Archive for the ‘Catalogs’ Category

Printing in Spook Country

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Spook Country,” the 2007 novel by William Gibson, introduced the concept of “locative art” to the reading public. Gibson’s character Hollis Henry is constantly searching for works of art with her smartphone; art that Gibson describes as akin to techno graffiti.  His descriptions of art tied to a particular GPS location and viewable with a smart phone or VR glasses include a virtual image of  F. Scott Fitzgerald dying at the very spot in Hollywood where he had a fatal heart attack, and Archie – a 90 foot giant squid (Architeuthis for those in the know.) In the book, Archie was designed as a display for a Tokyo department store with “an endless rush of digital imagery along Archie’s distal surface.”

The Museum of Vancouver took a page from Gibson’s book this month by launching their augmented reality museum app “The Visible City.” Truly a work of locative art, Visible City enables a walking tour augmented by your smart device in which the tourist sees the streets of Vancouver as they were in their “neon era.” The application overlays pictures and interviews with local personalities to create an immersive experience.

VisibleCity - Webheaderimage

However, augmented reality today is as much about commerce as it is about art. Like the Tokyo department store in Gibson’s novel, retail is the main early adopter. Major brands realize that the opportunity for consumers to interact with products in retail locations can drive sales. There are many examples of AR used for product marketing including LEGO toys, Heinz Ketchup, Budweiser and Audi. While the first three involve interactions at the point of sale, Audi used Metaio to develop an AR enhanced brochure and a virtual users guide (it’s in German – but it’s so clear it doesn’t matter.) There are also numerous examples of catalogs enhanced with augmented reality apps to deliver 3D product views as the reader directs their smart device at a specific item.

While the early adopters were in retail, other brands are getting on board, most recently PNC bank with their Finder AR-based bank locator app. It’s really not anything that couldn’t be accomplished with a Google search or asking “Siri, where’s the nearest PNC Bank?” Nonetheless, it demonstrates the conservative banking industry’s interest in embracing the new cool thing.

Finder by PNC landing page image

Direct Marketing is a natural fit for augmented reality; just ask Omni Hotels and Resorts. Omni-live, their AR app was released in June and is part of a multi-media campaign tailored to meeting and events planners. It includes print, social media, online video and web advertising in concert with augmented reality. In addition to making the campaign more interesting and interactive, AR also makes the campaign more measurable. As soon as the consumer launches the app, the marketer knows that the campaign is being read and how much time the consumer is interacting with the contents. With a really well done virtually reality application, consumers will return again and again.

There is also potential for AR with transaction printing from mundane explanations to incredibly creative advertising. With AR, a financial institution or wireless/internet/cable provider could virtually welcome new customers on board walking them through their statement or invoice and offering detailed instructions (like the Audi user manual above.)

There are plenty of agencies and AR developers out there ready to partner with you to bring new services to your clients. All it takes is a creative vision of how your current print products can deliver more value. Adding a virtual layer between the reality of print and a virtual world revealed through smart apps is the next step in business communications – are you ready to take that step?

For a nice primer on Augmented Reality (written well before AR was on the tip of people’s tongues) visit Common Craft’s Youtube presentation (sorry, there is advertising on the site.)

Elizabeth Gooding Elizabeth Gooding is the President of Gooding Communications Group and editor of the Insight Forums blog. She writes, presents and provides training on trends and opportunities for business communications professionals within regulated vertical industries.

Crystal Ball, Anyone??

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

“It is not the strongest or most intelligent species that survive, but the ones who are most willing to adapt.”  ~Charles Darwin

I like this quote because it removes the idea that survival and success are based on natural selection, but are based on intelligence and strategy and looking at how to adapt for future circumstances – an idea that seems especially relevant for the print industry today. At one time in history, we could have said that “print changed the world” and most would agree. But recent technological innovations, shifts towards digital communications and away from paper communications, have many printers working to keep up with the rapidly transforming industry. I suspect this is where Darwin’s idea of adaptation comes into play. Printers need to anticipate the future and prepare themselves accordingly. The same way of doing business will not stand, but you don’t need me to tell you this.

Lucky for printers, they don’t have to anticipate the future on their own. A group of young, bright, and well-educated students from RIT have already done the heavy lifting. Together they researched, wrote, and published a book entitled “Print changed the world – now the world is changing print.” They imagine the print industry landscape all the way to 2022 and address a number of sectors including books, packaging, signage, technical documents, direct mail, and more.

