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,

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]


Toyota Manufacturer Recalls Open Source Use of QR codes

In what is likely to cause an overwhelming groan among marketers and technologically savvy consumers (and cheers among designers and IT staff ), QR code inventor, Denso Wave has issued a cease and desist order to all users of this open source tool.  Invented by the Toyota subsidiary Denso Wave in 1994 to track vehicles during the manufacturing process, this two dimensional bar code has been hailed as the savior of print, marketing budgets, and the ever-dwindling use of online commerce.

Speaking through a translator, Denso Wave President and Chief Executive Officer Mitsuhiko Masegi, expressed regret in taking this unprecedented legal action, stating, “I regret taking this unprecedented legal action.”  Masegi went on further to explain, “The QR (Quick Response) code was originally designed to improve productivity for manufacturers.  We wanted to offer this tool as a way of helping businesses focus on streamlining their operations.  Sadly, however, it seems people use it just to focus on their smartphones.”

Masegi noted increasing trends in the insulting use of variations of the code name itself into everyday pop culture.  “The bastardization of this worldwide brand is totally out of control. Last week I read where Prince, who once, as the artist formerly known as Prince had an extremely poor experience using a symbol to convey a message, had re-released his hit single, Let’s Go Qrazy!  And even one of my favorite American Country cross-over artists, Lionel Ritchie, has somehow re-created a new smash hit with the late Patsy Cline in a duet titled, Qrazy for You! In my honest opinion, this is just a bunch of Qrap!  Uh, I mean crap!”

Masegi commented that most Americans don’t fully appreciate that value of QR Codes.  He pointed to a recent study that claimed QR codes were dead in part because only 21.5% of American college students were able to recognize a QR code.  Masegi responded, “That’s still higher than the percentage of American college students that can  actually read. ‘Nuff said.”

Further evidence of corporate QR code misconduct can be found in names of entities and services providing guidance on this now obsolete code.  QReateandTrack, BeQRious, TrakQR are just a few of those domain names that will have to consider their response to this cease and desist action.

Citing what he called egregious usage flaws and borderline usage stupidity, Masegi relayed these most offensive trends he has witnessed –

  • Codes placed along posters and turnstiles in subway stations, where there is no connectivity.
  • Codes placed on billboards located on interstate highways.  Many of these are PSA type billboards encouraging drivers NOT to text and drive.
  • Codes tattooed on the lower back of college coeds. So low in fact that you really can’t get a good scan unless they are in beach attire, in a very skimpy bikini.
  • Edible QR codes.

In reference to the last offense, an obviously agitated Masegi noted, “Who in their sane mind would eat a QR code?  Even with liberal amounts of good saki, that makes no sense to me.”  Masegi offered the photo below as proof of the ongoing  insanity. 

Ironically, Masegi  pointed out that when one scanned the original QR cupcakes above, on what are now popularly referred to as QRupcakes,  the end user simply received the message, “Bite Me.” 

And apparently, that is what triggered the current legal action.


Happy April 1st, 2012!

QR Code is registered trademark of DENSO WAVE INCORPORATED.



Paul Strack, CustomXM


True Confessions – Something new for Better Beginnings

Continuing our recap of True Confessions exposed during our Lunch & Learn held September 29th, it’s time to hear about Something New.  And how appropriate it was for to hear from that sharp, young up-and-comer from  The Communications Group, Jason Brown (@JBrown935). Jason spoke to the audience on how Something New – QR codes, personalized URLs (pURLs) and microsites helped his client educate childcare providers about the resources now available from  the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS).

DHS was participating in the Arkansas Early Childhood Association Conference. Their goal was to introduce “Better Beginnings,” the new Quality Rating Improvement System for childcare providers.

Jason explained that his client desired a campaign that would:

  • Drive conference attendees to the DHS booth for the purpose of introducing the new childcare rating system
  • Assist in educating attendees about online resources that are available to assist them in meeting Federal Standards for childcare providers
  • Gather valuable data about attendees’ knowledge and awareness of the new regulations through a list of survey questions.

Takeaway point:  Before embarking on any marketing campaign, clearly identify its objectives.

To help achieve these objectives, 900 cards were distributed to all attendees. These cards included both a QR code and a unique URL that encouraged respondents to visit a microsite to learn more about the DHS program. An additional option of taking the card to the trade show booth was offered as well.

