides that this once again could become Nashville's home of printing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mass Customization

It is said that Americans are exposed to over 5000 advertisements per day. This number rises every year and it is really astonishing if you stop to think about it. Assuming we are awake only a span of 16 hours that equates to roughly five advertisements per minutes. When I started sales I was told I needed to develop a 30-second commercial. However, at five advertisements per minute, it seems that this should be closer to only 12-seconds!

With this much competition for people's attention, it is no wonder that advertisers see such low response rates. It has become increasingly difficult (and almost impossible) to stand out and get noticed as consumers have developed incredibly strong defenses against advertisements. To the marketer, this feels like trying to kick in an iron door. While everyone else can sit there and try to figure out how to break down this door, the successful people are simply going to look for another way in. This is achieved through customization.

Customization used to be putting your own take on a recipe or imposing your own standards and procedures on an existing system. In this type of model, success is achieved by working just a little smarter than your competition and creatively positioning and marketing your brand to get more exposure. Your customers didn't buy, they were sold to. Somewhere this all began to change and increased brand exposure actually started having a negative impact when the product wasn't completely a necessity, outstanding or different to begin with.

Customization can occur on many levels and it doesn't mean just making a different product. You can make similar products that thousands of other people make but perhaps your customization is in the process or service. Whatever type of customization you are involved in, it must speak to the individual core of the person who will buy and use your product.

The internet is fast to this trend as websites have become highly customizable. News, sports, search engines, social networking sites and email provider websites all let you choose the content you want to see. The more you interact with those sites and are able to tell them about yourself, the more customization they can provide. It's like stepping into a store that sells custom tailored clothing. As soon as you step in the door, they are sizing you up and the more information they have about you (body shape and size, fashion preferences and personality) the better they are able to give you clothing that is completely for you.

The food and beverages industry is seeing the effects of customization as well. I did a search on "personal chefs" and was astonished to see everything that came up. There is even a United States Personal Chef Association. The idea that there are families who want a real chef to sit down with them in their home, understand their preferences and diet and help them prepare meals that are completely catered to each person's individual needs should frighten the restaurant industry.

Frozen foods (one of the most convenient and easy ways to eat) are moving towards the trends of customization. The company Personal Chef To Go, delivers customizable and fresh meals (not frozen) that are shipped right to your home in a thermal lined container.

The trends of customization mean good things for craft brewers as well. According to the Brewers Association, a trade group that represents craft brewers in America, craft beer volume sold was up 9 percent for the first half of 2010 despite beer sales overall being down 2.7 percent. In addition, the U.S. now has 1,625 breweries, 100 more than at the same time as last year.  More and more people are starting to support local craft beer producers and turning away from the mega producers. To keep up with the trends of customization, companies like Anheuser-Busch are turning to their own line of craft-like beers such as Bud Light Golden Wheat. However, no matter how many beers a company like Anheuser-Busch cranks out, they will struggle to capture that essence that makes a local craft beer so much more enjoyable. Craft beers are often created by only a handful of people and the labor, local flavor and originality that is put into the process has as much to do with how satisfying the beer is as the taste does.

So what does this all mean for printers and marketers? You see, unlike food and clothing, humans can survive without many types of products such as printing. A person's advertising defenses are going to be higher when presented with something that isn't an essential need to survival. Therefore, despite the trends towards mass customization, a restaurant can still stay afloat on location, cost, convenience or how well they market themselves.  A commercial printer however, who doesn't embrace customization, will be left behind.

Digital printing and variable data scratch the surface of customization. They allow each piece created to be completely unique to the end recipient. You can even have a specific message that is targeted to a specific demographic.  However, this type of product is still produced in a highly standardized process that groups people into "versions" and not as individuals.

True customization will let the end-user choose 100% of the content and it will master the art of empowering the consumer. You see this happening with self-published photo books and storefront sites that let the end-user order exactly the personalized, user-designed marketing materials they need. Digital printing services are a necessity but to service this changing landscape, printers will have to invest in pick-and-pack fulfillment, inserting capabilities and specialized, labor-intensive kitting services. Custom marketing kits, that are tailored to the individual end recipient, will be the norm. The customer will dictate the entire process and printers that cling to their standards (sizes, stocks, turnaround time) will lose market share. Total customization will be the new standard and the ability to be flexible and adjust to new customer expectations will be the ultimate decider in which printers will continue to have the privilege to produce whatever print projects still remain in the future.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sticky Surface

How sticky and absorbent is paper?  If you are producing a print project that the end-user will need to write on, then you need to make sure you select a paper that soaks up ink.  This scenario and consideration is a common occurrence in printing.  One thing I do to help people remember how to choose their paper is to site the frying pan/skillet example.

