Office Depot is Gone, Should I Buy VistaPrint?

The good news is that for printing services in the North Little Rock area (and Little Rock area too, I suppose), I have one less competitor to worry about. With the recently announced buyout of Office Depot by Staples, I should now rest easy knowing that some of my competition is going away, right? Since this merger will result in fewer big-box office stores, those businesses needing printed collateral, stationery, marketing materials, banners and posters will now be more willing to visit us, right?

But wait, what about VistaPrint? They keep growing, and continue to expand their global reach and online presence. Certainly they are a competitor. And in this soon-to-be-released commercial, they do a wonderful job of storytelling. It’s the classic story of the prodigal son returning home, and the subtle product placement is nicely done:

Okay, wipe away those tears and continue reading.

Have I lost business to Staples, Office Depot and VistaPrint? Certainly. Have I lost sleep over what these behemoths have done to our industry. Certainly not. (I’ve lost sleep for other reasons, but maybe those are for another day.)

I know that as big and as inexpensive as these competitors have become, they can never replace what we have at CustomXM. In this touching tale of “The Postcard,” I, as a business owner and marketer, have questions arising from the story of Barrett & Son Bakery:

  • Who consulted with them on their branding?
  • Who assisted with the design of their logo?
  • Who installed some of their banners and signs?
  • Who advised them on the need for consistency in their marketing efforts?
  • Did they purchase a database, or was EDDM a better solution for their postcard?
  • Surely they incorporated the use of social media as part of their marketing efforts?
  • And most certainly they developed a cohesive strategy and plan to implement all these efforts, right?

I certainly agree that the online and mega-mortar providers do a good job in fulfilling many business needs, especially if these needs relate to commodity items. But certain customized products and services require more than a simple SKU. They require conversation, a dialogue, maybe even a face-to-face meeting. They require the personalized attention that our team at CustomXM has been providing for over 48 years.

I enjoyed The Postcard video. But more than that, I enjoy the never-ending stories we help create for our customers, and we’ve been doing this for 48 years! But let’s face it, the story of Barrett & Sons Bakery is most likely fictional. That’s where we have the upper hand on VistaPrint and the others. We are proud to share this story of a REAL Bakery, now in its 3rd year. What we lack in video and audio quality as compared to that of The Postcard, we certainly make up for in passion and snarkiness. And please note that this video was made months before The Postcard.

Once again, wipe away those tears and let us know how we can help tell your story.  And we can even let you buy business cards online, too (500 full color for $58.00)!

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Paul Strack [email protected] @pstrack

Can This Be Write?

tablets

Riddle me this…

  • Upon entering his freshmen year at college this past fall, our son was required to purchase an iPad for a particular class.
  • When our daughters began high school, we were required to purchase new laptops through the school for use with various components of the curriculum.
  • Recently, our 22 year old son, a senior, was taken aback by a professor’s request to NOT take classroom notes via a laptop or tablet. In fact, all electronic note-taking is prohibited in this professor’s class.
  • And now J.C. Penney is resurrecting its print catalog.

I’m confused.

I have always been somewhat of an early adopter, and have embraced technology whenever possible. Yet, my livelihood is dependent upon the use of that ancient form of communication – print. Needless to say, as we begrudgingly continue to one day become that “paperless society”, I can’t help but grin at recent developments to the contrary.

Again I ask…

If we are encouraging our students at the collegiate, high school, elementary and even earlier to immerse themselves in all things digital – especially the tools used to advance their education – how do professors justify removing these same tools giving similar reasons?

If online shopping continues to grow exponentially, why would a major retailer bring back a dinosaur of a catalog?

A scientific response could be that neuroscience studies show that physical media such as print leaves a deeper footprint on the human brain than the virtual. I think this suggests that if I write down my grocery list I will remember it better than if I type it in my notes on my phone (with the underlying assumption that I leave both the list and my phone in the car).

But I never did like science. So let’s explore further.

 

students writing

Learning & Literacy

Recent studies continue to indicate how in spite of all the tech tools available to us, print, paper and yes, even handwriting deliver proven benefits and continue to play an essential role in education and development.

