Once Upon a Time

storytelling

Storytelling is a time-honored tradition which began before humanity had the ability to create long-lasting printed documents. The first stories were a way of passing on an oral tradition and history of various cultures around the world. There is still a storytelling tradition in many cultures, although as communities spread out, storytelling has moved to written, printed, and now digital methods of recording the tales. Oral traditions created a rich history for ancient cultures that gave rise to much of what we call myths and legends today, a blend of history and religion which gave purpose to people who lived short and often harsh lives.

Role of Printing in Storytelling

The development of the printing press gave stories new life because they could be disseminated on a broader scale and replicated easily. No longer were scribes necessary for copying expensive books and papers. Not only was the rich, cultural history and religious beliefs of various people shared among a wider community, but pure fiction was written for the purpose of entertainment and enjoyment for the masses. For those who were not taught to read, stories were read and passed around by those who could.

Storytelling in the Digital Age

While it has become easier to distribute stories in the digital age, and more of the world’s population is educated enough to read, storytelling continues to be a powerful way to distribute a message to people. Computers and the internet make spreading the word faster, but the concept of an oral tradition is easily seen in the many repetitions of news stories online from different slants or points of view. The question lies in how an entity or brand can create a unified story to present to an audience or market. With the unique ability to duplicate digital image and print and distribute them through many channels, storytelling can be a powerful tool for marketing a company or organization.

Incorporating Storytelling in Marketing and Branding

A recent article in Search Engine Journal discusses the benefits of storytelling as a method for branding. The author, Katy Katz, talks about how storytelling creates connections and potential bonds between a brand and a market. When thinking about storytelling for a brand, call to mind some of the brands that you grew up with that have become common words in the American culture such as Kleenex, Coke or Pampers, often used to replace the actual word for the item being talked about. While creating a storytelling campaign for your own brand may not turn it into a common household word, you will still be able to cement the story with the brand name to create lasting memories in the minds of your audience.

Benefits of Brand Storytelling

Katz mentions 5 benefits to brand storytelling in her article.

1. Storytelling builds memories.
2. Storytelling is a natural motivator.
3. Storytelling builds relationships.
4. Storytelling makes content exciting.
5. Storytelling can make something old, new again.

How Can You Use these Benefits to Your Advantage in Marketing?

Since most businesses have competitors that offer products or services that are similar to theirs, branding offers a way to show your differences. Creating a brand story or even just telling your brand’s story in a cohesive manner can give your audience reasons to bond with you beyond pricing or product quality. An excellent example of brand storytelling is the way Tom’s Shoes has incorporated their brand name with their history of giving. (http://www.toms.com/stories/giving/10-years-of-giving-together) They have created not only an excellent product, but a compelling reason to buy from them.

You can do the same.


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Create An Environment That High-Value Employees Want To Work In

work-environmentIf you tasked most business leaders with sitting down and making a list of their struggles, attracting high-value employees would more than likely fall close to the top. Finding those versatile, well-rounded, and driven candidates is one thing – getting them to come aboard is something else entirely. Making sure you’re not just a “stepping stone” in someone’s successful career is also a lot easier said than done. If you want to attract the type of high-value employees that will carry your organization forward, you have to start from within and create the kind of organization they want to work for in the first place.

Would You Want to Work for Your Business?

If you want to attract high-value employees in a marketplace that is growing increasingly competitive with each passing day, you need to start by putting yourself in their shoes. What are some things that 21st-century talent may be looking for that you aren’t currently offering?

Thanks to things like SaaS (software-as-a-service) and IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service), the ability for businesses to allow employees to work remotely has become a significant priority for quality applicants. Even if you don’t feel comfortable bringing someone on and allowing them to work from the home full-time, see if having them work remotely two out of the five business days is something you can manage.

