Employ This Unique Question-Storming Technique to Drive Creativity in Your Team

A well-known pastor once said this: “It takes guts to get out of ruts.”

In truth, it takes more than just guts. It takes inspiration, which is what drives courage and fuels life and new energy. When your team wants to create brain flow or stimulate innovative ideas, asking the right questions and getting others to ask them with you is one way to start.

The Question Formulation Technique

Most people spend a lot of time worrying about giving the right answers.

But an answer can only be as powerful as the question it addresses. If you work with teams, one of your goals should be to draw on each person’s unique strengths and creativity. But this can be a challenge if you can’t get the ball rolling.

If you want to try a different launch point for your next creative gathering, consider the Question Formulation Technique (originally formulated by the Right Question Institute). Here’s how it works:

Design a Question Focus

Pick a problem or challenge that is important to you. It should be clear and stimulate new lines of thinking. It should not be a question.

Establish Rules

Start by setting a time limit of around 5-15 minutes. Agree on this ahead of time and set a list of parameters before brainstorming begins. Brainstorming rules could include:

  • Encouraging people to ask as many questions as possible
  • Refraining from stopping green light thinking to answer, judge, or to discuss the questions posed
  • Asking everyone to submit at least three questions
  • Writing down every question exactly as it is stated

Produce Questions

Now it’s go-time.

Use your question focus to formulate as many questions as you can. Aim for 50 questions in 15 minutes to give your team a brain jolt.

Improve Questions

Once you have a list of questions, the next step is to try to improve them.

For example, you could change yes/no questions into open-ended phrases. You could modify a generic question by adding specifics (changing “how can we preserve heat loss in drafty spaces?” to “how can we increase heat efficiency by 20 percent?”)

Sort Questions

After brainstorming, your list will seem a bit jumbled.

Drill down by sorting questions into common themes then prioritizing the most critical areas. Choose 3-4 categories with the most potential and rank them by importance.

Take Action

Now ideas can take flight.

After ranking your categories, decide what you need to do next to generate creative solutions. Do you hand off a concept to a design team? Work with a consultant to flush out possibilities? Maybe you want to take the top-ranking question and have another “question-storming” session to flush out specifics for this concept.

Reflect and Reframe

Before closing your session, reflect on what your group learned and how you might assimilate these insights into your work. This may uncover hidden assumptions or reframe the way your team approaches its next obstacle. And give positive feedback on the discussion that just happened.

Teaching people to ask questions and partner in decision-making can fundamentally change the synergy of your team!

Increase Customer Engagement with Out-of-the-Box QR Codes

Not long ago, scanning books or groceries by a rectangle barcode seemed quite novel.

It was fast, convenient, and just a little fun. But as society’s pace accelerated, so did our need to read barcodes efficiently. In 1994, Japanese auto-makers adopted “Quick Read” QR codes (square matrix barcodes that could be scanned from any direction) that stored a hundred times more information than conventional barcodes.

Enter QR Creativity

In this micro-attention age, QR codes can catch the fleeting attention of your audience by adding both efficiency and quirkiness to your designs.

Today’s customers love to actively participate – not just passively consume – so why not take people on a “digital scavenger hunt” you’ve created by leading them to a URL for your landing page, a direct link to your social media page, or to retrieve personalized texts from your team?

While many QR codes are bland, they don’t have to be. Here are just a few out-of-the-box ways businesses are using printed QR codes to build bridges with clients:

WiFi Network Sharing

Want to make your network accessible and convenient for your guests?

Simplify this step by building a QR code that allows them to connect to your WiFi with just one scan. Instantly connect users to the network and make their lives more simple and stress-free.

Surprise Gifts

Gifts are a treat, but surprise gifts are even better.

When you want to thank a VIP customer or impress a first-time client, offer them a printed thank you postcard with an unexpected giveaway they can access by scanning the QR code. This builds emotional engagement by adding both participation and a greater level of surprise.

Menus

Try replacing bulky tri-folds with simple table tents or bookmarks when you want to keep your menus crisp and current.

Customers can scan the QR code to read the full menu, view seasonal or daily specials, or even pay after completing the order.