  • Elementary students who wrote by hand are found to write more quickly and wrote more complete sentences than those who do not.  (More info here.)
  • Children remembered more details from stories they read on paper than ones they read in e-books. (More info here.)
  • While laptops are commonplace in university classrooms, one of their drawbacks is the distractions they offer. Some research has shown that multitasking on a laptop poses significant distraction not only to the user, but to fellow students as well.

 

Catalogs

Catalog to Internet Sales

J.C. Penney has struggled over the years. It has continued to try to crawl its way back from recent sales declines. So why do they decide to bring back this antiquated, phone book style medium? The answer, it appears, is that in some instances, “if you build it, they didn’t come.” When Penney’s decided to discontinue the Big Book in 2009, it was anticipated that catalog shoppers would migrate online. But it didn’t actually pan out that way. The company eventually learned that a lot of what they thought were new online sales were actually catalog shoppers using the website to place their orders.  And after a half-decade hiatus, it is bringing back its catalog.

Now, retailers are rediscovering the books as a branding tool that can drive sales. According to Kurt Salmon, 31% of shoppers have a catalog with them when they make an online purchase.

What then, does this tell us?

Print drives sales! And print helps you learn and remember!

As if you and I didn’t already know that.

Now where did I put that grocery list???

 

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Paul Strack [email protected] @pstrack

 

What’s New Wednesday – Negative Space

If you are familiar with any visual or graphic design related topics, you probably have heard or even used the phrase, “white space is our friend.” White space, or negative space, is simply that: an unmarked portion of a related graphic, print, canvas or other medium where images or text do not appear. I’ve recently come across an interesting use of negative space that is more literal in nature. It is space so negative, that it doesn’t exist. In theory and in reality, it is full of holes.

Vinyl banners have been a mainstay for outdoor announcements and signage. You see them everywhere – grand openings, auto dealerships, community and sporting events. Banners and signs like these are affordable and effective sales tools. They begin working the moment you put them up, and don’t stop until you take them down. And when the need arises for these to be outdoors for an extended amount of time, or depending upon the height at which these banners will be displayed, you may notice banners with half-moon slits cut into them. This is done to allow the wind to pass through the banners. After all, most advertisers would prefer that they remain banners, and not 6’x10’ sails.

But this may not be the most attractive answer to this problem.

wind-vents-21

Wind slits in banners – a shotgun approach?

Fortunately, an esthetic and functional solution exists, and it’s a wholly pleasant improvement to the situation that involves negative space. Or it’s a holey improvement. Mesh Banner material, a digital media that is 60% material and 40% air (give or take) provides a solution that has some rather eye-catching benefits. This material holds full color images in a stunning fashion, and actually blends into the environment with a near translucent effect depending upon where the direct light hits it.

Mesh banner along walkway at Rockwater Marina.

Mesh banner installed along walkway at Rockwater Marina.

Until recently, I was under the impression that this material was best suited for outdoor environments only. But a visit to JCPenney in North Little Rock showed me how effective this material can be indoors too, especially in the retail environment. In the photos below, you can see how this mesh banner provides an artistic product backdrop when the primary light source is in front of it. Yet, it can appear nearly translucent allowing for product display behind it when the stronger light is behind it.

jcpenny photo 2 jcpenny photo 1

It becomes a very affordable, yet highly effective piece of interior display design.

So if you are looking for an effective way to get your message across, don’t make your audience read between the lines. Instead, let them look through the holes.

 

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Paul Strack [email protected] @pstrack

 

What’s New Wednesday? Paper USB Drives

It’s Wednesday, and you know what day it is?? Of course I’m referring to What’s New Wednesday. Weekly, or at least regularly, or at least on certain Wednesdays, I plan to introduce new products, new ideas or new thoughts that relate to marketing, print and signage. Some of these may well be the next big thing in the world of communications, and some may be nothing more than a curiosity. And let’s be honest, some may just be lame. But we won’t know until we take a look, so let’s begin.

If you know anything at all about me, you know there are two true loves in my life. Yeah, yeah, we all know about my wife and our kids, but I’m not talking about them right now. I’m talking about paper and technology. Old school vs. new school communication. Imagine if you will, a world in which both of them live together in harmony; one feeding off the other. We may have discussed this courtship before when we’ve talked about QR codes and even Augmented Reality. While those relationships still do exist, some of them anyway, I found this newest union to be very interesting.

