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If I had to pinpoint one of the most useless, outdated pieces of marketing currently in overuse today, I’d have to go with the trifold brochure.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.
Building a brand takes time, vision, and a lot of hard work (not to mention working with these guys). There’s no way that I can deliver a formula in a blog post that will work specifically for your business. I can, however, give some tips on how to get it wrong. Share them, post it in the office, or print this post and make a funny hat out of it. Just please send pictures if you choose the latter.
1. Rely solely on cheap stock photography. There’s nothing more attractive to a prospect than photos of young, beautiful staffers on your site that don’t actually work there, in a building you don’t actually work in. Truth is, people can spot those over-used models from a mile away.
2. Change your logo/brand elements every year. Looking at the same logo everyday is a bore, I’m sure. If you’re going through $99 logos like most people go through socks, you’re probably doing it wrong and need to put the appropriate investment into it. Cutting corners on your image in the name of cost isn’t doing your company any favors.
3. Use plenty of industry jargon and catchphrases in your writing. Everyone is looking for someone who thinks outside the box and will take them to the next level. They also want to work with someone genuine. Be direct and sincere. You wouldn’t really use worn-out pickup lines at a bar, right? Exactly.
4. Mimic your competition. If it works for them, why start over with something new? No one got successful by re-creating the wheel, but many found their fortunes by creating tires, internal combustion engines and a slew of ideas that are better than a lousy wheel.
5. Remember, your brand is only how you look and what you say. Don’t follow it up with the way you conduct business. And while you’re at it, exaggerate on what you say you can do for your clients. That’ll never come back and bite you in the ass.
Is there anything I missed? Did I step out of line? Let me know in the comments.
“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” – Edmund Burke
Three years ago, my little marketing firm was growing like a weed, taking on new employees and new clients at a blinding pace. We were selective on the jobs that we took on and work just didn’t seem like work. It was a good time. Then one afternoon, I had a conversation with a colleague, who advised that we may not be in business by the end of the year. Thinking that perhaps it was an abnormally hot summer, and that the weather was probably getting to people, I shrugged it off. In retrospect, I guess I shouldn’t have. The following two years were hellish at best, and we systematically lost every employee we had, while clinging desperately to our dwarfing clientele. We had our legs knocked from under us, as most businesses did, but we were able to survive. Last summer, we started to turn a corner and are happily – albeit skeptically – in a growth period.
It’s been said that, by remaining aware of past failures, you can predict and avoid future ones. We learned a lot over those couple years and want to share some vital lessons as we’re told that we could experience it all over again.
1. Don’t panic. The one thing that exacerbates a recession more than all others is fear; whether is consumer fear of spending, or business fear of growth, hiring or marketing. If an economy is not growing, it’s dying, so the best thing we can do is continue to focus on not just growth, but smart growth. Continue to advertise and promote, continue to look for talent, and continue to set goals that propel your business forward, not just keep it in one place. And please, turn the TV off. That stuff will drive you bonkers if you let it.
2. Pick your partners carefully. No business is ever successful in a vacuum. Every day, business owners are confronted by potential vendors and partners that pitch a mutually beneficial relationship. Most of the time, it’s not the case. It’s important to do a quick review to only give time to partners that provide an obvious benefit. Are they the best in your price range? Do they have a solid reputation? Is what they provide something that has a short-term effect on bringing you in business (are you getting your investment back within the next six months)? Make sure that you align your business with others that will propel you forward.
3. Woo your customers. As demand drops, desperation rises. Your competitors will become ravenous for your customers, and will do some pretty outrageous stuff to pull them away. If you assume for a second that they’ll never leave, they could be halfway out the door. The first way to keep your customers is to be proactive. By anticipating and addressing future needs (sales cycles, promotional periods, etc.), you are leveraging what you know about your client that your competition doesn’t. You should make that customer feel like they’re the only star in your sky, remember your contacts’ birthdays, and show a genuine interest in who they are as an organization and as people. If you don’t have a genuine interest, it will show, so hurry and find customers you want to work with.
4. Stay loyal. Once you have partners and customers that make your work worth working, don’t do what so many businesses do and screw it up by entertaining other offers. Having successful strategic partnerships and customer relationships both require the same courtesy, exclusivity and support that you would expect from them. Be aware of any conflict of interest and avoid it before it poses a problem. The grass on both sides of the fence can die at once.
5. Stoke your fire for your craft. If you don’t love what you do, then stop. This new economy demands passion and is too competitive for people to just float by. Be tirelessly innovative, finding new ways to do what you love. Rediscover what put you in business in the first place, which may mean revisiting your own idea of success. Only those that are dedicated will survive and, if you’re apathetic about your business, your doors will be shut for you.
