It’s Okay to go Niche: How One Unusual Brand is Turning Trash into Specialty Surf Bags

Niche fishSometimes, we stumble across an answer to a problem that we did not know existed. Alec and Aric Avedissian are solving two problems at once with their business Rareform. Rareform’s customers get durable, one-of-a-kind surfbags while the company helps reroute some of the thousands of pounds of billboard material that is discarded in the U.S. every day.

The average billboard goes up for four to eight weeks, then is discarded. While there are no firm figures on how many billboards exist in the United States, the number is high. The Los Angeles area alone is host to over 6,000 boards. Since billboard material does not decompose, that is a lot of waste.

Inspiration in the Strangest Place

Avedissian stumbled on the idea of surfbags from billboard vinyl after spending time volunteering with a fishing cooperative in El Salvador. While there, he saw people using discarded billboards to make roofing. The sight was a revelation. He’d previously never considered the material and had thought that billboards were made from paper. The discovery that this durable material was being discarded every week spurred his innovative idea.

While the bags offered a durable product at a reasonable price, the company was having a hard time finding their footing. They’d had $1.1 million in sales over three years, but saw that sales were slipping. Had they reached saturation? They decided to go on Shark Tank to see if they could find the funds that would bring them growth. Two out of the three judges did not bite; they were concerned not just with the falling sales, but with the complexity of the concept of Rareform’s product. However, Kevin O’Leary was not dissuaded and made an offer. And, it turned out that the best benefit for the product was appearing on the show.

Before their Shark Tank appearance, Rareform would recycle anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of vinyl each month. With the added visibility provided by the show, they’ve increased their monthly recycling to 50,000 pounds.

When It’s Okay to Go Niche

Surfbags are already a niche item, appealing only to the approximately 23 million surfers worldwide. By adding the factor of the recycled bags and their one-of-a-kind nature, they become even more niche. However, faith in their product and a willingness to seek out new opportunities to get their wares in front of the audience worked out.

Small businesses should never shy away from a niche product as long as it has a few things going for it. The questions you should ask:

  • Is there an audience? Rareform built their early success with the help of dedicated hobbyists.
  • Do you have a platform that can get you attention? Their appearance on Shark Tank was just what was needed.
  • Do you have reasons for making your product the way you do? Rareform’s founders said they were committed to the cause of recycling. While this was a turn-off for some investors, it is what makes their product appealing and unique.

In today’s highly connected world, there is room for every well-made product, even if your audience is small. By focusing on what you bring to the table, you can find your audience and build success for your brand.

Personalization Matters: Why Going the Extra Mile is Always Worth It

personalizedWhen people talk about the decline of “mom and pop” businesses in favor of the giant, national retailers, one of the things they bring up is that it’s hard to find a store that you can walk into these days where the person behind the counter actually takes the time to learn your name. You can’t walk into a national brand and expect someone to go “Hey, Phil – how did that new garden hose you bought last week work out for you? I’ve been thinking about you, and I thought you might like this other new product, too.”

But the fact of the matter is that these days are not over – not by a long shot and especially not in the world of marketing. You absolutely can inject this much more intimate, fulfilling level of personalization into your marketing collateral – provided that you’re willing to go the extra mile.

Personalization in Marketing: By the Numbers

If you ever wanted a clear cut example of why “going the extra mile” is an investment that pays off in more ways than one, look no further than the following statistics:

  • According to a recent study from Digital Trends, an incredible seventy-three percent of consumers prefer to do business with brands that use personal information to help create more enriching, more relevant shopping experiences.
  • According to a completely separate study from Infosys, eighty-six percent of consumers said that the level of personalization (or the lack thereof) absolutely plays a role in their purchasing decisions.
  • If you think that personalization is only a game for digital and internet-centric businesses, think again: direct mail success rates are continuing to trend upwards because, you guessed it, people find actual mail that they can hold in their hand much more personal and rewarding than something that is easily ignored like an email.

It’s About “Walking the Walk”

The major benefits of personalization in marketing extend far beyond just statistics like these, however. It all comes back to the values that your brand represents and the promise that you’re making to each and every one of your customers. Simply put, it’s one thing to say that you care about all of your customers – it’s another thing entirely to do the types of things that turn this from catchphrase into irrefutable fact.

