Demystifying Reusable Face Masks

As businesses and communities look to come back to an altered reality, there is no scenario that doesn’t include extensive face mask usage for the foreseeable future.

Face masks have quickly grown to be among the top consumer items right now for a very good reason. They will likely be a part of our regular society and culture as we get back to a new sense of normalcy. So how can you be sure you, your employees, clients, and your community are protected? And how do we navigate this fast-paced, very important product category under these circumstances and confidently make good buying decisions?

We’ve been attending webinars and sampling every possible consumer mask that’s been introduced by our manufacturers over the past 30 days so we can bring you the most current and best options as they become available. We’ll continue to dive deep into this product category amongst others and share what we learn along the way.

Although the main focus of this article is reusable face masks, I want to remind our clients and readers how important it is that the N95 Respirator masks, which are NIOSH certified and FDA approved, are reserved for our medical front line. This mask, as noted by its name, has a 95% filtration rating, meaning it is designed to filter out at least 95% of airborne particles including large and small particles. It is considered PPE and the best medical grade mask available at this time for the protection of the men and women treating COVID-19 patients.

Consumers and businesses are being flooded with numerous offerings. There are DIY options and beautiful hand-crafted styles on sites like Etsy, as well as big and boutique brands working to fill the enormous need. In fact, I bought myself this one about five weeks ago. There’s no shortage of reusable mask options hitting the market right now. But there is a shortage of good quality, fair priced, CDC compliant masks.

 

The CDC requires that cloth face coverings should ­–

 

Not all Masks are Created Equal

The team at HGX creative has been tirelessly testing and confirming the effectiveness and usability of multiple mask styles. Branded face masks are new to all of us including most of the manufacturers making them, so we have spent the past few weeks washing, wearing and dissecting a number of styles. In addition to the CDC requirements we included some of our own testing criteria and for now, we’ve settled on our top two picks below that rated BEST on a good, better, best scale. We suspect things will change as product development continues to improve and fashion turns the face mask into a trendy apparel category. We’ll keep you updated!

 

Triple Layer Face Mask with 3D Contouring

Minimum Quantity: 24       Price Range: $14 - $7      HGX Rating: BEST

3 Layer Contoured Face Mask

3 WORDS: sturdy, snug and comfortable

FIT: choice of elastic ear loops, tie back or over the head elastic

LAYERS: 2 outer 100% lightweight polyester; 1 inner, 100% unbleached cotton

BREATHABILITY: excellent

LAUNDERING: warm water, gentle cycle, hang to dry or tumble dry low

COMFORT: Best

QUALITY: Best

FABRIC: poly cotton

FILTER: no

SIZING: adult & youth

CUSTOMIZATION: full color, full-bleed, custom design on front side; white elastic fittings, natural colored cotton inside

NOTABLE FEATURES: fits snug but not too tight, easy to breath, 3D contouring allows for a good amount of room between the face and fabric

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA, Haiti, Dominican Republic (determined at time of order based on capacity)

EXTRAS: n/a

 

Double Layer Adjustable Face Mask with Filter Pocket

Minimum Quantity: 12       Price Range: $20 - $12    HGX Rating: BEST

Double Layer Reusable Face Mask

3 WORDS: soft, lightweight, comfortable

FIT: adjustable elastic ear loops

LAYERS: two poly-cotton layers + one filter when added to the pocket

BREATHABILITY: very good, best with filter inserted

LAUNDERING: machine wash warm water, gentle cycle, hang to dry

COMFORT: Best, even better when the filter is inserted

QUALITY: Best

FABRIC: poly cotton

FILTER: yes, built-in filter pocket

SIZING: adult & youth

CUSTOMIZATION: full color, full-bleed, custom design on front side; choice of black or white elastic ear loops, white interior

NOTABLE FEATURES: great coverage, snug but not tight, easy to adjust and very comfortable

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: China

EXTRAS: comes with an aluminum adhesive strip on the nose for a tighter seal (replaceable) + 4 PM 2.5 filters

 

 

I am scheduling video conferences for anyone interested in seeing the fit and features of each.

If you’d like to set one up with me please email or call 508-405-4506. I’ll show you the difference between those we wouldn’t wear and aren’t offering, and the ones that made our final cut and why.

