From Survival to Full Bloom

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Eliza Blank was tired of the gloomy atmosphere in her cramped New York apartment. Eliza began dabbling with houseplants, and her passion quickly bloomed into a budding small business. In 2012, Blank launched “The Sill” to bring color and hope to stale Manhattan apartments, equipping new “parents” by transforming certified plant killers into botanical aficionados. The Sill works to match the right plant to the right space, offering hands-on coaching that helps “aspiring green thumbs (and potential customers) feel at ease.”

The Sill operates both on and offline, recently opening its second brick-and-mortar shop in New York’s Upper West Side. Last year, sales topped $2 million, and a website redesign doubled online traffic and newsletter subscriptions. But the Sill had a few obstacles along the way. In the first year, the company’s co-founder bailed as Blank hustled to handle marketing, orders, and deliveries. “It was me, a desk, and a computer – I was writing the product descriptions, potting the plants, delivering the plants, and doing everything myself . . . I (sometimes) joke that I’m the CEO, but also the janitor,” Blank says. “I’m still straddling those two roles.”

While Blank credits several factors to her success, education as a service was a key component. Since prospects were often daunted by caring for a living product, the company organized sales around blogging, coaching, and newsletters. “Not everyone who comes to the website is there to shop. We believe it serves us to serve prospective customers through helpful content,” Blank says. As clients gained confidence, sales exploded. Even if blog readers don’t come to buy, Blank believes valuable content is a catalyst, because “we are then top of mind when the time comes to purchase – and the trust is already there.”

Blogging That Brings Business to Life

Perhaps you’ve toyed with the idea of business blogging yourself, but you’ve been hesitant to try. With so much to do, why bother with something that doesn’t yield immediate, obvious benefits? Content and social media can be a cost-effective way to not only complement your print marketing but also to promote your company, grow revenue, and enhance your reputation as a trustworthy resource. Check out these tips from blog coach Gary Dek to make your business blogging easier:

  1. Research competitors’ blogs to learn what works or to strengthen your own unique voice.
  2. Identify your target demographic and blog specifically to this audience.
  3. Publish in-depth resources that answer questions, offer step-by-step guides, and solve specific problems.
  4. Promote your content through social media, direct mail, e-mail, or asking core customers to re-post.
  5. Involve everyone on your team to contribute topic ideas, design concepts, or content submissions of their own. Work to humanize the company in a way that’s enjoyable and fun!
  6. Consider using guest bloggers to put your content in front of new audiences and give you greater influence and credibility.

Drive People Online with Direct Mail Marketing

Want to drive people online to your growing content? One of the best tools to increase website traffic is direct mail. A 2015 Direct Marketing Association study revealed that 78% of people react to direct mail immediately, with 44% visiting the brand’s website and 34% searching online for additional product information. Recent research shows that very active smartphone users are reading more print materials than any other target demographic!

As you grow your online AND offline presence, we’re here to help! As your local printing connection, we’re more than just a contracted vendor; we’re an invested partner, committed to efficiency, precise brand matching, and to the customer care you deserve. Stop in and see us today!

 


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4 Ways to Stop Your Team from Falling Apart

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Working through some concepts.

There are times in every supervisor’s work life that you can feel everything going off the rails — projects don’t sync up as they should, laughter feels forced within your team, and the energy levels are low.
While it may feel like everything is falling apart at the seams, and you’re not sure what you can do, don’t give up! There are ways to bring teamwork back to your team, but it will take some work to rebuild trust between team members and realign your focus to the future.

Even the most high-performing teams have moments of doubt that can be introduced by stress or fear. These negative emotions could overtake a team or its leader, but the first step is re-imagining the future and then casting that vision to your team.

Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

While it may be too late if your team has already entered a downward spiral, preventing negativity from happening is always the best alternative to a team that’s coming apart at the seams. Getting to know your team, understanding their motivations and stressors, and working hard when you need to will help you become a trusted member of your team — and not just the leader.

Spending time together bonding in good times will help sustain your relationship during times of difficulty, both with each individual team member and the team as a whole. This trust doesn’t come overnight but is worth the time spent building it in the long run.

Slowing the Negativity

Perhaps your team has just begun showing signs of stress, such as team members being unwilling to contribute in meetings, leaving early, or losing energy early in the day. If you look up in the afternoon and everyone is wandering around looking aimless instead of focused on work or building relationships, it’s past time to get more involved in your team’s dynamics.