Likewise, BYOD (bring your own device) has become a significant priority for younger employees. It lets them bring their own smartphones, tablets and other devices to work that they already feel comfortable using, thus increasing the overall quality of the work they’re able to generate. It also helps save money for businesses, as you no longer have to pay to purchase and maintain a computer for an employee if they’re already bringing one from home. These small changes to your existing policies can go a long way towards creating the type of environment and culture that attracts the talent you’re after.

Get Competitive

Another one of the core ways to attract valuable employees these days involves being as competitive as possible when it comes to job perks. Apple, for example, has a now-legendary attraction strategy that includes not only traditional perks like healthcare, but also things like educational reimbursement as well. Not every company has the type of bankroll that Apple does, but it’s always important to remember that making an investment in your employees through competitive perks is ultimately an investment in the future of your company.

These are just a few of the many ways that you can create the type of environment that makes it easy to attract high-value employees and even easier to retain them for the long haul. Remember: quality employees don’t grow on trees, and the difference between someone who is “just punching a clock” versus someone who is putting their blood, sweat, and tears into the task at hand is an immense difference, indeed. By putting yourself in their shoes and creating the type of company they can’t help but want to work for, you, in turn, create the kind of company clients can’t wait to do business with.


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When it Comes to Your Marketing Goals, Don’t Forget About Consumer Education

Customer needs analysis concept. Businessman analyze customers needs.

Whenever you begin to execute a marketing campaign, you’re usually trying to service a few key goals at the same time. One of your top priorities is most likely brand awareness – you don’t just want to get the word out about a product or service, but you’re also trying to position your company as an authority on a particular topic. You may also want to help inform your target audience about the product in question. One of the most important marketing goals that far too many people overlook until it’s too late, however, is consumer education. When it comes to your objectives, consumer education must ALWAYS be a top priority for a number of key reasons.

The Benefits of the Consumer Education Push

For marketers themselves, an increased emphasis on consumer education brings with it a host of different benefits that can’t be ignored. For starters, it allows you to take a deeper level of control over the narrative that you’re trying to tell than ever before. You’re essentially reframing the information that consumers are actively looking for in a much more positive way. Instead of making a declarative statement with your campaign like, “Here are all of the amazing and incredible features that my product or service has,” you get to instead take a decidedly less sales-oriented approach and offer advice like, “Here are the problems you have, here is why you have them, and here is how my product or service is the answer you’ve been looking for.”

Perhaps the biggest benefit of all to taking a consumer education approach to marketing, however, is that you’re no longer trying to convince your customers that your product or service is necessary. Instead, you get to essentially PROVE that it’s necessary and let your customer base come to the same conclusion on their own. This helps to deepen the sense of confidence that consumers get from your company, which almost always leads to loyalty sooner rather than later.

Transforming the Landscape

Another key thing to keep in mind about making consumer education one of your core marketing objectives has to do with the subtle ways in which you change the relationship between company and customer. With consumer education, marketing is no longer a passive approach. Instead, it’s decidedly active – consumers are no longer HEARING about your product or READING about it, they’re LEARNING about it. They’re engaged with your materials in a whole new way. It officially transforms the marketing experience into a two-way street by way of empowerment. Consumers will WANT to keep learning about what you have to say and what you have to offer, helping to increase penetration rates at the same time. The more satisfied with the marketing experience a consumer is, the more confident they ultimately are with the ways in which they spend your money. If you can turn the tide of the conversation in your direction through consumer education, you’re looking at a powerful opportunity that you can no longer afford to ignore.

These are just a few of the reasons why consumer education NEEDS to be one of your marketing goals at all times. Not only does it bring with it the added benefit of affecting consumer behavior in a positive way, but it also helps establish you and your organization as the authority on a particular topic that people are actively looking for.


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Realize the Amazing Power of Your Blog: Blogging and Social Media

thumbs-up-print-it-plusDigital marketing, it’s pretty simple, right? Draft up 500+ words of amazingly educational and entertaining content, upload it onto your blog, maybe sprinkle on a little SEO magic and you’re good…right? Well, let’s just put it this way: if you have teenagers, they’re rolling their eyes at you. If you have dogs, they’re staring at you with that head-cocked-to-the-side look they give you when you’re missing the obvious.

