Archive for January, 2013

Hurricane Sandy: downtime, disaster recovery and the role of print

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Hurricane Sandy forged a path of destruction through the Caribbean and up into the United States hitting New York on October 29, 2012 with devastating consequences.  The hurricane left hundreds of thousands of homes without power and up to 133 people died in total across the Caribbean and east coast of the US.   As well as families being severely affected by the extreme weather, businesses operating in New York were subject to lengthy downtimes because they simply weren’t prepared for this kind of emergency situation.  So what would a business need to think about if they were planning for a major disruption like hurricane Sandy?  If power is going to go down across a major city then what resources can be relied on?  Could we argue that printing hard copies of information normally stored digitally could offer a solution?

What are the options?

Every business should have a Business Continuity Management process planned out, and in places which are subject to extreme weather conditions, this should include how the business will cope if power goes down.  The plan should come up with potential routes for getting back to business as usual with minimum downtime and disruption incurred.  In the case of wide-scale power outage this means either finding alternative methods of supplying power so office infrastructure can be restored or finding different ways to operate when power goes down.

One office managed to completely avoid down time by using a cloud phone system.  Fieldpoint Private experienced zero downtime during the aftermath of Sandy because the business has subscribed to a hosted phone service managed by a California-based communication services provider, off-site and far away from New York.  Backed by a resilient data centre with multiple layers of backup power supply, Fieldpoint’s telephone service was not disrupted despite the company being based in New York.

It’s a smart idea, but the only issue with such a plan is the possibility of widespread downtime occurring.  We assume that, since the internet has never gone down it is completely infallible, but it’s not as impossible as you might think.

Rethinking data: backing up the internet

Cyber terrorism isn’t just a sci-fi fantasy, and though the possibility of the internet “going down” isn’t likely, the possibility of it being severely disrupted by various influences isn’t so far-fetched.  Wars of the future are likely to at least feature hacking of essential infrastructure if not be dominated by this method of waging war.  There’s already evidence of major hacking practices against the US where hackers managed to subvert the company’s server in order to play games.  Crucially they used up 95% of server power resources creating a “denial of service” attack on legitimate users.  A computer virus known as stuxnet managed to hack into Iranian energy infrastructure, and hackers have gained access to electric utility IT systems in the US.  If hackers can get access to essential systems like power supplies they can genuinely wreak havoc, something recognised by the US defence secretary who has warned that the “potential for another Pearl Harbour” lies in cyber-terrorists capability to carry out a cyber-attack that would “paralyze the country”.

So if infrastructure can be compromised to this extent it’s certainly possible that the internet could be disrupted, CNN give four examples of how the internet could go down.  And if the internet goes down, then cloud systems aren’t enough.  Is it viable then to consider some sort of bank of printed data to back up our digital information?  Similar to the theory behind holding gold in the Bank of England to stabilise a currency, could printed, physical documents become the safeguard of the digital information?  Digital printing machines can now print vast amounts in short spaces of time for a reasonable cost.  Is it time for businesses to print off “core” or essential information every so often and store it safely in a physical environment, so that if anything were to happen to our digital world, we’d have something to cling onto?

Election Campaign frenzy and commercial print’s major role

Monday, January 21st, 2013

The recent US presidential election saw fierce fighting from both Republican and Democrat camps and an essential part of both parties’ campaigns was drumming up support through print.  Although both had a big drive via digital channels like Facebook and Twitter, up to $6 billion was spent by both parties on local, state and national elections across the country this year injecting the US print industry with significant business.

What print did

You might think that print campaigning is somewhat of a dying art but direct mailing, flyering, wide-format signage and speciality printing like bumper stickers played a major role in the election. Rochester Institute of Technology Professor Emeritus Frank Romano told PrintWeek that he’s noticed an increase in the amount of direct mail print being sent out by political parties as well as increase in customised mail as marketers try and make printed material more personal.  Many of the direct mail pieces sent out used digital printing services to directly address the receiver by name for example.  Romano also said a significant number of promotional postcards were sent out.

