Author Archives: Heidi Tolliver-Walker

About Heidi Tolliver-Walker

Heidi Tolliver-Walker Heidi is an industry analyst specializing in digital, one-to-one, personalized URL, and Web-to-print applications. Her Marketer’s Primer Series, availalbe through Digital Printing Reports, includes “Digital Printing: Transforming Business and Marketing Models,” 1:1 (Personalized) Printing: Boosting Profits Through Relevance,” “Personalized URLs: Beyond the Hype,” and “Web-to-Print: Transforming Document Management and Marketing.”

Be the Hero: DeDupe!


This week, my husband and I received solicitations from Geico. We received the identical solicitation — personalized with “Stewart! Stewart! Stewart!” and “Heidi! Heidi! Heidi” — to the identical address on the same day.

GeicoWhy Geico doesn’t de-dupe its mailing list, I’m not sure. Perhaps it can afford to mail solicitations to both husband and wife at the same address, but most companies can’t— and there is no reason to. Any third party can do it. The print provider can do it. The client can do it. Even Excel 2007 has a de-duping feature. (Click a cell, click on the data tab, then select “remove duplicates.”) In this case, de-duping based on the address column would have been sufficient.

Why would you want to encourage clients to print less? Isn’t the longer run more beneficial to you? Not when you are printing duplicates. With marketing budgets under extreme pressure and print struggling for justification in this era of digital marketing, the last thing you want is unnecessarily inflated print costs to put a negative spotlight on print.

Then there is the issue of response rates. If you mail 100,000 pieces and 10,000 of them are duplicates to the same household, you’ve just depressed the response rate artificially.  Let’s say this was a personalized mailing and the client got 5,000 responses. That’s a response rate of 5%. But if 10,000 of those were duplicates, the household response rate was actually 5.5%.

As a print provider, it’s in your best interest to optimize the value of print. That includes both cost management and boosting effectiveness. The last thing you want is bloated print costs and artificially depressed response rates that print look more expensive and less effective than it really is.

So be the hero — de-dupe!


Can You Find the Seven Show Stoppers on This Mailer?


One of the webinars that sticks with me, even a year or more later, is one on direct mail success stories from direct mail guru Gary Hennerberg. In it, he talked about show stoppers, or creative elements on the mailer that get people to stop and look. Even if it’s just for a fraction of a second, each show stopper buys time for them to absorb the message.

Hennerberg says he likes to put no less than seven show stoppers on every envelope. The more show stoppers, the more time he buys for his clients.

In today’s mail, I got a mailer that looked very much like the ones Hennerberg discussed in the webinar. I wonder if this one is his handiwork. So I counted them. One, two, three, four, five, six . . . seven.

Here is a picture of the mailer. Can you find all seven show stoppers? In looking for them, do you get any new ideas that you can bring to your own direct mail clients?

IMG_2180-2How many show stoppers do you see?

Responses to’s Investment in 3D Manufacturing


Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about Amazon’s investment in 3D printing and the patent it filed for mobile manufacturing so it can print orders on demand close to the delivery location. The question was how it would affect the printing industry . . . if at all. I didn’t manage to get people to chime in here, but when I shared the post on LinkedIn, I did.

What continues to interest me is how this industry appears to be focusing almost exclusively on the 3D manufacture of parts, even though 3D printing offers a wide variety of other avenues for business growth.

Here is a sampling of the responses I got from one of the discussion boards. Do you agree?

“Heidi, your comment is spot-on from my perspective: ‘This continues to move printers into the position of being idea generators and developers of more complex solutions, not pure output providers.’ As long as printers are content to simply execute the products of other peoples imaginations, they will be highly vulnerable to mass and scale.” — Paul Gardner, director of innovation, Hudson Printing

“Don’t you see this going down the road of photo books? It will get hot and heavy and then it will slowly fizzle. A bobblehead isn’t that useful. The real market for this stuff is to reduce warehousing and that is at least 10 years and this patent will be long expired. I see [the real volume] going to the machine shops, and printers might not be in the mix. The real exciting parts require more finishing than can be done at a print provider — i.e. metal printers.” — Kevin Waldvogel, account executive, Big Systems

