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General Business

8 Ways to Waste Money on Printing

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8 Ways to Waste Money on Printing

So you need printing – a book, a brochure, a point-of-sale display or a mailer. Whatever it is, you want a quality piece that reflects well on your brand and business. But with all of the production options available, how do you know what’s worthwhile and what’s not?  Continue Reading

The Surefire Way to Improve Creativity… or Kill it

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The Surefire Way to Improve Creativity… or Kill it

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity” – Ray Bradbury

Throughout my career at graphic arts firms and agencies, a common thread is that many people resist structure, believing that processes and procedures inhibit creativity. Whether driven by a reluctance to change, or an honest belief that a “free-wheeling” culture fosters innovation, it’s easy to understand this attitude because there’s a certain appeal to it. Why waste time following procedures? However, nothing could be farther from the truth.

In reality, lack of defined procedures inhibit creativity by channeling energies into administrative, logistics and error correction activities that don’t provide value to the firm or its clients. In other words, when staff isn’t playing by the same rulebook, they waste time figuring trying out what others are doing or fixing the mistakes that invariably occur. Small businesses can operate this way for a while, since employees often work in close proximity. But as the business grows, lack of coordination will constrain growth and lead to big problems down the line.

Structure allows creativity to flourish by clarifying roles and bringing consistency to operations. Whether you’re a freelance creative, an advertising agency, a graphic arts firm or internal department, here are four areas of focus that will have an impact on your creativity and bottom line:

Define the Workflow: Work should flow through the parts of your organization in a predefined way. From intake through deliverable, a consistent workflow that is understood and followed by all staffers reduces uncertainty by mapping out responsibilities of each team member and what is expected. Over time, these procedures become internalized so that everyone understands what needs to be done and no longer needs to think about it.

Define the Scope of Work: The scope for each project must be fully fleshed out before any work is done. Typically, this information is captured, documented in a consistent manner and shared with the client and all members of the team, helping to get everyone on the same page. Well defined project specifications help develop targeted milestones and deliverables that meet objectives while reducing the potential for miscommunication and error.

Define the Timeline: Time is a valuable commodity, particularly when multiple projects are competing for limited team resources. There never seems to be enough of it. Yet when properly managed, moderate time pressure is shown to enhance creativity by sharpening focus and pushing the process forward. Once the scope of work is established, drive projects through your workflow by setting internal milestones that will keep the team focused while meeting all deadlines.

Define and Track the Budget: Creativity comes at a cost. For creatives, agencies and graphic arts organizations this is generally calculated as the time required to process, manage, produce and deliver plus material costs and expenses incurred. It’s essential to accurately capture the financial implications of work as the deliverable must not only meet the clients’ needs, it must do so within an agreed budget. Over time, close financial tracking also provides feedback that can be used to improve the process, assuring that all goals are met.

To some, this discussion may seem basic but it’s surprising how many firms, particularly smaller ones, fail to adequately structure and monitor their work. This is a shame because it’s never been easier to do.

Once limited to the largest corporations, third party systems geared to specific industries or categories are now available to firms of all sizes for tracking workflow, projects, timelines and budgets. The best of these adapt to and improve internal processes, becoming integral parts of the organization because they are flexible, adaptable and evolve over time as needs change. Many can be purchased as web-based SaaS (Software as a Service) subscriptions, limiting cost and eliminating internal hosting requirements.

After leading these initiatives, I understand that re-designing and optimizing internal processes can be difficult but it’s well worth the effort. Because once our teams no longer needed to think about process they were freed to focus on the work, allowing creativity and productivity to soar.

Six Steps to Effective Marketing Communications

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Six Steps to Effective Marketing Communications

“You now have to decide what ‘image’ you want for your brand. Image means personality. Products, like people, have personalities, and they can make or break them in the marketplace.” – David Ogilvy

So, you’re looking to lift your brand.

Growing your brand is vital, yet it often proves elusive. Especially in today’s hyper-connected and competitive environment. The jumble of advertisers shouting across all media for a share of the consumer’s attention makes getting your message through the clutter more difficult than ever before. But it’s not impossible.

We all know great brands that have risen above the din and stand apart as unique “personalities”, creating the growth that drives these businesses forward. While we might think of iconic brands in these terms, the good news is that most brands, big or small, can be lifted by applying solid communications practices.