Start by talking to someone on your team, either the person who is seemingly the most stressed or one with whom you have the most trust built up. See if you can determine what the root cause of the uncertainty is, and look for potential options for resolution together.

Returning from the Brink

If your team is truly on the brink of collapse, with your best and brightest team members disengaged and actively looking for other opportunities, it’s time to take more drastic measures. Consider asking your human resources department if they’re hearing any rumors about what’s happening, or pull the team together as a whole in an offsite meeting to add to their comfort level.

Request that they be open and honest with you about challenges that they’re encountering — either within the team, outside the team or even outside the organization.

Take Charge of Results

You also must face the possibility that you as the leader are the problem, which can be painful and difficult to accept. However, you must first look to make changes in your own leadership style in order to help salvage your team’s success.

Take responsibility for finding a solution, and don’t be afraid to claim accountability when things aren’t going as you had planned. Too often, leaders find themselves in a situation that feels hopeless and attempt to look externally to find the problem.

If there is truly someone on your team who is causing the excessive negativity, know when it’s time to make the difficult decision and make a change in personnel. Sometimes, all it takes is removing a negative influence or underperformer to bring your team back to center.

Today’s organizations are moving quickly and chasing many different initiatives at once. Managing people is always a balancing act: creating a culture of learning and accountability while allowing people the space they need to take appropriate chances. Fortunately, nearly every team can be brought back from a downward spiral with time, effort, and loads of positive energy from its leader.

 


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4 Stubborn Business Myths

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Entrepreneurs know that owning a small business takes dedication, passion, and hours of concentrated work. You may run into obstacles that test your business and your perseverance, obstacles that are norms in the world of business which each entrepreneur must learn to navigate. However, there are some obstacles that you may be facing without realizing it. Those barriers are stubborn business myths that just won’t go away because people believe them, even though they aren’t true.

1. It’s not what you know but who you know.

In the course of doing business, business owners or potential business owners come up against this belief time and time again. However, while it is true that knowing the right people may help you get started or get access to some deals, in most businesses it is expertise, experience, and skill that propel you forward in business. If you can provide the solutions customers want, they will refer you to their friends and family.

2. Nice guys finish last.

This myth is a holdover from the era of Western movies and superhero comics. Nice guys (always portrayed as pushovers or wallflowers) finish last because the villains and heroes walk all over them. In film, this may be true. After all, Tony Stark isn’t a nice guy. He is an arrogant, self-centered genius. However, The Avengers aside, in real life, nice guys finish first quite often. While a person with low self-esteem who doesn’t speak up will not be successful without change, a courteous business owner is appreciated immensely by customers and vendors.

In today’s modern world, people are used to dealing with machines, poorly-paid clerks, and online shopping. Finding a business person who is willing to offer them genuine customer service, build a relationship and spend time getting to know them to better serve them is rare. Many people are happy to pay more for real customer service. Therefore, being a “nice guy” is valuable to your contacts. They will remember your excellent service and come back for more.

3. Don’t work hard. Work smart.

This myth is one of the worst business myths out there. There is no way you can run a business without working hard. Hard work is what separates the “men from the boys” as entrepreneurs. Successful entrepreneurs put in hours of labor to get their businesses off the ground. Working smart is just another way to say that there is a workaround or that you can find a way to skip the hard work. It just isn’t possible in reality. If you aren’t willing to work hard, you won’t make it in business.

4. It’s called work for a reason. It’s not supposed to be fun.

All work has elements that workers do not like to perform. It might be the paperwork that you need to fill out for each customer or the data entry on your last case. However, why can’t work be fun?

People who find work that satisfies them are much happier in life. That happiness translates to their work and their interactions with co-workers, customers, and vendors. If you love to sell, create graphic designs, or help customers find what they are looking for, then you ARE having fun at work. In fact, many companies are now providing their employees with ways to have fun at work to help reduce stress and fatigue.

So go ahead and have fun while working! It can only improve your outlook and production. Work can be fun.


