The Internet and Diapers

I read an interesting article yesterday in the Tampa Tribune entitled “College Freshman Never Lived Without the Internet” which really struck home in terms of looking at the next generation of document professionals.

This Associated Press story reported that “according to an annual list this years college freshman class will be the first to be younger than the World Wide Web.” (or in diapers when it came into prominence)

Most of these students, born in 1993 have different perspective on many fronts and view things differently:  (some of these are listed in the article)

  • Amazon is not just a river.
  • PC does not always stand for politically correct
  • LBJ is LeBron James, not a president
  • Text messaging is better than calling
  • Facebook is their social conduit
  • They can write a whole story in Text Message Shorthand
  • (Feel free to add more)

Looking at this, the rapid change in technology and the evolution of how young people communicate is molding a new work force that is constantly multi-tasking using different media, has instant access to information, can instantly communicate with their circle of influence  and whose mind share has increasingly become fragmented as a result.

What does it mean for companies who hire the class of 2015?  They will need to look at different ways of exchanging information, capturing mindshare and challenging them to be creative.

For the “old timers” this is going to be a bit of change but we only need to look at companies like Google and Microsoft in terms of adapting the work environment to meet the changing workforce.

Many people are annoyed at the constant texting and viewing of emails on ever advancing smart phones.  But like any technology or human behavior, if corralled it provides a great deal of opportunity.  I remain intrigued as I look to the next generation and how technology will drive their day to day work habits and how companies will adapt. (Our 2012 conference next March will have some sessions addressing the new work force and will address challenges companies will face.)

As you look toward the future what are your thoughts on the next generation of document professional? What are some of the challenges we face?

Going  4 *$  BBIAB  (Going for Starbucks be back in a bit)

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See the full article in the Tampa Tribune here.

3 Dollars a page for print?

In many of my previous blogs I have spoken about looking at new print applications, thinking out of the box and finding applications that are value driven and demand a higher price.

The  ultimate print application

A few days ago while I was preparing to fly from Vancouver back to Tampa I ventured into the hotel business center to print my boarding pass. I have done it dozens of times across the country and never really thought about paying some fee for using the business center as it saves me time and for me it is a real value proposition.

Swiped my card, logged on, when through the checkout procedure and then clicked “print boarding pass”.

Then why did they ask me if I wanted to print it?

I immediately got the following message, nicely formatted, suitable for print, on the screen:  “This is not a boarding pass. You will need to complete your check in at the airport kiosk.” I printed the page just so I would get something for my money.

I hit continue to log off and then got the message “Would you like to print a receipt?”  I could not help but start laughing. Should I print it and cut my cost to $1.50 a page?  Or stand pat?  Final cost $3.36 with tax.

I don’t want to hear “there is no money in print”.  It is all about value added applications 🙂

A Message to Vendors: The ROI of Events

Being in the event business a great deal of discussion with vendors focuses on return on investment of marketing dollars. When a vendor is looking at participating in an event or trade show, they are not familiar with, they always ask a litany of questions and justifiably so: How many attendees, what are their titles, what is included in the price, what vertical markets, and so on and so on.

All valid questions asked by a smart marketing department who are funding the event, from their limited budget.

Once the questions are answered and it is determined the show is a fit the company agrees to participate. The big day(s) comes and goes and then what?

I am starting to realize that what happens after a show varies dramatically from company to company. One would think the leads generated at the event would be a “number 1” priority for ANY company. Strike while the iron is hot, but this is not always the case.  Here are a few scenarios that I have encountered:

• A company has a system. They distribute leads when they return from a show and have a system for tracking to determine ROI. (they track through the complete sell cycle)

• A company has no system. They distribute the leads to sales reps and have no system of tracking to determine the ROI. Leads may or may not be followed up on, and no real determination of ROI is made.

• A company does not follow up (Hard to imagine, but it does happen more than you would imagine)

• A company that has a system (scenario 1) and tracks ROI can make valid and justifiable decisions about a show. Companies who represent scenarios 2 and 3 are usually the first to say the ROI wasn’t good and blame it on the event. (No kidding!)

There are several issues:

• The marketing department is funding events and trade shows. If sales does not report back on the results (and marketing does not insist they do) marketing does not want to invest. (Who can blame them)

• If sales leads are not followed up on, there is no business, no pipeline. (Brilliant deduction. Came up with that myself.)

