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Connect With ESP Chat

Filed under: Community, Guest Blog, Members, News About ASI

A guest blog from ASI CTO Armughan Rafat:

Imagine the business value in obtaining instant access to 50,000 people who understand exactly what you do day in and day out – like-minded people who can answer questions, provide resources and even help you advance in your chosen field.

That’s the potential of ASI’s latest resource – ESP Chat, an online community a click away in ESP Web®. I’m proud to say ASI is the first in the industry to offer supplier-hosted chat rooms.

ESP Chat represents a terrific opportunity for distributors to get quick answers from suppliers and for suppliers to build stronger business relationships with customers. As an added bonus, it’s also a place for anyone in the promotional products industry to get to know each other.

In the meantime, I urge you to learn from each other, share your experiences, suggest hot products and alert others to new industry trends. Spread the buzz throughout the community – the world-wide community. Like Facebook, ESP Chat is a powerful social networking tool.

Let’s say you’re a distributor searching for a product in ESP and have a question. Instead of stopping to make a phone call or shoot off an email, click on “Chat with supplier” and go right into the supplier’s chat room.

I promise – it’s easy. Distributors can click here to download an overview of ESP Chat and here for a growing list of major suppliers already hosting chat rooms.

And suppliers can click here to watch a short video overview of the benefits of hosting. Suppliers savvy enough to host their own chat room will have a leg up on the competition, as numerous studies show most customers prefer chat over email and phone.

What I love most about ESP Chat is its direct integration into ESP. You enter with a single click and can reply, post an ESP product, pic or even an emoji. The first day ESP Chat was available, I scrolled through numerous conversations, watching live as distributors queried suppliers on product availability, color, size and deadline.

But when you want a private chat, simply select that option.

Think about the last time you called a company needing support or answers. How many times have you spent 15 minutes or more on hold only to get cut off? It’s frustrating.

With chat, you shoot off a question and either wait for an immediate response or check back later when you have time.

Maybe it’s because I’m in IT and generally wedded to my computer and device, but I find chatting on the phone more time consuming. With chat, I feel like I’m in my element. Getting quick answers feeds my instant-gratification side.

Right now, we have 24 distributor-only rooms available, plus a general ESP discussion room that’s open to everyone.

Like any online communication tool, there are limitations. Suppliers might not be online when a question is sent, but it’s in their best interest to answer as soon as possible.

Chat is not the communication method of the future – it’s the communication method of now.

 

 


Fall Fashion: Can You Dig It?

Filed under: Community, Guest Blog, News About ASI

Our annual Style Issue and high-fashion shoot for Wearables is an exercise in ambition. Instead of everyday polos and T-shirts, we challenged preconceived notions of promotional apparel. It’s Fashion with a capital ‘F.’

The bar was high, but I think we surpassed expectations. Last year, we created a life-sized background, plastered it to the ground and wired a camera to the ceiling, 14 feet high. Designer Conrad Booker conceived an original line of clothing for industry decorators to bring to life and the 15-hour shoot culminated in a gravity-defying (and award-winning!) fashion spread.

The question this year, obviously, was “How can we top that?”

The answer: Be dramatically different.

Echoing leading fashion pubs like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, the 2015 fall fashion shoot featured a minimalist set design that showcased the amazing 1970s-era clothes (the year’s biggest runway trend) and floral multimedia decoration. We combined the shoot for Wearables and Stitches for the first time in anticipation of the upcoming integration of the magazines, and in response to our many readers’ interest in varied decoration techniques.

Each year, the day of the shoot is always exhilarating but stressful, but this year’s also was the most fun and relaxed. ASI’s photographer Mark Pricskett kept the mood light by cranking the grooviest disco tracks of the era (Saturday Night Fever, anyone?). ASI intern Alexandra Steel got some good-natured ribbing for an important-but-thankless task: raking the set’s shag carpet. And, I admit it, we all took turns modeling the amazing faux afro puff (made from dyed raffia) Conrad created for one of the outfits.

Check out the fun by watching our behind-the-scenes video.

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Thanks to incredible outfits provided by leading designers and industry decorators, the shoot was a joy instead of a job. But an all-day shoot with two models and nearly a dozen staffers and assistants hustling and bustling isn’t a simple matter of throwing on an outfit and snapping a few pics. Thought and effort go into everything: makeup and hair, lighting and even poses. It’s a mix of science and art, fueled by a hefty dose of professional intuition.

Take the laser-cut leather jacket from designer Byron Lars. Mark encouraged our model Roxanne to try some “cheesy smiles” and, boom! Smiling visions of Farrah Fawcett and Cheryl Tiegs filled our heads (as they did countless boys from that era), and we knew we had our shot.

