Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Future of Your Neighborhood Print Shop

As you can imagine, revenues are down and continue to decline in the quick print environment. This decline started in 2008 and continued through 2009. Everyone is hopeful that 2010 will be a growth year, but hardly anyone expects revenues to return to the 2007 levels anytime soon. Print industry experts are predicting a continuing overall decline in the traditional revenue streams that have been the stalwart of the quick printing industry for years, namely: offset printing, high-speed duplicating, digital printing, bindery and graphic design. Products such as letterhead, envelopes, business cards, fliers, newsletters, brochures, manuals, postcards, forms and direct mail have all seen declines due to the conversion to Internet marketing, the rise of Internet printing companies, or from companies purchasing equipment at the user level sufficient to produce these items in-house. Because of the overall decline of traditional printed items, there also is significant price pressure on those print shops that have survived this economic decline.

So, what is the future of your neighborhood print shop? Dr. Joseph Webb, a contributor to one of the industry's think tanks, What They Think, has written a book entitled "Renewing the Printing Industry". In addition, Barb Pellow, a contributor to InfoTrends, has also written many articles about the condition of print overall. Both of these individuals have analyzed the printing industry and have concluded that changes need to be made in order for all printing entities to survive.

There are several avenues that a quick print owner can consider. I will discuss two of them. The first is to fight the trend by being the best marketer of their service, to become more efficient than their competitors so they can compete on price, to implement on-line ordering to the general public, to acquire the business of closing print shops, and to, in fact, significantly reduce their pricing. I refer to this business plan as the commodity approach. Be the best in the traditional printing environment. There is still money to be made in the traditional printing environment for those who continue down this path. The biggest downside is that this market will continue to decline. The last maker of buggy whips was the most efficient of the bunch.

The second avenue of approach, and the one that most quick print franchisors are pushing is the conversion to becoming marketing and communications experts while milking the traditional printing area as much as possible. This approach also has significant risk for many reasons. At this point, there are few profit models to duplicate, there is little, to no recognition from outside the industry that a former quick printer can provide this expertise, there is a diverse expertise of franchise owners that does not include marketing training, and people that are already providing this service to businesses are also struggling to survive.

A couple of years ago, many in the quick printing industry developed personalized communications expertise. This allowed them to sell a 1-to-1 marketing piece for their customers, many of which were connected to personalized url's (purl's). This technique, combined with a targeted, well defined list allowed response rates to balloon from 1-3% to as much as 35%. What many in the industry found out is that the lead time to sell these projects were significantly extended over the time it took to sell traditional printed items and that not all customers could make the cost/benefit leap of faith. However, the ability to sell and produce these types of items led people to believe that they were now marketing and communications experts.

I personally believe that the second approach is the way to go for our industry. It will be a difficult road to travel and will probably see a lot of failed attempts along the way. Owners of these operations will need to commit to learning the marketing and communication business, will need to circulate within the marketing, advertising and public relations communities and will need to promote themselves as marketing experts within the business environment. It will be a long and slow path to profitability so the quick printer will need to rely on its traditional printing revenue to survive before the marketing area takes off.

So what is the future of your neighborhood print shop? It will depend on the path they take. If you are a customer, you should have a conversation with them to find out what road they are taking. A commodity printer or a marketing and communication expert. The downhill road or the uphill road.

You can reach us at AlphaGraphics at the following websites:
AlphaGraphics Mesa on Baseline 480-844-2222
AlphaGraphics Tempe on Elliot 480-413-1900
AlphaGraphics Phoenix - Northwest Valley 602-234-2944

Follow me on Twitter at: Steve's Twitter Account

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Monday, January 18, 2010

The Do's and Don'ts of Email Marketing

I spent part of this last weekend between watching football games reading a new book entitled "The Constant Contact Guide to Email Marketing" by Eric Groves. Eric is the Senior Vice President of Global Market Development at Constant Contact. Constant Contact is the largest provider of email marketing software and tools for small businesses, associations and nonprofits. Eric wrote this book because he noticed that a lot of their users were not avoiding some of the biggest pitfalls when it came to using their services. Eric is big on lists about the do's and don't of implementing an email marketing program. In fact, the first chapter is a summary of all of the lists condensed down to 40 items to consider.

