It’s Okay to go Niche: How One Unusual Brand is Turning Trash into Specialty Surf Bags

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Sometimes, we stumble across an answer to a problem that we did not know existed. Alec and Aric Avedissian are solving two problems at once with their business Rareform. Rareform’s customers get durable, one-of-a-kind surfbags while the company helps reroute some of the thousands of pounds of billboard material that is discarded in the U.S. every day.

The average billboard goes up for four to eight weeks, then is discarded. While there are no firm figures on how many billboards exist in the United States, the number is high. The Los Angeles area alone is host to over 6,000 boards. Since billboard material does not decompose, that is a lot of waste.

Inspiration in the Strangest Place

Avedissian stumbled on the idea of surfbags from billboard vinyl after spending time volunteering with a fishing cooperative in El Salvador. While there, he saw people using discarded billboards to make roofing. The sight was a revelation. He’d previously never considered the material and had thought that billboards were made from paper. The discovery that this durable material was being discarded every week spurred his innovative idea.

While the bags offered a durable product at a reasonable price, the company was having a hard time finding their footing. They’d had $1.1 million in sales over three years, but saw that sales were slipping. Had they reached saturation? They decided to go on Shark Tank to see if they could find the funds that would bring them growth. Two out of the three judges did not bite; they were concerned not just with the falling sales, but with the complexity of the concept of Rareform’s product. However, Kevin O’Leary was not dissuaded and made an offer. And, it turned out that the best benefit for the product was appearing on the show.

Before their Shark Tank appearance, Rareform would recycle anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of vinyl each month. With the added visibility provided by the show, they’ve increased their monthly recycling to 50,000 pounds.

When It’s Okay to Go Niche

Surfbags are already a niche item, appealing only to the approximately 23 million surfers worldwide. By adding the factor of the recycled bags and their one-of-a-kind nature, they become even more niche. However, faith in their product and a willingness to seek out new opportunities to get their wares in front of the audience worked out.

Small businesses should never shy away from a niche product as long as it has a few things going for it. The questions you should ask:

  • Is there an audience? Rareform built their early success with the help of dedicated hobbyists.
  • Do you have a platform that can get you attention? Their appearance on Shark Tank was just what was needed.
  • Do you have reasons for making your product the way you do? Rareform’s founders said they were committed to the cause of recycling. While this was a turn-off for some investors, it is what makes their product appealing and unique.

In today’s highly connected world, there is room for every well-made product, even if your audience is small. By focusing on what you bring to the table, you can find your audience and build success for your brand.


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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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Packaging as a Marketing Tool: Because Innovation Waits for No One

ThinkstockPhotos-638447812Marketing is all about relationships. You’re not just selling to someone; you’re informing them. You’re providing them a service that extends beyond the literal product or service that you’re selling and into the realm of education. People want to make informed decisions, and a properly executed marketing campaign plays a role in that. To that end, it’s important to talk about an essential element of marketing that far too many people tend to overlook: product packaging. Sure, packaging has a physical function in that you can’t get a product onto store shelves (or directly into the hands of consumers) in one piece without it. However, it also has the potential to be an incredibly powerful “last second” marketing tool if you approach it from the right angle.

Why Packaging Matters

Few things are more important than a first impression. According to a study conducted by Business Insider, customers usually only take about seven seconds on average to develop a first impression about a particular product or brand. When that first impression comes in the form of a well-designed piece of direct mail collateral, that’s one thing. But what happens if that first impression occurs in the aisle at a customer’s local retailer?

The answer is simple: product packaging becomes the single deciding factor as to whether or not someone makes a purchase.

Keep in mind that studies have also shown that 64% of consumers will sometimes purchase a product off a shelf WITHOUT having any prior knowledge of it. When it comes to being satisfied with a particular product, most consumers rank packaging as almost important as the brand itself and what it represents. How easy a product was to open, how informative the copy was, what color it was, whether or not they could re-use it, these are all important factors that play a vital role in the decision-making process.