Invoice Surveys

When you ship goods to your client, offer a discount if they complete a quick survey after scanning your QR code.

Happy clients are more willing participants. Grab them on the spot as they unbox their new purchases!

Die Cut Overlays

If you use plain brown gift bags or simple white boxes, you can add color and charm with die-cut labels that double as a funky patterned QR code (like this playful QR valentine).

Who says beauty and functionality can’t co-exist? Have some fun taking people on “the code less traveled.”

Captivating Colors

Why live in the monochromatic when you can design in color?

Modern QR code generators allow you to add zest to your QR code based on your aim, style, and brand theme. Some software even allows you to choose patterns, build logos or faces into your code, or add sophisticated gradients.

Bridge the Gap Between Print & Digital

Nielson found about 56% of consumers rely on printed matter for sales information, specifically when seeking information on a purchasing decision.

Print is seen as a concrete, reliable source, especially for prospects nearing a decision. By including QR codes in print marketing, you increase the potential for landing a valuable client. Consider using QR codes for:

  • Product packaging, invoice stuffers
  • Printed menus, business cards, or rack cards
  • Store promotions with discounts available at checkout
  • Promotional games, puzzles, or scavenger hunts
  • Stickers for merchandise, packaging, displays, or cards

Increase your conversion rates while coaxing prospects further down the sales funnel in a fun, effortless manner.

How to Keep Brand Value

Your brand is everything.

It’s what makes potential buyers and customers recognize you and helps set you apart from competitors.

It’s important to maintain the value of your brand in order to make the most of your business marketing. Keeping brand focus and consistency is key. If customers know what your brand stands for, they’ll end up appreciating it more, and you’ll gain more organic traffic.

A strong brand value helps tell your company’s story, creating awareness, loyalty, and excitement for the consumer.

Sales and marketing trends will continually change over time. However, building the power of your company’s brand is an investment that pays for years to come.

3 Ways to Keep Your Brand Value

1. Business Visuals

Your logo is at the forefront of your company.

Anyone who knows your business knows what your logo looks like, including the color palette, typography, imagery, and graphic elements. These brand visuals are most important to maintain throughout your business advertising.

When marketing for your business, continue to use these same characteristics of your logo throughout. Over time, after creating enough brand awareness, you should simplify your logo, and people will still know exactly who you are. For example, the Chevrolet logo doesn’t need the word “Chevrolet” next to it for people to know who they are. They’ve been around long enough and created a strong brand value to be able to pull that off.

2. Business Values and/or Mission

Brand values and/or the mission of your business are just as important to show and maintain as the logo characteristics.

Use your values to strengthen your advertising, show what you stand for, and create awareness. When people see an advertisement, they should be able to tell what company it’s for before even showing a logo or a name.

3. Business Style

Your company’s style fits in with your brand value and is important to maintain across all marketing consistently.

Does your building’s interior design use a modern appeal or more of a rustic look? Does your website use a white and clean look or a dark and textured theme? Use this style as a part of your print marketing and other advertising. 

The Ultimate Marketing Combination

All of these things; your logo, values, and style all play an important role in maintaining brand value.

Used often and strategically, these brand elements will help strengthen your brand so that your business is better known, and you’ll gain more traffic online and in person.

Do Your Print Marketing Materials Need an Upgrade?

There is a great deal of time, effort, and energy placed into updating your print marketing materials.

You need to cover all the relevant information in a very limited space. This means you need to fully optimize your messaging and make sure your materials attract attention.

With all this thought going into ensuring packaging and flyers and postcards are fantastic, you may be unwilling to make regular updates. Unfortunately, this can allow your message to become stale or even allow inaccurate information to be shared with customers over time. 

Time to Make a Change! 

Donna, a local florist, realized it had been more than 6-8 months since she reviewed and revised the messaging on her printed materials.

She knew it was probably time to make some tweaks. Businesses can change dramatically over time, with shifts in hours of operation, updated special offers, and more making an appearance. 

Regular reviews to ensure your messaging is still on point helps keep your marketing materials fresh and interesting for repeat customers. Plus, it ensures that any new prospects have your best offer in front of them at all times.