Ok, maybe it’s not as obvious as pick up ball…throw ball, but if you spend any time reading about online marketing, you’ve got to know how important of a role your blog can play in growing your client base. Don’t worry, though, you’re not alone. It’s surprising how many established and emerging businesses underestimate the power of their blog. With a few added steps, you too can realize the amazing power of your blog.

Active Content Distribution

When you were planning your wedding or “Sweet 16” party, you didn’t spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on gorgeous invitations just to leave them in the box, did you? Of course not! You sent them out into the world so they could tell the world the exciting news.

The same concept rings true for your blog content. They key is to actively push your content out into the world so people can line up to dance with you, money in hand. You want to get your content out on as many channels as you can. So this means:

  • Tweet out your headlines and grabbers with a link to your content
  • Post a summary of your content to Facebook
  • Add your blog to your Google+ and LinkedIn Feeds
  • Upload the cool images you post with your blog article to Pinterest and Instagram
  • Turn your blog into a podcast or video and upload to YouTube
  • Find out where your clients are hanging out and get your content out there!

It may sound a little daunting, but most of that can be done in one step using online tools that will help you to schedule your releases to touch your prospects and clients on a daily basis. Aim for 2-3 releases per day.

Sales Funnels

Depending on your business, your sales funnel can look much different than the business next door. So, without getting into too much detail, let’s take a high-level look at what a sales funnel is and how your blog and other web content plays a role.

Typically, your blog articles will have one or more links to other pages of your website. You can be strategic about this and push (“funnel”) them to where you want them to go. The page(s) that you’re pushing your readers to may have a certain call to action that encourages them to give you their email address in exchange for something they find valuable. This could be a free white paper, free trial, webinar or other free consideration to obtain that valuable email address.

Once you have the prospect’s email address, you can now trickle out relevant content (likely from your blog) into their brains via email. You’ll have additional links to free content or additional sales pages that your prospects can click to when they’re ready to make their purchase.

The sales funnel is all about grabbing that email address and using it to establish yourself as an expert in the field so that people will trust you enough or like you enough to buy what you’re selling.

Strategic Alliances

Too many business owners think they have to do everything alone. This is not only sad, but also a dangerous fallacy that may be choking off your business revenues. One of the big keys to building your business is teaming up with other complementary (not competing) businesses to expand your reach.

According to Andrew Davis, author of “Brandscaping: Unleashing the Power of Partnership” businesses that partner usually experience rapid success with their content. The key is to make your content noteworthy, so when you reach out to potential partners, they’ll be impressed and want to work with you.

There are a host of ways to initiate strategic alliances. They all start with recognizing those businesses that complement your product or service and share your audience. From there, consider reading their blogs to see what they’re writing about. Send them an email proposing a guest blog article that would be of interest to their audience and a link to your site. That opens a dialogue that can lead to tremendous collective success.


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Succeed in Business Without Undue Stress: Lessons From a Sailor

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Whether you’ve been in business for 40 years, or you are a startup waiting for the perfect time to enter the marketplace, you want to know how to succeed in the fast-paced world of capturing market share. Let’s see how your business can benefit from the lessons learned in the daily life of a salty sailor.

Sailors are known for their exciting tales of far-off worlds and adventure beyond a landlubber’s imagination. The trusted captain and crew have a few pointers to share for a successful voyage.

Know your vessel. Is she seaworthy? Is she built and maintained by people who take pride in their work? What are her quirks? Not all vessels are the same by any means. Know what makes her unique and tend to those details. What is the greatest strength of your enterprise? What is your core competency, or what is the distinguishing feature of your product? Having a well-defined product or service and a good understanding of how it compares to similar items in the marketplace is crucial.

