What a Little Red Muppet Can Teach Startups

Do your children love Elmo? Depending on their ages, chances are they do. Few things bring more delight to children across the country than seeing the furry red character come on screen to sing or explore with children during the special segment, “Elmo’s World.”

Elmo is known for his fun-loving personality, his friendship with the other characters, and his tendency to use the third person, even when referring to himself. Elmo is a Sesame Streetphenomenon, a favorite among preschoolers, and a popular toy and collectible as well. What many fans don’t realize, however, is how close Elmo came to never even having a name. Blog-unnamed

Elmo comes to life

The voice actor Kevin Clash is largely credited for creating Elmo. Although the Muppet had been in use in the 1970s, it was difficult for other members of the cast to create a real personality and background for the little red guy. When Clash took over in the early 1980s, the story behind Elmo began to develop. He developed the personality quirks and voice for the character, and the writers began to be inspired to write the background and story for Elmo.

Clash began to bring Elmo to television appearances, and eventually Elmo became famous for even testifying before Congress. As Elmo grew in fame off the screen, he also began playing a much larger role on the show itself. The segment “Elmo’s World” arrived in the 1990s, along with the famous Tickle-Me-Elmo doll and a variety of other popular movies and toys. Now it’s impossible to imagine Sesame Street without him.

What we can all learn from Elmo 

You wouldn’t know from the number of books, movies, toys, and television appearances centered around Elmo how close the world came to never meeting this famous red character. The same could be said for any business or startup. Every new company can identify with the little red Muppet, sitting in the corner without much of a personality or backstory, but still trying to get out on the main stage.

The trick to success is to take what Elmo has taught us: that with determination, animation, love, and perseverance we can all make it to the top. No one handed Kevin Clash and Elmo their success. It was born out of inspiration and creativity. These qualities can help any company develop the reputation they need to become leaders.

Even though Elmo did not really make his way to the front and center until more than a decade after the show had begun, he has still gained a solid position as one of the main voices ofSesame Street.

In much the same way, no industry is ever entirely filled or has leaders so established that a newcomer cannot become an industry great. This should inspire those trying to break into their respective industries and remind those who are at the top that they should never take their position for granted. All companies should be working to remain on the cutting edge of what customers need.

Elmo is the furry red Muppet that has captured the hearts of children and adults for over two decades. While children may learn lessons from him about sharing and being a good friend, adults, too, can take away ideas that may help lead them in the business world. Elmo has asserted himself as an industry leader directly due to his creativity and determination, and he should serve as an icon of what these qualities can accomplish today for all of us.

Skating Towards Success

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The winter Olympics are quickly approaching, and people around the world are preparing to tune in and watch their nations’ athletes compete on the international level. The athletes are an amazing testimony to what the human body is capable of, and they often leave the rest of us breathless as we watch them complete complex maneuvers seemingly effortlessly.

One event that helps to truly capture both the strength and coordination of an athlete with flawless beauty is figure skating. Those competing are able to keep themselves perfectly balanced on thin blades while racing around the ice dancing and spinning. The performances are often inspirational, and the process these skaters take to reach this level is nothing short of incredible.

The training process

Often from a very young age, figure skaters who have begun to compete on increasingly higher skill levels will wake up before dawn, just to get a few hours of practice in before they attend school. Once school lets out, they’re back on the ice, rehearsing and training for several hours before homework and bed.

As with many other elite athletes, homeschooling is not unheard of — to give these hopefuls more time to train. Olympic dreams are what propel these athletes forward, and when we see them step out on the ice this winter, those years of preparation will come to fruition in that one moment in time.

One of the most important people in the lives of these young athletes is always the coach. Parents, friends, and family members can all offer support along with help getting the skater to their practices and competitions, but no one can compare to the coach when it comes to the potential success of the athlete. There are as many coaching styles and theories as there are people, and no one athlete is guaranteed to work well with a particular coach. The right coach and athlete relationship, however, has the potential to maximize the athlete’s career.

