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Theme-Based Marketing: The Art Of B2B Brand Relevance

Posted Tuesday, November 8, 2016 by Corey Olfert.

You’re the head of marketing for a $100 million B2B company. Your engineers have worked day and night for months to perfect the design, features, and functionality of the latest cloud platform. You’ve hired advertising and PR agencies to tell your story to the world, and you’ve prepared your bank for an onslaught of cash rolling in from customers.

If that describes you or others in your organization, here are some cold-water facts you need to know.

FACT 1: No one cares about your product or service. FACT 2: No one wants to be marketed to. And, FACT 3: As Theodore Roosevelt said: “No one cares how much you know until you show how much you care.”

Facts 1 and 2 are harsh but true. But fact 3 is something we can work with.

Welcome to theme-based marketing.

What Is Theme-Based Marketing?

First, theme-based marketing is not the same as marketing themes. defines marketing themes “a central marketing idea or message, or a product benefit or feature, that is known (or is likely) to have maximum appeal to a targeted market segment.” It’s focused on the brand.

On the other hand, theme-based marketing attempts to identify issues or trends impacting customers and develops long-term marketing campaigns. It’s aimed at helping customers navigate change and difficult challenges, building trust with customers, and giving them a reason to believe you are best suited to help them.

Here’s an example. At Avanade – a joint venture IT consulting company formed by Microsoft and Accenture – I created the company’s thought leadership marketing program, which focused on key issues facing our customers. Top of mind topics for companies included cost reduction, greater efficiency, higher employee productivity, agility, and so on. We developed theme-based programming to address those issues.

One theme we developed dealt with how companies were trying to exploit digital technologies to improve how work got done. This included mobility innovations and the growth of the consumerization of IT. Our competitors were aggressively positioning themselves as thought leaders in this space, but Avanade was nowhere in the conversation.

Working with several marketing colleagues, executive leadership, and industry analysts, we created a way to inject ourselves meaningfully into the conversation. We called it Work Redesigned. After vetting the topic with customers and analysts to make sure we were unique and differentiated, we built a long-term campaign, which became the basis of our content strategy for the next two years.

How To Start Identifying Theme Topics

(Clearly, you need to know the customer personas you are targeting. Content Marketing Institute has some great resources, and I urge you to build out your personas first before proceeding.)

There are many sources of information that can aid your theme development:

Start At The Source – Customers. Include a cross-section or geography of your business to find out what they are dealing with now, and what’s on their radar.

Pick Customer-Facing Brains – If you can’t go to the source, talk with senior leadership, a few of your top sales staff, and channel partners. Ask them what is top of mind, and what topics are beginning to surface.

Tap Local Market Minds – What’s important in the United States may not be important in France, South Africa or China. Speak with regional leads and listen for local nuances and differences.

Follow The Trends – Track industry analysts’ forecasts and trend reports (e.g. Gartner Hype Cycle) to uncover emerging and potential topics. And, if you have a contractual relationship with analyst firms, schedule inquiry time and ask them what hot topics clients are requesting, what competitors are addressing those issues well, and what space your company should insert itself into.

Gain Social Enlightenment – Use social listening tools to determine what conversations are happening that are relevant to your business. Also, identify the long-tail queries people are searching for. This will shed light on how they are thinking about these issues, and searching for answers.

Map Media Trend Coverage – Look at what trends news outlets are writing about. Also, as trends become adoptions, look at issues the media are covering around implementation challenges, or investment levels, or cultural hurdles, as topical fodder.

Know Thy Competitors – As noted, Avanade’s competitors were all over the digital workplace discussion. So, we identified fresh ways to address the issue.

Now that you’ve done your market research, ask yourself, “In two years from now, what topics are going to be most important to our customers that we must be strongly associated with?” As you identify these topics, make sure your perspective on the issue, and the guidance and recommendations you’re providing, are differentiated and true to your business.

I find two to four themes to be ideal to pursue at a time. More than four themes may create market confusion. But also, I have found it’s hard to scale effectively on a global level. Teams in other markets often don’t have the staff or budget to truly localize the story to be effective.

Next, develop an abstract for each theme. It should cover the audience you’re trying to reach, what you want them to know, what your perspective is, and the action you want the audience to take. It becomes a True North guide for all campaigns and teams.

