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Our 2019 Resolutions

Photo of logo and brochure design for Ben E. Keith's 2015 Mid South Food Show

Ben E. Keith Eats Up their Food Show Branding

Ben E. Keith, a distributor of food service products and premium alcoholic beverages, located in North Little Rock, Arkansas, hosts an annual Mid-South Food Show. The one-day show featured technology demonstrations, over 150 of their vendors showcasing their latest items, an American Culinary Federation Culinary Competition, guest speakers, and even a party the night before.

They wanted a special look for this years event. It was important that the look communicate their overreaching focus of simply providing customers with fundamental tools they need to succeed. They also desired an fun, creative and edgy look that fell in-line with the spirit and goals of both the company and the event.

The solution was a logo that literally spotlights a spoon in front of an audience. The logo would be used on specially die-cut hexagon shaped brochure that would be distributed to customers during food deliveries. They also used JPG images from portions from the design to promote aspects of the event in their client email campaigns during the weeks leading up to the event.


Historically, the speaking portion of the event had not yielded a great deal of interest from participants. However, this year they had made a special effort to acquire speakers they thought would generate interest and likewise wanted to be sure those seats were filled. Because of the time constraints of the show, the keynote speaker would present one hour before the published event start time. The night before the event the staff cut-off the portion of the leftover brochures that featured the speaking schedule on one side and the cover graphic on the other. They handed those out to guests at their party the night before in an effort to drive traffic to both the early speaking event and the mid-day presenter. The result was great. Both the speaking events and the food show was well attended. They indicated that not only was the design creative and very fitting for the event, but that the hexagon brochure design was also key in getting attention and sparking conversation. Their only wish is that they had utilized the logo design in more of the event’s promotional items like tee shirts and banners.



SignsXM Launches with Out-of-the-Box Lumpy Mail


CustomXM added a new division, SignsXM. It wanted to find a unique way to announce its new offerings which included all types of wide format printing, including banners, signage, wall graphics, vehicle graphics and more. CustomXM also wanted to use a cross media, multi-channel approach that would drive results and illustrate CustomXM’s marketing capabilities.

The SignsXM Awesome Banner Thingy Campaign: Complete with personalized box, envelope, personalized mini-banner and a fun-to-follow instruction sheet below. The inside of the box lid had a QR code that led to a fun video



CustomXM created a unique, dimensional mail piece that included a personalized mini-banner for all recipients. CustomXM encouraged recipients of their “Awesome Banner Thingys” to post photos on Instagram, which would qualify them for entry into a prize drawing.

420 pieces were mailed to prospects and current clients of CustomXM. Over 12% of recipients responded and completed the online survey. Additionally, over 13% of the recipients posted photos of their Awesome Banner Thingys on  Instagram accounts. Many of these respondents were a different subset than those that responded to the online survey.

The campaign received quite a bit of social media buzz and accolades from local ad agencies. It immediately led to meetings and opportunities for signage and direct mail proposals for clients and prospects. Many of these opportunities led to new business within the first three weeks of the campaign.

This campaign also received national recognition by receiving two Bennys awarded by the Print Industries of America during their Premier Print Awards, an international print competition.


The targeted audience was current clients and prospects of CustomXM.


At CustomXM, they like to market themselves a little differently. They like to use the marketing tools they are constantly advocating, and they like to have a little fun. They accomplished all this and more with their “Awesome Banner Thingy” campaign.

Recently, CustomXM added wide format services to their offerings. They even created a separate division, SignsXM. But they felt that it wouldn’t be enough just to tell folks about these new services, it would be better to show them. And have them show others.

To engage its target audience, CustomXM developed a dimensional mailer – an 8” x 8” x 1.25” box complete with a personalized label informing recipients that a “surprise” was inside. Inside the box was the following:

  • A personalized envelope and note card introducing the new division and services.
  • An instruction sheet showing recipients how to put together their own Awesome Banner Thingy
  • A QR Code that linked to a video explaining how to construct the Awesome Banner Thingy
  • The actual Awesome Banner Thingy which was a 3.25” x 7.5” vinyl banner, personalized with the recipient’s name, complete with a grommet and very tiny banner stand.

