Saturday, December 12, 2015

Virus Alert: USPS Email Scam

Though this scam has made the rounds in the past, it looks like it has recently reared its ugly head again and is wreaking havoc on unsuspecting USPS customers. The scam works like this; you receive an email letting you know that a package was not able to be delivered to your address. In order to claim the package, you simply have to download the attached shipping label and bring it in to your local USPS. Unfortunately, the Word® document that is attached to the email isn’t a shipping label, it’s a virus. These kind of viruses typically phish for personal and banking information on your computer and can create a real headache for the victim of the scam.

So how are customers supposed to know the difference between a legitimate notification and a phishing one? Using the tips below, consumers can be more aware of some common email scams.
  1. Check the send from address – in this case, the email was sent from tracking@usps.org which looks like a very legitimate email address. However, the postal service’s website is www.usps.com not .org. Just by checking the URL before opening the attachment, a red flag would go up about this email.
     
  2. Hover over links – many phishing emails will encourage you to visit their website and may even show a legitimate URL in the body of the email. However, when you hover over the link or address in the email (don’t click on it, just hover your mouse over it), you’ll often see that the URL is actually directing you to a completely different site. This can be a sign that the email is in fact, a phishing attempt. As a side note, plenty of legitimate companies will have links in their emails that do not look legitimate too. If they are using an email marketing program to send their emails or to track clicks on any given message, the URL could look strange to the end user. So this isn’t a sure fire way to tell that an email is a phishing message.
     
  3. Seek out a trustworthy source – if the email is coming from someone like your bank or credit card company, the notification should appear in your email as well as in the secure section of their website. Instead of clicking on a link in an email, go directly to the company’s website using your browser. Then login and look for the notification in the messages from the company.
     
  4. Look in the “to” address – in the example below, you’ll see the words “undisclosed recipients” in the “to” field. This typically means it was sent to multiple people and the addresses have been placed in the BCC field.  Typically, a legitimate notification will show your name or email address in the “to” field.
     
  5. Use common sense – if you aren’t expecting a package, or have not done business with the company that is sending you the notification email, then there is a good chance that the email could be a phishing attempt. It is unlikely that you have a fifth cousin in a far off country that needs you to send your banking account information in order for them to wire you millions of dollars (but hey, it could happen!). Before you blinding click on a link or respond to an email, stop and think about the email itself. 
It is estimated that over 156 million phishing emails are sent every day and of those, 16 million make it through the spam filters. If you haven’t yet encountered a phishing email, you likely will. Being prepared and knowing what to look for will help you keep your personal information private and secure.

Here is what the USPS phishing attempt looked like:


Wrapping Up for Year End

Whether we like it or not, the holiday season is upon us. For many businesses, this is the beginning of their busy season. For others, however, the extended vacations, lack of business focus and delay in initiatives can mean a slump in production and a shift in priorities. If you are looking to wrap up a project or keep clients engaged during the holiday season, try one of these tips.

  • Hold a “state of the union” meeting. If you are mid-project going into the holidays, it's a good time to ask for 30 with your client to address the current status of all projects. Show the client quickly what has been done and what is left to be done. The goal of this meeting will be to set the expectations for wrapping up the project.
     
  • Assign tasks to the client. Whether it is providing content or feedback, the client should have a task assigned to them. It doesn’t have to be complex, just something that holds them accountable for the project getting completed. A task could be signing off on a proof or sending feedback. Make sure the task is meaningful and not a waste of the client’s time.
     
Of course, it is not always the client that can make an engagement run long. We all know the squeaky wheel gets the grease, right? Likewise a project with a demanding client will often take priority over an easier, less vocal client. To keep a project on track even with an easy going client, make sure your team is focused on the project’s goals and mission. Frequent communication with clear task assignments will help each team member be accountable for a project getting completed on time.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Don’t let your printing needs come to a CRASHING HALT

Order Now!

We will be closed Wednesday, December 23 
through Friday, January 1.


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 4, 2016 and look forward to working with you in the New Year.

Press Releases that Grab Attention

Suppose that your business or organization has just purchased a new piece of equipment or has just launched a new service, and it’s time to get the word out. A multi-faceted approach usually works best. This might include taking out ads in newspapers or magazines, sending out a direct-mail postcard, and utilizing social media. One of the most effective methods to grab attention is sending out a news release. Traditional printed press releases remain one of the best ways to get the news to the right audience, at the right time, very inexpensively.

When to Write a Press Release

Press releases are meant to help news services get relevant news and information to their subscribers in a timely manner. Before sending a press release to a news outlet, determine whether or not the news is truly relevant to its recipients. Make sure the news is still current. If it took place quite a while ago, or will not be happening soon, the release will be ignored.

A press release is an effective way to communicate a wide range of topics including:

  • Launching a new product or service 
  • Recognizing key employee achievements 
  • Redesigning a website 
  • Moving your busines 
  • Participating in an event 
  • Establishing a new partnership 
  • Sharing research results 
  • Receiving an award

A press release can also be used to generate a feature story. Reporters are more likely to consider a story idea if they first receive a press release. However, because journalists receive so many requests for coverage, to be successful the release needs to:

  • Have an eye-catching headline
  • Contain the who, what, when, where and why of the story, and
  • Be error-free and attractive
     

Eye-Catching Headlines

Your headline, should be an abbreviated version of the press release’s key point. Just as newspaper headlines are meant to grab readers, the headline of a press release also needs to be attention-getting.

The headline is typically in bold type and uses a larger font size than the body copy. Conventional press release headlines use the present tense and exclude articles such as “a” and “the”.

A common way to create the headline is to use several of the keywords from the body copy to create a relevant and interesting title.

Body Copy and the 5 “W’s”

The press release should be written just like you want it to appear in the news story. Reporters are very busy and don’t have time to research your company’s information, so typically what you write is what will be in the journalist’s version of your event.

Start with the date and city in which the press release originates. The first sentence should grab the reader’s attention and say precisely what the release is about. The body copy should be brief. The first paragraph should summarize the press release, and the following paragraphs should support it.

Communicate the 5 “W’s” very clearly. The who, what, when, where, and why should tell the reader everything they need to know:

  • Who is this about?
  • What is the actual news?
  • When does this event happen?
  • Where does this take place?
  • Why is this news?

Once you have written the basic information, go back and fill in with more detail. The more newsworthy you make the press release copy, the better its chance is to be used.

Attractive and Error-Free

News services and reporters get lots of press releases everyday. Make sure yours stands out by keeping it error-free with a professional appearance.

Traditional hard copy press releases that are mailed should be on nice paper similar to your letterhead. Using letterhead is not recommended, but if you have second sheets with only your logo on them, they can be used.

When an editor looks at your story, she is first considering if it is appropriate for her audience, and then if it’s professional. Make sure you have correct spelling, good grammar, use nice paper, and that major points are clearly covered. Reporters and editors will appreciate the fact that you’ve helped make them look better.

The Basic Structure

Finally, it’s important to make sure everything in the release is organized correctly.

  • FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: should go at the top of the page, on the left margin in all caps. If it is not for immediate release, the date you would like it to be published should be clearly stated in the same location.
     
