Best Practices For Integrating Your Remote Workforce

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As technology continues to evolve, so do the lives we lead – both personally and professionally. According to one study conducted by Gallup, nearly 43% of employees in the United States spent at least some time working remotely in 2016 – a significant 4% jump from just a few years earlier in 2012. Remote work is such an attractive proposition that it has even begun to play a major role in an employee’s decision of whether to work for a particular company – something that poses a number of interesting implications for their employers.

Chief among them is the idea of what a “team” is supposed to be. Your employees are all important individually, but their contributions are supposed to add up to a larger, more critical whole. How is that possible when a large part of your workforce barely sets foot in the office, if they do so at all? In truth, integrating your remote workforce into your in-office one is a lot more straightforward than you might think; you just have to keep a few key things in mind.

Integration Begins With Leadership

The absolute best practice for integrating your remote workforce in with your “live and in-person” employees begins and ends with you: their leader. Never overlook an opportunity, no matter how small, to bring remote employees into the fold and make them feel like they’re a part of the greater good. If you start an email chain, for example, don’t just include the “in-person” employees.  Make sure that everyone who needs to know is involved, regardless of location.

Don’t hold those weekly meetings on-site and then send remote workers a summary after the fact. Embrace the benefits of teleconferencing and allow them to dial-in live and in person. If you’re hosting a company get-together or are taking employees out for a well-deserved meal, make sure that you extend the invitation to those outside the office. This is especially important if they work from home (or elsewhere) 100% of the time. These are small moves, but they’re also meaningful ones that help remind people that wherever they are, they are equally valued in your eyes.

Encouragement and Communication

Another critical step to take to integrate your remote workforce better involves slightly adjusting the way your in-person teams communicate. Make it a priority to embrace instant messaging or collaboration platforms like Slack to keep team members connected together. Not only will this make in-person employees feel a bit like they’re a part of the “remote” world, but the reverse will also be true. Your remote workers will feel more connected to your office as well.

Always remember the one factor that matters the most: encouragement. If someone does a terrific job or blows your expectations away, acknowledge them on the most prominent stage even if they work remotely. Just because someone isn’t regularly in the office or the other employees don’t see them every day doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve their fair share of recognition. Any move that you would make to reward an in-person employee should be extended to your remote workforce. Not only will this help make them feel like they’re equal contributors, but it will also go a long way towards bringing your teams together to form the cohesive whole that you need them to be.

 


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

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

Augmented Reality and Printing

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

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

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

QR Codes

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

QR Codes and Virtual Reality

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

Variable Data Printing

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

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

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


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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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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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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.

The Major Qualities That Separate B2B and B2C Marketing Collateral

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When it comes to any marketing, the importance of taking the time to understand your audience cannot be overstated enough. Marketing is all about communication, and how can you expect to properly open up a conversation with someone if you don’t bother to learn the same language? This is especially true regarding both B2B and B2C marketing collateral, which aren’t as different as you might think. You can approach things from similar angles and even use both channels as a way to convey the same message but, at the end of the day, the major qualities that separate one group from the next comes down to your understanding of your audience.

B2C Marketing Can Be More Emotional

B2B or “business-to-business” marketing is all about solving problems. You have a product or service, your customer has a problem, and only you can solve it. Therefore, your marketing becomes all about showing in the most logical, rational way possible how you can help your customer accomplish that goal in a way that meets their needs and falls within the budget they have to work with.

B2C or “business-to-customer,” on the other hand, is intended to side-step the rational side of it all and play more to a person’s emotions. Your end goal is less “here is how my company can make your job easier” and more “here is how my company can make your life better.

B2B Markets Are Typically Smaller

Concerning sheer market size, when you’re going after a B2B audience you’re usually talking about a much smaller group of people. It’s much more of a niche audience, which lets you laser-focus your messaging on core pain points without worrying about alienating people who can’t relate to them.

Because B2C markets are much, much larger, your messaging will tend to be a little broader at the same time. Instead of focusing on how to make your product or service appealing to a few thousand people, you could be trying to go after as many as a million or more with one sleek, sophisticated message. This will also change everything from the language you use to the type of materials you put out there.

Your Goals Are the Same. Your Tools Are Different.

As stated, your ultimate goals in both B2B and B2C situations are often very similar. It’s how you achieve those goals that will vary wildly. Case in point: both B2B and B2C customers are much more likely to make a sale if you can establish yourself as an authority in a topic area.

B2C customers like their marketing collateral short and snappy, so real estate is at a premium. You have to get in and get out, all while still showing off how much you know in the process. With B2B customers, you can take your time. You can use more lengthy, highly detailed content that is filled with technical jargon not because the audience is more sophisticated, but because they’re looking for the same thing in a totally different way.

While it’s true that B2B and B2C marketing collateral can often look completely different from one another, they’re not as distant as you might think. The “what” and the “why” of marketing never changes, regardless of what you’re trying to sell and who you’re trying to sell it to. It is the “how” of it all that will play an important role in the types of decisions you make moving forward.


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