Category Archives: Marketing Tools

Variable Data Printing

Variable Data Printing

Variable Data Printing
by Steven Barrett

Direct and targeted marketing has become the mainstay of print publishing in recent times. Creating a specific message for each individual recipient has profound results on the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. Gone are the days of mass marketing with long runs of static messages which blanket an audience. The future of marketing is individualized. We live in a time where in your mailbox, you might find a postcard from your local auto dealer highlighting just the right car for your demographic. Your soccer mom neighbor could receive an ad for a minivan whereas the lumberjack across the street’s ad shows a heavy duty truck. This form of targeted marketing has proven far more effective, efficient and exciting.

Variable Data Printing is a term used to describe the coming together of the printed piece with a database of information. Digital print engines have opened new doors in the VDP arena that bring some astounding capabilities to the table.  It requires marketing brain power to come up with thoughtful and creative ways to use the available data to make a judgement as to what message is most appropriate for the reader.

VDP comes in all shapes and sizes. The most basic of which is simple text such as a recipients first name at the top of a mailer or the printing of an address block for mailed pieces. More complex VDP can selectively print images or document layers based on certain fields in a database. An example of this might be the picture of a truck for male recipients and a minivan for women.

Modern digital printing equipment can print variable without a hitch. The real task lies in creating the VDP job. The largest requirement is to have a database of recipients, the more data in the database – the more complex the VDP can be. There are a wide variety of software packages that specialize in working with variable data. This has really become an industry unto itself with a full scope of software from the very basic to the extremely powerful. Robust software can select individual layers from PDF based on rules applied to the database (e.x . If gender is male then truck is selected)

The ultimate form of variable data printing is slowly emerging in the large retail world. Based on buying habits big box stores can deduce, for example, when a woman is pregnant and then swarm her inbox with coupons for diapers and baby food. Marketing on this scale requires vast databases and complex computing power to make determinations based on the data.

Brought to you by VDP

At this time, most all print manufacturers should be offering at least basic variable data printing to their customers. The market demand for targeted messages is steadily growing and the tools to create them are getting better every day.

Keep an eye on this exciting segment of our industry because it won’t be long before it’s all we do.

Mid-State Litho, Inc.
5459 Fenton Rd.
Flint, MI 48507

Leveraging Your Assets

What do I mean when I say leverage your assets? As printers, whether commercial or in-plant, you have machinery that you use to produce product for an end user. These are the assets I’m referring to. As to leveraging those assets, I don’t mean borrow money against them. I am talking about getting everything out of them you possibly can. I feel there are two basic types of assets in a print shop. Those which are the main drive shaft of the shop, and others which are used when needed to support the main devices. Offsets have been the main drive shaft asset for years, but digital print engines are catching up. Regardless of the technology, the same concepts of leverage apply. You need to fill the asset up with work and you want that work to be as profitable as possible.

Since 1974, my entire career has involved selling and servicing offset and bindery equipment. During that time, one thing has been a constant: people trying to get more out of a machine than they are meant to. “More” as in exceeding specifications for sheet size or thickness, modifying a machine to make a job work, and so on. This is done for one reason: to lock in, or get work which other people cannot do. When you are on a level playing field with your competitors equipment wise, anytime you can push the envelope you stand a much better chance of holding a higher profit margin. The more work done in this situation helps to leverage your asset with higher margin work. This fundamental principle of business has always been true and certainly still applies today.

To me the real winner of this game is the buyer who finds the device which is not well known, which has many built in capabilities beyond what the competition is using. What is gained by approaching business this way is the capabilities you get beyond what your competitors can modify or brainstorm their way into. This creates opportunity to fill the bandwidth of an asset or fully leverage it with work at a higher margin.

Focusing on how much it costs to operate an asset you are considering purchasing is valid and needs to be known and discussed. This one sided approach may scare you away before you know the whole story. I believe not enough attention is paid to leverage-ability of the asset being considered. What are the differences in this asset which might allow you to command higher margins? I think this applies more than ever to digital print. In a very short amount of time, digital print has become a commodity. There are a lot of print engines out there today capable of doing pretty much the same thing. When you have what everyone else has, what do you do to get work and hold margins? You talk about the value you add to your customer because of all of the other things you do for them. This helps and should buy you more price consideration than it usually does, but you still have to walk the price tightrope. This is where the buyer who buys with the eye to the different device and  has the fortitude go where most people don’t, has the advantage.