Choose a good crew. Your crew will make or break the voyage, and as the captain, all the responsibility is resting on you. Is the “crew” of your “vessel” the best in the business, or did you hire your brother’s high school best friend out of some misplaced sense of obligation? You have to constantly assess the skill and knowledge of your crew. Do you have the right people stationed at the right post? Just as you wouldn’t put a deckhand in charge of navigation, you must insist on having all of your staff working in the areas of their expertise.

Know where you’re going. As a sailor, you must always be aware of your latitude and longitude. You have to know where you are in order to chart a course to where you want to go. The tools available today are changing rapidly and technology is great, but do not lose sight of the basics: quality, consistency, value, and customer service. Knowing where you are in these key areas and how you stack up to the competition will allow you to get where you want to go, be it increased market share, growth, innovation, or profitability.

Sharpen your senses. The wind will change direction and velocity and make your life terrible if you aren’t in tune with Mother Nature. The same goes for rain, thunderstorms, and squalls. Know what conditions are in the forecast, but always keep watch to discern subtle changes and patterns. Business journals and analysts are out there making predictions and it can be hard to figure out who has the best information. Sharpen your senses and your gut will guide you in the direction of success. Look at the forecast, but know that your gut is rarely wrong.

Know how to adjust your sails. When the wind changes direction or a storm system builds, sailors understand that they’ll make no progress fighting the forces of nature. They know that by simply adjusting their sails, they can harness those forces, adjust their course, and continue on. They may even adjust their destination to make the most of the situation. Similarly, a leader of any enterprise must know how to adjust his plans to accommodate changes in the market. Market forces can be infinitely stronger than your iron will and can crush your business if you fight. If you accept the change and adjust your course, you may find yourself in a different place from where you intended to go, and it may be far better than you expected.

Whether you are a captain on the high seas or a captain of industry, you old salts have a lot in common. Next time you are in a pub near the marina, strike up a conversation with the weather-worn sailor in the corner. You just might learn something.

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3 Tips to Communicate with All Types of Clients

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When it comes to reaching your audience, a lot comes down to communicating with them in the language they will understand. We can learn a lot from Julia, a Pasadena ten-year-old. Julia is deaf; her new puppy, Walter, is as well. But, the two have found the ability to communicate with one another with ease. Julia has begun training the seven-month-old puppy by teaching him sign language. The dog knows the signs for sit, water, food and several others.

Julia’s mother, Chrissy, said that when her Julia was born, she couldn’t hear her mom and would smell Chrissy’s neck for comfort instead. The moment Chrissy picked up Walter, he did the same thing. “I remember just looking at him, and I knew that he was meant to be ours,” she said in a Humane Society video. Walter was the last puppy of his litter to be adopted, but the Humane Society did not give up hope.

The Pasadena Humane Society, which introduced the two, posted a video of Julia and Walter on their page. The reaction was immediate and positive. “Amazing!!” said one commenter. “This is my dog, Wyatt. He is also deaf, and he has no idea he is different.”

When we are communicating with our prospects and our customers, we can take some valuable lessons from Julia and Walter:

1. Different customers will respond to different communication.

Customers are not all the same. You will deal with Millennials and Boomers, urban and rural folks, and people from different income brackets and areas of the country. It is important to segment your marketing lists and create materials for each individual group.

2. Remember that each group does not think of itself as a segment.

Just like the dog Wyatt who thinks himself like any other dog, your customers just think of themselves as ordinary people. Talk to them directly and respectfully. Never talk down to a group. Don’t use slang that is not in keeping with your brand. This can feel false and off-putting.

3. Remember that consistent marketing is key.

Don’t just reach out to each segment once. Create follow-up emails and other remarketing opportunities. If you do direct mail, send a follow-up postcard to go out to people who did not respond to your initial offer. Just like raising puppies requires a long-term commitment, nurturing a prospect from initial contact to conversion takes patience, time and effort.