Is there anything that you’ve learned over the past three years? I’d love to hear them!
I’m not a huge football fan. Not because I’m against competition fueled by excessive testosterone, but because I just don’t have the time to keep up with it. Honestly, my butt goes numb after about an hour and a half of any type of television viewing and I’d rather do a thousand other things with my weekends. That said, I do set aside time each year to enjoy the Super Bowl. I go all out – nachos, pizza, beer – and I’m usually by myself, because I watch it for the commercials.
Anyone that read my rant on ridiculous television commercials knows that I am not amused with the nosedive that advertising creativity has taken recently. I still had hope last Sunday but was terribly disappointed. Let’s go to the play-by-play, shall we?
I have to admit that I didn’t have high hopes for Taco Bell, anyway. This ad met my expectations. I don’t think I have ever chanted “make it stop” at my TV within the first third of a commercial. And by the way, did I miss the ballooning of Charles Barkley? I have distinct memories of him being a basketball player. Now he just looks like the ball.
I totally forgot that Bud Light provided ads this year, which is exactly the reaction they shouldn’t want. If anyone should be trying hard to win over consumers during the sporting even of the year, it’s the beer industry. Everyone knows that the Seven-Elevens are packed at halftime, and Bud Light should be encouraging sales via funny bone. This made me thirsty for sobriety.
This has to be the worst effort from an advertiser in recent history. That’s really awesome that they spent their millions targeting viewers that wouldn’t be caught dead in those shoes, but could they at least get a headshot of Joe Montana for this? I’m seriously about to write a letter to Skechers, asking for my 15 seconds back.
This had to be the highlight of the evening. Unfortunately, Betty White had to get laid out for me to get a laugh. I hope that this valiant attempt at humor didn’t result in a hip replacement.
In summation, I was very disappointed in the advertising presented this year. Apparently, the reason for this maelstrom of mediocrity is because advertisers have lost touch with their disenchanted and recession-scarred consumers. Personally, I think that’s been the problem a lot longer than the economy has; a lot longer than they would like to admit.
In my free time, I like to produce my own music. Part of that hobby is frequenting Radio Shack – of course, until Walmart swallows them whole. I mean, where else can you find a 1/8″ Plug to 2 RCA Plugs Y-Adapter in a pinch? Exactly.
When that time comes, I expect the “Radio Shack Experience” – walls lined with over-priced cell phones, sales clerks in distracted debate over Jedis vs. zombies, and some walking robotic thing that nearly trips me. Not exactly paradise, but I’m comfortable with it.
However, after an extended hiatus from my Radio Shack visits, I see that they have gone hip. Look out, Hot Topic! I almost felt like I had to show my ID at the door!
My wife needs the television on in order to get to sleep. Not sure why, but I’ve just gotten used to it. On occasion, my sleep is interrupted in the middle of the night by the sweaty underarm of the advertising world, better known as the infomercial. Now, I understand the selling power of a 30-minute onslaught of unbelievable claims, bad acting, terrible graphics and louder-than-necessary voiceovers, but three particular peddlers fascinate me with their ability to get anyone to give anything to them.
Just to be clear, I have always known that I was full of it. But did I need snake-oil salesman (and John Waters look-alike) Klee Irwin to illustrate just what “it” is? Staged in what looks like a corny talk show, Klee and his sidekick Dr. James Chappell share their gospel about how impacted fecal matter, parasites in the colon, and “unusual, foul-smelling bowel movements” can be flushed away by his latest and greatest concoction: Dual Action Cleanse 2. For our viewing pleasure, he leverages the mighty power of television to show us what comes out of our ”old house” after using his product. Needless to say, I skipped breakfast the next morning. Thanks for that, Klee.
Next, are you too uncoordinated to wash your own bottom? Do you like to watch large men flop around like trapped manatees in the shower? Then you can’t miss the Body Snake! I know that there are people out there with serious needs that would benefit greatly from this product. If this mutant pipe cleaner was marketed directly to them, this infomercial would be perfectly acceptable. However, they seem to be targeting large, clumsy men. And that makes it funny.
