In the mid 90’s the Dallas area saw the first big boom of the craft beer industry. A handful of micro-breweries opened their doors and introduced Dallas beer drinkers to the world of craft beer, but by 2000 almost all of the breweries closed. As a new wave of Dallas area brewers opens their taps, what lessons can be learned from the industry’s past failure?
Dallas’s first wave of home-grown craft beer came in the form of gastro-pubs, where the food wasn’t that great and the beer was equally mediocre. Servers knew very little about the beers offered and how to pare them with different entrees, so most patrons continued to order the big national beer that they were familiar with. With little to no marketing educating customers about beer offerings it’s no wonder that most of the breweries failed.
While it’s true your line of beers have to be good for you to turn a profit, how you brand and market your tasty brews determines how much profit and how long you can continue to grow. As with all businesses, your product doesn’t mean a lot if you can’t get it in front of customers. You ideal customer isn’t waiting out there for the next big craft brewery to launch, so it’s up to you to make them aware. While it’s true that you may have a ton of awards touting your Belgian Triple as the best American brewed beer since St. Bernardis began distributing in the United States, it doesn’t matter if no one is there to try.
Sure you sell beer to your customers, but what are they really buying from you? For any brewery to live beyond the initial boom of launch, it helps to realize what your customers are looking for in your brand. The first phase of brewpubs missed this opportunity by only offering beer on site. Brand adoption meant that these patrons liked the food or atmosphere of the brewpub with beer being the least important factor despite restaurants making beer the differentiating factor. If your customers’ brand expectations don’t align with your brand promise then failure is inevitable.
Most beer drinkers align with certain brands that represent their lifestyle or tribe they belong to. Pabst Blue Ribbon has seen an enormous resurgence in the last decade as the choice for most concert-going hipsters. While Pabst Blue Ribbon isn’t the best tasting beer on the market, the tribe associated with the brand has rocketed them to success due to the unique paring of ironic mustaches and ironic beer drinking. Think about the lifestyle that your beer represents to you target audience, and craft your brand and marketing efforts around it. It’s important to realize that if you’re honest in your messaging your fan base will grow. So, never try to make your brand be something that it isn’t.
Every interaction with your target audience is an opportunity to brand. Don’t leave anything to chance. Your beer may be great, but if your packaging looks like everyone else on the shelf you can’t expect your customer to remember you. Think about your tap handles, merchandise, packaging and social media messaging in terms of strategy. Define specific goals for each channel of your marketing. Even your brewery tours should have a strategy. While it’s great to educate visitors about how beer is made, does that differentiate you from the other breweries that are doing the same. Crafting experiences for all five senses in your tour will form stronger memories, and stronger memories means that the next time your target is at the store or a pub they’ll order your beer instead of the other hundreds of options available.
While Dallas’s craft beer scene didn’t survive the first initial wave due to lack of differentiation and poor to non-existent branding and marketing efforts, the new class of breweries which includes Lakewood Brewing Co., Community Beer Company, and Deep Ellum Brewing Company are showing a focus on strong brewing lines backed by strategic branding and marketing efforts. Not all of the new breweries will survive the latest boom, but I believe that the craft beer scene will remain strong and continue to grow in the Dallas area.
Successful restauranteurs take the time to order the freshest ingredients, prepare the most mouth-watering recipes and offer the best service to create an experience for diners that keeps them coming back. Yet with all of the focus on the details of the dining experience, food photography on websites and other marketing materials is almost always an afterthought.
It’s not uncommon for chefs, restaurant owners or even marketing managers to own the latest and greatest professional grade camera giving them the ability to shoot food imagery themselves. Professional photographers aren’t the bad asses they are because they own a great camera. They are awesome at what they do, because they have an eye for composition and lighting, experience translating a flat image into a mouth-watering visual, and they have the expertise to use the right tools for the job. A great photographer can create a stunning image regardless of the quality of camera, whereas an amateur photographer with the best quality camera will always produce a mediocre image. Hiring a professional photographer is the first step to creating an image that gets people craving your food.
While your head chef knows how to make a delicious meal with a beautiful presentation to be delivered directly to your patrons, the same plate will likely not be camera ready. There is a big discrepancy in what we view as appetizing when a meal is on a plate before us, and what is appetizing in a photo on a website or print ad. In person, you have other senses like smell and taste to enhance your perception of a dish. A great food stylist understands the limitations in photography, and is able to enhance the visual representation of a dish to make up for the loss of smell and taste. Great photography doesn’t happen instantly and in just one shot, so you’re beautifully plated ice cream dessert won’t last more than two minutes under the lights. I spent many years concepting and art directing food and beverage shoots for Friday’s, and learned just how valuable the subtle details are that a food stylist adds. Having your chef work with the stylist will ensure that everything is made to spec, so that customers’ expectations are met.
Food photography can not only drive business into your restaurant, but it can also create demand for higher profit dishes. When visitors to your site see a shot of a beautiful entree, their brain kicks into desire mode and they will flock to your establishment to satisfy those cravings. Take the time and care working with a professional photographer and stylist just as you would ensuring that the in-house dining experience fulfills those same expectations. After all, getting people to your restaurant is just as important as ensuring they have a memorable dining experience.
As the craft beer market continues to expand, the long-term success of craft breweries depends on differentiation in more than just product line. It’s likely that your tasty Belgian Triple will be offered by not just one, but many of your competitors as the market continues to saturate. Differences in taste may satisfy the aficionados, but that only makes up a small percentage of your overall market. How you present your brand and deliver on your brand experience will determine if you find your fan boys. Windows of opportunity in how you package your beer may be the edge that your brand needs to outpace the competition. Canning could be your beginning point of differentiation.
An overall consumer opinion of cans representing poor quality beer has kept many craft brewers from offering cans, though the attitudes are changing. The metallic taste perceived from canned beer is always a concern for brewers who aim to deliver their beer as it was meant to be tasted. Plastic liners in beer cans help to eliminate the metallic taste from permeating the beer, though concerns about drinking directly from the can will always be considered an issue for many brewers. The reality is, that true beer aficionados will always pour their beer into a glass. However, most craft beer drinkers will drink their beer from the container it comes in, and it’s this group that presents the largest area of growth for the industry. While it’s likely that the taste is changed from drinking directly from the can, it’s doubtful that the bulk of craft beer drinkers and big beer converts will be influenced by the slight differences. These are the same people that would drink directly from a bottle which affects the aroma and flavor in much the same way.
The point of entry into the canned beer market is one of the biggest obstacles facing craft brewers. The initial cost of setting up a canning line is estimated to be between $200,000 to $500,000 not including the cost of printing cans. Mobile canneries have begun popping up as an affordable entry point for smaller craft breweries. The services roll out portable canning lines to breweries of all sizes with conveyors powered through regular 110-volt wall outlets. In addition, pre-printed labels are adhered to plain silver cans similar to labeling bottles cutting down on the cost of printing and storing large volumes of cans. While this new technology is still out of reach for most nanobreweries, its an affordable option for most craft breweries interested in canning.
Despite the perceptions of canned beer quality, canning your beer can have some distinct advantages over bottled beer. Canned beer is much more portable than a bottle in that it’s lighter and more durable. Cans protect beer from light better than any brown or green bottle, because it doesn’t let any light in. Aluminum is more easily recycled than glass, though it’s arguable that the initial production of aluminum requires more energy than glass. Canned beer is easier to transport in bulk than bottled beer, because it’s lighter and you can fit more cans on a palette than bottles. Saving money on transport adds up to greater profit at retail.
The biggest benefit of the can is in brand differentiation. In 2012 the Craft Brewers Association estimated that there are 2,347 craft breweries operating in the United States. In that same year, over 200 of those craft breweries offered beer in cans, meaning that only 8.5% of the craft brewing industry in the U.S. is offering canned beer. Canning is still a huge area for differentiation particularly since most craft breweries compete on a local level. Dallas-area Deep Ellum Brewing Company was first to market in Dallas with canned beer, and it has no doubt given them a competitive edge in the local beer section for retail opportunities.
In 2002 Oskar Blues became the first craft brewery to market itself in a can, and has seen enormous success with an increase in retail orders. Cans have the unique ability to stick out amidst a sea of bottled six packs while also allowing more product to be stored on a refrigerated shelf. Canning also opened opportunities for Oskar Blues to be offered at sporting events or concerts where glass bottles aren’t allowed. Cans can also be offered on airplanes opening new areas of opportunity for retail sales as well as brand exposure.
Over the next year it’s likely that canned craft beer will grow exponentially with the continued change in consumer opinions and the increase in affordable options for canning lines. The window of opportunity to differentiate with packaging will begin to narrow while the early adopters will continue to benefit from the brand recognition associated with being the first local brewery to offer up cans to consumers.
Here’s a sample of some recent logo and visual identity work for a new restaurant concept coming later this year to Trinity Groves in Dallas. Kitchen LTO is a permanent pop-up restaurant that changes chefs, menus and interiors quarterly. The name and location of Kitchen LTO will stay the same, but each time you return could be a different dining experience altogether.
As more and more vertical industries become oversaturated with competing brands it becomes harder to differentiate yourself in the eyes of the consumer. Some brands lurk in the shadows of the more successful leaders attempting to draft off their success. These parasitic brands come in three different flavors, but they all have one thing in common. They will never achieve the success they strive for.
