Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Happy Holidays!


To give our valued staff a well-deserved rest
and time to spend with their family and friends,
WE WILL BE CLOSED
Tuesday, December 23rd through Friday, January 2nd
We will re-open promptly at 8:30 am on Monday, January 5th.

We appreciate your business!
Please know that you still have time to place an order
and we'll get it out before we close for the Holidays.

Best Wishes for a Joyous Holiday Season
from your friends at Creative Characters
Brigid, Marya, Jason and Phil.
 

Keep in Touch: 6 Ways to Stay Top of Mind with Clients and Prospects

Marketing experts agree: the basis for developing new business, whether from an existing customer or the first job from a prospect, is to communicate with them. Experts also agree that the more different kinds of communication tools a business or organization uses, the more efficient the outreach and the more likely it is to successfully reach the person targeted. Relying on only one or two methods to make contact is risky. To help improve your chances of successful communication, we offer six ways to contact customers and prospects.

#1: Direct mail is alive and working well

The fact is: direct mail works. According to the Direct Mail Association (DMA) Factbook for 2013, 65% of consumers of all ages have made a purchase as a result of direct mail, and the response rate for direct mail continues to be higher than for email. Some reasons are:

  • There is less competition for reader attention in the mailbox than the inbox. Fewer mail pieces overall are being delivered to homes and businesses, making direct mail more visible. Conversely, the volume of email continues its rise.
     
  • Email can be blocked, labeled as spam, or deleted without opening. If the email message is never delivered or read, it is useless. In contrast, direct mail can be designed so it doesn’t require opening (postcards), thereby automatically exposing the reader to the message.
     
  • Email has replaced direct mail as a source of annoyance. A 2006 survey conducted by the University of Georgia found that most people regarded email as more intrusive and irritating than direct mail.

#2: Phone calls because people still like to talk

Phone calls – not telemarketing, but a person-to-person call – is still an effective way to reach someone. On the telephone, voice tone adds another dimension to the words, conveying more than the words alone. In fact, voice tone and spoken words together account for 42% of effective communication. Certain communications, particularly those that are sensitive or confidential, are best handled with a phone call.

#3: Social media to bring them to you

Social media can be a leading traffic generator to your website. Without social media, a business’s inbound traffic is limited to customers who are already familiar with it or prospects that used the right key words in a search engine. By adding social media profiles and sharing content from your website – blog posts, videos, etc. – you give the audience a reason to click through to your site and engage.

Social media can be used as a customer service platform and a forum to interact with customers. It is a powerful tool for customers to promote a brand they like.

Facebook provides a place for customers and prospects to interact with the business and is often the first social media profile a business develops. Keep it regularly active by making important announcements and answering questions. Twitter is for quick, frequent updates about your business and is a place to engage with individual customers by answering questions and providing product support. YouTube is a useful way to provide instructional videos and explanations, and from it a business can easily post the video to Facebook or Twitter.

#4: Printed newsletters have intrinsic value

Because it is more expensive and difficult to produce than an email letter, a printed newsletter has a greater intrinsic value. It also arrives with all graphics and photographs in place and without distortion or font substitution by browsers. Digital printing has brought the price of printing a full color newsletter within budget for most businesses.

A printed newsletter is very versatile. Mail it to customers, use it as a leave-behind on sales calls, place it in your reception area and distribute it at trade shows. A printed newsletter will get multiple views from your customers during its shelf life of 30-90 days, and may even be archived by customers.

#5: Live events take you to where they are

If done wisely, participating in a live event like a trade show or vendor fair can be a way to generate leads and promote brand awareness. Look for smaller shows that are vertical, or are aimed at a specific industry that represents your target audience. A trade show allows a business to reach more prospects in less time than individual sales calls.

Another benefit of trades show is providing the opportunity to visit with and nurture client relationships. It may be difficult to get face-to-face time with a busy customer in the office, at a trade show there are fewer demands on the customer’s time.

There is also a residual benefit from trade show participation. According to data from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, 87% of attendees pass along information they obtained at the show, and 64% will tell at least six other people about it.

#6: Email to establish you as an expert

Sending an email newsletter regularly can establish your business as an expert in its field. Unlike a printed newsletter, an email newsletter should be short (i.e., a few hundred words), provide relevant content that shares insights on a single topic and be accompanied by a visual. Use an email delivery service with an opt-out feature (like Constant Contact or MailChimp) to be sure you comply with the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.

Content written for an email newsletter can be used in other ways. Upload individual articles to the blog on your website. Post links to articles or to a PDF download of your newsletter on social media. Collect issues on the same topic and publish as an e-book to be downloaded from your website.