 

All in a Name - Why it’s Important to Protect your Company’s Identity

 

Your company’s name and logo are an important part of the identity of your brand and business. Whether you are newly formed, or a company that’s well established — if you are investing in advertising you should ensure you’ve properly secured your business name so no one else can use it. Registering your trademark is crucial in notifying others that your company’s name, logo, tagline, etc. are your property. It gives you the exclusive right to use them in connection with your services or products. Applying for a trademark protects your original ideas from being used by someone else.

 

Do you Always Need to Trademark?

There are circumstances in which you may not need to trademark. For example, if you own a small business that operates in one state and you don’t plan on expanding into other markets, you don’t necessarily have to register to trademark your name. You already have the right to use it in your market if you have registered your LLC or corporation with your individual state, which most businesses do. On the flip side, just because you have formed an LLC or corporation let’s say in MA, for example, doesn’t mean that no one else can use your business name in that state. They just can’t necessarily register it under the same name. If you don’t trademark your company name, you have no real legal claim to it. So, if you plan to expand your business into new markets, it’s wise to register your trademark.

 

In most circumstances, it seems wise to register to trademark your company identity. A no brainer, right? You would think, but we’ve seen companies fall victim to not protecting their name all too often. For instance, a client comes to us with a business name and logo they’ve been operating under for decades, but they’ve never taken the necessary steps to legally protect it, despite how successful they’ve become and how large they’ve grown. Or a client will initiate a full rebranding and realize when they go through the motions of trying to trademark their company name, logo or slogan, they can’t protect it. There could be another company in the same line of business using the name, or something similar trademarked already. It’s always a good idea to make sure you aren’t infringing on someone else’s trademark from the get-go, especially before investing in a campaign to rebrand.

 

Protect Your Business Assets When Going for a Rebrand

A story comes to mind whenever I’m advising a client on trademarking. We had just begun working with a new client on a brand identity project. During our first kick-off meeting with their team to go over the new product line and their company name (which they had come to us with), I asked if they had cleared the name and secured the trademark. The CEO assured me that they had done their research and the name came up clean. I suggested we run an official search before they began spending money with us. It was a significant financial marketing investment afterall. But they insisted they wanted us to proceed. They were $30K into the project when we had to pull the plug due to a conflict with the company name, and we had to scrap the work we’d done (not to mention the sizeable investment our client had already made). We had to find a new name, clear it, trademark it and redesign everything. It was an unfortunate circumstance that could have easily been avoided.

 

So how do we at HGX typically go about guiding our clients through trademarking their company mark? Here’s our process, step-by-step.

 

STEP 1:

First we undergo a trademark knock-out search to identify if there are any conflicts that can be found that have the potential to prohibit us from obtaining trademark approval. We use various resources at a few different levels to search including (but not limited to) the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database. It is a low-cost preliminary step that can often identify issues BEFORE filing and spending the full fee to register. Search can take about 1 week to complete.

STEP 2:

We review the findings acquired in the knock-out search with attorney assessment and professional opinion. Once we deem that the name, slogan or logo isn’t already being used, we move on to the next step.

STEP 3: 

We file with the USPTO. This is NOT a guarantee that it will or won’t pass, it simply means that we think it has a pretty good shot at securing Trademark. It can take up to 3-5 months to process and hear back from the patent office on whether the trademark has been approved or rejected. It’s important to note that once an application is filed, there is not a whole lot that can be changed. Sometimes our attorney can fix a trademark application with a simple phone call, or sometimes we have to completely re-file it. Also key is checking-in regularly with the USPTO to make sure our application is moving through the process as it should be.

STEP 4:

If our trademark request is approved we have 6 months to file proof of use in the marketplace. We cannot guarantee that the USPTO will grant trademark ownership until we have received notice of approval. Any client working with us on brand identity development proceeds at their own risk until we receive trademark approval. We always recommend that we hold off on design and development of their brand identity until we reach this final stage of approval and the trademark has been assigned. You can guess how many clients are patient enough to wait (very few), but they are proceeding at their own risk!

 

Leave it to the Professionals

Filing a trademark application APPEARS to be a straightforward process of filling out online forms. However, anyone that isn't an attorney should NOT be assisting a company in filing a trademark application — whether on their own or through DIY legal sites.* Even if the trademark office does accept the filed forms and eventually approve the trademark, if it’s not filed by a professional, the application (or the issued registration) could have weaknesses should it ever come to enforcement/litigation. Someone that isn't aware of the law or what arguments will work can create a big mess.