This is a two sided coin. Having the “different device” is only half of the equation. You must take that different asset and figure out how to leverage it to the maximum at the highest margins. In my opinion, the holy grail is when you can compete with a given machine on a level playing field, but have extra capability. Now you have low risk. You are no worse off than if you buy the same machine everyone else has. Over time just keeping your eye open for the opportunities your device offers, you should be able to capitalize. The question comes down to which situation you feel is better: compete head to head, have a device that saves you a penny a click and fight the commodity game; Or, have a device that will compete in that world, but also offers many other capabilities which will allow you to be the only one that can even do the entire job.

Since 1984 MSL has been in the equipment business. In all of those years we have never had a machine to sell which offers this very type of opportunity, as strongly as the MGI Meteor Pro 8700 digital press does. We have always sold quality equipment which have advantages in production, labor savings and what we felt were the best value we could offer. We have been a dealer of this product since the middle of 2011. An old offset guy diving head first into the world of digital presses. This is what has really stuck in my mind over that time. We now have a product that can compete with all of the big players (Xerox, HP, Kodak) on their playing field. When you look deeper, the MGI 8700 offers a much larger sheet size, substrate capability, envelopes, digital and laminate safe output. Here is the ideal situation, a machine which competes with all of the other players on their playing field, but offers many capabilities none of them can even think of trying to do. If you have the 8700, when your competition sells your customer a 3 panel 8 1/2 x 11 tri-fold, you can counter with a 4 panel. You can do business cards, letterhead and full color envelopes which can all be re-run through any print device without worry of re-melt. You can offer up to a 40” back-lit polycarbonate product or vinyl, Teslin, canvas and many more possibilities. You don’t have to take advantage of any of those capabilities and the 8700 still competes on that level playing field with all of the big guys. This is where the low risk comes in. Head to head with everyone else, the 8700 competes and you can use the advantages you have to leverage this asset with the highest margin possible in a competitive market.

Yes, I am guilty of this article being an advertisement for the MGI Meteor Pro 8700. I felt compelled to write this because I feel this is the real message that needs to be communicated about this product. Being relatively new to selling digital presses, it has become very obvious people are searching for opportunity. We have that opportunity, we just need to get the message out.

By, Doug Barrett

Integrated Print Forum October 29-30 in Philly

Printing Industries of America will be hosting the Integrated Print Forum in Philadelphia this upcoming week, October 29-30. The Integrated Print Forum is based on the fact that the print industry is changing fast, and in order to stay relevant, printers need to change what print means. By integrating print with new digital technology, print can be more effective than ever at engaging audiences and helping businesses grow.

Integrate Print Forum from Printing Industries of America

Discussions at the forum will include:

  • Mobile engagements solutions, including QR codes and what comes next
  • Social media and RFID
  • Videos
  • SEO for your website
  • Internet Analytics
  • ePublishing

The forum will be held at Printing Industries headquarters and attendees can look forward to hearing practical strategies they can use to integrate their print media and stay relevant in today’s market.

For more information about Integrated Print Forum, visit their website, or reserve your place here.

The Environmental Impact of Print: Myths vs. Reality

This article was sponsored by Printing Industries Association, Inc. of Southern California. More information can be found at

Choose Print

There are many popular misconceptions about the impact that printed materials have on the environment. However, the idea that print is detrimental to the environment is factually wrong.

Myth: Paper is Made from Fresh-Cut Trees
Reality: Paper is Made Primarily from “Waste” Products

In the United States, the vast majority – a full two-thirds – of the fiber used to make paper comes from sources other than fresh-cut trees. One-third comes from wood chips and sawmill scraps, one-third comes from recycled paper and just one-third comes from “new growth” trees.(1)

Of course, these statistics are based on industry averages. There are 200 mills in the United States that use recovered fiber exclusively.(2)

Myth: Print Leads to Deforestation
Reality: Print Promotes Trees

Contrary to commonly-held belief, paper mills are not cutting down old-growth forests in order to make paper. Nearly all the wood used in paper production comes from “tree farms” – acres of trees grown as a renewable crop, like broccoli or wheat. Print actually gives private landowners a financial incentive to grow trees rather than selling off their land for other uses, such as development.(3) As Dr. Patrick Moore, Co-Founder of Greenpeace, has stated, “Using wood sends signals to the marketplace to grow more trees.”

