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, 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
“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.”
“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.
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.
Four Trust-Building Truths to Print and Digital Integration
It seems as if some forms of marketing have always been at war, or at least a crossroads.
Whether we’re talking about radio and television, magazine and blog, or billboard and banner ad, the ways we reach out to our audiences are constantly and consistently evolving. In sweeping terms, perhaps the most obvious war/crossroads we’ve seen has been print to digital.
Or at least it appeared that way.
Today, we understand a new truth about the relationship between print and digital: there is no war between print and digital.
More and more, we’re seeing how print can become a vehicle for digital in clever and intuitive ways. Combining print and digital can also work to build trust, relationships, and make your content more accessible for a range of consumers.
When it comes to jumping from print to digital, one of the biggest hurdles has always been the inherent complexity of navigating the jump — what may be simple for one person may be incredibly difficult for another.
Lately, we’re opening up new doors for people to use complex technology with limited technological understanding, making this hurdle easier to jump than ever before. The ease of scanning a QR code with your phone’s camera or using applications like Apple Pay are two great examples of this.
Trust Issues: Have Your Cake and Eat It Too
The early days of the internet were a little bit of a Wild West, and even today, there is no shortage of scammers, cons, and grifters waiting to take advantage of the unassuming user surfing the web.
Given this reality, it’s unsurprising that many people (particularly those belonging to older demographics) generally distrust information they get from the internet. So how do you target demographics that demand complex information, yet don’t respond to advertising via the internet?
By merging traditional and digital, we can approach wary consumers with a medium they trust — print — and incorporate a bridge to digital marketing by way of near-field communication or a PURL, for example.
Let the print earn their trust and let digital seal the deal.
A Google Maps for Your Consumer
One of the obvious hang-ups in the early days of digital via traditional marketing was user error.
Sure, you could include a URL to your website printed clearly smack in the middle of your marketing material, but this leaves you open to two problems:
The first problem is that it leaves the door open for user error. For example, misspelling a URL in their own browser can easily result in frustration and a loss of interest, which leads to consumers abandoning their search.
The second problem comes even when a consumer gets to your site: it isn’t easily navigable, allowing the consumer to effortlessly find exactly what they were looking for, again resulting in frustration and loss of interest.
By employing effective, guaranteed transitions between print and digital, the consumer will be taken to exactly the right place, every time — as quickly as possible.
In an economy where the most valuable asset is an audience’s attention, capitalizing on the ability to instantaneously direct your consumer precisely where they want to go is invaluable.
The Power of Personalization
They say one of the most powerful ways to gain someone’s confidence is using their name. This idea also applies to marketing and it’s what makes personalization such a powerful tool.
Although marketers have been using personalization for decades before digital advertising even existed, the problem was that it only was able to go so far — maybe a personalized letterhead or the insertion of a name within generic content.
Eventually, this started to become a hollow gesture. Why? Because everyone was doing it. Personalization became very impersonal.
By working together, print and digital marketing take personalization to wildly effective new heights. In personalizing direct mail by attaching a QR code that navigates the user to a PURL, we have an incredibly efficient and impactful tool that says, “we’re not just trying to flatter you by using your name, we’ve put in the effort to truly understand your needs — here’s the proof.”
Try doing that with print alone.
Marketers running edgy, futurist blogs, the media, and industry talking heads sure do love to put print and digital at odds, and the appeal of that war is obvious.
While it makes for interesting blog fodder, it remains untrue.
The fact is, print and digital not only co-exist, but when working in harmony, can become the most effective tool in your marketing arsenal. In merging print and digital, you can convey complex information, build trust, and establish better connections in user-friendly, intuitive ways.
There are no wars between print and digital — only allies.
Are you ready to move forward with merging print with digital for higher impact marketing? Contact us to see what Strata can do for you.
8 Things to Ask When Evaluating Collateral Management Tools
Believe it or not, there was a time when marketing collateral pretty much just meant flyers, postcards, brochures, and rate cards. They often would be stored in a supply closet, in the cardboard boxes they were delivered in, and managers kept track of inventory with a pen, paper, and a clipboard. Digital content? What was that?
Today, hard collateral has multiplied, as has the number of people who access it. If this were merely a problem of volume, collateral management would be a relatively straightforward project. But because marketing is rapidly growing more sophisticated, automated, and personalized, segmentation is a key variable. Marketers need to be able to pivot, make changes quickly, and tailor resources to specific segments.
That’s why having a reliable marketing resource management (MRM) system is so important – and why it’s so important to know what to look for when evaluating the software that will work best for you and your team. All the more so if your organization has a central marketing operation with local teams out in the field – for instance, a university with several campuses, a healthcare center with specialists’ offices, or a restaurant chain with franchise locations. Without a system to manage and distribute printable assets throughout the business, the value of your marketing assets is at serious risk.
Here are 8 key questions to ask when evaluating marketing collateral management software:
- Does the software allow for easy content customization and print- and order-on-demand capabilities?