As I said in my last posting about the benefits of direct mail, I am a firm believer in Email Marketing. At AlphaGraphics, we started a practice in 2009 of sending out monthly email newsletters to our customer lists. We are also active in getting our customers and prospects to sign up for these emails. What I found out after reading this book, is that I can do a significantly better job with these emails by using the information in this book. I do use Constant Contact for my emails and I do highly recommend their service if anyone is serious about doing this on a frequent basis.

The biggest concern that Constant Contact has and the one I have always been concerned about is the number of spam complaints received from any of the emails sent. Eric stated that if an issuer can keep the spam complaints to less than 1 in a 1,000, then there should be no concern. Since the emails are sent out by the Constant Contact ISP, any large spam complaints effect both Constant Contact and the issuer's domain name which could result in excessive blocking and filtering by the larger email providers or worse yet, a CAN-SPAM complaint. That is why Constant Contact makes the issuer assure them that they have permission to send emails to the recipients prior to accepting the list. The biggest gray area, however, is in the area of implied permission. Eric stated that if the recipient knows who you are, has done business with you in the past, or if you get them to give your permission then you probably can avoid any CAN-SPAM problems.

There is also a couple of chapters on how to decrease the number of emails that are rejected by the recipients and the number of unsubscribes. Some of the discussion centers around being recognized by the recipient, using a good subject title, avoiding spam words and giving the recipient what you promised when they signed up to receive your emails. The length of the emails was also discussed, which is an area that I struggle with. The longer the email, the faster the recipient will lose interest and unsubscribe. If you do have a longer message, it is usually better to give the essential information in a paragraph or two and then link to your website where the full information is available. This is also a great way to get the recipient to go to your website.

Although emails that promote your product are acceptable, the most favorably received emails are the ones that are informative in nature. Writing as an expert in your field are the best emails. Even though you don't feel like and expert, you certainly know more about your field than a majority of your readers. Having a call to action is also very important. Getting the reader to go to your website to download a white paper, participate in a survey or receive a promotional offering is important when you consider why you are sending these messages out.

Constant Contact, as well as most of their competitors provides a lot of analytical information on each email that is sent. They can tell you how many people have opened your email and who they are, how many people forwarded your email to someone else, who opted out of future emails from you and how many emails were non-deliverable for a variety of reasons. These analytics allow you to adjust your message or your subject line to increase readership.

Eric does spend a lot of time trying to help the reader address the concern about content. He acknowledges that this is the weakest link in having and maintaining a long-term email marketing program. His biggest suggestion is to write like an expert but don't say everything in the first email message. He also states that the value of an email marketing program is significant enough that you might want to consider hiring someone in charge of content whether it is an in-house employee or a consultant.

I do believe that anyone who is currently using an email campaign or are contemplating a campaign should both read this book and consider using a company such as Constant Contact for their provider. AlphaGraphics can help you design an email marketing program and has access to content writers.

You can reach us at AlphaGraphics at the following websites:
AlphaGraphics Mesa on Baseline 480-844-2222
AlphaGraphics Tempe on Elliot 480-413-1900
AlphaGraphics Phoenix - Northwest Valley 602-234-2944

Follow me on Twitter at: Steve's Twitter Account

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Is Direct Mail Dead?

We, at AlphaGraphics Say Definitely Not!

One of my salespeople had a conversation with one of her customers last month where she asked the customer whether they had thought about doing a direct mail campaign. The answer she got back was laughter. Why would anyone consider a direct mail campaign when you have email newsletters, a drop-dead website, a business FaceBook page, an active Twitter account and an ongoing blog? Why pay anyone to design a mailer, have it printed and pay postage to distribute it?

