The First Cut is the Deepest (Work with me, will ya?)

No, this is not a tribute to Rod Stewart. Nor is this a solution to a recurring nuisance (i.e. the dreaded paper cut) that continues to plague our industry.

Instead, it’s a mild celebration of making the first cut in a national TV contest.  ABC’s Good Morning, America recently launched a contest inviting viewers to tell them about their jobs. They asked their audience to explain, in 250 words or less, why a Good Morning America anchor should come join them for a day and work with them side-by-side.

I figured that our story was as interesting as the next person’s, so this is what I submitted:

Newspapers are folding! Print advertising is in sharp decline! Pundits are announcing the Death of Print.  And yet, as the owner of a small, second-generation family owned printing company, I still love my job.  And I challenge YOU to Work with Me, GMA! 

 Many may say I dont fit the mold for this type contest. Im a business owner making an above-average living. Is it a uniquely tough, get-your-hands-dirty type job? No.  Do I use earth-shattering never before seen technology? Nope.  

 But I am responsible for the livelihood of our twelve employees AND their families.  My business provides the continuing retirement income for my parents.  Our oldest of four children will be entering college next fall.  And I own a business whose industry is in a downward spiral, with little hope of recovery.  So while it may not be an ideal situation for a contest, it could certainly qualify for a late-night horror show!

 And yet, I love it.

Advances in technology enabled our company to transform into something completely new. Weve embraced change to become an entity that helps our clients not only use print, but to help clients us it to improve and grow their businesses.

Until recently, I had no clue what PURLs, VDP, QR, SMS or W2P meant.  Today, these exciting tools are making us uniquely successful.

Dont you want to learn more?  Sure you do, thats why I challenge you to Work with Me, GMA!

Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when I received a phone call from ABC News, informing me that I had made the first cut of applicants.  Out of thousands of entries, thats not too bad. What followed was a 10 minute interview, upon which they will make their final determination of the contest winners.  Who knows, maybe George Stephanopoulos will want to make a return visit to Little Rock.

So tell me, why would someone want to work with you?

Paul Strack, CustomXM

Custom Lightbox!

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Moving Forward with QR Codes

In case you have not noticed, we at CustomXM have been pushing QR codes for about a year now. We really like them, more than cupcakes even. Mostly we think they have the potential to change the face of marketing and advertising. We have been very impressed with how far QR codes have come in the last year, this time in 09 it was a novelty, now it is beginning to get serious attention.

As a marketer and advertiser I feel like there are few directions that QR codes need to go from here to be successful.

Mobile Websites – The largest problem I have seen so far with the use of QR codes in marketing and advertising is that more times than not the code takes you to a non-mobile optimized website. For example NYC released an awesome QR code campaign a couple of weeks ago. The problem with this however is that when you scanned the code it took you to the NYC website which is designed for computer viewing.

QR codes are scanned using smart phones, they are going to be viewed on these smart phones, why then would you take someone to a website that is not optimized for mobile viewing? Give people larger text, bigger links, and html 5 interactive elements.

Creative Placement – More often than not a QR code is just shoved in as an afterthought. Designers need to make the code part of the creative rather than a separate item. By making the QR code more appealing it begins to bring the focal point of the ad to the QR code, increasing the possibility for action.

Higher Usage – As is always the case with emerging technology, the question of adoption comes up. Do you go ahead and start including it and hope the users pick it up, or do you wait for adoption rates to increase before you begin using it? I say go ahead and be in front of adoption rates in an attempt to drive adoption in your industry.

  Greg Henderson is a marketing and social media professional with 8 years marketing and online experience. Greg has worked with several companies focusing on integrating online and offline marketing.

Our Kodak Video Challenge Winner is…

Jessica Yu from Calgary (print lives internationally too). Here is the winning idea:

– Two people are in a car/limo.

Envelopes, business cards are everywhere and they’re both sketching furiously on envelopes – they’re trying to meet a deadline.

The driver, Paul Strack in a tuxedo, glares at them from the rear-view mirror. He tells the two people about how CustomXM can do that for them: full color envelopes, letterheads, business cards, etc.

One of them gasps and whispers, “CustomXM must get a lot of trophies and prizes!” Paul Strack drums his fingers on the steering wheel and sings, “but it’s not about the awards.”

