Q&A: Stephen Malbon, CEO & founder of The Malbon Group

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Stephen Malbon, CEO and founder of The Malbon Group, shares his views on what print has to do to maintain its relevancy in the digital age.

Q: How important is interactive content?

A: Interactive is crucial because it shows that a brand understands the landscape and the demographic they're going after. Now it's the norm; it's not something “added,” and it brings so much more to it than the old way of doing things. It would be foolish not to do it. The more touchpoints you can hit the consumer on, the better.

Q: Is there a place for traditional marketing media, like print, in the future?

A: With The Frank Book, the publication we produce, we print around 75,000 copies for the entire world, and then we'll see them on eBay for up to $100 each because it's such a sought after, rare, hard-to-find piece of print. At the same time, all that content is 100% available on the Internet, but there's something about holding that book and having it in your hand or putting it into a collection. If you do go through the effort of making something in print, it needs to be quality enough that people want to keep it for more than one flip-through. If it's not done right, print can be a waste of a lot of things, including energy, trees and money, and it also becomes aggravating to the consumer to get all this junk.

Q: Part of the success of The Frank Book seems to be the way it's tapped such a loyal community. How can marketers go about building a consumer community?

A: You have to help create cool, instead of chasing cool trends. A lot of artists had their first press ever in Frank, and then they went on to become popular and successful and have their own huge fan bases. They have a lot of brand loyalty to us for helping them with their careers. So it's about helping people and also about giving consumers something they can't necessarily get anywhere else. Stick to your guns and not the changing trends. Focus on the long-term picture of where you're going and what you need to do to get there.

Q: Can you name some forward-thinking brands that have been doing some interesting things in direct marketing recently?

A: Pinterest and Instagram are like digital bumper stickers that show what you like. Whether it's a skateboard or the Grateful Dead, it's about showing personal tastes, and seeing brands use these correctly is interesting. These platforms are doing a really good job of carving their place in the way people share content, especially visual content, which is more compelling to younger people.

Q: You grew up on a hog farm in Virginia Beach. Any life lessons you picked up that are applicable to your life today?

A: I learned hard work, like when the pipes would freeze and burst and I'd see my father go at 5 a.m. in the middle of winter to fix them so the pigs could get water. That took a serious level of commitment, repetitively waking up and doing what had to be done. Nothing ever runs exactly the way you think it will. There are curve balls and obstacles, but you know that if you give it your all, everything will work out.

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