What we can learn from Olympic figure skaters

For many business professionals, tasks that don’t produce an immediately tangible result (such as marketing or networking) are the hardest to invest their time. Many of us would much rather focus on the business in front of us, even though solid marketing and networking offer us genuine room to grow.

We need to think like figure skaters. When they’re getting up at3:30 or 4:00 am to go train, they don’t know for sure they’re ever going to see the international stage. It might be years before they have the skills to travel and compete. This doesn’t stop them or discourage them. Even when they don’t see results right away, they keep trying until they succeed.

Similarly, success in business is never a one-person job. No one person is going to bring a company to the top, and no athlete can will themselves to the gold. In the same way, success in business means being careful and selective about who we choose as partners and allies. Solid partners can make an enormous difference in a company’s growth and success, as we’re able to trust these allies to have our best interest in mind.

As we all settle on our couches this winter to watch these amazing athletes from around the world, we should remember the work they enthusiastically did to get there, and it should inspire us. We can use that same work ethic to help bring our companies forward until we also obtain the gold.

Preparing a Sales and Marketing Plan for 2014

As the year draws to a close, many companies are preparing to review and develop their marketing plans for 2014. A solid marketing plan will articulate a vision for the company in the new year, including how the group is going to expand and what the revenue goals should be. Developing a solid plan requires quite a bit of forethought and planning. Here are the three steps that businesses should use to get themselves prepared for the upcoming year.

1. Determine where the company is going

It’s not enough to simply say that the company is going to make a certain amount of money in the upcoming year. A goodmarketing plan will determine what markets, geographical areas, and populations the business can expand into and how that will affect revenue. There should also be estimations about how much the company is depending upon past customers returning and what percentage can realistically be expected to spend again.

2. See how the company is going to get there

This will encompass the company’s plan to generate revenue and meet the goals described in step one. In 2014, there are a variety of marketing techniques that should be considered. A company can produce excellent copy or presentations, but without a solid, well-rounded marketing campaign, it will go nowhere. Everyone knows about the importance of working online, but many neglect the print world. Yet a stunning 73 percent of customers prefer to receive printed announcements rather than email announcements from their preferred brands. Consider some of the following marketing techniques.

Direct mail

According to Target Marketing magazine, direct mail had the highest rating for customer acquisition, contact, and retention ROI. One of the biggest problems companies face with direct mail is that few people are experienced with the medium and how to run a campaign. If this sounds familiar, work with someone who is used to this type of print marketing.

Print advertising

Customers have indicated that they prefer paper ads, especially when shopping. An estimated 69 percent of shoppers depend on newspapers for information about brands and deals.

Integrated marketing

Many people use their smart devices for nearly everything. While print advertising is effective, it often works best when integrated with online campaigns. For example, include QR codes on pamphlets to take people to the company website or ordering page. This will drive traffic and help you reach across demographics to include everyone on and offline.

3. Measure progress and revise when necessary

Schedule benchmarks throughout the year to see how well the company is reaching its goals. These benchmarks should be reasonable and take into account how much time marketing techniques require to be effective. For example, a new direct mail campaign may not be as effective when it is first launched. After a few mailings, however, customers may begin to recognize the brand and give it more recognition.

At the same time, the team must be willing to revise when necessary. If the company is falling short, examine the ROI of different lead generation and conversion techniques. See if revisions are possible or if the budget money would be better allocated elsewhere. If the company is surpassing expectations, revise expectations so as not to shortchange what the company is capable of producing.

Developing a successful marketing campaign is an important step in preparing a company for the upcoming year. Taking the time to research and create a practical plan will give everyone a clear picture of the expectations and will guide the business to the next level.

Benefits of Bringing in the Experts

Benefits of Bringing in the Experts

As business owners, we count on experts to save us time and money. On any given day, we might consult a financial adviser to help us with a major purchase or investment strategy. Or we might hire a sales trainer to oversee the development of our sales team or the implementation of a new sales strategy. Or perhaps we might engage a management consultant to look for ways to run our companies more effectively.

