Archive for the ‘Process Improvement’ Category

Space and Time

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

What lessons can a 19th-century astronomer and aviator teach us about finding new business opportunities?

Back in the late 1990s, when I was working full time for Micro Publishing News magazine, one of our sales guys told me of a conversation he had with a cab driver. When the cabbie asked him what he did for a living, our sales guy said, “I sell space.” Ad space, he meant, but the cabbie said, “Space…you mean, like the air?”

Lots of people sell space. Magazine page space, web page space, real estate, and so forth. But there was one guy who once sold time. Sure, lots of people sell time; anyone who charges by the minute or hour is technically selling time. But in the 19th century, Samuel Pierpont Langley set up a lucrative business selling not time in general, but the time.

Langley (1834–1906) was an American astronomer, physicist, and aviation pioneer. He was the inventor, in 1878, of the bolometer, a device for measuring infrared radiation—a miniature version is used as a detector in thermal cameras, which you may be familiar with from all those ghost-hunting shows where they are more often than not used incorrectly. Anyway, born near Boston, he attended Boston Latin, and, after high school, Langley went west, young man, where he plied his trade as a civil engineer and an architectural draftsman. He returned to Boston after a few years and began to pursue his first love, astronomy, landing a job at the Harvard Observatory.

He bounced around a bit, and, in 1866, Langley was named director of the Allegheny Observatory at the Western University of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh. The observatory was only five years old at the time, run mostly by amateurs, and was in a bit of shambles, both physically and financially. Langley was its first professional administrator and one of his first tasks was to prepare a budget, a novel concept for the observatory at the time. However, as we can all sympathize, in order to prepare—or, actually, to execute—a budget, one needs money, of which the observatory had very little. So to raise funds, Langley hit upon an ingenious business idea, the kind of million-dollar idea we all wish we could think up.

To understand his idea, let’s back the truck—or, that is, the train—up a moment.

In the middle of the 19th century, if the band Chicago had released the song “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” the answer would have been a resounding “no!” Clocks and watches were hand-wound and tended to be wildly imprecise. Observatories only sporadically transmitted the correct time since, for the vast majority of people, precision timekeeping wasn’t really necessary. The correct time was strictly on a need-to-know basis, and few people really needed to know it.

However, that all changed with the coming of the railroad. Railroads ran on a schedule, but that so-called schedule was more of a vague suggestion than something you could, well, set your watch to. (Insert your own Amtrak joke here, by the way.) As rail traffic increased, the inaccuracy of time telling became not only a hassle for passengers who had no idea when to show up at the station (again, insert your own Amtrak joke here), but it was also a serious safety hazard. If, say, the watches of the train engineer and a switch operator differed by even a few minutes, two trains could end up on the same track, with disastrous results. What was to be done?

Langley had an idea. He ran an astronomical observatory, and one of the essential functions of an astronomical observatory was to determine the correct time. (See also Greenwich Observatory and, as we all know, Greenwich means time. Ahem.) So Langley created a subscription service whereby he sold the correct time to the railroads. He would astronomically work out the exact time and transmit it by telegraph to subscriber railroad stations twice a day.

The railroads were ecstatic and gladly paid for the service, while Langley was able to keep the observatory going as well as fund a major astronomical research program. By one estimate, over the next 20 years he raised $60,000 (in 19th century dollars and not, as Dr. Joe would say, adjusted for inflation), until 1883 when the U.S. Naval Observatory began providing the time signals for free. Other observatories also started funding their activities selling time-subscription services. Langley’s system also led to a time standard that became known as the Allegheny Time System and was the model for the Standard Time Zones we use today.

Langley would go on to become a pioneer in the field of aviation and, in fact, both the NASA Langley Research Center and Langley Air Force Base—among other places and things—are named after him.

I love the Langley story because it is a great illustration of how being able to think creatively can help us see opportunities where perhaps no one else can.

In our 2010 book Disrupting the Future, Dr. Joe Webb and I illustrated this basic point using a quote from Michelangelo: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” In many industry sales seminars and workshops—in our own industry as well as others—we are often told that there are opportunities out there that have yet to be found. The implication is that finding a lucrative new business is rather like a scavenger hunt, you’re looking under rocks or behind the couch for “opportunities” that someone (Who? A mischievous business sprite?) has hidden.

