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.

How do I get folks to open the envelope?

While discussing a subscription renewal appeal for the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, the Rep’s Director of Marketing, our good friend Angel Galloway (@angelmg) asked, “How do I get folks to open the envelope?” 

After getting over the excitement that Angel still considers direct mail a viable marketing channel. (Trust me, it is!), here are some of the tips we offered, as well as a few others: 

  • Make the piece relevant to the recipients. It the message is designed specifically for the recipients, it is more likely to be read.
  • Variable data helps make the message more relevant.  Using the information (database) you already know about your recipients, your message can be individually tailored to them.
  • The offer inside is king! In creating a highly effective direct mail campaign, your offer is 40% of the battle, the database is 40%, and the creative is 20%.
  • Focus on the offer, not necessarily the brand.  Respect the brand, but don’t make it the overriding element of a direct mail campaign.
  • Remember, the campaign is not about you, it’s about your recipient. Talk to them, keeping in mind the things they want to hear. 
  • Instead of “spray & pray”, target your audience and your message.  Don’t try to be too many things to too many people.  Main Street, USA is still where most of us live.
  • Try “lumpy” mail.  Include something in the envelope that creates an “I wonder what’s inside” feeling. (a pen, a keychain, etc.)
  • Make the offer obvious .  Make it evident what your recipient is supposed to do.
  • Color graphics capture attention and improve response rates. With improved digital printing technology, you can affordably add color and variable data printing to envelopes as well.
  • Where practical, include free samples – let your target audience give it a shot.  Let sampling campaigns prove the power of your product.  (In a recent USPS survey, 82% said they would try a product after receiving a sample)
  • Regardless of the channels used, be sure to incorporate ways  to track response rates – Business Reply, offer codes, QR codes, PURLS, specific 800 numbers, etc.

As consumers continued to be bombarded by email and more and more online advertising, now, more than ever, may create a situation where direct mail is more likely to be noticed.  Mail volume has decreased, this in turn may create more opportunity for your message to get noticed by this marketing channel. 

Want to try full color, targeted envelopes to see how it improves your open rates? Enter our Bucket O’ Swag Facebook giveaway to get 50 free prints along with other items. Or if you are ready take advantage of our 2 for 1 special going on right now.

What direct mail success techniques would you like to share?  We’d love to hear from you.

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.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

I had the pleasure of attending   the 2010 Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism. If the venue itself, Eureka Springs, was not engaging and entertaining enough, the information presented was certainly captivating for those in attendance.  More importantly, the information was welcome and exciting news for all of us as citizens of the Great State of Arkansas.

Rarely do I look at Arkansas as a visitor, but my eyes were opened to the incredible work that our State Parks and Tourism , Aristotle  and CJRW  are doing to bring visitors to the Natural State. And it is nothing short of amazing.

Consider this:

  • The primary site for Arkansas tourism: received 6,184,550 visitor sessions in 2009. This was a 10.5% increase over 2008.
  • Arkansas is the first state to incorporate the use of QR codes, or mobile tagging, which allow visitors to take advantage of URL shortcuts to travel information throughout The Natural State.
  • allows you to enjoy the sights of Arkansas through the eyes of four Travel Writers covering all areas of the State. No other state comes close to this complete coverage.
  • When defining “market share” as number of hits to its website, Arkansas is ranked number one compared to all contiguous states, including Texas!
  • Arkansas became one of the first states to launch its own iPhone app. Using this app, you can find coupons for family fun and shopping, or get daily specials at an Arkansas spa. Even catch special rates for romantic getaways, weddings and honeymoons.
  • During 2009, Arkansas was in the top five of the most visited state tourism sites every month, except one, in which we were 6th(Hey, even our state needs a short vacation!)
  • And the most amazing fact:  All these resources are available free of charge to you, me and the tourism destinations that choose to take advantage of them.

One other “undocumented” fact, but one I witnessed personally, is that the Tourism Communications Manager, Dena Woerner (@DenaJill) has got to be the hardest working dynamo in the tourism industry. You may try to follow her on Twitter, but you can’t catch her.

So there you have it: A State Agency, An Internet Agency, and an Ad Agency, working in unison to make Arkansas Travel & Tourism tops in America.  How is it done?  Naturally.

The peak travel season is drawing near, won’t you share with us your favorite Arkansas destination?

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.

Becoming a Linchpin

After a lot of persuasion from friends I finally picked up a copy of Seth Godin’s Linchpin this week. Just a few chapters in it is already a book that changes the way I view my position. However something struck me this morning. Why can a company itself not serve as a Linchpin for the community as a whole?