Here is a short print industry video to kind of illustrate the point:

I am not here to bad mouth Social Meda and the Internet. I, myself, have adopted all of the practices I described above and I believe that each of these items are a critical part of any company’s marketing arsenal. However, I believe that direct mail is still a vital component of a comprehensive marketing plan.

First of all, here are some of the discussion points that most people use to justify an email only approach:
-According to the Direct Marketing Association, a properly constructed email campaign returns about $45 per dollar of expense compared to $15 for direct mail.

-Admittedly, an email newsletter is cheap to distribute. No printing costs, no postage.

-There is a perception that the printed piece is hard on the environment, wasting valuable forests and energy costs to produce and distribute.

-A properly run email campaign will allow the issuer to obtain valuable analytics. You will know how many people opened the email, and how many people clicked on the enclosed links.

So what are the benefits of Direct Mail?

-Direct mail has almost a 100% deliverability factor. If a customer or prospect has changed their address, the Post Office will give you the new information. Most emails sent will have between a 33% to 67% undeliverable factor depending on spam filters and blocking. If someone leaves a company or changes their email address, there is no notification received with the correct information. EMailLabs did a survey in 2006 with company executives which asked the question: How significant a challenge is deliverability for your company’s email marketing programs? 30.5% responded that it was a significant challenge and 51.8% responded that it was somewhat of a challenge.

-Direct mail can support and enhance a great email program. Royal Mail, Britain’s Post Office, did a study and determined that an email marketing program supported by a direct mail program increased the effectiveness of the email program by 65%. Quite an improvement.

-Direct mail can stimulate web traffic. In today’s SEO world, the name of the game is to attract prospects and customers to your company website and/or to your blog. Sometimes the only way to get people to these online locations is through the printed piece.

-Direct mail can keep the company’s database current, including active email addresses. Mailers, with attached personalized url’s drive people to a landing page that has the customer update their data. I should note that the recipient will need a good reason to go to the website such as a gift certificate or a downloadable white paper.

-Believe it or not, there is still a big portion of the market that is not Internet savvy. There also needs to be a way to contact customers and prospects that opt-out of your email messages. Understanding the demographic targets of a company’s customers and prospects will allow the right choice on media to use.

-Most of the paper used in a printing operation comes from FSC certified forests. These are forests whereby the trees used in the manufacture of paper have been grown specifically for that purpose. Most of these papers also have a high mix of recycled content thus reducing the energy used in its manufacture.
John Jantsch, author of the book “Duct Tape Marketing: The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide” had this to say about Direct Mail:

“…one of my favorite forms of advertising for the small business—direct mail. The reasons I like direct mail are pretty simple, but it all leads back to my prevailing principles when it comes to analyzing any form of advertising.

1. Does it allow you to specifically target your Ideal Prospect?
2. Does it provide a high return on investment?

Properly executed, direct mail offers a resounding yes to both of the above questions.”

He also wrote, “Few advertising mediums are targeted enough to offer the small business a high enough return on investment, but the primary reason I believe direct mail is the best choice for most small businesses is that you can start very small, test very quickly, and easily expand your efforts when you have a winner.”

He then goes on to discuss the ability to personalize direct mail and the need to have a great list, which is the subject of a later posting.

I leave you with some final statistics supporting Direct Mail. In 2009, marketers are estimated to have spent about $149 billion on direct marketing, which accounts for 54.3% of all ad expenditures in the country, according to the Direct Marketing Association. Measured against total U.S. sales, these advertising expenditures will generate approximately $1.78 trillion in incremental sales.