In the world of office supplies Office Depot is king, or is it Office Max? I’ve never been able to keep the two straight, and that’s because they both lack differentiation. The logos bear a similar look, the store layouts are practically clones of each other, and the fact that they often are located relatively close to one another can leave any office supply consumer confused about which is which. Though neither company set out to copy the competitor, the truth is that the overall generic approach to branding has led both companies to blend into the mundane world of office supplies. Staples has introduced just enough differentiation throughout their brand that I always buy my office supplies with them. Plus, it’s a little embarrassing for your customer to not know what store they are in.
Sometimes it’s so tempting to emulate the brands that get it right. Even though your visual identity looks exactly like your competition, your different name will be enough for your consumers to pick you over them, right? Pinkberry was one of the first big national brands to ride the wave of the frozen yogurt resurgence, and despite the fact that we didn’t have a Pinkberry in Dallas for years I was somehow familiar with the brand as “the” place for frozen yogurt (my true weakness.) Yogurtland opened a few miles from my house, and I couldn’t help but notice a striking resemblance to the Pinkberry visual identity. I imagine the project brief meeting to go something like this. “We’d like a fresh, approachable visual identity similar to what Pinkberry has.” Admittedly, the looks are different enough from a legal standpoint, but from a consumers standpoint it’s clear that Yogurtland is the little sister in this scenario.
In some cases, the parasitic brands know exactly what they are, and they embrace it. Why not just copy a brand in hopes that unknowing consumers will mistakenly buy your generic brand and fall in love with it? This would be the marketing managers who say their customers are stupid. The generic soft drink market is rampant with examples of this marketing tactic. President’s Choice is probably one of the most familiar examples with options like PC Cola, Spritz Up, and Mountain Mania. The packaging and names at a quick read could easily trick an unsuspecting consumer into buying these cheaper knockoffs instead of the Coke, Sprite, 7up or Mountain Dew they wanted. President’s Choice puts out a whole line of products that look like the more familiar bigger brands, so at least they have pride in being the parasite they are.
Parasitic brands attack the very principle of successful brand-building, differentiation. They are satisfied to remain a second-tier product in their category, because you can’t follow anyone if you’re a leader. Unless you plan on never taking a market lead, avoid becoming another parasitic brand in your vertical space.
Four Characteristics of Successful Logos
Logo Design and Your Brand Story
The Unreasonable Demands of the Modern Logo
How Will Your Logo Be Remebered?
If Everyone Drove Off a Bridge Would You?
Eight Reasons Why Your Logo Hates You
The world of marketing is overrun by the same expected ideas over and over again. The root of the problem isn’t just that the amount of bad designers and difficult clients out there has grown. It stems from the communication and understanding breakdown between clients and designers. We both want great design that is successful and wins business, however our definitions of great design are quite different.
Clients might define great design as a solution that gets results. Creatives may define it as a strong creative concept. The truth is that successful design is both and more. Strong design effectively and memorably communicates a solution that connects to the target audience, is backed by strategy and grounded in creativity. Without positive results all the creativity amounts to pure self-indulgence or art, but without creativity design lacks memorability and differentiation damaging longterm success.
Great design will always require more effort to sell and defend than it will take to execute. Truly differentiated graphic design solutions will almost always scare the shit out of clients. To be successful and differentiated in today’s marketplace means taking risks. Robert Brunner at AIGA Pivot 2011 said it best, “A risk averse strategy is very risky.” Being a leader means doing things that competitors aren’t doing, and that can mean putting your brand at risk. Understand where you’re clients fears are coming from and speak directly to those concerns when you’re presenting an idea.
The rationale behind showing a bad idea, because it will help the client see how effective another idea sounds like a great way to sell a great solution. I’ve been part of presentations in the past that take this approach, and it never works. Nine times out of ten what you presumed was an obviously bad solution becomes the front runner, and then you’re stuck trying to make a bad solution work. Only show your best, defensible solutions to the problem that backs the strategy while connecting to the target audience, and defend those solutions. Don’t fight with clients, but do relate the solution back to the strategy, goals, and audience.
Good ideas only get better through the push and pull of the client/agency relationship, whereas, bad ideas always get worse. Ask for specific feedback on the solution realizing that “I don’t like it” isn’t helpful to building a solution that does works. Discuss the specific problem areas that don’t align with the strategy, or elements that may be disconnected from the target audience. Work to define the problem that you’re trying to solve before diving into possible solutions. Without both the client and the agency understanding the obstacle, it’s likely that the best solution will be lost. Every option you present should be solving the problems you’ve defined together. Just as all designers must have a rationale outside of “it looks good,” clients must be held to the same standards. Never be afraid to ask a client to explain how a specific edit or suggestion is solving the problem. Like and dislike have no place in great design, especially since you or the client aren’t the target audience.
Defining your strategy, goals and target audience can help bridge the distance between the perspectives of great design solutions without compromising effectiveness. Understanding the concerns and learning to address them can be the quickest way to sell effective design. After all, designers aren’t selling solutions, we’re selling the piece of mind that those solutions will work.
By today’s marketing standards logos presumably have a greater responsibility, the truth is that your logo has only one purpose — identifying your brand. I’ve written about four key characteristics for every successful logo in the marketplace, and memorability is arguably one of the most important to serve a logo’s primary responsibility.
In order to talk about logo memorability, you must first have an understanding of how our brain accesses and stores information. The human brain is remarkable in that it can store vast amounts of complex information, but the reality is that we absorb and access those complex memories with the use of small packets. Think of the way phone numbers are constructed, 214-453-5665. The dashes, or dots if you follow overused trends, are a device developed to help with memory recall. Instead of remembering a 10 digit number, we’re able to store phone numbers as three separate groups of numbers. We even use a similar rhythm when we verbally communicate our number to someone else. Movie titles, songs and business names follow the same formula often using one to three words to enhance recall.
Successful logo design taps into the same idea using simplicity of shape and limited color to increase the effectiveness of recall. The more details that you include in your logo, the more information your target audience has to store about your brand. Likewise, the more colors your logo uses the more information your target audience has to access to recall your brand. Simplicity isn’t just a modern aesthetic. It’s a powerful memory enhancer. Since your logo isn’t selling your product or service, it needs to be quickly recognizable to allow your target audience to access their experience with your brand which will begin to sell your product or service.
Getting your logo into the simplest form will insure that you have the right amount of detail in the final solution, whereas designing for simplicity can sometimes lead to under-designed logos that feel cold, detached from the brand or worse, devoid of professionalism. The key to simplicity in design is to slowly strip away any unnecessary details and colors from your logo solutions. I typically whittle a design away until it’s lost its recognizability from the original idea, and then I take one step back.
Redesigns of many successful logos use this whittling method to create iconic brands. For instance, the older version of the Shell logo on the left uses a lot of detail in the logo mark, whereas the more current redesign has simplified the form without destroying the logos heritage. Our brain instantly recognizes the shape as a shell, so the logotype becomes extraneous information. The newer version requires less space in your memory and is much easier to recall which is not coincidental.
When you enhance the simplicity of your logo form and limit your colors, you enhance memory recall for your target audience. Without memorability you’ll likely never hear from an interested prospect once they are ready to purchase your product or service.
Every piece of your marketing should work to address your customers pain points. Your website is no different, yet so many sites’ ordering systems create many new pain points. I discovered first hand how bad user experience design and lack of troubleshooting can turn a fun time into a hassle.
We planned to take my dad to see a movie at a theater that was a half-way point for both of us— about 30 miles or 45 minutes of Dallas driving time. I ordered tickets online through the large national theater chain’s corporate site. I checked out before I realize I had purchased tickets for Saturday instead of Sunday. Realizing my mistake, I checked the site and email confirmation to see if there was link to exchange the tickets for another time, or at the very least cancel the order and start over again. Despite not having a link, there were two phone numbers listed.
The first number that I called was customer service which informed me that business hours were Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm. Since it was Saturday, I was prompted to leave a message and someone would call me back during business hours. Considering that the movie we wanted to see was on Sunday, and the tickets I mistakenly purchased were for Saturday, having someone call on Monday wouldn’t exactly solve the problem. I also began to question the logic of the customer service hour times considering the peak business hours for movie theaters are Friday after 5pm to Sunday afternoon. Who exactly is the customer service line helping?
I called the second number which connected me to the theater. The attendant said they could make the switch, but I’d have to come to the theater’s box office. Making an exchange over the phone wasn’t an option. I asked if we could get there early on Sunday to make the switch, and they said that it had to be taken care of on the same day of the original tickets meaning I had to drive to the theater which was 45 minutes to an hour from my house, even though I’d be making that drive the very next day. I explained this to them, and they said it was their corporate policy that exchanges could only be made in person. This policy is likely based off reporting box office sales at an individual theater, especially since retailers generally offer a 30-day return policy on items purchased.
Begrudgingly, I drove to the theater to make the exchange which consisted of the box office person printing out the original tickets, asking me what time and day to exchange them for, and printing out three new tickets with three refund receipts for the old ticket. Since I never showed an ID or credit card, I still question why this couldn’t be handled over the phone. All he needed was the confirmation number which I could have easily given over the phone to make the exchange. I guess they really wanted to see my not so smiling face while making the exchange.