Everything starts with the brand. So, when planning marketing communications, carefully consider each of the following Brand Lifting Elements:

1. Goals: Effective marketing communications must reflect well-formed goals. These may include greater brand awareness, generating sales, customer retention, repeat business, etc. The first step in brand lift is to identify marketing objectives that advance your overall business.

2. Audience: Once clearly defined communication goals are established, use this framework to identify a receptive target audience. This audience may be segmented into one or more groups that have a common need for the offering and the means to acquire it.

3. Messaging: Every brand has that unique “personality” that lends a common voice to all communications. Carefully craft messaging that captures this essence while furthering the marketing objective and fitting the unique needs of the audience.

4. Creative: Creative is the conduit that drives the message through the clutter in a way that resonates with the audience. At it’s best, creative not only informs, but delivers a brand experience that excites and encourages action. Carefully vet creative work against these criteria to assure maximum effectiveness.

5. Channel Selection: It’s challenging to reach the consumer given today’s myriad of communication media. Communications channels should be carefully selected to deliver a consistent message, engage the audience, encourage a dialog (when possible) and ultimately achieve the marketing goal. Don’t lock into specific solutions, instead review all options and design communications that utilize the most effective media.

6. Measurement: Brand lift is about results, so select and measure metrics that reflect marketing goals. Periodic review will then show how well communications are performing against goals and allow for adjustments when necessary.

Lifting your brand is not a one time effort; it’s an ongoing process of continual trial and refinement. Consistently apply these Brand Lift Elements to marketing communications and over time you will build stronger brands, have better results and more profitable business.

Are You Wasting Marketing Dollars?

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Are You Wasting Marketing Dollars?

Many marketers are wasting their time and money but don’t even know it.

Digital marketing is getting much of their attention and for good reason. The Interactive Advertising Bureau reports that U.S. Marketers spent $42.8 billion on digital marketing in 2013, which includes social, email, mobile, display advertising and SEO. Advertising Age expects spending to increase to $76.6 billion by 2016. That’s significant growth, but it represents just a part of overall marketing budgets.

According to a recent Gartner study, U.S. companies spend an average of 10.4% of revenue on marketing with roughly 25% spent on digital marketing activities. So, while much of the attention and some of the spend has shifted to digital, traditional services, including print, still command a significant portion of many budgets.

According to the NAPL, a leading U.S, printing trade organization, in 2014 customers will spend over $80 billion on commercial printing nationwide, almost twice as much as on interactive. It’s critical that businesses spend these funds wisely but doing so is more difficult than it seems.

Printing has always been a complex industry and adoption of digital technologies has made it even more so. Today, the U.S. commercial printing industry consists of over 35,000 firms specializing in a variety of technical areas including sheetfed offset, heatset web, forms, digital printing, wide format, publications and quick copy to name a few. Yet with the increased focus on digital marketing, many agencies and corporate marketers no longer have staff with the expertise to effectively manage all the forms of print they buy. Printing is often treated as an afterthought, but given the significant dollars spent it shouldn’t be.

Lacking in-house resources, some believe that working directly with a printer is the best way to buy these services but that’s often not the case. Printing firms make significant capital investments in their facilities and have a vested interest in keeping that equipment busy. Most will match projects with their equipment, leading at times to gross inefficiencies. Bidding to multiple printers doesn’t assure that any of the selected shops is best suited for the project either.

Properly sourcing and managing printing today requires deep industry knowledge, years of experience and extensive contacts. But since this level of print expertise is not a core competency at most firms, another option is becoming increasingly popular. The professional print management specialist.

A print specialist works to efficiently outsource their clients’ printing work. They understand the industry and have built networks of pre-qualified and fully vetted providers. Unhindered by plant and facilities, they can bid and place work with the printer best suited to produce it efficiently, getting quality results while saving money. By combining the spend of many firms, they also gain the buying power to negotiate deeper discounts than many firms can manage on their own.

So what is the best solution for managing print purchasing within your firm or agency? The answer depends on your annual spend and whether you have the talent in-house to manage it efficiently. Auditing your print expenditures, internally or through a third party, will provide the insights needed to make an informed decision. Then you’ll find that:

1. You’re currently buying printing efficiently. Congratulations, keep it up.

2. You’ve identified significant potential savings. If savings offset the cost, consider adding an experienced print manager to your staff or outsourcing to a professional print management firm.