 

The Aftermath of Trademark Approval

So you’ve made it through to the end and have been granted trademark approval, congrats! You can breathe easy, right? Not quite. Although the USPTO will ensure that no other party can register for your trademark, it’s up to you to protect your name or mark against unauthorized usage. So what can you do? If you have the resources, hire a professional to monitor the marketplace and ensure no one else is infringing on your trademark. If someone is using it, legal action may be taken which includes sending a cease and desist letter or filing a trademark infringement lawsuit. And besides monitoring to make sure no one is using your trademarked property, you must also make sure to file maintenance documents to prove that your trademark is still in use. At around the 5 or 6 year mark, proof of usage is crucial, as well as at around the 9 or 10 year mark.

Trademarking your company’s name, logo or intellectual property is important and more than just a formality. As you’re growing your business, think about your particular brand protection needs and make sure you take the right legal steps to enforce them.

 

*[Note: Online legal services don’t offer a ton of value even at the search phase since they only offer direct hit searches. For example “Battman” or “Starbucks” produce zero results even though both of these marks would be rejected by the trademark office since you can’t file anything that’s similar to an existing trademark. This is just one example of the inconsistencies of a site like this.]

How well do you tell your story?

What does your unique (brand) story say about you?

Branding was once all about the fine art of telling people what you do, who you are and what differentiates you, your company and your product or service from the competition. Now we live in a world of brands like Patagonia, Sonos, Slack, DropBox, Philips, Cisco and LinkedIn.

Stories make us human. They are relatable. They engage prospects on a personal level. We hear them and naturally relate them to our own lives in some way causing us to have an emotional reaction. How, what and where we communicate directly impacts what customers think, feel and do about your business. Do they try, buy and tell their friends, or do they ignore? When we craft a powerful brand story and share those key messages in a relatable way across all aspects of our marketing, we are letting people know what we are about – what we stand for, why we do what we do and who we do it for, so THEY can decide how being associated with our products and services will make them feel. They form their own opinions and they decide.

No doubt that if you're even remotely interested in this subject you have noticed dozens of articles written about crafting your brand "story." Try Googling "brand story," and over five million results show up. Even more if you Google "what is branding."

So, why the interest in something that many small to mid-size businesses assume that they already fully understand, don't need, can't afford or all of the above? Remember that your brand speaks volumes. It’s an increasingly complex, crowded and noisy world out there. Without a well-defined brand story, you are just another face in the crowd competing for customers, clients and attention.

How long has branding been around?

Actual branding has been around for hundreds of years, although the concept has changed and morphed into what it is today. Social media and the continual rise of the Internet are driving the next stage of branding as consumers clamor to participate with companies.  Customers spend an exorbitant time on their phones and in social media. If you are not where your customers are, you don’t exist. Companies are also scrambling to build an active and loyal customer base. Search engine optimization, viral marketing, outsourced delivery and branding now allow small and medium-sized businesses to gain visibility without spending a fortune on advertising and infrastructure. However, it's your brand that connects the dots.

Why is branding important for your business?

Crafting a brand story is the first step for new and emerging companies, a new product launch or a rebranding effort being done by a well-established brand to gain and retain recognition. It is, in essence, the sum of people's perception of a company's purpose, their customer service, marketing, messaging and reputation. If done well, you'll set building blocks in place that allow your business to thrive. Your procurable clients will show up simply because they like what you stand for, what you do and the story you share.

Many businesses, however, concentrate on explaining what they do, product features, benefits and services while never stating why they do it. The “why” is what makes an emotional connection with the people who matter the most to your business - your clients and customers. Keep in mind that your brand story can:

… and so much more.

Your story communicates your vision for how you believe the world should be, and naturally attracts those who believe what you believe.

How to craft your brand story

Branding is a vital (and often overlooked) component when differentiating your business from your competition and establishing yourself as a leader in your industry. Just like running a successful business takes hard work, so does creating and maintaining a healthy brand.

Your brand story can generate results and increase the perceived value of your product or service. Your brand can earn the loyalty of your customers or clients and communicate your purpose and vision. Some of the largest and most successful companies in the world have heartfelt stories that instill meaning into what they do, such as Coca-Cola, Nike or Google themselves. Each has become an industry icon because of their brand identity. Instead of just another "me too" brand, they have risen above the crowd all because people remember a good story.