Non-stick pans have a coating on the surface that helps prevent sticking when cooking.  These pans are especially useful when working with foods such as eggs and fish that tend to stick.  In addition, when working with a regular uncoated pan, it is usually recommended that you add fat, oil or cooking spray (a coating) to the pan to prevent sticking.  What can we conclude from this?  A coated surface prevents sticking.  How does this apply to paper?  Ink will not stick as easily to a coated surface.

If you are conceptualizing a print project and you want people to write on the paper, an uncoated option is the way to go.  Uncoated sheets are more porous and the less coating on a sheet, the easier ink will absorb into the paper.  This is why ink smears when you try to write on a glossy sheet of paper.  If you absolutely must use a coated sheet but you still want the end-user to write on the paper then go with a coated sheet with less coating (ex - matte, dull).  Matte and dull sheets are coated but they have less coating than a glossy sheet with a high sheen.  You'll still get a little smear when you write on a matte or dull but it won't be nearly as bad.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Designing for Digital Printing - Part 2: Design Stage

Avoid large solids on the fold marks to reduce the noticeability of cracking. Heavy ink coverage
along the spine/fold is important for thicker stocks, especially in instances with toner-based digital printing. Toner sits on top of a sheet and doesn’t absorb into the paper. When the paper folds, the fibers pull apart at the fold (crack) and while all printing can show the presence of cracking, toner-based print projects will magnify the problem.

Solids and gradients can be especially problematic when printing digitally and are prone to banding. Avoid large solids and tints in your document by adding filters that add additional noise and texture to help ensure a smooth and even finish. Try to break up solids with photos and other design elements to eliminate any streaking. When designing a gradient, the move needs to be greater on a digital press for it to be noticeable. You might not even identify a 10% to 30% gradient but a 10% to 70% will start to give the effect you desire. In general, avoid long gradients with small, light color changes.

Create smart files. The digital press will most likely print in CMYK so design your file in CMYK. RGB has a greater color gamut and those RGB colors you see on your screen may not be possible to reproduce in the CMYK color gamut. In addition, to ensure good print resolution, create and save images at 300 ppi (pixels per inch). Also, when saving your files, quality PDF’s generated in the proper settings are best for digital printing.

Does your design incorporate variable elements? When designing multiple versions, create a common design and have a few select areas that will be interchangeable with unique content depending on the specific audience. Also, if the variable element you design is to be determined by a field in a spreadsheet, proof and test the longest word (highest number of characters) in the database field to ensure that it fits properly within your design.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Designing for Digital Printing - Part 1: Pre-Design Stage

Choose the printer, then design. Chances are, each printer can provide you a list (and samples) of digital paper stocks they commonly run that work well for their particular presses. These may be different from printer to printer so it is important to know what stock works well for your printer. 

What type of color reproduction can you expect? Can your printer provide you with a digital chart or samples that indicate how PMS colors will print digitally once processed out?

What are the font limitations?  Depending on your printer’s device capabilities, they might run into issues when printing small fonts.

Choose the paper.  Ask the printer for digital paper samples ahead of time. When you spec paper, don’t think in terms of #3’s or #2 grades, think in terms of digital grades. Your printer should be able to provide you with digital paper samples of various finishes, weights and sizes.

Estimate before designing.  If you have a rough idea of your project (size, quantity, color, etc) talk to a printer and have them give you a rough estimate for how it will be produced. Is it more efficient for them to produce the project digitally or offset? Do they recommend any sizes that are close to your estimate but offer greater efficiencies?

Find the grain.  In your printer’s estimate, which direction will the grain run?   Paper that folds against the grain will crack easier than paper that folds with the grain direction. The ideal grain direction should be parallel to your fold.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Genetically Modified

Over the past few years, there has been a growing popularity in organic food. This has stemmed from the increased knowledge the public has on how our food is made and where it comes from.  One of the primary reasons for the push to organic options is the food industry's production of genetically engineered foods.