Myth: The Tree Population is Shrinking
Reality: More Trees and Forests Exist Today Than 20 Years Ago

With the increased demand for printed goods that we’ve seen over time, many people believe that the forests must be shrinking. This is simply not true. There are 12 million more acres of forest in the U.S. today than there were 20 years ago; between 1953 and 2006 we saw a 49% increase in the number of trees still standing after mortality and harvesting.(4)

1U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste.
2American Forest and Paper Association.
3Edward L. Glaeser, Professor of Economics, Harvard University, “A Road Map for Environmentalism,” Boston Globe, May 21, 2007.
4Down to Earth.

Receive 2% Discount from USPS When You Include a QR Code

This July and August, the United States Post Office is offering a 2% discount for commercial mailers who include a QR code or other mobile code on their mailings. The promotion gives businesses the opportunity to receive a 2% discount upfront when they mail First Class Mail and Standard Mail letters, flats and cards with a mobile code.  Smart mobile device users must be sent to a mobile optimized website where they can buy a product advertised on the printed mailer.

United States Postal Service

As you may have read in an earlier articles on MSL’s blog, direct mailings and printed advertisements have been shown to be the most effective marketing strategy, surpassing digital methods such as email. USPS wants to promote and bring awareness to the effectiveness of direct mailings, particularly when they are linked with online and digital media. QR codes give consumers the opportunity to actively and immediately participate in a marketing campaign or sales event.

QR code

USPS will run the same campaign again in November, when businesses will have the chance to earn an extra 1%, a total discount of 3%, if they mailers are sent Priority Mail. More conditions apply. Read more about the USPS’s mobile code discount.


Staying on the Leading Edge

Business, although simple in essence, has complexities that can often cloud our judgement and prevent us from seeing what’s right in front our eyes. I’m talking about opportunity. Have you ever heard the phrase “can’t see the forest through the trees?” I feel a parallel with the moniker when it comes to the business of manufacturing and production. Business owners are a hard working bunch, and although the intentions are always sound there’s quite often a disconnect between innovation and the status quo.

Status Quo

In our American free market, growing your business is the only option. To remain idle and stop the investment cycle is a surefire way to get left behind by the competition. The companies that continually invest time and effort into exploring new solutions for themselves and their customers are the companies that make it. Of course it’s important to never forget your roots; continue to improve upon the things that have gotten your company to where it is but always keep an eye on the horizon for what’s coming.

Look past the trees and see the forest, your customers have creative minds and if you can supply the tools and expertise to spark ideas and create dynamic new projects you can grow with your customers and create a whole new forest of trees.


7 Reasons Why You Want to Sign-Up for Our Newsletter

As many of our customers are aware, MSL has created our own monthly newsletter, The Graphic Express, as counterpart to our blog. We have received positive feedback from customers who have enjoyed the newsletter and find it to be an asset to their business. We want to encourage you to take this opportunity to sign-up for our newsletter or promotional emails. It is quick and easy and can only benefit your business.

If you currently do not receive The Graphic Express newsletter, here are some benefits you may want to consider:

Graph Expo, Drupa, Cartes: MSL will keep you informed

  1. We keep tabs on major industry news for you
  2. Today information is everywhere, but that doesn’t always mean it’s easy to keep informed. We can become victims of information overload; too much, too constant. It can be hard to sort through what applies to us and what doesn’t. MSL will let you know about the important industry news which will affect the printing industry, and ultimately your business.  News from major corporations or worldwide events such as Drupa may not seem to apply to your own operation, but new technologies, equipment and concepts soon become standard. Smart business owners know keeping informed on industry news today will put them ahead of competitors tomorrow.

  3. You’ll find helpful tips
  4. Looking for a solution to a printing related problem you have been facing for a long time? MSL now provides a ‘tip of the month’ in each newsletter, which started with Steve Barrett’s article on handling static. If you have an issue you need a solution to, please contact us with your question and we may feature the answer in our monthly newsletter (of course we will do our best to help whether we do or not). Even if you are not facing an eminent dilemma, you may find solutions you never thought of before, saving you time and perhaps money.

    Keep informed about new technology and equipment

  5. You’ll learn about new equipment
  6. MSL often features equipment in our newsletter, giving our customers an opportunity to see what’s out there and discover their options. Whether you are looking to grow your business and expand into a new service, or you are looking to upgrade equipment you currently have, or even if you just want to keep tabs on what the big-time printers are using, you will find information about new and used equipment in our newsletter, if only for you to dream about.

  7. You won’t miss out on special events and shows
  8. By signing up to receive your monthly newsletter, you can be certain you will not miss out on any special events, expos and shows offered or attended by MSL or our vendors. We always let you know where we are going to be demonstrating the latest technology and equipment in the industry.