“Unless they’re building a printer that can print in aluminum, brass, and bronze, I’m a little reticent to embrace 3D printing for anything but art projects, prototyping, and mold making. What good is a plastic pulley unless you’re using it as a master to make cast metal ones? On the other hand, if you were an auto parts store and you had a 3d printer that made metal parts plus a computer full of design files for classic car parts, you’d make so much money you’d have to 3D print a scale to count it all.” — Jim Mowreader, pagination technician, Hagadone Printing Company

“There are more than 100 different materials that can be 3D printed. And that’s before you count chocolate, coffee, and human skin. Aluminum, brass, and bronze are among them, as are ceramic and sandstone (” — Paul Gardner, Hudson Printing

“I think Amazon made a very wise choice. 3D printing has been around for quite some time, but now it’s on the rise in the industry. I am incessantly amazed by the components it produces. The pharma industry alone can gain so much by the 3D process. I would love to work on a 3D project from inception to completion. Kudos to Amazon!” — Cheryl Ann, cross-functional media, automation, and printing professional

“I think this is a major step forward. Just as authors make deals with Amazon to print books, now parts designers will upload designs and Amazon can fulfill them. Carbon fiber 3D printing with considerable strength is upon us. The ability to have a catalog of parts that are 3D printed on demand is a major advancement.” — Douglas Cogan, vice president, VDP technology at PTI Marketing Technologies

“The mobile facility bit sounds like work that is all ready happening. Patenting the process could be a way for Amazon to squeeze out competitors. The author mentions sending off an STL file to be output. As I understand it, STL carries no color information, it is only the shape. That would take this out of the realm of bobble heads. Looking at the Shapeways link that Paul posted, many of the materials are cast from a piece that is 3D printed. They’re using a lost-wax process. Their tolerances, +/- 1%, won’t compete with regular machining tolerances, yet.” — Rich Apollo, field services manager, Rods and Cones

“Amazon at present is the world’s largest reseller of consumer 3D printers and has been at this for several years. However, for production, what they are doing isn’t exactly new. Redeye, a Stratasys company has been building on demand for 10 years plus. Other providers are selling on demand builds all over the world. Amazon of course, will have free shipping and the search optimization.” — Craig Greenwood, channel sales manager, Neuralog

“There are many different fields within the commercial print sector. From commercial, web, laminating, finishing, binding, the list goes on and on .As a commercial printer with digital and wide format, I can’t see where 3D would fit in or add to our fire power. So the answer is, it will not affect your run-of-the-mill commercial printer at all. Nor will it affect any of the above mentioned sectors within the print industry.” — Dave Biddiscombe, production manager, Printmates

“I could see some specialized firms utilizing Amazon’s service or offer the service in-house. One that comes to mind is a firm in my area that specializes in reprographic services of architectural/engineering drawings. They also build architectural 3D prototypes by printing onto foam core (I believe), cut, and piece the prototype together like a puzzle. A 3D printing service like Amazon’s might compliment their existing services. However, in terms of ‘traditional’ printing, I agree with Dave.” — William Grant, Revved up print project manager, supercharging the production and management of print products

“Absolutely. I’ve thought for a long time that the role of commercial printers — in their role as MSPs — is as idea generators, helping their clients find ways to incorporate 3D printing into their overall marketing and other projects, but that the actual design and production would likely be outsourced (especially the design portion). Printers outsource many other services that are still part of their core offerings. Why not 3D?” — Heidi Tolliver-Walker

“I have just been in contact with one of our clients (a family butcher) and asked him if he would like a 3D aluminium pork chop to put on his counter to try and raise sales as he hasn’t been selling much of late. I gave him a ball park figure. Unfortunately, I can’t print his reply.” — Dave Biddiscombe, Printmates

“Understood (and thanks for not printing the reply)!” — Heidi Tolliver-Walker

4 Great Direct Mail Designs to Spark Your Creativity


Direct MailI love print, but frankly, most direct mail is uninspiring. That’s why I was excited to see four really interesting direct mail pieces land in my mailbox this week.