Genetic engineering takes the genetics of one organism and puts it into something else. With genetically engineered food, animals and plants are transformed primarily so we can produce more food faster and cheaper. Genetically engineering food has become so prevalent that the majority of processed foods in a grocery store contain genetically engineered ingredients (

There are many who argue that genetic engineering has adverse effects on humans, animals, wildlife and the environment. A recent documentary, Food Inc. (, focuses on some of these concerns. While there are many concerns, in a world where people starve, is the ability to bring more food to market at a cheaper price a bad thing? It is a moral paradox and I suggest you do a little personal research to come to your own conclusions.

A similar genetic engineering concern has also been recently publicized in the commercial paper industry (Forests Of ArborGen Genetically Modified Trees OK'd For U.S. South).  For years, paper companies have been planting forests of trees to be used for commercial paper. These forests help protect the conservation of natural forests.

Eucalyptus trees are being planted as they grow faster and produce high-quality pulp but they only do well in warm year-round climates such as Florida.  Genetic engineering has allowing the company ArborGen to change the genetic makeup of these trees by modifying them to withstand freezing temperatures which will enable their growth in states north of Florida.  The concern is that these genetically engineered trees will invade the natural ecosystem. That could cause a number of problems. ArborGen is confident they can control the trees but questions still remain.

Again, as with genetically modified food, this creates a moral paradox. We know trees are good as they take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Is it bad that paper companies are looking for more ways to increase the number of trees put in the ground? From the paper company's perspective, the alternative is to use trees from natural forests but no one wants that. In the effort to produce more trees and paper though, one has to be concerned about genes being transfered from a genetically engineered tree to a natural tree especially when it is believed by some that the eucalyptus tree uses more groundwater (lowering the human supply) and could be more flammable.

There are strong arguments for and against genetic engineering which creates the dilemma. Perhaps in a few years we'll have conclusive knowledge to know whether genetically engineering our food and our trees was a good or bad idea.  

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What is the Expiration Date for Paper?

Sell By ...

Just about every food and beverage product you buy has an expiration date. The sell by date is the point of no return, where the perceived quality and safety of the product can not be guaranteed.  Often times when this date has passed, the physical and sensory properties of the food change.  An odor is present, mold is detected or the food/beverage changes color.  As food and beverage consumers, we watch these dates closely and we expect and prepare to replace items as needed.  These dates make our lives easier.

The luxury of an expiration date is not available however in printing.  When your looking through a paper swatch book, you won't see an expiration date.  You will however see key terms that give you an idea of the durability and lifespan that you can expect from the paper.  Have you ever noticed when a paper is identified as acid-free or archival?  This is the paper's way of providing you with an expiration date.

Acid-free paper eliminates the lignin and active acid pulp (aluminum sulfates) during the processing.  Lignin is found in wood and when exposed to light and oxygen, it will cause the paper to turn yellow and deteriorate.  The components of paper naturally contain cellulose fibers that produce acid so it is impossible to create an ageless paper.  Acid decay can completely breakdown paper over time by deteriorating fibers.  However paper made acid-free, will at least slow down the eventual deterioration process.

Expires 08/10/2532

When an alkaline reserve is added in the paper production process, it will further strengthen the papers ability to fight off naturally occurring acid that forms from the cellulose fibers.  This alkaline reserve acts as another protective agent or buffer in the fight against acids.  When a paper is alkaline, you can expect an average life expectancy of a few hundred years.  Depending on the grade of the paper this can vary from 100-1000 years.

Archival paper is also used to identify paper based on a strict set of standards from ANSI.  It means that not only is the paper acid-free with large amounts of alkaline reserves, it is also durable enough to be used for printed items with potential significant historical value to them.  Archival paper is considered such because it isn't made from wood-based pulp that contains lignin.

So when you're searching through paper books for your next potential print project and you see that a paper is acid-free and archival, expect it to at least withstand the remainder of your lifetime.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Printing With and On Your Food

If you are familiar with this blog, then you know that I often try to compare cooking and printing techniques.  I compare the two because most people understand cooking and food basics but not so much with printing.

On the surface, cooking and printing have nothing to do with each other.  However, despite these differences, there are many instances that utilize food directly in print and vice versa.  This blog post is dedicated to exploring a few of those times where the concept of food and print work together.

