Veterans Use the Internet to Expand Skill Set and Boost Income

Happy Veteran US Army
As a war veteran, Shane Thomason knows firsthand what it feels like to experience victory in battle. After being home for nearly ten years from the Iraqi War, Thomason now spends his time giving back to the community and expanding his occupational skill set via the internet. Owning more than 250 websites, including RandomVeteran.com, Thomason enjoys working from home and has found much success in being able to sell unique t-shirts and other novelty items online.

Thomason isn’t the only veteran taking advantage of the internet to boost his annual income. There are veterans located all across the globe who sell items and services online as a way to supplement their earnings, and for many of them, they simply do this for the same reason Thomason does — to pass the time and keep their minds occupied.

A former civil engineer for the US Navy, Zachary Scheel, says, “Veterans are comfortable operating in high-pressure environments that are changing rapidly, where they’re constantly forced to make decisions with incomplete information.” And while many common internet users may not think of the online world as being high-pressure, Thomason is sure to tell you different. From selling websites at exactly the right moment to creating content on a consistent basis, operating businesses and sites online is a full-time job that requires much attention, and more so, much intelligence.

There are many skills learned through the military and overseas that can be used in business. Six of the most valuable skills veterans can carry over from the battlefield are integrity, dependability, sharp decision-making, the initiative to go above and beyond, tenacity, and adaptability. The capability to take advantage of technology is also another skill that veterans are familiar with, making them all the more apt to find success. Whether it be learning new software or performing website coding, veterans often have a knack for training themselves.

Thomason wrote articles for his local newspaper, the Grayson County News Gazette, while serving in Iraq, which greatly improved his ability to write and has translated into an exceptional skill for being able to create web content, including home pages and product descriptions, which he uses to sell t-shirts and other items on RandomVeteran.com.

One of Thomason’s most valuable pieces of advice to other veterans who are considering using their skills for work is not to become a recluse. Thomason says, “helping the community by being actively involved is the primary way I am able to sustain peace in my life. Sure, working from home is great, but getting out in the community and working with the children and other veterans is what keeps me moving forward from one day to the next.” Thomason is the Commander of American Legion Post 81 and spends a great deal of time giving back to his community when he is not working.

Generating business is simple when veterans take advantage of the existing skill set that they acquired while serving in the military. Veterans can also find an abundance of resources available to them. From online training courses to website builders, many of these resources are available free of charge because they have served in the military.


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AR, VR, and Other Ways to Use Technology in a Print Campaign

QRticketsFrom the affordable headsets that take users into another setting or world via virtual reality to games like Pokémon Go and even children’s coloring pages, technology is impacting the way we live and seek out entertainment. It may seem like virtual or augmented reality is firmly fixed in the digital world (and therefore of no interest to those who create and use printed pieces), but a surprising amount of technology can be incorporated into printed media.

Augmented Reality and Printing

Augmented reality technology provides an overly to the “real world” you can see via your phone’s camera, adding digital elements to the space around you. Pokémon GO is the best recent example of AR in action, and retailers like IKEA also use it to allow you to see what furniture pieces would look like in your own home.

Adding AR elements to your printed pieces gives people a whole new way to interact with your postcards, business cards, catalogs, and more. It also adds an element of fun and makes it more likely that the recipient of the piece will want to hang onto it and even show it off.

While not everyone will “get” AR right away, recent hits like Pokémon Go show that AR can be accepted by a wide group of ages and demographics. From including an interactive game in your materials (as Toys R Us did in a recent catalog) to using a playful mascot or other element, creative use of AR can help your printed piece make a splash in the real world.

QR Codes

Those little square barcodes are an ideal match for printed pieces and can bring visitors to your site. Since QR codes are designed to be read with a smartphone, you give the person holding your printed material the ability to visit your site in an instant. Use a QR code on your printed piece to link to a special offer, unlock content, or even provide additional information. QR codes are small and won’t take up much space on your printed materials, and incorporating one allows your prospects and recipients to interact with your business in a whole new way.

QR Codes and Virtual Reality

Immerse your reader in your printed materials by providing a QR code that links the viewer to a virtual reality experience or unlocks additional content. If you already have a VR showroom, game, or content, then making it easy for users to access it by simply scanning a QR code ensures you get plenty of extra traffic, without taking up space on your materials.