The two people pull out their phones and do a bit of clicking around and BAM – they’re done! They’ve sent their stuff off to CustomXM. One of them proudly states, “You go, CustomXM!” and high fives the person sitting beside him/her.

Both of their phones vibrate..they’ve both got a text message!

The two people hold their phones side by side – the camera goes for an overhead shot of both their phones and on the phone that’s on the left, it says, in a bright, bold font: “Print.” On the phone that’s on the right hand side: “Lives.”

Marketing to Millennials

*Note: After much input from the community I want to clarify something. The point of this post is not to knock down GenX. There are plenty of great success cases of GenXers succeeding. However as a generation they are following a generation that has (due to numbers and late retirements) held them back considerably. The notable difference with GenY is that we have developed an overall mistrust of employers. This has led to an entrepreneurial spirit that has helped us rise more quickly than the previous generation. Simply put we don’t wait for a job, we either find the job or create it. The point to this post is to encourage consideration of GenY when marketing and highlight the fact that there is a growing need to market specifically to GenY.

I’ll admit, I really enjoy the whole Millennial vs Baby Boomer debate that is growing now that more and more millennials are entering the work place. The most fascinating thing about the debate is that it seems to be all written by boomers, to boomers, in hopes to understand millennials. Very rarely do you see something actually written by a millennial.

The reality is that boomers are retiring, and fast. In 5-10 years there will be more individuals in decision making roles that are millennials than boomers. Generation X has largely failed to succeed in the corporate world; millennials are showing signs of leaping over Generation X in the workplace at an astonishing pace. In order for marketing to continue to be effective millennials must be accounted for in marketing strategies.

The problem with this is that boomers often struggle to understand us millennials, and have a very hard time marketing to us. The generations are so vastly different that boomers struggle to understand why their traditional marketing fails at a high rate. This has led many marketers to take drastic measures such as abandoning print that still does not produce results.  So speaking as a millennial here are 5 tips in marketing to millennials:

1 – Get your idea out quick: I often get hit with marketing pieces developed by boomers that open with a paragraph of information. Mellennials are constantly connected, which means we have a steady stream of information coming in at all times. We quickly decide what to pick up and what to toss and we move on to the next item. Your message has to show immediate value.

2 – Engage us: We like challenges and involvement. Find ways to pull us into the marketing material and make us a part of it rather than simply pushing information.

3 – Wow us: We are so bombarded with information and marketing that we feel like we have seen it all. We are the ADD generation; show us the cool shiny toy that takes our attention away from everything else.

4 – Make information available: We are informationaholics (yes I just made up a word). Once you get our attention we crave and need more information. I’ve wasted days digging for information on a company that got my interest. Heck @AlextCone is still digging up info on @charitywater a year later. Make sure a wealth of information is available to us on the back end to complete the marketing pitch

5 – Don’t forget the print. Yes we live digitally, but because of that a well crafted print piece can quickly accomplish 1-3. Make your print piece relevant, engaging, and most of all creative. Work in things like dimensional printing, die cuts or shiny foil press, to make it stand out and grab our attention. Follow it up with a web link that is specific to that piece that gives us more information.

  Greg Henderson is marketing and social media professional with 8 years marketing and online experience. Greg has worked with several companies focusing on integrating online and offline marketing.

The sources for this have been pulled from a number of presentations, articles, and books on the topic of generations that I have attended or read over the past year or two. I will update the below source list as I am able to recover these:

Real Time Reactions…What is Fast Enough?

Marketing Question: what is considered a quick turnaround in the super-connected world we all live in? Life with smartphones, email, texting and Twitter means that we are available to be touched 24 hours a day. This hyper-access has accelerated people’s expectations of what is a reasonable amount of time they should wait for a response to a query.  How many times have you received a phone call from someone wanting to know if you got their email because you had not responded yet? How fast is fast enough. It appears that the gap is closing.

How much does the rate of response affect ROI?  A comprehensive lead response management survey from MIT and found that the odds are 21 times greater of qualifying a Web-based lead if it is responded to in five minutes versus 30 minutes.  How do you do that? What tools are available to make that happen?