That’s really not the best way to think about it. Nothing, no opportunities, are “hidden.” They’re actually out there in plain sight—if you know how to see them. No one set up a chaotic timekeeping system for Langley to come along and do something about. In some sense, he was in the right place at the right time—and with the right time. But other times and other circumstances provide no fewer opportunities to look around, look creatively, and see opportunities.

In Disrupting the Future, we advised print businesspeople to think like a sculptor:

Great artists like Michelangelo weren’t looking for hidden statues; rather, they and only they saw the art “trapped” inside the rock. Once they “saw” the statue in their mind, it simply became a mechanical task of carving away the rock to “let it out.” It seemed like creativity to others, but to them it was an expression of what they had already seen that others did not (Webb and Romano, 2010).

Any innovation, any successful enterprise, has been the result of someone looking into the “stone” of the marketplace, seeing the “statue” of an idea that no one else has had, and “carving away” the resources needed to develop it and bring it to market. Sure, like Langley, those ideas are often—to keep belaboring this pun—timely, but that is actually reassuring. Given how quickly things change, there will never be a shortage of good ideas waiting to occur to someone.

 

References:

Tom D. Crouch, A Dream of Wings: Americans and the Airplane, 1875–1905 (London, 1989), pp. 42–45.

“Samuel Langley: Aviation Pioneer,” originally published by Aviation History magazine, now at HistoryNet.com, June 12, 2006, http://www.historynet.com/samuel-langley-aviation-pioneer.htm.

Joseph W. Webb, Ph.D, and Richard M. Romano, Disrupting the Future: Uncommon Wisdom for Navigating Print’s Challenging Marketplace (Harrisville, R.I., 2010), pp. 162–163.

“Samuel Pierpont Langley,” Wikipedia, last modified on October 15, 2014, accessed on October 30, 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Pierpont_Langley.

CEO’s – Stay Connected to the Shop Floor

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Through my career I have worked for various CEO’s who have allowed themselves to become disconnected from the realities of working on the shop floor. Sometimes this happened by “accident”, while in some cases the CEO purposely worked to avoid developing and maintaining a relationship with those who executed the work orders and got the work out. In my opinion, this represented a lack of leadership sense and typically resulted in an organizational culture needing frequent repair. And if the chasm between senior management and shop floor workers grows too wide the results can bring a business to its knees.

I’ve heard all the excuses… “I’m too busy. There’s just not enough time”. “I hire supervisors to handle the workforce”. “If I get too close, I won’t be able to make the hard decisions about who stays and who goes”. Like most excuses, it’s not justifiable and likely represents either a lack of leadership experience, a lack of understanding, or a blatant disregard for the organization’s most valuable asset. As CEO you are responsible for creating and maintaining a positive and constructive organizational culture. This is not a responsibility you can delegate or outsource.

Some of you who lead small organizations that require your daily presence on the shop floor may think this message is not for you. Not so fast. Some of the CEO’s I referred to above actually started out being “owner operators” dividing their time between managing and operating shop floor equipment. But, as the company experienced success and grew more of their time was spent with “strategic” responsibilities until the time came when they no longer understood the challenges encountered by those who “get the work out”.

Like all critically important things, staying connected requires diligence, commitment, and a plan. Part of that plan should include the responsibility for managing the internal messaging required to keep all employees informed. Does each of your employees know the reason why your company exists, what makes it unique, why customers come and why they go, and how what they do impacts the company’s success or failure? How often do they get updates regarding the company’s performance? Do birthdays or service anniversaries get recognized? Are there celebrations to recognize individual and organizational achievements? All of this can be captured in a company newsletter, but that still falls short of what you need to do. You need to regularly communicate all this information, and more, in face-to-face periodic company-wide meetings that you organize and lead.

Here is a typical agenda for a company-wide meeting that should take place at least once a quarter and can be accomplished in 90 – 120 minutes –

  • Review of company mission, purpose, goals and objectives…
  • Review of progress against all goals and objectives –
  • Review of simplified P&L, balance sheet, and cash flow (this represents a great teaching opportunity).
  • Review of new customers and lost customers with explanations about why they came and why they left.
  • Review of critically important initiatives and projects being introduced in the coming quarter.
  • Introduction of new employees.
  • Recognition of service anniversaries.
  • Q&A.

