Although Nova Direct is best known as a direct-mail company focusing on fulfilment, we have always looked at new ideas with an open mind. In recent years we have promoted ‘smellymail’ and have developed a very strong charity arm, which helps charities maximise the potential of their databases.
Now we are turning a small part of our business into an innovation hub, bringing together different skills and techniques.
A NEW SOLUTION
We are always looking to offer new services and solutions for our clients, and one way in which we have achieved this is by bringing in an over-sized A1 bed laser cutter, which allows us to make whatever shapes we want out of polypropylene, paper, beech ply, MDF and other materials.
The value of using this type of equipment is multiple:
- Prototyping: Computer Aided Design (CAD) is not enough on its own. If you are working on a large project or looking to mass-produce a product, it is always best to create a physical model before launching into production. We can work on a project with our CAD designer, pass it onto our graphics guy and create the component parts. Testing in this way can make dramatic savings, as design faults can be eliminated.
- Unique promotional products: We have been working with the United Nations Refugee Team, and they wanted a little, free gift item that they could hand out at events. The idea was a self-assembly money box, and together we came up the idea of a money box that looks like a refugee shelter tent. We were able to try out different designs, whether is was the angle of the tent or the positioning of the coin slot. It enabled us to grow and evolve an idea and a concept until we got to a finished piece and we could see it, rather than making a judgement on intangible artwork on a computer screen.
- Short runs: If you are a small charity and you want to make a till display, you are limited by what you can find already out there online or in a catalogue. If you wanted to have your own design, such as a display with a sunflower hanging out of the top corner, it would be prohibitively expensive to create without any economies of scale. The laser cutter opens up the opportunity for short-run bespoke marketing products, with a wide range of choice in terms of the material used. The only limit is the imagination of the client.
We started working with augmented reality a couple of years ago. It was one of those innovations that needed a practical application. We are now working with the innovations team of Konica Minolta, a massive Japanese company. They were looking for partners and we have worked with them on a number of projects over the years. They want our input on taking new technology to market.
One of the things they are developing is an app-building tool, where clients can develop their own on-line shop. Our role is to find companies or retailers who can make practical use of it. We are looking for people to innovate, looking for people who want to do something a little bit different. We want to get a group of collective, creative brains from around Sussex to come together and to go, “We’ve got this tool and this function and this ability, what is it you are trying to do?”
A good example of a practical use of the tool is where a company sends out a physical catalogue, for instance, as a clothing company. Normally, you might see an item in the catalogue you like, and then you have to go online, log in and find that product before you can discover if it is in stock. Instead of that, you hold your phone over it and it reads the page. It identifies the 20 products on the page – you tap the one you want and it will come up and ask which colour and size you want. It’s taking technology that’s been developed and actually giving it a practical application that isn’t just a gimmick. It’s making life easier.
This is a very powerful way of selling, as people like to flick through a catalogue that comes through the post. Actually, the internet is a hard place to find something if you are not sure what you are looking for. It’s not easy to browse on the internet; it’s not like walking into a shop where something catches your eye, or thumbing through a catalogue. So it combines the ease of purchasing online with the physical experience of shopping.
The augmented-reality side of it (where a 3D image leaps out of the phone) adds another dimension. Imagine a housebuilder building a new estate: they can create an app where you hover over a plot in a brochure and it will bring up an artist’s model of the house and garden, as well as a virtual tour.
The partnership with Konica Minolta has worked very well, as they are so advanced in their innovation, but we can advise on what is actually useful. The Greeks invented the steam engine, but didn’t have a practical application, so it sat there on a drawing board for 2,000 years.
The other area where we have been developing new ideas is on the CRM platforms for charities. We are busy building a new CRM platform for charities so they can manage their interactions, not just with their supporters, but also internally, so they can create forums, log donations from people and manage memberships.
We save companies and charities a lot of money every year by using our technology to remove obsolete records; your database may contain 20,000 names, but only 17,000 are active, so why waste £6,000 a year sending things to them? In December we did a campaign for the Big Issue. They were quite adamant that their data was accurate. We took 23% of the names out of that; it was the most successful campaign they had ever done because they had saved thousands of pounds, which means they needed less donations in to cover that cost and generate a return. We’d rather deliver quality over quantity. Removing those names was not just a saving in that one campaign; it created an on-going saving going forward.
The message that we try to get across is that we always love to find answers or solutions to anyone’s marketing wish-list. We are far more than a fulfilment house. Whatever you are trying to do – talk to us, because if we don’t know how to do it, we will find someone who does. It doesn’t need to be the biggest job for us to get involved; we just enjoy the challenge. We like to off er something that’s unique; we are able and willing to give that kind of support.