  • The headline: usually in bold, should be centered below that. If you plan to use a subhead or tagline, put it in italics right below the headline.
     
  • First paragraph: this is where the most important information must be located. Make sure to include all the key points here.
     
  • Second and third paragraphs: this additional information should include the 5 “W’s”. This is also a good place to include quotes.
     
  • Boilerplate: place the information about your company underneath the body of your release. Describe your company or organization with five or six sentences. This is the same type of introductory information found in your company’s brochure or website.
     
  • Contact information: if your press release is newsworthy, reporters may like to contact some of the key individuals in your organization for more information. This section should contain a contact person’s name, the company name and address, phone, fax, email and website addresses.
     
  • Other media: mention other ways to receive more information such as requesting a brochure, or a link to your website, Facebook page, LinkedIn, or blog.

Tie it Together

Remember, traditional press releases are still one of the best ways to get your business news to the right audience, at the right time, very inexpensively. Let us know if you’d like us to help make your next press release stand out, grab attention, and be more effective. To set an appointment, call or email us today!

Press For Events

Brigid and Marya with Chip Alfred, Director of Development
& Communications at Philadelphia FIGHT’s Annual
FIGHT for LIFE Gala.
Many events include quite a few different activities. Rather than just writing one press release that lists everything, consider writing a press release for each activity.

There could be a separate story about each activity, for example: a story about how the event is organized, a story about daily contest winners, a story about vendors, a story about who the event benefits, etc.

Press releases can be sent out before, during, and after an event, each one addressing a different aspect. Newspapers and magazines are always looking for additional content, and your newsworthy events could be just what they’re looking for. The more press releases you send out, the more opportunities you have to get press coverage. The more press coverage you get, the more attention your business gets.

Targeted, Relevant, and Recent

  • Prepare each press release to target a specific news organization, and send it to the most appropriate reporter. This information can usually be found on their website. Sending the identical press release to multiple organizations and multiple reporters is a sign that you have not carefully identified your target market.
     
  • For a press release to be important, it must be relevant and recent news – not too old or too distant.
     
  • Copy editors write the actual newspaper and magazine headlines; however, if you come up with an attention-getting headline for them, they may use it. Your headline is your best chance to get noticed. Keep it brief, and be sure it includes the main point. It’s a good idea not to write it until after you finish the press release.
     
  • Avoid using jargon. If accuracy requires the use of a technical term, define it in such a way that everyone will be able to understand it.
     
  • Include a “call to action” in your press release. This is what you’d like the reader to do once they’ve read it.
     

Q&A: How can I measure the success of a press release?

Before beginning to write a press release, you should consider what you hope to accomplish. It might be an increase in website traffic, or more visits to your new location. Some press releases are meant to give your business or organization “top-of-mind” awareness so that when a company or individual needs what you have to offer, your name will be the first to come to mind. Top-of-mind awareness is hard to measure, but ultimately very important.

Start with a goal in mind before beginning your press release strategy. An example would be to set a goal of a 15% increase in website traffic after the press release has been sent. It’s important that you know exactly what your activity is both before and after the release is sent. If your goal is reached, you had a successful distribution.

Another example might be the announcement of new product now available at your location. It will be easy to see if sales of the new product increase after the
press release.

If at all possible, every press release should have a goal, even if it is only to create top-of-mind awareness. Without goals, you can’t measure the results and you don’t know if it was effective.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Brochure Content & Design Fundamentals

Brochures form an integral part of the traditional printed marketing collateral, despite the growing popularity of online marketing initiatives. A well-designed brochure is very much a collectible item, not only for its captivating visual effects, but for the loads of product-specific information featured in it.

A printed brochure is an integral part of the sales process. It serves as a leave-behind after a sales call or meeting with prospective customers. It is also used as a way to respond to inquiries or to introduce new products or services when cold calling. As part of a direct mail campaign, it can be sent with a sales letter or used as a self-mailer. And finally, a brochure can be displayed at the point-of-purchase to interest customers in additional products or services or to provide information.

The best part is a brochure can be tailored to any printing budget. Whether it is a simple one color bi-fold, a two color tri-fold, or an elaborate full color die cut folder, a brochure effectively serves the organization’s marketing objectives.

The Elements of a Brochure

Most all brochures share certain characteristics. They have:
  • Written copy
  • Graphics in the form of photographs, illustrations, diagrams, charts, or graphs
  • An underlying organization
  • The company or organization’s identity and contact information
     

Writing the Copy

To write effective copy for your brochure, you need to know your audience, know your product or service, and be able to translate the product or service features into recognizable benefits for your audience. A good way to translate features into benefits is to think, “What’s in it for me?” For example, if your product is made of a different type of material than your competitor’s, the benefit could be that it will last longer or maintain its appearance.

An effective brochure uses concise writing that leads the reader to the important points. Rather than a straight text narrative, brochures use bulleted lists, headlines and subheads, reverse type, captions, and pull quotes to emphasize the message.

Creating Visual Interest

Visual images help readers understand complicated concepts, retain more of what they read, and stay interested. Images are what typically catch the reader’s attention first and often generate an emotion that leads to a sale.

The internet is a good source for professional-quality collections of images, particularly illustrations, drawings, and stock photography that can be licensed for a small fee. You may also be able to obtain images from your trade association, product manufacturer, or a professional organization within your industry.

There are many ways to design the cover of a brochure. One simple option is to use your company’s name and logo as the cover design. This is a versatile option and may be quite effective if your company logo is unusual or generates interest.

A second option is to think of the outside panel of your brochure as the front cover of a book. Be sure the design informs the reader of the content, indicates the intended audience, and sufficiently engages the readers in order to catch their interest. Sometimes this can be done by using a photograph that shows people representing the target audience engaged in an activity that is related to the topic of the brochure. If you are designing a brochure that will be displayed in a rack, be aware of how much of the cover will be visible and plan your design accordingly.

The Underlying Organization

An effective brochure is like a book. It has a beginning, middle, and end; and it tells a story. The story is developed logically, and by the end, the reader understands the purpose of the brochure.

When laying out a brochure, keep in mind the order in which the panels of the brochure will become visible as the reader unfolds it, and put the parts of the story on the appropriate panel. A good method to determine when a specific panel will be revealed is to fold a piece of paper into a brochure. Write a number sequentially on each panel as it becomes visible to you, and use the numbers to determine the sequence of the story.

One exception to this method is the back cover. If you are designing a brochure that is to be a self-mailer, then the back cover will be the mail panel where the return address, postage, and addressee information will be placed. If it is not a self-mailer, then the back panel is often used for company contact information.

Formats for Brochure Layout

The most familiar brochure style is the standard tri-fold, six-panel layout. The brochure folds are parallel -- the right side folds in toward the center and left side folds over the right. Some variations can be created by changing the sheet size, but the basic format is the same, six panels on which to tell the story.

To add interest and possibly tell the story more effectively, try a variation on the standard tri-fold brochure. For example, fold a 9 x 12 inch sheet like an accordion and you’ll have an entirely new way of revealing the panels. For another variation, fold an 11 x 17 inch sheet in half, then in half again to create an 8.5 x 5.5 inch, 8-panel brochure. Or fold in thirds to create a super sized 6-panel trifold.