Godin describes a Linchpin as people who “invent, lead, connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos”. In a sense that really is what CustomXM has become in my mind to our community.

I met Paul a little less than a year ago. I was immediately struck by how he tries to push the envelop of what a print company can be, without fear of being ridiculed or making a mistake. That is the essence of a Linchpin.

Paul approached me as you all know a few months ago to help him with social media. I accepted not based on pay, because I could certainly make more doing other side jobs, but because I wanted to be a part of what he was doing here. I’ve seen him do that with others as well. CustomXM is up to something game changing in the print industry, and people want to be a part of it.

Finally, I am not sure if you noticed or not but the print industry is in a state of chaos. Traditional print business models simply are not working. The tighter a company embraces those models the quicker they are to fall. Everything you knew about print 5 years ago is dead. Offset press – dead, envelopes and stationary – dying with mail, large print productions – dead. Paul and CustomXM has chosen to embrace this new culture of technology, speed, interactivity, and personalization by creating a form of order out of the chaos that the print industry has fallen into. More than that he is constantly pushing the edge of what print can do and has, from what I have seen, become a leader in the industry.

Now Paul does not pay me to talk good about his company, in fact he will not see this until I publish it. I write this particular blog as a customer of CustomXM, which I am. CustomXM has become exceptional in the Little Rock community, they even have the awards to back that up. In a sense they have become a Little Rock business Linchpin.

I work every day with struggling manufacturing businesses, if there is any industry that understands the recession as well as the print business it is manufacturing. I have come to realize that the reason for this recession is not the housing market or corrupt loans. It is because businesses refused to think, they continued to do the same old thing every day. The other parts such as loans just brought the problems to the surface. In order for the US to survive and grow again we need business Linchpins in communities across America to step up the way that CustomXM has to lead this change.

If you are a business owner ask yourself what your company is doing. Are you sticking to your old principles or are you taking a risk and breaking the mold to become better than your best? Pick up a copy of Linchpin, take some time to apply it to your business, and lets get better together.

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.

And the Award Goes to……Social Media

We were recently selected as Arkansas Business of the Year in a night that was equally euphoric as it was humbling.  When I consider how fortunate we were to even make the cut as one of the five finalists, I naturally look at the efforts of our staff, and the loyalty of our clients.  Both combine to allow us to provide high energy, creative solutions in a enthusiastic way.

As I explore further the reasons for our success, I cannot ignore the role technology has played along the way. Throughout our 44 year history, we’ve tried to walk fine line between being on the “leading edge” of technology, without crossing over into the “bleeding edge”. And during 2009, we made the leap into the realm that is called Social Media.

Is it fair say that Twitter had a role in our selection as Business of the Year?  Consider this, over the past 9 months, Social Media in general, and Twitter specifically, has:

  • Made our company more accountable and responsive.  (The world is listening.)
  • Made me a better spokesperson. ( LRTweetup is chock full of communicators, PR types, marketers, and more. All are incredibly smart, and giving.  I have learned much from all of them.)
  • Greatly increased our brand. (For 42 years we’ve been known as Custom Printing Company. Yet, to our Social Media crowd, the only name they recognize is CustomXM.)
  • Increased my vocabulary. (think: Words with Friends)
  • Improved my writing skills. (140 character limit makes one be succinct.)
  • Totally reinvented my thoughts about business lunches. (Free Valet Parking!)
  • Improved my listening skills. (Some might call it voyeurism, but the audience IS talking. We must listen.)
  • Taught me how to Engage, Interact, and React.
  • Created some incredible relationships.

And that final point is the key to any organizations’ success. The relationships. Our relationships with our staff, our clients, and our friends make us better as individuals,  and as a company.

So on behalf of social media, we humbly accept this award.

How has Social Media improved your company?  Please share your success with us.

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.

The state of digital printing

Let’s start with some statistics:

1) According to Pira International, the total global digital printing market has grown 122% since 2002, and by 2012, it is expected to double again, accounting for 21% of the overall global printing market as a whole.

2) Today, 30% of print providers offer web-to-print services. (CAPV)

3) 30% of today’s digital work is versioned or personalized. (Interquest)

What I hear loud and clear from these facts is that the future of print is healthy. As the economic situation in our country continues to force companies to tighten their belts and their budgets, the efficiencies of digital printing become more and more critical to a company’s marketing strategy. Let’s take a brief look at the how and why:

(Digital) Print-on-demand: In the past, the price points gained by printing long runs on off-set presses was the key factor in how printed material was produced. The price per unit was the determining factor. Alas, in most cases boxes of printed material was sent to the landfill because it had become irrelevant and outdated.  Therefore the cost efficiency of long runs was not as great as imagined.  POD allows you to create short runs of relevant material at an affordable cost and also gives you the added benefit of being able to personalize each printed piece and take advantage of the power of targeted marketing.