To encourage responses recipients were given two opportunities to participate in a prize contest

  • By visiting their personalized website and completing a survey
  • By sharing a photo of their Awesome Banner Thingy on Instagram

Above:  photos posted by Box Thingy recipients. Recipients were asked to post photos of their banner-thingys on Instagram with the hashtag #thinkitsignit. The Instagramers were entered into 3 different sets of drawings for prizes and winners were announced via Instagram videos.



The main reason for success was a clever design and personalized promotion.


Article courtesy of W. Caslon & Company, 2015,

Can This Be Write?


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.



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???


blog photo

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:

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?

blog photo

Paul Strack

[email protected]


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 ( contact Paul Strack at 501-375-7311

Print Lives, But My Industry is Killin’ Me. A Response to the Response to President Obama.

Those of you who know me personally know that when it comes to politics, controversy and even food, I am pretty much like Switzerland. I try not to offend, and not be easily offended. I typically remain neutral. Industry communications over the past week, however, have caused me to become a little more outspoken. 

In one instance, one of our trade associations issued a video response to cost cutting efforts by President Obama in his attempt to eliminate wasteful printing.

In another episode of outrageousness, our industry produced, and in my opinion, regrettably shared, a video titled “The Sexy Side of Print.”

I realize our industry has struggled, but there seem to be better ways to promote our efforts than these two examples.

Below is my video response to the first action that brought me out of neutrality.

Here is the video reply to the President’s message that prompted my response:

Here is the link to President Obama’s video. For some reason, I was unable to embed it properly here.

I am still too disturbed by what I saw on the “sexy print” video to have formulated a response to that!

Move Over QR Codes; There’s Some Thunder from Down Under

While still reeling from yesterday’s announcement that Google killed the QR code, even more disturbing news will come out of Australia tomorrow (due to the time zone difference) about the future of our 2D friend.  For the unwashed, a QR, or Quick Response code, is a two-dimensional bar code that bridges the gap between the physical (printed) world and the digital world. 

I subscribe to an obscure Australian blog entitled G‘day Print. It’s a cutting edge blog devoted entirely to the proliferation of print in the land Down Under.  Recent topics described success stories using innovative printing techniques to increase attendance at local footy matches and green printing initiatives used in Fairy Floss packaging.

The latest entry that caught my attention was a digital code that was not only as innovative and fast as QR codes, but even more powerful than the up and coming NFC (near field communication) technology, called PDQ codes.  (After doing more digging, I found the PDQ moniker is only temporary, meaning Pretty Damn Quick).  The codes are flexible enough where size doesn’t really matter. They can be printed on the largest pair of daks, or the smallest of Australian rubbers. But the most amazing facts about these codes are that in addition to becoming as ubiquitous as QR Codes, they have the ability to be specifically targeted for different market segments, and they have the ability to function way out in the Woop Woop where there is little or no connectivity.

As a paid subscriber to the G‘day Print  blog (These mates are crafty with their pay wall restrictions), I was able to obtain some yet unreleased information about the first attempt at a targeted PDQ code.

So consider this…you have a code that is extremely easy to scan by phone, or if there is little or no connectivity, scan via THE HUMAN EYE, instantaneously giving you the immediate information you need to engage, react, or interact. The paid sneak preview of this code allowed me to view one targeted specifically for the health care industry, the outdoor game acquisition industry, and the higher-end retail industry. 

Imagine this:

The code for the health care industry assists medical professionals in immediate identification of a patient’s area of need.

The code for the outdoor game acquisition industry enables users to increase their effect ROI.

And the code used for the higher-end retail industry gives immediate notification of a more hip, cooler experience than your average discount retailer.

Amazingly enough, all of this is accomplished with a single code.


 Paul Strack, CustomXM

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

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.