Communication is a multiple channel activity

Communicating regularly with customers and prospects through multiple channels establishes the basis for an ongoing relationship. Informative, relevant content is the key to attracting and keeping readers. We can help you format content into a printed newsletter, a direct mail campaign, a targeted email newsletter, blog posts and social media posts. For more information on our communication services, contact Brigid at 215-923-2679 or brigid@creativecharacters.com.

Improving Response Rate

Direct mail marketing is a powerful tool for generating leads and selling products and services. Here are some ideas for improving response rate.

  • Target an audience. Select a subset of your mailing list that have like characteristics, then craft a message likely to appeal specifically to them.
     
  • Provide a compelling offer. If you have an offer that provides clear savings, incorporate it into the message. Create a sense of urgency by adding a deadline for responding or limiting the offer to a certain number of buyers.
     
  • Use a well-designed mail piece. The mail piece should be professionally designed using proven principles to attract attention and lead the reader through the sales message. This will make your company look better to prospects that are just being introduced to you and reinforce your professionalism with clients who already know your company.
     
  • Interact with other marketing channels. Use a direct mail postcard to drive traffic to your website. Use social media to alert customers and prospects to be expecting something in the mail.

Email Marketing

Email is not digital direct mail. While it does share some core principles with direct mail, it also has other characteristics that are unique.

  • In email marketing, the customer is in control. The customer gets to decide what to accept in the inbox. In order for an email message to avoid being classified as spam, it must be sent with permission (opt-in), not mislead the recipient and be easy to opt-out.
     
  • Email delivery is complicated. As a service to customers, ISPs (Internet service providers) use algorithms to determine the likelihood that a message is spam and block delivery to the inbox. If a customer or prospect changes his email address, the sender will never know.
     
  • Campaign performance is measured differently. The email industry has not yet standardized performance metrics. Measurements range from counting “opens” to opt-in form completion rates. Response rate, the important metric for direct mail, has little or no relevance for email marketing.
     
  • Email appearance can be altered. Web browsers may display email content with substituted fonts or missing graphics. Preview panes may block all but a tiny portion of the email. Email providers like Gmail and Yahoo! may display ads next to your email.

An Easy Read

Successful marketing departments and sales teams understand the importance of communicating with customers and prospects. For customers, periodic communication provides a chance for the business to express appreciation, introduce new products or services, and grow the relationship with the customer. For prospects, communication builds name recognition and brand awareness, and helps turn a cold call into a warm one.

Today’s businesses have a wealth of communication tools at their disposal, increasing the likelihood that at least one will be of interest to a customer or prospect. Not all communication methods work for everyone, so having a lot of options gives the business more opportunities. If you need help making sense of all the communication options available for businesses today, we’re just a phone call or email away.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bring Customers Back Again

We have focused a lot of our blogs and email messages on bringing in new customers and increasing sales this holiday season. From creating new marketing materials and product packages to social media contests and email newsletters, we’ve explored marketing ideas that will help you reach more people. After the holiday rush, it may be tempting to take your foot off the marketing gas pedal, however, now is the time to accelerate even more and turn your new customers into evangelical customers for life.

Try incorporating one (or all) of these ideas into your after-holiday marketing plan to see if you can turn those gift shoppers into repeat customers.

  1. Send a Survey – This assumes that you are collecting customer contact information at the point of sale. If you aren’t, start there. Asking your customers opinion about their experience with your services or products is a great place to build a relationship. It also gives you a reason to contact them and even provide them with a discount on their next purchase if they complete the survey.  As a consumer, I always enjoy seeing the results of a survey. I like to know if my experience with a business was unique or if it was the norm. Sharing the results of the survey gives you another reason to reach out to your customer again.
     
  2. Run a Contest – Have customers post pictures on your Facebook page showing how they are using your product or service. The one with the most likes wins! Social media, like Facebook and Instagram, make running a contest a very social event. Encourage participants to share the post with their friends to get more votes. The more eyes on your page the better!
     
  3. Reminders – Doctors and dentists send appointment reminders and auto mechanics post stickers on our windshield with service dates. The same technique works in any business that offers regular or seasonal service. In one case, a hair salon that started sending self-addressed reminder postcards boosted business by decreasing the average time between haircuts from six weeks to four. From maintenance to replacement parts, reminders can ensure your customer comes back to you.
     
  4. Rewards Programs – My favorite local coffee shop gives me a free drink each time I purchase 12. I will gladly drive a little further to one of their locations to make sure I am earning points towards my free drink. A local sock company has a similar program. After 10 purchases, you get 20% off your next order. What could you create that would encourage your customers to be more brand loyal?
     