    Keep informed about sales and promotions

  9. You will have priority access to sales and promotional codes
  10. MSL offers our email list members, including those signed up for The Graphic Express, special promotions and discounts on supplies. We will send you promotional codes you can use when you purchase supplies through our webshop or via the phone.

  11. We won’t clutter your inbox
  12. MSL’s newsletter only comes once a month, so you don’t have to worry about receiving a barrage of repetitive information. Just one short email summing up everything important happening with our business and the printing industry at large.


  13. You can tell us what you really think
  14. By signing up for the monthly newsletter, you will be have an easy format to respond to us, letting us know what we can do to improve our services. We want to keep in touch with you on a regular basis so we know we are providing you with information and services that further your own business goals. If you see something in the newsletter which really helped you out, please let us know so we can continue to provide similar information in the future. If we are not providing any advice or articles you find valuable, tell us so we can find a way to better serve you!

If you have any questions about signing up for our monthly newsletter or other promotional emails, please email, or ask your sales and system specialist representative.

What You Need to Know About Printed Media and the Environment

The following article was taken from Choose Print!, an educational campaign designed to promote the effectiveness of print and to reinforce the fact that print on paper is a recyclable and renewable and thus a sustainable environmental choice. Choose Print is sponsored by Printing Industries Association, Inc. of Southern California (PIASC), the largest local graphic arts trade association in the nation, serving the interests of more than 1,100 member companies:

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the environmental impact of printed media. “Save a tree – don’t print!” “Print is bad for the environment!” “Print is killing the forests!” We’ve all heard these types of thoughts before. However, none of them are true.

The truth is, print is recyclable, renewable and responsible. Let’s examine the facts:

  • Print is Recyclable – Nearly all Americans – 87% – have access to curbside or drop-off recycling programs. These programs are extremely popular; currently 63% of all printed materials in the U.S. are recycled, and this number has been growing over time. These recycled paper fibers are used in paper production (where they can be recycled several times), in the manufacture of construction products and in the production of consumer goods.
  • Print is Renewable and Sustainable – Trees are a renewable resource. In fact, there are more acres of forest and more trees standing today than what existed just 20 years ago. Most of the trees used in paper production today are grown on “tree farms” – growing operations that treat trees as a crop, just like broccoli or wheat. Once a section of trees is harvested the land is replanted with more trees.
  • Print is ResponsibleJust 11% of the world’s forests are used for paper, with the majority of most fiber used to produce paper coming from “waste” products – wood chips, sawmill scraps and recycled paper. In the U.S. the wood used to produce paper all comes from certified forests. There are systems in place to track fiber content from certified lands through to the end product, ensuring that the fiber used to produce paper all comes from sustainable forest sources.

In addition, many people forget that digital media also has a carbon footprint. Websites, online ads and email are all supported by a strong infrastructure system. This infrastructure consumes electricity, emits greenhouse gasses and sends electronic waste to our landfills.

From sustainable forests to the renewable nature of trees and the recyclability of paper, the print and paper industries have a positive environmental story to tell—one in which print on paper and healthy forests thrive hand-in-hand.

For more information about Choose Print!, or to access this or other free articles and advertisements provided by the organization, please visit

How to Run Your Business from Your Smart Phone or Tablet

Ok. You are never going to be able to completely manage everything your business depends on from your phone. But with thousands of applications designed for the the sole purpose of making life easier for small businesses, you can get pretty close. So here is a list of applications you can use to manage the daily tasks associated with running your business. Some are free, some are not.  Use the tools you find compatible with your business’ structure and management style.

View and Edit Documents

Viewing/Editing/Managing Documents

  • DocumentsToGo- Office Suite
    With DocumentsToGo, you can access your Microsoft Offices files at anytime. View, edit and create new Work or Excel files, and view PowerPoint, PDF, iWork, Text and .RTF files.
  • ezPDF
    This is the best rated multimedia PDF viewer, annotator and form filler.
  • Dropbox
    With Dropbox you can carry and share your documents, videos and photos anywhere. Plus its free!
  • GoodReader
    This PDF reader for iPad allows you to draw directly on a PDF page with your finger. You can also highlight, underline and cross-out for editing purposes, or create sticky-notes.
  • Expenses

