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.
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.
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.
Over the past couple years, it seems that almost every household name is going for a new logo. As a fun way to bring you up to speed on just some of the new logos (and much-needed tweaks) that are popping up, I’ve put together this all-too-common game of “Guess That Logo”. To keep it fair, I didn’t include any sports teams.
Name the whole alphabet and you are automatically eligible for a sense of accomplishment. I’ll post the answers next week if someone doesn’t beat me to it. Good luck!
Over the next few weeks, I plan to present the branding process in a way that’s not terribly boring and doesn’t use one catchphrase or chart. I’m sure that will be a relief to some. Instead, I’ll relate it to dating, something I was never able to take seriously or do very well. This should make these weeks a thrill for all of us.
First, could someone please explain to me why we will dress up in our finest clothes, wear our finest cologne, only to go out to clubs that are pitch dark, smell like an ashtray full of pee and are too loud to hear anything insightful come from any of the suitors that, try as they may, only seem to blow beer breath in your face? Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way, but this just doesn’t seem to be an ideal mating ground. In fact, it reminds me a lot of how brands present themselves to consumers.
Think about how your brand makes its first impression. You get a sharp logo, a stack of the finest business cards and set off to a networking event, business conference, parking garage – whatever – to find your soul mate. Then, from across the room, you meet eyes and exchange furtive glances. You get anxious as you courageously cross the room to make that first move. After a handshake and an exchange of names, you deliver the most sterile and forgettable elevator speech that you could devise in the mere eight seconds you devoted to it while the person standing across from you was explaining what they do. Didn’t catch what that was? I’m not surprised.
“My company helps you achieve your business goals and grow your ROI. We think out of the box and deliver on time, on budget and would love to set up a time when we can go over our full portfolio.”
Even if your captive audience still has a pulse and is not expressly offended that you just wasted that much of their life, you should not expect a call from that ambiguous line of nothing. Ever. Unprepared and uncreative, the same as in a stinky, loud bar, you fade back into the crowd as if the encounter never happened.
How do we fix this? Simple. First, have your elevator speech ready before you go to the event. I mean days before. Develop, in less than 30 words, the “who, why, where, what, when” statement. Practice it endlessly; because, just like in picking up a date at the bar, the listener can tell when you’re just reciting lines. Once you have that ironed out and are reciting it in your sleep, you can then tuck it away in your mind until the moment you need it.
Let’s re-visit that encounter. Eyes meet, blah blah blah, and you deliver the line. Awesome, but they didn’t swoon or leap into your arms yet. What do you do now? If your elevator speech is effective, there’s not much more that you’ll need to say to paint the picture in their mind. Instead, you ask questions about them. Show a sincere interest in what they do and make sure that their memory of you is one of pure and genuine interest. Let them talk; ask open-ended questions to encourage them do so. After a few minutes, ask if you can give them a call the next day. Set up a lunch and continue to do the same. The opportunities to talk about you will naturally present themselves in relevant context, so don’t force it. Before you know it, you’re on your way to a beautiful relationship with a new client, or baby daddy, whichever you’re in the market for.
I love cars. Not just any cars, and not the insanely fast, newer cars that can knock your eyebrows to the back of your neck. I love muscle cars; the Challenger, the LeMans, the Chevelle. I’m often longingly watching these relics while I pass them on the highway, while I’m driving a brand new car. What sense does that make? I have far more conveniences and luxuries in my current car, and I would most certainly trust it more to get me back from a roadtrip.
The reasoning is not practical, and there’s something to learn from this regarding the strength of brand management. While the logical side of my mind tells me that I will have better gas mileage, fewer repairs, and a more comfortable ride in my newer car, it doesn’t outweigh the chance to capture a legacy – a piece of history – and the unexplainable attachment I have with these chariots of untamed fury . Granted, I wasn’t even around in the heyday of those sexy beasts, but it makes no difference. These masses of steel with dim dashboard lighting and the inability to make any type of turn above 45mph carry an unbreakable emotional bond with me.
Let’s translate that to your own experience. Is every purchase you make based solely on sound, rational judgment? Do you refuse yourself the things that you could certainly live without? The answer, 99% of the time, is probably “no”. The fact is that we buy with our hearts first, then justify it to our minds second. You don’t need the tabloid magazines, the candy bars, or the champagne (and whatever else you have) on New Year’s. But there’s no disputing it – you must have it. They are just cases of the emotional demand overruling logic.
How can you leverage this in your own brand? The idea is simple: have people develop an irrational love for what you have to offer. In many ways, you should consider branding to be a lot like trying to get a date; for instance, make every encounter an awesome one and, quite simply, look better than the alternative. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to offer specific approaches that you can focus on to deliver a brand that people can fall in love with, no matter what you’re offering.
Next week: the “Dark Smoky Bar Method.”
On April 3, Apple’s mutant iPod hit the market. The sales of the iPad were so overwhelming that they simply ran out, delaying their European launch. Good for them. Apple has shown us once again that, regardless of the staggering global unemployment rate, you can still sell buttloads of stuff that no one needs.
But what lesson can we learn from this? Is it simply that people will buy just about anything? When you consider the success of Crocs and Snuggies, you may have a point. But what I’ve learned from this is that success in sales is far simpler than once thought. Truth be told, the iPad is not much of an invention. Tablet PCs have been in the market for years, as have PDAs. Before them were laptops, and before them were even bigger laptops. What Apple did was take an existing idea and make it better – the same thing they did with the iPod. They took something that was already widely popular and asked the simple question: what can we do to make it better?
Personally, I think the days of true invention died with the creation of the microwave and the disk drive, and ever since, we’ve been in an innovation age. This makes it far easier for people to develop newer and more exciting things, like automated toilets and paper towel dispensers.
What does this mean for you? Simple. Take a look at the technology in your environment; be it in your car, your kitchen, or your office. Give this technology a good look and ask yourself what could make it better. Developing a brand new idea can be intimidating, so use someone else’s. It’s not stealing, it’s innovation. And as Steve Jobs & Co. has shown, it can make you very successful.
On that note, I have a birthday coming up in July. And a 16gb iPad only goes for about $399. I’m just saying…
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.
One summer afternoon, my friends and I were hanging out by a creek that ran by our neighborhood when one of us discovered that there were crabs in them there waters. Having nothing reasonable to bait them with, we tried tying a string around a rock, tossing it a couple feet off the shore, and dragging it back in. We hoped that the motion would get their attention and were astounded when we began to see them follow the rock.
You see, crabs are stupid. They crawled to the shore in droves, making the stone as effective as any bait you could buy. It’s no surprise that they are pretty low on the food chain with that type of gullibility. However, as anyone that lives by a beach can attest, you do not want to encounter one bare-footed on their turf. They hurt, making an undeniable case for leverage.
With size and intelligence against them in spades, crabs can still pull an advantage. The same can be said for bees, jellyfish, viruses… the list goes on. The lesson here is simple: all the knowledge and elbow-rubbing in the world does not compare to knowledge perfectly applied. True leverage rests only in how well you use what you know.