  5. Invest in Leave Behinds - Calendars, refrigerator magnets, pens and mouse pads branded with your corporate identity are another tried-and-true method of reminding customers you exist. It's hard for a customer to ignore something that's staring him in the face. Include the leave behinds in products that you ship or bring them with you when you’re networking.
The after holiday market is a great time to continue the conversation with new customers to let them know about your other products and services and to make sure they’re happy with their purchase.  The company that communicates consistently will win more customers than the company that doesn’t. How are you reaching out and starting conversations with your customers this month? Let us know in the comment section below.

How Google Evaluates Quality Content

Each year, Google changes its search algorithm hundreds of times. While most of these changes are relatively minor, occasionally a major change is rolled out (like Google Panda and Google Penguin) and it greatly affects the search results.

With the release of Google Panda, the goal was to lower the ranking of “thin” websites with poor user experiences. “Thin” sites are those with low quality content that contain an abundance of advertising.

Below is a list of questions Google published with the original Panda release on how to evaluate quality content. Keep these questions handy when creating page content and news articles for your site.

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
     
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it shallower in nature?
     
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
     
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
     
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
     
  • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
     
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
     
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
     
  •  How much quality control is done on content?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
     
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
     
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don't get as much attention or care?
     
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
     
  • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
     
  • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
     
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
     
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
     
  • Is this the sort of page you'd want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
     
  • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
     
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
     
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
     
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
     
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?
     
Depending on how you answered these questions, it may be time for you to either rewrite existing content or start adding new content to your site. It has been said time and time again that content is king, and that is truer today than it ever has been. Posting unique, meaningful and relevant content to your site can be the difference between a page 1 and page 100 ranking.

Do you want to up-to-date your website to be compliant with Google requirements? Do you want to increase your Google ranking? We can help! Give Brigid a call at 215-923-2679 or email her at brigid@creativecharacters.com.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

 
So that we may spend time with Family and Friends
over the Thanksgiving Holiday

We Will Be Closed
Thursday, November 27 and Friday, November 28

 


Don’t let your printing needs
come to a CRASHING HALT – Order Now!

 

We will be closed Tuesday, December 23 through Friday, January 2. We are grateful for your business and ask that you please place your orders as soon as possible so we can meet your needs before we close for the year. 

We will reopen Monday, January 5, 2015 and look forward to working with you in the New Year.

Ten Things You Need to Know About Typography

Typography is the design of letters and characters and the process of arranging type. It is integral to communication and a central component of any graphic design project. Good typography reinforces the meaning of the text. It puts the reader at ease and allows the reader to devote less energy to the mechanics of reading. Good typography entices the reader to pay more attention to the message.

Typeface or font?

The terms typeface and font are used interchangeably today. However, in the days of metal type, there was a distinction. Font meant an alphabet (i.e., the upper and lower case letters, numerals, punctuation marks and symbols) in a single size, weight and style, while typeface meant a family of fonts in various sizes, weights and styles. Fundamental characteristics include:

  • Size is the height of the alphabet and is measured in points (print) or ems (web).
     
  • Weight, such as medium, bold, light or black, is the thickness of the alphabet relative to its height.
     
  • Style is the slant of the letters. Upright letters are known as roman; slanted is called italics or oblique.

Typography as design: type classification

Type classification is a system for grouping fonts by shared visual characteristics (stroke variation, serifs and bracketing, x-height and stress). Typography for print uses these main classifications: Roman, Blackletter and Gaelic. The Roman classification – which predominates today – is further divided into serif, sans serif, script and ornamental.

  • Serif typefaces have finishing strokes and stems on individual characters. Serif typefaces you may be familiar with include Times, Garamond, Palatino.
     
  • Sans serif typefaces lack finishing strokes and are relatively modern. Helvetica, Univers, Futura, and Gill Sans are all sans serif typefaces.
     
  • Script typefaces mimic calligraphy or hand lettering and are either formal or casual. A formal script example is Old English. Casual script examples are Brush Script and Mistral.
     
  • Ornamental typefaces (also known as display or novelty type) have limited use as headlines or for decorative purposes.

Web typography uses a slightly different classification system: serif, sans serif, monospaced, cursive, fantasy and script.

Typography as arranging type: design choices 

Arranging type means selecting a font, point size, line length and spacing for each line and for the page as a whole that conveys the meaning of the words.

Fonts
The choice of fonts is dictated by the page’s purpose, the amount of text, the intended audience, and characteristics of the font itself. Because there is more body copy than anything else, it has the biggest influence on the overall appearance of the page.

  • For a printed page with a lot of text, use a serif font for the body copy as most books, newspapers and magazines do. On a web page, use either a serif or sans serif font.
     
  • Limit the total number of fonts to three or less. For a single-page or short document, use only one or two fonts. Use only one script or ornamental font, regardless of the number of pages, and use it sparingly.
  • Except for acronyms and abbreviations, avoid using all capital letters for text. In printed documents, using all caps slows down reading speed; on the web, all caps is synonymous with shouting.
     