Marketing segmentation takes more time and attention than a shotgun approach. But, over time, you will find that it consistently increases your return on your marketing investment and helps you build stronger relationships with your clients.

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Protect Your Business While On the Move

VPN text on metal with red lock symbol -- Virtual Private Network or Internet security concept

VPN text on metal with red lock symbol — Virtual Private Network or Internet security concept


Even if you’re not working for an organization that requires you to travel on a regular basis, there is still a high likelihood that you will work from home at some point during your week. Giving people the ability to work remotely not only increases worker productivity but also drives efficiency, lowers stress, reduces employee turnover, and more. However, all of these benefits come at a pretty significant cost: giving employees the ability to work while on the move also increases the chances of a cyber attack pretty profoundly.

Organizations that want to leverage the power of modern technology with as few of the downsides as possible would do well to learn three specific letters as quickly as possible: V, P, and N.

What is a VPN?

Short for “virtual private network,” a VPN is exactly that – a private network that extends across either a public network or a larger, global network like the internet. Think of it as a lane on a highway that only you and your employees are allowed to use while on your way to work. Sure, there are other cars out on the road trying to get to various destinations, but YOU are the only one who gets to enjoy that one, special lane.

This may be a bit of an oversimplification, but this is largely the idea at the heart of a VPN. It allows users like yourself to both send and receive information over public networks like the internet with all of the privacy and security they would expect if they were connected to a smaller private network in their office.

Many businesses use VPNs to help increase security as more employees work remotely. Using a VPN, remote users can connect back with the head office, or regional offices can connect with one another, without worrying about anyone with malicious intentions intercepting their traffic.

Why is a VPN So Important?

For business professionals on the go, VPNs are important, thanks to one simple, little word: security. While connections to the internet are a dime-a-dozen, SECURE connections are much harder to come by. If you hop onto the Wi-Fi network at your local Starbucks to send some important files to a client, anyone on that some network could potentially “snipe” that file out of the air and gain access to it if they know what they’re doing. This is because Starbucks’ network was designed to be public so everyone could use it, which unfortunately means any and all traffic going over that network is essentially up for grabs.

However, if you used that same Starbucks Wi-Fi connection first to connect to your VPN, the kid with the laptop three tables over trying as hard as possible to read your emails can “hack” all he’d like, but he won’t be learning your trade secrets anytime soon. VPNs allow businesses to extend the security of their local intranet while located out of the office, allowing remote employees to be as productive as they need to be without worrying about something like a data breach.

These are just a few of the key reasons why VPNs are so important for today’s modern business world. When dealing with something as inherently volatile as the internet, the security and privacy benefits alone are more than worth the investment, even – and before you begin to think about the added level of protection this gives to employees working out of the office. In an era where data breaches are all too common, and concern with data privacy is at an all-time high, virtual private networks are one of the single, best ways to remain protected and productive at the same time.

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The Art of Reflection in Business

The Art of Reflection in Business

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Though you might not know the name Aaron Sorkin, you’re no doubt familiar with some of his work. He’s the brilliant writer behind some of the most critically acclaimed, successful shows on television in the last two decades including, “The West Wing,” “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” “The Newsroom,” and more. One of the constant themes in all of his different works is that the last episode of the first season of all of his shows all share the same title: “What Kind of Day Has It Been.” This repetitive title isn’t an example of a lazy writer who just can’t come up with something unique. It is Sorkin’s thesis statement. “What Kind of Day Has It Been” is a phrase he uses to indicate reflection. At the end of the season, he (and his characters) always look back and examine where they’ve been and how far they’ve come to get a better idea of where they should be going next.

This type of reflection isn’t just important in terms of prime-time dramas; it’s also a hugely invaluable tool in terms of running a business for a host of different reasons.

