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.”

Stasis in Direct Mail Formats . . . An Opportunity?


Mintel Comperemedia, which aggregates and analyzes direct mail data from around the industry, recently did an assessment of direct mail over a three-year period.  It looked at estimated mail volume, use of digital response mechanisms, and spend across nine sectors.

The report, titled “Trends in Direct Mail and Digital Integration,” has one overarching theme—stasis. Considering the rapid change in the marketing environment, I find this curious. I also wonder if this is an untapped opportunity for MSPs.

“From Q4 2012 to present, there have been few noticeable changes in direct mail volumes, spend, or mail type used across sectors,” the report notes. “Most sectors have experienced steady growth or have remained stagnant.” The exceptions are mortgage and loans, which has shown the most growth, and the insurance and credit card sectors, where there has been a steady fluctuation.

Direct Mail FormatsThe next few charts are, frankly, not very interesting. “Direct Mail Volumes by Sector” looks like a set of nine fairly parallel lines (one for each sector). “Direct Mail Spend” looks about the same.

But what surprised me was that this trend persisted even among direct mail type. In “Direct Mail Used Across Sectors” (above), each sector showed its own breakdown of self-mailer, postcard, letter + envelope, catalog, and other, but within each sector, that mix hasn’t changed much either.

The question is why? Three years is a long time in the marketing world. Technology is changing. Consumer expectations are changing. How consumers interact with each marketing channel is changing. I’m all for direct mail spending and volumes remaining steady, but why isn’t the direct mail type mix changing? There are two possibilities.

  1. Consumers really aren’t changing and this mix continues to be the right mix.
  2. Marketers aren’t testing their direct mail mix and are assuming that the mix they have used in the past is still the right mix today, even if it’s not.

As an MSP, this presents a tremendous opportunity to ask questions. What is your direct mail mix right now? When was the last time you did some testing to find out which formats were working best for you? If it’s been awhile, what might be gained by doing some testing to optimize that mix for the current marketing environment?

Use this chart as a springboard. It’s an excuse for a phone call and an excuse to start asking questions—and offering solutions.

Wait! Before You Launch That Print Newsletter . . .


As more and more printers invest in content marketing, I’d like to stop for a moment and ask, “What are you trying to accomplish?” Before you launch that fall marketing campaign (which should be in the works now), it’s important to know who you are, who your target audience is, and what you are trying to communicate. These things seem so simple, and yet, they often get lost.

As we kick off the summer, things will slow down. This is a great time to re-evaluate your strategies for the upcoming year.

Based on the conversations I’m having lately, this is something that is starting to rumble around in printers’ minds. An increasing number of printers seem to be investing in, or thinking about investing in, new or revived print newsletters in the fall. This can be done in-house. It can be licensed from a third party. Or you can ask someone like me to manage the process for you. Whichever you choose, it’s critical to put serious thought into what those newsletters are intended to accomplish, who they are targeting, and what kind of content you want to produce.

Here are some questions you should be asking:

  • How many pages should the newsletter be? Six pages? Eight pages? Or do I need to go a full 16 pages to get maximum effect? I’ve talked to companies doing all three, and the page count is different depending on their intended target audience.
  • What is the focus going to be? Do I want to really focus on growing my print business, with articles on direct mail, packaging, and marketing collateral? Or do I want to appear more channel-neutral, focusing on general marketing content instead? Should I be doing a mix of both?
  • If it’s marketing-focused rather than print-focused, how do I differentiate my content from what readers can get elsewhere? What’s the value of having it in my print newsletter rather than their inbox? How do I plan to differentiate?
  • Do I need to provide content that focuses on my company’s perspective and capabilities? Or is curating the best general marketing content, regardless of channel, the right way to go?
  • Will I create one version of the newsletter or will I create different versions for different market verticals I want to pursue? If I want to segment, what percent of the content (if any) will be common across all versions?
  • Where will the content come from? Developing articles unique to your company is always going to be a great option, but paying for custom-written articles is more costly than using third-party content. It can also be challenging to keep everyone on track responsible for helping to provide or help develop the content (company owner, director of marketing, CMO, salespeople). There are options for curating third-party content, but even if you’re curating, someone still needs to manage the process.
  • What is the right mix of images, text, and graphics? Increasingly, I am being asked to provide articles that are less text heavy and that have the content arranged in bullet points and numbered lists. I’m also being asked for more data to be used in graphics and infographics style pages.
  • Are you going to use some of your pages for promotional content, such as monthly offers and specials? Or will you keep the content strictly educational?
  • Will you use the opportunity to show (not tell) about new technologies such as augmented reality by incorporating that content into the piece? If so, how much time do you want to invest in that portion of the newsletter?
  • Will there be other channels supporting the newsletter effort, such as email, social media, and mobile? If so, which channels will you use and how will you integrate them?
  • What will be the delivery frequency?
  • How much content do I already have in-house? Do I have case studies? In-house data? Blog articles that can be repurposed?  Are there third-party sources I can pull from? Or does everything need to be created from scratch?