I ordered the tickets online as a convenience from having to arrive extra early on Sunday. Convenience turned into inconvenience when the theater’s website didn’t offer a way to make changes to an order — a standard to most ecommerce sites. Inconvenience turned into outright hassle when I had to drive 30 miles to the theater to exchange the tickets in person.
I realize that the national theater chain has gone to great links to make sure that their website and business runs great from management’s perspective, so much so that the customer experience isn’t even a consideration. Instead they should focus on how easily you can make transactions for the most common customer needs. How about allowing a way to change orders on the site, someone answering the customer service phones during peak movie watching times, or allowing changes to online orders over the phone with the theater box office. Each step in this transaction made my experience more frustrating.
User experience design focuses on how a user interacts with your website or product, and applies this knowledge to make the overall experience intuitive, reliable and in some cases enjoyable. Take the time to test your site from your customer’s perspective. You’ll be surprised what mistakes arise from a confusing web interface or your user’s lack of attention in my case. Having a workflow to make these mistakes easy to correct can mean the difference between keeping or losing a customer.
No matter what your core business is about, the urge to crowdsource opinions even in the more controlled form of a focus group can often lead to you making the same mistake as the rest of the competition. So why, in our never-ending quest to create a business that provides a unique service or product to a specific market do business owners and agencies continue to use focus groups?
Innovation has never been built on group consensus. As a matter of fact, true innovation always comes from someone taking a risk, and daring to do something unexpected which is one of the biggest phobias of human nature. Anything new is scary, because we don’t know if it will hurt or help us. We like what is familiar, however if that’s what we stick with we’d probably not have many of the wonderful devices that seem to dominant our business life to date. I remember the trepidation that I first felt in purchasing an item over the internet, something which I don’t think twice about today.
Add to the mixture a group of individuals being asked their opinion on a new product or even the marketing behind the product, and the need for a familiar comfort zone becomes even greater. Even though we’re individuals we still want to belong to a group, and as such our opinions may change based solely on the company we’re in. The classic “All in the Family” failed miserably in focus groups with most participants feeling that Archie Bunker wasn’t relatable, and needed to be more likable. The show aired for eight seasons, ranked number 1 in the yearly Nielsen ratings from 1971-1976, and launched three highly successful spin-offs — Maude, The Jeffersons, and Archie Bunker’s Place despite testing poorly. By today’s standards the show would likely have never made it to the air, or worse it would have been another watered-down sitcom that tried to appeal to too broad of a market while actually appealing to no one. Producers took a chance on “All in the Family,” because they never lost sight of the show’s potential despite a negative general opinion.
The psychology of a brand and purchasing decisions for a demographic aren’t within the scope of your audience’s expertise. Personal opinions often become the central focus of testing. Unfortunately, like and dislike become the grading system for new brands that are in their infancy and old favorites that are showing their age. It’s so much easier to point out everything that you dislike about a logo, ad campaign, or marketing brochure than it is to explain the elements that you like. What’s worse is to try and have a person explain why they dislike something. I’m sure that we’ve all heard the ubiquitous, “I don’t know why I don’t like it, but it just looks bad to me.” The reality is that personal opinion has never been linked to the long-term success of any brand, and the stranger fact is that most successful rebrands are often met with strong opposition at launch which quickly dies down as consumers get used to the change.
In order to succeed in today’s overcrowded marketplace differentiation has to be a central focus for your company. While many entrepreneurs and business owners set out with this goal in mind they quickly find themselves as far away from differentiation as possible. You see your competitors develop a marketing campaign that is highly successful and the gut reaction is to do something similar in your own brand identity. While it may seem that you’re differentiated with your messaging and visual identity the reality is that you are not leading. Instead you’ve opted to follow the success of a competitor blending yourself into the vertical market to mitigate your risk. Being different takes confidence, just ask Apple. For years they’ve built a company based off of design and differentiation. They even used the tagline “Think different” for several of those years. Though it wasn’t an easy path, Apple has risen to be one of the most profitable companies in the United States revolutionizing not only the computer industry, but the personal electronic industry as well. The riskiest path to take in business is to not differentiate yourself.
So often as business owners, we want to calculate the return on investment (ROI) for every piece of marketing that is created. ROI is a great short-term look at how some of your marketing tactics are performing like response rates for direct mail, visits and conversions for your web site or even click rates for your online ads, however visual identities can’t be measured by the same metrics. Your logo and your visual identity will likely never bring you direct revenue, because that’s not their job. Their job is to help with memory retention and emotional connections to your company, product or service — the touchy, feely stuff that ultimately drives brand adoption.
So how do you measure the success of a visual identity system? Every successful visual identity in the market has four key characteristics that they are built around — differentiation, memorability, flexibility and simplicity. All four of these characteristics help create memories that allow your customers and prospects to access the feelings they have associated with your brand. Differentiation demonstrates innovation while creating a distinct visual identity that only you own. Memorability and simplicity work together to create an easily recognizable visual vocabulary that can be recalled quickly. Our memory functions best in small bites, so clear concise messaging, and strong, simple shapes form stronger connections. Flexibility allows you room to play with the brand visual vocabulary to keep the look fresh and invigorating, but it also refers to the ability to adapt your visual style to different media — print, embroidery, neon, web, television, etc.
The true impact of your brand is equal to the passion of your followers not the amount of your followers. As your brand is shaped and shared over social media by your fans and critics it’s important to have your die-hard fans defending your brand. It’s fire that your fanboys bring to your brand that will keep your company at the forefront of your prospects minds.
Perhaps the true value of focus groups might best be determined by a focus group. Use the four benchmarks of successful brands, while always keeping a sharp focus on what you do better than any of your competitors and you’ll continue to find the long-term success in your vertical market. Save the focus groups for your competitors, so they’ll continue to be the same while you take the lead.
Crowdsourcing: The Great Super Design Buffet
Logo Design and Your Brand Story
If Everyone Drove Off a Bridge Would You?
The Unreasonable Demands of the Modern Logo
Four Characteristics of Successful Logos
Branding is Poison, and You’re the Antidote
Eight Reasons Why Your Logo Hates You
It’s not uncommon for business to appropriate generic iconography in their logo design. While this may seem like a cheap and effective solution to communicate your brand story, it rarely has the impact that your logo should have.
One of the key characteristics of a successful logo is differentiation. If you’re differentiated you can own your visual identity. No one will confuse you with your competitors. By adopting an existing generic icon like a dollar sign, heart, key, etc., you sacrifice your ability to stand out for a quick association of what your brand is about. What’s to stop any of your competitors for taking the same approach? After all, you can’t trademark a generic icon.
At face value, the dollar sign, is a symbol for money in America. When you look at restaurant and hotel reviews expense is often indicated with a number of dollar signs. But what about pawn shops and short term lenders? To them the dollar sign represents cheap deals or quick cash. Which way will your target audience view your logo with a generic dollar sign? You may come to represent cheapness which is often the worst way to position your business.
Spend the time developing a logo that works for your business values, and avoid the pitfalls of using an existing generic icon that you’ll never be able to call your own. Understand what your brand is about, and work with a designer to create an identity that works for your target audience while allowing your business to grow.
Outside of being asked to do work for free, the most common question I get asked is, “Are You Hiring?” This email is usually followed up with an attached PDF of a resume and portfolio samples or a link to a portfolio website. While these are all great tactics, the information contained in the resume, samples or websites are often more miss than hit. Sadly, marketing yourself as a designer is rarely a skill taught in design school, and it’s more important than the body of work you have to show. I thought I’d put together a simple list of strategies that worked for me as I was graduating from college and looking for an entry level position at a local design firm.
You’re marketing yourself, so it makes sense to use the golden rule in marketing. Research the agencies and firms your interested in working at. Would an in-house position at a corporate headquarters best suit your skills and goals, or does a small boutique design shop sound like more of your pace? Think of the type of work that you really enjoyed doing in your classes and find an agency that specializes in that type of work. If possibly, try to connect with someone that works at the firm you have your sites on, or better yet, someone who used to work at that firm. These are the connections that will give you the most unbiased opinion of your target agency, and you can find out the more important factors like company culture, how teams work together and opportunities for career growth. You’ll develop a better understanding of the type of work, atmosphere and obstacles that you’ll be faced with if you do a little research ahead of time. Your work is important, but it’s only a factor in the complicated equation for hiring a new employee.
You’ve done your research. You’ve found five small design firms that interest you, but no one is hiring. Maintain a reasonable amount of contact by following up with interesting links via twitter, stay active on the agencies’ Facebook pages, Pinterest boards or Dribbble sites. Don’t become a stalker, but do show your interest. You’ll also be focusing your social media message which shows your interests in the field. Plus, you’ll continue to stay top of mind, as long as your delivering valuable content. Just because your dream agency isn’t hiring now, doesn’t mean that they’ll never be hiring.