One answer is cross-media based marketing strategies that include direct mail, email and interactive Internet tools. Utilizing PURLs (personalized URLs) and database digital printing technologies to produce unique printed pieces in one print run, you can drive potential customers to a micro-site that will generate an email notice to your Sales Team in seconds. This allows your team to respond in the critical time period when the prospect is prime for purchasing your goods or services. This all sounds very complex and expensive but the reality is that this technology is very affordable and very simple to incorporate into your current marketing strategy.

What sort of techniques are you using to respond quickly to your prospects? Is it working? Have any of your clients communicated to you that they appreciated your quick response?  Let us know. We are always looking for ideas that work. A marketing plan utilizing cross-media tools to drive prospects to your site and to give you the ability to respond immediately will help generate the immediate responses and ROI you are looking for to succeed.

Steve Davison is a marketing consultant providing marketing and sales support to CustomXM. When he is not doing that Steve is a professional touring guitarist.

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The E-reader Review: Kindle vs. iPad

Let’s ignore the fact that a “print guy” is comparing two popular e-readers.  Consider it market research.  Let’s also ignore the fact that it’s probably a little odd for one person to have two e-readers.  For the record, the Kindle was a Christmas gift from my wife. The iPad was an Easter gift(?) to my wife.  (Okay, maybe that one is a stretch).  So I have both and this fact was made known to a couple of Twitter friends – Arlton Lowry (@arlton) and Tom Dixon (@twd3lr).  They had the bright idea that I review both and give them some feedback.  I agreed to do so with the condition that they recommend the reading material.  Arlton suggested Meatball Sundae by Seth Godin; Tom suggested The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. So I accepted their challenge, and began immersing myself simultaneously in an informative business book, and a popular fiction title aimed at young adults. (Again, a stretch, but please play along with me.)

This review is purely based upon each product as a simple e-reader.  And by that, I don’t mean interactive, multimedia experiences.  I approached each device as a tool used to read business books and/or novels.   I did not consider how each device handled magazines, newspapers or blogs. 

So, in no particular order…


Wikipedia defines ergonomics as the science of designing equipment to fit its user.  I’ve never once given much thought to this term, until now.  In this case, the Kindle has the superior design.  At 10.2 ounces, it is less than one half the weight of the iPad (1.6 lbs.).   Initially, that doesn’t sound like a significant difference, especially given the functionality of the iPad. But remember, I am comparing e-readers, and nothing else.  The Kindle is smaller (8” x 5.3”) than the iPad (9.56” x 7.47”), and that works in its favor as well.  Being smaller and lighter, the Kindle feels more book-like. While reading in a comfortable chair, lounging on a sofa, sitting out on the porch, reading in bed, or even standing,   the Kindle is just more comfortable.  It’s easier to move and handle.  Read while cross-legged?  Kindle is kinder. Read while leaning on your left elbow; then need to switch to your right? The Kindle accommodates. The Kindle just works better for how I read.  It’s design works better for me.  So for ergonomics, the Kindle wins.

WINNER: Kindle


We take books wherever we go, right?  Especially paperbacks.  So we should expect the same maneuverability and portability from our e-readers. Again, due to its smaller size and lighter weight, I give the nod to the Kindle.  I found it interesting that I handled the iPad more gingerly.  Granted, it’s a more expensive device (more on that later). But because it is so much more than an e-reader, I tend to handle it differently; with greater caution. I didn’t treat it like a paperback; I was treating it more like a laptop.

(On a subject related to “portability”, is “pot-ability”.  While this may be a gender specific category, the Kindle wins this one too.)

WINNER: Kindle

Daytime Reading

Avid readers look forward to the warmer days of spring and summer so they can enjoy their pleasure poolside or beachside. Since Arlton and Tom weren’t subsidizing my research, I improvised in my backyard with a lawn chair and ice chest.  No difference really.  But the big question here was how the iPad’s backlit LED display compares to the Kindle’s electronic ink display.  For my reading enjoyment, there was simply no comparison.  It was difficult at best to read the iPad in the bright sunlight.  Regardless of the brightness setting, the backlit screen got lost in the sunlight.  I found the overall glare on screen and the black iPad frame to be distracting.

The outdoor Kindle experience was better by far.  No glare, no difficulty in adjusting to the outdoor brightness.  In fact, in many ways, I found the Kindle an even better outdoor reading experience than that of a traditional paperback.  While in direct sunlight, the Kindle screen seemed easier on the eyes than that of real paper.  (If you quote me, the print guy, on this, I will deny it.)