Put yourself in their shoes. If you get two pieces of marketing collateral in the mail – one of which is addressed “Dear Sir or Madame” and another that has your name and maybe even specific information about past purchases that you’ve made – which one are you going to put more faith in? Which one would you bet cares about you more? Which one would you believe has a vested interest in making your life better?

Your customers have made their opinion loud and clear – they don’t just want you to sell to them. It isn’t just enough to have a product or service that is objectively better than anyone else’s. They want to be a part of something larger than a single purchase. They want something that they’re not going to get anywhere else – a true relationship with the people they give their hard-earned money to. Personalization and going the extra mile are just among the many, many ways that you can now do that in the modern era.

And the best part? Our staff at  Futch Printing & Mailing is more than ready to ADDRESS all your printing (and direct mail) needs!

3.5 Easy Time Management Tips: How to Create More Hours in a Day

time mgmtThe one natural resource there never seems to be enough of is time. There are only so many hours in a day. You don’t need to wish that tomorrow will suddenly be a 35-hour day to get all of your work done. Instead, you need to start using a few small, yet critical, time management tips today to work smarter, not harder, with the hours that you DO have available to you. Here are three (and a half) tips to get you started.

1) Learn How to Travel Productively

These days, a significant portion of your work probably isn’t taking place within the confines of your office. Whether it’s meetings with clients or unexpected personal issues, you likely find yourself stepping away from your desk more and more. The key to time management isn’t learning how to keep up with your obligations in spite of these sudden duties. It’s learning how to fit in work time around them.

Even if you don’t have a mobile tablet that you carry around with you wherever you go, it’s still easier than ever to work remotely. If you’re not already using a cloud-based file sharing service like Dropbox or iCloud, you need to start. Changing a document on your work computer makes those adjustments instantly available to every other device you have. Likewise, services like Dropbox for Business allow for real-time collaboration on files, letting people get together to work on a project even when they don’t have the time to literally “get together” at all.

Remember, the smartphone that you likely carry around with you is more powerful than the technology that NASA used to send men to the moon in the 1960s. There are hundreds of thousands of apps that are available in the iTunes and Google Play app stores right now for you to use to customize that device in any way you see fit. Stop thinking about it like a device that you merely use to send and receive calls and start looking at it as your office on-the-go.

2) Hold Better Meetings

Meetings are just a fact of life. But one of the many reasons why people tend to dread that weekly “catch-up” gathering is because they’re huge drains of productivity. The answer to this problem isn’t to stop holding meetings altogether; it’s to start holding better meetings.

Think long and hard about why you’re having a meeting. If it’s just to convey information, you could probably save everyone a lot of time and just send a lengthy email or inter-office memo instead. A meeting should always justify its existence. If it doesn’t, it needs to drop off the schedule. Likewise, plan out an agenda for your meeting ahead of time and stick with it. Make sure everyone who needs to contribute knows what is expected of them before you all walk into a room, giving everyone a chance to be as prepared as they need to be.

3) Get Organized and Stay That Way

Again, time management isn’t about finding more hours in a day; it’s about working smarter, not harder with the hours you already have. One study estimates that as much as thirty percent of our working time each day is spent looking for misplaced items. It stands to reason that if you never feel like you have enough time to get things done, the true issue might just be that you need to take a look around and organize your life more effectively.

3.5) And of course – let Futch Printing & Mailing ADDRESS all your printing needs! Just think of all the time you will save if you just let us take care of your printing and mailing needs…

How to Take the Lessons Learned in Online Marketing and Apply Them to the World of Print

online marketingPrint marketing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Over the last few years, people are coming to the realization that digital and print isn’t an “either/or” scenario. Many use one to supplement and compliment the other to great effect. Despite this, people still tend to think of them as two different mediums, thinking you have different rules that you use online than those that you follow in print.

Because online marketing has become so prominent, it has taught us some very valuable lessons. One of which is that those lessons aren’t reserved only for the digital market. You can apply those lessons to your print collateral and come out all the better for it.

Marketing Is About Intimacy
Perhaps the biggest lesson that various digital and online marketing channels have taught us is that at the end of the day, you’re not trying to “sell” to someone at all. You’re trying to connect with them. The best marketing reaches out to customers and prospects in an intimate way that establishes the type of bond that turns prospective customers into buyers, and buyers into loyal advocates.

