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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: The Unboxing Experience and Cross-Media Promotions

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In the recent weeks I have received in the mail or acquired in other ways three marketing initiatives that share a few things in common. They all involve packaging that is out of the ordinary. Most involve some form of cross-media promotion, involving the internet and commercial printing media. And one (which I bought at my fiancee’s and my favorite thrift store) involves actual branding, as in red-hot iron used to burn the company logo onto the wood box.

I would say that the three share in common the marketer’s desire to wow the customer and convert her or him to a lifetime, mutually advantageous relationship, and they use multiple media and/or multiple textures and substrates not only to convey information but also to take care of the customer like a king or queen.

Smalls Cat Food

My fiancee and I recently brought a new cat into our home, a Ragamuffin. He’s big (15.9 pounds), and we want to keep him healthy. So after some extended research, we chose Smalls.

The corrugated cardboard packaging that arrived at our door was clearly printed via flexography (two-color, a yellow and black), but the drawings of the cats were adorable. Clearly, someone at Smalls had a particular appreciation for the playfulness and joy of cats, having worked several drawings into the large Smalls logotype that wrapped around the carton.

All of the language printed on the interior of the box panels was personal, describing (in a friendly typeface with words such as “you” and “us”) just how to care for the food and what to do with the package insulation. (Put it in the sink and watch the water make the cornstarch insulation product disappear.)

A print book accompanied the package. “Hi, human” was the salutation on one page. Other pages included hand-drawn cartoons, and there was a smattering of sweet cat photos. Needless to say, there was also information as to why Smalls is so good for cats and how to transition a cat from their prior food to this food. There was also a discount card (in the same yellow with the same cat drawings), plus another handout letting you know how to treat, defrost, and store cat food of this caliber.

So it was a mix of information and sales literature, but it showed a believably sincere desire to make your experience (and your cat’s experience) with Smalls (the company) and Smalls (the food) a happy, and hopefully lifelong, one.

The piece de resistance was the bagged dry ice that the insulation surrounded, within flexo-printed plastic bags that explained how to safely handle (or rather avoid handling) the dry ice. Again, clearly, the goal was to be 200 percent thorough as well as personable. The company clearly wants your cat to appreciate Smalls food for years to come.

And finally, after we had received the boxed cat food, my fiancee and I started seeing regular TV commercials about the Smalls company. You could say that was a little spooky, given the perfect timing of seeing multiple Smalls commercials just after receiving the product, but as a student of commercial printing and marketing, I was just struck by how many coordinated avenues Smalls has addressed with its cross-media promotion. I was also not surprised to see, under the circumstances, QR codes on the promotional literature. These codes send the recipient to the Smalls website for further information, brand exposure, and communication in general.

And none of this felt like a sales pitch. In fact, all of it felt like a genuine attempt to be helpful. I personally hope Smalls makes a lot of money on this highly coordinated packaging, informational, and promotional work. They deserve it.

The Branded-Wood Fish Box

Ducktrap River Fish Farm, Inc., clearly takes branding seriously. Literally. I found their fish (food, not pets) transport box at my fiancee’s and my favorite thrift store, so I snapped it up, presumably for use in an art project. But then I started to notice its promotional approach, and my interest was piqued.

The words and logo image (a trout, I believe, although I could be wrong) are burned into the wood in the top left corner. The brand has texture (debossed letters) and a charred tone that extends past the letterforms and the fish. So it really looks a bit like the backside of a branded cow (as grisly—and intriguing—as that may sound).

Inside the box is a sheet of printed wax paper with a one-color rendering in green ink of the logotype and fish in a repeated pattern across the wax-paper substrate.

When I looked closely and saw all of this I felt like I was in the Wild West, where securing one’s food involved more than a trip to the grocery store. I liked the feel, the connotations, and the imaginative trip to the rivers beyond the city. Presumably, the packaged product is purchased at a grocery store rather than sent to clients (as is the Smalls cat food noted above), but it projects a similar tone of freshness.

I think anyone at any grocery or specialty store selling this product will be honored to buy this fish and keep the box. And that actually benefits Ducktrap River Fish Farm, Inc., since the customer’s retaining the box all but ensures repeat buying. Who wouldn’t go back for more after spotting the box and Ducktrap River Fish Farm, Inc., logo in one’s house repeatedly?

Since I bought the box at a thrift store, I can only imagine what kind of commercial printing promotions accompanied this box in its first use. I would not have been surprised to find out that the marketers had coordinated the fish packaging with promotional literature and an internet presence. After all, when all three of these are operating in lockstep, a marketing initiative can be unstoppable.

Home Security Superstore Mace

Life is scarier than it used to be, with all the rampant crime. So I decided it was prudent to buy mace or pepper spray. Being totally ignorant of all things in this vein, I did some research online and bought one spray can for my fiancee and one for myself.

The initial contact was through Amazon, but as soon as I had made the connection, I started getting information from the Home Security Superstore. I liked the name, since I wanted to be secure, safe, and protected. I was therefore not only relieved but also impressed that the marketing team had reached out immediately to let me know what I had purchased and when to expect its arrival. Over the next day or so, I received other online promotional and informational materials describing the mace product, its use and care, and what other items might increase my sense of security.

Of course this is what any promotional literature should do. But not all of it does. The Home Security Superstore succeeded. It did this splendidly. Since I needed the product and some explanation of what to expect and how to use it, I was especially pleased and made more confident by the online promotional contact.

When the mace arrived, I even wrote a review of the process (and the sense—through the online information–that the company was right there with me, providing any support I needed). And they sent me a gift, another can of mace. So between us, my fiancee and I now have three spray cans: two big ones and a baby one.

Sales (and promotional literature) are often perceived as intrusive and heavy handed. But when you want to buy something and you need help in making your choice, it doesn’t hurt to have the experience that the company is right there—not selling to you but helping you to buy what you need.

When this can be done in a personal way, that reflects consummate skill: a useful skill, a skill that makes my life better.

The Takeaway

When I want to buy something I need, I actually want a skilled salesperson with me. Sales is not a bad word when it involves assessing my needs and then helping me to buy the appropriate item. In all three of these cases I had that experience. It was reinforced by the custom printing collateral, the packaging, the overall branding, and the link to an online presence.

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