The good news for smaller businesses is that a brand story doesn't have to be expensive, but it will take some effort on your part. Since people will buy products or services from a brand that appears trustworthy and legitimate, you will want to be sure your brand story is polished and authentic and worth sharing.

What's the next step?

A great brand story is what draws in your audience and peaks their interest. It makes an emotional connection and elicits a response that compels them to want to connect and be associated with what the brand stands for. Your brand story is your corporate strategy. It’s the springboard for everything else. For many small and medium-sized businesses just getting started is the hard part. We're here to help. At HGX Creative, we work with businesses that are in the startup, restart or refresh stage of their business life cycle when they typically begin to form, rebuild or rejuvenate their brand and need our assistance to bring it all together.

We are not only qualified, but we've walked in your shoes, and we've "been there, done that" many times, both for ourselves and for our clients. Now, we're partnering with Alexis Kopikis, founder of Alexify, to improve our techniques for crafting a compelling strategic narrative that resonates with your customers as part of the brand development and brand building work we do. Alexis has more than 20 years of strategic storytelling and has worked with more than 40 companies crafting messaging that captures attention, builds loyalty and establishes core positioning.

We will work hand in hand to ensure that you have the information you need to embrace and understand the value in creating a compelling brand to capture market attention and compete in today's marketplace. Why stand alone, when you can stand head and shoulders above the rest? Your story begins here.

Dimensional direct mail can be well worth its weight

 

Nothing against flat mail, it’s just that Pretty Hot and Tempting (PHAT) mail, also known as lumpy mail and dimensional mail, has much more going for it. It can simultaneously appeal to emotions, trigger intrigue and look official or important making it irresistible to open. We’re talking about dimensional mail that screams "pay attention to me!"

The use of promotional products as an incentive to respond generated four times as many responses as a sales letter alone (PPAI 2017). People are bombarded with all sorts of electronic messaging, ads and offers. Direct mail isn’t as cluttered and it’s the only strategy that doesn’t rely on an evolving computer-generated algorithm to get your message in front of your target market. The Data & Marketing Association data backs it up: Large envelopes have a response rate of nearly 50 percent higher than that of letter-sized envelopes. Add some bulk to that envelope or include something that squishes, jiggles and even jingles, and you’ve made it near to impossible to be ignored.

The DMA tested neuro-marketing research in direct mail and found that three things ring true:
But what if your budget doesn’t allow for a beefed up dimensional mail piece?

We’ve got a solution for that. Add a ride-along. A ride-along is a light-weight promotional piece that doesn’t require additional postage. It fits inside the envelope you’re already planning to use and won’t impact your mail cost. For short money you can add SWAG that reinforces your marketing message and keeps your brand in front of the recipient. Promotional items like car magnets, tech tattoos and cleaning cloths can give you a great bang for your buck without blowing your budget.

Because it’s not lumpy and it doesn’t jiggle or jingle, don’t forget to let the recipient know there’s something in it for them if they take the time to open your mail piece. Bright colored envelopes catch the eye especially when it’s printed with “FREE” and an eye-catching description of what they get if they open the envelope.  You’re already printing the envelope with an address so including your call to action in the same print color shouldn’t increase your costs.

While dimensional mail comes in many different forms, don’t forget to focus on five core attributes that we’ve found exponentially increase ROI.

For more information on direct mail campaigns contact us.  508-405-4506

Marketers, we can't hide from the GDPR.

We can't beat it so we might as well get onboard. Here's what you need to know.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) sounds complicated - even the abbreviation is a mouthful. And while GDPR is mainly a European set of regulations, companies in the U.S. will begin to feel the impact soon after it goes into effect in May of 2018.

What is GDPR?

The rules were created because legislators believe regular people needed to have more control of their personal data. Additionally, the regulatory guidelines for businesses had not been updated since the time Yahoo! was all the rage and AIM was the cool thing to do. GDPR is meant to give businesses and the general public a more even playing field in the digital arena.

The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, believes that more trust is needed in the digital economy. The EC thinks that trust can be won by providing online consumers with greater control and more information over how and when their data is used.

An important point to note: GDPR does not only apply to businesses that are in the EU (and Britain) - it applies to any company that does business within the EU. Facebook, Twitter and Google, for example, are all having to rework their business processes. There are steep fines and other very bad outcomes for businesses which operate in or around the EU that are guilty of noncompliance.

How will GDPR impact U.S. marketing?

There are many compliance issues surrounding GDPR, but the three main ones marketing managers need to know are data permission, data focus and data access.

