Founded in 2004 with $14 and a dream, Imagine is an integrated marketing, branding and design firm that combines Northern Virginia’s flair for innovation with Chicago’s warm personality and West Coast creativity. We’re an industry-leading group of problem solvers that believe that marketing can’t truly be effective unless it’s integrated, and handled by dedicated experts in each field.
If I had to pinpoint one of the most useless, outdated pieces of marketing currently in overuse today, I’d have to go with the trifold brochure. That slender, awkwardly arranged piece of letter-size paper is as ubiquitous as it is pointless, but companies still spend money on them, convinced that theirs will be the brochure to beat all brochures. Please trust me when I say that it won’t.
The reasons are simple. They’ve been used to death, they’re functionally counter-intuitive, and no matter the level of creativity of the individual that is condemned to create one, the design is limited to six skinny panels that are always overrun with text. You end up with a cover that’s too visually limited to inspire someone to open it, unless they’re trapped in the lobby of a doctors office and need something to stare at. The arguments to build a trifold are equally ridiculous:
- “But they’re cheap.” And cheap-looking. If that’s what you’re going for, keep on keeping on.
- “They fit in those attractive clear holders.” I fail to see what’s attractive. Maybe it’s the clear part.
- “They take up such little space.” Great plan for promotional materials: make them easy to miss.
- “They can easily go in a standard envelope.” A trifold in the mail just screams of spam. Don’t try to church it up by putting it in an envelope – it just makes people even more irritated that they actually put work into opening a piece of junk mail.
Don’t dump time and money into a print marketing piece that lasts 4 seconds in a secretary’s hands before launched into the trash. There are more creative ways to communicate. For instance, it doesn’t matter what your industry is, you’re marketing to people that like to play. So, make a game of the marketing piece. We’re not all great at origami, but it’s still more engaging than a bunch of text and stock photos on a page. For a few dollars more, you can get even more adventurous – how hard do you think it’ll be to forget a company that sent you this? Will this be just as quick to the trash?
If you’re going to spend money on a marketing piece, make sure it’s a piece that has the creativity and thoughtfulness to the end-user to warrant a return on the investment. You’ll be very glad you did.
Google has kept us marketers busy with a ton of changes to the way they categorize and index. With the enormous Panda and Penguin updates, and a full-on attack on low-quality EMDs, (which stands for Exact Match Domains, or having a bunch of domains pointing to the same site, expecting to get strong rankings on each one), the search giant is definitely keeping us on our toes. But no matter how much they’ve changed, one thing has remained clear – the time is here to stop trying to cheat the search engines and to start getting ranked the right way.
To do it right, however, takes more than just putting a bunch of words on a page. So, to help out our readers, we’ve put together a helpful guide that will help everyone from beginners to high-level marketers in determining their weak spots when it comes to search. It’s all right here for the taking – just sign up and download!
Marketing is never at a loss for buzzwords. The latest to hit the slang-wagon is this thing called “responsive design” and, unlike “taking it to the next level” or “thinking outside the box“, I can actually explain it.
Responsive design is a method of structuring a web page so that it collapses to fit in the screen of the viewer’s device – no matter how small – while having everything accessible to the user. Fonts don’t get illegibly small, images don’t shrink into little blobs of color, and the site looks like it was designed exclusively for that screen. With mobile and tablet web browsing skyrocketing with no sign of slowing, it’s important that your site is usable on a smaller screen.
If you’re viewing this site on a desktop or laptop, check this out: take the right-hand edge of the browser, and drag it towards the left. You’ll see that the site conforms – or “responds” to the dragging without decreasing the font size or causing text to flow off the right-hand side. Drag all the way to the left and you’ll see that the navigation turns into a simple drop-down, perfect for mobile devices.
You can use it on top of your CMS (like WordPress), and it’s actually cheaper to build than a separate mobile site.
Who uses Responsive Design?
How does this affect SEO? What does it not do?
I’m sure this article doesn’t answer all of your questions. But I’m sure I can, just send me a message.
