Archive for the ‘Digital Nirvana’ Category

Pass the Bubbly

Monday, January 26th, 2015

A month or so ago, I was binge-watching on Hulu+ the British comedy panel quiz series Q.I. (Quite Interesting), simultaneously the most fascinating, funniest and, at times, bawdiest TV program on the air (Stephen Fry hosts four British comedians who answer impossible questions about obscure knowledge—right up my alley!). In an episode called “Kitsch,” the subject of Bubble Wrap came up, and I learned that today, January 26, is “Bubble-Wrap Awareness Day” or, alternatively, “Bubble-Wrap Appreciation Day.” (It was started by a radio station in 2001.)

It turns out that there are an awful lot of appreciation days, or even weeks, from the important and worthwhile (Down Syndrome Awareness Week, National Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, World Autism Awareness Day, and various other medical awareness days and weeks) to the frivolous (National Popcorn Day, International Pillow Fight Day, and National Flip Flop Day).

There is actually a 3D Printing Day on December 3, but there does not seem to be any kind of general “Print/Printer Awareness Day.” Perhaps it’s high time we started one—sounds like a job for Two Sides?

We might want to start our appreciation with a 19th-century French printer named Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville (1817–1879), who kicked off a bunch of things that ultimately led to the establishment of Bubble Wrap Awareness Day. (We could probably go even further back, but we have to start somewhere, and these posts are long enough as it is!)

Scott de Martinville was a Parisian printer and bookseller, and amongst the things he printed were science textbooks. Not content with just printing them, he also read them, and sought to stay up-to-date on many of the latest advances in science. Inspired by the latest developments—as it were—in photography, he had the idea of doing for sound and voice what photography did for light and image: capture them. While proofreading a physics textbook, he came across illustrations of how the human auditory system worked. Thus inspired, Scott de Martinville went on to patent, in 1857, the phonautograph, the earliest known device for recording sound. However, while it did record sound, it was unable to play it back, unlike later inventions. What the phonautograph did was transcribe a visual representation of a particular sound. Not intended for home entertainment, it was primarily meant as a research tool for the investigation of sound waves.

(In 2008, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., did successfully convert a “phonautogram”—“squiggles on paper”—recorded in 1860 to a digital audio file. Not exactly a progressive-rock epic, it was a 10-second clip of a singer, possibly female, crooning “Au clair de la lune.” It is believed to be the earliest known sound recording, preceding Thomas Edison’s “Mary had a little lamb” by almost two decades [Rosen, 2008]).

Scott de Martinville alas never really got the credit he deserved, and Edison is known as the inventor of the phonograph, the first device that was capable of both recording and playing back recorded sound, originally using wax cylinders.

Sound like music.

(In 1996, the band They Might Be Giants recorded several songs at the Edison Laboratory on wax cylinders. One was the great “I Can Hear You,” a look at then-modern communication devices that sounded no better than old wax cylinders. And still don’t.)

The (arguably) first “pop music star” owed much of his success to the early phonograph. Even those generally unfamiliar with opera—and who likely couldn’t name a contemporary opera star beyond maybe Pavarotti (I was only ever familiar with Beverly Sills because she once appeared on The Muppet Show)—will likely know the name Enrico Caruso. Born in 1873, he took the opera world by storm, but what made him stand out amongst his peers was his embrace of new technology: the phonograph. Between 1903 and 1920, he made somewhere in the neighborhood of 290 commercially released recordings, which are still available in modern formats today (go to the iTunes Store and you can purchase Caruso’s recordings—interpret “digitally remastered“ with a grain of salt). Later generations of opera singers (Mario Lanza, et al.) all cite Caruso as their chief inspiration, and in large part this was due to their being able to listen to him in their own homes. Many of his contemporaries in the opera world dismissed the phonograph, believing the quality to be too poor. They changed their tunes—so to speak—once they found out how much money Caruso was making from commercial recordings.

Caruso died in 1921 at the age of 48 (hastened by his fondness for cigarettes). However, he does play a major role in another new technological development, a key one in the history of 20th-century mass media.

On January 12, 1910, part of the performance of Tosca, starring Caruso, was broadcast live from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Broadcast live…on what? Well, it was the first live radio broadcast. It was an experiment conducted by Lee DeForest, one of the inventors of what we know today as “radio” (it was originally called “wireless” but DeForest disliked that term and preferred “radio”). DeForest dubbed himself “The Father of Radio,” and is famous for the quote, “I discovered an Invisible Empire of the Air, intangible, yet solid as granite.” You could say he could see DeForest for the trees. But anyway.