We’re unabashedly proud of the work we did, but our biggest hope is that it serves as inspiration for decorators across the industry so they’re encouraged to experiment and push the limits with their creations. While these decoration techniques were used for high fashion, they’re the very same tools that will allow promotional apparel to stand out from the crowd.

We’re already looking ahead to an even more far-out 2016 fashion shoot – and encourage you to aim for new heights as well.

Wearables Editor C.J. Mittica (pictured above), cmittica@asicentral.com


With You Every Step of the Way

Filed under: Community, Guest Blog, News About ASI

Imagine inviting a crew of co-workers into your home for two days from dawn to dusk to shoot a commercial for your company. It happened at my house and, as you can imagine, it was an insanely busy scene, with lights, cameras and action everywhere, from the kitchen and living room all the way to the bathroom and bedroom. It was also insanely fun. The end result is a new ASI video, “Every Step of the Way.” Click here to take a look.

The meaning behind the video is simple: Our tools, resources and information are designed for you, the members of the promotional products industry, but our support is really what makes the difference.

Behind world-class products and services, we have more than 400 dedicated people who want to help you reach your potential and exceed your goals. (No, all 400 of them did not come to my house to make the video, but there were times during the shoot when it felt like they did.)

As talented experts in their fields, each and every one of ASI’s employees is here to support you and your business, through ups, downs and really anything that comes your way. We are focused on making you successful.

Your business journey is unique to you. We can’t walk in your shoes, but we can walk with you and help you when you need it. Like the new video says, we’re here, every step of the way.

I hope you like the video. Either way, I’d welcome your feedback, at rwatson@asicentral.com. Who knows – maybe for our next commercial we’ll come to your house.

P.S. You may spot a few familiar faces in our video, including ASI’s Chairman of the Board, Norman Cohn (reading the bedtime story), President and CEO Tim Andrews (offering wine) and our products expert, Joe Haley (providing morning-drive commentary). The “star” – who is meant to represent each of you – is Rick Angeloni, ASI’s design principal in our marketing department.

– Rob Watson, ASI’s senior vice president of marketing and user experience

 

 


Update from ASI’s CTO

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Guest Blog, News About ASI

There are few things more productive than getting together with your peers to brainstorm pressing issues everyone can relate to and learn from, especially when the topics concern new and emerging technology.

That’s why I was so happy to host a CTO Summit in conjunction with ASI’s Chicago show in mid-July. All told, 14 distributors, partners and suppliers – including SanMar, Brighter Promotions, ASB, Facilis, HALO and Safeguard – spent the day discussing technology, operations and customer service. I was very impressed with the high-level professionals who took the time to attend (our group is pictured below).

Just about everyone at the summit shares a keen interest in moving this industry forward, especially when it comes to automating and connecting suppliers and distributors for order processing. At ASI, we know how important it is to everyone in our industry to have the latest, greatest real-time product information available at their fingertips.

For the past two years, we’ve devoted countless hours working directly with the industry’s top suppliers to link their databases directly to ESP. By making quick, vital data sharing and communication available across the entire industry, the end-to-end workflow – from product inputting to price quoting to order processing – will be as straightforward and uncomplicated as possible.

The summit’s agenda (outlined below) covered a wide range of topics. Hopefully we provided something for everyone. If you need more info on anything, don’t hesitate to email me at arafat@asicentral.com:

  • ASI’s State of the Industry
  • ASI Case Study: Benefits and Challenges of the Modern Platform Architecture
  • Right Brain/Left Brain: Keeping Creativity Alive Within User Experience
  • Technology Challenges from the Perspective of the Distributor
  • Big Data: How to Tame It and Harness Its Power for Profit
  • The Perilous and the Profitable: What You Should Know About Outsourcing

A personal highlight for me was hearing from ASI’s chairman, Norman Cohn, one of the chief architects responsible for introducing more advanced technology to our industry, starting with the remarkable ESP database – now over 950,000 products strong, and counting. It’s always fascinating to recall just how fast and far we’ve come since the days of CDs, microfiche and rolodexes – and to imagine the possibilities ahead.

This was our third CTO Summit and I’m sure it’ll continue as an annual event, so if you missed it this year, stay tuned for info on 2016. The goal is to establish a solid list of technologists we can rely on for input and feedback regarding the myriad of opportunities and challenges facing our ever-changing industry.

To that end, I’d like to especially thank the experts from Macrosoft for sharing their expertise with the group.

If you have any questions regarding any topic we covered – or suggestions for future topics or speakers –please let me know. I’m grateful to everyone who attended and hope to see all of you next year as well.

