How do you keep in touch with the people who use your products, particularly if they aren't the ones who make the buying decisions? Deluxe Check Printers Inc., in St. Paul, Minn., manufacturers of checks for bank customers, recently attached short notes to its boxes of checks saying, in part: " [Apply] a little American ingenuity to check-writing and come up with something new. Anything from the printing of documents to their everyday use. . . . Whatever it might be, we would like to hear something about it. To field responses, the company set up a toll-free number manned by employees, dubbing it Ideas Central.

"We don't have much direct contact with the end-users of our products," says Paul Malone, the company's manager of marketing research. "So we decided to reach out and solicit their ideas and opinions." Customer responses ranged from suggestions for novel types of personalized checks to general comments about the quality of the company's products.

The program ran for three months in late 1983, and will be revived again sometime this year. "The objective isn't so much to get great ideas," explains Malone, "as it is to establish communication with the public. Instead of being a faceless company, we wanted to say, in effect, Hey, if you have something to say about this product, talk right back to us, the manufacturer."