I was going to post a video of Girls Gone Wild, but on second thought, we’ve all seen enough of them. Also, I didn’t want this to be the place that someone sees their daughter in a compromising position. Nothing says “I hate you, Dad” quite like the flashing of oh-no’s for the world to see. Instead, I remembered something that makes me laugh everytime I see it and has almost earned my money…
It seems that the hardest part about starting an exercise regimen is just getting off your butt. No worries now, thanks to the Hawaii Chair! Take it from Brad, the ambassador of all things Hawaiian with the complexion of a zombie: these should be a staple in every office environment. I’m sure it would make your office tasks as easy as starting an on-the-job romance. Seriously, our friend Erin in the pink sweater looks like she’s holding on for dear life.
I could go on forever with this, but we all have lives or jobs that we should get back to.
On my way to the office this morning, I noticed that the amount of fuel in my tank would probably leave me stranded short of my destination, which warranted my immediate attention and a nearby fuel pump. While waiting in line to pay at the station, I glanced at the magazines resting by the register. Expectedly overwhelmed by the number of Michael Jacksons staring back at me, I was relieved that every news outlet has been broadcasting this event non-stop . Had I just recovered from a month-long coma, this would be news.
My eyes quickly rested on this week’s copy of Newsweek, which boldly proclaims that “The Recession Is Over!”. My immediate reaction, “It’s about time”, was accidentally spoken out loud. This won me some strange looks from the cashier and customers in front of me.
This thought stuck with me for the rest of my commute. After thousands of businesses tasted bankruptcy this year, and thousands more shut their doors, I can only pray that there were lessons pulled from this experience. I picked up a few.
1. Always compete. This is the most important, yet least profound, point of the bunch. Circuit City and Linens N’ Things crumbled because they became option #2 in their consumers’ eyes and did little to set themselves ahead. Even before things got tough, those and many other companies grew complacent and lost their edge. Now they’re gone, far far away, right there with Elvis and the Dodo.
2. If your business doesn’t immediately address a need, create that need. A great example of this is Apple, who just recorded their best non-holiday quarter in company history. Now, let’s think about that for a minute. Apple doesn’t sell a single computer for less than $1800. However, by creating the illusion of necessary convenience in their latest iPhone apps, the recession did little to slow them down.
3. As with turtles, if you stay in your shell for too long, you will die. When you’re starting to have a hard time with getting and retaining business, your first course of action should not be to eliminate your communication with your clients. When you close that communication, rest assured that your clients will do the same. Your marketing and client outreach has to keep going, especially when the competition is in hiding and advertising costs are low. It comes down to overcoming fear and pressing forward.
By no means do I want this to come across like I’m an expert at running a business. I admit, I was tempted to surf the classifieds for a while because, frankly, I didn’t know if my efforts would pay off or whether or not ImagineDesign would make it through. Fortunately, according to Newsweek, it did. Business is now picking up as I hope it is with everyone. My greatest hope now is that we remember the mistakes that led to the past year so we don’t have to go through that again.
A week or so ago, I wrote a bit about Bing and its lousy attempt to de-throne Google. A few people didn’t agree that Microsoft had brought a Super Soaker to a gunfight. Okay, not quite a few. There was one and he worked for Microsoft. Nonetheless, there were a number of passionate defenses for Google; strong opinions about something that should weigh as heavily on someone’s mind as which socks to wear.
1. Know your limitations, and know that your consumer controls those limitations. Google doesn’t offer anti-virus. Not necessarily because it would do a lousy job, or that it wouldn’t be profitable, but because they understand that their limitations are set by their consumer’s expectations. They know what they’re good at and they realize that not every risk is a good idea. The first time you present a service to the public and it sucks, you may get a mulligan. The next time, your market will be less forgiving.
2. Avoid “kitchen-sinking”. This is a phrase that I came up with about 19 seconds ago and I’m sure has been used before. Don’t fluff up your offering with unnecessary bells and whistles to justify a cost increase. I have bought MS Office more times than I care to remember and I still don’t know what Clip Organizer is good for. I only know I had to pay for it.
3. Don’t raise your prices any more than you need to. It sounds rudimentary, but think about how many companies raise their prices simply to expand their profit margin. That’s just greedy. Always make sure that the value of your offering is readily apparent. I use Google Analytics to measure traffic to my website, which provides a wealth of detailed information that helps me grow my business. Oh, and it’s free.
4. Bad news for control freaks: you may have less control than you think. I don’t care who you are, a Fortune 100 CEO or a consultant working in your pajamas. Never forget that your business depends on, and is therefore extinct without, your partners and customers. They will determine how successful your business is. They will determine the value of your brand and whether or not you have a job next month. Heavy customer interaction and free services have contributed to Google’s image of a transparent, forward-thinking team of people that are passionate about what they do, instead of an organization bent on world domination, even if it is their mission…
To the writers of today’s TV commercials:
First of all, I thought we were friends. I thought that if we treated each other with the same level of respect, then I wouldn’t see some of the mind-numbing poop that keeps my hand firmly wrapped around the remote. We had a good run with non sequitur (such as this), and I was fine with ads that were less captivating than watching grass grow (such as this). However, you have let me down to a new low.
