Archive for the ‘Digital Nirvana’ Category

Rate and Pace Will Win the Race

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

By now, the failed experiment of Ron Johnson as CEO of major retailer JC Penney has been well chronicled.  Until the April 7 issue of Fortune magazine, however, much of the detail about what happened had not been made quite so public.  What was revealed in the article, titled, “How to Fail in Business While Really, Really Trying,” was not simply corporate hubris or even CEO ego run amuck.  Rather, it demonstrated quite simply how difficult business transformation can really be (even for really smart people).

So here we have Ron Johnson, former head of Apple’s retail division, widely hailed as a genius for making his vision for Apple retail stores a reality.  If you have ever visited an Apple store (and you probably have), you know that they continue to be busy, buzzing, bustling (and very profitable) places.  Innovative in design, layout, lighting, and staffing, there is nothing traditional, stodgy, or boring about an Apple retail store.  The same could not be said for JC Penney.  In fact, the big retailer had plateaued and was going nowhere fast.  Who better to transform this traditional, boring, also-ran into a lively, exciting, youthful destination?

Clearly, Johnson had his own ideas and his own ways of doing things.  And he did what many in his position do when beginning a new challenge: he surrounded himself with his own people.  The holdover JC Penney team members were made to feel as though they were outsiders, especially when they challenged some of Johnson’s ideas.  No more coupons or sales?  JC Penney customers had come to rely on them and scheduled their visits to the store to align with the timing of these special offers.  The offers stopped coming―and so did the customers.

There are certainly enough Penney holdovers who lamented the fact that rather than selling “cool technology to ‘20 somethings’,” Penney was selling “dresses and flannel sheets to women in their 50s!” Clearly the same retailing prowess that fueled Apple’s growth could not work at JC Penney.  Looking back, that argument seems to make sense now.  But here’s the insight.

The fact is that no one knows whether Ron Johnson had it right or not, and that is the real tragedy of the JC Penney story.  What was clearly wrong was not the idea of radical transformation and change (Penney needed both), but the rate and pace of that change.  That’s what makes transformation so challenging and so daunting.  We need to hold on to what we have now, while simultaneously creating something new and better.

For executives and owners in the printing, mailing, graphic communications business who themselves are seeking to transform their businesses, the JC Penney story (as far away as that seems from our industry) can and should provide a stark and valuable lesson.  Business transformation requires parallel paths; keeping what (and who) we have in the near term while creating something new and different for the long term.  It isn’t that we are wrong to transform and change our business; it is the rate and pace of that change that will go a long way in determining our success.

It’s More Than Just Price: Webinar Review On How To Position Your Service Value

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

At the end of the day, price is the elephant in the room. On the business front, it traditionally carries the most weight in any Leadership Team’s decision-making process. We know the budget-savvy CEO will ask herself: why pay extra for a service when it’s offered half price elsewhere? This tends to be the case in many business transactions.

However, other points of value have increasingly entered the conversation: turnaround reliability, industry specific knowledge, creative innovation, etc. If a service provider is able to effectively communicate their multiple points of value, chances are that budget-savvy CEO will pay a little more for the higher quality service. The webinar “Transforming Price into Value for Your Service,” hosted by InfoTrends’ Barb Pellow and sponsored by Canon Solutions America, breaks down how service providers create meaningful conversations in order to achieve long term partnerships with clients. John Smilanich, National Sales Director at First Edge Solutions, expands on Pellow’s overview with concrete examples on how his company has solidified their position as a partner versus vendor. The webinar covers topics including: what buyers want, price versus value delivered, the evolving definition of ‘value’, and how to communicate that value.

Specifically, I found the section on the differences between ‘vendors’ and ‘partners’ to be quite helpful in understanding how to position one’s business goals to a client. As outlined, vendors promote or exchange goods and services for money; however, partners go a step further to participate in a relationship in which each member has equal status regarding a project. Vendors have customers; partners have clients. Vendors provide data, but partners take their provided data and interpret it, analyze it, and make recommendations. Vendors take orders and make sales, where as partners work to build mutually beneficial relationships and to determine why their clients want what they ask for.