If you haven’t noticed, Microsoft is taking a strong offensive against a number of Google’s products, including search and email.
Being the target of a negative advertising campaign is really nothing new to Microsoft. The “I’m a Mac” ads were a staggering hit for Apple, so naturally Microsoft thinks it’s wise to follow the same formula. But here’s why it’s a lousy idea.
Apple – and Google – have worked to build iron-clad, relatable brands over the years. They make consumer services and devices that are, for lack of a better word, cool. The Microsoft brand, on the other hand, is servers and spreadsheets. They’ve marketed to large, faceless corporations for so long that they too have become one. And after decades of this, they can’t just throw on a hip sweater and expect the world to buy that they’re now something totally different. People are smarter than that.
For Microsoft, it comes down to this: a brand is hard to shake. A sudden turn to hip products, a trendy logo and ad campaign won’t instantly change they way your company is perceived. Microsoft needs to take the time to grow into its new identity, place branding before advertising, and court the public a lot longer before it steps in the ring with the people’s champ.
Disclaimer: Now, I understand that no one likes to have their information used against them in advertising. In a perfect world, companies like Google, Facebook and others wouldn’t need to generate revenue, and we would be able to use their products for free with no kickback for the developers. Alas, I’m afraid it just can’t work that way. As long as you’re going to reap the benefits of these companies, you’re going to have to understand that the guys on the other end of the Internet have mouths to feed.
It’s been said to death, “your brand is more than a logo”. But even with countless articles on LinkedIn and business blogs to that fact, people still pair the two. Sometimes, the best way to understand something is by removing any preconceived notions from the beginning. I hope this is one such case, and I’ll do my best in this article to guide you to what a brand really is by eliminating what it isn’t.
1. It’s not a color palette. Cadbury recently won exclusive rights to their Pantone 2685C purple. Anyone that’s caught using the New York Life blue in their marketing will be staring down the business end of a lawsuit. It’s pretty drastic, so shouldn’t those colors define their brand? Are the colors so psychologically potent that you become a life-long cheerleader? Hell no, and neither is a font, texture or pattern.
2. It’s not a slogan or trademark. Let’s be honest, customers care just about as much about trademarks as they do about the color socks you’re wearing. Trademarks are for legal protection; that’s it. So please, don’t equate one to a brand.
3. It’s not a web site. There are so many cool things you can do with pixels and reasonable bandwidth, but you can’t expect a brand to come of it. A web site is an element of marketing – as is social media, email marketing and SEO – and while they can be pretty awesome for your bottom line, they can’t be relied on to maintain a brand.
4. It’s not an advertising campaign. We’ve all seen some great ads; pieces of corporate entertaining perfection that captivate your senses, drive us to covet a new product, and create chatter fodder for less-than-exciting lunches. But even with all of that, the campaign still isn’t your brand. Advertising – whether it’s online, on TV, in a magazine, or 80 feet tall on the side of a building – is still just advertising.
So what the hell is a brand?
Every example I used above is a marketing tool. A brand is a customer’s perception, and resides completely between their ears. Anything outside of their mind can help influence an opinion, but never define it. To understand what a brand is, you need to understand that it’s completely unrelated to anything that your company owns or creates, even its products or services.
A brand lives completely in the mind of your customer, and is subject to more than their dealings with you. You have word-of-mouth, culture, competition, personal beliefs and needs to contend with. When you look at what a brand is through the eyes of your customer, you’ll realize not only is it the farthest thing from a logo or business card, you should also realize that there’s a totally different set of rules that apply to maintaining it.
One of the first things we try to figure out with a web design client – before they even get a proposal – is to narrow down the three (only three) things they want to accomplish with their new web site. A lot of the time, they have a laundry list of things that they expect this new site to do. That’s the number one reason sites get cluttered. Saying too much, having too many neat little widgets, putting too much on the screen at once causes the effectiveness of a site – not to mention a brand – to suffer. A cluttered, confusing website reflects a cluttered, confusing organization.