A few years ago, I saw a lot of printers make significant investments in content marketing, but without a lot of thought as to how those programs would be sustained. Over time, I watched those programs get shelved. But now, with content marketing becoming such a critical component of the overall mix, I’m seeing those programs getting pulled off the shelf again.

I’m glad to see printers re-investing in content marketing programs, but if those programs aren’t critically evaluated before being re-launched, they promise to suffer from the same fate as they did before. So think carefully through the issues first. Make sure the content reflects the image you want, that it is properly geared to the target audience you want to recruit, and that it’s fully supported within your organization so that it is sustainable over time.


How This Direct Mailer Almost Got It Right


Yesterday, my husband teased me that I’d gotten a direct mailer from the Baltimore County Department of Aging. Not him — just me. Okay, the years are creeping by, but I’m not close to retirement age yet.  Plus, we don’t even live in Baltimore County. When we officially get “old,” we’ll be creeping our walkers up to the Harford County office.

This morning, however, my husband showed me the real reason behind keeping the mail piece.  It was to show off yet another bone-headed attempt at marketing. The front of the mail piece was completely forgettable — the kind of piece that goes into the recycling without a thought. One of millions of bulk mail pieces delivered that day.

IMG_7675But wait! The back was printed in bright green and blue with a big 10k graphic. There was advertising for a 5k run/walk a 1 mile walk, both fundraisers, and other information on how this event would benefit BCDA programs for seniors.

We are trail racers, and we do a lot of fundraising events, so now everything made sense. This likely went to anyone in Baltimore or Harford counties who had registered for one or more of the many trail races run in this area of Maryland every year.

But all of the information relevant to me was on the back of the mailer where, thanks to extremely poor design, it almost didn’t get seen. Had there not been some precipitating event that caused my husband to turn this piece over (it fell on the floor? He accidentally flipped it over when reaching for something else?), it would have.

IMG_7674The Department of Aging almost got it right. We were the right audience, but the extremely poor design of the mailer itself almost caused the good list selection to be for naught. Marketing had the foresight to get the right list, but it did not think critically enough about the design of the piece itself.

If you had been the print and mail house, what would you have done? At the last minute, suggesting that they completely redesign the piece probably would have gone nowhere. But what about suggesting that they add bright blue teaser copy on the front? There was certainly plenty of space.Something like, “Fundraiser 5k and 1-mile fun run!” would have sufficient.

This also would have been a great opportunity to split the mailing — half with the original design and half with the teaser copy — to see which version produced the best results.

This is yet another reason to encourage your customers to let you get involved in the campaign planning upfront. Even if they aren’t willing to do that — yet — perhaps you could encourage them to add you to their mailing lists so you can see the final mailed pieces. Something like this could be taken back to the client for a sit down meeting on what went wrong and a consultation on how you could have helped.

What was the last direct mail fail that came across your desk? Share a story!

Ouch! Insights from your customers at the local level


Borrell is working on its annual SMB Marketing Survey again, and early results are in. They are fascinating, and since SMBs make up a high percentage of Digital Nirvana readers’ customer bases, I wanted to share some of them with you.

The survey was launched in April and wraps up June 30, so these are early results. Currently, Borrell has 207 markets participating, with a goal of 10,000 responses.

Here’s what’s trending:

Cut, cut, cut! Overall, early results show that 20% of advertisers say they plan to cut local advertising this year. Forty-one percent plan to make cuts in Yellow Pages ads. Plans to cut TV spending can be as low as 19% in some markets and as high as 42% in others.

Gimme Facebook! In the first few weeks of the survey Borrell says, 59% of respondents said they were buying Facebook ads. As of today, that is up to 63%. This is twice what it was one year ago. Not only this, but one in three respondents says they are completely satisfied with the results (watch the video).

Know what you are talking about.  If you’re going to sell something (such as multichannel marketing and mobile marketing services), know the material. Know the customers’ business, too. Too many companies try to cut corners by giving the same stump speech to everyone. As Borrell’s survey shows, they notice.

Here is a sampling of some of the comments coming from respondents. For more, click here.