Once the service provider has determined what role they want to play, i.e. vendor or partner, it is important to present additional components of value to the service already requested. Helping the client understand these additions in real dollar value can only strengthen the service provider’s position against a competitor’s. As Barb highlights: “Value is now associated with setting up the business model. You now help set up project data bases, manage campaigns, and help execute or market the campaign.” To accomplish this, John suggests to “make it as individual as possible.” By defining your buyers and by defining your niche, you create a knowledge base that down the road surpasses the weighted value of ‘price’.

Not only were Barb and John’s tips helpful in breaking down the price barrier, but their examples, case study references, and self-assessment questions offer tremendous insight on how to increase value proposition. If you’re looking to broaden your communication skills and positioning insight, this is a must see!

 

Transforming Price into Value for Your Services from Canon Solutions America on Vimeo.

Which Is at Fault? Lack of Education? Or Lack of Willingness?

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Why aren’t we seeing more 1:1 printing in the marketplace? Why isn’t “everyone doing it”? Is it because there is a lack of marketer education? Or is it a lack of willingness to do what it takes to make 1:1 printing work (i.e. willingness to continue to do things “the way we’ve always done” because it’s easier than investing in databases, profiling, and the like)?

Along these lines, here is a comment I received by email this morning. Do you agree with this assessment? Or do you see other reasons for why we aren’t seeing widespread adoption of 1:1 top to bottom?

there is a crying need to get the concept of MODERN variable data work to the printing public.  We continually find people exhibiting the mindset of 15 or 20 years ago.  The thought that every single page printed might be decidedly different is beyond comprehension to many.  Think of an advertising mail piece for say, insurance.  Each piece printed would be sensitive to gender, age, profession, city and state (re such things as disclaimers), family status and type(s) of insurance for which information may have been requested.  I could go on and on –  old age = larger font size for example, colors chosen by age, gender and nationality (think of color of flags).

From this person’s perspective, it remains a lack of education about the possibilities. What’s your perspective?

Just Call Me Poi . . . or Not

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

It’s happened again. A title has been converted into a name in data oblivion and sent as part of a personalized mailing.

This example is taken from a business mailing to my home addressed to “Poi LLC.” The assumption is that “Poi” stands for Person of Interest, converted into sentence case the same way my father-in-law’s suffix USMC has been converted to his last name: Mr. Usmc.

What’s odd is that this is a residential neighborhood, so you would assume that since the mailer is addressed to a business, the marketer knows that unlike my neighbors, I’m registered as a business. But if they know that, they should also know my business’s name isn’t Poi.

What’s unfortunate is that, like one of the last butchered direct mail campaigns I have received, it is coming from a company that ought to know better: American Express. It’s marketing gold cards. The last butchered mailings I’ve written about have come from Geico and Weis Markets, a large regional grocery store chain (that one was addressed to my husband’s ex-wife, who has never lived at that address . . . or even in the state).

We read the survey results, but when we look in our mailboxes, we see it in person. The state of data is often dreadful. Marketers ought to know better, and I suppose they do. But data cleanliness seems to be a luxury they don’t want to bother to afford. They’d rather trust in volume. Let the embarrassments slip as long as they do better than break even.

When your customers seem content to let volume override data errors, what do YOU do? How do you try to break through the malaise and get them to take their data management seriously? I’d like to hear your ideas.

10 Features Your CRM Needs to Have

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Would it make running your business easier if you had access to all the data you needed about each customer at the touch of a button? That’s the magic of a CRM, or Customer Relationship Management system. A good CRM system does much more than store all the data you need. With the right CRM you can share vital information with your whole sales team and track your prospects from start to close of sale, making sure that every customer interaction is tracked and no one falls between the cracks. With so many CRM systems available, the choice can seem dizzying. To find a system that will make your entire sales process run like clockwork, make sure it offers the following top ten features:

  1. Complete tracking. The right CRM will allow you to track everything from potential sales leads right through to finished sales. You should be able to check in on a potential lead and see where they are in the sales pipeline with no trouble.
  2. The full picture. You should be able to access your full history with each client easily.
  3. Easy to learn and implement. You can expect a learning curve, but a good CRM won’t give you a headache while you figure it out.
  4. Automated follow ups. You’ll find a lot of stress is lifted from your shoulders when your CRM allows you to set automatic follow ups such as emails that are triggered by an event or after a certain time.
  5. Centralized access. All the information should be accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection, giving your entire team access to the sales information they need on the go.
  6. File sharing. You may have documents that support your sales process. The right CRM system will give you a place to store these and share them with your team.
  7. Sales forecasts. Your CRM needs to put all the data to good use with informative sales forecasts.
  8. Customer experience. The right CRM will deliver relevant messages to customers and prospects in a seamless process.
  9. Intuition. Your perfect CRM system will fit in well with your sales processes and collate your data in a way that makes sense.
  10. Prioritizing. Not all customers are equal and the right CRM will make it easy to highlight the customers who are most likely to buy.