Here are the cliff notes…

Good News for:

  • Mobile devices which enable digital distribution
  • Packaging
  • Industrial printing
  • Signage

Bad News for:

  • The Postal Service
  • Circulars and inserts
  • Periodicals

Aside from the above, there are a number of categories in which the future is mixed – certain aspects will decline while some will rise. For example, authors suspect that self-publishing and yearbook printing will be the primary mode of book printing while traditional novels and textbooks will decline. The Security sector is another mixed bag.

If you read my last blog post, you’ll see that some predictions and research contradict what is in this report. I suppose no one owns a crystal ball so predicting the future is never easy. But nonetheless, it’s best to be informed and anticipate how expected trends will impact your business. So check out the full booklet here! (Made available by Printing Impressions)

Elimination of Saturday Delivery Shelved — Price Increase Looming?

Friday, April 12th, 2013

In case you haven’t heard, the U.S. Postal Board has delayed the elimination of Saturday mail delivery slated to being August 5.

This doesn’t mean that the transition won’t happen. It just won’t happen immediately. Apparently, the board still supports the long-term elimination of Saturday mail, but it appears to be claiming that the USPS didn’t have the authority to change its own schedule and that legislation first must be passed to give it this authority.

The fallout?

Mailers don’t need to worry about adjusting their mailing schedules through summer and fall.

The USPS has expressed that, if it is not allowed to cut these $2 billion in costs by a change in schedule, heft rate increases may take it place.

In an article in DM News, there was an interesting comment from the perspective of catalogers, who apparently are very much in support of five-day mail delivery:

Our members say they’ll take one-day delivery if it translates into lower cost. That’s how much of an overarching concern cost is. — Hamilton Davison, president of the American Catalog Mailers Association

What do you think? Is the delay a relief or a concern?


When Am I Going to Start Getting Targeted Catalogs?

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

The high volume of catalogs I receive has always irritated me, but after doing a series of interviews with printers who have installed the new generation of high-speed inkjet presses (those capable of producing commercial quality color), they irritate me even more. It’s time to stop sending bulk catalogs — period.

I’m one of those people who only shops in catalogs once per year. I shop catalogs at Christmas when I’m looking for something different for family or friends. I sit down at the end of November and early December, place my orders, and then throw away every catalog I receive from that point on until the following November.

I am very consistent. I do it every year.

I’m also consistent in something else. I don’t buy luggage from catalogs. I don’t buy men’s shoes. I don’t buy tools. But I do buy jewelry, children’s educational toys, and electronic gadgets. Why are these companies wasting paper sending me information on hundreds of items I have never bought through catalogs and never will?

If it’s because it’s been most cost-effective to send undifferentiated catalogs than to print targeted ones, those days are over. It’s time to improve ROI through more effective use of their lists and stop hogging up the landfills while they are at it.

Maybe it wasn’t cost-effective to create slimmer, targeted catalogs even a few years ago, or perhaps the quality wasn’t there, but it is today. It’s time somebody told them so.

Paper Legality Laws; Coming to a Continent near You

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Over the past few years, discussions surrounding how legal paper sourcing decisions are made by print buyers have received less and less attention from the press. This doesn’t mean that the issue has melted away; it merely means normalization of the process has relegated it to the board room and to the senate committee. However that could change based on worldwide activities of a similar fashion. In other words, the race is on.

In a mere 22 months if you print on paper anywhere in the European Union (EU), there will no longer be a choice. Verified legal timber product sourcing, including pulp and paper, will become law.

Regulation (EU) No 995/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 October 2010 lays down the obligations of operators who place timber and timber products on the market – also known as the (Illegal) Timber Regulation counters the trade in illegally harvested timber and timber products through three key obligations:

1. It prohibits the placing on the EU market for the first time of illegally harvested timber and products derived from such timber;
2. It requires EU traders who place timber products on the EU market for the first time to exercise ‘due diligence';
3. Keep records of their suppliers and customers.

The Regulation covers a broad range of timber products including solid wood products, flooring, plywood, pulp and paper. Interestingly though, not included among a few other products such as rattan and bamboo are recycled products and printed papers such as books, magazines and newspapers.

The EU has chosen their battles just as the US has with the now familiar US Lacey Act. By excluding printed matter (for now) but including pulp and paper, the EU’s Timber Regulation leapfrogs Lacey in that European printers will no longer be at will to purchase paper without regard for legal harvests, specifically aimed at imports as of March 2013.

The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2011 is still in the consultation phase, but is written so vaguely that if passed in its present form, is sure to create a (common) wealth of issues. For now, we have to take a wait and see approach. Taking their Bill with a grain of Aussie salt, I wouldn’t expect to see it passed anytime soon.

