Marketing

The Evolution, Current State, & Future of Strata

 

Who We Are

Strata was founded by Jeff Sammak in 1993. At first, the company’s goal was to simply provide print services to a plethora of clients. Jeff later came to realize that Strata’s true mission was to leverage emerging technology to fuse marketing processes into a streamlined, single-source workflow. Over time, we’ve evolved to offer a wide range of client-driven solutions to help customers solve complex marketing and communications challenges, and we’ve consistently been a team of many different, unique individuals – innovators, go-getters, marketing experts, sales connoisseurs, you name it. But we’re people first—and we know our clients, customers, coworkers, and industry peers are, too. For this reason, we know the best way to help businesses achieve their marketing goals is by focusing on the people who work at them.

Where We Started

When Strata began, our services were print, print, and more print. We provided print solutions like no one else, offered great customer service, and were efficient and productive – as we are today. Back then, most of our clients were within the pharmaceutical industry, and we primarily focused on print materials like postcards and mailers, with a very small amount of web portal work.

Danielle, a long-time Strata employee, remembers that the main source of revenue for the company was “creating and printing Case Report Form (CRF) Books for pharmaceutical companies. Strata even had a program created for us to be able to set these up and separate the pages to print because they were printed on NCR paper.”

Before 2003’s move to Campus Drive in Plymouth Meeting, PA, where Strata’s main office is now, the company was located on Butler Pike. Around the time of the move, the pharmaceutical industry started moving CRF books online, causing a shift in the printing industry. To stay ahead, Strata purchased an iGEN 3 digital press and began working with variable data. This led to many of our current tactics – variable postcards, mailers and more, as we continued with more web portals. This change ramped up both the marketing and productions parts of Strata’s business.

Dawn, another long-standing Strata employee, recalls that “internet ordering wasn’t even a thing when I started…but Jeff was quick to add the software and technology to build customer portals for online orders to stay ahead of the market.”

This is when we really changed from a print solutions provider, to a full-blown marketing solutions company. From then on, technology became a key driver for all of our activities.

Today’s Strata

Today, we’re always using a blend of direct and digital strategies to get the highest ROI for our clients. Our equipment has and continues to evolve, and our culture grows stronger as our company expands. Dawn says, “Jeff’s always thinking two steps ahead (or maybe more) to keep the company current. Variable printing (has) branched out to email communication and personalized landing pages, and our ability to track responses is a technology that many of our clients (and competition) don’t even know about.” Harrison, Strata’s Director of R&D, says that we’re always expanding on our strategic value, being more than just execution, and more than just technology – we’re “being invaluable.”

Mark, a Strata leader since 2007, says that today, we’re a company that’s a blend of so many components. “For certain, the way we work is different…now we operate from our homes…taking advantage of the technology that allows us to do that.” He notes that our equipment has changed and evolved significantly as well. Instead of iGen, we now use HP Indigos (a much better product) and also use multiple black and white printers, a large 6-color offset press, inserters, a UV coater, and more. We’ve improved our processing capabilities through automation, and can now produce at a higher quantity and quality than ever before. Our workforce is no longer only print and production, but – like we said – innovators, marketers, and strategists too.

Our products have expanded from just postcards and mailers to email execution, digital, large format, and more. “We’ve moved from a transactional business to one that’s driven by orders from portals, for many of our clients,” Mark says. We used to outsource a lot of our services, and now, we invest in resources to keep those services within Strata. PURL development is a great example of this. We used to have the need to outsource it, but now, we do all of the creation in-house.

“Today,” Harrison says, “everything we do is with a realistic approach. We always keep contact with our clients and continue to solve problems.”

What Makes us Best – Directly from Our Staff

Danielle

Our employees have always been hard-working, easy to get along with, dedicated, and loyal, and that’s what has kept me here so long. I still feel like I’m always learning something, which is great, because I don’t like the mundane, same-old, same-old. I feel like we’re always ahead of other companies with innovative ideas and solutions, and we’re definitely always looking for new solutions for companies and trying to make things easier for them while staying ahead of the curve. However, I feel like our core values have stayed the same.”

Mark

“We look to exceed expectations, have extensive knowledge in our field that enables us to make smart happen, and live off of technology to be efficient in all scenarios. We think like our clients and look to provide solutions within their environment, and we cast a wide net that can satisfy most client needs under our roof without outsourcing. We have an excellent client base (many of our clients have been with us for 10+ years), and employees that stay with us.

Harrison

You can speak with the actual CEO here. You can’t get that just anywhere, especially when you work for a big company. Each person has a place here. Everyone’s best talent is put to work here, and we all work together.”