Whatever the need, it seems, an expert is there, ready to help.

One area where expert advice can be especially helpful is your company’s marketing. Consulting an expert early in the planning process can not only save you time but also help you hone your campaign so it reaches just the right audience with a message they’re ready to hear.

Unfortunately, trends in advertising and marketing can change at the drop of a hat. To make matters worse, what works well for one company or industry might not be right for another. Working with an expert who studies trends, yet also knows how to use more traditional means effectively, will help you decide which trends are worth your time and which to avoid. Their guidance can save you the time and effort involved in chasing bad opportunities.

So where can you find experts to help you grow your business? Start with your key suppliers, like us! After all, helping you become successful is in our best interest, too. The stronger your company gets, the more opportunity for shared success and growth. So tap in our expertise whenever you can.

First and foremost, one of the ways the success of our partnership is that the closer we work with you, the more we understand your goals and business requirements. It is very difficult to help give advice, when we don’t see the whole picture.

When you augment your own staff with a group of trusted experts from other fields, you strengthen your business in the most cost-efficient way. You get expert advice without adding to your payroll or ongoing business expenses. And that’s a win for everyone.

Branding on a Budget: Four Steps for Brand Consistency

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All companies can benefit from developing a consistent brand image. The brand definition and features may encompass everything from logos to color palettes to fonts, but it must be maintained consistently across marketing collateral, presentations, correspondence, and proposals. Your brand image may even influence your office décor, if you have logos or product photos as part of your furnishings. Keeping everything in sync is difficult, especially as time passes and the company grows or expands its product line. Here are a few tips to help you keep your brand elements consistent.1. Develop a logo.
In the long run, it pays to have a professionally created company or brand logo as the centerpiece of your company’s identity. A custom logo doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should be simple, eye-catching, and unique.

Unless you’re a graphic artist or you already have a great one on staff, work with a designer for logo creation. While there are libraries of standard logos you can choose from, it’s worth it to have a logo custom designed by an experienced graphic artist who can capture the essence of your business. Try to resist the temptation to design your own logo using PowerPoint or a similar program because it will probably always look amateurish. You also won’t be able to generate all the different file types you need for various media.

2. Pick a color scheme.
Once you’ve found a graphic designer to work with, ask him or her to create a corporate color scheme for you while they’re working on the logo. The color scheme should include two or three colors that coordinate well together, and it should include light and dark shade variations of the chosen colors.

The experienced eye of a graphic artist will come up with fresh designs and color schemes that you’ll love, even though you might not have considered them on your own. When you settle on your colors, you can ask the designer to provide the Pantone color code values and the CMYK equivalents to prevent inconsistencies that occasionally occur if people try to “eyeball” the correct shade on future documents.

3. Create a style set and templates.
If you use page layout or word processing applications, you’ll want to create a custom style set that includes fonts, heading styles, margins, and spacing defaults so your documents always have a consistent look and feel. A graphic artist’s expertise will come in handy here, too, by giving your documents an appealing look.

Consider installing the style set for new employees when they join your company, or have IT set them up for you, so employees automatically create consistently formatted documents and presentations. It’s a huge time saver when you don’t have to reformat every document before publishing it.

4. Post a branding “book” or style guide.
A style guide doesn’t have to be complex, but it does need to make the guidelines for logo usage and other branding elements clear. To help ensure consistency, include the standards for color values, official product and company names, and links to corporate templates. It only makes sense to have a style guide if employees will use it, so try to keep it simple if you can.

Creating a recognizable brand requires consistency to avoid muddying brand identity. By following a few guidelines, you can help ensure that prospective customers will instantly recognize your brand.