The key to all these options is to gather several sheets of paper and start folding unfolding, refolding, and reverse folding until you find a number of panels in the right size and sequence to tell your story, one page at a time.

Professional Design and Printing

Because a brochure needs copywriting, design, images, and layout, it can be very complicated and time consuming to create. Additionally, a professional looking brochure requires some complex pre-press skills. The brochure panel widths must be adjusted to accommodate the fold, with the amount of adjustment dependent on what type of paper is being used and it’s thickness. Selecting fonts and point sizes to be effective in small panels requires experience in typography. And since the cover of a brochure is so important for attracting reader attention, it requires the training and talent of a graphic designer.

We have been designing and printing brochures for our customers for over 20 years, and we’re experts at it. We are happy to provide you with an estimate for budgeting purposes or we can get started now if you are ready to proceed. For more information or to set an appointment, call Brigid at 215-923-2679 or email brigid@creativecharacters.com.

Happy Thanksgiving!


To spend time with family and friends, we will be closed
Thursday, November 26 and Friday, November 27.

Leveraging Small Ads in Publications

A great way to get your brochure in the hands of your prospects is to place small ads in publications that you know your target audience will be reading. These are often small community newspapers, non-profit organization newsletters, or professional trade association magazines.

Provide just the key benefits and a graphic to generate interest, and offer a free brochure. List several ways to request the brochure (phone, email, text, website), and then follow up quickly, including a personal note thanking them for taking the time to request it. The note is also a good place to reference something specific in the brochure to make sure they see the most important benefits.

Those who request the brochure are serious prospects. Contacting you signifies a very powerful intent on their part. Estimates are that between 25 - 33% of people requesting a brochure will eventually make a purchase based on the brochure, providing it is well thought out and contains the key benefits.

Reusing Brochure Copy

When considering moving a printed brochure to a website, it may be tempting to just convert the brochure artwork to a PDF file, upload it, and make a link to download it. The problem is that the viewer will see the brochure much differently, and it will most likely not have the desired effect.
The printed brochure is designed and structured in such a way that there is a flow from cover, to features and benefits, and finally a call to action. That flow is lost when the viewer just sees the flat outside and inside panels.

It is, however, possible to reuse all the brochure copy and graphic elements by restructuring them to be effective when viewed on a computer screen. This is typically done by redesigning the elements in a top down fashion, rather than panels that unfold left to right.

Case study brochures are very popular. They can also be easily converted from a printed brochure to one viewed on a website.

Q&A: Should I have my brochure offset printed or digitally printed?

We recommend offset printing when a large number (2500 or more) of exactly the same version of the brochure is required. However, if fewer are needed, there are several reasons to consider color digital printing.

With color digital printing, only the exact amount required is printed. Since there is very little setup and waste, just a few brochures can be printed relatively inexpensively. Offset printing requires quite a bit of setup time and materials, and it is usually considerably more expensive to print small quantities.

With digital printing, self-mailers can be printed and addressed at the same time which eliminates the step of having to add mailing labels later. This saves significant time and allows the job to be mailed more quickly.

And finally, digital printing makes it easy to send out slightly varied versions to different targeted groups. For instance, you can send one version to existing customers and a slightly different version to prospects. It also allows you to test different copy and/or graphics to see which combination is most effective.

Essential Elements

A brochure is an essential sales and marketing tool for any company or organization. It plays a major role in establishing brand identity and helps companies expand their customer base by being portable and shareable. In fact, brochures are among the most versatile tools you can use to tell customers about your products or services.

Brochures are intended to be brief, concise and instantly capture the attention of a potential customer. The relatively low cost of producing brochures compared with other marketing options adds to their value for small businesses. A brochure will convey a much deeper message than you can get across in more expensive television or print media ads.

An appealing brochure design can be a very effective marketing tool. Give me a call at 215-923-2679 or email brigid@creativcharacters.com if you’d like to refresh an existing brochure or develop a new one.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Speaking the Language of Color

Color is an essential element of communication. It can be used to shape perceptions, affect reactions, influence choices and provoke responses. In marketing materials, it adds a dynamic to the structure – the general form and direction – of the words and image by highlighting and marking important content. The more you understand the language of color, the more effective you will be in communicating your message to clients and prospects in print and online.

How we see color

Science describes how humans perceive color. Specifically, color is light. In his 1704 book Opticks, Sir Isaac Newton described his observation that when pure white light passes through a prism, it separates into a spectrum of seven hues (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet) known as the visual spectrum.

Newton clearly states that color is not a property of objects observed or of light. Rather, it is a product of the mind. His proof was that he could create a color that was not part of the light spectrum (magenta) by overlapping two hues that were a part of it (red and violet). That is why we say color is subjective. All people see color differently depending on a multitude of environmental factors.

When Newton connected the red and violet ends of the spectrum, he created the first color wheel, thus showing the relationship between colors in the visible spectrum.

Two Types of Color Systems

A color wheel is arranged according to the chromatic relationship of the colors. There are two types of color systems – additive (RGB) and subtractive (CMYK). Televisions, computer monitors and smart phone screens are examples of the RGB color system in action. Color printing and color photography are examples of the CMYK color system.

Lack of overlap between color systems 

The additive and subtractive color systems are not perfectly overlapping. For instance, you might have noticed a difference between the color displayed on your computer monitor and the same color used on a printed piece. The reason for the difference is based in science.

The human eye can see billions of colors in the visible spectrum; RGB light can reproduce 16 million colors; and CMYK printing can reproduce 5,000-6,000 colors. When a color is in both the RGB and CMYK color gamuts, it may look identical. But if an RGB color is outside the CMYK gamut, it may be quite different. Please keep this in mind if you are creating the artwork for printing. Graphic designers creating for print automatically work in the CMYK color space.

How color affects purchasing decisions

During the purchasing process, color is a very influential factor on the subconscious mind. Kissmetrics recently published a series of infographics on how colors affect purchases. Among the findings:
  • 93% consider visual appearance and color first above all other factors when shopping. 
  • 85% cite color as a primary reason for buying a particular product. 
  • Color increases brand recognition by 80%.

Some colors are associated with types of customers:
  • Yellow is used to attract window shoppers. 
  • Red is often seen in clearance sales. 
  • Blue is used by banks and businesses to create a sense of trust and security.
  • Green is used in stores for relaxation.
  • Red, orange, black and royal blue attract impulse shoppers and are used for fast food and outlet malls. 
  • Navy blue and teal appeal to shoppers on a budget and are often used by large department stores. 
  • Pink, sky blue and rose attract traditional buyers and are often used by clothing stores.