Choosing the right CRM software is a time and effort-saving investment that will give you more time to focus on your business.

More Cool Stuff to Do with Print

Friday, August 15th, 2014

Here’s another great use of print to do something digital technologies cannot do.

The product is called SwivelCard (view TechCrunch video), and while it’s not available commercially yet, it’s been  promoted by TechCrunch and is currently using crowdsourcing to improve back-end software to be more user-friendly.

SwivelCardThe card uses a combination of patented, digitally printed metallic ink onto a business card to create a paper-based USB. Add some strategic scoring and key portions of the business card can be folded to insert into a USB port and used as a USB card.

Each card can be individually programmed so each user is taken to a different webpage. Or they can be programmed all the same. Either way, the user will  be taken to a webpage of the marketer’s choosing, and like the back end of the QR Code experience, that page can be changed at any time, even after the card has been given out.

Detailed analytics on usage can be accessed so marketers know who is using their cards and where. While I haven’t used one of these cards, it appears to be something like Google Analytics.

This is another neat use of print that cannot be duplicated by electronic media. Business is often personal. You meet for lunch. You shake a hand. You attend a demonstration. There is something powerful about the personal connection of a business card that cannot be duplicated with, “I’ll send you a text this afternoon.” These cards provide the personal connection with the online / mobile interface and usage analytics.

I just love the continued innovation in the uses of print. Keep ‘em coming!

Will Your Google Analytics Dashboard Shock You?

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

These days, all the buzz is about content marketing. Whether you’re a commercial printer, digital printer, or a marketing firm, gaining new customers is about drawing people in rather than pushing your information out. When customers are ready, they will find you.

Effective content marketing requires more than just having good content on your website for people to find. It requires monitoring your site activity so you know who’s coming to your site, where they are coming from, and as much as possible about who they are so you can make your inbound efforts more effective. To this end, if you haven’t taken a good, hard look at your Google Analytics dashboard lately, it’s time to do so.

Google Analytics has become incredibly sophisticated, and it continues to be free. There is no reason not to be using this tool to improve your understanding of customer and prospect activity and improve your sales.

For example, through my website, Digital Printing Reports, I sell “state of the market” analysis; pre-written, brandable white papers to help printers market their businesses; and custom writing services. Based on what I learned about my site traffic over the past week, here is what I know about the kind of people who are interested in what I have to offer:

  • Twice as many people are coming from Facebook than LinkedIn.
  • One in four people are visiting on mobile devices.
  • Visitors are hitting an average of 4 pages on the site and spending a total of 3:03 minutes there.
  • On the first visit, the overwhelming majority view my “about Heidi” page; on the second visit, they go straight for the content and hit the white papers and 2x as often as the reports.
  • Visitors spent 200% more time on the site when coming from desktop devices than mobile.
  • Desktop users are using primarily Firefox and Chrome, with a smaller but significant percentage using Safari.
  • All of the mobile traffic has been iOS.
  • The majority of vistors are between 25-34 years old with a slightly higher percentage being male.
  • The predominant interests are individual sports — running/walking and cycling — along with technology, cooking/food/wine, and travel/tourism/historical sites.
  • I have a noticeable percentage of traffic coming from Brazil.

What can I learn from this to improve my marketing?

  • I should level of priority I place on Facebook over LinkedIn.
  • I should spend more time optimizing the site for mobile (for example, finding better formats for handling the viewing of sample pages on mobile devices).
  • I should spend more time driving traffic from decision-makers the area of content marketing (white papers for SEO/branding/site downloads) than “bigger picture thinkers” responsible for business direction.
  • I should continue to watch the engagement from Latin America. If it continues to rise, I may want to consider adding Spanish language versions of some or all of my content
  • Enough people are still using Safari that it demands attention from the web designer.
  • As an avid runner, I might want to add something on my “about Heidi” page to personalize the connection with my site visitors. After all, ultimately, people buy from people—not businesses.