Words Your Customers Love to Hear

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Words Your Customers Love to Hear

Next time you’re creating a marketing promotion, you may want to include one of these “magic” words that customers most love to hear:

    • Guarantee. Not only does a guarantee show confidence in your products, but it also removes the risk of trying your product, giving potential customers the added persuasion to purchase your product over another.
    • Instantly, immediately, or fast. We all love fast results or solutions, so it’s no surprise that people love instant gratification.
    • New. Today’s society is always on the lookout for the latest and greatest products available. However, be aware that the novelty of “new” can wear off. After a while, customers often fall back to their familiar, tried-and-true products again.
    • Save. Saving money is something that everyone wants to do. Whether you offer an exclusive savings promotion, a discounted package deal, or even a money-saving coupon, your customers will be listening.
    • Discover. The word “discover” offers a promise of something more to come. Like unwrapping a gift on your birthday, discoveries always bring a sense of excitement and adventure.
    • Easy. People love to purchase things that are easy to figure out, easy to assemble, easy to manage, and so on. The less effort required by the customer, the better.
    • Free. Although the word “free” is often overused, it continues to be the number-one attention-getting word. Use it sparingly and only when you truly have something free to offer with no strings attached, such as a free sample, free trial, free shipping, or buy-one-get-one-free deal.

Keeping Leads Alive and Healthy

Keeping Leads Alive and Healthy

No business can thrive without leads to drive sales. While finding quality leads is challenging enough, maintaining and converting those leads can be even more difficult. As you think about your sales strategy for the new year, consider these ideas for keeping prospective buyers interested and active.

Take Your Time
Nobody wants to feel as though they’re being overtly sold a particular product or pressured into making a buying decision that might not be right for them. Yet many sales reps are very quick to launch right into a sales pitch or offer quick-fix solutions without fully understanding a prospect’s needs. This approach tends to turn off a lot of prospects and quickly kill leads.

Who are you to them?

Who are you to them?

Instead of launching right into your sales speech, start the conversation without broaching the subject of sales at all. For example, if the lead came from a list of customers who are using an outdated software system, begin by asking how the current system is working for them. Some companies may not even realize that they should consider updating. Approaching the subject from this perspective can seem less pushy and help the prospective customer feel more comfortable talking with you. From there, you can gradually ease into a more sales-oriented conversation.

Build Rapport
Get to know your prospect and their particular needs before discussing budgets and product specifications. Then tailor your approach accordingly. Establish rapport and let your customer see that you have a genuine interest in solving their problem, not just making a sale. Even if you don’t make an immediate sale, your prospect will leave the meeting with a more positive impression of your company and will be more likely to turn to you when they’re ready to make a purchase in the future.

Follow Up
Don’t make your first meeting with a prospect your last contact with that person. Follow up to remind them what you talked about and to keep your name top of mind. A poll conducted byB2B Marketing Magazine found that 69 percent of buyers preferred to have companies follow up with them through e-mail. Telephone follow-up finished a distant second, at 17 percent. SCi Sales Group found that 52 percent of buyers expected a call back from companies within one day, and another 36 percent said they expected to hear back from a company within five days. Failure to meet buyers’ expectations on these issues can result in a variety of missed opportunities.

Resurrecting Dead Leads
Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, leads die. Some, however, can still be resurrected. Successfully generating sales from a dead lead requires tact and the right tools.

Once a lead has gone cold, it can be difficult to determine if the prospect still has a need for your product. Your first step should be to determine this potential. Remember again that prospects don’t appreciate pushy sales tactics. Instead, try sending a brief, one or two line email to determine if they’re still interested in your product. If the response is positive, follow up right away with a phone call, asking for a time to sit down and meet. In your meeting, steer the conversation toward the prospect’s needs and solving their problems, rather than focusing on your product or pushing for a sale.

Keeping leads alive and healthy is an important part of doing business. In the rush to get as many leads as possible, it’s easy to let some leads die. These leads, however, can be a major source of revenue for your company. Learning how to keep leads alive or save those that have gone cold is an important skill… and one that can improve your company’s bottom line.

copywriting

About Your Copy

Before we start, let’s get one thing clear. This post is not about the copies we make for you on our copy machines. It’s about the copy (text) that appears on your website and in your promotional materials. No matter what type of business you run, copy affects every part of your business. It’s the cornerstone of your marketing, and it affects the executive team, the HR department, and every aspect of the organization.