On the internet, this often takes the form of various social media and related techniques – after all, what could be more intimate than contacting someone on a small device that they carry around with them all day? The key takeaway, however, is that you DO have a way to maintain this intimacy in the world of print marketing, too.

According to a study conducted by the United States Postal Service, sixty-nine percent of people who responded said that they felt direct mail was more personal than internet mail. Emails may be great and efficient, but an actual letter (or in the case of a marketer, a flyer or brochure) is something tangible. They can hold it in their hands, pin it up on the refrigerator and share it with their friends and loved ones.

Optimizing Print Campaigns Through a Digital Lens
So how do you take full advantage of this fact and build the type of intimacy and emotional connection you can online? Simple. Take the rules that the internet forced marketers to adopt and apply them back into your print campaign.

Don’t just tell the story of a product or service, tell the story of your entire organization. Bring people into the fold and let them see who you are, what you’re all about, and why you do what you do. According to Millward Brown, physical materials forge a stronger connection inside the human brain than digital media ever can.

You can also take the valuable data you’re gathering about your audience from the digital world and apply that back into your print collateral. Marketing has gotten hyper-specific. By using various software, you now know precisely what type of white paper, blog post, or video to send to someone at just the right point in the customer journey to help nurture that lead and guide them through to the desired outcome. Taking that one step further, you can also use the same insights to know exactly what type of flyer someone needs to receive in the mail, or take a successful visual element from social media and transform it into your next poster.

Print media is a format that people are naturally wired to engage with. If you can provide them with materials that are worth engaging with, similar to and combined with what digital agencies have been doing over the last few years, you’re in an incredibly powerful position as a result.

So when you are ready to get started on your next printing project, just give us a call, and let Futch Printing & Mailing ADDRESS all your printing needs!

How to Combine Your Passion and Profession to Make Your Life Purposeful

love-what-you-doYou have likely heard the adage, “Choose a profession you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Although the thought of this has merit, sometimes, if a person’s passion isn’t something they can easily transform into a money-making endeavor, it can be a little unrealistic. Thankfully, there is more than one way to combine your passion with your profession to create a purposeful life.

Use Your Passion to Generate Income
We all seem to know at least one person who bought a professional camera and began making money by becoming a photographer. Their profession, of course, was combined with their passion for photography and is now generating income. Another good example of this is someone whose passion is music. They have many options when it comes to transforming that into a career. They can become a music teacher at a school, play an instrument in their local orchestra, give private lessons, or even play at places of worship, parties or weddings as a way to produce an income. These are just a few examples of passions perfectly suited for generating income. There are countless others, and we can all agree that “it’s a beautiful thing when a career and passion come together.” If you have a passion like this, congrats! Unfortunately, not all passions are equally conducive when it comes to generating income. There isn’t an obvious way to create a career out of every passion.

What to Do When Your Passion Doesn’t Easily Translate to a Profession
Let’s consider an example of a passion that would be less than ideal as a career. This could include being passionate about running, biking, or being focused on giving to the homeless, third world countries, or charities. Often, these are hobbies/passions that are practiced alongside a career and don’t ever become the career itself. Of course, there are some ways to use these passions to generate income. However, it’s not easy to make money working for a charity or by giving to the homeless. It’s also hard to get someone to pay you to cycle or run. That doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to live out your passion, though. You just might have to get creative with how you go about doing it.

Companies That Have Successfully Combined Their Passion & Profession:
An excellent example of this principle in action is the TOMS Company, which has been in business for going on eleven years. The concept they came up with was revolutionary at the time. When they began, TOMS was virtually the only company doing something like this. (There are more now.) TOMS started by selling shoes and advertising a one-for-one system. Their customers bought a pair of shoes from them, and then TOMS donated a pair to a needy child. Therefore, every customer got to get in on the giving action. Customers loved the product but liked the fact that their purchase helped a child in need even more. Today, TOMS has branched out to sell coffee, bags, and eyewear along with their shoes. As of January 2016, TOMS has given away more than 60 million pairs of shoes. TOMS is an excellent example of how you can combine your passion, in this case, helping children in need, with a profession that began selling shoes in a unique way.