Takeaway point: Always include multiple response mechanisms to make it convenient for your target audience to respond.

To encourage participation on the online survey, a prize was offered to all who completed the survey and redeemed the resulting coupon at the tradeshow booth.  All participants who entered received a note pad and were included in a drawing for one of four iPod shuffles. The response was quite overwhelming – over 280 people completed the survey and visited the DHS booth during the tradeshow.

Takeaway point: People like to get stuff – no matter how small.  Give people an incentive to respond to your call for action.  And then reward them for doing so.

Jason explained that not only was this campaign successful based upon the objectives outlined above, it proved valuable for obtaining additional information that will be used in future educational outreaches to childcare providers.

So, as True Confessions in the marketing world continue to evolve, don’t be afraid to try something new.

Next up, Hot Dog Mike shows his success with Something Blue.


Paul Strack, CustomXM


Now this is how to use QR codes!

So much has been written lately about QR codes that I felt compelled to write our own Best Practices list for their use.  But I always seemed to find excuses to overcome that compulsion.  However, last night while begrudgingly shopping for a printer at the world’s largest retailer, which is something I rarely enjoy, I was able to experience many of these Best Practices first hand.

First, some background information – Oldest son is heading off to college.  He needed a printer.  Which one to buy?  What accessories are needed?  What bells and whistles are included?  So, we stumbled across a printer with this QR code on the outer box:

These are the Best Practices I noticed:

1) Size and White Space.  It was a nice size code, not too small, not to large. We recommend no smaller than 1”x1”. And note the white space/border around the edge. This helps insure faster and more accurate scan rates.  Remember, white space is our friend.

2) I really like the instructional diagram.  Remember, smartphone users and those that know what a QR Code is and how to use them are in the minority. For now, anway. We must continue to educate the public whenever and wherever possible.

3) Same as Number 2.  Educate the user.  They may be intrigued by the funny square graphic, but they may still not know what to do with it. One item missing here, in my opinion, is an instruction telling the user to download a QR reader if they don’t have one. Remember, users cannot scan a code if they don’t have a reader.  Remind them that it’s a free download.

4) And going back the point that not everyone can scan a code: we suggest that you always provide the URL link in addition to the QR code.  And in both cases, make sure that the QR code and the link is trackable!

So, I scanned the code, and where did it take me?  Did it create added value for the end user?


Yes it did!  First,  the scan of the code directed me to a site that was optimized for viewing on a mobile phone!  Beautiful.  So many codes I scan do not do that! That is why we keep repeating the key component of successful QR code implementation: Make It Mobile Now! The quick scan gave me access to volumes of information about this printer that I could not find, or read, even if it was on the box packaging. Now let’s look at the next page on the mobile site:

It contained almost everything I needed to know about this printer.  So helpful, and yes, it did create added value for the end user.  It gave me something for my effort of scanning the code.  That is a key best practice to remember – if a user will take the time and effort to scan your QR code, you MUST reward them with something of value.  It can be a discount, an offer, humor, or just more information that is not readily available…but it must be of additional value.  Give them that, and they will keep coming back.

We also always instruct our users of QR codes to measure the results.  Make the link trackable.  I couldn’t tell if these folks did that, but my guess is that they did. And in the end, I did give them the measurable results they were looking for:  I purchased the printer.

For more information about recent QR code usage and demographics, click here.

And let us know how you see QR codes being used.


 Paul Strack, CustomXM


The USPS is trying; really they are…

The financial struggles of the US Postal Service have been well documented, and the news for this year hasn’t seemed to improve any.  In spite of its marketing success, direct mail volumes have continued to decline. And yet, we see this as good news!

How is this good news?  The dire situation of the USPS is bringing about a new way of thinking within some areas of its operation.  The Postal Service is trying to rethink and retool its current business model and is making strides in trying to be more customer-friendly. And like businesses in the private sector (us!), they are looking at ways to grow by implementing innovative programs.

Two of its newest programs provide excellent, simple, and affordable marketing opportunities for small businesses. And in spite of the decline in direct mail volumes, the effectiveness of direct mail marketing campaigns continue to breed success. 

