Marketing Your Business: Make Your Promotional Tools Work Smarter

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Through former business and employment roles, I have previously serviced numerous marketing communications projects. My own personal path influenced my approach to design and execution, and I learned several lessons along the way which you will probably find valuable. Some of these lessons were acquired through business startup experiences that entailed bootstrapping as an entrepreneur; others were from servicing clients. There is little incentive for anybody in the business to tell you how to save big money, and the tips that I plan to share with you do make a few jobs less profitable for certain producers. On the other hand, if you use this knowledge, they will R-E-S-P-E-C-T you!

Rule-of-Thumb: The More You Print, the Lower the Cost

Let’s start with an easy concept: the more copies of an item that you print, the cheaper each individual copy becomes (rule-of-thumb, but of course there are exceptions). I’ll use an extreme example, just to help you get your critical thinking cap on and creative juices flowing. Suppose that you hire a designer to create some business identity basics for your new company, e.g., a logo and some basic stationery items. Within the trade, there are guidebooks listing the going rates for these services among professional firms and designers. However, you will find wide variation these days. This is because a desktop computer, the right software, and enough talent can enable a designer who is less established, cheaper, and yet just as capable quality-wise to do a bang-up job for a client.

If you care to check out the story of the famous Nike “SWOOSH” logo on the company’s Web site, it serves as an example of what I mean by “bang-up job” and “cheaper.” Its designer, Caroline Davidson, was a student who met Nike’s founder, Phil Knight, while he was teaching an accounting class at Portland State University. When she delivered the logo in 1971, she was paid $35.00. To Phil Knight’s credit, after Nike took off, he hired Caroline for many more projects and eventually rewarded her with an undisclosed amount of stock in the company as well as other forms of praise and acknowledgement. (I admire an entrepreneur or anyone who is loyal; when I read this part of the story I was really impressed.)

We’ll use a $75.00 amount for a logo in this example (we can assume there has been some inflation). And, we’ll make this a two-color printing job. On a small printing press, an ink reservoir will be filled with the first color, the first “pass” on the paper will be run, and then the same thing will happen again with the next color and a second pass of the paper through the printing press. If you have ever painted anything with a two-color design such as walls with a different trim color, perhaps around your house, you will immediately recognize what I mean when I say that cleaning up the mess in between can be a chore if you are using some of the same tools. You have to clean those tools thoroughly, or you’re going to contaminate your original colors. I’ve just alluded to the printer’s problem. Each color requires a “wash up” and ink changeover procedure.

I’ll suggest that each ink color change is $35.00. So far we’ve spent $145–still no stationery has been printed. We can now add the cost of paper; we’ll make it $20. Of course, the printer is going to have some overhead costs; we’ll call that another $20. Although my prices are hypothetical, if you actually tried this you’d find that I’m not that far out of the ballpark, by the way. We’ve spent $185.00, and no stationery has been printed.

Now, since I told you this would be extreme example to illustrate my point, let’s suppose that we print just one sheet of stationery: that sheet will cost $185.00. At that price, it should be fit for a king! After you recover from the sticker-shock that I’ve just subjected you to, let’s look at what happens when we increase the quantity. If we paid to run the press for half an hour for, say, $15.00, we’ve now spent $200.00 total. During that half an hour, we could print 1000 sheets of stationery (we already figured in paper cost, above). This would amount to a unit cost of twenty cents per sheet.

At the above rates, we could add $80.00 for another 4000 sheets of paper and $60.00 for labor, and we’d have 5000 sheets of stationery for $320.00; that means each sheet of printed stationery is now just over six cents, or less than one-third the unit cost of printing 1000 sheets (which is a typical small business order). Wow!–what a difference.

The Concept of Time and Information Instability

Here’s another rule-of-thumb: If you print it, something will change. You will change some things voluntarily, perhaps. If you add a new toll-free telephone number because your business is growing, that’s great; however, now your business cards and stationery are out of date. In some cases, information will change without your knowledge or consent. If you live in a high growth geographical area, you may find that telephone area codes are changed. You’ll get a friendly, conciliatory letter from the phone company, which ends with bad news: “tough.” Next, your friendly postal service will notify you of a zip code change. Surprise–you need new materials. I have personally received these types of notices, and they are not pleasant news. For small business owners, these notices really have a sting to them.

As businesses grow, lots of things tend to change. In practice, you’ll find that most information is dynamic and unstable. In other words, you may change addresses, phone numbers, office locations, and add employees. If you print a client list, you will want to update that immediately after winning a prestigious new account. I don’t want to be negative, but sometimes you must sever relationships that are reflected in a client list as well. If someone doesn’t pay you, I suggest that you “disown” them from your list. Obviously, you had the misfortune of servicing a deadbeat company. Even though you were the victim, you just don’t want your good name associated in any way with someone else’s bad name.

When it comes down to it, I have found that one of the few things that will tend to be stable is a company name, and a logo. You might note that there are exceptions to this rule, too. If you are planning to evolve from a sole proprietorship and later incorporate, you need to factor that in to your printing plans. If your name and logo fail due to reasons of marketing appeal, and you need to realign or otherwise reinvent your business and its identity message, well now you are in trouble.

The Concept of Preprints

Preprinting static graphical or textual content can be a partial solution to the problems associated with information instability. I still am in a position to utilize certain materials that I created years ago. I have thousands of very high quality preprinted brochures with stable words such as, “A Few of Our Recent Clients,” printed on the front side. What’s on the back side? Nothing, right now, they are blank. I can run off a small quantity of these at any time. The price I paid per unit for these brochures was very low, because I bought so many. Meanwhile, as for any given list itself, depending on who’s on it and when it’s printed, I can run these through a small press using one ink color, which appears along with all of the other colors in the finished product.