Finally, vet your theme concepts with select customers and analysts to make sure they resonate and are unique.

Pulling Your Themes Together

Now it’s time to put it into action. As an integrated marketing program, when you plan together, execute together and report together, you create a multiplier effect that produces results far greater than the sum of their parts.

So start by assigning a senior theme lead to drive planning and integration. Pull together a cross-functional marketing team comprised of demand generation, web, social media, communications, product/services marketing, partner marketing, and other relevant functions.

After you’ve outlined your objectives, audience and goals for a theme, start building your campaigns over the next 12 months. Map out known corporate events, commercial/industry events, product/service roadmaps, speaking engagements, and so on, that align with each theme. Once complete, this plan will provide a full end-to-end integrated marketing approach by theme, and will become the basis for your content strategy.

How Will It Help Me Be More Effective As A Marketer?

Business is not altruistic, but neither should it be egotistic and self-serving. Theme-based marketing forces your business to put your audience’s needs and their challenges at the center of your marketing.

Done right, theme-based marketing provides several benefits:

It builds trust and demonstrates relevance by showing you understand your customer’s situation. And you, as a business, have a perspective on how to address it with concrete guidance on how to navigate it.It helps your audience self-educate, and learn more about what your company offers that can help them ease their pain.And it strategically aligns your content to campaigns that support themes, and gives you a filter by which you say yes to content that aligns to those themes – and no to content that doesn’t.Theme-based marketing isn’t new. But it is a different approach that frankly few companies do well. And I believe it is the best foundation for building long-term brand awareness, trust with customers, and desired customer action.

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The Designer Is Dead, Long Live The Designer

Posted Tuesday, November 8, 2016 by Kurt Krumme.

For much longer than was in any way reasonable, my Mom described my vocation as “Webmaster.” While it made me grin every time I heard it, it was also true that I didn’t really have a better description that made sense outside of our industry. “I’m an experience designer,” was generally met with blank stares and occasionally, eye rolls.

While I wasn’t too worried if Aunt Midge understood my career, I do believe that if you can’t explain something simply and clearly then you probably don’t understand it that well. And being able to succinctly describe the value you provide seems like something we should all be able to do.

Why does it matter?It’s becoming more and more accepted that design is now critical to success in the business world. Companies are paying attention to concepts like design thinking, visual modelling, customer experience, and prototyping. They’re looking for individuals with the expertise to help them, but how do they find them? How do they sift through the avalanche of applicants a job posting for a designer will elicit to find the candidates that can actually help them?

__ needed urgently?While I may see myself as a designer, that designation is so broad it’s effectively useless in describing the value I want to bring to a project. Many of us tend to think about what we do from our own point of view until we go to look for a job. Since prospective employers tend to communicate through job titles and descriptions, we’re suddenly faced with a search field asking us what we think someone else would call what we do.

Designers needing to unravel and translate the needs of a client is not new or unusual, so we just need to deconstruct the problem. For that purpose I use the following framework, and I’m sharing it here in the hopes you might find it useful too.

We are what we repeatedly doI tend to break design skills down into three broad areas. It’s important to note that I don’t consider these siloed; they work together and we’re talking about relative strengths in them rather than complete specialization.

The first is area is aesthetic. Let’s just accept the fact that NONE of us listened to our grandmothers and we do, in fact, judge books by their covers. I know several people who base the majority of their wine buying decision on how pleasing they find the label. You might consider these people misguided, but I consider them honest (and maybe not that into wine). I don’t mean to suggest that form and function are somehow unrelated or worse, inversely proportional. I’m saying that some people are really gifted with type, colour, and composition.

So function obviously, is the second area. Steve Jobs famously said, “Design is how it works.” I don’t presume to disagree with the great one, but I would add that he was working with the general public’s understanding of design at the time — that designers just “prettied things up.” Some people, including me, would argue that when something is truly beautiful it also tends to work exceptionally well. However for that to happen functionality must be part of the process. What is the problem the end user is trying to solve? What order are they likely to approach it in? What kind of affordances should be present? These are the functional considerations that seem to come naturally to some of us, but are more likely the product of interest and years of practice.