Options such as these should be at the top of your checklist – a no-brainer for most collateral management software. The keyword is easy. Software that can adapt and grow with you will also offer smart tools for content customization, such as drag and drop, in-tool editing, or linking up with Adobe or other design software. Above all, make sure the level of tech is appropriate for you.
- If the software doesn’t quite match your needs right out of the box, can the company help you customize it?
Even with a multitude of options and capabilities, no system is one size fits all. Make sure the software you choose comes with options and customer support so that you can tailor it to suit your unique needs. In some cases you’ll want to opt for a platform built to your specific needs.
- Does it help your team communicate?
Like a game of Telephone gone wrong, the fastest way for a campaign to go off track is to have suboptimal communication across your team. If collaborators can access files and information easily and communicate with one another fluidly, edits and approvals can happen faster. Look for email or mobile alerts and shared workspaces to keep everything transparent and everyone on the same page.
- Do brand managers have sufficient control over shared assets?
Today’s collateral managers have to balance flexibility and control. How do you control access to file versions, limit edits and spending, and monitor production and printing processes – while empowering your whole team to contribute? Consider how many levels of access you need and how that matches a system’s capabilities. Solutions can cover the whole range, creating permissions for groups of many sizes all the way down to individual users.
- What if I already have a digital asset management system? Does the software integrate into or replace it?
If you’re considering new software, one of the first things to consider is ease of transition and onboarding. This impacts everything from your ability to secure buy-in to ensuring a decent return on your martech investment. A cloud-based solution offers quick setup, easy access, file security, and communication tools that are familiar to most users. Both have their advantages – and are distinctly preferable to cobbling together a system made of shared folders, a cloud-based design service, and email.
- Will your print and digital assets play well together in the new software?
Plenty of MRM products can handle digital assets very well; others focus on creating, producing, or storing print collateral; not many do both. Look for software that can help you shepherd print projects to fulfillment; coordinate a range of digital content; and organize both by file type, campaign, and other filters.
- Does the system provide easy access and clear permissions for your entire team?
If your organization has multiple locations that need to access files and produce customized content, then local team members need to be able to easily create, name, edit, organize, and release files. They also need clear parameters to work within. You may want a solution with strong centralized controls and flexible local access, such as MarCom On Demand, which offer benefits such as:
- Quick and easy implementation
- Improved brand consistency
- Streamlined, faster delivery of marketing assets
- Ease of communication across many locations and departments
- Location-specific budget presets
- Reduced production costs
- Does the software allow for easy content customization and print- and order-on-demand capabilities?
Which brings us to our final point…
8. Does it measurably reduce costs?
The tool you decide to use needs to cover the basic functions of moving either print or digital marketing assets from idea to implementation: planning, design and editing (including template creation), proofing, approvals, and fulfillment including delivery to the mail house. Beyond that, it will help you streamline processes, minimize error, accelerate time to delivery, and reduce spend. As such, a key feature to look for is tracking and reporting so you can see orders, inventory, downloads, and other metrics that will help you plan and create more effective campaigns and materials.
Work with someone who can do custom options so they can help you determine whether something out of the box works for you, or if a custom solution would be best for you. Contact us to learn more.
Helpful Tips to Generate Response from Your Next Postcard Mailer
An effectively designed, well-thought out direct mail postcard can net response beyond expectations. Create a postcard that’s going to stand out – rather than get tossed out – with these suggestions. (Note: incorporating some of these tips will depend on your goals and budget).
- Consider Going Big
There are a few reasons to consider an oversize postcard format:
- A larger size naturally attracts more attention.
- Oversize postcards have been shown to perform better in terms of response rate, according to recent Data & Marketing Association reports.
- They are less likely to get lost in the shuffle.
- Extra space means more room for impactful design and messaging.
However, you’ll want to consult USPS mailing guidelines for postcards. Postcards that exceed 4.25-inches by 6-inches in size are classified as a letter mailing, and will cost more to mail.
- Design to Draw the Eye
To have any chance of competing for attention in the mailbox, postcards need eye-catching design that also works to support a campaign’s messaging and goals.
- Avoid an overly busy design. Rather, design around a focal point using visual design hierarchy principles.
- If your postcard needs to feature several products (e.g., weekly sale items), use a grid layout to achieve an organized rather than chaotic appearance.
- Choose the Right Paper
Paper weight and texture can communicate volumes about the value of your mailing – something to think about investing a little extra in, depending on goals and audience:
- A thicker weight feels sturdier and more dependable and will stand up to the mailing process.
- A too-thin paper risks coming across as flimsy and getting damaged in the mailing process.
- Textured paper adds a tactile element, another way to draw attention.
(Again, USPS guidelines are a factor: a thickness greater than 0.016-inch will cost more to mail.)
- Try Unusual Formats and Print Techniques
As with paper choices, these attention-grabbing features can increase project costs, so ROI will come into play when making these decisions.
- Try a die-cut format for an unusual, eye-catching shape. Tie the shape into your company’s product or service offerings for added resonance.
- Perforated tear-off coupons can add sizzle to your offer.