Variable Data Printing

This type of technology won’t change the look of your printed pieces, but it can help personalize the materials you create. Your customer won’t notice anything special about the printing, but they will think you’re really in tune with what they want and need.

The ability to create on-demand pieces that match your customer’s preferences boosts the likelihood that your offer will resonate with them. Used primarily in direct mail, but adaptable to other pieces, variable data printing allows you to target the elements used in a specific piece to the intended recipient. This technology is particularly useful for targeted marketing campaigns with a personal touch.

Adding a dash of high tech to your printed materials gives you additional ways to connect with customers and helps you get the most from your printing investment. Your pieces are also more likely to start a conversation, grab attention, and even be saved by the recipient, boosting their long-term value and ensuring your brand is remembered when your prospect needs something.


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Make Customer Loyalty a Bigger Part of Your Marketing Efforts

custLoyaltyIn the early days of your business, the goal of your marketing program was essentially a singular one: you tried to get your product or service in front of as many eyes as you possibly could. Once you’ve established yourself, however, it’s time to switch gears a little. According to most studies, it’s between five and twenty-five times more expensive to gain a new customer than it is to keep one of your existing ones. This means that if you’re not already making customer loyalty a significant part of your marketing efforts, it’s about time to get going on it.

What a Difference Customer Loyalty Makes

According to a study conducted in 2014, seventy-three percent of consumers said that loyalty programs should be the way that brands show loyalty to their existing customers. Regardless of which way you choose to look at it, even instituting a modest customer loyalty program can have significant benefits across your entire organization. It can help make your marketing more appealing to new customers, as well as lead to higher levels of engagement with existing ones. That engagement breeds retention, which research suggests creates a situation where your average customer will be up to five times more likely to only buy from you in the future.

Also, remember that increasing customer retention (which these types of loyalty programs are great at doing) by just five percent can boost your profits anywhere from twenty-five to ninety-five percent, according to Bain & Co. Let that sink in for a second.

Building a Customer Loyalty Program

When you begin to institute a customer loyalty program for your business, the biggest mistake you should avoid is one of perspective. Remember that what you’re trying to do is show loyalty to your customers, period. Far too many businesses make the mistake of assuming that this is a way for customers to show loyalty to a brand, which leads to the type of ill-advised thinking that generates bad customer service and only ends up with a program few people want to take advantage of.

Assuming that you’re “giving your customer the opportunity” to show loyalty to your business is how you end up in a situation where forty-three percent of consumers say that rewards programs require too much spending to reach the next level, or where points expire before they can be used, or where points are worthless because of all the restrictions they come with. Build a program that lets you say an emotional “thank you” to the people who got you where you are, NOT the other way around.

If you are going to make customer loyalty a bigger part of your marketing efforts, however, always remember the old saying that “variety is the spice of life.” In a survey conducted by Collinson Latitude, sixty-three percent of respondents said that having a wide range of rewards and offers was the single most important aspect that decided whether or not they would sign up for a loyalty program. So the occasional coupon isn’t necessarily going to cut it (pun absolutely intended).

Again, making customer loyalty a bigger part of your marketing efforts is, and will always be, about giving back to the people who helped build your brand. If you make every decision with this one simple perspective in mind, all of the other benefits – from increasing the value of each customer to engagement and long-term loyalty – will happen as a happy byproduct.


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Don’t Fear Your Marketing Competitors. Learn From Them

chessRegardless of the products you’re trying to market, the audience you’re trying to cater to, or the industry you happen to be operating in, all businesses face competition. This is just a fact of life. But it’s important to realize that a competitor isn’t just another company that is trying to go after the same pool of customers that you are. Competitors are invaluable learning opportunities that are just waiting to be taken advantage of, provided you approach things from the right angle.

Learn About Your Audience

One of the most important lessons that you can learn by taking a closer look at your marketing competitors has nothing to do with your competition itself and everything to do with the shared audience you’re both going after. For the sake of argument, let’s say that your number one competitor offers products or services that are very similar to yours.

How is your competition marketing those products and services to that audience? What types of print materials are they designing? What tone do they use when speaking to them directly? What prices do they charge, and why do they feel like the market can sustain that? What values do they choose to single in on when representing their brand?