As a side note in its “Comments from the Government of Canada on Australia’s Draft Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2011”, the Canadian government is not amused. On May 6, 2011 the Secretary of the Senate Standing Committees on Rural Affairs and Transport wrote; “In particular, Canada is concerned that the Bill may lead to a requirement (whether explicitly stated or implied) for Australian importers to conduct risk assessments (or the ‘timber industry certifiers’ to do so on their behalf) on any unprocessed or processed timber products imported into Australia. Such a requirement would be particularly onerous for complex processed products made of timber sourced from multiple suppliers…” (like paper merchants and printers).

Which brings us back to the Lacey Act and its implications in the paper and printing industry here in the US. For the time being it seems like no movement on implementation pertaining to US-based paper mills and printers is imminent. That said, with all of the activity on other continents, one has to wonder.

Targeting, Inference and Missing the Point

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

If you notice how direct marketers are treating you, you can figure out how well they know you…and what techniques they’re using to try to get you to buy.  Sometimes marketers target you using previous transaction history or other available data. And that’s good.  It’s great to get a mailer from a nearby furniture store if you’re in the market for a new sofa because you just moved to a new home.  The store is renting a new movers list.  We know that new movers tend to buy a lot of furniture. So you get relevant information, the store perhaps gets a paying customer, and everyone’s happy.

But sometimes you can see that marketers aren’t targeting you, but only making an inference about you. Sometimes making that inference goes just fine…and sometimes it’s way off base.

The prime example of this is Amazon.  You purchase a book or a series of books, and the site recommends similar books you may like.  Or it tracks what other people who have purchased the same title you’ve just bought have also purchased, and recommend based on their tastes.  They don’t specifically know what books you want.  But they infer what you might want. In my own case, I see this working just fine at the site, as well as failing miserably. 

On the one hand, I like contemporary American novelists (e.g., DeLillo, Franzen, Kingsolver, McCarthy, Roth, Tyler).  So, sure, I’m in the market for Jonathan Franzen’s brand new novel Freedom, and Amazon is smart to offer me a deal on it. (Although I’ve already received it as a birthday gift.)  On the other hand, about 13 years ago, I bought one book at the site on a technical aspect of database marketing, relational algebra.  So I’m all set there. Yet, Amazon relentlessly and to this day still serves me up titles in that same narrow niche.  A failed inference about my needs, reasoning from too few data points.

Or take the Teaching Company (TTC).  I have a long commute, so I like to listen to courses on tape.  Having listened to 36 CDs on the Old Testament, I receive quite a few catalogs from TTC focusing on religious studies.  And it worked!  I recently bought a 12-CD series on the New Testament. (The New Testament is shorter than the old.)  But I also once bought a course on jazz music—my first purchase from the company, in fact.  Was I not in their database yet? They don’t seem to get that I might be interested in more on music, and particularly jazz.  A failure to make another inference that might just work.  

The direct marketing moral of the story is target wherever you can using as many data points as you reasonably can.  The right offer to the right person at the right time is the key to success. But when you have to resort to inferences, make sure those inferences are solid.

Oh, and don’t try to sell me any more books on algebra!

An Economic View from a Different Perspective

Monday, December 6th, 2010

For this post, I’m offering my own unscientific perspectives based on a unique window I get to peek into through – my experience actively consulting with or for organizations of all sizes and in all sectors of the industry. This includes everyone from pulp and paper mills to paper merchants to printers to print brokers and finally, print buyers.

My travels take me from coast to coast and north to south here in North America working with over 100 clients in 200 locations per year. From ten-employee in-plants to billion dollar corporations, there are common themes that seem from my perspective to permeate every facet of the paper and print-space.

Necessity may be the Mother of invention, but it’s also the Mother of reduction, the Mother of consolidation and ultimately, the Mother of efficiency. The past few years of recessionary behavior has proven to be a Petri dish of sorts that prove this hypothesis.

Common to every nearly enterprise is the realization that certain functions have had to be reduced or eliminated in order to survive. On the M&A level this means economy of scale and centralization of management, marketing, accounting and human resource functions. Within the same organization, lower level elimination of redundant or non-value added positions has become the norm. I’ve walked in the door of many a facility where “ring the bell/buzzer/phone” for front desk service is now in force where before, the duty of the receptionist was just that; to receive.

If there is a front desk person it is frequently a CSR or AR/AP employee whose new workspace happens to be visibly at the front door of the establishment. The same goes with many other positions where value is perceived as being intangible and can therefore be eliminated and delegated internally to the wearers of many hats who are any enterprise’s new survivor class.