If you haven’t looked at your Google Analytics reports lately, you might be surprised what you can learn to help you better market and promote your business.

It’s About TIME

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

The newest old company, Time Inc., was very busy in June. The venerable publisher of magazines, including household names such as Time, Fortune, People, and Sports Illustrated, was spun off from Time Warner, separating the aging print-centric parent from its progeny’s profitable entertainment and programming businesses. As its retirement gift, the new Time Inc. has been saddled with $1.3 billion of debt, as well as responsibility for a group of underperforming British magazines. With more than 90 titles in print, Time Inc. is challenged by the continuing and steady decline in magazine circulation which in turn has driven revenue down for 22 of the last 24 quarters.

Prompted by Time Inc.’s decision to cut off shipment of its magazines, magazine wholesaler Source Interlink Distribution filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June, announcing that the company will cease operations. Time Inc. apparently had good reason to withhold further shipments, reporting that it will be unable to collect $26 million due from Source Interlink. As Time Inc. switches to another distributor, it will likely lose sales and possibly readership loyalty as its newsstand slots sit empty for up to 12 weeks.

Time Inc. wasted no time in diversifying away from the legacy print business, announcing on June 2nd that it was acquiring Cozi. The Seattle-based company is a purely digital company that offers a mobile app and website that families use to coordinate shopping, schedules and to-do lists. No print involved.

Time Inc. wrapped up the month by divesting its Latin-American subsidiary, magazine publisher Grupo Expansión. Headquartered in Mexico City, with 16 titles in print, the company was purchased by Southern Cross Group, a private equity firm with investments throughout Central and South America.

In my recent article in NAPL’s new publication, Bottom Line, “M&A: Still a Buyer’s Market?” I postulated that the market for commercial printing companies is improving and smart buyers with well-defined strategies are returning to the market, and that we may be at an inflection point between a buyer’s and seller’s market. Recent transactions suggest that acquirers of companies in the commercial printing segment may be less reliant on the “tuck-in” growth strategy, in which a healthy commercial printer picks up the sales of a distressed printer on a pure earnout basis, leaving the seller to close down operations and sell off the excess equipment.

In a transaction that appears more strategic than predatory, two commercial printing/mailing companies in the Seattle area with combined revenues in excess of $50 million, DCG West and CCS Printing, announced that they are joining forces, moving into a new 140,000 square-foot facility, and re-branding the new entity as DCG ONE. In another separate transaction in the Pacific Northwest region, Wright Business Graphics, based in Portland, Oregon acquired Sunset Press in Kent, Washington. Both companies sell only to the trade, and the combined operations reportedly will have $55 million in revenues.

Despite recent positive signs in the commercial printing segment, the “tuck-in” is not completely dead, and commercial printing companies continue to seek out opportunities to absorb the sales of smaller companies. Cedar Graphics in Hiawatha, Iowa tucked-in the sales of local competitor The Brandt Company which itself ceased operations. In a deal put together by my firm, the NAPL Business Advisory Group, J.S. McCarthy of Augusta, Maine, purchased the customer base and certain assets of Printech, a commercial printer located in Stamford, Connecticut.

Block Communications shuttered two downtown newspaper print operations. The company’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will be printed at a newly leased 245,000 square-foot facility outfitted with new printing equipment. Block’s Ohio paper, The Blade of Toledo, will be outsourced to a yet-to-be-announced more efficient plant that is within distance to meet the daily schedule, consistent with the trend occurring throughout the newspaper industry. Phoenix Media Communications in Boston announced the closure of newspaper and circular printer Mass Web Printing in Auburn, Massachusetts. The Seventh-day Adventist church is closing its Hagerstown, Maryland printing company, transferring the printing to its west coast printing operation in Nampa, Idaho.

The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is back on our deal log, now exiting its Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a 363 asset sale to distressed debt fund Sandton Capital Partners. In addition to the paper and radio stations, the purchase included the Print Innovators division which prints the newspaper, circulars and commercial printing products.