How to Get Started
TOMS showcases an ideal strategy to combine your passion and profession. Of course, you don’t have to sell shoes to give back. You can also use the assets you acquire through doing business to give back. The idea isn’t to get this perfect. It’s to attempt to combine your passion with your profession in some way so that you will live purposefully. Remember, starting somewhere will get you where you want to go quicker than sitting still!

How QR Codes Can Add to the Print Experience: Best Practices You Need to Know

qr-codesFor years, marketers have been looking for better ways to achieve cross-media marketing. In other words, they’ve been searching for solutions that let them enjoy the benefits of both print and digital channels. Many have turned to QR codes to do precisely that. By including a QR code on a piece of print marketing, you can deliver the same message in the same way, but with a mechanism that varies depending on the preferences of the user.

It’s important to understand, however, that “using a QR code” and “using a QR code properly” are NOT the same thing. When done correctly, a QR code can add to the print experience in a number of important ways. If you want to unlock the full benefits of cross-media marketing that you desire, you’ll need to keep a few key things in mind.

It All Comes Down to Purpose
QR codes are not a novelty anymore. There was a period just a few short years ago where simply including a QR code on a flyer or even a billboard was enough to get users to stop and take notice. Those days are gone, however, as the technology itself has become yet another ubiquitous part of daily life. Because of this, you can no longer get away with using a QR code just because you want to or just because many of those in your target audience now own smartphones.

If your QR code doesn’t serve a purpose, meaning it doesn’t add to the user experience you’re trying to create, it has no business being a part of your print materials. This emphasis on purpose extends to just about every decision you make in the world of marketing in general. Never take a step simply because you feel like you should, or because a study told you that everyone else is taking it. Take a step because it’s the right thing to do for the goal you’re trying to accomplish.

QR Codes Are Not an Invitation for Mystery
Along those same lines, don’t include a QR code in a piece of print marketing WITHOUT also telling your audience what they stand to gain by pulling their smartphone out of their pocket. Again: a QR code is not some irresistible riddle that users are waiting with baited breath to try to solve. Don’t assume someone will scan it just because it’s there. If your QR code redirects to a page that allows the user access to an exclusive 40% off coupon, include a call-to-action on the print material itself that says, “Scan Here to Get 40% Off Your Next Order.”

Design is Important
If someone tries to scan your QR code and it doesn’t immediately work, chances are high they’re not going to try again. When designing your print materials, remember that QR codes that are a high contrast against a lighter colored background tend to work correctly more often than not. Keep this in mind when making design choices moving forward.

QR codes are still an excellent way to have your cake and eat it too! You get to enjoy all of the benefits that only print marketing offers, while still embracing digital marketing at the same time. A poorly designed, poorly executed QR code will do a lot more harm than good, which is why it’s always important to make choices that help ADD to the print experience instead of accidentally taking away from it.

So if you need help creating a perfect QR code for your printed materials, just give us a call – and let Futch Printing & Mailing ADDRESS all your printing needs!

New Year’s Resolutions for Your Small Business

2017-resolutionsIt is a tradition of sorts to make resolutions for the New Year, such as losing weight or eating healthier. Some people also include resolutions that impact their family’s future, such as resolving to plan two family vacations this year. However, most resolutions are quickly forgotten as people fall into their habitual way of living.

A better solution is to plan goals for the year and break them down into smaller, easy-to-accomplish steps. Similar to planning personal resolutions, you can also make resolutions for your small business. By looking back at the year behind you and analyzing your company’s performance, you can resolve to alter your results this year by changing your behavior.

What is the Difference between Resolutions and Goals?
A resolution is a promise to take action. It is easy to break a resolution because there is nothing except for willpower holding you to that action. A goal is a specific, measurable finish line that you aim to reach by a specific point in time. The biggest difference between a resolution and a goal is the exactness or the ability to measure your results. It is possible that your resolution for this year is to lose 10 pounds. If you are a planner, you might take the time to figure out how you will do that. Perhaps you will visit the gym each day and cut out sweets from your diet. If you stick to your resolution, you will reach your goal. However, the minute you stop the change in your behavior, it’s very likely you’ll be saying hello again to that 10 pounds on your hips.

