Quick Printing
April 2005
Mike’s best ever marketing tip
A small monthly humour newsletter becomes a marketing institution
I would like to share one of my all-time best marketing ideas from my print shop’s 22-year history. It’s a monthly newsletter we call Dingbat.
We chose the name Dingbat because that’s what those little decorative characters that sometimes come with certain typestyles are called, and because according to Webster it also means “a foolish or empty-headed person.” We thought it was a good name for a printer’s newsletter that’s basically a collection of humour. (The great German typographer Hermann Zapf coined the word “dingbats.”)

When you think of advertising, there is a strong temptation to do the same basic things every other printer is doing: yellow pages, occasional newspaper ads, some direct mail, and maybe a few ads on the radio now and then. Although an 81/2"x14" humour newsletter may sound unconventional and a somewhat weak offering, nothing could be further from the truth. After 16 years, I can honestly tell you that I never cease to be amazed at how popular our little newsletter has become.

About nine or ten years ago we decided to convert our photocopied Avery mailing labels into a new computer database. Somehow in this process we inadvertently left one whole page of labels (33 names) off our new database. We didn’t realize it until several months later. Then, one of my employees noticed we were getting a lot of calls from employees who worked at businesses with names that began with F, telling us that they hadn’t been receiving their Dingbat. After a few more months, our records showed that three people had stopped in and asked to be put back on our mailing list, 11 people had called with the same request, and seven businesses had sent us faxes. In total, 21 of the 33 businesses that had fallen off our list contacted us and asked to be put back on.

I know this sounds like some drinking story you’d hear in a bar after a few rounds have been served. But…it’s the absolute truth, and it really verified for me how popular our humour-based newsletter was becoming. It became very apparent that people enjoyed reading it, and if they liked it, they would remember the name of our print shop and think about us the next time they ordered printing.

Well, throughout the years, Dingbat has become something of an institution. It’s more popular than ever, and has created a tremendous amount of goodwill and sales for us.

Method behind the humour
Let me share how we assemble and create this little sales and marketing piece. Each issue of Dingbat has approximately 22 jokes, which we gather from a variety of sources. We found a cartoonist to draw little cartoons that we insert among the jokes. If you start looking for jokes, a few hours of online research or visiting a few good bookstores will turn up a lot of resources. It’s the same for cartoonists. There are more of them out there than you think, and most of them are anxious for more work.

I do have one warning about selecting material: don’t include any off-colour jokes, put-down humour, or anything controversial. I can tell you from experience that it’s not a lot of fun trying to explain to one of your big litigation copy customers why you have a “lawyer joke” in your newsletter. (The attorney himself called, and he failed to see the humor in our effort. Ouch!) Learn from my mistakes and simply avoid the temptation to use blonde, political, sexual, religious, or anti-business jokes.

We print our Dingbat with a 4-colour nameplate and pre-print four or five months in advance to save money. We then print the content in two-colour each month. It’s always a simple formula of black and red, blue, or green.

On the backside of Dingbat, we use a calendar that lists interesting historical occurrences that happened on every single day of that particular month. The calendar is a good idea because it is surprising how many people save it and refer back to it. Through the years, I have literally seen dozens and dozens of Dingbat calendars hanging on workspace corkboards in Fargo. To help remind people to save it or pin it up in their workspace/office, we drill a small hole at the top center.

Underneath our calendar, there’s a display ad with a picture of our print shop, as well as our address and phone numbers. Next to it is another display ad that takes a light-hearted approach to selling printing. A recent headline we used was: “Funny Newsletter. Serious Business,” with copy that reads: “Our jokes may be funny, but we take our business seriously.” Lastly, we print a response piece at the bottom of the back page that encourages readers to contact us when they need printing.

Why humour works
So, that’s the overview of the content and design of our Dingbat. Let me repeat one important point. I know this type of advertising may seem soft or even simple to some of you, but I think that by ignoring it, you may be missing one of the easiest and least expensive ways to build front-of-mind awareness for your print shop. Your customers and prospects will love this type of newsletter. Over time, the name recognition, coupled with the non-threatening, friendly image it creates for your print shop, makes it likely that sooner than later, you’ll get a call or visit from many of the businesses on your mailing list.

The advantages of this type of newsletter marketing are:
-It’s low cost
- It’s easy
- It quickly creates name recognition
- It doesn’t take long to print

In addition to using a humor newsletter as a direct mailer, here are the other ways we currently use Dingbat to enhance our sales and marketing efforts in our print shop:
- Front counter handout
- Box stuffer
- Cold-call handout
- Inserted with all mailed bids

I wouldn’t suggest that you think of a humour newsletter as your only form of direct mail advertising. It does make a wonderful supplement to your other marketing efforts. The bottom line is this newsletter doesn’t cost me a lot, and it works really well. I’d highly recommend it. Once you try it, your customers will never let you stop.

But be prepared…reading this newsletter may result in spontaneous laughter throughout your print shop.
Mike Stevens is one of North America’s most successful small printers. He owns Express Press in Fargo, North Dakota. Starting with sales of $10,900 a month in 1985, volume now exceeds $250,000 per month. You can reach him at mikestevens@expresspressusa.com or visit www.expresspressusa.com.
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