ASI CTO Armughan Rafat


Get Ready for the Wearable Tech Revolution

Filed under: Guest Blog, Using Ad Specialties

Clearly, wearable technology is arriving. Fast. Four years ago, the U.S. wearable tech market was about $6 million. This year, it’s expected to clock in at over $5 billion. These devices are starting to suffuse our society, from fitness bracelets to smartwatches to Google Glass. What started as a snowball is turning into an avalanche.

ASI’s recent cover story [http://bit.ly/1uqlw30] for Wearables® magazine on the wearable tech revolution examines every facet of the coming tech boom. We have articles on nanotechnology, designers who are using 3-D printers to make apparel, activity trackers that are being used in corporate wellness programs, Google Glass and other eyewear tech that can transform the workplace, and much more. Most important, our cover story looks at the big picture of wearable tech. How will this change our lives and the way we do business? And how soon will it happen?

Not to burst the bubble, but despite the rapid growth of the market, wearable tech still has some growing up to do. The products so far have been limited in scope, accessories that mostly act as companion pieces to our smartphones. Just now are we starting to see garments with full-fledged functionality: a shirt that give us a snapshot of our health, for example, or garments that feature dynamic LED displays. In the pic at top, OMSignal is a new shirt that can read your vitals and give you a complete picture of your health. The tshirtOS at bottom features LED lights embroidered into the fabric, creating a dynamic display that can be changed with a cell phone.

The hurdle is that these innovations need equal input from gadget geeks and fashion virtuosos – collaborations that are just beginning to form. (Apple hiring the CEO of Burberry last year is just one example.)

As a result, wearable technology is still in its infant state – much like the cellphone market before the iPhone refined the category in one swift blow. It’s no surprise that the Apple Watch is being looked at in the same light, with the hope that Apple can reprise its role. The results will be interesting, to say the least. One research report predicts that smartwatches will comprise 40% of wrist devices by 2016.

I think the potential for wearable technology is vast. Just look at the promotional apparel industry that we cover. Shirts are printed with a message, and that image remains. Now imagine apparel with electronic displays that can be controlled with a cellphone or tablet – and then deployed to be worn by brand ambassadors and devotees. Innovations like those are just starting, and you will see a lot more in the years to come.

The impact on our lives will be far greater. We are already attached to our computers and smartphones nearly every waking minute. Practically every key metric of our lives is kept in a digital record. But we do put our cellphones down (occasionally). And in those down times, wearables will bridge the final divide.

Connectivity will be seamless and ever-present. They will hand over the one thing that data can’t touch – ourphysical bodies – and give us a completely new picture of our health and how we live our lives. Ultimately they will erase the barriers of interaction (admit it, thumbs on a cellphone screen are still clumsy) and allow us to access the resources at an instant, even by mere thought.

And I didn’t even mention the really out-there stuff. Did you know researchers are toying with temporary tattoos that can read your vocal cord movements when you think and transmit them as complete thoughts to another person? In other words, telepathy. Holy crap.

In short, there won’t ever be an “offline.” That may thrill you, or it may horrify you. Either way, I believe it will be our new reality. The items we include in our cover story [http://bit.ly/1uqlw30] may seem radical, but it’s just the beginning.

–C.J. Mittica, pictured at center, is the editor of ASI’s Wearables magazine


Promo Power 101

Filed under: Community, Education, Guest Blog, News About ASI

Tom Athan is a college student who produces and sells a clothing line called Dudz from his dorm room (imagine low-slung, custom-made M.C. Hammer-style lounge pants for guys and girls in a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns). Athan was unsure how to advertise his apparel cost-effectively – until he learned about the power of promotional products. Now, he plans to invest in a small run of screen-printed T-shirts, bumper stickers and magnets to spread the word about his quirky brand.

Athan was among 50 business students who attended a lecture Counselor Senior Editor Dave Vagnoni and I gave at The College of New Jersey in Ewing, N.J. Tammy Dietrich, assistant dean of TCNJ’s School of Business, invited us to discuss the $20.5 billion promotional products industry as part of the school’s Sophomore Colloquium spring seminars, which teach students about different industries to broaden their knowledge about potential internships, future careers and smart business ideas.

Dave and I presented key findings from ASI’s Global Advertising Impressions Study, surprising students who were unaware how much bang for the buck businesses can get from promo products. The most impressive stats? That 86% remember the advertiser on a promo product they receive and that the cost-per-impression is only about half a cent – cheaper and more effective than primetime TV ads, print ads and billboards.