You can find The Target Report at http://targetreport.blogspot.com with the complete deal logs and links to sources.

Car Dealership Almost Gets 1:1 Printing Right: Part 2

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

A few days ago, I posted about my local car dealership and how, while they must be commended for regularly using their knowledge of my relationship with the dealership, along with their knowledge of the make and model of my SUV, they keep falling short of what they could be doing. I want to add several more observations to that post.Equinox

1. The dealership knows my name, the make, and model of the SUV. They used it in the body of the letter. Yet in the upper righthand corner in red, all-cap text — probably the most valuable real estate in the piece — it simply said, “We want to buy your Buick GMC Cadillac.”

That wording, placed in the most visible location in the letter, has no relevance to me whatsoever. I don’t think of my vehicle as a “Buick GMC Cadillac.” It’s a shame because they’ve already personalized the make and model of my vehicle in the body of the letter. Why didn’t they do it here?

2. In addition to the personalization in the body of the letter, the mailing does contain one additional element of personalization: It’s on the bottom left (very, very bottom) on the fourth panel of the 8 ½ x 17 letter. “Heidi, we are interested in buying your 2005 Chevrolet Equinox!” It’s completely out of sight. In black like the rest of the letter. Sentence case. Completely overlookable.

3. We recently moved, and they have my updated address, but they are using my old name from a previous marriage. Ouch!

Oh, and the “promotion ends 8/30/2014” is in incredibly small type — one size up from the disclaimer text at the bottom of the letter.

While printers are not necessarily responsible for the content of the marketing message, these are very simple, basic elements that anyone can check. Before the file is run, take a look at the layout. Look at the variable fields. Scan the copy. Look at the most important static and variable elements. Look at the call to action. Are there very obvious tweaks that the customer can make to improve the effectiveness of the piece?

This is the type of value that great marketing partners provide . . . even if they are not asked to do so.

 

Social Media Tipping Point

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

For years, industry experts have proclaimed that the time will come when social media marketing is as effective as traditional marketing. Some are suggesting that the release of a very successful new album using only social media may provide a blueprint of future marketing successes and act as a tipping point.

Late last year, Beyoncé released her latest album, Drunk in Love, not with a flood of radio and TV spots, but instead using social media. It was a complete surprise and an overwhelming success. According to Apple, Beyoncé’s surprise album was the fastest-selling album in iTunes history, reaching No. 1 in the sales rankings in 104 countries. The album sold 828,777 copies in first three days, including 617,213 in the United States.

Admittedly few advertising campaigns will generate the interest of a music superstar like Beyoncé, but the question becomes is this a tipping point and if it is how can you take advantage of this tipping point. Clearly, the first step is to understand who uses social media.

Here is a short primer on the demographics of users from businessto2community.com:

  • 72% of all Internet users are active social media visitors
  • 89% are between the ages of 18 and 29
  • 72% are between 30 and 49
  • 60% are between the ages of 50 and 60
  • 43% are 65 or older
  • 71% access social media from mobile devices

The second step is understanding the benefits of using specific sites for specific services. This information is from Technorati’s 2013 Digital Influence Report:

  • Facebook users tend to “like” brands to learn about products and services (56%), keep up with brand-related activities (52%), and for promos (48%); some 32% interact with brands to provide feedback.
  • Twitter users follow brands mostly to keep up with brand activities (57%) and learn about products and services (47%); some 27% do so to provide feedback.
  • YouTube users engage with brands mostly to learn about products and services (61%), keep up with brand-related activities (41%), and provide feedback (23%).
  • Pinterest users follow brands primarily to learn about products and services (56%), keep up with brand activities (35%), and for sweepstakes/promos (28%).
  • Instagram users follow brands to keep up with brand-related activities (41%), learn more about products and services (39%), and make purchases (27%).

What do you think? Is the success of one music superstar a tipping point or simply another channel that can be used for successful marketing?

Create Long Term Success with Web-to-Print

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Web-to-print is a valuable tool in your toolkit when it comes to creating long term success for your printing business. Web-to-print solutions offer your customers outstanding flexibility, cost effectiveness, and control over their end product, making you their go-to solution for their printing needs.

So, what are you doing wrong?