The biggest mistake that I’ve seen from most student portfolios is a lack of focus. It’s okay to have a wide range of skills. Most creative directors expect that coming straight out of school, however you should only show work that fits within the scope of what your hopeful new employer is doing. Don’t show logo work to an advertising agency if they don’t do logo work. It’s okay to have one or two pieces that show an additional skill that you feel is crucial to who you are as a designer if it’s a great sample of your work. Just keep in mind that at least 85% of your work should demonstrate that you understand what that agency does. Also, don’t include work that isn’t your best. The distance between your strongest and your weakest piece tells a creative director how consistent you are. Your portfolio is only as strong as your weakest piece. If you need to create projects to help beef up an area of your book, do it. Illustrative designer Von Glitschka said it best, “Show the work you want to do.”
Keep your focus on the most important thing in marketing — your target audience. If you know who your speaking to then your message and samples will be that much easier to deliver effectively. Your portfolio is likely good, but it’s often not the determining factor for you getting your dream job. Find where you belong in the industry, and sell yourself to that market. Sending your resume and samples to every agency you can think of will probably land you a position, but it’s likely to not be the best position for you.
If you ever had a brother or sister then you can remember how frustrating it can be to play a game with them. At some point the game ceases to be fun, and someone almost always gets accused of cheating. The agency-client partnership can often fall into the same trap, thought it’s more likely that someone will be claiming that the other isn’t listening rather than cheating. In order to market and build a successful brand it’s important that we all understand the rules and tools of the game that way everyone is being heard and no one is cheating.
Spending the time to define strategies, goals and key areas of focus are the most important parts of developing strong marketing communications and even more important to building a solid partnership with your client. It’s not unusual for half of a project’s budget to go to research strategy development. Setting benchmarks to gauge success will be easier if you have solid goals backed by qualitative research. I like to think of this as the rules to play the game, and if everyone knows the goal and strategy then it always ends with a winner.
Every new engagement should begin with an explanation of how your process will go. You have to define tools and basic goals of your approach to begin to set the gameboard. It’s important to indicate key areas where the client fits into the process. Unfortunately, it’s a major element that often gets overlooked. For instance, a web design project would call for the client to play a major part in developing the research and planning phase which may include persona development, development of moodboards as they relate to the personas, and defining the goals of the website. Whereas, items like layout and user interface would involve more feedback and less active participation from the client. Every project should involve your client in major and minor ways. After all, no one finds any enjoyment from watching you play a game of solitaire.
Every design firm has its own unique set of processes to development solutions that work. Just as designers use these tools to build successful brand solutions, clients can use the same tools to judge an idea’s potential. Share the how and why of your tools, and teach your clients to use them as a instrument to measure solutions objectively. When I work on logos, I use a process that builds the four key characteristics of successful logo design into the work from the beginning. I also explain why each of the characteristics is important, and how to spot them in logo designs. By breaking down logo design this way, I’ve helped keep the focus away from liking or disliking the solutions which bear no significance to the actual outcome of the endgame.
After explaining the rules, defining the tools and how to use them, presenting the solutions becomes the game. All stakeholders are judging the designs based off the strategy and goals, and they are analyzing them with the tools you’ve defined. The push and pull of the feedback that comes should strengthen the solution keeping the focus away from the intangible and personal opinions that often end up destroying the game.
I’ve continued to use this process over the last few years, and I’ve found that clients are happier with the overall results, designers are happier with the feedback and customers are happiest with solutions that capture their attention while providing a clear understanding of why your brand is the best in its category. It is possible that playing the game well can create more than just one winner.
When I begin logo development projects with new clients I like to discover their experience and expectation for logos. What I’ve discovered over and over again from business owners and CEOs is the perception that logos tell a brand’s story. This is one of the biggest myths associated with logos, and possibly one of the hardest to dispel.
The relationship most consumers have with a logo is almost clinical. Logos identify the brands that they are familiar with often at a very subconscious level, and frequently those logos represent the only choice in that category of product. For instance, you’ve made a grocery list which includes orange juice, toilet paper and chips. When you’re at the store, you look for Minute Maid, Charmin and Ruffles, and the logos of these brands help you quickly identify where these items are on the shelf speeding up your visit to the grocery store. While it’s easy to assume that the logos are telling the story of the brand, the truth is that they are just a category label that is easily remembered and easy to spot on the busy grocery store shelves working hand-in-hand with packaging design.
The story of the brand isn’t what creates customer loyalty. It’s the consistency of experience that an individual customer has with your brand. Just as we have expectations for every relationship we’re in, our brands have the same rational and irrational expectations. American Airlines is a national air carrier that has always been my preferred airline over the years. I associated them with safety, reliability and fairness both in business and prices. When I booked a trip, I typically looked at American Airlines only. Over the last few years as they’ve fought through bankruptcy and changing travel safety policies, the expectations that I have for the brand have continually been missed damaging my experience with the brand. Whereas, the logo used to represent the only choice in air travel for my family, the logo now represents the worst choice in air travel for my family. The logo hasn’t changed, but my brand experience has. I still easily recognize the logo which is a great logo, but I identify it with an experience of too many fees, loss of amenities, feuding employees and delayed and canceled flights. The logo is the catalyst for the meaning your customer has associated with your brand story. It is not the brand story itself.
Many business owners and CEOs often force the idea that the logo, and in particular the logo mark, should be a concrete representation of the brand itself. For instance, Starbuck’s sells coffee therefore the logo should be a coffee bean. While this can seem like a logical approach to your logo especially in the infancy of your business, it’s the equivalent of painting yourself into the corner. In the case of Starbuck’s, how do you allow for the representation of tea, iced beverages, free wi-fi, CDs and the myriad other things that Starbuck’s is known to sell? Develop a strong logo that is independent of your product or service and even abstract in it’s execution to allow room for growth, like the two-tailed mermaid that loosely ties to the literary figure Captain Starbuck. Your logo isn’t marketing anything specific, it is just a label identifying who you are in a quick and memorable way to allow your marketing materials to talk about the specific products and services or tell your brand story.
Your logo is your stamp of approval, your customers represent your brand experience, and your marketing creates your brand story. All three elements work together to create a cohesive experience, and understanding the purpose of each is crucial to creating the most effective brand in your marketplace. Your logo is not a great storyteller, so don’t force it.
Over the last few months, we’ve been working hard developing identities and designing logos for a couple of new start ups, and I thought I’d take a moment and share one of these projects.
StratusTalk is a hosted VoIP solution that works with small businesses to create an easy-to-use phone system without the cost and hassles of maintaining a traditional switchboard. Check back soon for a full case study.
Designers and psychologists have continued to crack the codes of colors and how they affect our mood, psyche and buying habits for decades. Yellow is the color of optimism, while red represents hunger and passion. While these ideas are backed by great examples over and over again, truthfully they are built off a false logic. Colors are cultural and deeply personal which no amount of over-generalizing could ever categorize.
Red is often labelled as a color that represents hunger which is reflective of the overabundant use in the food and beverage industry. It’s also described as a passionate color often in reference to the make up industry with lipsticks running the gamut of the red spectrum. Have you ever thought about how the predominant use of red, black and white in corporate attire plays into this? Perhaps clients are hungry for new products or executives show their passion about their company by sporting a red power tie. I know that often when I encounter a stop sign I feel like taking a bite out of them. According to the hard-fast rules of color psychology gory horror movies with ample amounts of blood sell more popcorn, because we get so hungry when we see that deep red. Red is hungry, and red is passionate. It’s also much more.
I’ve written about pink in the past, and I find it to be one of the most repressed colors from a psychological standpoint. Pink is often described as a feminine and fashionable color that goes quickly in and out of popularity. In the United States we often take it one step further by somehow associating this with fragility or weakness. First off, feminine never equals weak, and this is something that we need to change. Sadly, I often find myself troubled when I order a steak medium rare. It looks so delicious, but I don’t want anyone to think that I’m feminine because I’m eating something pink. I have to avoid salmon all together, because it’s just too difficult to admit that I eat pink foods. I’m also a closeted Pepto-bismoler. In India, Mexico and China, pink is a celebrated color. I think it’s time that pink quit seeing so many color psychologists, and learn to accept the fact that it can be a strong, gender neutral appropriate choice for corporate America. Cultural bias can drive the success of color implementation with total disregard for the accepted meaning. After all, T-Mobile seems to be doing just fine.
I can understand the general reasoning behind many of the color theories out there, but I’ve never been able to wrap my brain around yellow being optimistic and cheerful. My personal view of yellow being the most irritating color in the spectrum couldn’t be further away from the accepted color psychology. Yellow is most often described as a bright and sunny day or the sweetness of a lemon. First off, I don’t recommend looking directly at the sun to see if it’s yellow. Secondly, lemons aren’t sweet. They are sour. Also, sunny days aren’t yellow at all. They have clear blue skies, bright green foliage and cool blue water. The only yellow in that picture for me is the bumble bee trying to sting me which isn’t very optimistic or cheerful. Likewise, most warning and caution signs are yellow and black. Personal experience, opinions and even color combinations drive individual interpretation of colors.
The color green represents growth, freshness and healing for many color theorists. It is true that a nice green cucumber is refreshing. However, moss and poison ivy are also green, and while it’s true that both represent growth there is nothing refreshing or healing about them. I often like to save my bread until it turns green and fuzzy, because that’s apparently when it’s the freshest. Honestly, the penicillin growing on the bread does have healing properties, but would you want to eat it? Nature should have listened to color theory and made it red, because then we’d all be hungry for it.