DeForest was embroiled in a variety of patent lawsuits, but he is generally acknowledged as the inventor, in 1906, of the Audion, an electronic amplifying vacuum tube originally developed for use in radio receivers and other types of nascent electronic equipment. The three-electrode “triode” version of the Audion was what essentially spawned the electronic age. Whilst the vacuum tube was eventually superseded by the transistor, virtually all the precursors of today’s electronic devices—TVs, radios, computers, and myriad scientific equipment—used vacuum tubes. The vacuum tube also has a role to play in the final chapter of our story.

In 1957, in a Hawthorne, N.J., garage, two engineers—Alfred W. Fielding and Marc Chavannes—were beavering away on something they hoped would change interior décor as we (or more likely they) know it. They sealed two plastic shower curtains together and attempted to market the result as wallpaper. Alas, the world was not ready for plastic wallpaper. Strike one. (They were probably a few years too early; add a few psychedelic images and it could have decorated the set of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In a decade later.) They then tried to sell it as insulation for greenhouses. Nope. Strike two. However, there was one distinguishing characteristic that eventually made the material a success; in between the layers of shower curtain were small pockets of air. Bubbles, you might say.

Timing is everything, isn’t it, and the Sealed Air Corporation, founded by Fielding and Chervannes in 1960, had time on its side. In 1959, IBM had introduced the 1401, the first in its 1400 series of business computers. It was one of the world’s first mass-produced computers, and still ran on vacuum tubes. It also had other fragile internal components. How to protect them during shipping to customers?

According to the Sealed Air Corporation’s company lore, a marketing expert named Frederick Bowers brought the shower-curtains-with-air-bubbles to IBM and it proved to be the perfect material to protect delicate glass and electronic computer components.

And thus was born Bubble Wrap.

In another blow for the printing industry, however, the subsequent popularity of Bubble Wrap for packaging and shipping displaced newspaper for these purposes; crumpled up newspaper had been the previous low-cost packaging material. So it goes.

Since then, Bubble Wrap has become almost a cultural icon—if not for packaging then certainly for the popping of the bubbles. (There is even an iPhone app that lets you pop “virtual Bubble Wrap,” for reasons passing understanding.) Bubble Wrap also played an interesting role in a 2013 study of “cuteness” and the extent to which cuteness triggers aggression (Pappas, 2013):

Dyer and her colleagues asked 90 male and female volunteers to come into a psychology laboratory and view a slideshow of cute, funny and neutral animals.

Researchers told the participants that this was a study of motor activity and memory, and then gave the subjects sheets of bubble wrap. The participants were instructed to pop as many or as few bubbles as they wanted, just as long as they were doing something involving motion.

In fact, the researchers really wanted to know if people would respond to cute animals with an outward display of aggression, popping more bubbles, compared with people looking at neutral or funny animals.

That’s exactly what happened. The people watching a cute slideshow popped 120 bubbles, on average, compared with 80 for the funny slideshow and just a hair over 100 for the neutral one.

Here is how the study was described on Q.I.:

Quite interesting.

At any rate, Happy Bubble Wrap Awareness Day.



Monte Burke, “Wrap Star,” Forbes, April 28, 2006,

Stephanie Pappas, “‘I Wanna Eat You Up!’ Why We Go Crazy for Cute, Live Science, January 21, 2013,

John Potter, “Almost as good as Presley: Caruso the pop idol,” The Public Domain Review, February 13, 2012,

Q.I. (Quite Interesting),

Jody Rosen, “Researchers Play Tune Recorded Before Edison,” New York Times, March 27, 2008,

Enrico Caruso, Wikipedia, last modified December 28, 2014, accessed January 13, 2015,

Lee De Forest, Wikipedia, last modified January 4, 2015, accessed January 13, 2015,

Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, Wikipedia, last modified September 25, 2014, accessed January 13, 2015,Édouard-Léon_Scott_de_Martinville.

Mo’ and Mo’ Betta QR Codes

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

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.


Is Your Marketing Working?

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

Your business spends all this time, money, and resources on marketing your products and services.