Anthony Paun, a finance major who attended the session, said, “Today I learned that people keep a large quantity of the promotional products that they get, and the return on investment is way better in comparison to TV advertising.”

Our session was informative, fun and interactive – we gave away candy and logoed products to students who shouted out correct answers to our pop quiz questions – and we think our content was a big hit.

“There’s no substitute for students hearing directly from industry experts and realizing the many facets of a business they only knew a fraction about,” Dietrich said. “The School of Business is so grateful to ASI for participating in our spring 2014 series and providing students with global insight into the ad specialties world. Students love getting freebies as well as creating them for their clubs and organizations, but had no idea of the magnitude of this business.”

As it stands now, though, the advertising specialty industry is too invisible to business students. They learn about buying and using TV, radio and Internet advertising, direct mail and everything else under the sun, but marketing programs rarely mention the power of promotional products and their incredible ROI. That’s why ASI is focused on outreach to colleges and universities to teach students about our industry and the power of advertising specialties in marketing campaigns – as well as explaining how to become a distributor and build your own business.

ASI’s long-term hope is that these future business leaders will look to our industry when embarking on their careers. We plan to continue outreach to convince other business, marketing, advertising and new media students to join what we all know is an exciting, creative industry, which more people need to discover.

Dietrich thanked us with a wonderful compliment: “As a bonus, Nicole Rollender and Dave Vagnoni make an engaging team and we hope to have them back at TCNJ.”

We’d love to return!

– Nicole Rollender is ASI’s executive director of professional development

In top pic, TCNJ students Tom Athan, co-founder of Dudz, and Robert Garavente with ASI’s Executive Director of Professional Development Nicole Rollender, with their new ASI branded tumblers. In bottom pic, TCNJ students Anthony Paun and David Chao are all smiles after winning logoed promo products and candy.


Making a Case to Congress

Filed under: Community, Guest Blog, Industry Initiatives, Members

Perseverantia Vintia is a Latin motto that translates into “Perseverance Conquers.”  This sentiment is a perfect description of the fifth annual Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D.) hosted by the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) in our nation’s capital April 9 and 10.  Throughout the trip to Washington D.C., the 70 industry volunteers who participated shared a common refrain: “They remember who we are and what we are here for.”  To me, this refrain sums up our mission, which was to educate members of Congress about the value of advertising specialties and the legislative issues most important to suppliers and distributors.

This year, the L.E.A.D volunteers came from all 50 states, including my home state of Pennsylvania, where ASI is based.  Over two days, our group made over 200 Congressional office visits, the culmination of months of preparation that included contacting Congressional staff to arrange meetings and participating in numerous conference calls and webinars to coordinate activities and hone our “lobbying” skills.

As in the past, one of the primary message points is that low-cost, high-impact ad specialties, which still cost as little as half a penny per impression, work. We also wanted to remind our lawmakers of the important part a $20.5 billion industry that employs over 400,000 people plays in the national economy.

Invariably, every Congressional office we visited had numerous advertising specialties, which helped us make our case while providing tangible proof of the importance of using ad specialties for public awareness programs such as organ donation and health-care awareness. Naturally, we always bring promotional products with us to reinforce our message. This year, Jim Socci of Artistic Toy (asi/37122) designed a really clever and effective product to use during our pitch – an elephant-shaped hand puppet that turned inside out to become a donkey (pictured).  Needless to say, the message was not lost on our audience and, whether they were Republican or Democrat, the puppet never failed to make them smile.

In addition to industry awareness, we also focused on preserving the ability of suppliers and distributors to hire independent contractors in lieu of employees, maintaining the full deductibility of advertising costs and the need to be mindful of small businesses in any proposed tax reform.  Each team was prepared with position papers on each topic that concisely set forth the issues at hand, which we left behind as a resource for future reference.

Throughout our trip, the group met over meals to compare notes and share success stories.  At the breakfast meeting on the final day, PPAI recognized Congresswoman Renee Ellmers of North Carolina as its Legislator of the Year in recognition of her commitment to small business interests and success, willingness to meet with industry professionals and support of issues critical to the promotional products industry.

Kudos must go to the folks at PPAI who worked so hard on the event, especially Paul Bellantone, president and CEO; Anne Lardner-Stone, director of public affairs; and Seth Barnett, government relations manager. Their diligence and enthusiasm was evident from the start and I’m confident Congressional leaders left our meetings with a greater appreciation of our industry and the important role it plays in providing businesses with creative, cost-effective ways to reach their target audiences.

– Chuck Machion is ASI’s senior VP and senior counsel

In the photo at top, Chuck, at far left, is pictured with PA Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, center, and Jim Socci.


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