This represents an investment of 8 hours of communication and connection time over the course of a year. Few commitments will provide a greater return on investment. What should you expect? How about higher morale, higher productivity, less employee turnover, and higher levels of customer satisfaction?

Wait, you’re not done. Paying attention to employee communication and education should not only happen four times a year. Get up from behind that desk and spend some time on the shop floor. Be seen. Talk to folks during breaks and in between shifts. Try and learn a little about their families and interests away from the plant. Show your “human” side. Let them know they are more than just cogs in a wheel.

Does it make the tough decisions about staffing easier? No. But that’s why you get paid “the big bucks”

Want Web-to-Print business? Attend a MARKETING conference

Friday, September 19th, 2014

Available on the What They Think Webinar archive is a Webinar titled “Web-to-Print Is So Yesterday.” It’s fascinating, and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

The speakers are from The Toro Company and LifeLock, and both talk about their reasons for investing in their own W2P solution, how they came to make the purchase decision they did, and the value of the solution for their companies now. Some of it may be familiar. Some of it may not be.

Part of what’s interesting is where these companies are finding the real, bottom-line benefits, and they are not always where the printing industry tends to focus. The other part of what’s interesting is that, despite the high-profile nature of these companies, they were largely unaware of the capabilities of W2P until they went to a marketing conference and saw presentations by the software vendor.

Both indicated that, while they were convinced by the vendor’s presentation, if they’d heard about it from their printer in the same way it was presented to them at the marketing conference, they would have jumped on it from them. Since they didn’t, they installed it in-house.

Here are the takeaways:

  • There are still opportunities in W2P.
  • Marketers are looking for content management, not print management.
  • They heard about W2P from printers, but it was so print-focused as to be irrelevant.
  • When they heard about the full capabilities of W2P focused on their actual needs, they jumped on it. “Why didn’t we know about this before?”
  • Only 50% of their volume flowing through these systems is print.  But since the installation of the system, their print volumes have increased.

If you haven’t watched this Webinar, it’s worth your time. And if you aren’t going to marketing conferences, interacting directly with the people who need your services, why on earth not?

 

High-End Digital Print: What Does It Take to Get It?

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

What does it take to produce consistently high-quality pieces on a digital press? Not just solid commercial-quality work, but output that consistently meets the most demanding client expectations? Lately, I’ve been doing a series of interviews with high-end digital printers asking this very question. Here is what I’m hearing. Please chime in with your own thoughts.

1. Understand how your clients define quality, then purchase equipment that is capable of meeting those expectations. For example, for one printer, “quality” was evaluated by the ability of the press to print on uncoated and textured sheets. This need, expressed by a high percentage of his unique customer base, was one of the primary drivers in his purchase decision.

2. Hire dedicated press operators that “own” the equipment the way a press operator takes ownership of his press. Hire people who understand the equipment, how it works, the range of adjustments that can be made, and how to work within the available parameters to optimize print quality.

3. To the greatest extent possible, let the press operator do his or her own press maintenance. Give them the tools, the flexibility, and the authority to keep the press in top condition. Let them do maintenance at the moment they realize it needs it.

4.  Set expectations upfront. Work with your clients upfront to show them what output looks like on different equipment, different substrates, and using different techniques. Show samples and even run rough proofs so they understand upfront what the job is going to look like.

5. Get sign-off on hard copy proofs before running the job. Hard copy proofs might seem old-fashioned these days, but every one of the printers I talked to used them routinely. This way, clients know what they’re getting before you run the full production length job — then they sign off on it. No surprises!

What do you think of this list? What would you add to it?

Revamp Your Sales Model

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Your business ebbs and flows. Good months followed by an ‘OK’ or a not so good month. How do these results compare to your plan, what’s working and where is either the plan or the execution falling short. We could be talking about a few of your reps or the entire business.

Too often the plan has not been thought out as well as you’d like it to be and the story is that the outside environment-the clients, the competitors, the ‘markets’ aren’t playing nice or playing fair. Well, that’s the norm for today. Nothing is fair and logic is not what it used to be. Maybe it’s time to revamp the sales model. We see company’s overcoming these obstacles by doing a few things differently.