Black is often used to represent luxury like a stretch limo or elegance as in a little black dress. It’s formal, and tells us that this is something that we desire not want. So, why does the bad guy always wear black as well? It’s possible that he may just feel self-conscious about his mid section and doesn’t have the time to commit to his pilates with all of his evil-plotting and all. It could also be that black is also mysterious, easy to coordinate with, blends into the shadows or was on sale at Villain’s Barn. The context of the color is much more important than the stereotyped label associated with it.
While many of the theories of colors may come from a general truth, your audience isn’t general. Focus on the individual feelings surrounding a color for your specific market, understand how paring two colors together can change perceptions. Throw what you know about color psychology out the door. You wouldn’t stereotype a person, so why would you do the same for your brand color palette.
If you’ve ever been a victim of identity theft, then you know how easy it is for a person to pretend to be you. The same holds true for your business, however it’s much easier and much more common. As a matter of fact you may be the thief without realizing it. While trademarking your name is important to protecting your identity, it’s not the only way you may be losing customers.
Research is your biggest friend when developing a new name. Know what your competitors are using for naming conventions, and make sure to differentiate yourself enough. It’s not just about avoiding unwanted lawsuits which can ruin an upstart business, but it’s about alleviating any confusion with your target audience. A similar name could easily increase the sales for your competitor. Back your brainstorming and research up with a trademark search. I advise most new business owners to spend the money on a trademark attorney.
A business or individual can own any domain that is available without even having a site or business attached to it. In addition to a trademark search, it’s best to do a domain search as well before landing on a final name. Since most customers type yourname.com first when searching for your company online, it’s important to secure yourname.com first. While you can may be able to secure the .net, .org, .tv or any various other domain configurations, it’s not advisable to use these as your main domain address unless you can secure the .com as well. Without the .com domain all of your offline marketing efforts could lead your customers directly to the company that owns the .com, and it’s likely that they are your competition. Most domain names are relatively inexpensive, and it’s often wise to purchase the .net, .org and .tv versions to avoid any confusion as well.
Your name provides the solid foundation to build the rest of your brand upon. If you change your name at a later date you’ll be spending more time and more money updating your logo, messaging, visual identity and marketing materials from your web site to your print collateral. Any change in your core brand elements will always result in attrition, and naming is one of the hardest things to come back from. Customers remember the names of the brands they love much easier than the logos, websites and brand colors.
While it’s important to protect your identity from people looking to misuse it, it’s equally important to make sure that you are differentiated to avoid losing customers to a competitor. Research, trademark and secure your URL before you announce your name to the world, and you’ll have a brand that will serve your customers for years to come.
Shortening or abbreviating your brand name has become a growing trend over the last few years. While it may seem like an excellent way to add a fresh take on your branding, it may not necessarily make sense from a strategic perspective.
While it’s not unheard of for a company to change its name, it is rare that its for the right reason. Your target market is much more tolerant of visual identity, messaging and even product focus changes. A name change however is often a game changer, and not the kind you’re anticipating.
The biggest trend over the last couple of years has been the need to abbreviate or use initials for brand names. This can be attributed to the rise of social media platforms like twitter with character length caps, and the continued popularity of texting and messaging shorthand. O.co, JCP, and even KFC are all recent examples of companies making the switch. KFC tapped into a nickname the market was already using while allowing them to de-emphasize the “Fried” aspect of their name. On the other hand, Overstock.com learned that you can’t nickname yourself without backlash when they tried to adopt the O.co moniker last year. In fact, months after pushing out the name with new marketing materials, including the naming of O.co Coliseum, the company backed off of the name stating that the market just wasn’t ready for the change. Without careful research into your audience’s attitude about the name, you may end up losing them all together. Just like parents adopting the same vernacular as their teens, you’ll sound like a poseur.
Times and markets change. It’s inevitable, and you may very well find yourself in a position that makes your name seem obsolete. The truth is, if your brand has had success over the years, your name no longer has a literal meaning, so why change it. It represents a feeling, or ideally a lifestyle. Founded in 1921, Radio Shack originally sold equipment for ham radio, and the name is the term for a small, wooden structure that housed a ship’s radio equipment. Realizing that they sell electronics, and not so much radio equipment, in 2009 they began marketing themselves as The Shack. The market reacted negatively, and The Shack quickly became Radio Shack once again.
Similarly in 2009, Pizza Hut briefly changed its name to The Hut to reflect the new focus on pasta offerings. While the marketing of the new name came and went, there is still a store front with “The Hut” sign near my office that demonstrates the confidence they had in making that move. Have confidence in your original name, even if it is representative of what you do or sell, and remember that your name is just a label for the feelings your market associates with your brand.
The hard truth about your name is that your audience controls it. They will pronounce it as they see fit, and more importantly, they will create nicknames for your company. Forcing a new name on your customers won’t bring you any more success than cramming bad products down their throats.
To learn more about common mistakes in naming, be sure to check out “That’s My Name. Don’t Wear It Out.”
The golden age of advertising laid the groundwork for branding, perfected the ‘less is more” approach to communicating your message, and allowed us to glorify the bad behavior of Don Draper in Mad Men always knowing he had the right answer for any campaign. (Thank you Matthew Weiner for romanticizing the work of art directors to the point that many clients expect a “Mad Men” experience on every project.) It also brought about the rise of taglines for good and evil.
In a time where advertising relied on print ads, radio commercials and television spots, taglines were crucial to communicating your message in the simplest form to a largely unsuspecting audience. Often, taglines were used as kickers at the end of broadcast spots. They explained crucial differences in crowded vertical segments like “The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”, or concisely clarified a more complicated product like “Let your fingers do the walking.” Their purpose was to educate.
Audiences were anything but targeted during this time with ads running or sponsoring the most popular shows. You cast your net wide, and hoped to capture a few people interested in your product. Taglines created the sound bite that would stick in consumers minds driving them mad when they tried to sleep at night. Internet and social media tactics allow brands to target a specific audience, and the days of broadcasting your message to anyone has come to an end. Your target audience knows about your brand, and frequently has researched your company via your website, facebook, twitter, yelp and pinterest negating nearly any impression your tagline will have in educating them.
In the late 80’s taglines began taking on a new role in marketing. They became the aspirational aspect of a brand like “Just do it” and “Think different” talking less about the product and more about the feeling you get from using the product. Taglines became brand mantras, and the need to have a tagline for most brands became a necessity once again.
Taglines can serve a purpose in your brand, however many bad practices have been adopted out of misunderstanding what a tagline does. It should educate or inspire, and it should do so in the most concise manner. It’s not a headline, and a tagline is never marketing on its own. Think of the best way to communicate your message, and whittle the words down to the fewest possible while avoiding the overly used formula of three word taglines like “work. play. eat.” and every other cliché variation that has plagued branding over the last decade.
Don’t think of your tagline as a piece of your logo. While it’s tempting to include your tagline under your logo because everyone else is doing it, your tagline doesn’t belong on every piece of marketing that your logo does. After all, Nike didn’t have “Just do it” on every pair of Air Jordans in the 80’s. Save your taglines for your more general uses like print ads, television & radio spots and even direct mail. Most of your market will already be able to recite your tagline by the time they are visiting your site, retail outlet or even calling you on the phone.
Advertising’s golden age brought about many of the best practices of modern branding and marketing, which we’ve continued to build on to create targeted strategies while leaving the more cumbersome aspects behind. We no longer cut amberliths, do paste-ups or even spec type, however marketing departments and business owners have continued to hold onto taglines as a necessity for brand building. It’s time to either stop using taglines for evil, or unplug our computers and go back to the 1950’s ways of doing business.
Lately there seems to be a trend to develop new packaging to save sinking product sales. Rethinking your packaging isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but it’s likely that your packaging isn’t the reason for your sales slump. Adding a gimmick to your packaging won’t save the fact that your product is painfully mediocre, or worse.
Miller Lite’s introduction of the punch top can leaves me wondering what the major pain point was that they were solving for the target audience. It’s advertised to pour smoother and better. If we follow the logic of why many people drink canned beer the biggest reason is portability. You can throw a case of cans in a cooler for picnicking, tailgating, camping and barbecuing. None of these activities involve pouring the beer into a cup or glass of any kind, so what real advantage does the new punch top have for consumers?
I remember using the sharp-end of a bottle opener to punch two holes in my Hawaiian Punch cans to keep from splattering red juice all over the counter. The pull tab in the late 70’s eliminated the need for the punch top when it came to canned drinks, and was perfected in the mid-80’s with the tab punch top. So, why is Miller taking a step back in the evolution of canned drinks. It could be that Miller was hoping to capture the college-aged shotgunning crowd. If this is the case then the punch hole needs to be near the bottom of the can, but that would also mean that they were advocating enjoying irresponsible drinking.
The reality is that the majority of the major beer distributors have seen a drop in sales as the prominence of craft beer has grown. Instead of innovating through better and wider selections of brews, Miller has continued to make the same consistently bland beer in a new gimmicky package. My advice to Miller is make your product better or cheaper instead of introducing old solutions to packaging that don’t solve a problem for anyone.
