The Surprising Significance of Insignificant Things

Have you ever thought about the tremendous impact one small change can have on an outcome or meaning? Consider the words hail and fail, for example, or the words hire and fire. In both cases, just a single letter (“h” versus “f”) separates their spelling, yet each is worlds apart in meaning.

Make a brilliant decision or positive impression, and you’re likely to get hired and hailed. Make a lousy decision or negative impression, and you could just as easily find yourself fired and labeled as having failed.

The idea of small, seemingly insignificant events affecting much larger outcomes is hardly new. The whole notion of the butterfly effect is based on just that premise. The flapping of a single butterfly’s wings, the theory holds, can affect a hurricane’s formation. That tiny, barely noticeable breeze, coupled with the right conditions, can build and grow, like a snowball rolling downhill in a Looney Tunes adventure. And if you aren’t careful, you could end up like Daffy Duck or whichever other unfortunate character finds themselves at the bottom of that hill.

As you look back on your life, career, or business, what moments stand out to you? Oftentimes, it’s something so small it goes by unnoticed when it happens. Your decision to take a certain class in college, for example, that led you to a teacher who became a mentor in your life. Or the decision to bypass your usual coffee shop one morning, which led to a chance encounter with a potential client or now dear friend. In hindsight, we can point out the significance of such moments, but at the time, they often seem small and unimportant.

So the next time you’re facing a decision or looking for a change in perspective, think about the little things. And remember that even the most seemingly insignificant change you make right now can have a big impact on your life or business somewhere down the line.

What Are Your Product Photos Saying?

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, have you ever thought about what your photos are saying? We live in a visual age, where images surround us. Whether on your website, marketing materials, billboards, or ads, the photos you choose to represent your products and services are very important. Here are a few tips to ensure your photos are saying what you want:

  • Don’t photograph your products on a cluttered shelf. Rather, depict them in use in an appropriate abstract environment or on a clean white background.
  • Save your originals, and don’t reduce their file size. You never know when you’ll need to re-purpose images, such as if you want a low-res image from your website to work in a high-resolution print brochure.
  • Take a lot of photos when you have the opportunity. You may be surprised how a new angle or different lighting can change the appeal and appearance of your products.
  • If images don’t do justice for your products, don’t use them. Consider posting a “photo coming soon” placeholder, rather than posting a poor-quality photo. But do so only if you fully intend to post an image later.
  • Adjust the resolution of photos on your website to ensure they won’t slow the load time for the page. Nothing is worse than a great photo nobody has the patience to download and see.
  • Use intriguing photos to supplement Facebook posts and create additional interest. Organize these photos into albums for easy viewing, and use relevant album names, such as “new products,” “seasonal promotions,” and so on.

Will the World End in 2012?

There are doomsday predictions that say the world will end this year. We won’t be able to validate those predictions either negatively or positively until this time next year (if there is a next year!). But one thing is certain: Sadly, 2012 will be the end for some businesses.

While going out of business is an unfortunate reality that happens in many industries (especially in a down cycle like we’ve been experiencing lately), it does NOT have to happen to your business.

So how can you keep from becoming part of the statistics in 2012? Make a real commitment to marketing your business.

Marketing does not have to be overly complicated or require a large budget. It might be as simple as figuring out the ideal prospects who would purchase what you sell, then targeting those prospects with relevant messages via as many marketing channels as your budget allows. If your budget is tight, focus on a niche group. Start small, and grow your business from there.

If you don’t have one already, start a marketing calendar today, and set up a plan for various marketing activities that you will do throughout the year. Be encouraged and proactive, so we can all look back at this time next year and chuckle about the latest doomsday predictions.

Creative Coupon Offers

It’s an age-old debate. Which is better: percentage off or dollar-off coupons? There is no right or wrong answer, since both options can be very appealing to consumers looking to save money. Here are a few creative offers for your next coupon campaign:

  • Offer the best of both worlds with a coupon such as: “$15 off or 15% off, whichever is higher.” This will also encourage customers to buy more to save more.
  • Consider offering a bonus item to increase the value of your coupon. This will also let you compete with your competition without actually lowering prices.
  • Offer incremental percentage-off amounts based on what the customer spends. An example of this would be “save 30% on $150 or more, 20% on $100 or more, or 10% on $10 or more.”
  • When using a dollar-off coupon, customers respond best to round dollar bill denominations whenever possible, such as $1, $5, $10, or $20 off. Not only are the amounts easy to calculate, but it easily translates to a bill in their pocket.
  • Try a BOGO (buy one get one) campaign, such as buy one get one free or buy one get one half price.
  • Use easy-to-remember codes like FEB20 rather than KTR10R44YZEX to make it easy to use during online checkouts.