  • Never use all caps in a script font – the letters won’t connect as they would in handwriting or calligraphy and the words will be very difficult to read.

For contrast, pair a serif font for body copy with a sans serif for headlines. For variety, vary the size and weight of the type rather than changing fonts. For emphasis, use bold or italic type, but don’t overuse either. Too much emphasis de-emphasizes everything.

Point size
Point size is the size of the letters. For print, use 10-12 point type for body copy; on the web, use 15-25 pixels. Be prepared to make adjustments as some identical point sizes may appear larger or smaller depending on the font.

Headings help organize the page by defining sections of body copy and defining a hierarchy. Headings can be set in a larger point size than body copy, with a different weight, or set off with space above and below.

Line length
Line length is the horizontal width of the text block. For best results, set the line length to average 45-90 characters per line or to about 2 ½ times the alphabet length of the font you are using. To determine alphabet length, type the alphabet twice, then a third time up to the letter m; measure. The width in picas is usually the best line length for that font.

Spacing
Spacing – between letters, words, lines, columns and on the margins of the page – creates negative space, the space that surrounds an object. Negative space defines the boundaries of positive space and helps balance the page.

  • Leading (rhymes with heading) is the vertical distance between lines, measured baseline to baseline. It should be 120–145% of the point size, though it can be adjusted to bring lines closer together or spread them farther apart. In CSS, leading is called line-height.
     
  • Adjusting the space between two letters is called kerning and is used to remove gaps around letters whose forms angle outward or frame an open space (W,Y,V,T,L).  Kerning can be controlled by creating a table of kerning pairs that specifies spaces between different letter combinations.
     
  • Tracking, letterspacing or character spacing refers to adjusting space between all the letters in a word. It is used to make lines of type more even, to remove hyphenation or widows and orphans from paragraphs or to increase the space between the letters of a word set in all caps.
     
  • White space is the part of a page that is empty of text, photos or graphic elements. If a page looks crowded, it probably needs more white space. Many readers associate white space with an upscale or sophisticated look. Page margins, line length and column width all affect white space.

Alignment
Alignment refers to how the text is displayed on the page. The choices are left, right, centered or justified and should remain consistent throughout the document.

  • Left alignment (also called left justified, flush left or rag right) begins each line at the left margin. This produces a straight margin on the left and a ragged edge margin on the right. This is the most commonly used alignment.
     
  • Right alignment (also called right justified or flush right) aligns the beginning of each line of text along the right margin, producing a straight right margin and ragged edge margin on the left. Right alignment is used sparingly as it is difficult to read in large blocks of text.
     
  • Centered alignment has equal amounts of space on the right and left margin of each line, making ragged edge margins on both sides. Centered alignment is often used for document titles and headings.
     
  • Justified alignment combines left and right aligned text, resulting in a straight margin on both sides. This is accomplished by adjusting the space between words and characters so the text fills the entire line. It is popular in newspapers and magazines and increasingly, on the web.

Typography is about the details

Whether in print or on the web, the goal of good typography is always the same: to convey the meaning of the text and thereby to enhance the reader’s comprehension and learning. In typography, small changes can make a world of difference. For more information about how good typography can improve your website, marketing materials and printed documents, contact us today!

Readability

Legibility – how well the reader can see the letters – is an important function of type. Studies show that serif type increases reader comprehension over sans serif type because the serifs guide the reader’s eyes to the next letter. Here are two other ideas for keeping type legible.

Widows (a single word at the end of a paragraph) and orphans (a single word at the top of a column) look unattractive on a printed page. Leave at least three words at the end of any paragraph or the first line of any column. To eliminate widows and orphans, change word tracking or letter spacing, change the hyphenation zone (the point in the line of type that words must cross in order to break), or use ragged right margins.

Hyphenation should be adjusted so that no more than three words breaks in a row occur at the end of a line anywhere on the page. Adjust the hyphenation zone (making it larger to decrease the number of hyphenated words or smaller to increase the number) to eliminate excessive word breaks.

An Easy Read

Before professional graphic design software, typography was one of the invisible tasks of printing and publishing. The professional typographer was a skilled worker with knowledge of and appreciation for the beauty, as well as the utility of type. In this month's posts, we discuss some of the basic concepts of good typography. Good typography is incredibly relevant today online and in print.

Some techniques, like kerning letter pairs, are easier in professional page layout programs. Others, like adjusting line spacing or leading, have automatic defaults that sometimes should be overridden because they aren’t necessarily best practices. We hope you’ll enjoy this behind-the-curtain peek at what makes some things so much easier to read than others. If you need help improving the readability of your website or marketing materials, please give me a call.