    Book Keeping, Invoices and Expense Tracking

  • QuickBooks Mobile
    Create invoices and get your customers’ information on the road. With this application you can manage outstanding balances, convert estimates to invoices, and email estimates, invoices and sales receipts all from your device.
  • Shoeboxed Receipt Tracker and Receipt Reader
    Keep track of all your receipts to generate expense reports. Its easy. Just snap a picture of your receipt and Shoeboxed will enter the date, total, payment type, store and category. You can also create, send and export expense reports.
  • MiniBooks for FreshBooks
    With MiniBooks, not only can you create, edit and send invoices, you can also search clients and contacts by invoice number or invoice status. Create, edit and send estimates and convert estimates into invoices. MiniBooks also has time tracking timers to help you stay on task and keep to your schedule.
  • Salesforce and Payroll Management

    Salesforce and Payroll Management

  • Salesforce Mobile
    Helps you keep in touch with your sales team anytime and anywhere.
  • SurePayroll
    This app works with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. You can pay hourly, salary and even contract workers. Enter wages and hours for payroll, vacation, sick and personal time. Look at detailed reports of employee and company earnings, along with a calendar view of payroll deadlines, bank holidays and compliance updates. Conveniently deposit and file federal, state and local payroll taxes.
  • Time Management and Organization

    Time Management and Organization

  • Teux Deux
    This easy to use, well designed, simple to-do list allows you to manage multiple accounts (i.e. business, personal, etc.) and drag and drop tasks onto different days. Also includes a “Someday” category for those tasks without a specific due date, but you don’t want to forget. Easily sync with the Teux Deux web app. This is my personal favorite to-do list because of its simplicity.
  • Evernote
    Take notes, capture photos, create to-do lists, record voice reminders and save ideas, all with Evernote. This app makes all these things easily search-able and viewable in one place.
  • Remember the Milk
    Like Teux Deux, this app can sync with its own web app. You can organize how you want to prioritize your tasks and see tasks nearby so you can plan your trips/errands accordingly. Also receive reminders via email, SMS or IM.
  • Omnifocus
    Organize tasks by goals using projects. Omnifocus allows you to keep track of tasks by project, place, person or date. Receive due date notifications. Like Remember the Milk, Omnifocus helps you to plan your errands according to locale.
  • Office Management

    Office Management

  • Delivery Status
    Keep track of all your packages. Easily view the latest status of all your packages and count down until estimated delivery. Delivery Status supports 30+ shipping companies including UPS, FedEx, USPS, DHL, TNT, Canada Post, CityLink, Royal Mail and DPD.
  • LogMeIn
    Easily access any of your computers, files and applications remotely from your mobile device. LogMeIn also features a file manager for transferring and saving files remotely. Additionally, you can print documents from compatible printers and attach files to email.
  • Business Relationships

    Business Relationships

  • Business Card Manager (Evernote)
    This application helps you store and manage your business cards by taking photos with your phone’s camera. You can also import photos of business cards from you Evernote account.
  • Gist
    If you are interested in keeping tabs of all your contacts’ activities via social networking, gist allows you to see what all you business associates are up to in one place.
  • Engage Customers

    Engage Customers

  • FourSquare
    FourSquare is a social networking game that allows users to ‘check in’ to different locations and businesses and keep track of different tasks they perform. Use FourSquare to engage your customers by offering discounts to users who check in multiple times at your business location, or special promotions for the ‘mayor’ (user who has checked in the most at your store) of you business.
  • WeReward
    This application pays users to check-in and perform real-world tasks. Users are rewarded points, each point equaling 1 cent. Users can turn points into cash via pay-pal.
  • Placepop
    Placepop allows businesses to create virtual reward cards their customers can use, rather than having to carry around loyalty cards with them.
  • Keynote
    Use this application to create dynamic, mobile presentations to show potential clients. Create showrooms, portfolios, animations and more. Wow your customers anywhere. Keep an iPad handy in your store with your latest portfolio for customers to browse while they wait for service.
  • Graphic Design

    Graphic Design Apps

  • Color Expert
    This iPhone app features an interactive color wheel with multiple color schemes, such as Monochromatic, Analogous, Complementary, Split Complementary and Triadic. The Image Picker will find dominant colors from any photo you choose, helping you to find inspiration in just about anything, anywhere.
  • My Pantone
    PANTONE helps you mix and match color palettes on the go and includes access to many PANTONE colors and color system libraries. Create your color palettes on the go.
  • WhatTheFont
    Find out what font is used in an ad or poster. Take a photo and WhatTheFont identifies the font for you so you can use it for your own project later.
  • With so many smartphone applications, running a small business efficiently can be easier than ever. Don’t be afraid to try to integrate new technology and applications into your everyday business management. You may find yourself wondering how you ever got by without it.

    7 Reasons to Become a MSL Facebook Fan

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