  • Chocolate Graphics ( prints on food by embossing photographic images onto chocolate with chocolate.  This embossing technology simultaneously allows them to produce 3 dimensional images with chocolate as well.
  • Cantu Designs ( meld food with science, technology and art to create a new type of futuristic culinary experience.   Chef Cantu has created a number of print and food related technologies such as edible paper and desktop printers where the print cartridges are filled with food-based inks that include foods such as carrots, tomatoes and potatoes.
  • AIB (American Institute of Baking) and FDA help certify and ensure food packaging and labeling compliance on your every day print items you find in your grocery store.  They help printers follow guidelines on food grade printing ink requirements.
  • Soy-based inks are non petroleum-based inks that are created with vegetable oils.  These inks are often the choice for environmentally conscience customers as they emit considerably less VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and are biodegradable.
  • Edible rice paper is often used in cake designs to transfer a photo quality image on the outside of frosting.  A designer can draw and color designs on the paper or even run the sheet through a food safe edible ink printer to achieve more detail.

Perhaps printed materials that you can eat will be the biggest opportunity for printing to stay relevant in a digital world.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why Direct Mail? Part 2 of 2

Trust in Advertising - Printing and Marketing Trends

It is no secret that people trust advertisers less and less every year.  We’d rather hear the opinion of a friend or go online to see what other people are saying about a product.  This has caused an increase in grass root marketing efforts as well as the need to communicate through social media.  Traditional advertising, including print, is on the decline.

Despite the change in the advertising landscape, there is still a place for print in advertising that offers the highest ROI opportunity.  That opportunity is with direct mail.  Internet advertising will continue to grow but the information overload that online advertising brings to consumers will help direct mail break through the clutter.   In the coming years, print stands to become one of the least intrusive forms of advertising available to marketers.

Print can do things that the internet can not do, and the trends don’t lie.  According to a 2008 DMNews/Pitney Bowes Direct Mail Survey, the follow results suggest print is here to stay:
  • 78% identify direct mail as the preferred method for receiving promotional materials (63% Email, 52% Newspaper Inserts, 34% Websites).
  • 37% said they used a new business for the first time because of something they received in the mail.
  • 68% said they renewed business relationships in response to information they receive by direct mail.

Print is also reviewed more than online advertising such as email.  85% of households say they either read or scan direct mail (2007 USPS Household Diary Study).  Data for email varies by industry but experts suggest a 15-25% average email open rate and a 6% average click through rate if the advertiser is known.

A more recent study (2009 Exact Target’s Channel Preference Study of 1500 internet users) shows that
76% made a purchase after receiving direct mail (67% TV, 58% email, 17% phone marketing). 

The trends don’t lie, consumers still trust print.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why Direct Mail? Part 1 of 2

Why use direct mail?  Isn’t this form of advertising going extinct?  With the world becoming more digitized every day, one might think so.  However, every month you receive direct mail from the same companies over and over again.  Banks and insurance companies constantly flood your mailbox.  Do you think these companies would keep repeatedly sending the same offer in the mail if they weren’t seeing results?  Would you continue to do something in your own business if it wasn’t working?

The fact is that direct mail works and is growing in popularity as marketers seek out a means to speak to consumers on a one-to-one level.  The ability to send a targeted message to the right person is a powerful thing.

Direct mail is here to stay but if you need proof as to why you should join this movement, consider the following evidence:

  • Mail is measurable.  You can track the cost per response.
  • Mail is real.  In a digitized world, mail enables your senses to physically interact with a marketing message.
  • Mail is personal.  How would you send a birthday card, love letter or thank you note to someone you care about?
  • Mail speaks to you.  Your name is on the mail, with your address and your specific message that the marketer knows is relevant to you.
  • Mail benefits from technology.  Advances in data mining allow you to send a tailored message to a specific demographic and audience.
  • Mail reinforces brand loyalty.  When you receive mail from a brand that you already trust, the mail is received more positively.  In addition, mail complements and integrates well with other forms of advertising such as TV, email, radio and a website.
  • Google mails.  The largest internet company in the world uses direct mail to advertise.
  • Mail stands out.  The average consumer receives 45 emails for every one piece of direct mail.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Emerge Conference

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Emerge conference with a customer I work with. Emerge is a 2-day event covering the latest in print innovation and technology. Held in San Antonio, Emerge 2010 attracted over 750 print suppliers, customers and Consolidated Graphics (NYSE:CGX) leaders who collaborated to propel the industry forward.

As an employee of Consolidated Graphics, this conference made me proud of the printing company I get to work for every day. Not only did the conference aim to bring customers together with their printers by educating on marketing and print related topics from industry leaders, it also provided an environment where I was able to collaborate one-on-one with my customer to see how we could begin applying many of the topics discussed.

There was a downside.  I was limited to bringing only one customer with me. Because of this I have posted the above video to give you a brief overview of Emerge. Over time I hope to share with all Print Chef followers, the knowledge that I gained at the terrific event.