All of these choices, along with the public reaction to them, can tell you a great deal about what your audience is looking for. Marketing is all about making a connection, and if you can pick up something through observation that you can adapt and make your own to strengthen that connection, you should absolutely take that opportunity.

Learn About the Competitors Themselves

The second lesson you can learn by taking a closer look at your marketing competitors comes down to how they choose to run a business that is very similar to yours in many ways. This goes beyond just the products or services they provide. Look at how they choose to distribute and deliver those products. Look at the steps they take to enhance customer value or build loyalty. Have they recently instituted a rewards program with great success? If you were thinking about doing one yourself, congratulations, someone else just did your trial run for you.

Perhaps the most important thing you should be watching out for when it comes to your marketing competitors is how they react when they make a mistake. These days, everything is essentially an extension of your marketing arm – from the print collateral you’re putting out into the world to customer service interactions on a site like Facebook. Everything is taking place in the public space, which means that other customers (and you and your associates) can all see everything go down in real-time.

Did your biggest competitor have a particularly nasty public interaction with a customer? What factors caused it to occur in the first place? How did the customer react? How did the business react? What did the rest of the audience have to say at the end of the day? Remember that mistakes are only a bad thing if you choose not to learn from them. If you can get someone else to make a mistake and arrive at the same lesson, you come out all the better for it.

Competition in the world of business (and especially regarding marketing) isn’t going away anytime soon. However, it’s not something you should let get you down. Instead, look at it for what it is: an incredible ongoing education into your market, your industry, and even your own business that someone else is paying for.


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April Fools’ Day and the Art of Humor Marketing

lol

Did you enjoy some April Fools’ Day marketing jokes this year? Make no mistake about it: coming from a business, April Fools’ Day jokes are every bit as much an art as they are a science. It’s an opportunity to inject a breath of fresh air into your marketing efforts, as the day is one that has quickly become synonymous with pranks and practical jokes. If you do it properly, adding humor to your marketing campaigns can also be an excellent conversation starter – it’s a unique way to add new members to your audience and engage with existing ones at the same time. As with most modern day marketing, however, it’s often best to learn from example.

April Fools’ Day, 2017: The Good

The clear winner of April Fools Day 2017 has to be Netflix, who released the elaborate prank “Netflix Live.” Capitalizing on the wave of live streaming video spearheaded by services like Facebook, “Netflix Live” was supposedly a 24-hour live video feed of actor Will Arnett watching a different live video feed and commenting on whatever he saw, including people in an office using a microwave, an empty supply closet, and more.

“Netflix Live” had all the markings of a classic (and successful) April Fools’ prank. It was timely because live video online is getting more popular all the time. It also honed right in on what Netflix’s audience would find funny. “Arrested Development,” the comedy classic in which Will Arnett stars, is one of the most popular shows on the platform.

  • Rule of Thumb: if you’re going to play around on April Fools’ Day or with humor marketing, know your audience.

The Bad

Again: the best April Fools’ Day jokes are born from surprise. If your audience can see the joke coming a mile away, you probably shouldn’t be making it. Or at least, you should try a little harder. This is a lesson that Google just spent several thousand dollars learning by way of the Google Gnome, an Amazon Alexa-like device you can talk to that takes the form of a lawn gnome that is connected to the internet.

This isn’t a particularly bad joke in that it’s offensive, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Not only is it immediately obvious that it’s a joke from the moment you read the title, but the accompanying video is little more than the same basic joke (“a Google Gnome would be worthless to everyone”) over and over again. It’s a lot of effort for almost no payoff, especially considering the Gnome is a product few in Google’s own audience would actually want to buy.

  • Rule of Thumb: Remember what April Fools’ Day and humor marketing is all about. It’s not supposed to be a day of obvious jokes. Theoretically, people shouldn’t fall for your prank for at least a couple of minutes.

When executed properly, humor marketing can check a few different boxes all at once. For starters, it’s fun – it’s a great opportunity to pull back the curtain of your business and put a little bit of its personality on display. A well-executed humor campaign is also the perfect way to get people talking and generate new levels of awareness at the same time.


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3 Tips for More Emotional Print Marketing Collateral

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Despite what you may believe, most people don’t rely on information when it comes to making a purchase. While people do love to do research in advance of parting with their hard-earned money, they rely much more heavily on emotions to guide their decisions. Therefore, it stands to reason that if you want to motivate someone to take action, you should work hard to inject as much raw emotion into your print marketing collateral as possible. Luckily, there are a few key tips you can start using today to accomplish exactly that.