Innovations in print have increased the possibilities of what can be produced.  Far more people were using law signs to announce their affiliations and that’s in part because lawn signs can now have a picture of the candidate on them because of innovations in wide format inkjet.

Print in future campaigns

Commentators also saw clever uses of technology to enhance print.  QR codes started to be used in political direct mail and Jerry Cerasale, senior VP at the Direct Marketing Association predicts that QR codes will be used increasingly in 2014 and 2016.

This year data compliers and analyst companies helped campaigns to compile more precise, useful mailing lists via which they could contact potential voters which may well have benefitted the direct marketing industry.  The main question surrounding the marketing of campaigns in the future is how big a role social media and digital communication will play.  Commenting on this trend Cerasale told PrintWeek,

“There have been stories on the millions of “likes” that Romney and Obama had on social media, but what still hasn’t been determined is whether those translate into votes.  SO the efficacy of putting money into social media is something that’s going to be studied hard and analysed in the coming months to see, come the next election, where you’re going to be putting your money.”

Scratch card adverts?

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Whether you’re a scratch card junky or you’ve only tried one once or twice you’ll know that feeling of anticipation which gets us all as we scratch away the grey surface of the card.  There’s something about being able to scratch off the card itself to reveal whether you’ve won which is truly addictive.  But it’s not just winning which draws us to the card.  How many times have you continued scratching off panels even though you know you can’t win?  Ever scratched a scratch card which has nothing to do with getting a prize?  If you stop and think about it, there’s something almost addictive about the action of revealing what’s hidden.  We have to know what’s behind that panel – and that’s exactly why the scratch card can be such a compelling marketing tool.

Why they work

Scratch cards are likely to immediately engage a customer as soon as they see it.  They’re harder to ignore than a generic flyer or postcard simply because of the opportunity to interact with the card.  If you’re running a competition to drum up business or are doing a prize-give away, complementing scratch cards will really enhance the campaign.  Scratch cards also make potential new customers sit up and take notice.  As long as what is revealed is worth their time or intrigues a potential customer then it’s doing its job.

If you do run a competition via or in conjunction with scratch cards an winner is likely to pass on the news to others thereby increasing brand awareness through word of mouth.  Of course, part of the interest of scratch cards is that they’re a novelty.   It’s best to run scratch card campaigns in short, punchy bursts.

Be a bit clever

A really clever scratch card campaign was pursued by the Reconstruyendo Angostura project trying to raise money and awareness of plight of Villa La Angostura who were put in a critical situation after the nearby Puyehue volcano erupted and covered the city in ash.  Playing on the concept of “scratch and win” by using the tagline “scratch and we all win”, the grey cover on the scratch card became representative of the ash, donating money to the cause would help scratch away the ash affecting the city like a user just has after they’ve scratched.  Scratch cards which are a bit clever rather than gimmicky are likely to do really well.

So, don’t limit yourself to traditional print marketing tools.  Anything which can be printed on can be used to spread the word about your brand and scratch cards are one of the most fun and compelling ways to do this! Find print companies who offer scratch card printing and you’ll be well on your way!

Have e-books enhanced the aura of the printed book?

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

The kindle, the Gutenberg project and Google books have all changed the way we read.  The physical book is under threat with recent sales slumping by 4.7 million between 2011-2012 whilst e-book sales rose by 623% between January and June of last year according to The Telegraph.  All of this would seem to indicate that the printed book’s reputation and importance is diminishing but a recent article in The Huffington posts argues that e-books are actually inspiring a new age of print.  So is it possible that e-books are actually improving the reputation of the physical book or is this mere wishful thinking?

Remembering why we love books

The release of e-readers provoked many to hastily announce the end of the printed book, but five years after the first release of the kindle it seems that printed books are still fighting their corner.  Although sales of the e-reader and digital copies of books are soaring whilst printed material is undeniably being affected by the digital revolution, is it precisely because things are becoming increasingly virtual that we’re lamenting the age of the physical book?