But, is it even worth it?

The only way to tell if your organization’s marketing is working is through proper reporting and analytics. If your marketing efforts aren’t trackable, they’re not even worth doing. It’s time to take a good look at your current marketing strategy. When you’re analyzing your marketing efforts and marketing software, there are certain reporting features that you need to be able to track.

Click here to learn more about the importance of tracking your marketing activities, and which marketing statistics you need to monitor, measure, and analyze to keep improving processes.

Please take a moment to read and share this article at What metrics are most important for your organization? I’d love to hear in the comments below!


New Marketing Hires Have These Skills — Do You?

Friday, January 16th, 2015

When marketers — your customers — are looking to make new hires, they are hiring people with specific skill sets. Those skill sets translate into the types of marketing campaigns these new marketing hires will be creating and the skills and expertise they expect from their print suppliers. Does what you offer match what they need?

According to Econsultancy’s “Skills of the Modern Marketer” report, tops on marketers’ “very important” lists are a lot of soft skills and behaviors such as adaptability, articulation and persuasion, hunger to learn, collaboration, creativity, data-driven decision making, empathy, curiosity and passion. But the hard skills are the ones they will expect from you.

Tops on the list?

  • Data
  • Multichannel
  • Mobile marketing
  • Web analytics
  • Social media

When it comes to choosing a print suppliers (or switching suppliers), marketers are looking for companies that can integrate all of their channels into a single campaign. This isn’t about being a “one stop shop.” It’s about channel integration, strategy, and planning.

It’s impossible to integrate print and mobile, for example, if they are being handled by two different suppliers. If their current print provider doesn’t offer mobile, a client may not move all of their print marketing to another supplier, but for projects that require integration between print and mobile (or other combination of channels you may or may not offer), they will.

With this combination of skills becoming increasingly important to marketers, that’s going to be a growing percentage of the marketing budget. It’s simple math based on who is getting hired.

If you haven’t branched out past adding email marketing, it’s time to do so.

Essential Skills For Marketers (partial list) (% of Respondents)
Broad Skills Very Important Vertical Skills Very Important
Customer experience


Mobile marketing




Content marketing




Web analytics/data




Social Media activity


Source: Econsultancy, May 2014

In Marketing, Timing Is Everything

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Have you ever gotten a marketing piece that made you think, “Gosh, these people don’t know my business at all!” My husband, who is the director of facilities for a private high school, feels this way a lot.

In fact, here is the pitch that landed in front of him this morning.


Remember the winter we had last year? Don’t be caught off guard by another winter filled with snow, ice and bitter cold temperatures.

Before the first flakes fall, get all the supplies you need to keep your facility and people safe throughout this upcoming winter.

Don’t risk running out of those essential winter products you need to keep everything in and around your facility moving, especially ice melt.

[Company] has all you need for the inside of your facility—floor mats and wet floor signs for entrances and lobbies—and the outside, featuring a great selection of ice melt products, as well as spreaders for even, effective application to parking lots, roadways and sidewalks.

Okay, perhaps we can forgive the lack of comma after the salutation and his name being spelled in all caps. We might even forgive the fact that winter is no longer “upcoming” and the first snowflakes have already fallen. Here’s the real problem with this piece.

As he said so eloquently, “Every year, there are some suppliers and vendors that just don’t get it. No one worth their ‘salt’ is ordering winter materials in early January.” As any vendor to this marketplace ought to know, those supplies are ordered in late summer. So if this company is wondering why its campaign failed, this is probably why.

Sometimes a campaign lives and dies by the list. Sometimes by the creative, the message, or the incentive. But sometimes it’s the timing. Something as simple as a buying cycle is something every B2B marketer ought to  know. So when working with your clients to develop marketing campaigns, whether direct mail, email, or multichannel, try to get involved early enough in the process to ask about the timing, too.


Power Windows

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

A few years ago, while in England, I visited Canterbury Cathedral. (We were on a pilgrimage and we all told tales as we trekked southward, a doughy poet feverishly writing them all down in rhyming couplets; and as the Miller told his tale, our faces, at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale. We continue.) The first cathedral at Canterbury dates from A.D. 602, dedicated by St. Augustine. It was destroyed by fire in 1067 and over the next couple of centuries was rebuilt into the magnificent structure we can visit today.