Although web-to-print poses a great opportunity for your print business, it is not a case of “if you offer the solutions, the customers will come.” The key to success with web-to-print is understanding how it meets your customers’ needs and making sure they know that.

How can you communicate the value of your web-to-print services to your customers and in turn, create a successful future for your print business? Download our article, Create Long Term Success with Web-to-Print, to learn how you can effectively market your solutions to your customers.

Please take a moment to read and share this resource at http://ilnk.me/W2PSuccess. Do you have any tips and best practices for marketing your web-to-print services? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

1:1 Printing Isn’t a Fix-All

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Last week, I posted my nutshell summary of the state of 1:1 printing. My summary has solicited some reactions around the industry — some of them quite strong.

One printer represents many others when he writes,

Your summary of the past year may be valid in the digital info world in general, but absolutely off the mark regards the printing industry, 1:1, or any other voguish way you wish to call it. My experience, and those of all the printers I know, is that URL, VDP, and all this stuff about surveys and “long-term commitments,” is just so much fluff and smoke-and-mirrors. In the real, shrinking world of offset and digital print, what still counts are the traditional values of good design and cheap pricing. Case studies, white papers, etc., are all interesting to read, but far from the reality of what we do.

Reading through the lines, we hear that because they, XYZ Printing, can’t sell 1:1 printing, because their business is struggling and 1:1 printing has not proven to be the life raft to save them, it must be nothing but hype.

I hear lots of reasons my assessment of 1:1 printing is incorrect. Printers are losing business to in-house print shops. Their quick response and aggressive delivery no longer win clients. Their clients are returning to lowest cost bidder situations and they are losing business.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but what, exactly, does this have to do with the state of 1:1 printing?

Case studies tell us what printers and their clients are actually producing. By watching the types of campaigns that are actually being printed and mailed, we can watch this marketing approach evolve. By reading the market surveys and research studies on where marketers are spending their money, where they are placing their priorities, and how they are addressing their challenges (and what challenges they are addressing), we can watch the evolution of data-driven marketing, including print.

The state of 1:1 printing is exactly that — the state of 1:1 printing — not the state of the commercial printing industry in adopting 1:1 printing. “The state of” includes the types of campaigns produced, the level of complexity at which they are being produced, and the best practices being used by those who produce them. If an individual printer cannot print and sell 1:1 printing, even if they and every printer they know cannot sell 1:1 printing, this is not a reflection on “the state of” for those can and who can and do produce these campaigns on a regular basis.

1:1 printing isn’t the fix-all for the challenges facing the commercial printing industry. It’s just a solid, well-established marketing channel for those whose business models are set up to do so.

 

FOLD of the WEEK: Angel Iron Cross Invitation with Layered Die Cuts

Friday, August 1st, 2014

This week we offer a creative spin on a Fold of the Week favorite – the Iron Cross Fold. Produced by Trabon and designed by VML Advertising for The Children’s Place Angels’ Gala, this dramatic invitation features a detailed angel-wing-shaped die cut on every panel. The layered panels create not only a lovely reveal, but also a space in the center to hold the invitation and response materials. Shimmery pearlized foil and attention to every design and production detail makes for a fabulous presentation.

The Things from Inner Space

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Nebula- and Hugo-winning science-fiction author Robert J. Sawyer is perhaps best known by non-sci-fi fans as the author of FlashForward, a pretty good novel that was made into a pretty bad TV series back in 2009 (premise: everyone on Earth blacks out for two minutes and seventeen seconds and has a vision of the future). A few years after that, Sawyer wrote the excellent (in my opinion) “WWW” trilogy, in which the Internet evolves consciousness and becomes a living entity.

I was reminded of that in a weird way a few weeks ago when I was having a conversation with someone about “the Internet of Things (IoT),” a phrase I first started hearing a couple of years ago. (I did initially confuse it with the “Internet of The Thing,” which I assumed was a fan site dedicated to the 1951 sci-fi classic, if not the 1982 or 2011 remakes which were cases of diminishing returns.)