Another advantage of POD is the ability to merge your print production and fulfillment with a web-to-print solution online giving you a greater amount of control in your print purchasing than you could imagine.  Picture this…a company’s sales force can go online and order sales collateral that is personalized for their prospects, in their region and have the product shipped directly  to them without ever having to pick up a phone.  The web-to-print portal can also produce reports on usage, manage warehousing of certain products and provide online proofing and design features.

Integrated Marketing Solutions: What is an integrated marketing solution you ask?  Good question. In our print-centric approach, digital printing’s abiity to create personalized print pieces allows us to harness the power of database technology and the web to create marketing campaigns in multiple channels.  Using Personalized URLS (PURLS) we can create printed materials that drive prospects and clients to websites that are designed to give you the opportunity to A. pitch a product or service B. gather valuable data about the prospect via a survey page including an email address for future marketing purposes C. forwards leads automatically from the site to the proper personnel and last but not least D. provides an online dashboard for managing the campaign. These tools also provide the ability to integrate the campaign with your CRM and your client database.

What kind of strategy does your company have for reducing marketing costs while increasing the efficiency of these strategies?  Can you manage print costs over a large geographic area? Do you have the right tools to drive prospects to your web site? Lets talk about that.

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.

How the iPad Changes the Print Industry

Now we enter the week after the big iPad announcement. There have been tons of talk about how the iPad will revolutionize the book and newspaper industry, but what does it do for the other side of print?

Here are 3 ways I think the iPad will change the print marketing industry for the better.

Accessibility for small business: I’ve worked in small and larger business. In marketing print large business has one key advantage, you can print the thing out, show it around, and get a feel for what the final product will look like. In small businesses you are typically running desktop quality printers that can’t even print clip art right much less high quality graphics.

The iPad is geared at reproducing print quality, which is why they are pitching books and magazines. The iPad gives you a chance to create an ad or a marketing piece, look at it on your iPad for a closer match than your desktop monitor or printer, move it over to your boss if needed for approval, and email it to the printer, all from the same device.

Move from print to web: I talked recently about how QR codes help move people from print to web. While the iPad does not have a camera for QR codes (a camera does not fit the iPad business model) it does provide one more easy to use device that can move people from print to web.

The iPad offers a much better keyboard (overcomes the lack of camera) and can enable an even better web experience than an iPhone.

Personalization: With HTML5 support, large touch screen, and potentially more (with iPhone OS 4) the possibilities are really limitless with how you can personalize your marketing experience to the customer.

Imagine they get a direct mail, go to their URL on their iPad, and suddenly they can be immersed in a full interactive experience.

Above all don’t believe the negative press the iPad is getting, remember the same things were said about this little worthless gadget called the iPod. The iPad has the opportunity to revolutionize all forms of print. Building it into your print marketing model has the potential to put you ahead in the changing marketing landscape.

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 Surprise Inside

Recently we invited our good friend, @simonslee, to speak to us about Customer Service.  His engaging and entertaining remarks were summarized in two simple words:  No Surprises! When it comes to superior customer service, there should be absolutely No Surprises.  We all nodded in agreement, and decided we had a new mantra for 2010.

Upon sharing (via Twitter) a few of Simon’s comments, I received an immediate response from another good friend, @amybhole.  Her response, too, was summarized in two words, “I disagree”.  Amy went on to say that “surprises are the cornerstone of excellent customer service”.

An interesting discussion via Twitter soon followed. What became obvious were two different perspectives on the topic of surprises. And both of them are equally correct.

When it comes to product fulfillment, certain specific expectations exist.  Product price, quality, and delivery date are just a few of the terms that allow no room for surprises. We expect that our FEDEX package will be delivered the next day.  If we are surprised, it is an unpleasant experience.

On the other hand, business (and life) is full of so many pleasant surprises. As Simon agreed while contradicting his original concept, “I find myself regularly able to do things to surprise customers that are spontaneous and unscripted”.  Amy adds that, “being small, independent and upscale gives us the flexibility to surprise even ourselves from time to time!”   And since 1912, Cracker Jacks has promised us the ever-present “surprise inside”.