The Future of Strata

At Strata, we’ll always put the customer first, as we always have, and it’ll always be top priority to solve problems – not just sell our services. We plan to keep evolving digitally, with smarter, more advanced technology, and to always stay on top of the latest and greatest trends. Dawn claims that in her many, many years with Strata, she’s “always seen the company evolve with the changing times.”

No matter what the future holds, Strata will always stick to our core – to make smart happen and remain a solution-based company. Give us a call if you’d like to evolve with us and utilize our mix of print and digital services to your advantage.

The Who, the Why, and the How

In part 1 of the All About Branding blog series, we talked about what branding is, why it’s so important, and how to tell if it truly matches your products or services. Now, we’re seeing if your brand also matches something just as important – your customers. But first, let’s discuss who exactly your customers are, as well as your greatest fans and loyal supporters (your customer base).

Who Are Your Customers?

You may think your customers are simply the people that enter your store, call your company, or send you an email. And you’re right – they are. But those aren’t your only customers. There are actually many different types of customers that you may not even be aware of. For example, those who visit your site, hear about your product or service via word of mouth and plan to call you or visit your site this week, or those who have visited your shop or thought about your product, but haven’t returned – in person or online. There are loyal and engaged customers (maybe they have a subscription to your service or consistently order your product), and there are those you don’t see (who like your social media photos or talk about your product to friends and family). Customers and potential customers come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s important you think about all of them no matter what type of business you run.

customer base, on the other hand, is the group of people who are loyal to your business! They not only buy and love your product, but talk about it often and maybe even post about it on social media. They’re engaged in your happenings and come back again and again for your offerings. “These shoppers may be loyal to your brand for a number of reasons…you offer them a product they want or need, your brand’s messaging resonates with them, or they enjoy being involved in your brand community.”

When it comes to your brand, you also don’t want to forget about those you communicate with on a daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly basis. The wholesalers, retailers, and vendors you work with should all get a good sense of your brand as well, whether that be by how you speak to them over the phone, the tone you use in your emails, or the branding materials you send them online or in the mail.

And, although it’s easy to pass by the importance of learning about your customer base, as well as understanding this base and catering to it, it’s essential for your business and brand. In a recent study of 1,900+ business professionals, 45.9% said their #1 priority for the next 5 years was customer experience (even over pricing and product). And consumers agree with this notion. Statistically, “76% of customers expect companies to understand their needs.”

What is Your Why?

Knowing the “why” of your business is an integral part of understanding and building your brand. You need this as a foundation to decide on all other aspects, such as your goals, your ideal customer base, and inevitably, your brand. Ask yourself questions about your company, like:

Once you’ve answered all of these questions, you’ll have the tools you need to determine your ideal customer base and make other valuable decisions for your business, and when you have a better idea of your target audience, the rest comes together fairly smoothly. The better your understanding of this base, the easier it is to retain them. Here are four simple steps to further identify your target customers:

1. Outline your audience – describe their lifestyles, situations, wants, and needs. Maybe come up with a fake customer persona to lead you in the right direction.

2. Note their pain points, and how you can provide solutions.

3. Think about what’s at stake if their needs aren’t met.

4. Think about the payoff if their needs are met.

Understanding your customers’ wants, needs, personalities, and actions, and thinking through how your product/service can relate to these, will ultimately facilitate to great success for your company.

Does Your Brand Match Your Customers?

What you find in your research of your ideal customer base will contribute heavily to how you define your brand. Is your target audience wealthy, with high expectations? Do they demand exceptional service? Brand your business to be high class, with a product that uses the best and rarest finds. Oppositely, maybe you find your business to be a low-budget, large family’s go-to product. Market it as family and budget-friendly, with consistent offers and an understanding staff. Another example? Maybe your customer base is all about the young, the new, and the trendy. Create a modernized website, consistently post on social, and make sure to be on TikTok. Simply meet your customers where they are, where they’re going, and where they want to be…and be a brand they connect with mentally and physically.

Knowing your customer base and creating (and upholding) a brand to match it is imperative to maintaining and growing a great business. Add loyal brand advocates to your adamant customer base by engaging with them beyond the first purchase, and showing them consistent, inviting brand messaging. Don’t just sell them your product, but remind them again and again of your friendly service, amazing offerings, and unique brand and message. Implement strategies and services, such as loyalty programs, social media campaigns, and exemplary customer service, to turn strangers to visitors, visitors to customers, and customers to promoters – who will promote your brand for free through word of mouth.

Identifying your customer base from their lifestyles, to their situations, problems, implications, and needs, is the best way to build a brand that meets them where they are, and where they’re going. Looking to improve or streamline the branding of your marketing campaigns and messaging? Contact Strata to brainstorm some ideas that can help you connect with new and returning customers in a meaningful, on brand way.