It’s called swivelCard, and in a nutshell, it’s a paper USB drive that is embedded in a business card. Cool, right? We have smartphones, smartwatches, so why not a smart business card?

Here’s a peek at their Kickstarter video:

http://youtu.be/4zmn7a6Jing

Since it is my sworn duty to explore all things paper-embedded-with-technology, I inquired about becoming a reseller of this product, and purchased a sample pack. I wanted to properly celebrate this marriage made in heaven. Sadly, the honeymoon may be short lived.

I suppose that USB drives are also called thumb drives for a reason. You need your thumb to insert them into the USB slot. And when you combine the fact that I am generally all thumbs, and attempting to gingerly, then not so gingerly insert a paper USB drive into my laptop, the results were less than appealing. Admittedly, I had issues. And crumpling. Fortunately, I had more than one in my sample pack, and finally successfully loaded the drive and launched the content.

I do like this idea and the overall concept. Anything that finds a way to make the printed word more relevant and engaging is a must have for me, But I do have questions that make me wonder if this will have legs:

  • I am sometimes leery of putting USB drives with unknown content into my computer. Is this a widespread concern?
  • I appreciate the concept; I was so excited about it after watching the video. But the construction, folding and execution was a little awkward and borderline cumbersome. For my time, I would rather simply type in a URL, or hey, maybe even scan a QR code.
  • The example of using this in a medical facility is genius; patient education is a great shortfall of our healthcare system and in theory, this could go a long way in making headway in that area. But is it easily deliverable on a patient-by-patient basis? Again, the idea is brilliant.
  • They do have some entertaining video case studies, even one using the swivel card at a wedding. Would you use this for your wedding?
  • And major kudos to include the ability to track and measure analytics with this device. Remember, if you aren’t measuring, you aren’t marketing!
  • But is it cost prohibitive? The swivelCard is much less expensive than a preloaded USB drive. But at a cost of about $2.00 each, it is much more expensive than a standard business card. (Granted, it offers much more than a standard business card.) And the USB drive, based on my mangling experience, may be a one-time use.

Actually, ignore that point, we can always print more!

So that’s What’s New this Wednesday. Is the swivelCard something of interest to you?  Will this marriage last?

And please, tell me What’s New with You?

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Paul Strack

[email protected]

@pstrack

CustomXM Wins Three National Awards!

Yeah, we are a little excited about this…

North Little Rock, AR — October 12, 2014 — CustomXM , a marketing, print and signage provider in North Little Rock, AR recently received three national awards from the graphic arts industry. CustomXM received two “Bennys” (named in honor of Ben Franklin), the highest honor in the 2014 Premier Print Awards, for its campaign announcing its expansion into the wide format and signage market. Additionally, Paul Strack, President of CustomXM, was one of twelve national industry leaders inducted into the Soderstrom Society, the graphic communications industry’s most prestigious honors organization.  Both awards ceremonies recently took place in Chicago.

The Premier Print Awards, the graphic arts industry’s largest and most prestigious worldwide printing competition recognizes outstanding achievement in print production. CustomXM received its “Bennys” in the categories of Variable Data Campaigns and Self-promotion.

Michael, Lisa & Paul Strack after receiving the 2 Bennys in Chicago.

Michael, Lisa & Paul Strack after receiving the 2 Bennys in Chicago.

The Premier Print Awards are hosted by Printing Industries of America. In its 65th year, the annual contest recognizes those responsible for the creation and production of superior print communications. The event promotes excellence in print communications and rewards companies and individuals who produce the very best in print media.

This year, more than 3,000 entries were received from printing and graphic arts firms from around the world, and judges awarded the Benny to the top entry in each category. “It’s quite a compliment to be recognized by the industry as a company that produces award-winning print on an international level. The quality of print today is really quite amazing. To have won such a prestigious award for print quality is exciting for our entire team,” said Strack

Michael Makin, president and CEO of Printing industries of America, agrees. “The Benny winners represent the best our industry has to offer. This year’s entries were outstanding. There were entries from companies in 7 countries. Despite the fierce competition, CustomXM through hard work and dedicated craftsmanship produced not only one, but two pieces worthy of the Benny.”