In addition to the informative breakouts my customer and I attended, I was also very impressed with how our large format printing and other specialty print items were applied and on full display throughout the hotel. Check out the pictures below to give you an idea of how we turned the Marriott into hotel Emerge!

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Adding seasoning or a marinade to meat, fish or a vegetable is a great way to tenderize it and add a little flavor. These coatings, add a characteristic to your food that you just can't achieve by cooking without them. Even a chef will add at the least a little salt and pepper to a filet! It's fair to say that coatings add complexity and enhance the overall taste, smell and visual presentation of a meal.

As a printer, we also look to achieve enhancements on print materials by adding varnishes and other coatings. Press coatings and varnishes improve the look of a printed piece by creating different textures and visual effects. They can change the look and feel of a brochure drastically and as with cooking, there are a number of coating possibilities to choose from depending on the artist's desired outcome.

There are a number of things to consider when choosing the right coating for your print project. While I recommend you work closely with your printer to see physical samples for the different types of coatings, I have listed a few things that will help you get a rough idea for the coating of your choice (there are many more types of coatings but these are the most common):

Aqueous Coating - water based coating that adds protection to a press sheet, helps dry the press sheet quickly and can add a variety of different finishes such as gloss, dull, matte, satin, pearlescent, and touch coatings.

Gloss Finish - varnish or aqueous coating that adds a high reflective, shiny appearance to the sheet.

Dull or Matte Finish - varnish or aqueous coating that reduces the sheen on a press sheet.

Satin Finish - varnish or aqueous coating that creates a smoother sheet and less shiny than a gloss finish but more shiny than a dull or matte finish.

Varnish - a liquid based coating that can be either gloss, satin or dull. Varnishes can also be tinted with a pigment for effects.

Pearlescent Finish - made from crushed mother-of-pearl particles, this coating adds a pearl like smooth finish.

Soft-touch Coating - an aqueous coating that adds different textures than a traditional finish (rubbery finish or leather-like feel).

UV (Ultraviolet) Coating - Clear liquid coating that dries with ultraviolet light leaving a high-gloss, satin or dull finish. A gloss UV Coat will give you the most shine but will also result in the most visible finger prints.

Textured and Sandpaper Finish - Coating that creates a rough texture and depth to an image area or creates a sandpaper type feel.

Scented Finish - Scents are within the coating and when applied and rubbed on the press sheet, a fragrance is released.

Flood Coating - process of applying any type of coating above to the entire press sheet or entire image area as one flat coating.

Spot Coating - process of applying any type of coating above to an isolated or designated area (ex - part of an image that you want to stand out) on a press sheet.

Now that you have an idea of some of the different types of coatings available in printing, I will share with you one of my favorite types of coatings (marinade) that I use on pork and chicken meals. Here is the recipe and check out the video above for detailed instructions on making this wonderful meal:

Garlic Dijon Basil Pork
- Mix together well olive oil, dijon, chopped garlic and basil together. Your the chef so you choose your recipe size! I add about 1-2 tablespoons of both oil and dijon, 3 cloves of garlic and about 1/2 teaspoon of dry basil (or 1 teaspoon of fresh basil).
- Line a baking dish with tin foil and place the pork in the dish.
- Salt and pepper pork and baste the mixture thoroughly on both sides.
- Let the pork sit at least 15-20 minutes to absorb the marinade (the longer it sits the better it tastes) and go ahead and pre-heat the oven to 450 while you wait.
- Cook about 12-15 minutes or until done to your desired level. I like to eat pork right around 150 but this is medium and may not be to your tastes.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Art of Printing

Art, in its many forms, has a number of definitions and meanings. Often the result of a human's ability to produce work that evokes emotion and heightens our senses, art in all its beauty, is still in the eye of the beholder. Art is completely subjective which makes us appreciate it when it actually moves us.

One of the most famous cookbooks of all time is Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Julia Child, 1961). An appropriate title as french cooking and all cooking in general is a complete art form. There are subtleties and techniques to cooking and the required knowledge needed to perform and output great meals is art in all its forms.

While we can appreciate the art put into great cooking, we also have to accept that humans have their own unique tastes when it comes to what they eat. Just because a chef puts his heart and soul into a meal and uses all his or her talents to create a masterful representation of the recipe, it does not mean his customer will appreciate any bit of the result. Our senses are a curious thing and art will fall victim to this.