Donna worked with her local print shop to update her messaging, and her customers certainly noticed! She received many positive comments and new clients from an updated postcard and flyer combination that she designed and had printed locally.

Update Graphics and Colors

Has your logo evolved a bit over time?

It’s not unusual to spread out all of your marketing materials on a table and find that you have several iterations of logos or color schemes represented. Viewing your marketing materials together as a whole can add necessary cohesion to your brand. 

While you may not want to follow on-trend color schemes or make changes based on the seasons, you may want to do a quick update to your color palette. Ensuring that your brand look stays fresh and current is an important part of brand management. 

Put Your Best Offer Forward

Are you placing your very best offer in front of clients and prospects? Do you need different offers for individuals at various stages of the buying journey?

Now is a great time to look at your audience segments and see if you can fine-tune any graphics for eye appeal while meeting their unique needs.

Whether you’re looking for options to create branding materials for a new company or simply refreshing your current options, your local print shop is here for you! We work with organizations of all sizes to ensure you have access to exceptional resources to promote your brand. 

Go Print When a Presentation Matters Most

Given the restrictions of 2020 thanks to COVID, the term “slidedeck” has probably entered everyone’s vocabulary far more than they care to know.

With nearly everyone spending at least three hours a day online in digital meetings, digital slide presentations have become commonplace. However, that doesn’t mean going digital is the best choice for those decision-making events.

The Tangibility of Print

The standard for a powerful presentation has been and continues to be the professionally printed presentation package.

Why? In a word – tangibility.

People are tactile creatures, especially when making big decisions that have significant ramifications. Print presentations finished in high-quality stock and graphics meet that innate drive to have something physical in hand before making a big commitment.

3 Reasons Digital Falls Short on Presentations

Going digital with your presentation with a digital slidedeck doesn’t have the same effect on people as print. Here are three reasons digital falls short in this way.

1. Digital Overload

Most audiences are now suffering from digital overload.

You don’t have to go far to hear the constant complaining about having to chew through 50 to 300 emails a day, thanks to an over-reliance on digital communication.

What kind of attention are your presentation attendees going to have left to click open and read through another digital presentation, no matter how well done? 

2. Easily Manipulated Digital Content

Digital files can be easily manipulated, especially if they are going through multiple hands to get to the presentation party.

Many assume that by converting a slidedeck to a PDF format, the file will be protected and its integrity kept the same. This is a false hope. Without a fully encrypted form protection, the file can be tampered with. And when a presentation matters, the sender should make sure the content isn’t tampered with from the version sent to the version being presented.

3. The One-and-Done Digital Dilemma

What happens when a digital presentation is complete?

Does the recipient in a meeting save the digital slidedeck for future reference? It’s unlikely.

Most people just hit the delete button, hoping someone else has a copy if they actually need it again down the line, or hope that it was saved in their email folder. The likelihood of someone reopening a digital slidedeck to read its content completely is highly unlikely given the digital blur most people are under today.

Capture Attention with Print Presentations

A print presentation on high-quality stock makes a huge difference in all of these situations.

People have something tangible to read and hold that isn’t a computer screen. In fact, a professionally finished presentation in print is probably unique and an immediate stand-out in 2021.

And, the presentation can’t be faked, fudged, or tampered with without ruining the package in total. The same can’t be said for a digital file.

Finally, people do actually look at print material repeatedly after seeing it for the first time. If the document isn’t discarded right away, most folks will reread the package before deciding whether to file it, scan it, or recycle it. And that means your message sink in even deeper. 

When a presentation matters, deliver it in print!

5 Distinct Ways to Humanize Your Brand

Positive young woman thinking

What makes you unique in a cluttered marketplace?

To spark sales, you need to warm hearts. According to PxC’s 2018 Global Consumer Insights survey, “trust in brand” ranked in the top three reasons a person buys a particular product. In today’s noisy landscape, people are eager to make connections. Trust and purpose have become some of the key brand attributes valued by younger purchasers, and 57% of U.S. consumers say they want stores to serve a higher function than simply selling a product.  Though most people think of themselves as rational creatures (absorbing information, weighing it carefully, and making thoughtful decisions), many buyer decisions are driven by gut feelings or subconscious reactions. According to one 2017 Millennial Brand Perception survey, emotional connections to companies are a key motivator when it comes to prompting purchases. Check out these responses:

  • 48 percent said they are more likely to buy from a brand if they know the people behind it
  • 47 percent believe it’s important for a brand to take ownership of its mistakes
  • 47 percent said they want a brand to take their feedback into account

To spark sales, you need to warm hearts. According to PxC’s 2018 Global Consumer Insights survey, “trust in brand” ranked in the top three reasons a person buys a particular product. 