  • “Know you stuff! Please do not sell digital/mobile products that you do not know inside and out.”
  • “Learn about (my) business before reaching out to me.”
  • “Do your research BEFORE you call us! I don’t have time to explain the dental industry or our small town to you.”

The industry is changing rapidly, but you can’t fake knowledge. As printers are surrounded and propelled forward by change, it’s tempting to cut corners, but SMBs know the difference between knowing it and faking it.

If you aren’t already, it’s time to start making the same investment in brain power as press power.

For more on the survey, click here.

Kahanec: Inkjet Changes Everything


As we near drupa 2016, I had an opportunity to interview Cheryl Kahanec, Earth Color’s EVP Digital, about what she was looking forward to most. Her answer was unequivocal: high-speed inkjet. Why? Not just because drupa offers the opportunity to see so much technology in action, but because it provides an opportunity to take a holistic view of the workflow surrounding high-speed inkjet, which Kahanec says will change everything.

Sure, inkjet presses bring the much anticipated speed, but Kahanec says that with those volumes come changes in the roles and responsibilities between the agency, the data team, the printer, and creative team. Drupa gives printers the opportunity to learn more about exactly how it will change the entire workflow and what everyone’s new roles will be.

Here is an excerpt from that interview revolving around how those roles will change and why.

Heidi TW: What are some of the fundamental changes you see occurring with high-speed inkjet?

Kahanec: When personalizing using toner-based devices, most of us are used to dealing with tens of thousands of personalized pieces. With high-speed inkjet, we are looking at pieces in the millions. Whether it’s a brand new file or components of the file, every image is a brand new image. Printing five million unique pages is totally different than imaging five million of single page. At drupa, we will get to explore just how that will affect the workflow and everyone alone the process.

Heidi TW: Can you explain?

Kahanec: If you create a workflow diagram of a generic direct mail piece, it’s a uniform cycle. You still come up with a strategy, lay out the message, including any versions, determine who your target audience(s) will be, and send it out for production and mailing. With a dynamic program, however, you are now looking at multiple, dozens, or even hundreds of base messages, each layered with personalization that speaks to that person individually. You may want the people who have already purchased from us to get message one, but perhaps women respond differently than men, so you want to talk to men and women separately. Messaging may be age-based too. You may want to refine the targeting with different messages for each age group, as well as gender. If there are other relevant variables, you can continue to refine the message even further.

Heidi TW: How does this change relationship between the printer and client?

Kahanec: With this level of targeting, we are asking whole new sets of questions. If you want to talk to women differently than men, do you have a gender indicator in your data? If not, how could we do that? Do we need to ask a data company to genderize the list? How many images do we have? Do we pull from the database? Is it based on gender? What have the targeted recipients previously purchased? Are those images coming from a different database? Is that database somewhere else within the company? How are you going to track recipients’ response or nonresponse? Now we’re not just managing the data for mailing. We’re managing data coming out of the campaign to help refine future programs. This puts the relationship with the client at the beginning of the conversation rather than at the end. We need to be part of the strategic group that is designing the process from the beginning.

Heidi TW: What else changes?

Kahanec: Proofing! Let’s say you have 732 images. The creative team is used to seeing all of the images used in a campaign. But with this many images in use, they might be able to see them on screen (if they have that kind of time), but they aren’t going to see every page or layout. Instead, teams will get a data layout, which shows that the logic that changes the image works. They will see the business logic rules. They will see that each person got what they were supposed to get in that page. This is what will be proofed, not hard copies of each individual layout. That will that happen electronically. When does your team see the physical proof? When you open the mailbox. Your live proof will be in the mail.

High-speed inkjet opens a world of new possibilities, and it requires a completely different process that affects everyone along the chain. We’re doing to learn about more details at drupa. Not just the workflow and the production process, but the integration and how to tie all of these things together. We are going to learn more about how we, as the printer, fit into that process and what everyone’s new roles and responsibilities will be.

What changes do you see occurring with high-speed inkjet? How do you anticipate it impacting the printer’s relationship with the client?


Must Have Data for Multichannel Marketing


If you are doing multichannel marketing and haven’t seen Neilsen’s new report “Comparable Metrics: Q4 2015,” just released yesterday, then you need to download a copy.

The report includes a wide variety of digital media, including TV, radio, TV connected devices, and PCs. But what strikes me most in this report is the data on mobile. We tend to talk about mobile marketing as a single channel, as if all mobile marketing is the same. But this data shows a very different story.