Product Packaging: Innovation by Design

It’s clear that product packaging is an opportunity that you just cannot afford to overlook. Aside from the actual functionality of the packaging, you need to think about it the same way you would any other piece of print marketing collateral. Pay attention to color choice – use red and yellow to invoke feelings like excitement or happiness, while relying on white to convey cleanliness and simplicity.

Don’t try to overload your product packaging with paragraph after paragraph of technical specifications. Brevity is the soul of wit. Think about it the same way you would your next big direct mail project. You would never just send the customer a manila envelope filled with reams of paper containing spec sheets and other advanced product information. You would keep it short and straightforward. You would give them everything they need to know to make the most informed decision possible in bite-sized chunks. How you approach the copy on your product packaging should be no different.

In the end, part of what a brand offers is an experience that transcends the actual product or service on display. Brand loyalty is built on emotion and relationships, and the key thing to understand is that this experience begins from the marketing arm of your business. The right packaging design won’t just help get your product to store shelves in one piece. It will separate your product from competitors in the minds of consumers. It will attract the right type of attention. It will inform and educate and help sell the experience you’re offering.


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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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Using the Senses to Your Advantage With Print

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It’s well established that print and digital marketing are two entirely different beasts that each require their own unique approaches to reaching their intended audience.

Print Goes Closer

Whereas nobody would argue that digital excels at convenience (since you can essentially reach a person at all times during the day or night), nothing can top print in terms of intimacy. People already believe that receiving actual mail is much more personal than an email containing the same message. On top of that, print provides the ability to physically share a piece of marketing collateral with friends and family members.

According to a recent study commissioned by Martin Lindstrom, however, the benefits of print don’t end there. All of the senses that play a key role when someone has an emotional experience, from touch to sight, to even smell, can all be incorporated into your print campaigns thanks to advancements in technology.

The Science of Senses

In Mr. Lindstrom’s study, it was revealed that if you’re able to engage three or more senses with a piece of print collateral, you have the potential to increase not only brand engagement but also brand awareness by an incredible seventy percent. Many senses, with smell being mentioned in particular, are directly tied to the way the human brain forms memories and how it processes emotions.

Harvard Business School took this research one step further by doing an experiment with, of all things, pencils. Participants in the study were handed two sets of pencils, ones that had been treated to smell particularly nice with tea-tree oil, and ones that were completely untreated. Two weeks later, they were asked to remember specifics about each set of pencils. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the people who had unscented pencils remembered about seventy-three percent less information than those who had the scented pencils.

Using This to Your Advantage

In many ways, this means that while it is always important to focus on how your print collateral looks, you should never fail to take advantage of opportunities to engage a person’s other senses as well. This could include using a thick or textured paper stock to make a direct mail piece feel differently from every other piece of mail a person received that day. As the studies above suggested, it could also include using scented paper or other elements to engage a person’s sense of smell. Not only could this help a person remember your brand, but it could also be a great way to play with your very brand identity.

While print marketing has its advantages over digital, marketers need to work hard to offer a truly unique experience to audiences that they will NOT be able to recreate in the digital world in which we now live. Engaging all of a person’s senses is the perfect way to accomplish precisely that.


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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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The Conduit Theory in Practice – Speaker Willie Brown

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Willie Brown, the former speaker of the California Assembly, never intended to have a political career when he was born. Brown was raised in a backwater town named Mineola, Texas, in 1934, a time when Texas and the South were not particularly conducive to the career dreams of African Americans. To find a better path, his family packed Brown on a train from Texas all the way to California. There, with the help of a professor, Brown found his calling at a state University and earned a law degree from the prestigious U.C. Hastings. However, he was yet to prove his greatest accomplishment.

In 1964, after a second try, Brown gained a seat in the California Assembly. There, he learned simply being unique didn’t get him much. He had to learn how to be a useful broker. In that respect, Brown quietly learned from his legislative tutors like Jesse Unruh and Philip Burton how to become a pivot point, a conduit between the many who want something and those with power. Positioning through legislative committees, Brown went from being a name in the Assembly to eventually to becoming its Speaker, one of the top five positions in state government. Brown held that chair for fifteen years, only to then retire and become the mayor of San Francisco in his later years.