- Including a simple giveaway (e.g., a magnet) will add noticeability and value.
- Printing techniques like foil-stamping and embossing can instantly draw the eye. They may be best used for higher-end mailings – think invitations to a new location’s open house, introducing a premium product or service, and other similar promotions.
- Make Copy Work Hard
The space constraints of a postcard mean you need to choose words wisely. Write to focus attention on the action message – what you want recipients to do.
- Craft an attention-commanding headline that builds curiosity.
- Include very minimal supporting information – just enough to tempt recipients to follow through on the call to action, or take advantage of your offer.
- Use copywriting “power words” – words that spark interest and action. Check out a list here.
- Be clear, don’t confuse your readers, and be action-oriented: Tell recipients how to take the next step.
- Make It Personal
Relevant mail is far more likely to be saved and acted on. With the depth and breadth of data available today, the sky’s the limit regarding personalization. Here are a few pointers:
- Personalize with an offer on products you know a recipient likes based on purchasing history, or include an image of a product recently viewed online.
- Include region-specific maps for your businesses closest retail location of office site.
- Use personal URLs (PURLs), a form of personalization that incorporates a prospect’s name into the landing page web address, to instantly capture attention.
Investing in marketing automation software greatly boosts efficiency and accuracy in executing a personalized campaign. Also, make sure to choose a printer with variable data print capabilities.
- Partner with a Direct Mail Expert That Can Tie It all Together.
Developing an effective direct mail postcard campaign becomes much simpler when you work with a vendor that provides professional design, printing and mailing services. With expert guidance on the creative points discussed above, plus someone else to handle the print and mailing details, you get more time to focus on big-picture goals and strategy.Plymouth Meeting, PA-based Strata Company specializes in data-driven direct marketing and technologies that help companies create more relevant, personalized marketing. A leader in direct mail marketing for nearly two decades, Strata has experience helping businesses create highly targeted multichannel marketing campaigns. Contact us to learn more.
Print On Demand Systems and Variable Printing Software
Printing fulfillment at many companies – particularly large or growing organizations – can be prone to several issues:
- Delays to market
- Quality control
By implementing technology solutions to drive print processes, businesses realize significant cost savings, faster time to market and improved personalization. Higher-quality finished products are an additional benefit.
So how exactly do tech-driven printing approaches such as print-on-demand portals and variable printing software promote cost savings, quality and efficiency? Here’s the “fine print.”
Placing Print Orders in the Digital Age: Print as Ecommerce
A web2print system for print supply and distribution gives users all the ease of online shopping:
- User-friendly Print Fulfillment
Web-based portals store print jobs digitally. Users can easily search for and select the collateral needed, and customize according to approved modifications. The portal serves as an online catalog where users can “shop” for what they need in minutes rather than spend hours searching through multiple archives and folders to locate assets. A print-on-demand portal stores all job details: quantities, pricing, vendors, turnaround times, specs, logistics, etc.
- Reduced Obsolescence and Tighter Inventory Control
The “ecommerce” approach provides back-end benefits as well in terms of tracking print orders and reporting on usage. On-demand printing eliminates the need for mass-quantity print runs, thus decreasing storage needs and wasted spend on obsolete materials. (This also prevents potential customers from receiving collateral that’s no longer relevant, which happens more frequently than you’d think.)
- Centralized Approach to Procurement
A web-based print management system cuts down on the number of vendors a company needs to manage. This centralized approach opens up the opportunity to obtain lower price points by moving from individual transaction-based pricing to longer-term contract pricing.
Better Quality and Flexibility Means More Effective Print Marketing
- Maintain Brand Consistency
Compromising brand integrity can be a headache when it comes to customizing marketing materials. However, customization becomes much simpler – and controllable – with dynamic templates. Templates allow, for example, a local sales rep to incorporate regional information on a product brochure. It eliminates the dilemma of supplying local marketers with approved branding assets and crossing your fingers that they’ll use them properly. And corporate staff will thank you for the hours they gain back when they don’t need to constantly fulfill requests for customization.
- Automate the Proof and Approval Process
You have greater control over the finished product, with real-time editing capabilities and instant, interactive proofs. Goodbye human error and backlogs, hello accuracy and streamlined approval processes. Project tracking features can eliminate the back and forth and days-long waiting periods involved in traditional print processes.
- Variable Data Print Capabilities
Personalization is no longer the future of marketing – it’s arrived. Today’s leading marketers know that personalization is imperative to connect with targets and capture market share. Software that supports variable data printing can immediately pull in data to populate output, so you can fully leverage your customer data to create segmented mailings that support higher response rates and qualified leads. Beyond reducing costs, this aspect can actually contribute to the bottom line by driving higher response rates and sales.
How Can Technology Make Your Print Processes Smarter?
For more than 20 years, Greater Philadelphia-based Strata Company has helped clients leverage technology to save time and money. Our off-the-shelf software platforms and custom cloud-based solutions enable faster, more accurate print communications. We put the control over branding, workflows and ordering at your fingertips – and take the manual processes off your hands. Contact us to see how we can help.