The first was mailed in a white paper bag closed with clear tabs to hold it closed. Inside, the letter said, “We’ll bet you don’t get a paper bag in the mail every day! Here’s something else you don’t see every day . . .” followed by the pitch.

The second was a thank-you card from Shutterfly. Not notable in itself, but what made it interesting is that the inside of the card was hand-written by the CSR who had handled my order.

Dear Heidi,

I wanted to drop you a note and let you know, I enjoyed assisting your order. I hope you enjoy your 8×8 photo book.

Best wishes,

Michelle B.

This was not handwriting font. It was real handwriting (and messy indeed).

The third looked like an airmail letter with Arabic lettering across the top and a postmark in French. It was from an international ministry benefiting the disadvantaged in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

The fourth used a handwriting font, and it was addressed to a name I haven’t used in years, but it used a real stamp and personal address label that were not perfectly parallel with the top of the envelope.  I knew it wasn’t a personal letter because of the font and the barcode at the bottom, but the address label and the real stamp were enough to make me pause and entertain my curiosity just for another half second.

Maybe these ideas won’t benefit any of your clients with direct mail campaigns coming up in the queue, but maybe they will.

Happy ideating!

How Will Amazon’s Investment in 3D Impact the Market?


Amazon logoIn case you haven’t heard, is the latest major player to make an investment in 3D printing. How will this affect the market?

For about a year, has been quietly playing in this space, partnering with companies like Mixee Labs to bring 3D products to their customers. Mixee Labs offers a variety of 3D products that Amazon customers can order and have shipped to their homes, but their signature product is a customizable bobblehead doll (clothing, facial features, hair) to make it look like themselves or someone they know.

In February of this year, announced a deepening of its partnership with Mixee, bringing the Mixee Labs team in with’s 3D team. The partnership will be headed by Andrew Thomas, 3D designer and former customer service coordinator of Shapeways.

In the latest news, has filed for a patent that will allow it to produce 3D products on demand via “mobile manufacturing hubs.” The move appears to be an attempt to reduce its warehouse costs. already does this with books, with many of its titles printed on demand through Ingram Distribution, which is owned by Lightning Source Inc.

As reported by 3D Print

By utilizing ‘mobile manufacturing apparatuses Amazon would be able to send an STL file to a mobile unit that’s closest to a customer, providing it with instructions to print out an item which was ordered. When the item has been completed, it could then be within miles of the customer who ordered it and quickly delivered or picked up.

Commercial printers aren’t going to be competing with to produce bobbleheads and plastic parts, so what does this mean for you?

Benefit: It increases the visibility of 3D printing among both businesses and consumers, creating the perception and expectation that 3D production is a viable option for all manner of products. This continues to build the foundation for potential discussions involving 3D products with your customers (whatever that model looks like).

Drawback: It increases the competition for providing those products. Anytime giants like get involved, it becomes the easy solution. We can easily see this model growing to accommodate promotional products and other items used in marketing. This continues to move printers into the position of being idea generators and developers or more complex solutions, not pure output providers.

How do you see investment in 3D printing impacting this industry?

MSPs: Strategists or Implementers? Takeaways from the NRA Mailing Discussion


Last Friday, I wrote about what I asked might be a direct mail misfire—a prospecting letter from the NRA that spoke to our family as if we were already members and included our family’s “new membership seal” in the envelope window for all the world to see. My reasons for considering this a misfire are included in the post, and my position sparked a lively discussion.

Now that it has all died down, I am left with a question about the role of marketing service providers . . . or at least those who consider themselves to be. To be a marketing services provider, you must offer more than simply execution. You must offer strategy. Hence why one comment to my post was so striking:

If I were the printer and had a major client like the NRA who does a tremendous amount of mailing – I don’t think I would suggest to them that their mailing might be offensive to a certain group of [unlikely prospects]. I’d turn it around to you – do you think that would be a good business move?