The Soderstrom Society is named for Walter E. Soderstrom, one of the founders of the National Association for Printing Leadership (NAPL). The Society recognizes the contributions of industry leaders, including print company owners, industry supplier executives, educators, journalists and consultants. This year’s inductees represent a wide variety of industry segments, from equipment, materials, and services suppliers to printers, mailers, and marketers.

“We are pleased to present this impressive slate of Soderstrom Society inductees, who have distinguished themselves in their fields and are very worthy of the honor,” says Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of AMSP/NAPL/NAQP, the new association created this year through the merger of the Association of Marketing Service Providers, National Association for Printing Leadership, and National Association of Quick Printers.

“We are proud to add these outstanding industry executives to the list of eminent men and women that make the Soderstrom Society the industry’s most illustrious organization,” notes Truncale. “Over the years, Soderstrom Society members have made significant contributions to the growth and advancement of our industry in innumerable ways and membership in the Society is a mark of distinction in every area of graphic communications.”

“It’s quite an honor to be inducted into the Soderstrom Society, and I thank NAPL for this significant recognition,” said Strack, President of CustomXM.

For more information about CustomXM ( www.customxm.com) contact Paul Strack at 501-375-7311

It’s International Print Day. But First, Let’s Make a Video.

All work and no play make Jack and Jill dull. We know that. I would guess that there still exist some organizations that insist that everything be all work. Fortunately, we are not one of those organizations. Don’t get me wrong, we work. We work hard. We meet the deadlines; we deliver the goods. But we also realize that there needs to be a mix. And that is what I love most about our industry. We are creative creators who mix things up. We take blank sheets and turn them into story-telling masterpieces.

And on some days, we not only get to be creative, but simply have fun. Just plain, stupid fun.

Which brings us to today’s International Print Day. We had big ideas for celebration – ribbon cuttings, open house, and even Ben Franklin. All that is going to happen. In addition to it being a social media event celebrating the power of print, we wanted just to celebrate our creativity. And have fun. And make videos.

Now we realize that sometimes fun can be embarrassing, but apparently we don’t care. While I certainly understand that you may not applaud this video, I wholeheartedly applaud our team members who opened up, stepped out of their comfort zone, and helped us with our world premier music video.

So in celebration of International Print Day, we proudly present “All About that Ink.”

(with apologies to Meghan Trainor and special thanks to Fiverr.com for the assist with the soundtrack. If you’ve never used Fiverr.com, check it out. For $5, you cannot go wrong.)

And if you want to sing along, here are the lyrics:

Because you know
I’m all about that ink
‘bout that ink, and toner
I’m all about that ink
‘bout that ink, and toner
I’m all about that ink
‘bout that ink, and toner
I’m all about that ink
‘bout that ink

Yeah, it’s pretty clear, some think that print is through
But we can print it print it
Like we’re supposed to do
Cause we got that mix of graphics with all the white space
And all the right junk in all the right places

You see our artists workin’ that Photoshop
We know that Word ain’t real
C’mon now, make it stop
If your designs are lacking, we will raise em up
‘Cause every inch of print is perfect
From the bottom to the top

Yeah, our client’s they tell us, don’t worry about the cost
They say, “Your gonna get results, just print some more, right?”
You know we won’t give in to that Facebook Invites scheme
So if that’s what you’re into then go ahead and move along

Because you know
I’m all about that ink
‘bout that ink, and toner
I’m all about that ink
‘bout that ink, and toner
I’m all about that ink
‘bout that ink, and toner
I’m all about that ink
‘bout that ink

We’re bringing printing back
Go ahead and tell them app developers that
No I’m just playing. You treat print like a welcome mat
But we’re here to tell ya
Every inch of print is perfect from the bottom to the top
Because you know
We’re all about that ink
‘bout that ink, and toner
We’re all about that ink
‘bout that ink, and toner
We’re all about that ink
‘bout that ink, and toner
We’re all about that ink
‘bout that ink

Because you know
We’re all about that ink
‘bout that ink, and toner
We’re all about that ink
‘bout that ink, and toner
We’re all about that ink
‘bout that ink, and toner
We’re all about that ink
‘bout that ink

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Paul Strack [email protected] @pstrack

Please Tell Me I’m Full of Ship

It’s been nearly two years since I’ve posted to this blog. SERIOUSLY? TWO YEARS? Technically, that doesn’t make this a blog. It’s more like an archive. But I do have a legitimate excuse. I’ve had this new website in development for over 18 months. There, that should make you feel better.