• You and your company lose credibility and you REALLY tick off the people that took the time to visit you and who were expecting follow up information.  (I have heard people complain, which is why I am writing this blog.)

Have you ever attended an event or tradeshow, expected follow up information and were not contacted?

What is a document?

A few years ago I was writing an article on the document industry. As I sat in my office my daughter, who was about six at that time, asked me what I was doing. When I told her that I was writing something for a magazine about the document industry, she asked me what a document was.

It’s funny, but until that moment I really did not give much thought to it, but with all that was happening with technology did we really know what our industry defines as a document?

I  quickly gathered a few items, a CD, magazine, newspaper, an old  spreadsheet and a picture and then asked her “what do you think is a document?”  She gazed at the items for a few seconds and pointed to the spreadsheet, with a big smile on her face, proclaiming “that one!”

When I asked her why, she replied “That is a CD, that is a magazine, a newspaper and a picture, and I didn’t know what to call that” pointing to the spreadsheet.

Made me smile, and think at the same time “what really is a document”?  That was three years ago. Well, I began my book “The Future of the Document Industry” and the definition is paramount to the content of the book, so I needed to give it another go.

I decided the best place to start is looking it up in the dictionary, which in itself is an interesting exercise. I consulted the 1913 webster dictionary. I thought I would read the classic definition of a “paper document” but Mr. Webster was actually pretty smart leaving open the doors for the future. Interesting was the use of the phrase “or other instrument conveying information in the case;

Websters 1913 dictionary:

doc´u`ment  –  Pronunciation: dǒk´ũ`ment  An original or official paper relied upon as the basis, proof, or support of anything else; – in its most extended sense, including any writing, book, or other instrument conveying information in the case; any material substance on which the thoughts of men are represented by any species of conventional mark or symbol.

Saint Luke . . . collected them from such documents and testimonies as he . . . judged to be authentic

I then proceeded to a more contemporary source, the WordNet dictionary. A bit more progressive, but still limited. (Not as good as Webster in my opinion)

WordNet Dictionary

Document – writing that provides information especially official nature, anything serving as a representation of a person’s thinking by means of symbolic marks, a written account of ownership or obligation, computer science) a computer file that contains text (and possibly formatting instructions) using 7-bit ASCII characters.

Then I ventured to the “hip” up to date Wikipedia …. And really was disappointed

Wikipedia  

document is a work of non-fiction writing intended to store and communicate information, thus acting as a recording. Documents are often the focus and concern of business administration and government administration. The word is also used as a verb as “documenting” describes the process of making a document.

The term document may be applied to any discrete representation of meaning, but usually it refers to something physical like one or more printed pages, or to a “virtual” document in electronic (digital) format

Technology and changes in human behavior have re-defined what a document is and I believe conventional sources do not capture the changes our industry has undergone. And according to Skip, the dictionary, I define it as:

A document is anything that contains and/or conveys data, facts, thoughts, images or ideas using any media including but not limited to: paper, pictures, video, audio, touch or smell.

What is your definition of a document?

No Service Vacation

Technology sometimes just ticks me off. There is nothing more aggravating than seeing “no service” on the top left hand side of your cell phones screen. Or sitting in an airport under a “complimentary internet service provided by ABC Company” sign, and not being able to connect or waiting 2-3 minutes for a download. (thinking dial up is back)

Now try it for 2 days. No cell phone, no internet, no service. After the first 2-3 hours you start to get edgy, impatient. You look every 10-15 minutes to see if a signal will magically appear. Four to six hours later you start fearing the worst. Did I get that email, did that order come in? Finally, it’s evening and you fidget until you fall asleep.

You wake up in the morning and still no service, as if magically they installed a cell tower over night. You go for a walk to see if somewhere in this forsaken land there is a cell reception. Then the beauty of the woods hits you. To your right, the Grand Canyon and you the see your two sons suspended above the canyon. First reaction is fear, then awe. Incredible! You look around and suddenly break into laughter with people staring at you wondering what is wrong with you.

You realize how foolish your craving to be connected is. How sad it is that you were oblivious to some of the most beautiful real estate in the world. You realize your office can live for a couple days without you. After all you have a great staff, they can handle anything. The office will be there when you get back.