  • They have gotten closer to their clients and have a better understanding of their updated buying processes. This has enabled them to modify their sales model and increase their sales effectiveness.
  • They have achieved buy-in from their sales department, their senior management team and all client-facing staff to the plan, the company’s plan.
  • They have targeted growth opportunities in vertical markets that they can repeat their sales process to effectively communicate, build trust, present real-world business solutions and earn business from these new clients.
  • They’ve incorporated a suite of metrics to measure and report their successes in achieving the sales goals their going after.
  • Accountability. No plan is perfect, right? When they see elements of their plan not generating the results they need they are not hesitant to tweak the plan and make adjustments (sooner rather than later).

While no plan will cover all the moving parts of an industry that is transforming, without one it becomes increasingly difficult to adapt both the sales effort and the business to opportunities in the marketplace.

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.

Digital Print Quality Issue: Punch, Counterpunch

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

I have spent a lot of time over the past several weeks starting and moderating discussions about the output quality of digital print and different perceptions of what can be produced. It has been so interesting to hear the perspective from both sides — printer and client.

Clearly, with the right press, a skilled operator, and the willingness to properly maintain the press, you can achieve outstanding quality. But that takes time and dedicated resources, and just as clearly, not all printers always believe it’s worth it.

Consequently, for experienced designers who understand production, there is a notable divide:

In my experience, digital quality is often very dependent on the type of provider you use. For me, digital printing is pretty standard no matter the machine used, but if you work with folks who care a lot about quality, rather than speedy turnarounds, then digital can meet offset standards. But you have to have folks at the plant readily able and willing to take on the issues of banding, gradient quality, and color consistency in order to meet the offset standards. In my stable of print providers, only two are willing to go that extra distance. The rest seem to be more concerned about quick turnaround and low pricing. Which has its place, but I will always use the two printers who will give me consistent quality and work with me on my concerns for those products that require those types of things. — Name withheld [by me] to prevent inundation

This takes us to the classic dilemma. Do I focus on quality and clients willing to pay for it (even if it’s a smaller market)? Or do I go for volume for less discriminating buyers willing to accept less than the level of quality the press is capable of outputting in order to push through more volume at lower prices?

I’d love to hear some thoughts on this decision. Both are equally legitimate business decisions based on different business factors.

Which way did you choose to go and why?

 

Wide Ranging Responses to Digital Print Quality: Who’s Right?

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Last Friday, I wrote a post on data in “The Digital Print Survey: 2014″ published by WTT / Unisource on the issue of print quality. I cited data that 61% of respondents indicated that quality was either “as good as” or actually better than offset. Yet high percentages of respondents cited print consistency, color matching, gradients, and solids as being significant challenges.

There weren’t a lot of comments here on Digital Nirvana, but I did share the post around LinkedIn, and comments were voluminous. What was interesting was the incredible range of responses I received. On one end of the spectrum, there were those saying that gradients, solids, and color gamut would always been issues because of the design of the presses themselves. But what does it matter? Quality is in the eye of the beholder. Then there were those responding that digital has the capability of surpassing offset and producing essentially museum-quality pieces. You just need to have the right substrate, a skilled operator, and commitment from the printer to regular maintenance and calibration on the press.

All of the comments were coming from knowledgeable folks, from technicians to academians to press operators and owners, so it was interesting how varied the responses were.

Here is a sampling of those comments. What do YOU think? Add your voice to the discussion!

“If an absolute quality comparison is made with offset lithography, the differences become more apparent. Banding and gradients will always be a problem. This is due to the reduced tonal steps used in digital devices in order to increase processing speed. The recordable tone steps in offset can easily exceed 200, whereas some digital devices are restricted to fewer than 50 – thus the banding issue. Some “work arounds” are used in digital, but the most effective ones use extra colors (e.g. light cyan, light magenta). These devices are called “photo quality” in the inkjet printer market.

“Even solids and the inability to reproduce special colors are also a problem with most digital devices. These restrictions are NOT a problem as long as the concept of market-segment quality classification is kept in mind. There are good reasons why newspapers are printed on newsprint and not on high-grade coated papers. Printing has a long history of making quality vs. economic tradeoffs (grade of materials, and productivity-driven sacrifices) according to what markets desire.”