Planning a goal takes more than making a promise to yourself. Instead, planning a goal requires that you set a goal that you can realistically achieve, and then set out the steps to get you there. Once the journey begins, success is more likely if you remind yourself of your goals regularly, reward yourself as you achieve milestones, and measure your results to make changes to your plan along the way.

Collaborating with Your Team
Unless your business has only one employee, yourself, it is a good idea to sit down with your team and ask them to contribute toward making goals for this year. Many companies create three-to-five year goals and then break them down into specifics when each year arrives. Since your team will be the people in the trenches who are taking action to reach the goal, inviting them to collaborate with you on the plan will give them a reason to become more invested in the outcome.
Why is January a Good Time to Make Plans?
Not all companies start their fiscal year in January. If your fiscal year begins in a different month of the year, then start your plans then. For those who follow the calendar year, January planning will focus all of your team on where you want to go. It will drive them to work harder and achieve more as long as you continue to refocus them towards the goal throughout the year.

Don’t forget to reward yourself and your staff for incremental achievements. People need incentives and reminders to keep moving forward and improve behaviors. Work on creating good habits that make goals achievable and coach those who struggle with them. Remember everyone has something unique to contribute and learns differently. Ask your team what they need to succeed.

Business Lessons from a Dog

dogBusiness lessons can be found everywhere we look in life. One of the best ways to learn is by simply looking at the world in a new way. Dogs look at the world differently than we do and often have a very simple outlook. If you want to learn more about business, these are some of the lessons your dog is trying to teach you.

 

Don’t Take Everything So Seriously
To dogs, everything is great. They do not get down about being out of treats. They definitely want one still but they move on very quickly and it isn’t that serious. Sometimes you have to approach business the same way. Yes, there are serious situations you will run into, but there are also some that you take too seriously. Things are usually not as bad as you make them out to be, so focus on the good and do not freak out so much over the bad.

Take a Chance on Something New and Trust Your People
Dogs are mostly happy-go-lucky and are always ready to go on a ride. They do not need to know where they are going, but they are happy to be on the ride. They trust you as their owner, and they know they will be taken care of no matter what. This kind of trust is not always found in the business world. In fact, it is rare. However, if you trust your employees, allow them to take the reigns sometimes and see where it can take the business.

Never Meet a Stranger
A dog never meets a stranger and is instant friends with anyone they meet. If you had this same approach, you would have a much bigger network of people that you could reach in your business. You could have new customers, new clients, new friends, and even new business partners. Approach each new person you meet with the same vibrancy and openness as a dog would and you will be surprised by how much it opens doors for you.

Listen When People Speak to You
This may seem very basic, but dogs are always listening when someone is talking to them. They may not do what is asked, but they are listening. Whenever someone is speaking to you in a business setting, you should focus your attention on them and actively listen to what they are saying.

Trust Your Instincts
Dogs follow their noses, and they also have killer instincts. They do not second guess them. Start trusting yourself more and when you have an instinct about something, more often than not, you will be right if the feeling is strong enough.

Dogs can teach us a lot about life as well as business. Most of these lessons can be used in the business setting as well as in your daily life. Just understanding these basic concepts can help you in your own life.

2017 Price Change Information: USPS Marketing Mail and What You Need to Know

mail-boxesA new year always brings with it a variety of different changes, and it seems that 2017 will be no exception, as far as the United States Postal Service is concerned. Anyone who relies on the USPS for their direct mail marketing activities would do well to sit up and take notice, especially with regards to the price change information and other news that has recently been announced.

What’s In a Name?
According to PitneyBowes.com, the USPS “Standard Mail” tier will be rebranded as USPS Marketing Mail in 2017. Additionally, what was previously known as “Alternate Postage” will now be called “Share Mail.” Pricing structures have been changed (and arguably, simplified) accordingly.

When the new branding goes into effect, letters that are 3.5 ounces in size or less will cost $0.284 – a reduction from the current $0.290 pricing structure. Flat rates for items that are four ounces or less, on the other hand, will actually increase to $0.555 from the current rate of $0.546 that is expiring. It’s important to note that these rates are for the USPS Marketing Mail items that are processed through non-automation means.