So was @simonslee’s original challenge wrong? Was @amybhole right? (That question, by the way is rhetorical.  Everyone knows that @amybhole is ALWAYS right!)

Yes. And Yes.  As a product provider, we strive to eliminate unwelcome and unforeseen surprises.  Our processes must ensure that the products arrive on time, are of superior quality and are produced as indicated by agreed upon terms.  That is the bare minimum. As we continue to transform our business into one that provides services, we now look for spontaneous and unscripted ways to surprise clients.  But businesses cannot achieve those pleasant surprises until they have fully implemented the “No Surprises” program during the production process.

And at that point, and this is where I disagree with @amybhole (Lord, help me!), it will certainly come as no surprise to us.

What are your experiences with surprises (good or bad)?  Please share with us and you may be eligible to receive your own surprise.

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.

Market Smart in the Downturn

By 2010 I was hoping I would be done talking about the recession. Over the past year I’ve had several friends ask me about how and why to market in a down economy. The fact is that most successful companies grow through marketing in the latter half of a recession. Even more amazing is that a large percentage of Fortune 100 companies were actually formed during an economic downtown.

By marketing in a down economy you can put yourself ahead of the competition when the economy recovers. The trick to marketing in a downturn is to market smart. Any idiot can market in a booming economy, when people are willing to spend money all you have to do is show them how. In a bad economy though you have to market smart and show people why to spend money. I typically give out 5 tips to market smart in a down economy:

  1. Track – Analytics are key in marketing in a down economy. You have to make sure you get every dime out of your marketing dollars. Using marketing tools like personalized URLs help you measure response from each marketing piece to help you adjust and refine each time you market.
  2. Segment – In an upturn a shotgun approach works fine, you can typically get enough people to bite on a marketing piece to make it worthwhile. In a down economy you must appeal to them individually which means segmenting your database to deliver exactly the right piece to the right people. Sometimes this means sending multiple versions of one piece, by using targeting marketing you can easily run this all in one marketing push.
  3. Be Innovative and Eye Catching – More than likely your competition is going to be marketing as well during the downturn. So make your marketing stand out. Spend a little extra time with a graphic designer, use good photography, and add that special touch to set your marketing piece apart. Remember a marketing piece is only good if someone looks at it.
  4. Understand Your Market – Make sure you are keeping up with what your market wants. Follow your customers on twitter, create a facebook fan page and invite them to it, or buy them lunch sometime just to chat. In a recession you have to go to the customers, don’t expect them to come to you.
  5. Keep it Cheap – I’ve walked into marketing positions before to find dozens of boxes of marketing materials. The people before me must have ordered a million line cards at a time. Every single marketing handout was at least 5 years old and out of date. In a recession, you don’t have a lot to spend, so spend smart. Instead of running large offset print jobs, run smaller digital print on demand jobs. You can run just what you need without running the risk of having expensive out of date materials sitting around in a closet.

Let me know how you market smart in a down economy, drop me a comment below.


Real Integrated marketing with QR Codes

Integrated marketing is what most forward thinking companies strive to achieve with marketing efforts. However a large gap exists between print and web making integration difficult. The use of QR codes in print advertising and marketing can help bridge this gap.

A few years ago while working for a marketing agency the big buzz word was “integrated marketing”. Essentially this was creating marketing flow between your online and offline marketing. Back then this included things like creating targeted URLs to direct people who receive your print piece, creating cohesion between your web site and your print campaigns, and directing people to online signup forms through traditional media. A gap exists between the printed page and a website. This gap is big enough that many modern marketers have written off print advertising completely. People are just reluctant to get a direct mail piece, go to their computer, and type in a web address.

Real quick, look in your pocket or on your desk. Chances are you have a cell phone within reach. In addition chances are it is a smartphone (iPhone, Blackberry, Pre…). The answer to bridging this gap lies right there, it is your constant connection to the world, but you are still not going to type in a web address.

QR codes are a way to help bridge the gap. Web browsing on cell phones is not at a very usable level. Using QR codes in your marketing allows potential customers to easily pick up their cell phone, scan in the QR code, and instantly be directed to the landing page for your ad. The New York Times recently did an article highlighting this very technique with advertising, looking at how various companies are starting a push toward advertising with QR and other 2d bar codes.

As technology and consumer awareness increases so will the integration of print and online marketing. Integrating technologies like QR codes into advertising takes very little effort, and no additional cost. This also adds a second layer of analytical data to marketing efforts, allowing you to better gauge ROI for a print piece. Take a look how Rob McBryde used this integration to move potential customers from his printed business card to his web site.

-Greg Henderson