— Gary Field, color printing scientist and printing industry consultant

“Another thing besides the gradient issue is low quality screen builds with some PMS colors. This has always been an issue even in offset, that is why there are so many 6- and 7-color offset presses out there. If you want an exact PMS match, print a PMS . . . since digital cannot and since the digital process even distorts the screen build process more than traditional offset, I see builds as a critical problem with digital. Digital photos, on the other hand, print better than offset separations in my experience.”

— Greg Kingston, print and mail services at VOLVO Construction Equipment

“I think digital print quality is still a major issue because . . . you need to choose the right materials for your presses. Allot of people that are purchasing the stock isn’t aware of the particulars this one variable brings to the table. There also need to be qualified people to ascertain the print quality problem and solve it. You can’t hire people off the street expecting them to find out why the print quality isn’t great for your biggest client. Especially when they don’t know the particulars on how this industry works.”

— Barbara Jones, production artist, variable data specialist and digital prepress technician at Miller Zell

“Stock is definitely trial and error. Papers that you think would be identical (Cougar vs Accent) don’t run quite the same.”

— Richard Sohanchyk, owner, OnPoint Image & Design

“Digital printing can be great — high quality blends, few streaks, etc. — if  the company has highly skilled operators and free reign to replace worn components and time to do the maintenance and calibrations. Often the gamuts are much larger than [GRACoL]. I hear time and again the lament from digital press operators that they are not allowed to do whats necessary to make the digital press perform. Anything can beat the image quality of an offset press has glazed, out of pressure rollers, blankets with smashes and haven’t been torqued in a year, and the image of the wrench embossed in the impression cylinder.”

— David Avery, seasoned technical trainer

“I think it is an assumption by most consumers that digital equipment isn’t capable of going up against some of the very best 4-color offset printed materials. I think the reality is, MOST of the time, digital is used for “quick print” work where quality is less of a concern so the perception is that that is all that digital is capable of. However, just like offset, if you pay attention to quality, use the workarounds, and use materials that give you the best outcome, you can create pieces that rival offset. I have seen some very nice pieces used in very high profile accounts that were printed digitally. All of the variables that should go in to creating a quality piece were accounted for and executed, even though it meant a premium price was paid for the product. I don’t see how that solution is any different that creating a quality piece from offset. Digital is very capable of creating quality pieces, I just think we have marginalized it’s potential in the marketplace by our position when selling it as “quick print”. Of course, when we need to use metallics or some other specialty inks that digital doesn’t always offer yet, then of course it can’t compete, but we aren’t exactly comparing apples to apples anymore.”

— Brady Manthe, central premedia specialist, Brown Printing Company

“One particular job: Essential criteria — digital and offset components have to match. The machines tasked with the job were a 40-inch Komori (5-colour) and a Xerox-PC700. Stock was an A2 Coated Matte. We failed. Couldn’t match the two. We had our excuses ready, but the customer was not as pedantic as we had been told and didn’t even notice. The offset quality was good, very good — couldn’t fault it — until we tried to match and found that the digital was so much superior that it made the offset product look dull and lifeless by comparison. That was four years ago on a digital press which has since been superseded.”

— Shotz High Performance Print

“You should not expect to match offset and digital (laser/toner). Digital has a wider color gamut, so there can be a color difference between the two. Paul’s point about ICC profiles, you can work to match the 2 processes (if you care to) and perhaps move the curve on the offset to make it less dull and lifeless. Ironically, some the of negative traits of the digital is not having as smooth tone in gradient tints, can be can be a plus, if you like the look of it being a little sharper than the original. As far as proofing, I always ask for a proof for digital to be made on the same digital machine, RIP and paper that will be used in production. The only variable then will be the calibration and repeatability of the machine. There is no sense in comparing to another process or type of proof.”

— Ronald Boyum, printing services specialist at the U.S. Government Printing Office

What is your experience? Chime in!

The Survey Says: Digital Print Image Quality

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

If you haven’t checked out The Digital Print Survey conducted by What They Think and Unisource (March 2014), it’s a fascinating read. While the results are not projectible to the industry at large, the results are drawn from nearly 400 responses and provide a compelling look inside the shops of a representative cross-section of digital print providers.