I thought this was an interesting response because it implies that MSPs should not question the marketing practices of their customers. If they are simply printers — those who execute production — then absolutely, commenting on strategy would be inappropriate. But for those who consider themselves marketing services providers, isn’t offering advice on strategy part of what you are being paid to do? If a client could be doing something better, isn’t asking questions and making suggestions exactly the role that an MSP is supposed to play?

Of course, not all clients will come in the door wanting help with strategy. They just want someone to execute, and that may very well be what happened here. But this mailing was an opportunity to ask the question — if this had come across your desk, and if you were the MSP on this project, what would you have done? Just print the job and send the invoice? Or attempt to open a discussion about customer profiling, targeting, and strategy?

There were some excellent suggestions offered by those commenting on my post. In a nutshell, it was pointed out that groups need to be targeting beyond their typical customer profile:

All of these groups are seeking to expand their donor base beyond their hard core supporters . . . How can the NRA or any other group expand their membership if they narrow their mailings to those most similar to 75% of their base? Isn’t it good marketing to target and expand their membership to those that look like the other 25%?

My response:

I absolutely agree with you that organizations like the NRA need to expand their membership beyond their “typical” member. The question is how to go about it. The approach used in this campaign would be appropriate for prospects who already fit the NRA member profile. It may very well NOT fit those who don’t.

Here is the response, which I believe to be the most valuable part of the discussion:

If I were advising the NRA, I would tell them to target liberals with a record of gun owner ship or even an interest in guns. Pieces targeted towards women and inner city residents about self defense and self defense classes could also be very potent. The rewards of increasing this base of support could be significant in increasing their political power. To your point, I would certainly advise they use different copy for this audience than when mailing to a more conservative group.

Of course, doing this would require the MSP to take a risk — to step out of the role of simple print production and ask probing questions. This goes back to the original comment. To take that risk or just print the job and take the money? To me, this depends on two things: 1) the expectations of the client (don’t tread where you aren’t wanted); and 2) whether you consider truly consider yourself a marketing service provider or not.

This was a fairly contentious discussion, but I think that it’s exactly these types of discussions that flesh out really important issues to this industry and where we all learn the most.

If you haven’t read the post or the comments, check them out.

Direct Mail Misfire? Why Your Clients Need to Customer Profile


This week, we received another entry into the “Did they really do that?” file. I understand that, at the volumes that many of these national marketers mail, they expect a certain percentage to misfire. It’s a cost-benefit calculation. But I wonder about this one. If you had been the service provider on this job, would you have said anything?

We received this piece in the mail the other day. It was from the NRA, and it included our “new NRA membership seal.” It was a prospecting mailer, but it didn’t look like it from the outside. It looked exactly like what it said — that we were receiving the new NRA seal that we (by implication) had requested. By taking this approach, the mailer could easily have given the wrong impression to friends, neighbors, family, or anyone else who saw it.

Regardless one’s feelings about the NRA, the public implication of membership gives a false impression. As a family, we don’t appreciate that.

NRAIf a direct mailing is going to be presumptuous, you might expect the organization to do a more thorough job of profiling. But other than the fact that my husband is a gun owner, there was nothing else relevant about this mailing.

Gun owners are not a homogenous group. You might expect an organization like this to cross the gun ownership with other data to increase the odds that the mailing would not misfire.

One simple cross-check would be political affiliation. According to the latest data I’ve seen, the vast majority of NRA members (73 percent) identified with or lean toward the Republican Party.  There might be other cross-checks, such as membership to specific hunting magazines. My husband fits into none of the demographics associated with NRA membership. 

The NRA can be a highly controversial organization. Publicly implying that someone is already a member (or wants to be a member) isn’t the same as sending a promotion on lawn care when someone cuts their own grass. The risk is not lack of response. It’s deeply offending the recipient, creating negative word of mouth, and creating or reinforcing a negative brand image. That’s a much higher level of risk. Then there are the ethical considerations related to publicly implying membership in (or affiliation with) a controversial organization when the recipient might have very different views.

I realize that marketers still spray and pray, but I wonder if there are some types of mailings that should not fall into this category, particularly those that imply association with causes, products, or organizations that might be controversial.