Dentyne began marketing it’s new Split2Fit Pack earlier this year guaranteed to solve the biggest problem that has plagued gum chewers for centuries — fitting it in their pocket. Their gum packaging is perforated, so you can split it in half to fit in your pocket. Who exactly is having trouble fitting a pack of gum in their pocket? Most women carry gum in their purse, and most men don’t carry gum. I’m not sure who this is targeting. Maybe hipster guys that wear jeggings, and love crazy fresh breath. This could explain the strange tweet-like nature of the product name.
If this is in fact a real problem, why not just make smaller packages of gum. Dentyne didn’t invent the perforated tear, but the way they talk about Split2Fit you’d sure think they did. It could be that I’m not like most consumers in that I’d rather by gum that tastes good and lasts long, so you could wrap it in aluminum foil and put it in a paper bag before I’d care about the packaging. Basically, a smaller pack with the “newly invented” perforation doesn’t interest me if your product is bland.
Mentos has also entered the young, hipster market with their own take on tweet-inspired naming with Up2U gum. They’ve opted to attack the problem that consumers are clearly indecisive when purchasing gum, so they’ve given you the option to choose packs with two flavors in them. The product name implies that you have more freedom to chose with the name Up2U, when in fact you have less freedom because the flavors are already packaged together.
This is just a classic case of bundling. A manufacturer takes a flavor that is mildly popular like spearmint, and bundles it with a stomach-turning, unpopular flavor like dogfart. This forces consumers to buy the unwanted inventory, and throw it away which is what the manufacturer should have done in the first place. Of course if they did that then dogfart would be a loss, and someone might have to be held accountable for approving that turd.
If I want two flavors of Mentos gum, then I’ll buy the two flavors that I prefer. My freedom to chose is much greater when you don’t bundle flavors for me, especially since I don’t like watermelon. Why not continue to give us what we expect, and let the bad experiments go? Don’t punish your consumers for your poor decisions.
Packaging is one of the most important factors to marketing your product in a retail setting, and in the case of gum and beer it serves a utilitarian purpose as well. In these instances, the packaging was never the problem for customer attrition. Innovation was placed on marketing a solution around a fabricated problem. True innovation comes from delivering something unexpected that solves a problem for the majority of your target audience. It’s never gimmicky, and it always adds value to the overall brand experience.
How flexible is your logo? I’m not talking about can you stretch it and squash it physically, so please stop doing that. I’m talking about the concept of your logo, and the execution of the design. Design flexibility is the single-most important factor to the life cycle of your logo.
Your business is going to grow, and your logo needs to grow with it. Logo marks that build off of abstract ideals will give your brand room to branch out, whereas concrete representations of your products or services will hinder your efforts to expand your offerings in the future. For instance, Zappos has a shoe represented by it’s logo mark which is exactly where the company started. Now they sell a lot more than just shoes, and anyone not familiar with the company may not look beyond the footwear options on their site based off the shoe mark.
Think about your company in terms of personality traits, because these are the characteristics that are much more permanent. My personality has been roughly the same my whole life, whereas, at various points I might have had long hair, piercings or other temporary identifiers of who I was. Locking your logo into your product that you offer now is equivalent to friends identifying me as a blonde-haired dude who listens to a lot of Metallica despite the fact that my hair is short, grey and I listen to a lot of April Smith & The Great Picture Show. Think beyond you immediate brand.
The two oldest rules of logo design — black only and size of a spitwad — still hold true to this day, because they allow the greatest ease of implementation across your brand portfolio. Follow these two rules and unusual implementations like neon, embroidery and engraving won’t give you any problems. Smooth color blends and glossy 3D effects don’t translate well to engraving which will limit how you can apply a logo to your product. Just because you can apply an effect doesn’t mean that you should. Limit your logo to one or two colors for the best results, but ideally make sure that it works in black only.
When it comes to size, small is better for logos. Yes, your logo should work well large, but it has to maintain its integrity for the smaller, everyday uses like your business cards or your web site. Your logo should never be the hero of any piece of marketing communication including your web site. It’s an identifier or stamp of approval that this is “company x.” Visitors don’t come to your web site to discover the intricacies of your logo, they come to discover the intricacies of your company, product or service.
The secret to a successful logo that works small and large is balancing the amount of necessary detail. I often start each logo with a lot of detail, but it’s the whittling down that changes it from an illustration to a logo. Any element that doesn’t add to the concept of execution is unnecessary and should be removed. Simplicity isn’t just a modern aesthetic. It’s a memory enhancer, and you want your logo to be remembered.
Your logo deserves a long, healthy life and you have the tools to keep it performing at the top of its game. Build your logo the right way, and you’ll be visiting the infirmary less trying to patch up the injuries and tears from everyday wear.
For more ways to build a logo that can flex it’s muscle with tearing a hammie, be sure to check out “Eight Reasons Why Your Logo Hates You.”
You may not realize just how important your mother was to the brand-building process, but she always had the wisdom and foresight to understand just how important it was to be different. I’m not advocating, being different just to be different. The most successful brands take mom’s advice to heart, and position themselves as a leader because of the differentiation their brands bring to the market.
Taking risks with your visual identity can often seem scary and down right irresponsible. Not taking risks is the riskiest thing you can do. If you’re not differentiated then you’re telling your audience that you’re exactly like your competitors, so there’s really no reason to use your product or service. Differentiation is all about ownership. If you own your visual identity then no one can confuse you with the other guys.
It’s important to look at the competitive landscape for your vertical market, but that shouldn’t be your only guide. Zigging just because everyone else is zagging often isn’t any better than following along. Evaluate what’s best for your target audience and what your brand is really about. An educated zig will keep you from losing control.
Consumers stay with confident brands. Know what you do well, and have the courage to talk about. Differentiation should come from an inherent truth about your brand. Commonly fabricated differences like better quality and the best customer service have the same effect as over-promising and under-delivering to your clients. Eventually, your customers will recognize these generic qualities for what they are — marketing gimmicks. Be honest about who you are, and have the confidence to back it up.
True industry leaders rarely call themselves leaders. The same holds true for the trendy labels like guru, wizard, ninja, samurai and expert. If you have to remind your audience that you’re an expert, you’re probably not an expert. Your actions, your brand and the services you provide will allow your audience to understand your expertise. They are the only ones that can call you the winner.
It’s time to stop following the leader, and take control of your vertical market. Stand up for what your brand is about, and let your visual identity break away from the pack. Build bridges to connect to your audience and leave the bridge jumping to your competition.
Often, I get asked, “What is the best color for my brand?” There is no magic bullet to determine the best color for your brand’s visual identity. The most successful way to determine the best color for your brand is to look at three factors.
The key to any brand having long-term success is differentiation. If you look too similar to your competitors then your target audience won’t remember either of you. Pick a color scheme that you can own, and your prospects/customers will remember you. For many business that may mean taking a step outside of the blue & grey, or blue & orange space that paints most of the global marketing landscape. Be confident in your difference.
Your colors must resonate with your target audience which includes your customers, as well as, your prospects. Note that this never includes the business owner. Personal opinion, favorite colors or your alma mater’s colors have no place in your business big or small. Understanding who you’re targeting is the most important factor to any of your branding efforts. Demographics and psycho-graphics alone won’t help you understand your audience. It’s important to view them via goals and attitudes as well. This is best accomplished by developing personas to represent your core audience.
Your colors should begin to communicate your brand’s personality or characteristics. Think of your brand as a guest at a party. How would you introduce them to another guest? What personality traits are important to your brand? It’s important to not rely too heavily on the color psychology that we’ve all heard. Bright lemon yellow may be sunny and optimistic to 51% of Americans, but what about the other 49% who view it as a warning color. Color is personal, and as such you should spend some time investigating how a bouquet of color translates into abstract feelings and emotions.
Certain colors will come in and out of favor (orange and avocado from the 70s), some colors are culturally volatile (pink and lavender in the U.S.), and some colors will always be overused (blue and grey as corporate colors across the world). Picking colors for a brand doesn’t have to be difficult if you follow a process, and focus on your long-term brand strategy.
For more help, check out our thought leadership article “1980 called. It wants Its Color Back.”
The practice of crowdsourcing has become a heated topic in the business and graphic design world in the last few years, and the continued flood of new sites launched to capitalize on the buzz shows that it isn’t going away anytime soon. Businesses seemingly love it, because they get more options for less money increasing their ROI in theory. Graphic designers hate it, because it makes it hard to compete while targeting the small business owner. While it is true that crowdsourcing can potentially save a company money in the short-term, it’s important to understand that it comes at a cost which often effects the long-term success of your brand.
For those not familiar with the term, dictionary.com defines crowdsourcing as utilizing (labor, information, etc.) contributed by the general public to (a project), often via the Internet and without compensation. A lot of times this is done under the guise of a contest to raise awareness for a product, service or even a brand. Companies post the parameters of the contest, and get to chose from hundreds of entries from around the world. It’s true that some contests have prizes for the winning solution, but it’s extremely below the revenue that the solution could generate for the company and negates the fact that 99% of the contestants receive no compensation for their efforts. While this seem like a winning solution from a marketing budget perspective, the fact is that your long-term ROI will suffer.