DigNirv-010715-Stained GlassOne of the most notable features of the cathedral—aside from the shrine to Thomas Becket, who had rather a bad day there in 1170—is the stained glass. Indeed, Canterbury Cathedral contains more than 1,200 square meters of stained glass which, like the stained glass found in many a medieval church and cathedral, depicts stories from the Bible, as well as other related events, lives of the saints, and so on. Some of Canterbury’s windows also depict the life of St. Thomas (Becket). The stained glass was not just decorative, although it certainly is that; medieval stained glass is quite beautiful. Much of it did, however, serve a more practical purpose: back in the Middle Ages, prior to the invention of printing, the vast majority of the population was illiterate. Stained glass windows (not all of them, but most cathedrals had various picture series) were a communication medium, a form of visual storytelling. (The verbally related tales that Chaucer’s pilgrims told on the way to the shrine to Thomas Becket were also a dominant form of communication at the time.)

(Quick quiz: what’s the difference between a church and a cathedral? The latter contains the cathedra, or the seat where the bishop sits. It’s not true, though, that bishops can only move diagonally.)

Anyway, in the sixteenth century, there was a revolt against all things iconic, and many churches and cathedrals throughout Europe saw their stained glass and other iconography destroyed. (Whence the word iconoclast, “breaker or destroyer of images.”) Canterbury was spared much of this destruction, although the English Civil War brought damage to some of the windows. (The German bombing of England during World War II also took a bit of a toll.)

However, a recent Wall Street Journal story (via Gizmodo) identifies a new threat to stained glass or, more specifically, the stained glass industry—one with which our own industry is not unfamiliar. (And if you didn’t know that there even was a stained glass industry, you are not alone.)

[C]hurch architects and experts say modern churches rely more on video and photo slideshows, which they say connect with attendees more than the static imagery of stained glass. “They want to have it dark, so they can project PowerPoint onto a screen,” says Richard Gross, editor of Stained Glass Quarterly.

There is a Stained Glass Association of America, the industry trade group, which

has seen membership dwindle to around half of its peak size of 900 during the 1970s. The annual conference draws about half the number of attendees it once did, and SGAA officials say they have privately considered broadening the group’s name.

One can’t ignore the fact that stained glass is really expensive. That, combined with the inevitable force of modernization, the desire to appear modern to bring in the parishioners, and the fact that stained glass uses decidedly static imagery, have all led new churches to use LED screens or HD projectors to display dynamic content like text, video, images, and PowerPoints (and, perhaps St. Paul’s First Email to the Ephesians).

As a result, stained glass manufacturers are looking at potential secular installations to keep their businesses going, such as casinos, retail establishments, restaurants, hospitals, and private homes.

And, hey, the stained glass industry has a “Dr. Doom,” too:

Kenneth F. von Roenn saw this trend coming nearly four decades ago. At an industry conference inside a Nevada hotel, Mr. von Roenn says he tried to warn his fellow artisans, urging them to shift focus to nonreligious buildings, in a speech called “Time to Jump Ship.”

His advice won a lot of glassy-eyed stares and little applause…

You might even call him an iconoclast.

Here is a case of individuals and companies in a market that are seeking alternate, more technological alternatives, and as a result those individuals and companies are altering their production (such as adopting a cheaper, more efficient way of producing the stained glass) and actively seeking new markets beyond their traditional ones.

3D Printed Model of the Week

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

To keep tabs on what is happening in the 3D printing industry, I recently signed up for the newsletter with updates from around the industry. Just as we have come to enjoy the Super-Cool Fold of the Week from The Fold Factory, we can now enjoy the 3D Printed Model of the Week from the 3D Printing Industry.

This week, it’s a 1/10 scale model of the L M Strati. While there are plenty of free downloadable test files, this one comes from Sketchfab, which includes the “best of the best” as staff picks. When I see this model, I don’t envision a business model for printing out automotive prototypes. I envision promotional items and marketing incentives for the automotive market vertical.

If you think 3D printing is not going to affect you at some point, I recommend signing up for the newsletter because it provides a comprehensive picture of what’s happening in the industry. Among this week’s articles:

1. Source for 3D design for everything from prototypes to replacement parts (they design it, you print it).

The point here is to understand that, if you are without expensive machinery, 3D printers, CNC mills, and design software, you can still have access to great designers and quality objects, parts, gadgets and prototypes.

