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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.

Online Learning Center Earns A+ Praise

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Education, Guest Blog

Distributor Stephanie Jackson is usually up and out of the house by 5 a.m. six days a week to work out. But on quiet Sunday mornings, this serious athlete has made it a habit to relax, coffee in hand, and take classes in ASI’s Online Learning Center.

After taking a few courses and “actually learning important information about the industry and our products, I got even more committed,” says Stephanie (at right), who went on to earn her Bachelor of Advertising Specialty Information. What’s more, she has the distinction of being the first distributor to complete her certification requirements and pass her final exam on ASI’s brand-new Online Learning Center platform.

It’s because of dedicated industry pros like Stephanie that I’m so proud of the major upgrade we’ve made to ASI’s education hub. The revamped site, powered by the latest in learning technology, is designed to help distributors, suppliers, decorators and screen printers quickly and easily access more free classes, additional resource tools and new social media sharing.

“The best part of achieving my BASI is the confidence it provides,” says Stephanie. “I’ve been in this industry a little over a year and what I’ve learned via actual experience, coupled with my ASI Education training, has provided me a firm foundation. I’ve always been a fan of continuing education, and would wholeheartedly recommend it to both industry newbies and veterans.”

Super-motivated Jackson describes the ad specialty industry as a hard business due to online competitors and price wars. But her fun job title – The Inquisitive Marketing Advisor at Signature Services & Promotional Products – reflects her commitment to really listening to her clients and delivering top-notch marketing campaigns for them. “I’ve won a lot of business that would have gone to an online competitor,” she says. “The deciding factor for my new clients was the service I delivered and my quick response to their needs.”

To better serve dedicated pros like Stephanie, the ASI Education Team and I focused on creating an entirely new, user-focused learning experience for our members via this upgraded Online Learning Center platform, which features:

  • Super-intuitive user interface. A superior user experience is available through a customizable home page with movable widgets, such as an events calendar, RSS feeds and polls.
  • Social learning. Post photos and videos, join or start discussion boards and “friend” other learners to view and share material, questions and opinions.
  • Added content. Includes ASI research reports, magazine articles and other resources.
  • Easy access. Log on with existing ESP Web credentials.

ASI’s Online Learning Center houses more than 350 on-demand courses in a variety of industry-specific curriculums, such as sales, marketing, wearables and decorating, which are free to members and automatically tracked electronically. Courses range from introductory to executive level, making them ideal for both newcomers and industry veterans.

Finally, I’m happy to say that, to date, 1,151 professionals (including Stephanie) have been certified through the ASI Education Certification Program, with nearly 30,000 enrolled in ASI’s free Online Learning Center.

Stephanie, who can’t wait to receive her BASI pin from ASI President and CEO Timothy M. Andrews at the ASI Show in Orlando, plans to continue taking courses to keep her competitive edge. “I love that I get tested on the material I learn and that there are always new courses being added,” she says.

Please login to our new Online Learning Center soon at www.asicentral.com/onlinelearning and experience it for yourself. I welcome your feedback, so drop me a line anytime at nrollender@asicentral.com. Happy learning!

Nicole Rollender is ASI’s executive director of professional development

Connect Your Business

Filed under: Guest Blog, News About ASI

The first time I saw ASI’s new Connect tool in action, I felt like a kid on Christmas Day! I’ve been dreaming about a game-changing online resource just like it since Day One at ASI and now it’s finally here.

For suppliers, it’s all about prospecting and analytics. They’re either scouring for new customers or trying to figure out if the ones they found will be reliable enough business partners. And that’s where the one-stop web-based Connect comes in.

To me, it’s the most intelligent prospecting and credit tool on the planet. It’s like having your marketing, sales and credit departments all rolled up into one.

Even better, Connect is easy to use. At a glance, suppliers can now see who’s searching for their products, making direct marketing a snap. The user-friendly dashboard and advanced search features means you’ll use up less of your valuable time trying to figure out which button to tap to get the info you need. And, Connect’s new reporting functionality allows suppliers to easily upload their own information and distributor reviews in a few simple steps and see that info updated faster than ever before.

Here’s a run-down on some of the new features:

  • Instant lead generation. Suppliers can run an advanced search to discover which distributors have searched for their product lines in ASI’s ESP® database in the past 30, 60 or 90 days.
  • Laser-focused marketing. Run targeted searches based on distributors’ total sales, paying habits, company size and more, or search using pre-built lists of distributors, including the Power 50, the Counselor Top 40 and past ASI Show attendees.
  • Superior risk assessment and monitoring. Get alerts on selected distributors to keep up-to-date on payments, collections, write-offs and bankruptcies.
  • Constantly updated info. Use the latest, most accurate info to help make the best business choice possible.
  • Better business intelligence. Research reviews written by other suppliers before signing new clients, and share your own experiences.

If you want to talk about what Connect can do for your business email me today at grahill@asicentral.com or contact a Connect rep at 800-546-1226.

–        Gene Rahill, ASI’s vice president of digital advertising

P.S. Tim Andrews here. I’d just like to add that I know from a reliable source (Gene) that he actually teared up when he saw the first demo of Connect, which says an awful lot about the new service.