Here are two of the programs that we encourage businesses to consider:

Every Door Direct Mail

This program is actually a rebranding of the Simplified Addressing Process, but it is worthy of a look. In its basic form, Every Door Direct Mail lets business saturate an entire residential zip code (or zip codes) with qualified mail pieces for as little as 14.2 cents postage per piece. Additionally, the pieces can be mailed without applying individual names and addresses, allowing users to easily target a specific geographic area.

So imagine you own a restaurant, a dry cleaner, an auto dealership, an apparel store or a fitness center. You have a special event, offer, or program you need to spread the word about. You want to specifically target residences in nearby zip codes.  And you want to target EVERY SINGLE RESIDENCE. This program is ideal.  No databases or mailing list required. No addressing or labels.  And all at a single piece postage rate as low as 14.2 cents each.

One caveat with this program is the unusual mailpiece size that is required to qualify. By definition, it must be a “flat” or “parcel”.  Some common sizes in this category are: 6.5”x9”; 6.5”x11” 8.5”x11”. Pricing for turnkey implementation of this program can be found here.

For more information, you can visit the USPS site, or contact us and we would be happy to help implement a program for you.

Summer Sale & Mobile Barcode promotion

We mentioned this last week, but it’s worthy of another look. 

For a while we’ve been talking about how QR codes can be used to help bridge the gap between the physical (printed)  and the digital worlds.  These 2d mobile barcodes help make the printed piece more engaging, and often more relevant for the targeted recipient.

Recognizing this, the USPS is offering a Summer Sale on qualified mail pieces that contain a QR code.  During July and August, you can save 3% on postage on Standard and First Class letters, flats and cards that include a QR code that can be scanned and read by a smartphone.

We go into a little more detail in this recent blog post.

Double Whammy

For those adventurous and somewhat spontaneous businesses, you can actually take advantage of BOTH of these USPS programs.  A qualifying mail piece – flat – that is distributed using the Every Door Direct Mail process that is printed with a QR code, may qualify for a 3% savings off the 14.2 cent mail rate.

Yes, the USPS is struggling. And out of its struggles come opportunities for business to enhance their marketing efforts in an inexpensive, and effective way. It’s worth a look.

It’s Official – USPS Says QR Codes are Hot.

It’s Official!  The Postal Regulatory Commission has approved the USPS 2011 Mobile Barcode Promotion. And it’s not just any barcode we are talking about. Of course it’s our beloved 2d codes commonly referred to as QR codes.  You know, those quirky little pixilated squares that are popping up in magazines, on products, and yes, in direct mail.

For a limited time, from July 1 through August 31, 2011 the Postal Service is offering mailers an upfront 3% discount on First-Class and Standard Mail letters and flats that include these mobile barcodes. And unlike other promotions offered by the USPS, this one is pretty straightforward and available to most all mailers and marketers.

To qualify for this Summer Sale, these guidelines apply:

  • Mobile barcode must be two-dimensional and readable by a mobile smartphone. One dimensional barcodes do NOT qualify.
  • Mailing documentation must be submitted electronically and postage must be paid using a Permit Imprint. Current electronic submission methods include: Mail.XML, Mail.dat and Postal Wizard.
  • Participating mailers will be required to affirmatively claim this promotion in electronic postage statement submissions, certifying each mailpiece contains a mobile barcode either within contents of mailpiece or on outside of mailpiece.
  • All mailpieces in a mailing statement must contain a mobile barcode.
  • With the exception of IMb full service discount, only one incentive per mailing will apply.
  • Mobile barcode must be used for marketing and advertising purposes. Mailpieces containing mobile barcode that convey information about the postage value, destination, sender and machine serial number for security do not qualify.
  • And to make it even more appealing, Non-Profit mailers are eligible for the discount as well. (They were excluded from the original proposal.)

So why the Summer Sale?

Like so many marketers are currently doing, the USPS wants to take advantage of the recent buzz being generated by QR codes.  The Postal Service sees the use of these codes as a great way to link the physical and digital world of direct marketing, and this gives marketers another opportunity to include them in their marketing strategy. Additionally, the Postal Service hopes to demonstrate to mailers how this tool can increase the value of direct mail.

If you need a little more detailed information on this promotion, go here.

If you would like more information on marketing uses for QR codes, please contact us and we would be happy to discuss ideas with you.

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