To me, among the most fascinating sections are those relating to digital print quality. This was such a hot button for years, and if you ask PSPs today if the issue still exists, you’ll hear a resounding “No!” But that’s not what the data says. Do you agree with these results?

When asked, “In your opinion, in general, how does the output quality of your digital color production presses (HP Indigo, Xerox iGen, Xeikon, Nexpress) compare to the output quality of offset presses?”

  • 53% said “about as good as offset”
  • 8% said “slightly better than offset”
  • 2% said “is much better than offset”

In addition, 86% said they were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the image quality coming off their presses.

However, only 67% were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with color matching and 63% were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with color consistency. Even fewer (43%) were satisfied with color matching.

When asked about their production challenges, “getting consistent print quality” was in the top three challenges, with 30% of respondents giving this answer. “Getting consistent color” came in fourth, with 29% of respondents giving this answer.

When asked which job elements reproduce “fine with no problems,” relatively low percentages of respondents agreed with the following:

  • fine lines / detail (47%)
  • solids (36%)
  • gradients (22%)
  • custom colors (18%)

What I take from this is that, in the end, printers are satisfied with the overall print quality on these presses, but especially when it comes to fine detail and color matching, it still takes a lot of work.

Would you agree with this data?

Is Gradation Still an Issue in Digital Print?

Friday, April 4th, 2014

I ran across this discussion in one of the digital print groups on LinkedIn this morning and thought it was interesting. I wonder what you folks think here. What are your experiences?

The original question was why the member was having trouble with gradations on his digital press. The discussion was highly technical and beyond what is appropriate to reprint here. However, among the potential culprits named in the discussion were the following:

  • Resolution
  • Line screen
  • Different resolutions based on XY axis, i.e. 2400 x 600 dpi (especially on older presses)
  • Dot size and shape
  • Level and frequency of calibration of the press
  • RIP interpretation of the data (and, consequently, the age of the RIP)
  • Age of the digital press
  • Whether the press is using standard elliptical halftone dots
  • Whether stochastic screening is used
  • Trade-offs in recording resolution and speed of production
  • Whether color curves are calibrated to match the offset press and stock

One participant suggestion: Use a Gaussian blur. (“Best gradations ever.”) Another posted a link from Adobe (“Illustrator / printing gradients, meshes, and color blends“) that breaks down all the potential issues to help with troubleshooting gradient issues.

One participant noted:

Gradation in digital printing is not appearing like offset because of the physical resolution of the technologies you compare. Standard offset reproduction of the image is 2400 dpi arranged in 150 lpi. This is how the RIP is setting the image before physical reproduction by the imagesetter on the offset printing plate and then by the printing press onto the substrate. This standard RIP setting gives a visually smooth image for the human eye when printed because these settings guarantee reproduction of all 256 grades/tones used by the RIP to reproduce the picture. Remember the RIP uses the rule of 16 x 16 = 256 for calculating grades/tones. Offset technology can go to a sharper image with, for example, 4800 dpi (smaller dots) and 300 lpi. Even 9600 dpi and 600 lpi is possible. Only on the condition that dpi is increased proportionally with lpi will you reproduce all 256 grades/tones to see a smooth image at the end. That means you will see a sharp or very sharp picture with smooth gradation only when increase dpi together with lpi. (Lightly edited for clarity.)

What are your experiences? Are you still having gradation issues in your jobs? If so, which of these do you see as the culprit(s) most of the time? How do you handle these issues?

More Data Follies: Who’s Minding the Store?

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

My penchant for publishing direct mail and data bloopers continues to win me great stories to share here on Digital Nirvana. This one came in this morning and left me scratching my head. My question for readers is this: Do you have processes in place to catch these mistakes before they get mailed? Or are you content to play clean-up later?

Last fall an environmental organization sent us an annual renewal notice which we responded to with a check to extend our membership for another year.

Five months later, we got another “renewal” notice to which we responded to with another check, not remembering that we had already renewed our annual membership. For this double renewal, we received a complimentary, inexpensive hat.

Four weeks later, we received an offer for us to become members for the first time, this time offering multiple more valuable premiums, including several shopping bags, a calendar, and a children’s gift (we’re retired).