2. Free 3D printable model of the week.

3. China getting its first 3D printing college.  If that’s not a statement, I don’t know what is.

So check it out.

I continue to believe that commercial printers shouldn’t see 3D printing as a “me, too” product. There are plenty of places to get 3D models printed. But I do believe that there are ways to incorporate 3D printing into existing business models, either as a convenience service for existing clients or as a way to produce unique and compelling incentives for marketing campaigns. (For more on this, see related Digital Nirvana articles or my report State of 3D Printing in the Commercial Printing Industry.)


All Accounts Are Good…

Monday, December 29th, 2014

Some are just better than others. You know the accounts that I’m talking about; everyone in the plant knows who they are too. Your best accounts value the input and attention to detail you put into each project, they appreciate that you take the extra step to maintain their brand integrity and the value (the difference between the price paid and the results) you deliver exceeds their expectations. It’s all good.

How about the other accounts in your portfolio? The ones that when you ask the rep about them their reply is, “they aren’t great but it’s work.” These are the same ones that when their projects show up on the schedule the senior managers ask repeatedly “why are we still doing work for these folks?” It’s not personal-just business. They really don’t see or experience the same type of gratification that your best accounts have when working with you. There isn’t a connection. They don’t see any difference in working with you as opposed to their best alternatives. We often see these groups of client results when we perform NAPL’s eKG Competitive Edge ProfileTM. These are the ones that rate you the same as anyone else they would be working with.

NAPL’s Key Account AcceleratorTM is another place we see these results. Starting with your top 20 accounts, we determine three things: how significant, strategic and profitable are these accounts to your business. Next, take this to your “lower” 20 accounts and the difference becomes very clear.

Peter Drucker, that famed management guru talks about planned abandonment. Simply, the concept encourages business managers to regularly review their business to determine if anything is out of alignment with their stated goals and that might be taking up valuable resources or deterring their growth. He goes into much greater detail and I encourage you to read his work.

So what does planned abandonment and the fact that some accounts are just better than others have to do with each other? To me it’s about making choices, making the choice to work with the accounts that are significant, strategic and profitable and to replace the accounts that aren’t with better ones. This isn’t a “flip the switch” maneuver, rather this only happens by doing the work necessary to know your accounts, to know what you want and what you don’t want and finally to be able to say no to the ones that take you astray from your goals. It only works with a solid growth strategy that spells out the details, strategy and tactics and provides your sales reps with a roadmap of your expectations. To use a line from Jim Collins, this plan tells your team where the bus is going and what it will take to secure a seat. It’s hard work but the alternative is to stay the current course.

If you’ve created your own roadmap for success I’d like to hear from you – how’s it working?

Where Is My Printed Christmas Card?

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

The number of Christmas cards I receive every year is going down, even as the number of e-cards and social media holiday greetings goes up. So it is at this time of year that the value of print vs. e-media is particularly acute.

When I receive an email card, I appreciate that I was on the email list, that whoever it was cared enough to include me in their contacts, but unless it’s a personal friend or family member, I rarely open it. It’s not personal, even if it’s personalized. It’s a contact list with personalization by check box. While I appreciate being included, I appreciate it for what it is.

When I receive a social media greeting, there is still some level of appreciation for the effort, but it’s less than email.

When I get a Christmas card, however, it’s a different story. I open it, read it, and set it up along the knee wall between the kitchen and the living room. There is often a handwritten signature, and even if there is not, the person or company went to the expense of printing the card and mailing it. There is a higher level of value. There is also pure beauty in these cards. The richness of the colors. The texture of the paper. The tasteful accents with gold foil. There in my kitchen, where I spend a lot of my time, I look at those beautiful pieces of art all season long — and remember which friends, family members, businesses, or clients gave them to me.

With email, there is a moment of appreciation. With print, that appreciation (and for B2B marketers, the branding and competitive differentiation that goes with it) lasts for months.

Print still matters. In this increasingly electronic world, it matters all the more.

Troy Story

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

’Twas the night before Christmas…

As the year draws to a close, it’s a time for reflecting on the past and anticipating the future. The month of January was named for Janus, the Roman god of transitions and beginnings, who is notable for having two faces, one looking to the past, the other looking to the future (it’s a good thing beards were fashionable amongst the gods; he’d have gone through razor blades like crazy).