Crowdsourcing work is the cheap Chinese food buffet of the design world. Anyone that goes to a buffet isn’t looking for a quality dining experience, and crowdsourcing design follows the same model. They don’t want the expertise that comes from having a chef prepare a signature dish, or a wait staff that can recommend the best beer paring for their meal. They’re looking for a lot of food for the smallest price, as well as, the bloating that often comes after. Practice this enough, and your brand will need a by-pass just to reconnect with your target audience and realign with your goals.
Successful design solutions will never be created in a crowdsourcing format. Successful design only comes from the partnership formed with the design team and the client. The constant push and pull between all of the stakeholders is what drives creative solutions that speak to a focused audience. Out of great strategy comes great solutions, and crowdsourcing doesn’t allow an opportunity to develop strategy first. Without strategy you’re spending your budget on creating a good looking piece of art that is flimsy, that appeals to no one.
Plagiarism is a major problem with crowdsourcing, and always will be. Without working with your design team, or even meeting them, you might just be buying a nice knock-off leaving you with a logo that can’t be trademarked, and a lawsuit from from the one that was. When you work with a design team, you’re actually paying for their process, expertise and insight to alleviate your fears in implementing a differentiated brand element. You’re not buying what gets produced, and you certainly shouldn’t be buying someone’s leftovers.
Most companies that resort to crowdsourcing are probably not clients that a professional designer would want to work with. Lots of work for little money is never a model that works for long-term success, and that’s at the heart of the crowdsourcing industry. If you think the buffet is great then there is no amount of explanation that can convince you to explore a healthier approach to building your brand. However, if you’ve only experienced graphic design through crowdsourcing, then engaging a professional designer may be the Pepto Bismal that your brand needs.
I’m not advocating that crowdsourcing shouldn’t be a source for businesses owners needing to cut costs, however it’s important to understand the difference in working with a designer and working with a crowd. Unbeknownst to me, I had a client try a crowdsourcing site for logo design. When they had a horrible experience, they brought the project to me and told me that they were shocked at how bad the designs were. In the long run, they learned the value of working with a dedicated professional, and I have since made it a part of my practice to discuss crowdsourcing with a client before we begin an engagement. Crowdsourcing sites do have a place in design. It’s just on the outer edge of the design community, and it’s important that you understand what you’re not getting for that price.
We all want to find that perfect client or the perfect vendor. The one that understands us, understands the obstacles in our market and helps us be a better version of ourselves. What you’re looking for doesn’t exist and it probably never has.
Is it right to always do exactly what a client says just because they are paying you? The balance of power in the client/vendor relationship is out of whack, but it doesn’t have to be. So, often design firms view the amount of money a client is spending on a project as directly proportional to the amount of “yes, ma’ams” you must endure. If you consider yourself partners then it’s easy to see that you both have the same goal and the budget is the means in which to achieve those goals. Treat your clients as equal partners, and you’ll find that they do the same for you.
It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that you are the expert in marketing, design, underwater BB stacking, or whatever you’ve been hired to do, but you have to keep in mind that your client is the expert in their company, brand and vertical market. Getting past the power struggle that often comes with new client/designer relationships can mean the difference between doing what’s right for their business versus what gets you paid. The combined expertise of both sides of the equation always results in a much more successful outcome, and that’s what you both want at the end of the day. In the end it helps to remember that you are an expert working with a team of experts. Find the expertise that each stakeholder brings to the table.
At the heart of the partnerships you form should be a common language or way to communicate. Graphic designers have a tendency to talk in tactics referring to elements of the design like fonts, colors and web site functionality, whereas, clients tend to talk more about goals and strategies like ROI, addressing pain points and increasing market share. Though both sides are equally important, a successful conversation needs to bridge the gap between the strategy and the tactics. It’s okay to talk about the elements of your design as long as it relates back to the strategy and goals for the client.
Looking back at my career as a graphic designer, I realize that the projects that brought the greatest success to my clients were cultivated in a partnership versus a client/vendor relationship. Many of those partnerships were some of the longest business relationships that I’ve had. So, stop looking for clients, and start discovering partners. You’ll both be happier and more successful in the long run.
How often do you get approached by a person that does branding? Outside of cloud computing, the term branding has been brutalized to the point of having no meaning. Just a few years ago, branding was reserved to the the professionals that offered brand positioning and strategy that translated into the the tactical elements of your marketing like logo design, visual identity and messaging platforms. It was a legitimate service that helped drive customer loyalty by focusing on a consistent customer experience. Now it’s a catch phrase for anyone offering any type of marketing service.
In the last decade branding has become a term adopted by nearly every aspect of marketing making the term that much more murky. The tactical aspects of building a brand have now been offered up as branding itself. While logo design, naming, and marketing are a part of brand building they are not branding anymore than using a hammer can be called structural engineering.
The rise of social media has added another layer of mud to the branding cesspool with “personal branding” becoming a popular trend made famous by celebrities and abused by everyone seeking celebrity on twitter or facebook. The truth is branding by it’s very nature is personal — you’re expressing the characteristics of your product or service to connect on a personal level with your targetbase. People already have personalities that we’re born with and cultivate all whole lives. So, there is no need to create a brand for yourself.
Just last week, I met two small business owners that said they both did branding. When I asked what that specifically meant to them, the first person explained that he offered a full branding process that helped speakers decide what they should wear, as well as, what their business cards should look like. The next person told me that he offered web development and SEO services. I asked both business owners about how they approached brand positioning and strategy, and neither had an answer. I’ve had several similar encounters, and I can only imagine how a Marketing VP or CMO feels when an agency approaches them offering branding.
The reality is that we all do branding, but it’s not what you think. Every marketing effort reflects the brand, and hopefully your efforts are consistent. But it goes beyond your marketing. Branding is everything that your business touches. It’s your logo, name, message, your employees, your office, the clothes you wear, but most importantly it’s your customers.
Your audience controls your brand, like it or not. Social media has made this more obvious with your customers constantly tweeting and posting on facebook what they think about your brand. Truthfully, it’s always been this way. Your customers’ feelings about your product or service are central to the life cycle of your brand. You can’t manipulate the feelings your audience has about your company, however you can do your best to make sure that their expectations are met consistently. So, it makes much more sense to talk to your customers directly about their experience.
Creative Squall does not sell branding. We create strategically backed logo design and visual identity that can be applied across your brand portfolio. There are a handful of awesome agencies out there that do branding, and they do it well. Odds are that you haven’t worked with one of these agencies, but you have worked closely with the marketing consultant that does “branding.” Understanding the difference between tactics and the strategy might just help bring life back to branding.
If you’ve ever worked closely with color, then you’ve undoubtedly experienced the backlash associated with the color pink. American’s across the board despise the color, or do they?
I’ve heard from numerous clients when developing visual identities that they absolutely do not want their brand associated with pink. Over my 16 year career this has been a constant. A cause that every business owner could stand against, and I originally wrote it off as a mild form of homophobia. Male business owners and CEO’s don’t want customers to think they are feminine. Is the default gender of all businesses masculine?
Strangely, I’ve received much of the same feedback from the female business owners and CEO’s. One marketing director even went so far as to take a poll of the females in the office confirming with her less than scientific survey that grown women do not like the color pink. Pink has come to symbolize femininity, and some how that has become a negative trait. So why is pink even a color if it’s feared by men and women alike?
It’s easy to argue that babies are often dressed in blue or pink to indicate gender at a very young age. The odd thing is that blue doesn’t live on in adulthood as a masculine color. In fact it becomes gender neutral. Unlike pink, blue is one of the most loved colors in America. Notice how many corporate color schemes use blue and grey to represent their brands. When everyone’s wearing the same uniform it’s hard to be an individual. Break down the color walls and differentiate your brand even if that means flying your pink flag.
The reality is that American’s must like pink, but maybe it’s a guilty pleasure just like the fact that you’ll never admit to secretly singing The Wiggles when you’re kids aren’t around. Brands like Susan G. Komen, Mary Kay and Victoria’s Secret have built their empires on the color pink, and it’s no surprise that these industries speak to a femininity in America. However, have you ever considered the power of pink in brands like Pepto Bismal, Sweet Tarts, and Dunkin’ Donuts. None of these examples speak exclusively to females, and I’d even go so far as to say that there is nothing feminine about them. The common thread is that all of these brands own the colorspace they are in, and stand out from the crowded space of their vertical markets.
Just because your default association with the word pink is Barbie’s dream house, doesn’t mean that’s the only option out there. Pink can be electric and tart when it’s pared with electric blue and radiant orange. It can be classical or vintage if you mute it and use it with brown. And it can even be warm and savory with the addition of yellow. It helps to think in terms of the feeling your brand is trying to evoke rather than the label “pink” and all of the baggage that comes with it.
It’s time to let pink out of the closet, and embrace it as a powerful color that extends beyond the shallow connotations of gender and femininity. We need move away from the perception that business is masculine and embrace the reality that a successful business is both masculine and feminine. Build your brand color around your audience and differentiate your approach from the competitors. While they are playing it safe and blending in to the other blues and greys, you’ll let your true color shine and connect to your target market in a memorable and meaningful way.
For more information on developing a color palette, be sure to check out “1980 Called. It Wants Its Color Back.”