It’s All About Those Colors

Even if you don’t want to fill your marketing collateral with text that drives home emotions, there are a number of subtle steps you can take to instantly provide a richer, fuller experience for your readers. Case in point: depending on the colors that you choose, you could be saying a great deal with your marketing collateral without actually saying anything at all.

Do you want to create a sense of urgency, for example, to really sell how important it is that someone place an order RIGHT NOW before your inventory is gone forever? Rely heavily on the color red to do exactly that. Note that red is also a great way to encourage someone’s appetite, which is why it’s used so heavily in marketing campaigns for fast food restaurants in particular.

Do you want to leave someone feeling calm, tranquil, and powerful? Green is the perfect way to do that. Black is often associated with authority and stability, while purple is a perfect way to signify wisdom and respect. Even oranges and yellows can be a great way to promote optimism, something that would be ideal if you’re sending out marketing materials in advance of a product or service launch to build anticipation.

It’s Not About “Me.” It’s About “You.”

If you really want to convey emotion in your print marketing collateral, shift the focus of your copy to place the emphasis squarely on your consumer where it belongs. Don’t speak to a large group of people; speak directly to one person for more intimacy. Don’t write copy filled with technical specifications about the product; write directly about the experience someone gets and the problem it solves when using it.

At the end of the day, you’re conveying all of the same information; you’re just doing it in a more emotional way. It’s the difference between “this great new product has X, Y, and Z features” and “you have an important problem, which this product solves in X, Y, and Z ways.” Both are technically correct, but only one cuts right to the heart of the matter (no pun intended).

Tie Emotion Into Your Call-to-Action

Finally, learn how to insert as much emotion as possible directly into your call-to-action for the best results. Don’t just say “Contact us today for more information.” Think about the emotions you’re trying to play to, first. If you want to create a sense of urgency, say “to find out how you can take advantage of this deal before it’s gone, contact us today for more information.”

Always try to leave someone with a strong feeling when they get to the end of your copy, be it happy, sad, excited, etc. Exactly what they will feel will vary depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, but if you can leave them feeling SOMETHING, they’ll be much more likely to take that next step.


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Never Be Afraid to Take on the Big Boys

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Something strange is happening on the yogurt shelves: the most popular yogurt is not from a big maker like Dannon or Yoplait. It’s a product from a small, 12-year-old upstart from New York. In March, Bloomberg wrote that Chobani had overtaken Yoplait to become the most popular yogurt in the U.S. The story of how this independent took on the big brands and won has lessons for all of us.

Distinguish Yourself From Your Competitors

Big yogurt brands had become complacent and did not anticipate how new products would catch customers’ interests. Instead of sticking with the same types of yogurt already popular in the U.S., Chobani made their name with Greek yogurt, a thicker and richer product. By the time the larger yogurt companies introduced their own versions of the product, it was too late. Consumers had become loyal to the brands that made Greek yogurt popular.

If you craft your marketing materials and your products to fill a need that your competitors are not, that gives you a competitive edge. Look for what makes your product different from a bigger player in your market and offer what they don’t. By the time they are playing catch-up, you can be the leader.

Be Willing to Make Changes Quickly

Product development at big food companies can take years. At Chobani, a product will sometimes go from concept to trial in the space of a weekend.

In your marketing, if you see an opportunity, be willing to take it before your competition does. This requires a high degree of social listening and a willingness to take chances. Smaller and leaner organizations can adapt far more quickly, allowing them to be the ones who seize an opportunity.

Be Authentic

Millennials now make up the largest consumer cohort. Their priorities are different than the priorities of previous generations. They are less likely to do business with a company that they perceive as a large and impersonal conglomerate. Chobani was founded by a Kurdish immigrant who fled political turmoil in Turkey. After spending time in Europe, he arrived in the U.S. with $3,000 and a small suitcase. In the following years, he built a company that dominates the $3.6 billion Greek yogurt industry.

Do not try to look like one of the big companies in your industry. Portray yourself as the lean, quick, and effective organization that you are. A smaller company, for instance, has staff at the highest levels who are knowledgeable about all customers. This can give your customers a far more personal degree of customer service.