A calm comes over you, you turn off your phone and for 24 hours you enjoy your family and the world around you. An epiphany.

When was the last time you were disconnected, I mean really disconnected? Share your experience and thoughts.

Note: I promised my wife that our August vacation will be disconnected. Stay tuned to see how I did.

The Ultimate 1:1 Marketing Tool

A couple months ago I was walking through my dining room and noticed my daughter sitting at the table with a stack cards and envelopes in front of her. When I asked her what she was doing she replied she was “writing thank you notes for her birthday party”. After talking for a few moments I found out she needed to hand write 32 thank you cards. That is a lot of cards for a 9 year old.

For some reason my daughters efforts stuck in my mind over the next few days. When was the last time I wrote a hand written thank you note? How many email thanks you notes have I sent and how lame is it compared to a handwritten note. They are better than nothing, but it could not have the impact of a handwritten note.

Following our conference in April I decided I was going to send all 350+ attendees a personal note. It took me 2 weeks to get them done and I must admit, it was painful.

My purpose was to see if the effort to produce what could be the ultimate 1:1 marketing tool was worth it. My notes varied slightly, but I basically thanked attendees for supporting Xplor, attending the conference and hoped that I saw them at the next conference in 2012.

To my amazement dozens of people I sent notes to either sent me an email, called me or it was brought up in conversations I had with people. I am convinced is was the most effective marketing campaign we have had in a long time.

Sometimes I think we need to step back and go back to basics.

Write a couple notes, you may be surprised. (It will help the post office)

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Mail less, make more – change the model

Postal rates will impact direct mail but direct mailers have the opportunity to mail less and make more.

Direct mailers are faced with the challenge of rising postal costs, which I did not mean to trivialize in my last blog. I too owned a mail shop at one time and remember the relentless beatings by customers who would squeeze you for every dime they could.

Assuming the volume of mail is going to go down how can direct mailers increase their margins? For years direct mailers have been selling what I call “ancillary services” including selling mailing list, list cleansing, design, etc.

With new technology there is a whole new set of services and if one thinks of themselves as a “distributor” or “caretaker” of information, the possibilities expand incrementally. SMS service, archiving, EBP to name a few. There is a lot of potential here and many companies willing to partner, if these areas are foreign to you. There is huge potential here being a distributor of information.

A second thought, what if direct mailers changed the model as to how they were paid, based on success? Acceptable response rates today ranges from 3-5%. The limited amount of information available on the results you can get in Transpromo and multi-media applications, suggests that if done properly, results are many times the norm of 3-5%.

What would it be worth to a customer if I could take that response rate from 3-5% to 15 or 20%? At the same time maybe saving the customer money AND increasing their revenue.

So let’s say, as the direct mailer, I approach a customer. They want to send out up to 100,000 pieces of mail for an offer for a $50k sports car. They want to sell 50 cars.

We establish a detailed demographic profile, create a program specifically for their demographics, which could include multi-media, SMS, purls, etc. Through the demographic profiling we found 65k qualified. Because of the profiling, creative work, multi-media marketing the response was 15%.

• If done properly you made money on the lists, creative, adding purls, maybe OMR codes, SMS service, transpromo design (just made that up), but you get the idea.

• The customer saved money by mailing less and received a higher response rate. But even if the cost to the customer was the they did get a higher response.

• If the customer spent the same $$$ (or less on print and mail) you made additional revenue, with most likely lower costs in the ancillary multi-media approach.

Why not change the model and share in the success. Why not say “The 65k pieces will cost you cost X and anything over a 5% response I receive Y. Or if you sell the 50 cars I get Z.”

Sounds over the edge? I know someone who does this. And it works.

It is about who controls the data: become a distributor of information who just happens to also print. There is a lot of money in data and content.

Think outside the box.

Baseball and Direct Mail….

Last week I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine who owns a direct mailhouse. It wasn’t long before we were talking about the “future of direct mail business” –  in fact based on his outlook I questioned why he did not sell now and get out.