That brings us to emotional design. Another way to describe this is as the experience of a design, but that term is often tangled up with UI and I think emotional design is clearer for our purposes. Obviously both aesthetics and functionality play a large role here (remember I said they overlap?), but this skill goes beyond how a design looks and works. Got a knack for adding snappy writing to your work? Understand how to combine the way something works and looks to elicit a specific reaction or cultivate a perception? Do you know what is appropriate for your audience at the point in time when they’ll be encountering your work? This is the sometimes obvious, sometimes opaque art of designing for emotions.

Am I forgetting something? Probably. Feel free to #ragetweet suggestions to me later.

Your work should provide a thesisWithin the three areas described above, you likely have specific strengths and weaknesses. If you’re equally awesome at all three, then you are a special unicorn. Understanding where those strengths lie is important to crafting a message about the value you bring and triggering recognition of that value in a potential employer or client.

Job postings for UX designers for example tend to skew on the functional/emotional side, but UI/UX might be more aesthetic/emotional. Positions that come with the Senior Designer title could be mostly aesthetic, but who knows? Job titles are nonsense and new ones are made up daily. I suggest throwing a wide net and looking for differentiation in the descriptions.

When you see something that looks like a good fit, provide them with a resume or portfolio that shows how you’ll meet their challenge rather than a random collection of your best screenshots and links. Helping them understand what problem you were solving and what skills you used to solve them is the best way I know of to convey the value you’re offering.

Seems basic, but all too often I see designers that have trouble articulating the value they provide in terms that make sense to the people trying to find and hire them. After all, you really should be able to answer the question, “what would you say you do here?”

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New Sales Manager? How to Get Off to a FAST START

Posted Wednesday, November 2, 2016 by Lisa Manguson.

Congratulations on your recent promotion to the role of sales manager. You earned it by your outstanding sales performance. Nice title, maybe an office, good career building move but now you have to do the job. What is the best way to get off to a fast start with your new sales team? Before you fall into the trap of ‘immediate overwhelm’ and try to fight your way out by doing what you know best – selling as if you were still an individual contributor – stop and think about the A, B, C’s. For new sales managers, the A (Assess), B (Build) and C’s (Catapult) are a life saver.

Assess: Step back and assess your team. Use formal assessments along with observations and a solid analysis of their results. What are the strengths and true motivations of each of your sellers? Prioritize field travel and take careful note of their preparation, approach, selling skills. You have a golden opportunity to develop an unbiased baseline for each of your people from which to build.

Build: Resist piling up meetings but instead build your management foundation. Decide on the core activities that will drive your success and calanderize those things first. Consider field travel, coaching, seller growth and development and recognition as part of your base. Build your team on a rock solid foundation.

Catapult: Top sales managers lead their teams to the top of the rankings month after month and year after year. They know how to catapult each team member to excellence. New sales managers must shift from individual contributors to team champions. The only way to accomplish this with so many distractions is to keep your vision set on the critical few versus the unnecessary many.

Wow, that first month flew by. Did you put the A, B, C’s to work? If so, congratulations on an outstanding month. You’re off to a fast start with momentum to carry you forward.

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thINK 2016 Sets the Bar for Inkjet User Group Events with Hugely Successful Second Installment

Posted Tuesday, October 18, 2016 by Victor Bohnert.

BOCA RATON, Fla., Oct. 18, 2016 /PRNewswire/ – thINK, an independent community of Canon Solutions America production print customers, today announced that for the second straight year, its interactive, educational conference was an overwhelming and resounding success.

The event, which brought in record numbers establishing it as the largest inkjet user group in the world, was held October 10-12, 2016 in Boca Raton, Florida at the beautiful Boca Raton Resort & Club, a Waldorf Astoria Resort.

“Sequels are, by nature, not always successful either in terms of scope or sheer impact,” said Victor Bohnert, thINK Executive Director. “We knew early on that building on the success of last year’s event would be a challenge – but one that we welcomed – and as the feedback we’ve garnered and results have shown, thINK 2016 was an overwhelming success. We are truly proud of this year’s event, and could not have done it without the support of such valued partners, industry professionals, and the entire thINK community.”

Throughout the three-day event, a prevailing sense of community, interaction, and education was ever-present as both new and existing thINK members united to share their inkjet experiences, learn from experts, and hear from some of the most successful inkjet service providers in the industry. Over 30 sessions, designed for all levels of inkjet experience and awareness, were held throughout the event giving the audience unprecedented access to a robust bank of inkjet-related knowledge.