Here’s a recently published color emotion guide with examples of corporate logos for each color.
  • Yellow: optimism, clarity, warmth. A rich color that invokes gold and treasure. Used by McDonald’s, Hertz, Best Buy, Shell Oil, Sun Chips, Sprint, Subway.
  • Orange: friendly, cheerful, confident, creative, youthful, enthusiastic. Used by Nickelodeon, Fanta, Crush, Hooters, Gulf Oil, Firefox, Home Depot, Harley-Davidson.
  • Red: excitement, youthful, bold, warm, exciting, sexy, urgent. Used by Nintendo, KMart, Coca Cola, Target, Lego, Kellogg’s, Netflix.
  • Purple: creative, imaginative, wise. Suggests images of grandeur, opulence, mysticism. Used by Syfy Channel, Hallmark, Yahoo!, Taco Bell, Cadbury.
  • Blue: trust, dependability, strength. Suggests calm and tranquility. Used by Dell, IBM, Intel, AT&T, Pfizer, WalMart, Volkswagen, Oreo, HP, Twitter.
  • Green: peaceful, serene, growth, health. Used by Whole Foods, John Deere, Girl Scouts, Animal Planet, H&R Block, Starbucks.
  • Gray/silver: Balance, neutral, calm. Used by Mercedes Benz, Honda, Apple.

Blue and red are the most popular logo colors for the world’s top brands – a fact that has remained true over the years. In 2013, Wired magazine reported that two-thirds of corporate America’s logos were either blue or red (with blue logos slightly ahead of red).

Understand the language of color Color

is a language that appeals to emotion. Learning to use it in communication can enhance the effectiveness of your efforts to persuade clients and prospects to buy from you. To learn more about how to put color to work in your marketing materials, contact Brigid for an appointment at 215-923-2679 or brigid@creativecharacters.com.

Color Photographs

When you need a full color photograph to illustrate a brochure or other printed piece, consider using a stock photo. Stock photographs are taken by a professional photographer and licensed for use for a fee. Once the fee is paid, you can use the photograph repeatedly, usually without paying royalties.

Stock photo images are readily available for immediate download from the web. Most are organized into collections on a specific topic like holidays, nature or landscapes. Collections are also available for textures, finishes and special effects. Often there is a choice of high resolution (for use in printed materials) or lower resolution (for use on the web).

A few popular stock photo publishers include:

Fun with Color

The word “color” is from the Old Latin word colos meaning a covering, akin to hiding or concealing. Chromatophobia is an abnormal and persistent fear of colors. Here are some more fun facts about color:

Red. Men and women see red differently because seeing red is related to the X chromosome (women have two; men only one). Red is the first color a baby sees. Because red has the longest wave length, it can be seen from a long distance which is why it is used for stop signs. Blue. Blue is the world’s most popular color. 33% of the world’s top 100 brands use a blue logo. Over half of the world’s flags contain blue.

Blue and white are the most common school colors. Interestingly, blue is the most popular toothbrush color. Blue also has very few connections to taste or smell, therefore it may act as an appetite suppressant.

Green. It’s the easiest color for the human eye to process. Our eyes can detect more shades of green than of any other color. That’s why night vision goggles use a green phosphor. Only 1-2% of people have green eyes. The U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing uses green ink because the color is relatively high in resistance to chemical and physical changes.

Yellow. Black on yellow is the color pairing with the strongest impact. American school buses are yellow because people see yellow faster than any other color, including 125% faster than red. Yellow is the most appetizing color. That’s why McDonald’s arches are yellow and why fast food logos often contain yellow.

Orange. Prescription bottles are orange or light brown to prevent UV light from entering, which might degrade the medicine inside. Prison jumpsuits are orange so inmates are easy to spot while in transit or in public.

Black and white. Scientists and researchers consider black to be the absence of color and white to be the mixture of all colors. Artists and painters consider white to be the absence of color and black to be a color. Adidas created the black-and-white paneled soccer ball for the 1970 World Cup so it would catch the eyes of viewers as it moved across black-andwhite TV screens.

The Power of Color

Substantial research shows why color matters and how color plays a pivotal role in all of our visual experiences. About 80% of what we assimilate through our senses is visual. It’s no surprise that 92% of people rank color as the most important visual factor when purchasing. Research reveals people make a subconscious judgment about other people, their environment, and products within 90 seconds of initial viewing, and 62-90% of that assessment is based on color alone.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a picture in color is worth a million to your memory. Psychologists have documented that color does more than appeal to the senses. It also boosts memory. Color helps us to process and store images more efficiently, and as a result we remember them better. Color increases brand recognition by up to 80%. Ads in color are read 42% more often than the same ads in black and white. Color improves readership by 40%, learning by 55-78% and comprehension by 73%.

If you’d like help improving your marketing materials, please give me a call at 215-923-2679.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Using Videos in Marketing: Why and How to Create a Video that Gets Noticed

Videos are a great way to introduce your products and services in a visual way. With the introduction of low cost HD video cameras (including video cameras on our smartphones) more and more businesses are choosing to market with videos and there are good reasons why.

  • Video drives higher engagement and longer retention. You only have about 8 seconds to capture your audience’s attention. 65% of viewers watch more than three quarters of each video, meaning video keeps them engaged longer than text only pages.
     
  • Video is the winning medium in driving conversions. 70% of marketers say video is the most effective means to driving conversion. Product videos can increase purchase intent by up to 85%.
     
  • Video improves the results of other marketing assets. Adding video to the promotion of your other content assets can boost their performance.
     
  • Video is easier to access and more available than ever before. Buyers now expect video content. Cisco predicts that more than 80% of internet traffic will be video by 2018.
     
If you can’t afford to hire a professional to make the video for you, follow these tips to producing a high-quality do-it-yourself video.
 
  1. Set a goal. First and foremost, decide what you want your video to do. Your goal could be to make the phone ring, demonstrate a product, explain a service or introduce your key players. Whatever the goal of your video is, make sure you know before you start filming.

  2. Use good lighting. If you are filming in a dark space, bring in some torchiere lamps or some desk lamps (try removing the shades for more lighting) to brighten the area. These can even be off camera and just used to lighten the area.
     
  3. Make sure you can be heard. If you are filming near a train station, make sure you wait until no trains are passing before you start rolling. A microphone isn’t always necessary if you can minimize background noise and if you speak clearly and slowly.
     
  4. Plan out your script. Some people can wing it, sound great and get out everything they want to say in an eloquent manner. Most people, however, do better with a well prepared, memorized script. Keep it simple and try not to appear robotic. Pretend you are having a conversation with the camera. Also, try reading through your script in front of a mirror to see how and when you should add facial or voice inflections to your script.
     
  5. Look the part. If you are going to be in the video, make sure your appearance will make a good first impression. Sit up straight and be confident in your delivery. For clothing, try not to wear stripes or anything with a busy pattern or large logo.
     
  6. What’s in the background? If you are filming in your office or a common area, make sure the background is fairly uninteresting. You don’t want the background of your set to take away from the overall message. If you can find a blank wall (contrasting with your clothing), that would be a fine place to film.
     
  7. Keep it straight. If you are placing your camera on a table with or without a tri-pod, try to make sure it is level. You do not want to appear crooked or sliding downhill. Also make sure you are centered in the screen both horizontally and vertically. If you don’t have a tri-pod, try resting your camera on a ladder. You can use the ladder rungs to vary the height and get the shot you want.
     