The other trend I’ve seen is that along with staff reduction coinciding with the amount of work coming through the door, where say a full 3 shift operation has been forced down to 2, a new and interesting problem has arisen. When the workload is steady, which is a lowered expectation these days, the available labor pool is being tailored to be able to handle the volume, however now there seems to be more of an optimistic trend among print buyers and advertisers.

It’s what I call the “loosening of the purse-strings syndrome.” As the economy and consumer confidence levels elevate slightly, print buyers are a bit more confident and optimistic. Over the past six to twelve months, my clients, generically now have the problem of not having labor available for those spikes in volume when they occur. In a way this is a good problem to have, since they now feel like they have weathered the economic storm and are now emerging as a more efficient enterprise through all their tribulations.

In some markets an interesting phenomenon is taking place. Where similar facilities with similar capabilities and equipment have either survived or failed, there is a glut of skilled labor. In some cases these spikes are handled by employees working for more than one company-  not that this hasn’t always happened to some degree. It just seems that now there are a lot more skilled operators willing and/or able to be engaged on-call. The problem here is that this is usually more of a mature labor pool, so with regard to longevity, an arrangement such as this is not self-sustaining. No one seems to want to be so optimistic as to ramp back up to former levels, so this conundrum will continue for the foreseeable future.

I don’t pretend to be an economist. I’ll leave that job to Dr. Joe. That said, I do ask the same basic questions wherever I go. How’s business? Have you had layoffs or reductions in the past year and if so, by how much? Have things stabilized? Are you bringing staff back on? Are your customers a bit more optimistic? Are you?

Of course the answers vary, but on average they are: tolerable; yes; yes; yes; yes; yes. It is encouraging if anything, that there is a pervasive optimism out there. In my book optimism equals confidence. Confidence equals risk-taking, albeit cautiously, risk-taking equals spending. Spending of course raises the economic tide overall, and a rising tide lifts all boats.

So ultimately in the printing industry, especially in the areas of growth such as digital printing and integrated media, I’d like to believe that because of all this spending on infrastructure, equipment and new labor, i.e. emerging skill sets, are about to take a quantum leap based on the demand for printing in our brave new world. A renaissance if you will.

To move forward and be the cause of change, mills, merchants, printers and brokers must again refocus their marketing efforts on a now more optimistic print-buying public, who will have a bit more money to spend as long as they are convinced of the ROI once they have been educated, again, by their vendors of the benefits of print.

So, in the end, you can talk about GDP, unemployment, print shipments and the calculated risks of either doing or not doing something to change the game all day long. All I’m saying to sum this all up is that anecdotally, we seem to collectively be climbing out of a casualty-ridden hole, a bit wiser, a bit stronger, but non-the-less gun-shy. In many cases the casualties have been necessary. It got rid of some of the low-ballers to hopefully create a more level playing field where the survivors can compete fairly on a level playing field, charge a fair price and continue to continue on now that the ball is rolling again.

What do you think?

Vic Barkin

VDP Gets the Nod from Catalogers and A Big “About Time” from Me

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Multichannel Marketing magazine has been releasing the results of its 2010 surveys. Responses from the catalog industry were particularly interesting because feedback indicates that catalogers are both sticking with print and expanding into new print formats like postcards, fliers, solo mailers, and other direct mail media.

All four MCM reports — catalog, e-commerce, marketing, and operations/fulfillment — are downloadable here. What intrigued me about the catalog report was the merchants’ embrace of variable data printing.

Only 28% of catalogers surveyed in early 2010 said they were using variable printing to customize catalogs, but 35% say they plan to create customized catalogs for specific customer segments in the next 12 months. Another 29% are considering it. That’s a boost from 49% using or considering VDP in 2010, to 63% saying VDP is in their plans or on their radar for the coming 12 months.

Multichannel Merchant Editor-in-Chief Melissa Dowling who authored MCM Outlook 2010, says, “This is encouraging, since variable data printing has been slow to catch on.” She adds, “Even though costs have come down significantly in recent years, most mailers feel the technology is still too expensive—particularly dur­ing the harsh recession. But then, experts say that the returns are much higher with VDP vs. a static print job, especially the more personalized a mail piece is.”

Clearly, it’s ROI. Hence, not only does this say a lot about the growing influence of variable data printed marketing materials, it suggests to me that VDP is about to bloom outwards in other key areas that have been hesitant to adopt. That includes marketing collateral for sure, but I’m also watching for tailored informational material like newsletters, conference schedules, educational curricula, possibly even municipal or county notices targeted to specific residences.

It’s about time.