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

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

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

It All Comes Down to Purpose

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

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

QR Codes Are Not an Invitation for Mystery

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

Design is Important

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

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

Making Sense of Paper Coating: How it Affects Your Efforts and What You Need to Know

A lot has been written about the effectiveness of print marketing versus digital marketing – so much so, that we’re not going to get into it here. It’s safe to say that both have their fair share of advantages and when used effectively, can compliment one another very nicely. There is one major benefit that print marketers have that their digital brethren don’t share – the paper itself.

People like to feel something in their fingers when they read it or consume it. One of the biggest contributors of that phenomenon is paper coating. Knowing how it affects what you’re trying to accomplish is one of the keys to making the best possible paper decisions moving forward.

The Role of Coating in Marketing

We’ve already covered paper stock, along with how that stock affects someone’s initial impression of a piece of marketing collateral. Making an effort to select the right type of stock can have a significant affect on the way someone experiences your marketing materials for the first time. Another contributing factor, however, is the coating – or the lack thereof.

When paper is coated, it’s treated with a compound or polymer to make sure that the finished product has certain qualities that weren’t initially present. Paper can be used to give your flyer a subtle sheen or surface gloss, for example, or it can even take a thinner piece of paper and make it feel thicker in someone’s hands. It can be used to make a rougher piece of paper feel smooth, or even reduce the way that ink is absorbed when someone runs their fingers across it.

The coating is introduced onto paper stock using an offset press through a process that varies depending on exactly what type of coating you’re talking about. Semi-gloss coating, for example, is often called "UV" coating because the paper itself is coated with a high gloss under intense UV lights.

The Many Types of Coatings to Choose From

Just as was true with paper stock, you have a broad range of different options available to you when it comes to coatings depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. These include, but are certainly not limited to, ones like:

Matte Paper.
If the coating on paper was like the paint in your home, think of matte like a flat paint. It produces a high-quality result, but the coating itself does little to help those colors pop in the way you might need it to.

Glossy Paper.
To continue with the "house paint" analogy, glossy paper would be like semi-gloss paint. It introduces a beautiful sheen into the finished product, but it isn’t necessarily super shiny like a mirror.

Coated paper.
If you’ve ever seen a piece of paper that was very, very shiny, you were looking at a piece of coated paper. This is commonly referred to as C2S paper, which is short for "coated (on) 2 sides."

In the end, paper coating requires you to add a new dimension to your thinking concerning your print marketing collateral. You can’t just think about the impression you make when someone sees your next flyer or brochure – you need to think about the impression you give off when they feel it, too. Do you want something super shiny, or would something with a more traditional sheen do? The answer, as always, will depend on exactly what it is you’re trying to accomplish.

Visual Marketing Content Trends to Prepare For in 2017

The new year often brings with it a time of unabashed change. Regarding visual marketing content, this seems to happen like clockwork every January as a legion of marketing professionals re-ignite their search for the "next big thing" to attract the attention of their target audience. If you want to make sure your 2017 begins as strong as it possibly can, there are some key visual marketing content trends that you need to be aware of.

Integration Continues

According to SmartInsights, one of the biggest upcoming visual content trends to prepare for is nothing new – a further integration of digital and traditional marketing. Only 5% of marketing professionals who responded to a survey say that their campaigns are fully optimized and integrated at this point, but 33% are actively trying to get to that point. Another 33% are currently experimenting with limited integration, and another 12% consider themselves integrated, but not necessarily optimized in the way that they’d like to be. That certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t trying, however.

Never forget: anyone who tells you that you should rely on EITHER print OR digital marketing is probably just trying to sell you something. To reach the widest possible audience, you need to look at them as two important halves of the same whole.