  8. Keep it short. Depending on your goal, you may want to keep your video short and sweet. Sales messages tend to do best at under a minute in length. If you are doing a product demonstration, you may need a little more time. Highlight the major items early in the video to make sure the user gets what they need to know in the first part of the video.
     
  9. Promote it. A video is only good if people watch it. Once you have completed your video, post it to your website and social media accounts. Send a note to existing clients letting them know what you just created.
Most importantly, relax. You are the expert in your field and you have a lot to say. If you have prepared properly for your video, creating it can be just as easy as hitting record and delivering your message to an untapped audience. Whether your video is instructional and educational or meant to be a sales tool, using these tips will help you create a video you will want to share with clients.
  
Feeling shy? Feel free to share your video with us. We’d be happy to provide you with some constructive criticism or some powerful praise!

Help! My Website Has Been Hacked

We spend a good deal of time talking websites with business owners across a wide spectrum of industries. When it comes to website security, comments we hear on a daily basis include:
“I don’t take payments on my website, so I am not at risk of being hacked.”
“I don’t care if my site gets hacked; there is nothing anyone would want anyway.”
And the most common:
“Why would anyone want to hack my site?”
In the good-old-days, a website hack was merely a nuisance. A hacker would gain access to the site files, upload a page or content with sometimes embarrassing content and let the world know your site had been hacked. These hacks could be destructive, but most were harmless, requiring you to clean and restore your site files to a previously intact state. Once this was completed and more strict security measures were in place, you were back in business.

Today’s hackers are far more sophisticated. For most website owners, targeted attacks will be rare, but opportunistic attacks are constant. Opportunistic attacks used to hack into most small and medium size business using typical website tools are mostly automated. These automated tools provide the hacker with mass exposure and dramatically increase the likelihood of success, while reducing overhead and the technical knowledge necessary to initial these attacks.

Generally speaking, a new website will take 30-45 days to begin to be crawled. These “bots” begin by looking for identifying markers to determine if the website is using a popular application or exploitable software. If they uncover a marker, the site is set up for the next phase of attack exploitation. These exploits can happen in a matter of minutes, days or months, but typically happen over time with many different types of attacks on known or suspected vulnerabilities. Since these are automated attacks, once your site makes the attack list, attackers will keep trying.

The reasons websites get hacked are just as varied as the methods used. However, the most obvious reason is economic gain. These attacks can be as notorious as gaining access to customer credit card data or as simple attempts to make money from your audience using malware. Think of one of your clients visiting your site and the next thing you know, you’re getting a phone call telling you that a fake piece of software you recommended on your site has been installed and now their entire bank account has been drained.

Hackers also employ blackhat SEO techniques to link content on your site to affiliate sites to generate income from purchases. Sometimes these links can be seen, sometimes not. But Search Engines see them and index these links, and once they have been indexed, hackers can generate revenue from your audience.
The majority of security breaches, with a small business website, are not to steal your data or deface your website, but instead attempts to use your server as an email relay for spam, or to setup a temporary web server, normally to serve files of an illegal or harmful nature (malware). The business of “farming resources” is big business. “Botnets” are a number of unsuspecting computers linked together to perform simultaneous tasks. Your website, as part of one or more “botnets”, can be used to send spam email, or even attack other websites or servers by consuming all of its resources.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the thought of your site being hacked, used as a tool to infect others or to provide malicious gains. We believe awareness is critical. If you have a website, it is your responsibility to know that it is being attacked. Ignoring this fact will not help solve the problem. Google indicates that they blacklist 10,000+ sites every single day for malware and flag over 20,000 sites for phishing every month.
Website security is not about risk elimination, but rather, risk reduction. Your risk can never be zero and you need to be wary of anyone who says that they can provide you a zero risk website solution. You can employ security measures and tools to reduce your risks so that you do not become part of the problem and just another statistic.

If you have a concern about your website and hosting environment, give us a call. We’d be happy to take a look at your current solution and provide helpful tips and advice on how to make your hosting more secure.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Transaction vs. Relationship: Which Sells More?

Imagine this scenario: In your business or organization, you are the person responsible for sales and marketing activities. It’s time to formulate next year’s plan and determine how much executing it will cost. Will investing in transactional marketing strategies or does building relationships with customers yield the best results?

On the one hand, transactional marketing – which focuses on single point-of-purchase sales transactions – can be maximized for transaction efficiency. This means less overhead costs associated with each sale and therefore a higher potential net profit. Transactional sales are appealing to buyers in today’s busy world because they take less time and can happen 24/7.

In contrast, relationship marketing focuses on generating sales based on first developing a relationship with the buyer. This means the business must gather and analyze information about each buyer’s needs and wants in order to offer products and services that are useful and relevant. Such an approach takes business resources (time and money), which compromises efficiency. The trade-off is that a relationship with the buyer can lead to customer loyalty and long term purchasing habits.

Transactional Marketing

The aim of transactional marketing is to generate a high number of individual sales. If your product or service can be used “off-the-shelf” by a broad range of potential customers, transactional marketing may be the right approach.

The role of the customer in transactional marketing is limited. The customer has little interaction besides making the purchase decision. In transactional marketing, a customer’s overall value is determined by the size and frequency of transactions – in other words, by how much they spend and how often they buy.

Successful transactional marketing is built on The Four Ps:

  • Product: having a product that meets the buyer’s needs and has the features and benefits he wants.
     
  • Pricing: having a price point that is competitive and attractive to the buyer while maintaining a good profit margin. To accomplish this, the business must be a low-cost producer – that is, be able to produce the product or deliver the service at a cost below that of competitors.
     
  • Placement: making the product or service readily available through an efficient supply chain or distribution channel.
     
  • Promotion: using marketing techniques and advertising that makesthe product or service readily visible to potential buyers and provides reasons for the buyer to purchase immediately.
     
It may seem like transactional marketing does nothing to encourage customer loyalty and repeat business. This isn’t necessarily true. If the product or service fulfills a need the customer has and is value-priced, the customer will make repeat purchases and may recommend the product or service to others. Just because a seller has not emphasized establishing a relationship with the buyer doesn’t mean that one doesn’t exist in some form.

Relationship Marketing

Relationship marketing has a longer-term goal than transactional marketing. It sees customers as having lifetime value – the sum of current and future purchases. Viewing customers this way changes the business’s focus from maximizing profit based on the immediate sale to establishing a long-term relationship that over the years will result in overall higher sales volume.

Customer retention is a cornerstone of relationship marketing. It is based on a much more in-depth understanding of customer needs and wants. Whereas successful transactional marketing only needs to know whether the current product or service meets the customer’s requirements, relationship marketing requires knowing what the customer may want or need in the future. This requires more frequent contact with the customer, as well as gathering a broader range of information upon which predictions can be made.

It also gives the customer more control of the situation. Customers must participate in more-frequent contacts as well as share information. This makes relationship marketing a longer and more resource-intensive effort.

The long term benefit of relationship marketing is increased customer satisfaction and better customer retention, leading to an overall net increase in the customer’s lifetime value. In addition, since new customer acquisition costs are frequently much higher than the cost of selling something new to an existing customer, greater overall profits result.