Another great way to increase the value of a coupon campaign is to offer a follow-up survey for customers based on their purchase with your coupon. Offer another coupon as a thank you for completing the survey. Adding a survey will help you gain valuable input about what types of coupon promotions influence your customers.

Gumming Up the Works

Here’s something to chew on as you think about your business plans for the coming year:

A young entrepreneur moved from Philadelphia to Chicago in 1891 with $32 in his pocket and the idea of selling his family’s scouring soap to customers. As an incentive, the 29-year-old offered free baking powder with each soap purchase.

Before long, the baking powder became so popular that he began selling it instead. He then came up with a new incentive: two free packages of chewing gum with each can of baking powder sold.

As you might have guessed, the gum proved more popular than the baking powder, so he decided to change his product line once again. And that is how William Wrigley, Jr., started one of the most iconic brands of chewing gum on the market today.

In business (as in life), things don’t always go exactly as we plan. Markets change, technologies evolve, and what worked yesterday won’t always work today, tomorrow, or down the road.

Knowing when — and how — to adapt can mean the difference between success and failure for any enterprise. In Wrigley’s case, that meant understanding his customers’ evolving needs — and adapting his product line to meet those new demands.

What will it mean for you and your company in 2012? Only time will tell, so be prepared to recognize new trends, embrace new attitudes, and adapt your plans accordingly.

Making Connections

Inside every human being is a desire to connect in real and tangible ways. This desire for connection permeates everything we do and every decision we make: even our decisions of what to buy and when. We respond to ads because we connect with them somehow. A spokesperson, scene, or catchphrase resonates with us and makes us laugh, or cry, or both.

  • A soldier sits down in a quiet moment to listen to a recordable storybook his child sent from home.
  • A team of clydesdales pulls an iconic wagon into New York City, then bows silently before the Statue of Liberty in reverence.
  • A couple drives frantically to the top of a parking ramp. The man jumps out and signals his confused girlfriend to follow, just in time to… miss the airplane banner flying by, asking her to marry him.

Each of these commercials (and many others like them) tells a story that, at first glance, has little to do with the product they’re selling. Instead, they show the product (or in the case of the clydesdales, a symbol of the product) in real-life situations that make it far more relatable than a simple product shot or feature list ever could.

Here are links to the three commercials I mentioned in this post. A quick warning: If you haven’t seen these, you might want to have a box of Kleenex nearby for the first two. Feel free to list some of your own favorites in the comments at the end of this post.

Time for Some Year-End Decluttering?

A cluttered desk is said to be the sign of a cluttered mind. (I’ve also heard that a clean desk is the sign of a cluttered drawer, but that’s another story.) In any case, clutter can lead to confusion, and confusion can lead to poor results. So like that desktop (or desk drawer), an occasional cleaning may be needed to clarify your marketing.

With the new year just around the corner, this seems as good a time as any to get started.

Declutter your message. Are you sending a clear, consistent message with all of your marketing? You should. People will remember you more readily if you keep your message consistent and clean. “You’re in good hands.” “A diamond is forever.” “The breakfast of champions.” “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” I could go on, but you get the point. A consistent, unified message helps to make your marketing more memorable and effective.

Declutter your design. Ever visited a website, seen a billboard, watched a commercial, or read a print piece that left you overwhelmed? Perhaps maybe even your own? One of Steve Jobs’ proudest legacies at Apple was simplicity (and elegance) of design. It carried through (and still does) not only in the products Apple makes but also in its packaging, its website, its print ads, its stores, and all of the various other marketing the company does. Simple, clean, elegant design provides visual clarity and eliminates the unnecessary clutter, confusion, and noise.

Declutter your approach. Are you a dabbler? A jack-of-all-trades-but-master-of-none? That may serve you well in life, but it’s no way to handle your marketing. That’s not to say you shouldn’t market in multiple media (you should), but you need to start with a plan that spells out the reasons and goals for each medium you enter. Once that’s established, you can then work your plan, knowing that each marketing effort you start is part of a grander vision with clear expectations and tangible goals.

Schizophrenic, hit-and-miss marketing efforts, taken just for the sake of “doing something” or following the latest trend, will drain your budget and leave you with just as schizophrenic results. On the other hand, clear, consistent, clutter-free marketing will (over time) produce more consistent and satisfying results. And isn’t that the goal of marketing?