Make News

Over the past couple of years, Chobani has made news for its innovative policies. When the company began seeing large successes, Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya responded by giving 10% of the company’s equity to employees and putting a generous 6-week parental leave policy into place.

What does your company do that is newsworthy? Those practices can build your image and give you more effective marketing than you can buy.

A company’s dominance in an industry is never certain. By taking advantage of opportunities that you have and the bigger players don’t, you can increase your own success.


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The Best Marketing Solves a Problem

diamondDiamonds are a girl’s best friend, right? Unfortunately, not always. After learning about some of the poor working conditions and high levels of violence associated with most diamonds on the market, many girls (and guys) have decided that a conventional diamond is not the ideal expression of their love. While some have turned to vintage pieces or alternate stones, one Los Angeles entrepreneur has provided a third option: high-quality jewels grown in a lab instead of under the ground.

Vanessa Stofenmacher did not know much about the jewelry business when she started VOW, her line of engagement, wedding, and promise rings. To cope with the limitations of current diamond-tracking laws, she opted to have the stones for her jewelry line made by Diamond Foundry, a laboratory that makes diamonds in California.

In her market research, she found that women in their twenties were likely to be concerned about the source of their diamonds. They typically did not mind wearing lab-grown stones as long as they looked as good as natural ones. This research made her line a success; the company, beginning with $8,000 in seed money, was valued at $3 million in 2016.

Don’t Be Afraid to Live Your Values

Many of us feel that, in business, our personal convictions should stop outside the doors. However, if we do not create products and marketing campaigns that align with our own values, the chances are good that they will not hit the mark with anyone else.

By choosing a product that she felt strongly about, Stofenmacher found the characteristic that makes her product line different from every other one out there.

Millennials, in particular, are happy to do business with companies that take an ethical stand. By doing something about your beliefs, you can increase connection and engagement.

Think Like Your Customer

The other thing that Stofenmacher did right was seizing an idea that had been troubling many people in the market for diamond rings.

Is there an issue in your industry that you are in a position to address? It does not have to be an ethical concern. It can be a common pain point, such as:

  • the amount of waste currently associated with a product.
  • the inconvenience of current ordering practices.
  • a lack of educational materials about your product and others like it.
  • an area where prices are out of line with consumer expectations.

By looking at what your customer cares about most, you can increase the chances of creating a product and a marketing campaign that will resonate with them.

Listen to Your Customers

How can you find out what people want? Just listen. Stofenmacher learned about the desire for ethical lab-grown stones by perusing Instagram. You can set up social listening on platforms that include Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to see what people are talking about in your industry. Many brands also use customer surveys in front of gated content to learn more.

Over time, you will find that your customers respond best when you directly address an unmet need. The marketing campaigns based on this concept will get higher levels of engagement, a better conversion rate, and will help you build long-lasting relationships that are good for you and your customers.


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To Grow or Not to Grow; That is the Question

arrowBooster Juice started off in 1999 as a one-store operation with a lot of questions about whether it would burn out as a fad. Their product was a juice smoothie (a fruit, vegetable, or plant-based drink shake). However, by 2016, Booster Juice had over 330 stores across Canada, and they are now looking at entering the U.S. market for even more expansion. How did this company go from one small outfit to a mega corporation franchise, and what did Booster Juice’s management do right to maintain growth successfully?

Dale Wishewan, Booster Juice’s owner, was a mechanical engineer by training, being naturally geared to decisions based on analysis. However, he also realized that just running a business by not taking any risks or having the cash on hand to pay for those risks, was never going to produce fast, exponential growth.

A Path for Growth

So, Wishewan settled early on franchising. The franchise decentralization of daily work and keeping an eye on the big picture kept Wishewan and Booster Juice on track. However, the fact that the daily store management was placed with franchisees who had “skin in the game” also meant that Wishewan didn’t have to worry about the loss of loyalty or control.

The above said, Wishewan still avoided high risk markets, especially overseas like China or South America. While these emerging market venues seemed to offer faster growth, the risk level was higher with control issues. Distance and language also presented major management hurdles as well. So, Wishewan wisely turned down those markets to continue growing in Canada alone. It was a smart decision proven by Booster Juice’s metrics and profit figures.