I sat for almost a half hour listening to why post office rate increases are going to kill the industry followed closely by the demise of direct mail due to digital communications. (BLAH, BLAH, BLAH)

His jaw nearly dropped to the floor when I insinuated maybe it was his fault! What other industry can you boast of a 3-5% success rate (or a 95-97% failure rate if you are glass ½ empty person) and feel good about.  Even baseball players who strike out 70-80% of the time offer better percentages.

So what is going to happen to the direct mail industry?  Postal rates will impact direct mail but direct mailers have the opportunity to mail less and make more.

What are your thoughts?

Next blog: Mail less, make more and bat 300

Visionary or Visualist?

I am always amused when I hear someone use the word visionary, particularly since I believe that true visionaries are few and far between.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition of VISIONARY is: 1: one whose ideas or projects are impractical: dreamer 2: one who sees visions : seer 3: one having unusual foresight and imagination.

The first visionary that comes to my mind is Jules Verne, he was a dreamer and his ideas were certainly impractical for the time.  Just one example of Jules Verne’s visionary capabilities: (and this is a bit spooky)

Taken from “How Jules Verne Invented NASA”

A hundred years ago, Jules Verne wrote a book about a voyage to the Moon. His spaceship, Columbia, took off from Florida and landed in the Pacific Ocean after completing a trip to the Moon.

  • Verne estimated that the mission would have cost his day’s equivalent to $12.1 billion. Surprisingly spot on–the Apollo program up through Apollo 8 (the first manned vehicle to circumnavigate the moon) cost $14.4 billion.
  • As with Verne’s book, that mission also had a crew of three astronauts. Verne’s were named Ardan, Barbicane, and Nicholl–Apollo 8’s were Anders, Borman and Lovell
  • The launch occurred 132 miles from the site of Verne’s prediction.

For more information visit here

We all can’t be visionaries but we can be visualists!

There is a great deal of latitude for us all to be visualists. Look visualist up, google it, look in the dictionary and your results will vary. And it really does not matter.  I have decided to put a stake in the ground and share with you MY idea of what a visualist is.

A visualist is a person who: 1.) assumes the natural evolution of something, 2.) draws conclusions and 3.) acts upon them

The evolution could be a variety of things such as technology, human behavior, government regulation, aging, you name it!

Just a few simple examples of natural evolutions and conclusions in the document space:

  • Postage rates will continue to increase, so mail volume will decrease.
  • Storage and archiving requirements will increase so more content will be stored and accessed on the web.
  • The next generation (Generation Z, born in the early 90’s) communicates mainly via text and mobile communications and most likely will never receive a printed bill.

None of this is rocket science and if each of you look at your businesses (or your personal lives) you can identify natural progressions or trends and draw conclusions. You may already have done it. The most important aspect of being a visualist is to act. Each one of the examples above represents opportunity.

If you print bills and statements, you can resolve yourself to the fact that mail volume will decrease due to postage costs and let your business shrink or you can offer ancillary services for mobile delivery and archiving and storage services OR increase the value of the mail piece so the postage cost is insignificant. (or both).

Every business has a natural evolution, conclusions that can be drawn that present opportunity. Close your eyes, visualize and enjoy the ride!

Next blog …. Can you make postage costs  insignificant!

Band of Entrepreneurs

In my last blog I indicated I would address the concept of visionary and visualist but I decided to write about a recent ING meeting I attended.

Last Saturday I had the privilege of meeting and addressing the Imaging Network Group (INg), a band of entrepreneurial service bureaus (print for pay) that grew from Xplor.

What is interesting about this group is they meet and openly discuss issues affecting their businesses and share their successes and failures in dealing with them. This despite the fact that they probably have become competitors due to the internet.

Their companies vary in size but most are considered small businesses. Their capabilities vary, but all print transactional documents and direct mail. They have  always pushed the envelope in terms of applications and driving new products.

These people get it. They know technology is changing how we communicate and look at these changes as an opportunity. They wrestle with new technology, find out how to apply it, offer it as a service.

The underlining theme I saw in the brief time that I was there listening to presentations was the importance of accurate data, delivery of relevant information and offering output in a variety of media.  Delivering the right message to the right person at the right time in a format that the recipient chooses to receive it.

These are “glass half full” people who do not subscribe to the demise of an industry but the opportunity to be part of a changing one.  This is what our industry needs to embrace.

Next blog … are you a visionary of visualist?