Visual Content Is No Longer a "Single" Technique

In the recent past, marketers tended to look at visual content the same way they looked at social media or video production – all separate techniques that made up a larger marketing campaign. This has been particularly true in terms of people who were doing both print and digital marketing. Visual content was more towards the print side of things, whereas digital skewed towards text-based materials. The wind is changing, though, and it’s clear that visual content no longer serves this purpose. Instead, it must become the very foundation of your larger campaign, the through-line that connects all of your various channels together in a visual way.

Case in point: research has shown that people following directions with both text AND illustrations do an incredible 323% better than those who are only relying on text. When taken together, this means that visual marketing content has a place in every aspect of your larger campaign, from that email you’re about to send out, to new leads, to the breathtaking new flyer you’re about to hand off to USPS. From that perspective, the biggest trend in visual content marketing to prepare for is the very idea that you’ll now be relying heavily on these elements in more places than ever before.

Looking Forward

These are just a few of the key visual marketing content trends that you need to be aware of to prepare better for what awaits you in 2017. One thing is for sure: visual marketing collateral is here to stay, and in many ways, it is more effective than ever. The shape that collateral takes is changing, though, as it should be, and it’s up to you to stay ahead of the curve, so you don’t accidentally find yourself getting left behind.

Cover Versus Text: What Paper Thickness Means For You

If you’ve ever stepped foot into a print shop or ordered a print job online, you’ve most likely been faced with what can be a daunting question: What kind of paper do you want? Then, that feeling of panic sets in, much like when you’re faced with the paper or plastic question in the checkout line. Your mind races to quickly analyze "the most eco-friendly option" while the customers behind you silently judge you.

Fear not! This crash course in paper weights will make you a paper expert in no time at all.

What Does Paper Weight Refer To?

Without getting into too much talk about the technicalities of certain paper types and offset weights, the answer is really pretty simple. Paper is generally measured in pounds per 500 sheets (a.k.a. one ream) of the standard sheet size assigned to the papers in that category.

Example: Bond paper has a standard sheet size of 17" x 22" (also called "basis size"). If 500 sheets of bond paper weigh 20 pounds, that paper is classified as 20 lb. bond. You might also see this represented as 20# bond.

There are paper stocks that are heavier or lighter than the above example, so you will sometimes see 16# or 24# stock as well.

What Do The Different Paper Stocks Mean?

In commercial printing, you’ll generally see four categories of paper stock:

1. Bond
2. Book
3. Text
4. Cover

1. Bond Paper

Bond stock is most commonly used for letterhead, copier paper, and laser printer paper. Similar to bond stock is writing stock. Writing stock is typically pricier than bond. It has shorter fibers, making it softer. It can be used for company stationery and sometimes contains a distinctive watermark. Writing stock can also be made with a variety of finishes.

Standard weights for bond/writing stock are 16#, 20#, 24# and 32#, with 20# being the most commonly used for in-house applications. Use 32# stock for resumes or competitive business documents to really impress!

2. Book Paper

Book stock can come in coated and uncoated varieties. Their weights vary from 30# Bible stock to 115# book stock. Bible stock is very thin paper, so named because it is usually used to print Bibles. Other book stock uses include magazines, catalogs, posters, and booklets.

The basis size for book stock is 25" x 38", so 500 sheets of 30# Bible stock will weigh…you guessed it – 30#!

3. Text Paper

Text stock is a higher grade of paper used in projects requiring a better quality paper. It’s a bit thicker than your standard bond copy paper. Text paper is often used for brochures and flyers, some magazines, and thin posters. Text paper weights range from 60# to 100#.

The basis size for text stock is 25" x 38", so 500 sheets of 60# text stock will weigh…you got it – 60#! (You’re picking this up amazingly fast!)

4. Cover Paper

Cover paper (also called "card stock") is heavy paper used for projects like business cards, postcards, and rack cards. Like text paper, weights range from 60# to 100#.

Because cover paper is a thicker stock, it has a smaller basis size (24" x 36") than text and bond papers. The equation is the same, though – 500 sheets of 80# cover stock is going to weigh 80#.