You can reach us at AlphaGraphics at the following websites:
Mesa 535 W. Baseline Rd., Mesa, AZ 85210 480-844-2222
Tempe 720 W. Elliot Rd., Tempe, AZ 85284 480-413-1900
Phoenix 8041 N. Black Canyon Hwy, Phoenix, AZ 85021 602-234-2944

Follow me on Twitter at: Steve's Twitter Account

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hey AlphaGraphics, Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

So now that I have published the Top 10 Ways to Market Your Business in 2010, the question being asked is, "Steve, how are your going to market your three businesses in 2010?" Well, after much thought and discussion, here are a few of the things we are going to do.

1. Website and SEO-AlphaGraphics, Inc., our franchisor, controls much of the formatting of our local websites. They use a Utah firm with the appropriate name of SEO.com. At the local level, we can tweek the home page and certain pages in the "About Us" section. We will continue to adjust and evaluate our content and keywords to get our centers a higher ranking with the search engines. We are evaluating whether we want to hire a local firm by the name of VirtualIT to help us with the local page rankings. In addition, the Phoenix Owners Group, which represents the 15 AlphaGraphics franchisees in the Phoenix metropolitan area has contracted with AZPixels to help with our SEM (search engine marketing) placements. This year, we will also ask our customers to rate our performance on our Google, CitySearch and Yahoo pages. To entice them to do this, we will give our customers a $5 Starbucks card. The search engines evaluate the number of reviews when deciding which businesses get shown on the map on the first page. It is also our goal to significantly increase the amount of links to our websites from outside sources by asking our customers, our vendors and our business contacts to consider a like-for-like linking.

2. Blog-Well, your reading it. I intend to continue with a weekly posting until I get a little more comfortable with a more frequent publishing schedule. I have referenced this blog in my websites, my twitter page, my LinkedIn page, my personal Facebook page and on each of my centers' Facebook pages.

3. Demographic Profile-We plan on completing a demographic profile of our best customers at each of my centers this year. With that information, we will identify about 500 companies that are similar to our best customers and we will market to these companies with all our resources as discussed in the points below.

4. Direct Mail-As part of our AlphaGraphics program, each of my centers will do a monthly mailing to a combination of customers, prospects and leads. We grew our businesses on direct mail and we continue to see benefit for continuing the practice. In fact John Jantsch, in his book "Duct Tape Marketing" stated that direct mail is still one of the most cost effective ways to reach your prospects. In our direct mailing campaign, we will use personalized url's (purls) to obtain additional information from these prospects. As a Phoenix Owners Group, we plan on distributing a series of 3-dimensional mailings matched with a purl site and some type of give away such as a gift card.

5. Email Newsletters- We have started a monthly email newsletters to our customers and prospects. We are currently using Constant Contact to help us with this process. Each of these newsletters will be based upon a marketing and/or a printing theme and will be associated with one of my blogs. Our email newsletters will be information and hopefully will not come across as purely promotional.

6. Social Media-We are now very active in the Twitter, Facebook, Plaxo and LinkedIn arenas. The trick now is to get all of these areas linked in with each other so that we only have to do one posting at at time.

7. News Releases- We plan on issuing one news release per center per month. We use, through AlphaGraphics, Inc., a company by the name of GrassrootsPR to help us with these news releases to the local media. Our news releases will be on items such as new equipment additions, promotions of key people, awards won or nominated, information that will benefit the business community or a host of other things. From an SEO standpoint, we will us PRWeb.com to distribute these news releases on the web so that they are searchable by the search engines. These releases by PRWeb cost us $80 per release.

8. Community Activities-We plan on continuing to be active in our local chambers of commerce, the Mesa Rotary Club, the Mesa United Way and BNI. We believe that it is important to be active in the community to help others and ourselves.

You can reach us at AlphaGraphics at the following websites:

Mesa 535 W. Baseline Rd., Mesa, AZ 85210 480-844-2222
Tempe 720 W. Elliot Rd., Tempe, AZ 85284 480-413-1900
Phoenix 8041 N. Black Canyon Hwy, Phoenix, AZ 85021 602-234-2944

Follow me on Twitter at: Steve's Twitter Account

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