When Neenah Paper released its Think Ink: Color Unleashed app for the iPhone in mid-2009, it was a bold move for the paper company and for the industry. Admittedly a niche producer of premium writing paper in a market full of commodity paper producers, Neenah was taking a challenge by throwing themselves into the digital arena with a rather revolutionary message: Use your iPhone to choose the right paper for your design needs. "We jumped out ahead in saying that we want to become the knowledge and technology leaders in our space," says Tom Wright, director of advertising and promotion at Neenah.
The Think Ink app is a different approach because it focuses on the designers. By allowing them to see their designs and color palettes on different paper textures and colors, designers have a new tool to view a proof of their final work before it comes back from the printers. In short, as Wright explains, it allows the designers to find exactly what paper, down to the brand name, they want for the project. "Because they have the power to specify the brand name," says Wright. "The app adds that perceived value that allows designers to change it up and do things differently, and in the end when their customer sees it, they go ‘Wow, I would have never thought of that.'"
On the first day the app was released to the public, Neenah's press release was picked up by the Reuters board in New York's Times Square, as well as most other major publications. "On that day," says Wright, "there were more than 61 million possibilities of people seeing our press release about the iPhone app and downloading it from the iTunes Store." Since then, Neenah has applied the technology platform to a web-based microsite and released the Think Ink app to other mobile devices, including RIM's Blackberry. "These brand new tools use the web to leverage and create opportunities to reach people that might not know Neenah," says Wright.
Since its release, the Think Ink app has been downloaded more than 50,000 times, extending Neenah's reach to a global market
Focus on the designer
Establishing the name brands of their paper has been a core strategy for Neenah since they were part of the Kimberly-Clark family. Many consumers can recognize a company or mill name, but specific brands of paper quickly get lost. Neenah believes that in order to command their corner of the market, instead of selling a commodity product, they must sell a value-added product. And this is where the designers and layout artists become a vital part of the process.
"The designer is the individual who is putting the words and the art and the images all together and looks at paper as one of the integral parts of the communication mix," says Wright. "If we can get the designer to say ‘We want a Neenah paper,' we will get that business."
Reaching out to the design community also meant diving head first into the new world of social media. For that role, Jamie Saunders, Neenah's Marketing Communications Manager, started talking to designers as customers. First at the design conferences, Saunders met with designers and artists to hear what they wanted. And then set about building an online community through Twitter and Facebook. "Creating the tools to make it easier for the designer to find the paper, that is where the technology angle comes in," says Saunders. "You know they are living on their computers, at their desks, and they want it easy and accessible."
But unlike the iPhone app, the social media landscape had some fits and starts to get going. "I think our first Twitter feed was something like ‘We're here on Twitter - now what?'" says Saunders. The first tweets were soft marketing efforts, staying on the promotional side, but this wasn't gaining much traction. "At one time, early on a client said, ‘Your Twitter is just awful." So Saunders began to open things up, using her tweets to get a conversation going, eventually using it as an extension of customer service and adding interviews called ‘Twitter-views.' "Once I starting having conversations with people, to be myself, it just exploded; it's been a lot of fun ever since," says Saunders.
Neenah Paper's technology platform includes mobile, browser-based apps and social media tools, all aimed at promoting paper
Part of the media mix
By giving designers more control, Neenah has added a valuable layer to the customer chain. With Neenah's tools, designers can now add specifications for the desired paper by brand, weight, color, and finish, and send that information directly to the printer. When asking for Classic Crest Papers, for example, a designer can feel they are not just asking for a white paper, but demanding the right texture and feeling of the paper they want to give to their client. The paper becomes a valuable part of the product and not just a commodity.
This concept is part of the transition for paper and for the industry. "Paper used to be the medium, now we are part of the media mix" says Wright. From its early role as a writing text and cover manufacturer, and now expanding into packaging, Neenah is using technology to expand its presence as the paper of choice for those designers who want to show off their artistic style for their clients. The paper which designers use on a project can become a part of how they define themselves for the client.
"We are not just a paper company anymore," says Wright. "We are part of a community, part of the communication medium."
Forging a lead in that community, Neenah is looking ahead to the whole digital arena. As printing technology has improved, such as HP Indigo and Nexpress, paper has the possibility to add value by providing different substrates. For example, in Neenah's premium papers, a unique universal digital finish is added to help the paper work flawlessly with laser and inkjet printers, as well as toner-based or more traditional offset applications. It's a new hot topic for Neenah and one that is sure to become part of their overall strategic goals.
Ken Norris is a US based contributing editor to PPI magazine and the RISI community website and can be contacted at:firstname.lastname@example.org