So, what are some other ways you can think of to declutter your marketing? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

How Much Printing Do I Need?

Deciding how much printing to order is not always an easy task. Sure, sometimes it’s as simple as looking at the size of a mailing list, but other times it can get tricky trying to balance the price savings of bulk ordering with limitations in storage space, long-term usefulness, and overall need. As you plan your printing purchases, consider the following:

Shelf Life
Will the piece need to be updated frequently, or will it remain as is indefinitely?

For some items, such as business cards, you might consider ordering preprinted “shells,” which contain all of the static design elements common to all versions of that item, with space left open for more dynamic (variable) content. That way, when you need business cards for a specific employee, for example, it’s just a matter of dropping in the appropriate contact information and cutting the cards down to size.

Preprinted shells allow you to take advantage of bulk discounts, and many printers (including us) will even store them for you onsite and help you manage your inventory, so you don’t run out at inopportune times.

In addition to business cards, shells may also be useful for letterhead, manuals, and even certain brochures or other promotional pieces that have common designs but dynamic (variable) content.

The Aging Process
Paper ages, and it doesn’t always do so gracefully. Storing your printing in a cool, dry place helps, but it will only slow the process. As your printing gets older, it can fade, warp, and dry out. Carbonless paper, for example, will lose some of its transferability as it ages. If you have forms you use infrequently, consider ordering them in smaller quantities.

If you have any documents you know you’ll want to keep on hand indefinitely, consider acid-free paper. When properly stored, acid-free paper will resist fading, yellowing, and becoming brittle much better than ordinary stock.

Past Experience
If the item you’re printing is a reorder, look to the past to determine how much you’ll need to order this time around. If you can’t remember how much you ordered last time (or when that was), give us a call. We can check our records and help analyze your needs to determine your best strategy for future purchases.

Why Your Business Needs a Portfolio

When many people think of a portfolio, they think about job hunting. However, portfolios can be a valuable tool for any type of business. A portfolio can not only help you showcase your products and marketing efforts, but it can also help you organize your achievements, such as special certifications, awards, letters of recognition, thank you letters, customer testimonials, and more. In addition, a company portfolio can be a great training tool for new employees, merging businesses, or joint ventures with other organizations. Here are a few tips for creating a company portfolio you can be proud of:

  • Designate one person in your company to be in charge of your company portfolio.
  • Consider inserting documents or photos into plastic sleeves or pockets in a three-ring binder. Not only are the pages protected, but they can also be reorganized.
  • Use labeled tab dividers to organize by date and/or topic.
  • Include original documents and marketing materials whenever possible, and do not write on the documents themselves. Instead, insert a piece of paper to highlight the date or write other notes.
  • Keep separate binders for news articles, advertisements, promotional materials, certifications, awards, etc.
  • Create a marketing binder that highlights all of your print materials, from simple, one page product flyers to product catalogs. This is also a great way to keep track of previous promotions, past products, and messaging.
  • Create a reminder in your calendar to update your portfolio regularly (monthly or quarterly) so information doesn’t fall by the wayside.

3 Things Your Business Can Learn from a Chameleon

Chameleons are amazing creatures. And not just because they appear in a hit ’80s song or humorous word-nerd send-up. No, chameleons are amazing for three distinct reasons. And each relates (in its own small way) to business.

1. Chameleons adapt to changes surrounding them.
While the common belief that chameleons change colors in order to blend in with their environment is not true, chameleons do change color based on temperature, light, and mood. As a chameleon grows warmer, for example, its colors become brighter and more distinct.

Business application: Like the chameleon, we, too, need to adapt to changes affecting us. As the competition turns up the heat, we need to let our true colors shine through, so we can stand out from the crowd.

2. Chameleons can focus on two things at once.
A chameleon’s eyes move independently of one another, allowing it the peculiar ability to watch two things simultaneously… without moving its head. What’s more, each eye has a horizontal radius of 180 degrees and vertical radius of 90 degrees, and can see in three dimensions.

Business application: While a singular focus can have its advantages in certain situations, being too focused on only one option (tunnel vision) can sometimes make us overlook opportunities or obstacles in our way.

3. Chameleons strike quickly and with pinpoint control.
A chameleon’s sticky tongue is a marvelous thing. Roughly the length of the creature’s body and tail combined, it can extend and retract in just a fraction of a second, with deadly accuracy and control.

Business application: Like a chameleon hunting its dinner, we need to remain nimble, too, so we can act quickly and with pinpoint control when opportunities arise.