Disarm Suspicion and Build Trust

When you want to gain loyalty and differentiate yourself from a zillion others, brand personality is essential. 

But being YOU means you can’t be everyone else. So, be bold in your exceptional identity! While you want to avoid being unprofessional, embrace your core principles and flaunt them with fortitude. Like this hotshot: 

Alfa Romeo, an Italian car manufacturer, expresses personality with panache. The Italian brand represents style, sophistication, and the mechanics of emotion. Alfa Romeo parades its ethnicity with a smug, sensual tone. Print ads ring out with phrases like “Mamma Mia,” “Passion Realized,” and “Power in the Hands of the Few.” The brand features ads of its hottest sports cars with the words “Statement Made” and characterizes products with that same swagger: “In a world of bland SUVs, the 2020 Stelvio is a spicy Italian meatball in a Ferragamo suit.”

The brand is unapologetically Italian. And it speaks like one.

Add Practical Tricks to Your Toolbox

Regardless of the industry, it’s in every brand’s best interest to connect with its audience on a human level. 

In our latest marketing white paper, you’ll learn about disarming suspicion, distinguishing your brand personality, and making your business more relatable. You’ll also study five strategies for showcasing your personality and enjoy examples of brands that are bold, playful, and distinct.

To dig in with these five strategies, read the white paper in its entirety at https://www.alinkprinting.com/resources/sales-and-marketing-white-papers/

Make Ideas Fly Before They Die

When facing a life or death decision, do you think the opinions of others would affect your behavior?

Social proof is a powerful phenomenon. People constantly look to the opinions of others to help them live wisely and navigate uncertainty. The behavior and preferences of your peers can shape every choice you make – from the vehicles you drive to the candidates you vote for. But surely some of that superficiality would fade in more critical situations, right?

Not necessarily.

More than 40,000 people in the United States experience end-stage kidney failure every year, with bodies that cannot filter toxins and adequately remove waste products from their blood. These people are dependent on dialysis treatments as they wait desperately for a kidney transplant. Often more than  100,000 patients are eagerly waiting for a new organ.

Surprisingly, research shows that 97.1 percent of kidney offers are refused, and nearly 1 in 10 transplant candidates refuse a kidney in error. How could this happen? The research of MIT professor Juanjuan Zhang points to social proof. Say you are the one-hundredth person on a transplant list. If the first 99 people turned down a viable kidney, often people lower on the list conclude the organ must not be very good (“if someone else doesn’t want it, then neither do I”). They infer it is low in quality and wait for a “better offer.”

Zhang found this psychological trigger – a follow the crowd mentality – prompts thousands of patients to turn down kidneys they should have accepted.

If Something is Built to Show, It’s Built to Grow

Do you want to sell more products, grow attendance in your community group, or get momentum for your idea?

The more public a product or service, the more it triggers people to act. Visibility boosts word-of-mouth advertising, and this informal person-to-person marketing has a significant impact on others. People rely on peers to help them decide what movies to see, which vet to use for their pet, or the best software to buy. For example, recent studies show that more than half of adults under age 50 consult online reviews before making a purchase decision, and 88% of people read reviews to determine the quality of a local business.

Reviews and testimonials are powerful, but you can also build influential triggers into small things like your product packaging, stickers, and more. Social influence is stronger when behavior is more observable.

Here are just a few ways outward symbols have made personal choices more public:

–Polling places that distribute an “I voted” sticker to those who cast a ballot

–Devices that attach a mini advertisement to every email (like the classic “sent using BlackBerry” tagline)

–TV shows that used canned laugh tracks to prompt more emotional buy-in from viewers

–Bumper stickers or yard signs sharing political ideas or coffee preferences

–VIP purchases that convince participants to wear conspicuous wristbands instead of using a paper ticket

–Fitness trackers that automatically post progress to a person’s social media page

–Grocery stores that distribute beautiful branded reusable bags

Monkey See, Monkey Do

It has been said that when people are free to do what they please, they typically imitate others.