The art of printing certainly falls victim to individual human senses and perception of beauty. Aesthetic judgement by the printer is a delicate balance of perception, preference, skill and knowledge. The reproduction of color and design is art. While completely in the eye of the beholder, a printed piece can powerfully affect our senses.

When thinking of the art of printing, appreciate the skill and craftsmanship that goes into it. Ink on paper, a simple concept, creates subjective beauty. Printing is never perfect as that would suggest that we as humans are all the same. Printing reminds us that we are not the same as art should never aim to achieve the exact human response in all of us. The art of printing should only aim to be appreciated for what it is, something that influences each of our own, unique, individual human senses.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Why Do Print Projects Take So Long to Produce? Part 2: Knife Sharpening

When using knives in the kitchen, you are more likely to hurt yourself with a dull blade. This is because you're applying more pressure which causes you to be less stable with the knife. In addition to the safety benefit, a sharp blade will save you time by cutting the food faster. Also, it allows you to make equal and consistent cuts that ensures your food cooks evenly and looks more appetizing.

The kitchen isn't the only place you need a sharp blade. We cut printed materials in almost every stage of the print process. Cutting may look quick and easy but we spend just as much time maintaining, setting up and replacing sharp blades as we do actually putting them to action. Continual maintenance is what it takes to be a cut above the rest.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Topping the Five Star Printer

Some of the most memorable experiences you will have in your lifetime will take place over a meal in a restaurant. For some, this would include a wedding rehearsal dinner or a first date. For others, these experiences might be the excitement of dining out on a vacation or when your friends and family get together for a holiday feast. Rarely though, will the great meals and moments of your life ever occur in a fast food chain. Quick, cheap and impersonal usually don't equate to a memorable, amazing experience. There is a reason restaurants are rated on a "five-star" system and the law of averages would say that the higher a restaurant is rated, then the more likely it is that the restaurant will deliver on a memorable and amazing experience.

Sure there is place for fast food. You certainly can't beat the convenience, but if it weren't cheap then I'm not sure what the value proposition would be. This theme holds true for any business. Unless you are cranking out widgets and your core strategy is lowest price, you can't afford to not be great in every thing else you do. If a business truly wants to succeed in the coming years, then it better be in the business of creating memorable and amazing experiences.

Take for instance the printing industry. You have your cheap and convenient options available with one-click online printers or the neighborhood quick-copy store. These operations are highly standardized and can get by without great people or product. On the other side, everyone else in the industry is fighting relentlessly to create that little bit of differentiation that makes them a hair better than their competitors. The competition is stiff and just like restaurants, printers are doing their best to create "five-star" memorable experiences.

The five-star printers have world-class quality. They don't miss deadlines. They have a solution for every problem and they invest in bright and intelligent people that provide top-notch customer service.

There is a problem with focusing only on the five-star model though. One of the reasons why so many restaurants and printers lose business to competitors is that if you are only creating difference in a five-star model then your limiting your services. There is a new type of printer out there that stands out even among the elite five-star printers. They are the caterers. Like in the restaurant business (e.g. Why Catering Is Crucial), printers that focus on catering are more memorable and valuable than the most quality driven print shop.

Catering, by definition, means to satisfy and provide what is needed and required. Too many printers have equipment and standards in place that focus on what the printer wants to sell. Some of these printers may be great at what they do but if they are not adjusting the services they provide on a daily basis to fit perfectly to the customers needs, then they will become obsolete.

Printers must be caterers now more than ever. They must give the customer the power to create their own customized experience. Catering is creating personalization. Catering is attacking every problem and opportunity with a blank sheet of paper and not a predetermined set of rules. Catering is to look at a customers business and create a completely customized solution that manages print and improves their marketing. Catering is a memorable experience.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Marketing in the New Millenium

In the April 2010 issue of Deliver Magazine, an article on the future of marketing to different generational groups, discusses the 100 million Americans who are classified as Generation Y – aka the “Millennials” – which have replaced the 78 million baby boomers as the largest consumer group. Generation (Gen) Y, born from 1985 to 2004, are Internet savvy, environmentally conscientious and adverse to traditional advertising. With internet obsessed Gen Y as the largest and fastest growing group of consumers, your first thought might be that the printing industry is in some serious trouble! After taking a deeper look though, I think just the opposite is true. In fact, printing may pose the single greatest opportunity for businesses to capture the attention of Gen Y.