As I re-introduce this blog, please allow me to re-introduce our company. So much has changed over the past two years, or 18 months, or past three weeks. In addition to opening a new sales and marketing office in Argenta, and a facelift to our production facility, we’ve added signage and wide format printing. So it’s not like we’ve been doing nothing. van wall photo

Still, you have to wonder, 18 months for a web site?? Two years without a blog post? Okay, you’re absolutely correct. And to make sure that you and I do not let this happen again (Yes, I said YOU), let’s recall some lessons learned during this hiatus:

We must avoid Perfection Paralysis. I would guess that many of us suffer from this. In Scott Stratten’s UnMarketing, this condition arises when we are afraid to come out with something as simple as a blog post because we think it’s not “perfect.” Yeah, I get that. Why has it taken me so long to get some of these projects completed? Because they weren’t perfect. But nothing will ever be perfect. There will be glitches with the Apple Watch when it is released. And by the way, how did that iOS 8 update work out for you? Yet this quest for perfection cannot stop us from producing, or delivering. In most instances, something is better than nothing. (Please note that I am in no way condoning delivery of products that are just good enough. Far from it. I am more referring to our own creativity.   Perfection should always be the goal of customer service, and the delivery of the products we produce.) We must strive for greatness – always – but we simply cannot let that goal cause us to become stagnant. In anything.

Don’t be Naked and Afraid. naked and afraid

In the spirit of full disclosure (see what I did there?), Naked and Afraid is must-see TV in our household. Weekly, we bare our feelings over the plight of these folks stranded in the buff in a remote location. Sometimes, it bums us out. Knowing that I couldn’t even last 21 minutes Barefoot and Afraid (I am a sensitive sole), I do admire the inner beauty of these contestants. But what lessons are to be learned? In addition to stripping themselves of their inhibitions, these contestants display teamwork, innovation and communication. These extreme nudists take calculated risks in order to survive. We must not fear to take a chance  or a calculated risk. Sometimes we have to expose our vulnerability to not only survive, but to thrive.

Change. Change some more. And change again.drone

We’ve continued to reinvent our company since its beginnings in 1966. Partly because we wanted to; mostly because we had to. In case you haven’t heard, technology has had somewhat of an impact on print over the past decade. Who we are today barely resembles who we were just a few years ago. But we have to continue to adapt and react. It is inevitable that every business will be affected by some internal or external force.   In a 2013 interview with 60 Minutes, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos remarked, “Companies have short life spans. And Amazon will be disrupted one day.” I could drone on and on about this, but the point is – change is not only good; but often necessary.

Scare the ship out of others. And yourself. I absolutely love the mantra of the late Steve Jobs, “Real Artists Ship.” Ironically, I haven’t followed it a closely as I should have. Until now. Jobs was referring to the fact that everyone has ideas, but real artists deliver or ship them. If you want to change your life, if you want to change your business, if you want to change the world, you have to take action. You have to ship. Many refuse to do this. They stand paralyzed, naked and afraid. Refusing to change. Waiting until perfection is achieved before hitting that “post now” button.

No more. I don’t want to be that guy. I want others to look at me and say, “that guy is full of ship.”

So tell me, what have you shipped lately?

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Paul Strack [email protected] @pstrack

 

Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub Logo

The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub approached CustomXM about creating a logo for “The Hub” that reflected their purpose and appealed to their varied and in-the-know target audience. The Innovation Hub represents a new effort aimed at promoting entrepreneurship through business incubation, academic research, technical and manufacturing assistance and job training in central Arkansas.  With these aims in mind, it is the top-tier organization for the creative energies of three separate, but related ventures – The Silver Mine, Art Connection and the Launch Pad. These groups will be housed under the same roof and thrive in the atmosphere of collaboration and creativity.

The style for the logo and collateral needed to be clean, contemporary and edgy to appeal to an innovative audience that is well versed in contemporary trends. At the same time, we wanted the tone to have some wit about it, a down-to-Earth feel that was careful not to appear stuffy, exclusive or restrictive, as highly modern design risk coming across.  The Hub’s vision of being a place that welcomes everyone –  from the young, novice student to the well established professional. A vision of being, perhaps above all, being a place that encourages creative exploration and hands-on experimentation would be a vital part of how their look would take shape.  Additionally, it was important that the logo reflect a sense of place, community and of being a central “hub” for so many different initiatives.