How can you build more social currency into your marketing? Whether you choose recognizable product colors to selfie photo booths at your events, make it easy for people to share your brand through social media or when they’re just “doing life” in the public square.

When something is built to show, it’s built to grow.

6 Winning Direct Mail Campaigns

Direct mail offers results that other channels just can’t match.

According to a recent study, direct mail has a response rate as high as 9%. However, there are always ways to engage your audience better and improve your mailers’ effectiveness. These methods below catch your recipents’ attention and increase the chances that they’ll read and respond to your direct mail piece. 

6 Winning Direct Mail Campaigns

1. Instill Curiosity with a Quiz

Do you worry your direct mail envelopes are going in the trash unread?

Take a page from Harvard Medical School’s playbook. In a recent mailing to woo subscribers for their Harvard Heart Letter newsletter, they put a heart health quiz on the front. The answers to the three-question quiz were inside the mailer, giving recipients a reason to open.

2. Benefits, Not Features

As marketers, it’s so easy to get caught up in promoting all the neat features of your product.

Your readers, however, don’t care about that. They care about how your product can be of benefit to them.

HelloFresh hit the mark with a February 2020 mailer that highlighted three big benefits to ordering their kits. At a glance, readers could see that the service could save them time, save them money, and offer more variety.

3. Leverage Testimonials

Research shows that a recommendation, whether from a friend or a stranger, has a lot of sway on reader opinions.

In fact, 70% of people will trust a recommendation even when it comes from someone who they don’t know. 

Florida Gulf Coast University used the power of testimonials by putting recommendations from past students right on their mailing postcard. Having names, faces, and a glowing recommendation from current students helped convince potential attendees that the school is a good choice. 

4. Use the Magic Word

No, not “please.” The powerful word that gets your mailer a second look instead of a quick trip to the recycle bin is “free.” 

A March 2020 mailer from Estee Lauder catches attention with bright coloration and a prominent offer for a free gift when people visit their counter inside Macy’s. Offering a gift is a way to get people inside your brick-and-mortar location, where there is an increased chance that they’ll take the opportunity to buy.

5. Catch the Eye with Familiar Forms and Images

When Nestle was promoting their Kit Kat Chunky bar in the UK, they used a familiar image — a Royal Mail card about an undeliverable package.

However, instead of the normal reasons for failure to deliver, recipients learn that the free chocolate bar Nestle intended to send them was “too chunky” to fit through their mail slot. The mailer served as a coupon to get a free bar to try from the store.

6. Invite Recipients to Interact with Your Mail Piece

To raise awareness for World Water Day in Belgium, the organization demonstrated the importance of water in an innovative way.

They sent a postcard that could only be read after the reader held it under running water. This tactile trick increased engagement and also got the group a viral bump on social media.

No matter what your business, it’s possible to catch readers’ eyes and attention with your direct mail pieces. Think about how to evoke your recipient’s curiosity, which can lead to engagement and conversion.

6 Tips to Improve Your Printed Newsletters

Online ads, digital promotions, and e-newsletters bombard recipients daily.

Much of this information is being deleted or filtered out without ever being read. Because of this, printed newsletters are making a comeback, and more businesses are using them to keep their customers current with what is happening. 

Regardless of whether the company is already sending out a newsletter or debating on starting one, it is good to learn new ways to improve it. Here are some tips to help improve printed newsletters. 

6 Tips to Improve Your Printed Newsletters

1. Exclusive Information

Offering exclusive information in a newsletter or a special incentive for signing up can help increase the mailing list and encourage recipients to read it.

Information can include unique advice from the CEO, advance notice for special announcements, or information someone can only receive if they read the entire newsletter. Special incentives can include discounts for products or services, gifts, or invitations to special events. 

2. Article Focus

When writing articles for the newsletter, it is essential to make them fun to read and provide valuable information.