Additionally, more than 60 engaging speakers shared their inkjet stories over the course of the three days on topics that included:

  • Profitable Print – The Role of Inkjet in Profitable Print
  • Beyond Print – Capture More Marketing with Inkjet
  • Inkjet Color Basics – Color Management 101
  • A Map to Inkjet – Optimizing Your Workflow for Smooth Sailing
  • Get the Inkjet Edge – Transitioning Your Business with Inkjet
  • Inkjet Paper 101 – The Right Paper for the Right Job

    Perhaps best illustrating the sense of inspiration cultivated by the event’s unique sense of unity and cohesion was a keynote speech delivered by Scott Burrows, an internationally recognized motivational speaker and bestselling author. During the height of Burrows’ collegiate career, his life changed dramatically and abruptly after surviving a horrific car crash. From the accident, Burrows suffered a serious spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down and he was subsequently diagnosed a quadriplegic. Sharing his insights on turning setbacks into powerful comebacks, Burrows embodied the spirit of thINK with a stunning, moving, and truly triumphant keynote that detailed his successful journey to one day walk again and overcome the toughest of obstacles. A day later, guests were treated to a keynote from tennis legend Chris Evert that culminated the rousing event and served as a reminder to the spirit of community and achievement that defined thINK 2016.

    “This was undoubtedly a pivotal moment in the evolution of this great user-based community,” said Eric Hawkinson, Senior Director of Marketing, Production Print Solutions, Canon Solutions America and thINK Board Member. “We are poised to continue this growth and build on the success of thINK 2016. This is a great time to be a part of one of the industry’s most forward-thinking initiatives.”

    Canon Solutions America production print customers can access thINK 2016 Conference materials and other resources by joining the thINK Community. To join, register at

    About thINK ForumthINK is an independent community of Canon Solutions America production print customers, solution partners, and print industry experts. Led by some of the most successful inkjet service providers in the country, it provides a forum for members to network, gain knowledge, discuss common challenges, and share best practices. For more information, visit

    Canon is a registered trademark of Canon Inc. in the United States and elsewhere. Océ is a registered trademark of Océ-Technologies B.V. in the United States and elsewhere. All other referenced product names and marks are trademarks of their respective owners and are hereby acknowledged.

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This Month's Version of CREDIT TIPS From PPI's Trusted Partner Printing Industry Credit Bureau (PICB)

Posted Tuesday, October 18, 2016 by Jules VanSant.

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Oh, How Sweet Revenge Can Be: Law Firm and Print. Interesting case! Read more about it

Indiana Jones & the Credit Trilogy- Part 1 Raiders of the Lost A.R.C.: Part 1 of PICB’s 3 part series on credit foundation and policy. Read more…

Urgent Fraud Alert! Printing Industry Credit Bureau got it right… Our vast array of resources, knowledge, and experience are here to protect Printers from losses associated with criminal activities such as described in the below fraud alert from the US post Office. This is the same report alert that has been announced for so many months on PICB Credit Tips Newsletter. The US Post Office, US Law Enforcement and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are working to get the responsible parties behind bars. Meanwhile… You should be careful! Read more…

Collection Services
PICB is the printing industry’s dedicated commercial collection agency that has helped printers recover unpaid debts for over 35 years. Our collection expertise, personal service, dedication, and intimate knowledge of the industry produce superior results at rates below industry averages.

Check It Company
PICB’s sister company created an easy to use web portal to government sponsored web-sites that provides real-time, free information you may find helpful in determining a customer’s stability or viability. These sites provide you the ability to verify business registrations, civil court records, lien information, and much more.

Credit Risk Assessment Reports
No time to research your customer’s background? PICB’s sister company, Check It Co. can help. Check It Co’s Credit Risk Assessments compile reports the old-fashioned way with hands-on, extensive research using 21st century tools. Know your customer before you do the work and you won’t get KISSED.

Riskee Business Reports
PICB’s free web-based tool, located at near the center of the navigation bar, provides free access to our database of customers who haven’t paid printers. Look up your potential customer and see if PICB already knows them. It may save you some heartache.

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