Data permission

Data permission is how you collect someone's personal information in return for promotional material, such as email opt-ins. Moving forward, you cannot assume that the user is willing to be contacted - they now have to opt-in to be contacted, in a specific, informed, freely given, and unambiguous way, through a transparent, affirmative action. Basically, they need to click a radio dial that clearly states they agree to be contacted.

Data focus

When collecting user data, GDPR states that your company has to justify what kinds of personal data you are collecting. So instead of compiling as much information as possible, you should only collect what you can prove that you need in order to do business with that consumer. Or: just collect the very specific data you must have in order to do business, and nothing else.

Data access

The right to be forgotten has been one of the leading talking points when developing the GDPR. In a nutshell, users need to be able to access and remove their data easily.

Who will GDPR impact?

Every business doing business digitally, from a small mom-and-pop shop to giants like Google and every kind of business in between that even thinks about shipping to the EU will be affected by GDPR. No matter how small or large your business is, if you are not in compliance, then you could face fines.

Criteria a business has to meet and not be fined include:

The EU will monitor and enforce the GDPR by member state, so each country that is part of the EU will enforce and regulate their laws individually. If a business is based in the US, but ships or does business in the EU, they should speak with a specialist to see how they could be affected.

Fines and implications for failure to comply with GDPR include:

Here is a short, easy-to-follow checklist to be in compliance for GDPR before it goes into effect. If you're unsure how it will affect your business, reach out to a specialist at HGX Creative today!

How to be GDPR compliant:

Frequently asked questions

  1. How will EU regulators enforce the GDPR on American companies?
    First, if your business has a European-based physical presence, the GDPR can be enforced directly. However, the GDPR states that if your business is selling or interacting with customers in the EU, you must have an EU-based representative.The EU will use international law to enforce cooperation with the GDPR. The U.S. and EU law enforcement agencies have a long history of collaboration, and the EU can fine a U.S. company for violating the GDPR - and the U.S. federal authorities will help enforce that fine.
  2. How can the EU fine me if I'm in America?
    The EU has many agreements in place, such as the U.S. Privacy Shield data sharing agreement, and the EU can issue complaints and fines against U.S. companies. If a U.S. company violates the GDPR, the country in the EU that is enforcing it can just file the fine and complaint, and the U.S. authorities will levy it against the business.
  3. What if I don't pay the GDPR fine?
    If you don't pay the fine, the EU can cite your business, cut off your ability to transfer data in that country, and levy steeper fines. Additionally, with current favorable EU-U.S. cooperation conditions, the U.S. could step in and force your business to pay the fine.
  4. How can the EU tell if I violated the GDPR?
    Agencies set up in countries that are upholding the GDPR have full investigative power to ask the controller and processor of any business operating within the EU to provide any information the agency thinks is relevant. To begin with, the company will be in the "suspicion of a violation" category, and if they take prompt steps to rectify the situation, then most companies will get a warning.However, if a violation has been confirmed, the agency can issue reprimands, order the company to bring their practices into compliance, and order the deletion of any data that's in violation. If previous warnings and orders have been ignored, more severe measures are enforceable. These measures include a ban on processing in the EU, a suspicion of data to or from the country, and fines.
  5. How soon after a breach do I need to get into compliance?
    Within 72 hours of becoming aware of a breach of GDPR regulations, the company is required to notify authorities, the subjects of the data breach, and the regulating body where it happened. (For example, if personal information was hacked into and stolen in Ireland, you'd have to notify the Ireland GDPR agency.)

Sweepstakes and skills contest compliance

The internet has become so noisy that you have to broadcast a strong signal in order to be heard and noticed by potential customers. Amidst the clutter of GIFs and memes are attempts by innovative, engaging brands to connect with their audience in a meaningful way. Two popular, related methods of doing so are chance-based sweepstakes and skill-based contests.

Usually, the creative minds in marketing, sales or community outreach are the ones creating and running these promotions. Unfortunately, failure to consult with a legal team can result in many legal compliance issues being overlooked. If you are thinking about launching a skills contest or sweepstakes, there is a multitude of compliance issues for you to address. While all of this should be done with the assistance of your lawyer or legal team, you can make their job easier - and your results better - by being thoroughly prepared.

For helpful, easy-to-implement tips for defining your promotion, creating common documents, preparing for regulations and more: [PDF_form]