The first known new year’s celebration was held by the Babylonians circa 2000 B.C. They didn’t have a calendar per se (or Dick Clark), so it took place after the vernal equinox and was intended to herald the coming of spring, a time when the world is reborn. Their festival was known as Akitu and included parades and other religious rites. There is one aspect of the Akitu that raises an eyebrow or two: the ritual humiliation of the king.

[T]he king [is] brought before a statue of the god Marduk, stripped of his royal regalia and forced to swear that he had led the city with honor. A high priest would then slap the monarch and drag him by his ears in the hope of making him cry. If royal tears were shed, it was seen as a sign that Marduk was satisfied and had symbolically extended the king’s rule (Andrews, 2012).

I like this idea; perhaps we should revive it for our elected leaders. It might make New Year’s Rockin’ Eve a bit more entertaining.

Anyway, this time of year is also a time for forecasts and predictions. Everyone loves forecasts, even though the vast majority of them will end up being wrong. (So-called professional psychics and astrologers inevitably make predictions and are almost universally wrong.) Still, forecasting has always been big business, and the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which debuted in 1792, is still going and is the oldest continuously published periodical in North America.

It wasn’t the first almanac, though; that distinction belongs to (no, not Benjamin Franklin) a man named Leonard Digges. Digges (c.1515–c.1559) was an English mathematician and scientist, who is believed—albeit dubiously—to have invented, independently of Galileo, the first reflecting telescope. Regardless, he was one of the first popularizers of science, sort of the Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson of his day. He wrote many books, the first of which was a 1553 bestseller called A General Prognostication. It contained a perpetual calendar, weather lore, facts about astronomy, and so forth. It was revised a few times in the ensuing years. (By the way, Digges’ son Thomas picked up where his father left off and eventually played a strong role in the popularization of a subversive little book called De revolutionibus orbium coelestium by Copernicus, which first posited the fact that the Earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa.)

At any rate, Digges père was by trade a surveyor, and his true claim to fame was the invention of the theodolite. The what? Basically, it’s a surveying instrument that has a rotating telescope for measuring horizontal and vertical angles. Digges named the device in a 1571 surveying textbook called A geometric practice named Pantometria (it was published posthumously) and the thing is, no one can quite figure out where the word “theodolite” actually comes from, as it appears to be a mélange of Latin and Greek words that only seem vaguely relevant. Nobody really cared about that, though; it got the job done and that was really all that mattered.

As the Age of Exploration kicked into high gear, those venturing into parts unknown required instruments of all kinds—navigation, surveying, etc.—that had greater and greater precision. In the New World, one of the seminal and most famous surveying projects was the Mason-Dixon line, drawn between 1763 and 1768 by Brits Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, which was only possible because the team had access to the most sophisticated instruments at the time; Mason had served as assistant astronomer at the Royal Greenwich Observatory near London. (For an entertaining fictionalized account of Mason and Dixon’s exploits, I recommend Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon, or Mark Knopfler’s 2000 song “Sailing to Philadelphia.”)

As America continued to move west, particularly after the Civil War, surveyors of the ever-advancing frontier were aided by precision theodolites, and in the 19th century, no one’s theodolites were more respected than those made by W. & L. E. Gurley, Co. In fact, theirs was the gold standard for surveying equipment until the advent of lasers and digital technology. The company had been founded by two brothers, William Gurley and Lewis E. Gurley, graduates of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.

Conveniently located near the intersection of the Hudson River and the Erie Canal, Troy at the time was a major industrial manufacturing center, and there was no better location for the Gurleys to base their company.

Troy, N.Y., also has a role to play at this time of year. On December 23, 1823, the Troy Sentinel first published an anonymous poem, later revealed to have been written by a New York City-based Episcopalian professor. Reprinted in many other publications, it was that particular poem that created much of our contemporary Christmas imagery and lore, particularly regarding the poem’s main character, said to have been inspired by a Dutch handyman the poet knew. That main character was Santa Claus, the author was Clement Clarke Moore, and the poem, of course, was “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (aka “The Night Before Christmas”).

It was Moore’s poem, followed by an 1881 illustration by cartoonist Thomas Nast, that helped define the modern conception of St. Nicholas, aka Santa Claus.

…and to all a good night.

Happy Holidays from The Digital Nirvana.