  • Blacks and Hispanics watch mobile phone video nearly twice as much as the overall population (.30 hours and .33 hours, respectively, compared to .18 for the population overall).
  • Adults 18+ spent nearly nearly twice as much time overall on their phones as they did on tablets, but when it comes to watching mobile video, adults were watching twice as much video (82 minutes per week) on their tablets compared to their phones (44 minutes per week).
  • For social networking, smartphones came out on top. Adults 18+ were twice as likely to be doing social networking on their phones as on their tablets (238 minutes per week compared to 133 minutes per week).
  • Among adults 18-34, overall tablet use goes down, but time spent watching video goes up to 103 minutes per week.
  • Adults 50+ are the most likely to be using tablets every day. Those in the 50+ age bracket use smartphones 5.6 days per week, and they use tablets 5.2 days per week — the highest of any age bracket.

The interesting nuggets continue, and the point is that the mobile market is diverse. It is diverse in who is using which mobile devices, how they are using them, and how much time they spend doing it. This has significant consequences on how you develop the mobile portions of your multichannel campaigns and whether you develop unique content for different devices.

Mobile is getting more complicated. Is your expertise keeping pace?

QR Codes: Do This, Not That!


When do I see QR Codes more and more these days? On plants, flowers, and seeds. It’s a perfect use for QR Codes, and if you’re printing packaging or collateral for suppliers of gardening products and they are not currently using QR Codes, perhaps it’s something you should suggest.

HOWEVER, these QR Codes have to go somewhere useful. Otherwise, your clients should not bother to add them at all.

Seeds 1This weekend, we pulled out the spring seeds and had a garden planting day. My husband had brought home a mixed pepper variety, along with some herbs I’ve never planted before. I immediately had questions. When should these seeds go in the ground? Are they direct sow or do they need to be started indoors? If they are started indoors, how soon before outdoor planting? I was pleased to see that all of the packets had QR Codes on them. Information to the rescue!

On planting pot #1, the QR Code was not useful to me at all. The code took me to the grower’s website where I could search and find all of their related products. That’s not a bad use of QR Codes, but that’s not what I was looking for. Maybe if I had been in shopping mode, but not in planting mode. On the seed packet, however, the QR Code immediately took me to a mobile page on growing peppers. Perfect! I got the information I needed, and next time I buy seeds, guess which brand I will buy?

Seeds 3There is nothing magical about QR Codes and how to use them well.

  • Place them where they will be easily seen.
  • Anticipate what information the person scanning the product will be looking for.
  • Create a mobile page with that information on it, so when the person scans the code, they get what they are looking for.

Would someone scan a QR Code to find out what other products are for sale by the same company? Yes, and it’s not a terrible content to put on the back end. But taking into consideration the product and the customer base, and the most likely times when the QR Code would be used, the grower should have had product information and growing information. Because they didn’t, and because another manufacturer did, they lost a long-term customer to a competitor who knows how to use QR Codes better than they did.

Are you going to let your clients make the same mistake?

“State of Marketing” Report Drives Home Need for Multichannel


Everywhere you look, growth in digital marketing channels is increasing. Print is holding steady (in fact, according to Target Marketing‘s Media Usage Survey 2016, 25% of marketers are increasing their use of print), but the world in which print lives is increasingly multichannel. You may not need to offer email, social, mobile, and web marketing in-house, but you need to be aligned with third parties who do.

The “2016 State of Marketing” report from Salesforce Marketing Cloud reinforces this need. The research, based on a survey of more than 4,000 leading marketers worldwide, shows strong growth in mobile and social media, in particular.

  • The report notes that, between 2015 and 2016, every form of mobile marketing covered in the report has shown growth, including 98% growth in mobile app usage and 111% growth in SMS usage.
  • It used to be that marketers could not prove ROI from social media, but  that is changing.  Three-quarters (75%) of marketers now say that their social media efforts are showing ROI.
  • Email continues to morph and change, as well — what Salesforce calls “top performing teams” are 4.2x more likely than underperformers to leverage predictive intelligence or data science to personalize emails.
  • Two-thirds of marketers are advertising on social media, and this rises among top performers. A whopping 83% are targeting ads based on customer data.

This is a very different world than the “one two punch” of direct mail and email in which we are most comfortable discussing multichannel. Multichannel is becoming truly multichannel. Not just two channels playing of one another with a QR Code or personalized URL thrown in for good measure, but true integrated multichannel efforts that span four, five, even six channels, all working together under a common marketing umbrella.