How?Computers86489256

To answer that question, let’s first take a look at what copy is and what it is not. Copywriting is the act of producing written text (copy). It’s not the same as “copyright,” which refers to one’s legal right to produce and publish content. Wikipedia explains copywriting as “writing copy (text) for the purpose of advertising or marketing. The copy is meant to persuade someone to buy a product or influence their beliefs.”

That second part is especially important because it’s the key differentiator between success and failure in copywriting. Weak copy will be thrown in the trash, while good copy will move the recipient to the desired action you want them to take. This applies not only to advertising and marketing but to any type of business and even personal communication.

Effective copywriting is sometimes referred to as “a salesman in print.” It can be seen in brochures, billboards, websites, emails, TV and radio ads, catalogs, and many other places where the goal is to move someone to a desired action. That action might be purchasing your product, engaging with your company, or picking up the phone to request more information. In short, copywriting is all about making the recipient move and act.

Copywriting dates all the way back to the nineteenth century, when the newspaper industry was beginning to boom. At that time, copywriting referred to the words written by journalist being copied from their desk into the newspaper. Times may have changed, but copywriting is as crucial now in helping to sell your products as it was then in helping to sell newspapers.

Good copywriting answers the problem of how to get more sales.

Two big buzzwords today are content marketing and inbound marketing. Both essentially refer to copywriting. While effective copywriting is part science and part art, the fact is that anyone can create copy that moves people to act. Well-crafted copywriting doesn’t need to be full of hype or written with bold typefaces and capitalization that beats people over the head.

There are three basic steps you can take to create compelling copy.

1. Know your audience. It should be a given that you know exactly who you’re creating the copy for. The more you know about your target audience, the easier it will be to create powerful copy. A demographic profile can help you not only create your copy but also know who you will be sending that content to. The following are some examples of data you’ll find in a demographic profile:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Family Status
  • Income
  • Occupation
  • Interests

2. Focus on them, not you. Everyone wants to be the center of attention. This applies in copywriting as well. The focus should be on the recipient, not how great you are. Your copy should answer the question: How will the products and services you offer benefit your customers and make their lives easier? Your copy must be able to answer the #1 question in every recipient’s head: “What’s in it for me?” In terms of copywriting, your product or service is far less important than its ability to fulfill your customers’ needs.

3. Always include a call to action. Always. No matter what marketing medium you use to send and communicate the copy, there should always be a call to action. Never assume that the recipient will know what you want them to do next. Tell them exactly what the next step should be. Should they call, fill out a form, or visit your showroom? Make it crystal clear.

It takes time, skill, practice, and patience to become a master copywriter. For businesses that want to produce effective copy that moves people to act, following these three simple steps can go a long way toward achieving that goal. Communication tools may be expanding and evolving, but one thing will never change: the need for good, effective copywriting. Bad content produced across multiple marketing channels will work just as poorly as it did across one.

Change the words used to communicate your uniqueness and to tell your story, and you will change your business.

Times They are a Changin’

changes - ahead - 158684586If your business is planning to rebrand itself (whether through a name change, a new logo, a business merger, or some other means), remember the name and/or logo is not the only thing that changes. Rebranding can be a large-scale operation that involves effort from multiple departments. While your to-do list may seem endless, here are a few of the top items to consider to ensure your rebranding process runs smoothly:

    • Create a list of all printed collateral that needs to be updated (such as letterhead, envelopes, business cards, flyers, brochures, labels, forms, notepads, and packaging). Give us a call anytime if you have questions about turnaround times, company colors, logo changes, quantity purchase discounts, or anything else related to your printing needs.
    • Update your trade show booth, banners, posters, giveaways, company pens, name-tags, and other trade show related materials.
    • Keep customers in the loop by mailing “we’re changing our name” postcards, including a blurb in your newsletter, and providing social media mentions (among other things).
    • Update employee bios. Add your new name to each employee’s company bio to show the transition. For example, “Mark Davis has worked at XYZ Company since it was founded in 1989, when it was called ABC Company.”
    • Change your name and logo on invoices, accounting templates, quote preparation software, and other types of reporting software.
    • If you’re considering a web domain name change, make sure the new domain name is available before switching, and then set up your old web address to forward automatically to your new website to ensure a smooth transition.
    • Update email addresses and consider using an auto-responder to remind people to update their email address books. Also update email signatures and inform readers your address will be changing so they can update their spam blockers — especially if you send email newsletters.
    • Ensure your phone service provider has the correct company name, so it shows up correctly on caller ID.
    • Inform all professional organizations, business groups, subscription services, and other interested parties of your name change.
    • Update on-hold marketing messages and voice mail messages. Consider using both names with a greeting such as: “Thanks for calling XYZ Company, formerly known as ABC Company.”

We know that rebranding can be a daunting task, but you don’t need to go it alone. Our team of printing professionals can help you every step of the way. When it comes to updating your print collateral, we’re here to help, from developing creative new ideas to carrying the finished products to your document storage area. Give us a call today.

How to Produce Stellar Ad Copy in the Post-PC Era

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These days, the Internet has asserted its ubiquity on everything from social media and e-commerce to the way consumers communicate and get information. That said, printing and paper-based marketing are still strong — and that’s not about to change anytime soon. In this context, it’s either you adapt your ad copy to a mix of printing and digital or see your business fall by the wayside.

We don’t want that last part, do we?

Here are a few key items to consider as you gradually reshuffle your mixture of print and electronic copy.

Understand the cross-device reality
The first thing to understand is the notion of “cross-device” reality. That means your ad content must be accessible and sharable across devices as diverse as personal computers, tablets, smartphones, and notebooks, as well as on the printed page. For example, if you produce a sales letter you plan to mail and make accessible online, make sure you also make it readable on mobile devices. Specialists call this “responsive design,” meaning you optimize your content to be viewable on all types of devices.

Don’t forget shrink-proof paragraphs
Create shorter paragraphs to prevent the shrinkage that typically happens when you move from one browser to another or from a desktop to a smartphone or tablet. Believe it or not, a six or seven line paragraph on a desktop computer might appear fuzzy on a handheld device, turning it into an unreadable chunk that could only confuse and exacerbate your prospects and customers. So make your paragraphs concise and straight to the point. Ideally, you’ll want to limit yourself to around 250-400 characters. If possible, you can even adopt the “Twitter rule” and make the paragraph less than or equal to 140 characters.

Speak to the device
Marketers always say it’s all about content, content, content. It may be time to start thinking device, device, device. But remember that good old paper-based copy doesn’t come with device-compatibility constraints. That’s one reason experts continue to recommend non-electronic promotion as an added tactic. For electronic messaging, though, it’s imperative to consider your audience and the various devices they use to access it.

For example, someone checking your ad copy on a smartphone could be at a party or on their way home. Conversely, promotional content you send via desktop email will be read by consumers at work, home, school, and so forth. You get the point. The reader can’t be on the go with their PC. The issue of device compatibility is so important that even Google has spoken about it. The bottom line: adapt your ad copy to your target audience, their preferences, and the devices on which they’re more likely to read your ad copy.

Love modularity
Make your ad copy modular. You won’t regret it. Modular text is content that is not clearly stated in the initial ad copy, but that unfolds when the user shows interest in it or explores it. For example, say you run a fashion e-commerce portal and are running a campaign offering discounts on shoes. You can place modular content next to the footwear, so shoppers interested in, say, matching pants and shirts can buy these items as well.

Heed the power of structure
Structure is very important when it comes to producing stellar ad copy. The buzzword in the industry is content choreography, meaning the way you embed things like text, audio, video, and infographics into your content. You can structure your ad content the way you want, but make sure you keep three key things in mind: a clear description of your product or service; benefits or added value; and a call to action.

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