Evan Andrews, “5 Ancient New Year’s Celebrations,”, December 31, 2012,

“Clement Clarke Moore,” Wikipedia, last modified November 18, 2014, retrieved December 3, 2014,

“Gurley Precision Instruments,” Wikipedia, last modified April 22, 2014, retrieved December 3, 2014,

“Leonard Digges,” Wikipedia, last modified September 28, 2014, retrieved December 3, 2014,

Old Farmer’s Almanac,” Wikipedia, last modified October 6, 2014, retrieved December 3, 2014,

“Santa Claus,” Wikipedia, last modified October 6, 2014, retrieved December 3, 2014,

“Theodolite,” Wikipedia, last modified November 30, 2014, retrieved December 3, 2014,


When goals are REALLY goals

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

In working with many companies on their strategy and their business plans, the subject of goal setting always comes up.  Whether goals should be “stretch” or “makeable” is another subject for another time.  What I have noticed is that something even more fundamental is usually missing.  It’s what I call “the two N’s”.

Goals (sometimes called objectives) are often expressed in broad and even vague language.  Improve our position in this or gain a better understanding of that.  Do less of one thing or more of something else.  While setting goals can be helpful, setting clear, measurable goals is even better.  Which brings us to “the two N’s”:  Names and numbers.

By being as specific as we can in setting goals, using numbers allows us the benefit of accurately determining whether and to what extent we actually reached our goal.  Instead of simply “growing sales”, we want to “increase sales by 12% with half of that growth coming from new customers”.  Using numbers, whether they are expressed in percentages, actual counts, or dates is essential in order for us to get a truly accurate read on the accomplishment of our goals.

The second “N” stands for names.  Or more to the point, name!   Next to each goal, the name of the person responsible for its accomplishment is absolutely required.  Not a department, division, committee, work group or team.  A singular person must be responsible for bringing the necessary resources together to achieve the goal.  This does not mean, of course, that one person has to do all of the work required to complete the goal.  But someone has to “own” the responsibility of the goal.  When more than one person is “responsible” there is just too much opportunity for the focus to be dissipated.  Assumptions are made about who is doing what and not much happens.  Or as my old football coach used to say “anybody could have made the play…everybody thought somebody was going to make the play…so nobody made the play!’

Breathe new life into your goals by making sure that numbers and names are always included.

What You Need to Know About “S Curves”… No, it’s Not about Baseball

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

We can all debate about what the most important goal in business should be. It’s always been my opinion that the most important goal is to “create a sustainable competitive advantage”. From that point, all things follow. The problem is that of all the goals and objectives you can identify creating a sustainable competitive advantage may be the most elusive and most difficult to achieve. However, understanding the concept of “business cycles” and where your company sits in the cycle can provide you with a powerful tool to help you avoid the dreaded “stall point”.

First, let’s understand what the “S Curve” and why “Stall Points” need to be avoided at all costs. Every business begins, develops, and disappears along a consistent pattern sometimes referred to as a business cycle. This business cycle follows the pattern of an “S”, thus the term “S Curve”. The lowest point on the S Curve represents the start-up position as the enterprise searches for a value proposition that is desired by customers and that differentiates it from the competition. Assuming the start-up phase is successful the business then moves into the growth phase. This part of the cycle is characterized by “optimization” as management focuses on leveraging the success of the value proposition. Typically, the growth phase involves significant investments in equipment and staff. Often debt begins to grow. Management is totally focused on harvesting the profit potential of the original value proposition without understanding that without developing a fresh, updated and more relevant value proposition their competitive advantage is quickly disappearing. They are headed to the last part of the business cycle, the crown of the S Curve, the must be avoided “Stall Point”.

Why be so concerned about hitting a Stall Point? In their book, Stall Points, Matthew Olson and Derek Van Bever talk about the insidious nature of Stall Points. They point out –

  • That Stall Points are hard to predict; most come as a complete surprise to management.
  • Most organizations’ growth actually accelerate into a Stall Point.
  • Recovery must come quickly or recovery may not come at all.
  • Only 7% of the companies they studied were able to return to growth.
  • The average company they studied lost 74% of its market capitalization in the decade following the Stall Point.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid falling into this trap, and there are steps you can take if you hit a Stall Point… both of which I am happy to share… on the following condition. I only ask that you respond to this blog. Write a comment. Let me know if you would like me to follow up with more information. It’s as simple as that. If I don’t hear from you I will assume this blog has reached its Stall Point.