They also lose business. Case in point: According to eye-tracking data (studies that measure eye movement across the screen when a web page is loaded), visitors that go to overloaded web pages, or are unable to find the information or link that they’re looking for, will leave within 3 seconds. Uncluttered page visits average out at about 13 seconds.
So you know your site needs help. Where do you start?
1. Focus on your site’s purpose. Most of the time, the goals are simple – introduce the company, highlight the offering, get the phone to ring. However, some companies may only want to post web sites to establish credibility. Others may need their site for as a recruiting tool. Find out what your goals are, and keep them at three or less. This is a core component of your online strategy, so stick to it.
2. Check your site analytics. Remove old or duplicate content. Use 301 redirects for search engines or those that have bookmarked the old link (may be confusing, but we can take care of that). Also take a look at how many of your visitors are using mobile devices – the global percentages are getting too large to ignore. More and more companies have mobile counterparts to their web sites, and it should definitely be something to consider.
3. Reduce clicks. As a rule, you want all of the content in your site accessible within three clicks of your home page. If it’s not, you’re probably trying to say too much, or have a design that’s too graphic-heavy. Look at your sitemap and make sure that it’s streamlined, and that your navigation is clear, intuitive, and doesn’t have repeated pages.
4. Give social media its place. Social media is, in most cases, an essential addition to the online marketing plan. Most social media sites have a way for non-technical users to create a widget on their own. Unfortunately, these widgets start out as gigantic, and usually take up more space than necessary on your pages. It makes perfect sense for the social site – they’re simply trying to promote themselves. So, it’s your responsibility to keep the amount of real estate used for social in check. Small widgets – or even simply icons in your header/footer – are enough.
5. Know your screen limits. Nowadays, a website can comfortably fit in a space 1,000 pixels wide without dealing with the dreaded horizontal scroll. The average monitor size has increased tremendously over the years, so make sure you’re taking advantage of the horizontal space you’re provided. Super-skinny sites cause unnecessary vertical scroll. And let’s face it, they look wimpy.
Remember, your site is a marketing tool, not a shrine to your organization. It must have specific goals to accomplish. If you neglect to work by this principle, you’ve just wasted a lot of time and money. A good rule of thumb is to keep it simple, and give your content room to breathe. It’ll be worth it.
Getting a piece of marketing developed – whether it’s a business card, a website or an entire ad campaign – can draw uncertainty out of the most confident of marketers. By nature, it’s a predictive and nebulous process and you can’t guarantee much in this industry. As a result, most want to look for assurance from their peers, which is normal. However, when you get “design by committee” – factoring the opinions of anyone and everyone within emailing distance – you get a long, expensive design process, followed by a bland, boring, uninspired project that’s no longer fit to see the light of day. The project’s sole purpose has become to pacify. And while that’s cool for workplace relations, it makes for terrible design.
I give you Exhibit A: We were asked to redesign a business card for a client yesterday. The person in charge of the project passed our recommendation around the office to get consensus, to make sure that this was the right direction. As a result, he was met with unending criticism on how it should look – twenty different colors, bold this, unbold this, round the corners, don’t round the corners, put a design on the back, leave the back blank…the whole time, we’re making the requested changes to “just see what it would look like”.
In the end, that sole decision-maker was so completely frustrated, we just went with a remarkably boring design, just so people couldn’t complain about it. The motivation behind the final product became making something that was non-disruptive, and they paid ten times as much for a business card that wasn’t worth the original quote we offered.
This isn’t the first time we’ve had this experience. In fact, we prepare for it by charging hourly, keeping the client aware of how much it costs them to solicit the feedback of people that aren’t even their target market. We’ve responded to the feedback of fathers, grandmothers, spouses, friends-that-took-some-art-classes-in-college, and it always turns out the same way.
Moral of the story: Getting a second opinion is not a bad thing, and we don’t expect – or condone – working in a vacuum. But understand that people like being heard, and are usually pretty quick at offering their opinions, even when they don’t really care that much. The more people that you have in that decision-making mix, the more you’re going to spend on the project. And that I can guarantee.