Be that as it may, “the Internet of things” has nothing to do with giant malevolent plant creatures from space or James Arness (who played the actual Thing), or any of that, but instead refers to the idea of having all the physical objects in our lives connected to the Internet. This can refer to any number of things—smart medicine cabinets that use WiFi to automatically keep our prescriptions up to date, a smart refrigerator that lets us know when our milk has gone sour, Internet-controlled appliances and environments, and so forth. Much of this exists already. You can buy a slow cooker whose temperature can be adjusted using a smartphone app. You can buy an electronic fork that calculates how fast you’re eating and warns you to slow down. (I’d give it less than two minutes before thwinging it in the ceiling.) Friends of mine in the UK have a pet door that is unlocked by an RFID chip implanted in their cat. DVRs and other household appliances can be controlled remotely. Then there is wearable tech, which is a whole other kettle of fish. And it’s probably only a matter of time before there is an Internet-enabled fish kettle. (I wouldn’t put the fish in the slow-cooker; fish is too delicate for slow cooking.)

And all that is just the beginning. Gartner estimates that there will be nearly 26 billion devices on the “Internet of Things” by 2020.

Now, depending on your point of view, this all sounds really convenient or utterly horrifying. And certainly no “digital nirvana”! Regardless, it’s probably inevitable. And who knows, maybe the Internet will develop a consciousness at the end of all this, becoming an all-seeing, all-knowing entity. Which would be even more terrifying.

What does this mean for all of us here in our own corner of the Internet? Well, the printing industry has never done an especially good job of keeping up with technology and how it has transforms our culture. Dr. Joe and I write about this at length in our forthcoming book This Point Forward: The New Start the Marketplace Demands, which will debut at Graph Expo in September. I remember when e-books first hit the public consciousness in the late 1990s. Everyone pooh-poohed the idea; “who wants to read on a screen?” Well, go to any public location today and all anyone is doing is reading from screens, often to the exclusion of everything else, like conversing with people or paying attention to traffic. The Internet of Things will continue to change our relationship with technology, with media, and with mobile phones, as smartphones will be our “nodes” for accessing all the interconnected  “things.”

On the plus side, we’re going to need sensors for all this stuff. Lots and lots of sensors. Sensors produced in high volume and at low cost. Printed electronics—the sequel to what RFID was touted as a decade ago—may be the way the printing industry gets a piece of the IoT action. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), it will require a whole different approach to the printing business than simply buying a new piece of equipment, but it could be—and has been—a viable option for those interested in pursuing it. But as we talk about in the book, you’re probably going to have to take a completely different approach to the printing business as we lurch toward 2020.

Kind of makes you feel like James Arness in The Thing, doesn’t it?

Hearing the Voice of Our Best Customers

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

In his blog “How to Protect Market Share,” burnsattitude.wordpress.com, Kevin Burns writes the following: “A recent survey of senior executives showed 80% believed that their organizations offered a superior customer experience. When surveyed, only 8% of their customers actually agreed.”

Maybe those executives are in industries that are growing rapidly, have work to spare, and only limited competition, so they can get away with being so out of touch. We aren’t. Every one of us is in a pitched battle for market share. We don’t win by assuming we know what clients think of us or what they value most. We win by verifying—by hearing clearly and regularly the voice of our best clients.

We recently asked the heads of some of our industry’s most successful companies how they hear the voice of their best clients. Here’s some of what they told us:

• Meet frequently on an owner-to-owner/executive-to-executive basis—“meeting and meeting, listening and listening,” is how one owner puts it—to hear the client’s voice directly and unfiltered by anyone—including sales reps.

• Team selling, subject matter expert selling, and consultative selling to keep the sales process focused on what’s most important to the client, not the sales rep.

• Hang out physically where clients hang out. Attend their trade shows and industry events, read their business and trade press, joint their associations, etc.

  •  Hang out physically where clients hang out. Attend their trade shows and industry events, read their business and trade press, joint their associations, etc.

• Hang out virtually where clients hang out. Know where in the social media world clients hang out—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, a forum or list serve—and hang out there, too.

• Use the NAPL eKG Competitive Edge Profile™ (http://napl.org/ekg/ekg-competitive-profile-more-info/) to measure how they rate compared to the competition in the areas most important to their customers, to identify competitive strengths and weaknesses, and to aggressively build on the former and correct the latter.

Leaders agree that there is no single best approach to hearing the voice of the client. To the contrary, different clients will be responsive to different approaches. The one thing they agree we can’t do: Sit back and assume we have it all figured out.

What are you doing to hear the voice of your best clients?