He Sleeps in a Storm

Today’s blog is not so much about business, though it could be. It is the certainly the way to guide a  business.
Over the weekend we lost a former colleague and very dear friend.

This could easily be a story about him.
The following is taken directly from Mitch Albom’s book “Have a Little Faith,” and from within that, a sermon by the Rabbi Albert Lewis.
It’s a good prescription for whatever one does.

“A man seeks employment on a farm. He hands his letter of recommendation to his new employer.

It reads simply, ‘He sleeps in a storm.’

The owner is desperate for help, so he hires the man.

Several weeks pass, and suddenly, in the middle of the night, a powerful storm rips through the valley.

Awakened by the swirling rain and howling wind, the owner leaps out of bed. He calls for his hired hand, but the man is sleeping soundly.

So he dashes off to the barn. He sees, to his amazement, that the animals are secure with plenty of feed.

He runs out to the field. He sees the bales of wheat have been bound and are wrapped in tarpaulins.

He races to the silo. The doors are latched and the grain is dry.

And then he understands, ‘He sleeps in a storm.’

‘My friends, if we tend to the things that are important in life, if we are right with those we love and behave in line with our faith, our lives will not be cursed with the aching throb of unfulfilled business. Our words will always be sincere, our embraces will be tight. We will never wallow in the agony of 'I could have, I should have.' We can sleep in a storm.

"And when it's time, our good-byes will be complete.’ “

Our good friend sleeps through the storm.

Regardless, we shall miss him.

Direct Mail - Still a Great Option

The world of business and personal communications continues to shift at a rapid, almost head-spinning, pace.

No longer is there a one-channel solution.
Businesses are increasingly reliant on the internet to promote themselves and deliver their message.
Website development and search optimization are in growth mode.
Email blasts are right behind.
Then there’s  social media – Facebook, Twitter and a host of additional applications are thriving though the business model is not always clear, nor advertising driven.

That in turns seems to be migrating to the hand held device – whether it a smart phone or a tablet.
The personal concierge has not yet become an all-singing advertising medium because most of us reject the spam and banners and interruptions associated with internet travel.
But the handheld will continue to grow in importance as a platform for businesses reaching their audience.

This has led to another notion. Much is being touted about integrated marketing – mixing media channels – print, signage, wide format, and digital messaging.
Each of these channels ties to another, leveraging each channel,  the message and the brand.  The simplest form of this might be the QR code – a quick scan of a print piece delivers you to an internet address.

Inherent in all of this is an inference that print is dying or is dead.  
Wrong. Dead wrong.

Print still comprises a third or more of the media buy and remains a pillar of the marketing  mix for many businesses.
Part of this is due to the technological advancements in print which allow for personalized messaging by utilizing variable date which now becomes possible on digital print platforms.
This technology speeds delivery and allows each piece to be personalized.

Research in the industry tells us a few interesting tidbits:

·         79% of households skim or read direct mail sent to their homes
·         73% of consumers prefer direct mail as the source of new products to 18% who  prefer email
·         Spam is discarded at a 50% rate, unopened mail at 30%
·         Nearly half of folks find direct mail to be less intrusive than email,and less pressuring to be opened
·         The corollary - many people find direct mail to be a better leisure option – i.e. I’ll read it when I get a chance, so I keep it on the counter a few days

The USPS Household Diary study says that 85% of direct mail is at least skimmed.

Coupled with the ability to target via mail lists or blanket specific neighborhoods at very low rates through newer programs like Every Door Direct Mail, direct mail remains a key part of the messaging platform. Coupled with email and/or web-based connections, it can be even more effective.

This is but one small example of our new world. Print is not going away. It is changing, and how it is done is changing all the time to become more real time, personal and cost effective.

Behaving Like Owners, and Opening the Books

I remember in my days at a great Indiana Fortune 500 company, one of the core values was to get employees thinking and acting like owners.
There are various ways to do this from distributing ownership to variable compensation plans to focused improvement efforts.

But any successful approach has a few common anchors.

1. All employees including the ownership must have a common understanding of what is important. That starts with a clear vision of where we want the company to go; what we value and what’s really important around here. In our case it’s serving customers excellently with a minimum of waste; and continuing to stay abreast of the innovations in our industry while creating an environment that is fun and challenging. That is our formula for sustainable success which allows for delighted customers, a return on capital invested, growing employees and future employment. The “what’s important around here” piece will work better if everyone has a hand in developing it and understanding it.  The more understanding the better.

2.There needs to be alignment. This is a simple concept, but absolutely critical.  It’s  the favorite song of most human beings. It’s station  WIIFM. “What’s in it for me.”  How does each employee’s actions not only affect the company but themselves. This is the magic of measures and alignment. Setting clear measures – collectively – and rewards and/or recognition for achieving them creates half of the equation – motivation.

3.Motivation alone is necessary but not sufficient. Each team member needs to understand how they affect the critical measures . Done well these result in all of us  acting on behalf of the customer, eliminating waste, taking the personal initiative to understand how we can improve not only in our own piece of the flow, but across all critical processes in the company. Liberating the knowledge of employees and creating energy for improvement adds an extra dimension of value for all.

Our approach here is something called Open Book Management – an approach championed by a company SRC – the Springfield Remanufacturing Business in a book and philosophy called the Great Game of Business. We’ve spent time gaining clarity collectively on what’s important – including our vision and our values; and we’ve educated ourselves by laying the books bare for all. That lets us know how we eliminate waste, how we make money, and where the opportunities to improve financially are.  And employees share in the enterprise value they help to create.