Other Upcoming USPS Changes
The USPS also announced a number of other changes, particularly to items that fall into the presorted mail category. Overall, people can expect a price decrease on average of about 0.25%, though it’s important to note that certain types of items will actually increase in price at the same time.

One change that marketers will no doubt be happy about is the fact that presorted First Class Mail will see a significant price reduction. Starting at the end of January, sending 3.5-ounce materials will now cost the same price as a one-ounce letter. Up until these changes go into effect, the pricing category ranged from one to two ounces, not 3.5 ounces.

Those First Class letters up to one ounce will now cost you $0.49 as opposed to the current $0.47. Flat rates up to one ounce will increase to $0.98 from $0.94, while First Class Mail parcels will allow you to pay one price ($2.67) for any item up to four ounces in size. Each additional ounce will cost you $0.21, which is actually one of the few categories of pricing that will remain unchanged in the new year.

Changes Behind the Scenes in 2017
It’s also important to note a significant change in the way these types of items are processed. Items that used to fall under the 3-Digit and AADC categories are being combined with First-Class Mail Presorted Automation Letters and USPS Marketing Mail Automation Letters. Ultimately, this won’t really change the price that you can expect to pay when you send your marketing materials out into the world, but in theory, it should make them easier to process and send out once they’ve made their way into the hands of the United States Postal Service.

All of these changes will go into effect on January 22, 2017. Until then, the current pricing structure will still apply. As marketing budgets get tighter than ever during a period where direct mail marketing has never been more important, it’s always essential to stay as up-to-date as possible on any and all USPS pricing changes to help make sure you’re getting the most out of your hard-earned (marketing) dollar.  And if all these changes just sound too confusing to you, don’t worry – just give us a call – and let Futch Printing & Mailing ADDRESS all your printing needs!

Qualities That Brands With Longevity Share

brandIn the world of business, there is perhaps no commodity more precious than longevity. Getting a brand up and off the ground is one thing – keeping it around for the long-term is something else entirely. Creating longevity will rely in large part on your marketing, although this is only one small part of a much greater whole. The best marketing campaign in the world can’t create a long-standing, successful brand if a few qualities aren’t underneath it all just waiting to be communicated to the widest possible audience.

They Trigger an Emotional Response
One of the biggest traits that all brands with serious longevity share is the fact that they’re able to trigger an emotional response with their target audience, creating a loyal army of followers. This is true both with the way they market AND the way that response integrates into the service they provide.

Apple is a great example of this based on their image as the “hip, trendy” electronics company. People see a sleek, sophisticated Apple product in an equally compelling ad and they can’t help but think, “That looks really cool; I want that.” The same goes for a company like Amazon.com, albeit from a different angle. The way that Amazon has embraced personal marketing, both regarding the advertising it creates and with regards to the personalized recommendations that each user enjoys, makes them think, “I like Amazon; they get me.” That type of emotional connection is something you just can’t put a price on.

They Live Up to What They Promise
All of the best brands with serious longevity share the fact that they live up to the promises they make in their marketing materials. This comes from a deeper understanding of not just the people they’re trying to attract, but who those people are and what they want. These brands know how to communicate with their target audience and, as a result, don’t just live up to their promises, but they know how NOT to make a promise they can’t keep.

Take FedEx, for example. Entrepreneur.com recently cited FedEx as a brand with an incredibly strong corporate identity, owed largely to the fact that it’s operations are so incredibly efficient. FedEx is a brand built on trust, and the road to trust is paved with promises that have been kept in the past. FedEx is seen as an incredibly reliable service, and people in need of shipping rank FedEx favorably in that regard. This creates something of a self-fulfilling prophecy – a symbiotic relationship that only strengthens over time specifically because FedEx knows what its audience wants and it knows how precisely to give it to them every time.

Once again, Apple is another example of this idea in motion. They promise products that “just work” and have historically delivered on that promise time and again. This has made them not only one of the most successful brands in the world, but also one with serious longevity in an industry where companies come and go like the weather.

These are just a few of the core qualities that all brands with longevity share. Remember that in the grand scheme of things, brands come and go all the time. Creating a brand is easy, but if you want to make sure that your brand stands the test of time, you need to focus on offering something truly unique on an ongoing basis.