By offering valuable information, readers become informed about products, services, or events, which lead to future sales. Encourage employees to contribute and write articles to provide more variety in writing styles and topics. 

3. Add Personalized Content

Create newsletter articles for the individual needs of specific groups.

Writing for targeted groups may require multiple newsletters to achieve; however, it may be worth the investment if a business targets multiple groups of people. For example, a major real estate company may want to create two newsletters, one for those who need real estate information to buy or sell homes and then a second newsletter for real estate agents. 

4. Use Color

Color attracts the eye and draws people in, encouraging them to continue reading.

Color animates everything, and one of the most popular newspapers — USA Today — implements lots of color in its papers. Use color to complement the article topics and other images within the newsletter. 

5. Placement of Images

In addition to using color to attract readers, the placement and use of images and photos will help draw readers.

Many will look at images and read their captions first before reading the article. Use photos and images that help better explain an article and be visually attractive for newsletter skimmers. One tip to keep in mind is to use the dollar bill test. It should be possible to place a dollar bill anywhere on the newsletter, and it should be touching an image.  

6. Offer an Online Option

Though having a printed newsletter to read in hand is preferred by many, some still want access to the same information online.

Create a section on the website to include links to PDF files or online versions of the newsletter. For example, The Disney Company has printed The Mickey Monitor for years to send out quarterly to annual pass holders to its theme parks. However, the newsletter is also accessible online. 

Nonprofits and groups are also offering printed newsletters online as a virtual reference. When signing up for the newsletter from Widowed Persons Service, recipients can select to receive a printed newsletter or one via their email. 

When done correctly, a printed newsletter can attract attention and be an excellent tool for a company. Regardless of the newsletter’s purpose — boost sales, attract new clients, or educate employees — there is sure to be a return on the investment associated with the costs of printing the newsletter.

Why 2021 Direct Mail Marketing for Food Businesses Retail Still Matters

While people are finally able to obtain a vaccine for COVID-19 and the ability to travel, move around, shop, and dine out is increasing, restaurants have a long hill ahead of them before getting back to a business “normality.”

In fact, entire behavior patterns have changed in people after a year of completely living at home and avoiding regular work presence, school, commuting, and traffic. And that means businesses have to work extra hard in diversifying how they produce income and revenue channels to stay viable.

Many restaurants realized early the only way they were going to stay in business was to boost their ability to handle delivery, ordering out, pick up, and other forms of fresh-cooked food transfer to customers who could no longer dine in.

While people generally tried producing their food regularly at home, overall, Americans are used to picking up and eating out. So, the demand never actually left; it was stifled by COVID restrictions.

However, even now, many communities are still maintaining social restrictions to prevent new COVID infections until vaccinations are fully in place at every age level. That means restaurants and food preparation businesses have to continue leveraging direct mail to be heard, seen, connect and remain on the attention radar of customers.

4 Reasons Direct Mail Works

1. Direct mail is almost always local.

The most likely customers that can and will visit a restaurant from the surrounding area are the primary target for print mails.

2. Direct mail marketing for food businesses is significantly lower in cost than other marketing channels.

This is a key factor for food businesses that are already strapped and trying to stay in breakeven with the loss of income thanks to COVID.

3. Direct mail has a higher return on investment.

The return on investment of a simple print card mailer can be thousands upon thousands of dollars when a customer responds to an included call to action.

Add in the additional benefit of discounting, and that same customer is likely to buy even more, increasing a business’s revenue and cash flow per sale.

4. Direct mailers should be designed to be re-used.

Customers love the ability to use a marketing tool or coupon repeatedly.

And that creates both business retention and a greater amount of income stream for a restaurant or food business, again the primary goal of the effort in the first place.

Now is the Time

Restaurants and food businesses that rely on retail traffic shouldn’t be waiting for social restrictions to lift further.

Marketing for food businesses takes time to have a positive effect, which is why direct mail efforts need to be sent out on a cyclical basis, pushing and reminding folks of a restaurant’s presence and availability.

As people keep being reminded, especially as they start commuting to work again, the food business will become viable and convenient for a warm meal, even if it is still takeout or delivery. Card stock direct mailers can help tremendously. So don’t wait for the market to reappear. Get out there and chase it now!