It’s no secret that the Gen Y live in an online world. They exist and live in online communities, tweets, blogs, and social networking sites. They shop and bank online and are even educated in a virtual classroom setting. As businesses market to Y, they recognize the need to appeal to their online senses and connect to them in the virtual world. However, cracking the code and entering into their trusted and guarded online life is something that most businesses fail to effectively do.

Gen Y go about online activities in a comparable way that people go about their lives in the non-internet world. They have routines, or trusted sites they frequently visit on a continual basis. These sites enable them to live their lives with a sense of order and community and they don’t like it when this is disrupted (annoying pop-ups, spam or irrelevant and misleading site content). So just how is a business supposed to get the attention of someone who truly lives on the internet? This certainly isn’t easy as the competition for attention is so great, that offers from even the most trusted sources can be perceived as spam.

According to, the internet looked like this in 2009:

- 1.4 billion email users
- 247 billion emails sent per day (81% of these spam)
- 234 million websites
- 126 million blogs
- 350 million people on Facebook
- 27.3 million tweets per day

This means that the average user is sent over 175 emails per day and at least 33 of those emails each day are from trusted (non-spam) senders. If you’re thinking that you don’t receive that many emails, it is probably because you aren’t living a completely Internet focused online life such as a Gen Y. In addition, Gen Y have access to over 234 million websites and 126 million of these are blogs. With this many options available, how are you going to get their attention? Do Gen Y even know that you exist or know how to reach you online?

Integrated direct marketing may be the single greatest opportunity to break down the wall that Gen Y have built to stave off advertisers. Integrated marketing incorporates multiple forms of advertising channels into one seamless message that fits nicely together. One of the easiest ways to do this is through the use of direct mail combined with the internet. Just because your ultimate goal might be to drive someone to a website you may think direct mail doesn’t really fit well into your advertising plan. Or maybe you’re a small business you just can’t afford to spend money on anything other than online advertising. These are valid points in deciding how to affordably bring in new customers. However, remember that Gen Y (the biggest demographic opportunity to increase revenue in the coming years) are extremely active Internet users. This means they are exposed to more online forms of advertising than anyone else out there and they have built powerful defenses against them.

To reach Gen Y, more traditional forms of advertising are necessary to capture their attention (such as direct mail, bill boards and television). This form of advertising typically does not focus on Gen Y which means they are more likely to give you their attention if you target them in a traditional way. Even when all of the purchasing decisions Gen Y makes are on the internet, you still have to reach them in a unique and memorable way to get them to participate in your online business presence. Nothing is unique and memorable about one of the 175 emails they receive per day. By gaining their attention with traditional methods that they haven't built up defenses against, you can then promote to them a website or blog that you ultimately wanted them to visit in the first place. This is integrated marketing.

The use of direct mail is the most effective method for achieving an integrated marketing campaign to Gen Y or any generation for that matter. With direct mail, you are able to send cost-effective, one-to-one, personalized communications with a call to action to visit a website. The personalization of the mail then brings more trust to the website. In addition, direct mail is highly visible among Gen Y. Need proof? According to the U.S. Post Office, on average, 584 million pieces of mail are delivered each day to 150 million residences. That is roughly only 4 pieces of mail for every household. If you compare that to the 175 emails an individual might receive, you can paint a clear picture of an opportunity. Furthermore, how many pieces of mail for every household do you think target Gen Y? Do you think a majority of the people born from 1985 to 2004 are currently paying the bills, cutting coupons or sifting through insurance offerings? This is the real hidden and perhaps biggest opportunity out there: almost none of the direct mail currently being sent is targeting Gen Y.

In the coming years, Gen Y are going to increasingly make more and more purchasing decisions that are influenced by their trusted online world. How they get to and arrive at those decisions is up to marketers. Will marketers embrace the opportunities to gain trust through traditional advertising outlets or will they push them away with continual spam offerings? The evidence is right in front of marketers, they just need to act. With the growing number of tight knit online communities that Gen Y are a part of, it only takes the trust of a few for your message to spread like wildfire through their entire network.