Rewind on a Redesign

Filed under: Guest Blog, News About ASI

One of the things I love about working in magazines is that when you work really hard on something and are unabashedly proud of it, you have a finished product you can actually look at and read through. That’s how I feel about the redesigned Wearables® sitting on my desk right now. It takes a lot for me to offer such naked praise for something I helped create, so believe me when I say I really think our September issue looks fantastic.

Not that it was easy. It took months of hard work between myself and our very talented art team: Art Director Hillary Haught, Senior Editorial Designer Glen J. Karpowich and Editorial Photographer Mark Pricskett. They had the jump on me months before our first meeting when they started posting potential fonts on the corkboard in their back office.

Some things we knew from the beginning. We wanted a bold, yet elegant, look that captured the best qualities of today’s leading fashion magazines. We wanted to grab the reader’s attention with the way we presented industry products. And we wanted to consolidate the information in the magazine into a few tightly focused sections.

I look at Wearables as a hybrid: part fashion, part business. We dig into the leading runway trends because they have a significant influence on what our readers’ clients want as well as the products that suppliers bring to market. We want our readers to be ahead of the curve on these trends. That emphasis allows us to take a creative approach in presenting apparel, just like some of the leading style magazines you see on newsstands. (Yes, that was me at the Neshaminy Barnes & Noble grabbing Details, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour and more.)

Throughout the redesign process, it was enjoyable to see the look of the magazine take shape. I spent many afternoons at Glen’s desk trading design ideas, revising mock layouts, debating one decision versus another. Sometimes there were unexpected hurdles. For example, the font we initially chose – Bauer Bodoni – looked great when we mocked it up in our “Trends” section. But later on we discovered that in articles with a lot of copy it was hard to read because of its thin design. That sent us back to the drawing board.

Of course, a new look doesn’t mean much unless it’s tied to meaningful content. That’s partly why we chose to debut it in September, so it can be used in our Style Issue, which always features a stunning photo shoot for our Fall Fashion Preview. Mark always does a great job with it, and we decided to take it to another level this year with colored backgrounds, set props and edgy styling. Each photo shoot always is an adventure; you go in with a plan for the outfits, but then inspiration strikes and you end up with something completely different (and far better) than what you originally planned. We had a Carhartt shirt the model was going to wear to showcase the plaid trend. Midway through, our stylist Conrad Booker thought it would look better backward. I thought he was crazy at first, but it ended up looking fantastic. That outfit became our cover.

I’d like to think a redesign is like a relationship: It’s easy to fall in love with it, then take it for granted once you get used to it. Our goal with Wearables is to avoid falling into that trap. We want to keep pushing the boundaries of what we can do with design – and I know our editorial design team is eager to keep unveiling new tricks. In addition, we want to keep providing what our readers want: spotlights of the latest trends, effective ways to improve their businesses and in-depth information to keep them ahead of the curve. Keep looking for our “Screen-Printing Success” section, too, which features all the latest decoration trends, techniques and products. Decoration is the differentiator in our industry, and the ones who do it well really stand out.

Everyone I’ve talked to really likes the new design, which is comforting to know. I hope you will like it too. Visit www.wearablesmag.com to see the redesign issue, and don’t hesitate to tell me what you think by e-mailing me at cmittica@asicentral.com.

– C.J. Mittica, Wearables editor

Voting Matters

Filed under: Community, Guest Blog

Recently, a friend I’ve known since 7th grade in Indiana turned 50. Instead of just crying about it, April Mitchell-Nading seized the opportunity and compiled an online list of 50 things she wants to do or change this year, from zip lining to flossing.

I love this idea and want to pass it forward while sharing one of the posts from April’s blog, “The 50 List,” since it concerns an issue I also feel strongly about: exercising your right to vote.

Click here to read the blog and keep reading below for her post, “No. 49: Attend One Meeting or Rally for Women’s Issues:”

Yesterday, I attended Evansville’s 10th Annual women’s Equality Day luncheon, which is a celebration/recognition of the adoption of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. I think we need a reminder that obtaining the right to vote was a hard-fought battle for women and didn’t occur until August 26, 1920. And I hate it when I hear a female say she never votes because she doesn’t like any of the candidates or her vote doesn’t really matter. It does matter.

If nothing else, it matters that we have the right to do it, and we should never take this right for granted. I have voted in every presidential election since I turned 18, whether I liked the candidates or not. I remember how excited I was to hand in my absentee ballot to the clerk at Ball State University. I was voting for the president and my vote counted! I don’t have quite the same excitement years later as I did then, but I do still feel an air of importance knowing that I am a woman living in the United States of America and I have the right to vote!

The keynote speaker for the luncheon was author Peggy Orenstein, who wrote Cinderella Ate My Daughter. I haven’t read the book – yet – but I liked her idea that the Disney princesses and other marketing techniques aimed at girls are actually doing more harm than good. Do we really want our daughters/granddaughters/nieces, etc. thinking Prince Charming is going to come along and rescue them? Is it a positive for girls to be so focused on appearance, sexuality, and looking/behaving like a princess?

Orenstein points out that young girls are now focused on “being sexy” and are so intent on appearance it results in eating disorders. I would add that along with Disney princesses, it probably doesn’t help for these girls to see their own mothers/grandmothers, etc. opting for plastic surgery, Botox and other extreme measures to alter their own appearances in an effort to stay young and sexy. How can we expect young girls to be happy with the way they look when the female role models in their lives are showing them that the only way to be happy is by changing the way they look?

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