It’s All About the Plan

Scaling up is as much about planning and strategy as it is understanding one’s current capability and cash flow. There is no one aspect of business an owner or manager focuses on; it’s a multi-faceted challenge to meet the increased sales demand promptly and plan logistics correctly while not ending up going bankrupt in the process. As was seen in the above franchise example, not every opportunity was pursued. The business owners had to do some hard research and probability testing to determine which markets were their best choices for solid growth versus high risk and potential failure. By doing so, they avoided common mistakes in fast growth, such as over-commitment and unreasonable sales targets in the process.

Have an Objective Perspective

Exponential expansion can seem alluring, even addictive. After all, with accrual accounting, things can look pretty rosy for a business once projected sales are included in the numbers, and they’re boosting the revenue side of the accounting reports. However, cash is the killer that brings back reality like a bucket of cold water in the face. When payroll, supplies, liabilities, loans and leveraging can’t be paid timely because the projected sales haven’t materialized yet, a company can fold very quickly, even within a thirty to forty-five day time cycle, just from lack of cash. Ideally, a business should have sufficient resources to take on extra growth, but that’s not how real business works. Risk and taking logistical bets are common which makes planning wisely crucial to not betting the farm on “maybe” revenue.

Wishewan and Booster Juice provide a clear example of why, even with positive growth, a business owner or leader has to judge ventures carefully before jumping in. Sometimes some revenue opportunities do need to be passed up to stay successful overall.


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Why Print Marketers Excel At Resonating With an Audience

printAny solid relationship, regardless of the type you’re talking about, has the core foundation of intimacy in common. This is true whether you’re talking about your relationship with your significant other, your relationship with your best friend, or even the relationship between yourself and your favorite brand. If any relationship is going to be successful, it must have that basis of close familiarity or friendship, a warm confidence upon which everything else is built.

So, how do you help cultivate intimacy with someone, particularly regarding a brand and its target audience? Easy. You resonate with them. You focus your efforts not on saying how great your products or services are, but by using images and text to carefully evoke memories, feelings, and emotions within your audience at any and all opportunity. Emotions are something that print marketers have come to excel at over the years for a number of important reasons.

Print is Emotional

One of the reasons why print marketers are so great at resonating with an audience has to do with the natural benefits of print. It’s inherently an intimate medium, especially when compared with something like email. Customers have gotten savvy; they know that even a personalized email is something you probably generated in seconds. A personalized piece of print collateral, on the other hand, took a lot more effort.

You had to think long and hard about every aspect of your print mailer because you only got one shot at it. If your customer ignores Monday’s email, you can instantly try again on Tuesday (or even Monday afternoon). The same is not true of print. You had to go over every detail and every last design choice in your mind to make sure you would invoke every potential reaction. You had to put your heart and soul into it, making sure it was *just right.* You had to send it in the mail and wait patiently to see what reaction you would get.

Customers can feel this. They appreciate it. In a world where they’re constantly being bombarded by marketing messages every time they turn on their smartphones, it’s something they want more of. These are likely the major reasons why 43% of customers find print ads less annoying than online ads, but why they also consider print collateral to be inherently more trustworthy, too.

The Limitless Potential of Print

Another one of the major reasons why print marketers are so great at resonating with an audience is because they know how to play to the strengths of the very medium itself. One of the most exciting things about print is that it is interactive. How you engage with a customer can vary depending on the specific type of customer you’re talking about.

An Email is an Email is an Email

Try as hard as you’d like to differentiate yourself, but you’re still looking at 500 or so words with a graphic or two that are likely being viewed on a small touchscreen device. Print, however, can be literally anything from a gorgeous-looking flyer on a heavy paper stock to a branded coffee mug, key chain, magnet and more. It’s something tangible. Something that your customer can hold in their hands. Something they can share with their friends

To put it another way, print is something real, which is a major benefit that you just can’t put a price on in today’s digital world.

In recent years, forming this type of unshakable bond has become the major goal of marketers everywhere, even going beyond just buying and selling. If you can convince someone to make a purchase, you’ve made a sale. Congratulations! If you can plant the seeds of intimacy within someone and really resonate with them, you’ve just created the type of loyal brand advocate that will last a lifetime. We believe that it’s a technique that print marketers have honed over the years and they’ve gotten exceptionally good at, to say the least.


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