For more information on how to profit from the understanding of young consumers, check out the book The Age Curve: How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Storm by Kenneth Gronbach.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Iron Chef

On the popular TV cooking show Iron Chef America, different chefs from around the world are chosen to compete head-to-head against an Iron Chef in a cooking battle. The participating chefs must choose their competitor, one of the Iron Chefs who are the best of the best – featuring chefs such as Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Masaharu Morimoto or Cat Cora. The show features dramatics that make it entertaining like naming the cooking arena Kitchen Stadium and commentary that resembles a sporting event. Each show is unique, as a randomly chosen theme ingredient must be incorporated as the focal point of all dishes prepared. The chefs must create four dishes all within 75 minutes with the help of a team of sous chefs (15 minutes to come up with an ensemble of dishes and 60 minutes to cook them). At the end of the competition, each competing chef faces a panel of judges who grade them on a scale of 60 points (30 points for taste/quality, 15 points for presentation and 15 points for originality) and a winner is declared.

To compete in such as pressure packed situation under a short time frame, these chefs must be seasoned professionals. Cutting corners will ultimately lead to failure. They must be problem solvers, quick responders, fast thinkers, creative, knowledgeable and extremely dedicated hard workers. The same qualities that make these chefs so great are the exact same qualities you that you want in a print sales rep. Print reps can no longer afford to be good at only a few things. There are just too many options out there now and too many people hungry for work. They can no longer afford to have only one specific skill set, similar to the chef who only specializes in a few key ingredients or just chops. Flexibility is a requirement now and you have to wear multiple hats. Simply stated, a print rep can’t just be a chef anymore, they must be an Iron Chef.

What does it take to be the Iron Chef of printing? Let’s for a brief moment, assume printers were judged in a similar fashion that the competitors on Iron Chef are judged. We’ll start with the prerequisite that any printer who wants to compete at the highest level needs to be prepared for ANYTHING a customer throws at them. You can’t afford to only be an expert at the same processes that you’ve always known such as offset printing or promotional products. You must know it all: offset printing, direct mail, digital printing, variable data printing, PURL’s, online print procurement, fulfillment, integrated marketing communications (cross media), demographics, response rates, product differentiation, branding, PPC, CPM, email marketing, and social media. If you can’t have an intelligent conversation with a customer across all of these different marketing channels then you’re going to be just another printer. You must understand your customer’s business inside and out if you are to clearly identify opportunities to offer solutions that enable you to do more business with them. When I receive an email for a print bid that was clearly sent to 20 other printers I can already assume I’m not getting the project. Maybe my price will be on point occasionally and I’ll win a few projects, but in this scenario, I clearly haven’t established any value with the customer and all I’m doing is bidding on printing.

Now assuming you actually make the cut above, there are probably only a few printers left to battle against. So how do you determine who is the Iron Chef out of the remaining lot? On Iron Chef, 30 of the 60 points are for taste and quality of the meal. I think it goes without saying that if you can’t consistently produce a quality print project with good image reproduction, color, cross-overs, trim and binding, then you’re not going to be an Iron Chef. Does it have to be the best of the best in quality? This depends on the buyer, but most of the time no. It needs to be good enough though. If quality isn’t your forte, then you better be great at everything else you do. Iron Chef also presents 15 points for presentation and 15 points for originality. With presentation, how often are you communicating the exact status of a project throughout production? Are your projects produced with a high level of professionalism and is the communication always on point? On the point of originality, what is it that makes your company so different that someone is compelled to work with you? What new ideas do you bring to the table that make your customers look like geniuses?

All of the points are part of the bigger picture and the overall experience that defines who and who isn’t an Iron Chef of the printing world. However, there are still two more remaining key points that I strongly believe should be a given: meeting critical ship dates and responding to problems immediately.

On the cooking TV show, if the Iron Chef doesn’t produce in the allotted 60 minute time, they’re probably not going to win. To meet the time, they make sacrifices and constantly make quick decisions to change the course of their dish. For a printer and ship dates, while all may be important, you are going to miss a few. The key is to make sure you meet the ones that count. Are you anticipating ahead of time if a date is in jeopardy? Are you heading the problem off by offering solutions that let your customers react and adjust schedules on their end? What is the financial cost and impact of a missed deadline? To be an Iron Chef in printing you need to proactively minimize the pain of not meeting a ship date.

In addition to meeting deadlines, you must be address issues immediately. In a custom manufacturing world, things happen and we get that. What makes someone an Iron Chef of printing though is by making sure that if something does go wrong, then the rep is going to work non-stop until the issue is fixed. This sounds like common sense but too many times issues are confronted with the attitude of hide the dirt, throw money at the problem or sorry let the customer deal with it. It is amazing that people are scared to enthusiastically take ownership of issues. How you handle problems directly impacts your quality, presentation and originality. How issues are handled is often the only real difference for a print rep to be the Iron Chef of printing or just another printer.