Using a preprinting strategy is very economical. I’ve done this for clients, too. I serviced a banking industry client that needed to communicate with a relatively small group of trust account holders. Trust accounts are typically owned by well-heeled individuals and corporations, often with millions of dollars held “in trust” by a financial institution. A pension fund or some wealthy kid’s inheritance would be two examples. A few hundred account holders might be worth billions of dollars, and they wanted regular reports (and I am certain that they wanted these reports to look at least as good as the bank’s marble floors). The solution? For that client, I preprinted a large quantity of multi-color layouts with stable information such as the name of the fund and the bank’s logo, and used a portion of these preprints for each update on the part of the bank to its trust account holders.

Here are some other preprinting examples:

Business cards are often printed “ten-up,” on a sheet of cover weight paper. Suppose that you printed, in large quantities, a fancy color logo on these sheets, but did nothing else. If you printed several thousand, you’d probably be set for a while (for a much less expensive cost per printed sheet). If you added a sales person to your staff, you could then run some of these fancy sheets through a printing press one additional time, printing only that person’s name and contact information, as appropriate. Fifty preprint sheets would yield 500 very nice business cards, yet they would cost you only a fraction of the amount of money that you would spend if you (naively) ordered them separately, starting from scratch with the print shop, each time.

Pocket folders are a staple for many business promotional kits. These can be ordered in large quantities. Apply only the logo to the front over. Have one of the inside pockets “die cut” for business cards (with four small slits, typically on the right inside pocket). The business card contact information and other pocket folder inserts can carry the burden of keeping all of the information, as a package, current. Pocket folders are usually very pricey, so if you use these in your type of business, there are real cost advantages associated with ordering these in a quantity that is as large as you can comfortably afford.

The Concept of Salvaging Materials

Here’s a lesson I learned the hard way. Let’s suppose that we printed some letterhead with a layout such that a logo appears in near proximity on the page with other information that is liable to go out of date. For instance, at the top of the letterhead, centered, you place a fancy foil-stamped, embossed logo, and immediately below that, you place your address, phone number, or other information that is subject to change. Embossing is a process whereby the paper is pressed with a three-dimensional shape, in this case your logo, which raises the paper in your logo’s own image; foil stamping applies a metallic foil to the sheet (much like aluminum foil in your kitchen cupboard; however, it comes in a variety of colors). Foil-stamping and embossing are very expensive processes, especially in small quantities. If some of your information does change, there’s not much you can salvage.

On the other hand, let’s suppose that you designed your letterhead such that your logo appeared centered at the top of the page, as before, but your address and contact information was at the bottom of the layout, as a footer. If some of your contact information changed, you could chop off the outdated information on the bottom, and run the paper through the press again with current information. The end result could be some monarch-sized letterhead (also known as “executive” letterhead), or memo sheets, or at least something that you have salvaged instead of throwing everything away. Obviously, executing a salvaging strategy requires forethought.

The Concept of Gang-ups

Sometimes it can be economical to print on large commercial presses that accommodate larger sheet sizes. I was previously involved with a company that printed poster-maps for various communities. These posters carried advertising from various businesses in a given community. One of our early press runs was on a large press that used a sheet size that was big enough to carry the image of not only the posters for one such community, but several other items as well. On one large sheet, we printed an order of posters, several full-color business cards, a pocket folder, post cards, and other promotional materials for the company, such as “mini-posters” and brochures.

It was a complex job, which was a real pain, according to the printer. However, I also earned the printer’s respect since I had successfully planned the most innovative and efficient printing yield in the company’s history (the printing company was a large commercial press that was several decades old). I don’t expect the average reader of this article to pursue one of these types of jobs on his or her own, but at least now you know about gang-ups. You can ask about using a larger sheet size and printing more items during the same press run. Further, in case you haven’t noticed, my discussion above about ten business cards on a single sheet pertained to a simple “gang-up” example.

More “Tricks of the Trade”

There are numerous other tricks of the trade that can be applied to the challenge of making your promotional tools work smarter for you and your entrepreneurial enterprise. Even though I am no longer in the marketing communications business as a firm owner (having now moved on to other pursuits on the Web, as a teacher, speaker and writer, et al), it gives me pleasure to accomplish two things by writing this article: 1) I have explained some ways that you can save money by designing and producing smart promotional and identity materials; your image is extremely important, and these materials carry, or will fail to carry, that image effectively; and 2) I have (presumably) influenced readers to treat their designers and firms with some additional respect.

The people who do the best work in this area are true professionals. Despite any stereotypes you may have, they are more than artists. A competent designer will work with you to convey your marketing message effectively, and help your business grow. He or she will approach this task with an understanding of how messages are created; what makes them compelling, and memorable; and how these messages can best be displayed, produced, and disseminated. Good designers will also take additional steps to ensure the effectiveness of their work. For example, they will subject their concepts to focus groups and additional research methodologies.

As a business owner, your role is to communicate. Whether you are talking to employees internally, speaking with customers, or “pitching” to investors, you need to do this with passion, conviction, and professionalism. If your promotional materials are poorly conceived, designed, and executed, you can expect to suffer the consequences. However, let’s end on a positive note. By making your promotional tools work smarter, you can communicate more effectively, and ensure your success.

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