As if this weren’t complicated enough, the “customer journey” is taking the driver’s seat in how these multichannel efforts are deployed. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of marketers in the Salesforce survey say that the customer journey is part of their marketing strategies, and among high-performing companies compared to 23% of moderate performers and 7% of underperformers. Sixty-one percent are actively mapping those customer journeys.

Multichannel marketing isn’t just about coordinating channels anymore to accomplish a specific, “single point in time” goal. It’s about understanding the specific phases of the customer journey and all of the micro-goals along the way and knowing which channels are best used to communicate and accomplish them as the marketer moves the customer through the sales funnel over time.

Perhaps the next major investment you make shouldn’t be a piece of equipment. It should be some more marketing brainpower.


Know Your Timing!


There are lots of reasons to get involved with your clients’ campaign in the planning stages rather than waiting for them to hand off a print-ready PDF at the end of the process, and here’s one of them. Left to their own devices, their timing can be terrible.

When the client is having a weekend sale, short notice can be a good thing. Consumers’ attention spans are short. You want them to receive the direct mail piece advertising the 25% off storewide Saturday sale, tape it to the refrigerator on Thursday or Friday, and run out and fill their carts wthe next day. Otherwise,  if the sale is too far in the future, it can get forgotten. Likewise, if the client is having a flash sale and promoting it via mobile, same-day notice can be a powerful motivator.

But as with everything else, your client needs to take into consideration their audience, end application, and vertical market.

IMG_7189Here’s a promotion my husband received this week. It is advertising a seminar on the care of wood flooring (such as in the gymnasiums of schools) to facilities directors.

But check out the date. The seminar is being held April 13. This arrived on my husband’s desk a few days ago—less than two weeks in advance of the event. As a facilities director for a large private high school, he needs several weeks advance notice for a lunch meeting, let alone a half-day seminar. Something like this would need to arrive months in advance to even be considered.

Not to mention the seasonal timing. Schools enter their busiest season at the end of spring into summer. The weather is warm, and all of those outside projects that have been on hold through the winter months are being resurrected. However bad as the timing of this mailing was, it was made that much worse by the time of year in which it arrived.

Here are the takeaways for the MSP:

  • Whenever possible, get involved in your clients’ projects during the development stages.
  • Ensure that the client has an accurate understanding of the needs of its target market.
  • Consider timing of the mail drop as being just as critical as the creative, the list, the personalization, and the offer.

If this client has a dismal response to its seminar, let’s just hope it doesn’t blame the printer!

Insights from Print-Newbie Designers


Recently, I ran across an online article on how designers can avoid newbie mistakes when designing for print. With fewer design schools offering a good print education these days, I was intrigued. Not by the article itself necessarily, but by the comments (all 61 of them!) and how many designers admitted to making these fundamental mistakes.

Here were some of the challenges in designing for print that designers fessed up to making.

Specing too much ink coverage. Noted one, “I’ve had web clients in the past ask me to put together magazine adds, and come across issues like the amount of ink required being too thick. Any advice on how to set up photographs for print?”

Using Photoshop black on all jobs rather than a blend when necessary. One designer admitted, “I had no idea that Photoshop black was so bad. I use it all the time!”

Not designing at full scale. Noted one prepress expert involved in the conversation: “Design a print item with the canvas set accordingly. Don’t expect to be able to just simply enlarge you entire design when done to fit any dimension.”

Not proofreading. Many designers mess around with (or even write) headlines, subheads, and captions. Then they send the page out without proofing it, leaving embarrassing typos and other errors in the final (and unfortunately, often printed) layout.

Not understanding the conversion from RGB to CMYK. One designer complains, “The biggest issue I have is color. Something will look great on my screen in CMYK, then I print it out and the colors are duller than expected. I struggle getting an accurate representation on my screen as to how it’s really going to look and often end up disappointed.”

In the end, the readers of this post seemed grateful for the quick and dirty explanations.  Here are some more comments:

  • “It sadly happens that I’ve broken more than half of the rules when creating my print designs.”
  • “Great post. Wish I had this 6 months ago when I made the jump from web to print!”
  • “I have encountered a lot of these in the past. Now learning the best steps to take when going from digital to print.”
  • “I so need this. Some of this was a refresher, and some I’m definitely guilty of, even now with 8 years experience!”

The takeaway for you? Don’t assume that the designers you are working with understand the fundamentals of print, even if they’ve been in the business for a long time. Use this as a springboard for establishing yourself as the expert and invaluable resource. Add print design tips to your e-newsletter or blog. Offer an in-house seminar or webinar for virtual learning.

Whatever you do, get the information out there, because you never know what job it might save.