Becoming A Conduit Point

For a business, Willie Brown’s story is an illustrative one; you don’t have to be biggest, most powerful player on the market to become instrumental. Brown, as an African American politician in the 1960s, was clearly not in the position to leapfrog right away to leadership or the Governor’s office. However, he did find a position that everyone needed and had to go through to get something. By identifying how and becoming a conduit point, Brown secured his future, which is what successful businesses do in their market.

A conduit point isn’t just limited to being between end retail customers and suppliers. Conduit businesses can easily do the same in the business-to-business market as well, often producing far greater revenues than they would on the retail side of things. However, positioning can be a challenge. One needs to see the entire market, not just a segment of it. Getting to the forest level instead of the weeds allows a business player to identify all the connection points and where being a conduit has the greatest potential for producing revenue. It also shows what is needed to be successful in that particular position. Sometimes some potential conduits are too challenging, and others may offer too little in reward for the effort. Picking the right market position takes some experience, which means a business needs to research well and study peers, suppliers, buyers, competitors, and middlemen. No one in a given market should be left out.

Willie Brown was an intensive study of his legislative peers, which is why he was able to position himself so well. He also took lessons from those more powerful than him rather than fighting them, using that knowledge to become one of the powerful ones himself. A growing business can learn a thing or two from his life example.


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Learn to Protect Yourself From the Inside

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Kingdoms have fallen, and wars have been lost because of betrayal. Although we all desire to foster an atmosphere of trust and dependence on one another within our companies, it would be foolish to underestimate the internal risks with reports and employees in this digital age.

The Case of Bradley Manning

The case of Bradley Manning is an illustrative example of how even the most secure agencies can be compromised from the inside. Private Manning worked as an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army two years after enlisting in 2007. Then, in 2009, a major leak occurred that disclosed millions of classified documents from the military’s databases to the now-famous government leak website, Wikileaks. The identification of the source was unknown until Bradley Manning himself disclosed he was the source to a civilian. The conversations about that activity, and other functions Manning had in the military, were primarily out of boredom and disillusionment with the U.S. Army and its role in the Middle East. That discussion disclosing Manning as the source was then reported by the civilian, and Manning was arrested. He was eventually charged and sentenced to 35 years incarceration in a court martial for his actions releasing intelligence material. However, outgoing President Barack Obama decided to pardon Manning.

That Manning was pardoned or that he committed the damage he did to U.S. intelligence is beside the point. The real takeaway here is that he did not trip any flags during his enlistment, screening, and subsequent assignment to intelligence. And then, without any warning, Manning ends up becoming the source one of the top five most famous intelligence leaks in U.S. military history via the internet.

We all want to think the best of the employees and contractors who support our businesses. As a result, most employee policies are written with the assumption that no action will be taken until a threshold is met of unacceptable behavior. However, companies cannot reasonably operate with blind trust either, especially when managing sensitive data information. As in the case of Manning, it only took one action and one flash drive to walk away with as much as was lost in that case. So companies need to be proactive as well.

Begin with One, Two, Three

There are ways to stop data losses from the inside before they occur without having to be suspicious of good employees. Here are three of them:

1) Modularization of data access is a key defense.

By effectively limiting an employee to only the data area in the network needed to do his or her job, the employee cannot access anything else. This can be done through both network login authorizations, as well as pass-keys to different parts of the office building.

2) Keep logs of large data movements.

By having your network administrators can keep regular records of large data changes, you would be able to highlight issues to look into, such as large data transfers at night or on the weekend when nobody would regularly be working or connecting.

3) Learn to be proactive with training.

Companies can follow up regularly with training to teach employees to notice and proactively warn their superiors when they see something wrong. Employees are typically eager to help in this way because they are seen as part of the company defense to protect it and their own livelihood. This approach focuses on personal investment in the issue, which often gains very strong support in practice.

Again, we assume the best of employees, but we also need to be realistic about how easy damage can occur in the digital age. Practicing both trust and sound IT


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defense can protect a company far more than just a firewall alone.