Needless to say, I was not happy. I contacted the organization, and they quickly responded, apologized, and are sending yet more complimentary items.

We’re not interested in free gifts. My complaint to the organization was that, first, they were not acknowledging that we had already responded to their renewal request—twice. Also, that we were being penalized for our prompt response to the first notice by not receiving the multiple and higher valued items as our “free gifts,” which makes me feel like we’re being played. (Did we have to send another contribution to receive these annual renewal gifts? Are we being leveraged to send even more  money, even though we’d already renewed twice?)

It’s frustrating on both counts. It alienates the donor and makes it very clear that a favorable response has not been recognized—as in, “We didn’t notice you, so we’re sending you another renewal notice . . . in case you didn’t notice either,”  or “We don’t care that you responded, we’d  just like to get as much out of you as we can,” or, “Our tracking system is so inefficient we can’t distinguish between those who do and those who do not respond to our overtures.”

If this were not an organization that we would support anyway (and it were it not a non-profit but a direct business relationship), the likelihood of their getting a favorable response the next time the mailer came is pretty much zero!

This reader’s tongue-in-cheek writing style is so funny that you might be tempted to think this is an April Fool’s joke, but it is not. Rather, it has has shades of my father-in-law, Lt. Col. John Walker, U.S.M.C. (Ret.), who is regularly receiving solicitations to John Usmc and Col. Ret.

You would never let this happen to your clients, right?

Writing Better Blog Posts for the Printing Industry

Friday, March 7th, 2014

In terms of pure volume, I probably write more blog posts these days than anything else. New case studies and white papers may go up on printers’ websites every quarter or so, but blog content needs to be added on a continual basis. The challenge is, everybody needs blog content, but most companies are drawing from the same well.

We see the same blog topics over and over. What is personalized printing? What’s happening with postal rates? How to integrate social media into your marketing. How can you make your blog posts stand out? Why should someone come to your blog as opposed to someone else’s?

As much as you can, share your own expertise and experience.  There are hundreds of places for your clients to get general industry information. They don’t need to come to your blog to do it. What they should get from your blog is insight from your company in how to implement what they read about elsewhere and the unique and creative things your company is doing to capitalize on the trends.

For example, you can assume that your clients know what personalized printing is. So what particularly interesting campaign did you develop recently? You don’t have to divulge details. Genericize it. Did you recently solve a customer problem? How did you do it?

One of my favorite blog posts recently involved interviewing the printer’s designers. I wanted to know what mistakes in designing for 1:1 printing they regularly saw from their clients and how to avoid them. This was hypothetical, “same thing applies to everybody” post. It was real nuts and bolts, based on the designer’s daily experiences. That is information this printer’s clients aren’t going to get anywhere else.

I wrote a post on wide-format printing using a similar approach. How is designing a file for wide-format printing different from commercial printing? What do you have to do differently? For this post, I talked to one of the production staff.  The result was a “top three mistakes” list, but not a general one. It’s one based on the production person’s experience at his company, with its clients, in its unique market space.

To create blog posts like this, you need to plan and schedule time with the right staff members to get the information. Perhaps rotate departments so that you are drawing information from a different department each week. Week 1: design team. Week 2: production team. Week 3: sales and business development teams. Week 4: customer service team. By rotating topics, you keep the information fresh.

It all adds up to new, fresh information that is genuinely useful to your customers and gives them a reason to keep coming back.

This Press Release Did Everything Right

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Many organizations are rediscovering the role of public relations in content marketing. As an editor, I get over a dozen press releases every day. The four most common failures I see are:

  • Not understanding the difference between “news” and “promotion.”
  • Taking too long to get to the point.
  • Failing to help me see/intuit/perceive a potential story.
  • Giving me no single, well-written, concise paragraph I can run with.

A press release that came in today from Graham Chapman at 919Marketing did everything right. Here’s why Graham’s release is better than most:

1. The subject line compels. Graham is writing for a new-mover-welcome service, Our Town America. His subject line is “Local Expert Alleviates Moving Stress with 14 for 14 Tips.” Even if the recipients (editors) aren’t relocating personally, most certainly have moved at some point. A subject line that any editor can relate to, professionally or personally, works best.

