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


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?

Printing is not dead, it is different

Yesterday I responded to someone on LinkedIN  who asked  “What do you think the future of production print is?” I shared my thoughts, which depending on how you read it, could be a glass half full / half empty scenario.

Let me clearly state “As an industry printing is alive and well and has a future.”  I am banking on it as still have two children at home (one being eight) and need to get them through college.

Two factors that will define the opportunity are:  technology and the changes in human behavior that technology drives.  What the industry is facing is no different than when the invention of the printing press occurred. Bibles were “copied” longhand by monks prior to the invention of the printing press.

In the 1450’s Johann Gensfleisch (Guttenberg’s birth name) invented the movable type
printing press and the first book reportedly  printed was the Latin bible in Mainz Germany. Other dialects were not printed until the early 1500’s due to politics. For more info visit:  http://www.greatsite.com/timeline-english-bible-history/

So what when on?  I am sure the monks felt their “careers” in printing was over. Some may have embraced the” technology” and learn how to run a press. The rest, simply did something else, like make wine. Other dialects were delayed due to politics, a form of human behavior, in those days anyway. Technology and human behavior drove the mass distribution of the bible.

We all have the same option today, embrace the new technology, understand it and create new uses and applications. Or not.  There is a future. In my next blog posting I will go into this in more detail. Hint: Are you a visualist?


Has technology made us too accessible?

Technology like anything else, it can be a blessing and a curse.

Taking a look at technology advances in the last 20 or so years it has done a great deal to increase productivity. We can now receive and send email from anywhere in the world at any time. We can receive messages, as well as email, on a device that once was a “just a phone” but has become so much more.

Every day we communicate via email, text, social networks, facebook, twitter, just to name a few. In fact the average person has very few excuses for not being accessible.

But have we as individuals become too accessible?

Being able to get that last minute proposal out or helping solve a problem at work certainly qualifies as a blessing and is extremely helpful and productive. But I find more and more that the technology is consuming us and not only affecting us but the people around us.

Nothing grates me more than when I am sitting in a meeting that someone invited me to attend and they are constantly looking at their “smart phone” or asking to be excused to take a call. Is anyone or anything so important that they can’t focus and tune-in for a short period of time?

A few changes I have made:

1.) I have created “my time” each day. Turn off my phone, rid myself of outside distractions and do what I want or need to get done. Could be personal or business related.

2.) I never talk on my phone when I am in a line somewhere anymore. Believe me the cashier appreciates it.

3.) I make it a point to turn off my cell phone at meetings, in front of all. It shows them you value their time and they have your attention.

Try this and let me know how it goes. Next time you are in a meeting, try turning off your phone. If you are in line at a grocery store, smile and say hello to the cashier.

Is being accessible affecting who you are?

Information Overload?

Every day we are bombarded with information. Years ago it was mainly restricted to advertisements, billboards, direct mail and the annoying telemarketing calls that seem to come every evening at dinner time.

With the evolution of technology the amount of information we receive daily has become exponential. Most of us have several email accounts, Facebook, SMS on our phones, twitter, social networks, blogs, etc. etc.

This phenomena has driven a changes in human behavior. We all always sorted through information but due to the amount of information we now we received we have become “high speed” human sorting machines whereby we look at something and in a matter of 1-2 seconds determine if we continue or discard. If we continue, typically we dedicate another 5-10 seconds, before we make a final determination of the relevance of the information.

This presents challenges for companies trying to communicate with their customers (who will give you a bit more time) as well as  a broader audience of “prospects .” Their Question, “how do I get their attention?”  The answer, it is all relevant. The selection process is driven by relevance.

More in future posts.