Paper Choice and Quality

As you may have guessed it, the heavier the paper, the pricier it will be. Some people may have the tendency to skimp on paper weights because they don’t think it’s that important. Psychologically, when people feel a lighter weight paper used on something they instinctively feel should be heavier, they make a value judgment about your company, product or service. Clearly, this is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Next time the paper choice question comes up, you can relax with the comfort of knowing that you are now a paper pro!

How to Put Apps and Social Media to Work for You as a Business

Running a successful business today means putting social media to work for your company. Regardless of industry, a strong social media presence allows you to maximize your reach, while at the same time generate sales from other sources aside from local consumers. Whether you are launching a startup or looking to expand a current business, utilizing social media and various applications that are beneficial to teams and industry leaders is a way to stay one step ahead of the competition while reaching a much wider audience.

Branding Your Company’s Social Media Presence

Before setting up social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, it’s important to consider the audience you want to reach regarding demographics and age groups. How do you want to present your company? What voice do you want to implement when showcasing products or services? Are you planning to share graphics, videos, or humorous updates to potential customers? Carefully consider the voice, tone, and style you want to use to represent your brand based on the audience you plan on reaching (with paid or organically grown content).

Social Media Tips for Business

When creating social media pages for your business, using the same handle and username for all options is highly advisable. Steer clear of confusing names or characters that may leave users lost or unsure of your page’s authenticity. Consider the flow of your posts and the type of content you produce to streamline your pages and keep users coming back for more. Share real stories and content from relevant industry professionals, helping to build brand loyalty and authority. Consistent updating is the key to maintaining relevancy while also keeping potential customers engaged in hearing what you have to say.

Slack

Slack is known throughout both the startup world as well as large-scale companies to help teams and employees better communicate with one another. As a free app download available for both Android and iOS phones, Slack allows individuals within a company to create selective "channels" for marketing, general chat, social media, and any other customized channel that is fitting for your business. Sending messages to an entire team simultaneously allows employees to work more efficiently while also staying on topic with unlimited channels available. Sending images, graphics, and documents is also a possibility with Slack, making it extremely useful when completing everything from print projects, marketing material outlines, to setting goals for an upcoming week or month.

Houseparty App

One application that is growing fast within business markets is an app that was originally designed for college students and a younger demographic altogether. The Houseparty App is free and available on Android and iOS phones, allowing users to create private or public "rooms" to video chat with one another "on the fly." Although Skype is an alternative, along with GoToMeeting, Houseparty is entirely free and allows up to 8 users in one room simultaneously. Chatting with team members or employees who work remotely will help everyone to catch up on projects and plans quickly regardless of location.

Evernote

Evernote is a classic app that is useful for saving documents, photos, and even print materials you want to share with your entire team or specific employees with ease. The free version of Evernote allows users to upload 60 megabytes of data each month, with premium versions available for large-scale companies. Using Evernote is a quick and easy method of showcasing updates, saving and pinning websites to share, and collectively engaging in one another’s finds online (without pesky bookmarks and browsing).

Take time to consider your company’s needs regarding finance, communication, and time management to assess which type of apps work best for your teams. Find the voice and branding of your business to appeal to potential consumers without sounding robotic or "too corporate," while still resonating with those who are interested in your products or services. The more you truly understand the needs of your consumers, the easier it becomes to relate to them, helping to boost sales, loyalty, and interest in any industry.

What’s in a Name? The Value of Sponsorship as a Branding and Marketing Opportunity

In the world of marketing, you’re essentially always on the lookout for new and innovative opportunities to raise awareness about the brand that you represent. It isn’t just about getting the word out about a new product or service; it’s also about reminding people that you’re there, that you’ve always been there, and that you’re always going to be there. In an era where marketers strive to stretch the value of each dollar as far as it will go, one often overlooked opportunity may just generate the types of results you’re after: sponsorship.