2. Graham introduces the release with a cover note that gets my brain churning. “Hi Nancy, According to the Employee Relocation Council, moving is the third most stressful event in a person’s life, trumped only by death and divorce.” Can I relate? You bet.

3. The middle of the release grabs me visually. Rather than droning on, the layout pulls my eyes to a short bulleted list that suggests several “heart-warming” gestures for various dates in February — all related to the “new mover” experience.

  • Wave Your Hand at Your Neighbor Day
  • Send a Card to a Friend Day
  • Make a Friend Day
  • Random Acts of Kindness Day

4. I’m rewarded with a Eureka! moment. I get it: 14 for 14 … this “moving” story concept is centered on Valentine’s Day, February 14. I’m charmed.

5. The pay-off gets delivered. Old Town America’s “14 for 14″ Moving Tips are pretty good (e.g., “Divvy up duties with your family, tackle the packing one room at a time, and give yourself a few weeks to get everything in boxes.”) Yep. Been there, done that.

6. If I’m interested, I know what to do. Graham has given me a bunch of story ideas and he promises “plenty of timely talkers and visuals” to help me flesh out a story. In short, this release did my first-round thinking for me. As an editor, I can’t ask for more.

How Pizza Changed the B2B Customer Mindset

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Post provided by IWCO Direct. 

We all know that technology continues to transform the ways companies serve consumers at a rapid pace. But have you thought about how these new conveniences are changing the mindset of B2B customers? One of the most noticeable changes is how access to real-time, detailed information in peoples’ personal lives is also becoming an expectation in their professional lives.

Shoes Shipped Fast; Pizza Personalized; Forget the Taxi

Maybe this change started with shoes. The Zappos mantra of exceptional service in the form of selection and delivery times moved the expectations bar higher. Then Friday night pizza delivery morphed from a phone call to a mouse click or screen swipe. Order pizza online at Domino’s and you can choose olives on the left or right and know who’s making it. Then the “Dominos Tracker” allows you to watch your pizza move through various stages of production with a notification when it’s left the store. It’s a similar situation when you want to avoid the hassle of hailing a cab. When you order car service through an app like Uber, you can see the fare and precisely how long until your car arrives. And like your pizza, all large shipping companies, including the Postal Service, provide the ability to track a package you shipped or a product you ordered along its delivery route to its final destination. These consumer experiences, and many more, are transforming how customers expect to be served in business settings.

Changing with the Changing Mindset

This nearly instant access to information has shifted the mindset of the B2B customer. They want – and need – a similar level of transparency on the status of complex projects and transactions, in as close to real-time as possible. At IWCO Direct we’ve noticed this changing mindset. We are streamlining our workflow processes with tools that add value and make it easy to do business with us. But we’re not stopping there. We’re transforming our customer experience model and production processes. By enhancing our digital workflow, we will give our customers more robust views into the status of their jobs, along with the tools they need to make their job easier.

All of this is being implemented with the understanding that every individual action collectively creates the customer experience. From accounting to the production floor, we all play a role. As you can imagine, this is quite the undertaking. We’re very excited about how it will transform the experience for our customers and more fully engage our employees. We plan to share updates on our progress and additional insights in the coming months, so please check back often.

You can read more posts like this on the IWCO Speaking Direct Blog. 

Blog Author: Pat Deck
Executive Vice President of Customer Experience and graduate of The Citadel and the Naval Postgraduate School. Bringing the “work hard, play hard” philosophy to IWCO Direct for nearly five years. Commissioned Officer of the U.S. Navy, music and travel lover and Chicago Bears fan. 

PODi reviews PRISMAprepare

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

PODi recently independently reviewed the Canon Océ PRISMAprepare workflow suite and authored case studies and product briefings on these workflow solutions. The overview from PODi:

“Canon’s Oce PRISMAprepare simplifies and streamlines document make-ready processes to efficiently compile, correct, personalize and program print applications. This includes various layout and tab programming, spine printing, color splitting and releasing to production presses. While it can be integrated with other software packages, PRISMAprepare can also be used as a completely self-contained stand-alone make-ready solution.”

PODi completed their analysis by posting a series of podcasts reviewing PRISMAprepare capabilities including:
• Document Editing
• Page and Image Editing
• Personalization
• Make-ready Automation

For more information – visit PODi’s site here.