3. You’ve identified moderate savings. If savings will not support hiring then consider engaging a print management consultant or or contracting with a management firm.

Ben Franklin, American patriot and printer, wrote the famous line that “a penny saved is a penny earned”. Since printing still represents a large part of many marketing budgets, it’s worth the effort to make sure you get the most from every dollar spent. Your bottom line will thank you.

The Year of Making Things Happen

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The Year of Making Things Happen

Wow, 2013 sure flew by and it’s been quite a ride. Starting a new business, or restarting it in our case, can be daunting so I just like to thank my family, friends, clients and colleagues for their support. Because of you, ImpressionsDP is off to a strong start and we look forward to great things in the New Year.

Restarting the business was a good opportunity for reflection since much has changed over the past decade. When we founded i3 Marketing in 2002, digital marketing was in its infancy and the major social media networks (Facebook, Twitter) didn’t exist yet. Since that time, marketing has been turned upside down; new channels and tools came online, older ones evolved and the pace of change continues to accelerate.

How do you structure a business that will help clients effectively navigate today’s environment? Rebooting gave us some time to think about that.

“An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it”.
– Bill Bernbach

While marketing tactics have changed, one constant that remains is the need for results. Marketers are great at planning but they often need help executing those ideas effectively. In other words, their plans must be turned into actions that deliver on the desired goal. That’s why we’ve chosen to refocus on providing tactical marketing services, or helping clients turn their ideas into the “magic” that delivers across digital and print media.

But this article isn’t a sales pitch and the lesson learned here is not just about marketing. Periodic reflection is a valuable exercise that applies equally to life and business.

We often have personal and professional goals that will take significant time and effort to achieve. Five years ago, I decided to get an MBA and spent the next three years pursuing it before graduating in December 2011. It was a long stretch but the toughest part of that journey was getting started. After that, while the program was still difficult, once I changed the inertia the rest of the time flowed (remember, a body at rest tends to stay at rest and a body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an external force).

The dawning of a New Year is a great time to reflect on our individual goals, what we’ve achieved and what’s left to do. Do you want to build a business, learn another language, parasail in the Caribbean, earn a new degree or get a pilot’s license? Whatever it may be, have you started it yet? If not, why not?

Most worthwhile pursuits take time and effort to achieve so forget about immediate gratification. Anything we can get with little effort is usually of no lasting value. Find something that gets you fired up, map out a plan and get to it!

“Vision without action is daydream. Action without vision is nightmare”.
– Japanese Proverb

Let’s make 2014 the year of making things happen!

And whatever your pursuit, best wishes for happiness and success in the New Year.

 

A Fresh “Return” to Tactical Marketing

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A Fresh “Return” to Tactical Marketing

ImpressionsDP is a brand new venture but it’s a return to basics for me.

I began my career in the graphic arts industry and have worked with some great companies and people on a variety of projects over the years. But time moves on and my beloved graphic arts industry changed dramatically as the old techniques gave way to digital design and image processing. Those who couldn’t adapt left the industry and those who remained needed to develop new skills and expertise. Since then, the industry has enjoyed a renaissance in capability and quality that is truly remarkable.

While this shift was happening it became clear that it was time to expand my horizons. Digital technologies have always fascinated me so was only natural to learn about the new channels that were displacing traditional print. Over the past decade, first at i3 Marketing then Mesa Integrated, I’ve had the opportunity to work extensively in a variety of these digital communications channels including web development, social media, SEO/SEM, email marketing and PPC advertising.

Recently I also learned how truly effective digital communications can be by earning a degree online through Penn State’s excellent iMBA program. With it’s focus on management and corporate strategy, the program underscored how effective communications, whether digital or traditional, must be aligned with overarching goals and objectives. While a seemingly common sense approach, it’s surprising how often this is not the case.

Communications often fail, not because the idea is flawed, but because no thought is given to execution or that implementation is not appropriate. The POS display that retailers refuse to put up, the brochure that cannot be distributed, the web site that captures no leads. The list goes on and on.

That’s why we’re creating a new kind of agency. ImpressionsDP is a tactical marketing agency understands communication strategy and how to effectively and efficiently implement it.

The best ideas are useless they’re put into action — ImpressionsDP knows how to get it done.