A recent yougov poll pitted the e-book against the printed book with some interesting responses.  Though some argued that the day of the print book is over, those who did support printed format commented on the unique physical and sensory aspects of the physical book as being some of the most treasured qualities it can hold.  Comments like “A good book has a magical quality” and “There is nothing like the feel and smell of a well-read book or the aura of a large library” indicate that people value books beyond the story they tell, and digitalising our stories reminds us why we love books in the first place.

Indeed a recent article in Time explores how e-books affect our memory with research indicating that we find it a lot harder to remember information when read from a digital screen as opposed to a physical book.  Part of the joy of reading is the memory a book can hold, not just of the story itself, but where you were when you first read it, how it felt, what was going on in your life at that time.  Reading it on an e-book may make these memories harder to retain.

Reimaging the printed book

It’s possible that the rise of digitalisation has made us value the physical qualities of the printed book more.  Jonathan Safron Foer’s recent publication “tree of codes” incorporates a unique physicality into the reading experience.  The book is described as “as much a sculptural object as it is a work of masterful storytelling: here is an “enormous last day of life” that looks like it feels.”  But it’s not just literature which is starting to reimagine print.  Fashion magazines are starting to recognise the power of print and have even decided to go back to print after previously offering only digital content.  Editor-in-chief of Dirk Standen explains the reason for returning to print as follows:

“If you look at the big picture I don’t think [media] brands can afford to be tied to one medium anymore. Obviously you see that with magazines paying a lot of attention to their websites now. But even on the web, it’s not enough to just have a website. You have to be on various digital devices. You need to be on the various social media sites. You want your content to be available in as many places as possible. Now that we are within the Fairchild umbrella, which has a lot of experience and a great deal of expertise in publishing, it became a natural extension for to do a magazine.”

Can we print moving pictures (just like Harry Potter)?

Friday, January 11th, 2013

Harry Potter was a little taken aback when he first read The Daily Prophet, but the idea of moving images and changing texts right in front of our eyes isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem.  Interactive newsprint, a collaborative research project undertaken by three universities, has produced a special kind of paper which can connect to the internet.  Like clicking on a link on a tablet, this kind of paper has touch functionality; touching a certain picture or section will change the information on the page and enhance your experience. Don’t think that the paper is just a thin tablet which still uses a screen though – this is paper which feels and looks exactly like the traditional newsprint material.

The benefits

The research undertaken by Dundee, Surrey and the University of Central Lancashire is intended to combine the worlds of print press with digital media forging a new companionship between the two.  The digitalisation of news is having a huge impact on current newspapers.  At the end of 2011 The Guardian had to raise the price of the newspaper as a direct result of the digital revolution, but deleting the physical newspaper from our everyday experience isn’t necessarily desirable.  Research shows that we read very different from the screen compared with reading print and we remember things read from the internet very differently to reading them in print.  There’s also something to be said for the tactile experience of physical reading.  We’re designed to experience physically – the way a newspaper feels to touch or smells shapes our experience and memory of the event.

Interactive paper then would provide us with all the benefits of digital media – quick access to further information, timely updates of new stories, videos and changing pictures, whilst still giving us the physical experience of reading from paper.

Will it actually find a place?

Although interactive paper sounds like a cool gimmick will it actually have useful applications when smart phones and tablets offer us the same information?  Alex Masters at The Independent gives some good examples as to when interactive print could really come into its own.  Being able to tap on a restaurant menu to find out more information about ingredients or see a picture, or tapping on a street map on holiday to hear how a certain place is pronounced are just two real world applications of this kind of technology.  As Masters comments, “In some situations paper is, and always will be, the most appropriate medium.”

When can we try it?

The team presented a prototype of the paper at the London Design Festival 2012.  Although the invention has a long way to go before it can be produced on a mass scale it’s believed that eventually we’ll be able to print LCD moving images on paper and other products cheaply.