What do you think? Do you think that this “presumption of membership” is an appropriate approach for a national marketer? Why or why not? If you had been the printer on this project, would you have said anything about this approach?

Comcast Bills Call Customers Nasty Names


Your client’s customer database — its most precious resource. Used for invoicing, customer communications, and as a critical source of data for their marketing list, the customer database is your client’s lifeblood. How easily can it be compromised? A recent Comcast horror story shows just how easily.

One customer, Mary, continually had trouble with her service. After 39 service calls, she finally got a regular picture on her television screen. Once the technical issue was resolved, however, the bills stopped coming . . . four months in a row.  Now hot under the collar, Mary called to find out what was happening. No name calling. No swearing. But, she admits, she was hot.

She finally received her bill, all right. It was addressed to “Super B-tch Bauer.” A little digging found that another customer had recently received a bill addressed to “A–hole Brown.”

Comcast says it is investigating.

These are great water-cooler stories, but there is a deeper issue here for printers and their customers. How well protected are your clients’ customer or marketing database? How often are those lists scrubbed? updated? profiled? How are your clients ensuring that their most precious marketing resource is giving them maximum value and not unintentionally undermining efforts at targeting and personalization with out-of-date information, duplicates, and dirty fields?

If your clients aren’t already proactively maintaining their databases, isn’t this something as a service provider you might want to be nudging them about?

Super B Bauer

Superbowl Ads Prove Repeated Exposure Works


Encourage your clients to take a lesson from Superbowl advertising. According to Neilsen, when viewers were exposed to a Superbowl ad during the pregame, as well as during the game, that ad scored higher on likeability. Viewers were also more likely to remember the ad correctly.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 10.48.36 AMThat is exactly the response your clients want from their marketing, too. Prime the pump with emails a day or two before a direct mail piece is scheduled to hit or send a postcard alert before the full catalog or mailing kit arrives. These techniques tap into the same benefits of human psychology as repeated exposure to Superbowl ads.

Oh, yes, additional benefits were seen for ads aired both during and shortly after the Superbowl, as well.

If your clients are looking for proof that the extra marketing touch is worth the investment, just point them to the Superbowl. Sure, they’re television ads, but to quote Neilsen, “Because while the venue and audience size changes, the human brain does not.”

Mo’ and Mo’ Betta QR Codes


QR Codes continue to get better. That is, the content on the back end of them, anyway.  I want to share with you the last three QR Codes I’ve seen on products, and all of them were very well done.

Cybex landinge pageCybex Elliptical: The first was on an elliptical machine at Planet Fitness. It was right on the front of the machine by the controls. When scanned, it took me to a mobile landing page with instructions on how to use the machine. There I found information I couldn’t find on the machine itself, such as the max range for incline and resistance. It also provided detailed information on the different workout options which, again, were not available on the machine.

This was a smart use of QR Codes. Does it sell products? Not directly, but it provides value for the gym’s members, increasing their likelihood of using the equipment. Equipment usage is critical to gym membership renewals, so education about the usage and value of specific pieces of equipment is a smart business move.



Otter Box landing pageOtterbox: The second was on the instruction booklet that came with my new Otterbox. There the landing page invited me to sign up for the Otterbox newsletter, which allowed Otterbox owners to “find out first” about new products, new color cases, and any new releases before anyone else. It also offered the opportunity enjoy “random distractions,” such as consumer reviews on hot new mobile apps. Finally, it invited Otterbox owners to become “influencers” by filling out occasional surveys with their thoughts on things like colors, styles, and future case projects.

Again, a smart use of these codes. The easier to make it to sign up for a newsletter, the more likely people are to do it. Great timing, too. What better time to ask people to sign up than when they first buy the product? The placement of this QR Code on the in-box packing materials was a smart choice.



Big Lots landing pageBig Lots: The last one was on the back of my Big Lots rewards card, which allows users to register their cards to earn exclusive deals and discounts. Not fancy, but effective.

These are smart uses of QR Codes that show that marketers are starting to understand how, when, and where to incorporate them. These are different uses than we’ve seen in the past, but perhaps it’s a good thing. Marketers are really starting to figure this out.