From Tagline to Talk

Although Strata doesn’t specifically create and implement branding services, we work with and use brand standards to create marketing materials day in and day out. We’ve seen great (and not so great) brands, and know what makes a brand stand out among competitors. Branding isn’t just a buzz word – it’s important no matter how big or small your company. It isn’t simply a logo and consistent colors – although it is these things. It’s also the way you make your customers feel, the experiences you provide, and the language you use to describe your products and services. Whether it’s known or faintly and unknowingly distinct, you have a brand and an image you’re putting out there…but is it purposeful? And is it the right one? We’re bringing you some best practices to make sure your brand truly matches the product or service you offer.

What is Branding?

Today, in a vast plethora of options to choose from no matter what industry, using tools to distinguish your business, from your logo to your services, is more important than ever. A brand is what helps you set your company apart from other businesses. It’s “a feature or set of features that distinguish one organization from another…typically comprised of a name, tagline, logo or symbol, design, brand voice, and more.” But it isn’t just the visuals. It’s the feeling and experience the customer gets from interacting with your business, whether that’s in person, on the phone, on social media, on your website, or somewhere else. Branding, as an action, is setting up these features, from tagline to talk. It involves understanding your product, why customers love it, and catering to those current and future customers with a distinct and memorable experience. “It’s what transforms first-time buyers into lifetime customers and turns an indifferent audience into brand evangelists.”

Why is Branding so Important?

Even if you don’t think you do, you definitely have a brand. Maybe your customers say “I love that company. Every time I call their customer service is kind, and their products make me feel great. I also love their cute and simple logo. I’d definitely buy a t-shirt.” There’s your brand right there. Your customers perceive these brand elements, have reactions to them, and choose to give you additional business. Yet, the smallest of hiccups can ruin a brand. A few wrong moves or interactions with unpleasant employees can cause your business to be looked at a lot differently, and can change the experience for everyone. It’s important to know, understand, and nurture this brand to continue to grow – and not lose – your customer base. Branding can help you “establish the ways in which you’re different, special, and unique. And it shows your customers why they should work with you instead of your competitors.”

Visuals are of course just as important as feelings. Especially now, in 2021, brands are urged to reach further in their experimentation and uniqueness, creating eye-catching logos, websites, social media imagery, and merch. More and more, companies are expected to be “instagrammable” in their image. Kids, teens, and even adults are intrigued by the idea of getting a good photo for their social accounts. Not every store or business has to attempt this atmosphere, but there should still be some thought behind who you want to be and how you want to be seen.

Simply put, branding gives your company an identity, makes it memorable, helps you create and solidify marketing, and gives your employees and fans something to talk about and be proud of. It can increase the value of your company to give you more leverage in the industry, and thoroughly establishes trust (for partner brands and customers alike). Basically, you’ll look a lot more professional if your brand isn’t just an accident, but is planned, deliberate, and easily recognizable.

Does Your Brand Match Your Product/Service?

Now that you know its importance, take a minute to think about your brand. Does it match who your company is, your products and/or services, and the feeling you hope your customers get when they interact with your business? Does it portray the taste, the look, the feel, the scent, the sounds of whatever you sell? If your answer is “no” or even “I’m not sure,” it may be time to dig a bit deeper into what exactly you’re putting out there for the world to see, digest, and associate with your company.

Maybe you’d describe your company as traditional and authentic. The original idea for your product dates back to the mid 1900s. Don’t hesitate to promote and communicate this in the imagery and messaging of your marketing materials. Maybe use a traditional typeface, a nostalgia-inspired logo, and incorporate some authentic, vintage music into your videos. Oppositely, maybe you’d classify your company as new-age, experimental, unique, trendy, and fun. Use modern branding styles, popular music, and distinctive, trendy content to further create a stylish and hip experience that matches your product.

Psychologically, humans don’t like to think too hard. They like when things are easy to decide on, and when they make sense. Make their decision easy by providing great customer service with a great product or service. Combine multiple unified brand elements so their brain can relax and enjoy the environment. Humans are also terrified of missing out (hello FOMO) – so create a branded experience that’s too good to pass up (aka, inspires FOMO). Make sure your business has a distinguishing look and feel that makes customers (or even potential employees) want to talk about it and brag about it – whether by word of mouth or through a hashtag.

Before starting your next campaign, use this knowledge to think just a bit deeper into your products or services and the story you’re sharing with the world. Make sure your company’s identity is not only one that you’re proud of, but one that exemplifies your offerings and differentiation from competitors. If you’re looking to improve the reach of your brand, contact Strata today to set up an on-brand campaign that utilizes crafted messaging that will help capture and inspire new and returning customers.