The Role of the Internet

Technology and the internet have dramatically changed the way customers interact with businesses. Email and social networking have significantly eroded the number of face-to-face interactions between businesses and their customers while simultaneously enabling businesses to communicate much more frequently. Businesses that once relied exclusively on relationship marketing are now offering transactional purchasing using online ordering at the company’s website. Search engines and overnight shipping have eliminated geography as a barrier to buying. Manufacturers, who previously relied on their dealers to maintain the customer relationship, now actively participate with instructional and educational features on their websites, with blog articles and posts on social media pages.

The internet can be a powerful force in supporting relationship marketing by helping businesses build a community of loyal customers, fans and followers. With search engines, a community becomes much easier for potential customers to find, join and be persuaded to buy.

Building an online community begins with understanding your audience – their wants, needs, and motivations to buy. Be specific in developing a profile of those your product or service will benefit most, and craft messages that will resonate with them.

Understand that being part of an online community means having a dialogue. For businesses, that means listening to customer feedback – good or bad – and responding to it appropriately. Today’s customers expect to be part of the conversation and to be taken seriously. Don’t disappoint them.

An online community provides the opportunity for you to share your expertise, providing advice and answering questions. A side benefit of this process is that you are generating content for blogs and social media posts.

Use a Combination

For most businesses and organizations, the best marketing approach is a combination of transactional and relationship. With its focus on the lifetime value of a customer, relationship marketing reminds businesses of the importance of offering a quality product or service accompanied by excellent customer service and responsiveness. It also gives customers a much more active role in the relationship, making it easy and convenient to conduct a conversation with the business.

On the other hand, transactional marketing based on internet purchases provides businesses with a much wider geographic reach and levels the playing field between competing businesses. The requirements of transactional marketing – offering a quality product at an attractive price point that maintains profit margin – and the faster pace of purchases allows businesses to grow sales while waiting for the customer relationship to develop.

AIDA on the Web

Tim Matthews, author of The Professional Marketer and blogger at www.matthewsonmarketing.com, recently explained the history of the sales funnel to describe the process of prospects becoming customers. Tim states the original image was a kitchen pot, formulated in 1904 by Frank Dukesmith, editor of Salesmanship magazine. Dukesmith wrote:
A sale of any kind has four essential parts: Attention, Interest, Desire and Conviction. Take these in their proper order. Do not mistake polite attention for interest and do not assume when a desire for possession is aroused that conviction has been reached.
To help salesmen remember the four essential parts, Dukesmith created the mnemonic AIDC. Later he changed conviction to action resulting in the lasting mnemonic AIDA.

AIDA and the sales funnel concept is still valid today and can be used with digital marketing practices: social media to establish brand identity and Awareness; engaging customers to request e-newsletters or other marketing material to establish Interest; open and click rates to measure Desire; and the buttons on a website to enable taking Action.

Print for Web Based Businesses

Whether your company selects a marketing approach based on transactions, relationship or both, there is still a need for printed sales material to enhance the buyer’s experience.

  • If using transactional marketing, during product fulfillment, enclose new product flyers, catalogs, customer-focused newsletters, coupons or other material that will inform the buyer and spark interest in another purchase.
     
  • For relationship marketing, you’ll need printed brochures, product sheets, professionally printed business cards and other sales collateral material.

To build credibility with prospects, it is important that your printed sales material match your website. The color palette, choice of fonts, writing style and use of graphics should be appropriate to the medium and visually coordinated.

If you would like a graphics-related analysis of your website and printed materials, contact Brigid at 215-923-2679 or brigid@creativecharacters.com. She will be happy to assist.

Buying Online or In Person?

According to Nelson Global Consumer Report, 83% of Americans have made a purchase online. Buyers today are faced with one key question before purchasing: Should I buy online or in person?

The answer is somewhat complicated, subjective and even scientific, according to shopping experts and studies. “The more familiar and predictable a product, the safer you are buying it online from a reputable online retailer,” according to Philip Graves, consumer psychologist and author of Consumerology: The Truth about Consumers and the Psychology of Shopping.

For example, if you knew which model of Tag Heuer watch you wanted to buy, you would purchase it online due to brand consistency. Sometimes, it’s not that simple though. “I once bought a bed online, based on the description,” Graves said. “That was a huge mistake. I don’t think anyone can adequately describe to someone else how they will feel lying on a particular bed.”

If you need help putting your product or service online contact us today!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Now is the Time to Grow or Start Your Blog

Articles and statistics touting the benefits of blogging are ubiquitous. You know you probably should be blogging, but how and what you should write about plague even the most seasoned marketers. If you aren’t sure blogging is right for you, let’s start with a few statistics.

  • Nearly 40% of US companies use blogs for marketing.
     
  • 82% of marketers who blog daily have acquired customers through their blog, as opposed to 57% of marketers who blog monthly -- which, by itself, is still an impressive result.

  • 79% of companies that have a blog reported a positive ROI for inbound marketing last year

Like many things, getting started blogging can be the hardest part. Use the following suggestions to keep your blog going on a regular basis.
 

What Should I Write About?

Blogging is an informal platform. It can, and should, be written in a very similar tone to how you would speak to someone in a casual conversation. Here are topics that can help you jumpstart your blog.
  1. Showcase a customer experience, anecdote or problem you have solved. Is there a time that you came to the rescue for a client? Something you did that went above and beyond the call of duty? Share it on your blog. Write out the situation, the solution and what successes came from it and share it with readers on your blog.
     
  2. Answer, in great detail, some of the most frequently asked questions about your company, products and services. Do you feel like you are always answering the same questions over and over again? Create a post for each one of your most frequently asked questions. In the post, explain industry jargon, why you do what you do, how you differ from the competition in this regard, what caused the policy to be this way, etc. If you don’t know what your most frequently asked questions are, you can try answering the question “What do people need to know in order to do business with you?”

  3. Publish news and press releases on your blog. Did someone in your company get a promotion? Earn an award? Accomplish something great (even non-business related)? Blog about it. A blog post showing appreciation for a stellar employee can do a lot for company morale, internal production and external promotion.

  4. Write about your experience with other industries. Did you just eat lunch at an amazing restaurant with superb service? Talking about the importance of service, delivery, brand messaging, etc. no matter what industry can be a great blog post. On the flip side, if you just had a terrible experience, that can also be a great blog post. Talk about what you would have done differently, how the situation could have been rectified and what you do to make sure a similar situation doesn’t happen in your place of business.
     
  5. Create a list. The internet loves a good list. Again, this can be about things in your industry or things adjacent to it. Do you have a list of the top 10 books that helped you succeed in business? Write about it. Top things you have learned from networking, from running, from _____ (insert your hobby here) can be a great, easy to read blog post.
     
  6. Talk about travel experiences. Have you had a once in a lifetime experience in a far off (or not so far off) place? Write about that too. How did it change you, what did you learn, what would you do differently? How did you manage the time away from work? In this 24/7, instant gratification world it can be very refreshing to see a business owner actually taking a step back and enjoying the life they are working so hard to maintain.
     