Open books will tell you the financials, not the full health of the company. The balance comes from listening to our customers and measuring what’s important to them, looking at the consistency of our internal processes,  and making sure that our team members have the tools and knowledge to perform effectively for the customer.

Clarity of what’s important, alignment systems, and capable and motivated employees are the foundation. Then we have to execute.

Another Perspective on Value - Value Creation

The concept of value is multi-dimensional. Here’s another facet.

Last time the topic  was what is value through the lens of the customer. What counts from a customer perspective. Have we done a quality job? Have we helped the customer understand the choices available? Have we provided stellar service – on time, with no surprises? Have we kept the customer fully informed from start to finish of the job? Has the interaction with us been positive and efficient? Are we starting a relationship based on favorable interaction in every way the customer touches us?  This is the path to loyal customers and great word-of-mouth advocates.

Providing customer value is the front end of creating enterprise value. Enterprise value is the fancy term for creating shareholder value - improving the value of the business itself. What will someone else pay for it if and when it is sold or transferred, or what it is worth while the current shareholders own it. This is the other half of the equation and it deals with how good is our team,  have we provided them the right tools, and are they competent and motivated in the right direction. Have we been thoughtful about which assets we invest in, and are our processes capable – i.e. can they deliver the same result each time?   This is really a formulaic way of saying are we providing customer value with no waste. 

If we do that well we keep cost at a minimum, we only spend cash on the assets that we need to differentiate our quality and service; or that actually reduce cost over time, and we arrive at a formula that delivers customer value at the lowest cost to us and to them.  This allows us to make a profit and a return on our investment and to reap the benefit of a job well done for our customers.

I remember years ago a little arithmetic I was taught:   Customer Delight   +    Operations Excellence   =  Shareholder Value

It’s a great reminder that both ends of the business have to perform.  It’s also a long journey.

We started with an investment in our team. We understand what is important here and we are educating ourselves every day how to serve our customers better.
We are developing and maintaining quality processes through the full sales and cash cycle from initial quote to receivables collection. And we are constantly reviewing which assets deliver differentiable value to our customers, or lower our cost to serve them.

That said, the journey never ends.

What is Value?

What is value?

This is a great question no matter what business you are in. Our clients shared a lot of helpful insights with us as we worked through our rebranding effort.
And they reminded us of a few fundamental lessons.

1.       Value is what you get for what you pay, not what you spend.
2.       What you get has three components. 

a.       PRODUCT DELIVERY: This is the what. Here customers are concerned about the holy trinity of cost, quality and delivery. That’s the first component. Did the client appreciate the aesthetic representation of their project?  Did we follow brand standards? Was the paper selection appropriate? Was the right technology used for the job. Was it done on time. Was it a quality piece?

b.      QUALITY OF INTERACTION:  This is the how. How did we service the client. Were we responsive? Were we consultative? Were there any surprises? Did we work to get the customer their “look” for the lowest cost. Did we keep them informed all the through the process? Did they understand our process and the necessary interactions to ensure their delight – from design thru prepress, production and shipping? This is a measure of how much time and concern the customer had to “spend” to work with us through their project. Time is expensive. So is anxiety if we don’t communicate well.

c.       QUALITY OF THE RELATIONSHIP:  After a few jobs, and as the customer interaction builds with our employees – we get to a place of trust. When this happens, we have done our job. This is when customers have comfort that we are there to lighten their load – to make their deadlines our deadlines; to make their problems or concerns about a job our concerns. This is the point when we truly begin to move problems off a client’s plate to ours. It also reminded us that we are a relationship-powered company, not a firm that  is always lowest cost and just transactional. We are face-mail based, not web-based. When we establish trust, it can truly be a lowest total cost for our client and us.

All of these elements of value are weighted differently by each customer.  And then they are measured against the price of the job. That is when a customer decides whether we have delivered value or not.

What we learned as a team is that we want to work on all three elements of value – the product, each interaction, and our overall relationship.
If we get to trust, it’s the lowest system cost for us and the client.  

Again we thank our customers for their candor in helping us understand the meaning of value in their eyes.

Hello, from Brainstorm PRINT

To all our customers, suppliers and friends, just a quick note to underscore what is becoming self evident: We have rebranded our company from Simon Skjodt to Brainstorm PRINT.
We remain the same team absolutely committed to quality, service, ease of doing business, creativity, and value. And more than ever, we realize that we are relationship-powered. And we are entering the new age….maybe late, maybe kicking and dragging….but welcome to our first blog.

This decision to rebrand started with a number of customer conversations and our own desire to help people understand who we are and what we do.
We went about the task with some rigor – interviewing customers and then surveying any customer who had ordered from us in the past 24 months.
We also had a contest to see if anyone could submit the new name.

While customers did not get us the final name, they made contributions in many, many ways. In fact customer input got us brainstorming in collaborative style which is how we arrived at the name.

The PRINT part of the name was straight forward. Though we offer a broad customer line, 90% of customers tried us first for commercial/digital printing.

The Brainstorm piece came to us because we often work with each of our customers to come up with solutions – whether it be product engineering, managing a number of campaign or event pieces collectively, or providing you with budget-minding answers.

It also speaks to where we will expand over time – into more concept design, more direct mail, and other value added elements that offer more consultative content. But at heart, we are a printer.

The interaction with our customers provided us with many insights.

I will share one for now. Clients told us that we don’t communicate often enough and they don’t know all that we do.
In the process of finding a new name, it also birthed this blog and a plan to communicate in a robust manner.

So stay tuned as Brainstorm Print moves forward. And Thank You again customers for your candor and willingness to help us understand how we can be more valuable to you.
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