Sponsorship and Brand Awareness: The Stats

Even if you don’t necessarily see sponsorship of charities, non-profits, or other local organizations as a valuable addition to your marketing arsenal, it’s clear that somebody does. According to a study conducted by IEG Sponsorship Report, sponsorship was a $2 billion dollar enterprise in 2016 and is expected to increase by roughly 3.7 percent over the course of the next year.

A report generated by the Edelman Trust Barometer indicated that sponsorship even goes far beyond marketing impact. Eighty percent of consumers around the world agreed that a business has a duty to play a very key role in addressing modern issues.

It even plays an important role in your own company culture. Fifty-one percent of employees surveyed said that they didn’t want to work for a company that didn’t have strong societal and environmental commitments, and almost seventy-five percent said that they liked their jobs more when they were given the type of opportunity to make a positive impact that sponsorship affords.

Sponsorship Best Practices

If you do decide to go ahead with sponsorship as a new brand and marketing opportunity, there are a few key things you’ll want to keep in mind. For starters, do your research carefully. Always make sure that you’re aligning with an organization that meshes with your existing culture and values. Do as much deep digging as you possibly can, as sponsorship creates something of a symbiotic relationship between two entities. A scandal at one will more than likely affect the other, so you’ll want to make sure that there are no skeletons hiding in the closet before you start spending your money.

You’ll also want to make an effort to isolate the impact of your sponsorships from the rest of your marketing activities, as only then will you be able to fully understand just what role it is playing in your larger campaign. MarketStrategies.com says that only half of marketers actually do this, which is a mistake. Though you’re doing something for a good cause first and recognition second, it still needs to be measured for maximum effectiveness – the same as anything else.

These are just a few reasons sponsorship is such a valuable branding and marketing opportunity, particularly for companies operating in the small and medium-sized business space. Not only does it give you a chance to raise awareness in a powerful way, but it also allows for something even more important – you get to give back to the community that you are an active part of.

A Creative Life Improves Creative Buying Processes

There are more than a few steps involved in the buying process. When you integrate creativity into this process, this can lead to amazing business opportunities.

Incorporating creativity into the buying process means human experience should play a core role. Businesses prefer to partner with businesses they can relate to; ones they have a common goal with. This is why the human experience should always be shared when creating or redefining a company’s brand. The more relation a company can share with a distributor or manufacturer, the stronger the business-to-business and business-to-customer relationships will be.

So, how does a business owner go about integrating creativity into his or her lifestyle to improve the creative buying process? Fortunately, there are many ways company owners can embody creativity into their everyday life. Here is a close look at three of them.

1: Go on vacations

When a business owner does not have time to go on a vacation, this probably means he or she is working too hard. Operating a successful business involves all aspects of the company being conducted in a healthy manner, including its employees and owner(s). Going on a vacation allows the owner to indulge in his or her passions, which increases endorphins and serotonin and leads to the enhancement of creativity in the mind. Business owners often find their most genius ideas come to them while away from work.

2: Take chances

Business owners don’t become successful out of fear. Instead, they are willing to take risks. You’ll never know if a creative idea is going to work unless you try it. If you’re fearful about trying out a new creative idea, you can always turn to the support of your friends, family, coworkers, and any people you consider mentors. If you steer clear of taking chances, this is a sure way to kill the creativity in your life, which means creative buying processes will be at an extreme minimum.

3: Share your experience

The number one way to blend creativity into your lifestyle as a business owner is to share your experience with others who are striving to achieve the same goals you are. In doing this, you will receive valuable feedback that can help you steer clear of costly mistakes while at the same time learn about successful creative buying processes others are using that you can take advantage of.

Make sure you keep in mind the three tips mentioned above as you continue on your journey as a business owner. Creative buying processes are an essential part of managing any type of business, and as these processes improve, you will notice a substantial change in your capability to expand the services you offer to a wider range of customers because you will have more time and energy to focus on meeting your customers’ needs.