  7. Host a contest/giveaway/poll. People like to get free stuff! We worked with a travel agent client recently who ran an interactive contest with the grand prize being a week aboard a fishing vessel in Alaska. The contest was all about “why I deserve a week vacation”. People had to write a blog post on the topic and then share it on various social media sites to be entered in the contest. What it did was create a community of people who all wrote about how fun it would be to get away for a week aboard a fishing vessel. The client was able to use these contest entries as “guest” blog posts and gathered a lot of insight into why people want to take a fishing vacation. The content he gathered from this contest has been invaluable to his marketing efforts.
     
  8. Respond to news around you or your industry. Think about major events that are coming up in your area and how you could tie in your business to that event. Check with the local chamber of commerce and tourism board to see what events are happening that you could write about on your blog. On a broader scale, look at the world news and see what might be happening that you have experience and an opinion on that you would like to share with your audience. Maybe you have a unique spin on a recent sports team win. Or maybe you just want to share your excitement about it! Either way, current events are a great place to look for blog topics.
     
  9. Industry myths that need to be debunked. I’m sure every plumber has heard a bad joke about one of the many plumber stereotypes. If your company breaks the mold and is far from the stereotype, share that with people? Debunk myths that have lived for far too long about your industry.
     
  10. Talk about your future plans; both personal and professional. People tend to do business with people they like and trust. Posting your personal and/or professional goals and plans can seem like a vulnerable and private exercise, however, it will do two things for you. First, it may show a common bond that you are your customer never knew you had. Perhaps you both intend to run a marathon or bike across the state. Having something in common will increase your likeability. Second, it can help hold you accountable to your goals. Statistics show that people who write down their goals have over an 80% higher success rate of achieving them than those who don’t. Putting your goals in a blog post will help create a roadway to success.
     
  11. Show off a talent. In your daily 9 to 5, you may be the consummate professional but after 5pm, you rock the stage in a jazz band! Let people know about your talents. Now, I don’t mean start doing shameless promotion that distracts from your everyday business, however, a blog post that shares your passion for music (or whatever your passion is) can again build trust and show the human side to your corporate personality.
     
Hopefully some, or all, of the topics above have started the wheels spinning on what you could put on your own blog.  If you do decide to start blogging, consider some of these best practices as well.
  1. Post in great detail. Aim for 1500-2000 words per post.
     
  2. Source from your staff. Your blog can have multiple voices and tones to it. If you have a staff member that has something to talk about, give them the platform to do so.
     
  3. Try to use the words “you” and “I” in your posts as you would in everyday conversation.
     
  4. Make it easy to read. Bold items of importance, use bulleted/numbered lists and line breaks where necessary.
     
  5. Remember, what goes online stays online. Of course you can always delete a post, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a copy of it lurking around somewhere.  
     
  6. Be consistent.  Blogs that are posted to daily receive more traffic and conversions than blogs that are posted to monthly. Set a schedule and be consistent in your posts. But you have to start somewhere, so if monthly is all you can do for now – do that – and build up to daily frequency over time.
     
  7. Share, share, share! Now that you have a consistent blog, it’s time to get people to your site! Social media is a great way to start getting people to your site. Share your posts on twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn just to name a few. Ask friends to share your new blog as well. Then participate and comment on other forums and blogs that are relevant to yours. Be sure to include your blog URL in your signature on any posts you make to other sites and forums.
     
We’d love to hear about your blogging success. What has worked well for you and what hasn’t? Contact us today to let us know!

Perform a Website Audit

Many website owners take the Ron Popeil approach with “set it and forget it” and while that may work for roasting chickens, it is a terrible web strategy. If it has been awhile since you reviewed your own website, now is an ideal time to do it. Here are some things to look for when doing a website audit.

  1. Check out your title tags. The title of your website is a critical factor when it comes to the major search engines understanding what your website is all about. A good title should be less than 55 characters and should contain a keyword (or two) that you want your website to be found for in a search.  The title tag appears in the tab of your browser and in the search engine results page. Check out the titles on your website pages.  If they are all the same and non-descriptive, it is time to update them with more relevant and search friendly titles.
     
  2. Update content. Things can change rapidly in business. What was true about your company and its offerings when you launched your website may not be relevant today. Be on the lookout for:
    a. Making sure all of your products and services are represented on your site
    b. 
    Employee profiles are current
    c. 
    News stories and press releases are up-to-date
     
  3. Add video content. Processing over 3 billion searches per month, YouTube is now the second largest search engine. Video content is becoming more and more important for business. Share your process, products, promotions and people with short video clips that can be uploaded to YouTube and embedded on your website.  
     
  4. Contact Information. Your contact information (address, phone and email) should be located and easy to find on every page of your site.
     
  5. Refresh graphics. Do a quick once over on your site. Do your graphics look crisp and clear? Do they load quickly and are sized properly for use on the web? If not, it is time to edit the graphics or do a site makeover.
     
  6. Social media accounts. Can people easily find links to your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media accounts? Adding a clickable logo to your page makes this easy for users to find and access.
     
  7. Cross links. Linking from one page of your website to another is an easy way for users to find and access information on your site. If the opening paragraph on your homepage talks about one of your products, be sure to link the product name on the homepage to the product page. Creating these links can also be good for Search Engine Optimization. Add these links from one page to another where it makes sense and seems logical for the user.
     
  8. Optimized for mobile. This is no longer an option or a nice to have feature. Having a mobile optimized site is an absolute must for businesses. With over 50% of searches being done on mobile devices, if your site isn’t optimized for those uses you are very likely losing out on a lot of potential business. Check out what your website looks like on a mobile device. If it is not optimized for a smaller viewport, it is time to call your webmaster and get a mobile site pronto.
     
These are just a few critical items that you can review your website for to make sure your site is an asset and not a liability. If you need help with any of the items above, let us know. We are happy to help.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

It’s On the House: Developing Your Mailing List

Direct mail is a valuable tool for businesses and organizations to keep in touch with clients or members, re-establish a relationship with inactive customers or lapsed members, and introduce the business or organization to prospects. Direct mail can be combined with social media for even greater effectiveness together than either used alone.

A direct mail campaign requires a mail piece (attractively designed content) and a mailing list. If asked which of these three things – the design of the mail piece, its content or who it is sent to – is the most important in generating response, what would you say? You may be surprised to learn that who it is sent to (the mailing list) is three times as important as either design or content in generating response.

Types of mailing lists

There are two broad categories of mailing lists: house and purchased. A house mailing list is the one you develop yourself from your client and prospect contact information. A purchased mailing list is one obtained through a third party that essentially licenses its use for one or multiple mailings.

Purchased mailing lists are compiled using various sources for the information. The cost of purchasing the list (stated as a cost-per-thousandnames) depends on the data source, how many times it will be used (onetime or multiple times) and sometimes how much additional information besides name and address is included (called selects).

The least expensive purchased list is compiled from secondary public information sources such as professional licensing databases, real estate transactions or census data. These are further subdivided into residential mailing lists and business mailing lists. A residential mailing list may or may not include
occupant names.