Getting Ready for the Business Development Race

Monday, December 15th, 2014

A difficult economy means that your customers are taking longer to decide if they want to spend money with your printing company. This “wait and see” game may go on for months, perhaps years. In the meantime, your business has its own objectives to meet, and bills to pay. Reducing expenses can only take an organization so far to profitability.

Realize that you are engaged in the race of business development. Take the time now to consider these thoughts for taking your printing company to a higher level of success in every aspect of your sales and marketing efforts.

First ask and answer the question “what business am I really in?” Am I a quick printer? Digital printer?  Commercial printer? Graphics company? Communications company? It sounds so simple, but is it really? Over the course of the last few years, entire markets have appeared and grown, others disappeared. Your customer base has likely changed, if not in size, perhaps in scope. Take time to think about the past, your present and the future. What needs do you address? What problems do you solve for your customers?

Secondly rethink your competitive advantage related to your core business. Do you have a competitive advantage? Are there breakthrough opportunities on the horizon? Do you have the resources to successfully communicate your unique selling position? What is it that you do better than anyone else?

Related to the second thought, determine exactly who your best customer is. Is this a customer of the past, present or future? Whom do you want to be doing business with? What is it about this type of customer that makes them desirable? Write down those characteristics because this exercise will define your ideal customer, the one that will move you towards your business goals.

Very few individuals in business have ever taken the time to write a business plan, a document that allows them to think through their entire business, the competitive external environment and in the end, requires them to develop a course of action that will move them forward. Develop a One Page Business Plan that can be used as a communication tool to everyone in the company.
Lastly analyze your source of past business and determine what tools were employed to gain those customers. In short, the rule states “determine what marketing works best for you then do it better each day.” Time is money, and money is tight, so stick with what works.

Top 10 Best Practices for QR Codes

Friday, December 12th, 2014

I have recently updated my brandable white paper “Best Practices for QR and Other 2D Barcodes.” From watching implementation of these codes (the good, the bad, and the ugly) over the years, this is my Top 10 list. Do you agree with it? What might you add or delete?

1. Create marketing campaigns, not QR Code campaigns.

QR Codes are a response mechanism, not an end unto themselves.

2. Have a strategy.

Slapping a QR Code on something is not a strategy. Using a QR Code on a product display to show the product in use, provide a coupon, or link to customer video testimonials? That’s a strategy.

3. Make it serve a purpose.

Know why the code is being used. Don’t just add a QR Code to “go mobile.” Know the purpose it’s intended to serve and then make it happen.

4. Make the QR Code worth decoding.

What’s the value for the person scanning? We all know the value for the client. But what about the target audience? What’s in it for them?

5. Optimize for mobile devices.

Don’t assume that because 69% of U.S. consumers own smartphones that content doesn’t have to be mobile-optimized. It does.

6. Optimize for mobile lifestyles.

For example, if you’re going to send people to a survey, don’t ask them to input lots of information by hand. That’s hard to do on a mobile phone.

7. Follow best practices for (technical) implementation.

Certain steps will make QR Codes more scannable than others. Know what they are and use them.

8. Test, test, test.

Just like any other campaign, test the links, test on different phones, test on different browsers. What’s the end user experience?

9. Include multiple paths for response.

 QR Codes are great tools, but not everyone will want to use a QR Code. Provide other ways to respond to the CTA, as well.

10. Include brief instructions for using the code.

Some day, this won’t be necessary. For right now (with the exception of select audiences), it is.

Do you agree with this list? What might you change? Please chime in!

For more information on the white paper, which includes greatly expanded discussions on this Top 10 list, you can find it here.


4 Essential Tips to Guarantee Sales

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Today’s business world is more competitive than ever, and many organizations are finding it difficult to keep producing sales.

So, what can you do to change this and boost sales for 2015?

You need to update your sales team’s skills to deliver what your audience wants and needs. To succeed in growing your business for the new year, make sure your sales reps brush up on:

  1. Conversations and relationship building
  2. Social media
  3. Collaboration vs. selling
  4. Adaptability

These 4 essential skills are the key to turning around your sales for 2015. To learn how to effectively use these skills to close sales, please download your copy of 4 Essential Sales Skills, free for The Digital Nirvana readers.