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How to Live Your Passion in Any Profession

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We all want to live a purposeful life. Some individuals are lucky enough to be in a professional role that allows them to live out their passion through their profession. Even if you aren’t able to make money while at the same time living your passion, you can still integrate your passion in your current profession. After all, “Often finding meaning in life is not about doing things differently; it is about seeing familiar things in new ways,” says author Rachel Naomi Remen. More on this below:

Understand You Don’t Have to Change Careers:

No matter what your current profession might be, you have the propensity to make a difference and live your passion. This means, living your passion doesn’t have to include a career move. Not everyone can get a job that embodies their passion. That’s why it’s good to “bloom where you’re planted” so to speak. Whatever your profession, find ways to live your passion within it. The following are a few ways to do that:

Treat People Like They Matter:

To live a life of purpose, you should treat those around you like they matter. For example, a cafeteria worker might feel her job doesn’t matter. Yet, what if while doing her job, she gives kids the only kind words and the most genuine smile they will get each day? Doesn’t that make her job of serving food more purposeful? Another example could include a handyman that takes the time to talk to the widow whose house he is repairing. It might not seem like much to the man, but to the lonely widow who was yearning for company, it can make a great difference. In the service industry, each customer served is another opportunity to make a difference.

Volunteer Your Time To Causes You Believe In:

If your nine to five job isn’t world-changing, that doesn’t mean you can’t still make a difference and live out your passion. Find organizations that are addressing the areas you feel need attention. Join their cause through volunteering your time. If possible, you can find ways to combine your day job with your volunteer efforts. For example, let’s say you work in an office and you want to give back to kids who have cancer. Ask your co-workers to make donations along with you. Organize a visit to a local hospital and take gifts to the kids. Make baked goods, sell them to your co-workers, and then give the proceeds to the organization. You could also take part in a run that benefits the cause and ask your co-workers to join in. The main thing to remember is you don’t have to keep your passion and your profession separate. In fact, many businesses are more than willing to give back to worthy organizations. It’s good PR, and they can write it off on their taxes.

Don’t Give Up:

Above all else, to live a life of passion and purpose, you can’t give up. Even if things haven’t worked out exactly as you would have planned, you can still live a life that changes the world. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to remain in the same career, but you shouldn’t feel the only way to live a life of passion is to change your profession.


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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 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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Print Marketing: Never Underestimate the Value of Letting Someone Unplug

unplug-greenTechnology is all around us. As recently as ten or fifteen years ago, computers weren’t quite the ever-present part of our lives that they are today. They were usually reserved for when you got home from a hard day at work or school and not something you used all day every day. Flash forward to today, where 77% of adults in the United States own a smartphone according to Pew Research – a device that’s literally more powerful than the combined computing that NASA used to send men to the moon in the 1960s.

All of this may underline how important our digital lives are becoming with each passing day, but it also helps to illustrate perhaps the most critical benefit that only print marketing collateral can bring to the table: that it isn’t digital at all.

The Digital Divide

Technology addiction, and specifically smartphone addiction, is a very real concern across the United States. According to one study, 89% of Americans check their smartphones “at least one or two times a day.” That may not seem too bad, but when you consider that 36% admit to “constantly checking and using” their phones, things get a little more concerning.

Of those surveyed, 21% of people said that they checked their smartphone at least once every hour. When you add in people between the ages of 18 and 24, that number rises to 36%. According to another study by IDC Research, 80% of smartphone users, in particular, check their mobile devices within fifteen minutes of waking up in the morning. Taking a shower? Brushing your teeth? Getting breakfast ready? All of these things take a back seat to finding out what your friends are up to on Facebook or checking your work email account for new messages.

While this may sound alarming, it again perfectly illustrates one of the reasons why print marketing is, and will always be, so valuable. Whether you realize it or not, you’re giving someone a chance to unplug. You’re giving them permission to take a breather from the internet and to check in with something tangible, something that they can hold in their hands, and something that they can pass along to their friends. You’re letting them tap into an experience – a physical one, at that – that people don’t get nearly enough of these days.

What This Means For Direct Mail

This digital divide is likely a large part of the reason why in the last ten years, direct mail response rates have shot up 14%. What else happened during the last ten years, you ask? That’s right – the Apple iPhone was released in 2007 and the smartphone explosion occurred, changing large portions of our lives for all time.

According to yet another survey, an incredible 92% of younger shoppers say they actually prefer direct mail when it comes time to make purchasing decisions – the same demographic who check their phones constantly. These ideas may seem like they’re in conflict with one another, but they really aren’t.

With print marketing, you’re giving people an opportunity to do something they want more of but just can’t seem to find time for: stop thinking about their digital lives for a minute or two so that they can focus on the real world around them. If anything, this is something that is only going to get MORE precious as time goes on, which is why print marketing is and will always be one of the most effective ways to reach out to someone to make a strong, emotional connection that benefits you both.


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