Let’s start with that Dannon ad, the one with “the Activia lady”. I understand Jamie Lee Curtis needs the work, but isn’t there a better environment for this veteran actress – this icon of American cinema – than as a sampler in a grocery store? For Christ’s sake, she was in “Trading Places”! Would you cast Eddie Murphy as a Wal-Mart greeter?
Moving on, Jamie Lee getting sassy and making an announcement over the PA system was enough to make me gouge my eyes out with a shrimp fork. The content is too flimsy, and the context is too grim, leaving me with one burning image in my mind: Jamie Lee Curtis dropping a deuce. I am now in no mood to even consider eating yogurt.
Another ad that just shouldn’t be is the latest Speed Stick commercial. It starts with an immediately off-putting question: “What’s your pit type?”.
Now I must preface this by saying that there are certain health conditions that should not be approached via TV commercial. I would rather be pleasantly surprised with certain strides in hygiene technology. Is the middle of an episode of “Heroes” a good time to inform me of my choices for handling vaginal burning and odor? Exactly. Now back to the Speed Stick commercial.
Once asked about my “pit type”, I’m braced for what uncomfortable subject matter ensues.
“Sweaty? Hairy? Sensitive?”
What? Did you really just ask me that? I don’t think I ever cared what differentiates the needs of a sweaty armpit versus a hairy one. That commercial didn’t spark an interest either. I felt like my television presented me with a subject I wasn’t prepared to tackle at the moment, kind of like when your six year-old asks you what a douche is for.
Of course this wouldn’t be complete with what is, by far, one of the worst advertising campaigns ever: the Geico cavemen. This campaign should’ve ended about 30 seconds before it started, and the creative geniuses that sparked it should’ve had their right to use English revoked. But no, I should be led to believe that cavemen walk among us, and pity that their intellect is insulted by cheap advertising. I never felt sorry for them, probably because I’m too preoccupied with having my intellect insulted by cheap advertising.
In conclusion, if nothing can be taken from this post, please consider this: we thirst for wit; we are starved of clever humor. Take note of the catchy quips of the not-so-legendary Vince Offer (“stop having a boring tuna, stop having a boring life”). Do you part to boost the economy (and your profession), and make me want to buy something!
Starbucks has finally fired back against the blows that fast-food competitors like McDonald’s have dealt at the ubiquitous giant and rightfully so. But how did they choose to set themselves apart from their rivals? A large, big-money ad campaign! You can read about the campaign anywhere, so I won’t waste your time with recycled news. Instead, I’d like to express what I feel has brought us to this point.
A long, long time ago, Starbucks became a part of our daily routine, whether it was to grab a quick latte on the way to work, or to meet with friends and soak in the ambiance in the evenings. Starbucks was more than coffee, it was an intimate experience where stress was checked at the door.
Starbucks made little more than coffee drinks, and they did it well. Half of their counter was dedicated to selling the beans that made them famous, the other half was where espresso was made into an art form. The staff was educated and enthusiastic about the heritage and craftsmanship of coffee, in a cafe laid out in such a manner that you could almost feel like there was no place quite like it anywhere else. Over those years, my daughter and I made Starbucks a place where we could just hang out and talk about life, her with her Frappuccino, and me with my iced-quad-venti-nonfat-caramel-macchiato.
I even spent a while working at a Starbucks. In that time my passion for coffee led me to earn a black apron. If you’re not sure what that is, Google will help.
Things have certainly changed. If you walk into a Starbucks today, you’ll see that the whole bean counter has been removed, to make room for toaster ovens where you can get a sandwich with your drink. Don’t care for coffee? No problem. You can now choose from a wide array of bland smoothies, waters, or even no drink at all. The environment that once made us feel at home is now cluttered with clearance retail and, to keep up with the times, CDs.
Starbucks has grown into the “pack ‘em in” fast-food enterprise that they were once the very antithesis of. And now, to further homogenize themselves in the bland corporate mix, they have their own ad campaign. Maybe it’s a good thing that they’re feeling the economic and competitive pinch. Hopefully, it will wake them up to what made them great in the first place and stick to only that, because no one wants to see Starbucks and feel Walmart.