With each new logo project, I discover the exact same misconceptions at the beginning. More than often I’ll hear, “We sell gloves for left-handed Eskimos, so it’s important that we have a left-handed Eskimo in our logo.” Or, “My logo needs to be a portrait of my pet python, Malfoy, because he’s been my inspiration.” Or my favorite, “The logo must be blue and orange, because that’s the colors of my alma mater.” The truth is that you can’t know what your logo must look like if you don’t understand the purpose of a logo.
I’ve heard countless clients recite this mantra to me, and I’m not quite sure where this cult started. It’s true that your logo is a part of the brand, but that’s it. Your brand is not your logo. Your logo is just one small ingredient in the recipe of your brand that creates the overall experience for your customers.
Stop confusing your logo with your marketing. Great marketing will sell anything, but your logo has a different job. Your logo has one purpose — to identify your brand and nothing else. In order to do this successful your identity has to be differentiated, flexible, memorable and timeless.
Creating meaning for your brand comes from the collective experience of your customers with your product or service. Your logo has no effect on your brand. Furthermore, your logo develops meaning from your audience’s perception. Basically, you have no control over how people interpret your logo. It’s the very reason why aspirational and abstract logo marks function so well. Nike’s swoosh means something slightly different to each consumer, but the commonality of positivity and speed is inherent in every interpretation.
The truth is that no one has ever bought a product or service, because the logo was three buckets of awesome sauce. Let your logo identify your company, because it’s honestly not that great of a salesman.
For more tips on logo design be sure to check out “Eight Reasons Why Your Logo Hates You.”
The question that I get asked most as a graphic designer is how much does a logo, website, or poster cost? It’s something that we all experience as professional designers, and it stems from a misconception of what graphic design really is. It’s not a commodity to be checked off your list. Graphic design is an investment in the long-term health of your brand.
Recently, I had a conversation with a fellow graphic designer about a web project that he was working on. The client originally hired a contractor who agreed to design an e-commerce site for $500. In his defense, he was proposing to use a template that he would skin with the company’s identity, however this still isn’t a profitable solution for the designer. For example, let’s say that this designer’s average hourly rate is $50 per hour. Having agreed to do a site for $500, he has allowed himself 10 hours to design all of the elements, layout the pages, present, gather feedback, make edits, test and launch the site. To look at this from another angle, let’s say that this designer is working for minimum wage ( by the way NO designer should be working for this amount). The current federal minimum wage is set at $7.25 per hour. For that $500 dollars, he only has about 69 hours, or roughly one to one and a half weeks to get the site done. Unfortunately, this example isn’t that uncommon as many graphic design business are experiencing the Walmart effect with a race to the bottom.
Think of why you are building a website or designing a logo. It is true that every company has a website and logo, but just like mom always said, “if they jumped off a bridge would you?” You do need a website, but you need a website that tells your story and engages visitors to adapt your brand, purchase your product or use your service. You do need a logo, but it has to be differentiated, flexible, memorable and timeless to function as a quick identifier for your brand. To achieve these goals takes research, expertise and time. At the heart of developing any successful graphic design solution is the relationship between the client and design team, or what I like to call trust, experience and expertise. Think about what it would cost to hire the perfect team to create the perfect solution instead of just buying a solution.
I recently conducted a survey with current and past clients, and the resounding opinion from all of them is that I am expensive. When I asked everyone to clarify that statement, they all stated that my cost was higher than most people they had talked to offering the same product. I then asked if the value they received in my service justified the cost, and the clients I worked with all said that the value greatly exceeded the cost in nearly every project. If I was just selling a logo or visual identity package then being called expensive isn’t good. The reality is that I’m selling my expertise, experience and most importantly, my ability to partner with companies to develop a strategy that leads to a graphic solution. The logo or visual identity is the prize in the Cracker Jack box of our partnership.
Approaching a project looking for the cheapest solution possible is rarely the best way to get the best ROI, after all your not buying toilet paper. Focus on your goals, and seek out a specialist to help you achieve those goals. You may have to spend more, but your ROI will increase proportionally as well. Stop asking about cost, and instead ask yourself what it’s worth.
Successful brands don’t thrive on innovative products or effective marketing alone. It takes a strong dedicated customer base of fanboys hell bent on claiming their brand to be superior to survive in the world of social media. So how do you find your fanatics? You don’t. They find you, and with a little brand charisma pared with consistent marketing you’ll find you have an army of champions helping your brand stay alive in the competitive marketplace.
The drive to belong to a group starts in middle school and follows us into adulthood as we choose the brands we love. The brands we interact with help identify the tribe we belong to. It’s how we connect to the groups that are similar to us, and for some it’s how we define ourselves. Aside from having a beard, a person who drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon is likely going to have a different lifestyle from a person who enjoys a Samuel Adams. What’s important to realize is that your marketing department, design firm or even your CEO can’t determine your clan. THEY pick you, and the more honest and consistent you are in the way you represent your brand, the more loyal and die-hard your fans will be.
Your product or service doesn’t necessarily determine how popular you’re brand will be. In many overly saturated markets you just need to be perceived as not as crappy as the other guys. The wireless carrier market has been tuned into this for years. No one likes their carrier, but few of us ever make the switch because the other guys are just as bad if not worse. It used to be that AT&T was the only company that carried the wildly popular iPhone. Since the iPhone has become available for Verizon and Sprint customers AT&T has seen little churn despite iPhone users constantly complaining about AT&T. The truth is that no wireless carrier is really that great, so we stick with the poor service that we’re familiar with and complain happily.
Contrary to what advertising has taught us over the decades, customers rarely leave their brand of choice for a better product, more targeted messaging or fresher visual identity. Just like any relationship, we give the brands we love a lot of leeway to make mistakes. As consumers, we strive to find brands that represent us, and we stop shopping in that category. In a sense, we marry the brands we love. The Gap seemingly enraged it’s core customer base with a redesign and later a repeal of their logo in 2011. While there was much outrage over the new design from the community, sales both online and in-stores remained relatively unaffected. In fact, the public outcry revealed just how many people are dedicated fans of the brand. Generally, people who don’t care about your brand are not going to take the time to tweet or blog about how much they hate the new logo. It’s not to say that your customers won’t leave you, but it does take a lot more serious mistakes to create churn with your fanboys.
So, in the big picture, you have no control over your brand. Your customers pick you, and they even define the culture associated with your brand. To keep your brand healthy, and satisfying your fans you need to be in touch with who your core audience is and what they think your brand represents. Listen to them, and deliver beyond what they expect. After all, it’s not a brand for your dedicated customers, it’s a lifestyle.
When it comes to business, return on investment is the driving force behind almost any expenditure whether that be hiring a marketing assistant, purchasing new laptops for your sales team or hiring a design firm to create your next direct marketing campaign. While it’s easy to create metrics that measure the effectiveness of your latest email campaign, how do you measure the value of logo design?
For starters, logo and visual identity design rarely provide immediate results that are quantifiable. As an integral part of your brand a logo should last at least 5-10 years, and as such it helps to measure the success of your logo according to the four common traits of every successful logo — differentiation, flexibility, simplicity and memorability.
First and foremost, your logo must be differentiated. I don’t recommend being different just to be shocking, but in order to be a leader you do need to lead. Having a logo that looks similar to another company, or worse, your competitor will leave your target audience confused about who you are. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to either OfficeMax of OfficeDepot, and not known which one I’m in. Aside from the names being too close, both logos cram the words together in a similar font, and the store interiors are nearly identical. I was happy when Staples opened in my area, because I don’t get them confused with the other two. It’s risky to be different, but not nearly as risky as being the same.
Every logo should work in black and white, at the size of a spitwad as well as the size of a billboard. By building this flexibility into your logo from the beginning you’ll be ensuring a healthier life span, and ease of use. It’s not uncommon to realize a couple of years after your slick, gloss logo premieres on your new website that you may want to embroider the logo on hats or employee shirts. How do you run a gradient or recreate that nice glossy highlight on your logo in thread? Keep your design limber, and you’ll have less injuries in future application.
Just to clarify simple doesn’t mean it was just thrown together in a few minutes. It means stripping out the unnecessary shapes. The simpler your logo design the more flexible it is, and you’ll see an increase in memorability as well. Start by removing details of your logo mark. Determine what isn’t needed to support the silhouette, or help legibility. Keep subtracting shapes until your logo becomes unrecognizable, and then take a step back from there. Save the intricate illustrative work for your marketing materials where it’s more appropriate.
Brand adoption is dependent upon how memorable your whole brand experience is. At the center of your brand is your visual identity and logo design. Your customers should easily recall the look of your identity just by mentioning the company name or even the product category. Our brain doesn’t store data in large chunks, so simplicity and differentiation should help drive recall. After years of successful implementation brands like Target and more recently Starbucks are able to rely solely on their logo mark as a identifier. The less memorable your logo design the harder your marketing materials will have to work to constantly remind consumers of who you are. You don’t want that, and you’re customers don’t want that.
Judge your logo against these four criteria, and you’re on the right track to having a successful brand life cycle. Aesthetics, and whether you like or dislike your logo design are irrelevant to your ROI. When designed to incorporate differentiation, flexibility, simplicity and memorability an aesthetically pleasing design should be a natural byproduct.
To learn more about some common mistakes in logo design check out our article “Eight Reasons Why Your Logo Hates You.”