WINNER:  Kindle

Nighttime Reading

As you might expect, the iPad’s screen has the upper hand in this category.  In low light, or complete darkness, it is difficult, if not impossible, to read with the Kindle.  (My first question upon receiving the Kindle was how to adjust the screen brightness.  You can’t). However, as a book reader, I will point out that it is difficult, or impossible to read a traditional book in these conditions as well.  So what is the solution?  A reading light. Works for books, works for the Kindle too.

But in this area, the iPad does have the better solution.  While the glare of the backlit screen was initially a distraction, I was able to overcome that and better enjoy the nighttime reading experience. 

But is reading in the dark a necessity?


Page turning

Both devices allow you to turn pages by tapping either the screen or the designated button.  These “buttons” are positioned so you can use your thumbs or index fingers to turn the pages for you. The Kindle does have a “previous page” button that often comes in handy.  A similar button may exist for the iPad, but I have yet to discover it.  I see no clear winner or loser in this category.


Color vs. B/W

The iPad’s hi-res color screen is outstanding.  While a color screen is not essential to the enjoyment of reading a novel or business book, it is nice to have the ability to “highlight” text selections in true, highlighter yellow.  In comparison, highlights for the Kindle are accomplished via an underline of the selected text.

Although I said I wasn’t going to compare newspaper or blog reading between the two, I must admit that the iPad is the clear leader for reading this media.  The color and interactivity of the iPad create a whole new experience for on-line newspaper reading.  I had subscribed to an on-line newspaper on the Kindle, but quickly cancelled that after seeing the iPad alternative.



The Kindle uses its “Whispernet” network to provide free wireless access to the Amazon store.  This is extremely useful for not only purchasing books, but for syncing with other Kindle devices (iPhone) you may own.  Its access is generally available all times, in most all places.

The current iPad includes wi-fi access.  My recent experiences with this at my house has been frustrating.  While it is not necessary to have wireless access while reading an e-book, it is necessary to purchase, download, and sync books.  It seems that everytime I turn on the iPad, it is often slow to access our wireless connection.  Often, I must re-enter our password before connecting.  And as we all know, this version of the iPad doesn’t have 3G connectivity.  And when it is available, it will come at a price.

Kindle wins this category.

WINNER:  Kindle

Battery Life

An iPad can go about 10 hours without needing recharging; the Kindle can go about a week.  Enough said.

WINNER:  Kindle

Cost of Ownership

Maybe this is the most critical category; especially when we look at the original purpose of this post – to compare e-readers.

The Kindle currently costs $269.00. Most books on the Kindle cost $9.99.  However, Meatball Sundae was $14.37 for the Kindle and $18.99 for the iPad. 

The iPad costs $499 for the 16gb wireless configuration. Most books, with the exception noted above, are about $9.99 as well.

While the Kindle is not cheap, it seems to be a fair price for what it is: a high quality device to be used for reading electronic books.  The iPad, at nearly twice the cost, is so much more than an e-reader.  We all know that, but my charge here is to compare e-readers.  So in that regard, the iPad is overpriced as just an e-reader.

And we all know, in about 9 months to a year, the prices of both will most likely drop.  Significantly.

WINNER:  Kindle


The Kindle is designed to one thing, and it does it very well.  It’s lightweight, portable, easy to handle, user friendly, and a great device for reading books.  As one who once said, “Oh, but I will miss the feel of turning the pages”, I can assure you, you will get over it.  The Kindle makes the e-reading experience that good.

The iPad is an amazing device.  Other than the connectivity issues I mentioned, I am truly amazed every time I turn it on.  But I don’t think of it as an e-reader.  It has so much more functionality. It can (probably will) become a replacement for a laptop or home computer.  And, if you need to, you can read a book with it.

If I were looking purely for an e-reader to read novels, business journals or books, even lengthy PDF files, the Kindle would be my recommendation.  When I was on the fence debating about whether to purchase a Kindle, (or tell my wife what I wanted for Christmas), I saw a woman in a Krispy Kreme store using one. I inquired as to how she liked it, and if she missed the touch and feel of a “real book”.  She smiled and said, while pointing to her Kindle, “with this, I don’t have a book, I have at least 60 books with me wherever I go.”  That convinced me, a print guy, that this was what I wanted.  And even with an iPad available to me, I am still convinced that the Kindle is the better device.