The Benefits of Periodic Reflection

At its core, reflection in the world of business is an attempt to take some of the critical experiences that you've had in the not-too-distant past and force you to think about them in a meaningful way. It's an attempt to take both successes and missed opportunities and dive deeper than you may be used to. It gives you the chance to articulate the key lessons that your experiences have taught you, either consciously or subconsciously, and use those insights as the basis for every decision you make moving forward.

One of the main advantages that reflection like this brings to the table is one of increased confidence. Even if you weren't able to achieve a particular goal, going through the process of breaking it down into the sum of its parts can still provide a valuable context as to why events played out the way they did. This, in turn, will help you harness the real learning experience that even less-than-stellar days can sometimes bring and create something positive as a result. Reflecting on the lessons you've learned throughout your career in this way can also make you more productive for the same reasons.

Remember that when you begin any journey in the world of business, be it to finish one particular project, increase revenue by a certain date, or release a new product or service to market, the road that you're about to travel is one that is clouded by expectations. When you're at the end of that journey, however, those hopes are gone. Taking a cold, hard look at everything that led you to this point can not only give you a chance to celebrate your successes, but it can also provide you with valuable insight into issues that you may have encountered or lessons that you may have learned. Reflection is the mother of course correction and that brief pause at such a critical time could very well be the moment of clarity you need to start your next journey with some much-needed perspective.

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Out of the Mouths of Babes

Family wwith small boywear the chef suit for tthe kittchen lifestyle
Customer service is sometimes the part of the job that we dread due to the range of customer complaints that ensue. However, if we look at customer service as an opportunity, we can create a lot of positive energy from it. While not all stories are as entertaining as this one, the fact that the customer service response became a boon for the company is evident.

Giraffe Bread

Lily Robinson, 3 and 1/2 years old, wanted to know why the Tiger Bread from Sainsbury’s (a British convenience store) wasn’t called Giraffe Bread. After all, it looked like giraffe skin. She wrote a letter to Sainsbury’s and her mother mailed it to their customer service department. (https://www.helpscout.net/10-customer-service-stories/)

In an incredible customer service response, Chris King, 27 and 1/3 years old, responded to Lily with another letter and a gift card. That response in itself would have been an incredible customer service moment, but the story continues.

Sainsbury’s decided to change the name of the bread to Giraffe Bread and created signage explaining the story. Lily’s mom was so impressed that she wrote about the story on her blog. (https://jamandgiraffes.com/2011/06/15/our-careline/) The story then got picked up by BBC News (http://www.bbc.com/news/business-16812545) and became a marketing tale that has returned goodwill to Sainsbury’s many times more than what the first gesture from Chris King cost them. While this return doesn’t happen every time you offer excellent customer service, your actions and response to customer complaints are opportunities to cement relationships with customers. Often, it is the customer service assistance that creates the most indelible mark in a customer’s memory.

Customer Service as an Opportunity

There are many similar instances that companies never find out about that affect their bottom line. Not every customer calls or writes to a company because of a good or bad customer service experience. However, they may tell all of their friends about it. Positive or negative, word of mouth goes far and can create a bundle of good or bad press for a company.

Because most of us are dealing with automated phone systems and customer service reps that speak other languages and barely know English, a lot us have become numb to the massive amount of poor customer service. When we do come across good customer service, sometimes it is a shock to our system. We crave good customer service, and most people will return and refer others to any company that treats them well.

Examples of good customer service opportunities abound:

*The mechanic that takes the time to explain what is wrong and why it needs to be fixed, but won’t fix anything that is unnecessary.
*The patio furniture sales person who brings out a ladder to get the last display model from the ceiling-high display shelf.
*The jeweler who walks the customer through the options of repair for their cherished, but cheap, pearl necklace.

These types of customer service experiences are appreciated by the customer and remembered.

By treating every customer service issue as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with a customer, you can build the loyalty that every business needs. Loyal customers are your bread and butter, the customers who pay your monthly bills month in and month out.
Being a small business can give you more of these opportunities because you know your customers personally, so use these moments as a chance to shine.

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