DSC_6138The solution successfully captured all it set out to do.  The drop-pin icon – a current symbol now recognized universally as the badge of “place” – points to an ambiguous surface revealed only by two concentric circles that work to further enhance the importance of the pin’s marked-site. The circles appear to be ripples in the surface, perhaps made from the impact of the pin’s fresh landing – not a coincidental reference to  The Hub’s goal of making some serious waves here in central Arkansas.  Script type used for the words “The” and “Hub” recall mid-century style and compliment the rigid and forward slanted sans serif used for “innovation” – which appears to be caught in the act of innovating both upward and forward.  The letters IN are made red to support the idea of being “the IN place”- being IN-the-know, getting people INvolved, and further emphasize the concept of place and INcluding everyones interests.

TheHub_businesscard_mockup

The administrative staff of The Innovation Hub currently leads a sort of nomadic existence while they await the completion of The Hub building (although subject to change at any moment, as we speak the Hub staff is actually working just down the hall from us at our sales and marketing office location)  We have assisted with exterior branding during their stint at 419 Main Street, printing and installing this window graphic last November.  Subsequently, 419 Main Street is now the HQ for the online retailer Bourbon and Boots. We were stoked when they asked us to outfit them with their window graphic too!
In addition to the work we’ve done, we also have just started brainstorming big plans for some pretty cool large-scale signage and wayfinding materials in the building once complete. More on that to come…

Seal Energy Solutions Rebranding

former-branding

Seal Energy Solutions is an energy assessment group providing commercial and residential spaces with energy audits and the retrofits needed to maximize energy efficiency. Finding themselves in a period of evolution and rapid growth, Seal approached CustomXM with task of polishing up their look. Their existing visual branding didn’t clearly communicate the services they provided, identify with their target audiences, nor did it reflect the new and innovative sense of their relatively young industry segment.  The structure in the existing logo looked like a house, however they also provide commercial services and even offer consulting services for builders and architects.

DSC_6511

Borrowing from the seasonal tree in the existing logo, CustomXM’s designers created an icon of four simplified leaf shapes that overlap to ultimately reveal the healing symbol of a cross in the center. The transparent leaf forms create a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors that reinforce the concept of of being in a modern and evolving industry, as well as borrow from our traditional color concepts of the four seasons. In conjunction with the leaf forms, colors also reference their eco-friendly initiative.

social-media

During the rebranding process CustomXM also assisted Seal with updating their name so that it included Energy Solutions. (which we initially intended to be the tagline).  We also structured the name so to ensure that it would no longer be displayed in all caps as though it were an acronym, a frequent assumption of their audience due to the former all-caps type treatment.

We have had so much positive feedback from the new branding… they love the look and colors and they understand better who Seal is and what we do. The fact that the brand [look] still accurately represents who we are today gives us confidence that the decisions made with its direction were correct… As a penny-pinching entrepreneur, that gives us further assurance that the money invested in the re-branding was well spent and truly an investment in our firm.  Heather Nelson, President and COO, Seal Energy Solutions

Very pleased with their new look, Seal has also commissioned CustomXM not only to create updated printed materials, but we also provide branding within their new office creatively displaying their logo in an oversized wall decal, supporting window graphics and plans for an outdoor sign. As well as shirts, hats and water bottles, CustomXM has also provided license plates and van decals, and looks forward to providing more Seal swag.

Garver Quarterly Newsletter

Garver produces a quarterly newsletter, IQ (Infrastructure Quarterly), for its clients and prospects. In response to increasing production costs and providing customers and prospects with more interactive content, Garver created an online version of their newsletter. A multi-touch campaign incorporating print and email was developed to announce the new IQ digital edition to readers. It drove recipients to a personalized URL where they were asked to complete an online survey determining the delivery preferences (print or digital) of recipients and to find out which topic areas interested readers the most. Garver achieved a 12% response rate. They also discovered 78.3% of the readership was interested in receiving the new digital version.garver_newsletter2