What are your thoughts on e-readers?  If you have other questions about either device, please let me know and I would be happy to answer them.

Paul Strack is the president of CustomXM. Paul has become a leader in the print industry for his integration of social marketing into the company’s overall marketing strategy.

Don’t Listen to Kermit, It is Easy Being Green

Today, as you all should know, is earth day. As marketers sometimes it feels like struggle to honor the earth and stay green. When you start calculating the print materials, the postal transportation, the impact of inks, and the overall product waste from over printing you start to feel like maybe you need to go to confession tomorrow.

I decided to chat a bit with our president Paul Strack, who knows a thing or two about printing and confessions, to see what we can do to help offset the environmental impact.

Greg: Can marketers request recycled paper or materials in their print jobs?

Paul: We actually use a large number of recycled materials our printing process to begin with. A large portion of our paper is recycled, we use recycled boxes, and I recycle a lot of old jokes so I am sure that makes some impact.

Greg: How about the chemical impact of using inks?

Paul: Our Kodak Nexpress is actually green itself, it uses no harmful chemicals and the toner we use for it does not affect the “recyclability” of the paper. Not to mention some genius suggested we use all the pollen off my truck for yellow ink, so we have cut back on the impact of the employees washing my truck every Thursday.

Greg: Over printing is always an issue for me. I have taken jobs before where we have thousands of out dated materials from as far back as the 70’s sitting around that will have to be thrown away.

Paul: We have made the move as a company to focus on digital printing. The plus side to digital is that it allows you to print exactly what you need without waste. You no longer have to print several thousand extra just to hit price breaks. This reduces the quantities needed and as a result saves landfill space and trees. Now let’s just hope my wife doesn’t find a way to get rid of her outdated husband and reduce the space he takes up.

Greg: So essentially CustomXM already took the steps for marketers to reduce their environmental impact and there is nothing we can do to make ourselves feel better?

Paul: Yeah, basically. Let me know if you need the number to my priest.

image  Greg Henderson is marketing and social media professional with 8 years marketing and online experience. Greg has worked with several companies focusing on integrating online and offline marketing.

The CustomXM – Kodak Video Challenge – Enter and you may win!

There are vendors, and there are partners.  Kodak is one of our partners.  Over the past three years, Kodak has played an instrumental role in helping us expand our offering of digital printing solutions.  In addition to these successes, this relationship has lead to numerous award recognitions over that past several months. As a result, Kodak will soon feature CustomXM in a series of print, on-line, and trade publications.

But this recognition is not about the awards.  It’s about our success in adapting to the digital world around us.  It’s about the solutions we provide for our clients. And, it’s about how we interact with you.

Now we are beginning a fun new venture together.  As part of our continuing, combined efforts to show CustomXM as a thought leader and innovative solutions provider, we are attempting to expand the reach, awareness, and influence of the graphic communications industry through a series of videos.

And we need your help. We need your ideas.  And we want to have some fun!  So here’s what we want you to do:  Give us some ideas for a short one to two minute video.  Videos will be filmed in our facilities, using a Kodak Zi8 HD video camera.  One lucky winner will win their own Kodak Zi8 HD video camera. This lucky winner will be selected from all the qualified entries.  To be considered for entry into our Video Challenge contest, your idea MUST include:

  • The concept of our president, Paul Strack, appearing in the video while wearing a tuxedo
  • The phrase, “but it’s not about the awards.”, must be included in the video script
  • The concept, or tagline, “Print Lives” must be worked into the video in some manner

For an example, take a look at this video we recently produced:

Videos that we produce and submit to Kodak may be posted as appropriate on Kodak TV, YouTube,, other industry sites, and of course, our CustomXM site.

Again, we will choose one winner from all qualified entries.    Additionally, if we select to produce a video from the qualified entrants’ ideas, we will award another Kodak Zi8 HD video camera to the entrant of the first video we select to produce.

So here are the submission guidelines:

Submit your ideas via the blog comments below, or send via email to [email protected].

In addition to the 3 requirements listed above, describe to us a scene or two you would include. Visit our website at,  or our facebook page to learn more about who we are and what we do.  Use this information to make your ideas relevant to our organization.  Finally, let’s have some fun.

Deadline for entry is Friday, April 30.