A response list is compiled from people who have made purchases or responded to offers, such as a magazine subscription list or survey respondents. A specialty list contains names and addresses of a specific nature, such as people who purchased service contracts for a particular vehicle make and model. Most specialty lists are rented for a one time use with heavy penalties imposed for using the list more than agreed upon. They’re usually privately owned and require the list renter to meet criteria for list use (such as approving the mail piece prior to mailing) before agreeing to rent the list.

Developing a house list

For most businesses or organizations, a house list is a valuable business asset that can easily be developed. When correctly structured, aggressively maintained, and frequently used, it can be the foundation of an outbound marketing effort that builds customer loyalty and provides strong sales leads.

A house list is a collection of individuals or businesses that have at least one characteristic in common that is relevant to the product or service offered by a business. For individuals, the characteristic might be demographic – age, gender, household income or geographic proximity. For businesses, the characteristic might be industry (represented by SIC or NAICS code), sales volume, location or years in business.

When a mailing list is enhanced with behavioral information (date of last purchase, total purchases over a given time period, types of products or services purchased) it becomes a database that can be analyzed to predict buying patterns. This in turn can be used to tailor the sales message so it has direct and relevant appeal to each individual or business on the mailing list.

Mailing list accuracy

A house list is most effective when it is accurate. Accuracy is related to the structure of the list, data entry standards, and how often the addresses are updated. An accurate house list contains names that are spelled correctly, addresses that are up-to-date, complete and conform to United States Postal Service (USPS) standards for abbreviation and punctuation, and has no duplicates.

Mailing list structure
The structure of the mailing list is the foundation for accuracy. Each element needs its own separate field sized appropriately for the information it will hold. For the greatest accuracy, include a field for all possible situations, even if they occur rarely.

The basic structure for a house list is first name, last name, street address, city, state and zip code. But before determining the structure, think about how the list might be used.

  • Will you ever send invitations to events that require a social formof address (Mr. and Mrs. Brian Taylor; The Honorable PatriciaNelson; Rabbi Isaac Levinson)? If so, you’ll need a field for title.
  • Will you ever want to use an informal salutation with the first name of an individual and the spouse (Dear Brian and Leticia)? If so, you’ll need a field for spouse name.
     
  • Will your list contain a mix of individuals and businesses? Then you’ll need a company field to enter the names of businesses.
     
  • Will you need to mail to Canada, Mexico or another foreign country? You’ll need a country field.

For accuracy, a field should contain only one type of information. That means a company name needs to be in its own field, not entered as a first or last name. For foreign addresses, it is extremely important to have a separate country field.

Data entry standards
After establishing the structure, develop written data entry conventions so everyone who updates the mailing list is doing the same thing. Of critical importance is adopting the USPS address abbreviations for street type (St., Ave., Blvd., etc.) and secondary address elements (Ste., #, Sp., etc.). These can be found in USPS Publication 28 Postal Addressing Standards available online or as a PDF. Using USPS standards significantly increases the ability to deliver the mail piece to the intended person at the correct address.

Written conventions are also needed for mailing list elements unique to your house list. Decide how to handle titles so they are consistent. Will you use CEO or Chief Executive Officer?

Spell the word ‘and’ or use an ampersand (&)? Decide how to handle data elements that are longer than the allowable field length – create an abbreviation, or let the element be truncated during addressing (that is, cut off when the space runs out).

Move update
The US Census Bureau reports that on average, 1 in 6 Americans move every year. However, some demographic segments move more often – about 33% of renters move every year, compared to about 10% of homeowners; and about 33% of adults in their early 20s move annually as well.

For this reason, and because the USPS requires it as a condition of allowing mail to be sent at a reduced postage rate, the addresses in a house list need to be kept current.

One way to do this is to mail at least every 60 days and use an ancillary service endorsement on the outside of the mail piece. It tells the USPS what to do with the mail piece if the individual or business is no longer at the address you have.

Another way is to compare your mailing list to the database maintained by the USPS of individuals and businesses who have turned in change of address notices. We provide this service, called move update verification, to our clients. Above all, you must update your house list with the new address information. It does no good to receive the information if it doesn’t make it into your house list.

We’re direct mail experts

Call on us to help you keep your house list current. We have been providing direct mail services to our customers since 1995 and we are good at what we do. For more information or to set an appointment, call Marya at 215-923-2679 or email marya@creativecharacters.com.

Direct Mail Experts

At Creative Characters, we know how important it is to provide customers with an “experience” when it comes to direct mail. Our savvy designers and writers are well-versed in all the techniques that get people to open the envelope and do what you want: respond. Our production team doesn’t just know printing; they specialize in the printing, matching and personalization requirements of direct mail. Our data specialists don’t just crunch numbers; they excel at massaging your in-house mailing data into the most qualified and deliverable mailing list possible.

We’ve produced thousands of effective direct mail designs over the years. Whether you're launching a new product, creating brand awareness or trying to generate buzz for an upcoming corporate event, there is no better resource for your direct mail campaign than Creative Characters. Put our expertise to work for you. Call 215-923-2679 or email info@creativecharacters.com today.

Merge, Purge & De-Dupe

If you are compiling a house list from more than one source (such as the customer and prospect lists from several outside sales people, or a customer list and vendor list), you need to know about merge, purge and duplicate removal. In the merge/purge process, two or more name and address files are combined (merged) into one list and duplicate records are identified and deleted (purged). De-duplication (often called de-dupe) is the same process but using only one list. The main benefit of merge/purge and de-duplication is to ensure that a single individual or business receives only one mail piece.

Identifying duplicates requires a set of rules to define what constitutes a duplicate. Addresses can be compared to addresses only; names to names only; or names and addresses to names and addresses. Matches can be exact (meaning every element is identical) or near (meaning Bob Peterson or Rob Peterson would be considered a match to Robert Peterson).

Merge/purge and de-duplication are best done with mailing list management software. We offer this service. If your house list has not been checked for duplicates recently, we suggest you contact us to arrange for the service.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Q&A: What kinds of mailing lists are available?

In the most general terms, there are two kinds of mailing lists: a house mailing list consisting of information about your own customers and prospects; and a purchased mailing list consisting of information that has been gathered and offered for use. Here are descriptions for some of the various subcategories of mailing lists.

  • House mailing list: a house mailing list includes the names, addresses and other information for customers of a business. It may also include leads generated by advertising, trade shows, outside sales people or responses to contests. As a general rule, a house mailing list provides the best response rate from a direct mail campaign.
     
  • Response mailing list: mailing list of people who have purchased products or services; includes magazine subscription lists.
     
  • Survey mailing list: mailing list that has been created from people who respond to surveys; often contains demographic data.
     
  • Compiled mailing list: a mailing list compiled from various public records, then merged and purged. Compiled mailing lists often contain additional demographic data such as age, household income and ethnicity or behavioral data such as making purchases from catalogs.
     
  • Business mailing list: in addition to business name and address, a business mailing list may also contain demographic data such as annual sales, number of employees and telephone number.
     
  • Residential mailing list: a mailing list of home addresses. May or may not contain names.
     
  • Occupant mailing list: mailing list of home addresses that does not include names.