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!
Wealth (ˈwelth): n. Abundance of valuable material possessions or resources.
I look to the dictionary pretty often, in fear that I’m going to misuse a word and ruin an entire conversation, speech, public bathroom vandalism or whatever. However, I have to say I have a particular problem with the definition offered for “wealth”, since all it does is validate the ongoing problem that we have as a consumer-driven culture. Imagine that, a business owner complaining about a society driven by materialism.
Or maybe I just have a warped view of what wealth is or how it’s measured. To me, wealth is not quantified by the volume of toys one has, or the size of the house in which they are packed. My own definition goes a little like this:
Wealth (ˈwelth): n. The freedom one has to be able to live the life one wants to live.
That seems to make a lot more sense to me. If for no other reason, it allows for each individual to decide what their idea of wealth is. A number of my best friends are far more comfortable living in an apartment and driving older cars than dealing with the pressure of a higher cost of living. Does this mean that, to be considered a success, they have to sacrifice their own happiness? I think that the measure of their satisfaction with the state of their lives could be the only real determining factor of how successful – or wealthy – they really are. Mind you, I would be a moron (not to mention a destitute one) if I didn’t understand the role of money in creating that freedom, yet cash and possessions are not my primary motivators. If it was, I may be a lot wealthier by the textbook definition, but I wouldn’t be as happy. So what does it for me? What do I use as a measure of wealth in my life?
Purpose. The great thing about entrepreneurship (aside from the ability to work myself into a narcoleptic daze) is that I can generate income through things that give me a great sense of purpose. That’s a need that I believe everyone has, whether they have the desire to venture out on their own or not. This is something to bear in mind as a manager. Your team’s happiness is never equivalent to their salary. In fact, if many feel like they are making an impact on the lives of customers, fellow employees, or society as a whole, the money they make only needs to sustain them – not help them accumulate more stuff.
Pay = compliance. Purpose = commitment.
So how do you give your team that sense of purpose? Here are a few ideas to start:
1. Give them control. Empowering your team to use their judgment and to make quick customer service decisions will not only make your team feel more important, it will dramatically increase your bottom line with the time saved by constantly requiring authorization. There are many success stories that reinforce this fact. However, it cannot be done without education. Teach your team that if a problem costs less than $x, just take care of it right away to please the customer. That dollar amount can usually be determined by the cost of time saved in the back-and-forth of managerial approval.
2. Know your employees and challenge them individually. Many industries, if not most, are structured in such a way that only allow for employees to climb the ladder in one direction. For instance, if you’re an architect, the only career path you have is to work yourself into managing other people. Does this mean that introverted architects are doomed to a job they don’t like? Apparently. Instead, look to what motivates them individually. For instance, the keep-to-himself architect may be a financial wizard, an avid writer on the history of western architecture or a fan of studying HR law. These are tools that you can take advantage of in your firm while giving that team member a greater feeling of significance.
3. Drop the leash. Envision the job from hell. I know it sounds funny (not to mention a simple thing to do), but picture your own idea of the worst employment scenario you can. I would be willing to bet that it involves someone standing over you, dictating every action and critiquing every impulse. Don’t be that guy.
A growing number of the greatest companies of our time are becoming so in part because they loosen restrictions on their team. For example, a legendary benefit of working at Google is their “20 percent time” program. Google will actually allow their employees up to 20 percent of their week to pursue special projects. This has resulted in an explosion of creativity, not to mention some of the most popular features Google has ever developed. It’s not because Google has the money to blow on touchy-feely ideas, but because they realize the importance of autonomy. It seems counter-intuitive that, by allowing your team to go willy-nilly and not stick to a predetermined workplan, you can actually boost productivity and offer a deep sense of autonomy. It’s happening more and more.
Take a look at what drives you at your job. If you have nothing to motivate you, quit wasting your time reading blogs and get a new job. Chances are though, when you have enough money to sustain yourself and your family, all you and your employees may be looking for is a greater sense of purpose.
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.
Until she was 11, my daughter didn’t care too much about her image. Although this made clothes shopping easier for a while, I knew it wouldn’t last. On a trip to the grocery store one afternoon, I heard it was starting to matter.
“Dad, I wanna look cool.”
“So people will like me.”
This chat started in the dairy department, so I grabbed and opened an egg carton. Holding an egg in each hand, I asked her if she can spot any difference between the two eggs. Now, what if I hard-boiled one of them? In focusing on strengthening the inside, I made the egg far more likely to survive a drop in one piece.
It’s a great metaphor for looking at your brand, too. Think of it as that egg. You can make it as pretty as you want, and it definitely helps to grab attention. However, the paint alone won’t make the shell any stronger. If the core of the business – the values, the purpose – is weak, all the coloring in the world won’t protect it when it’s “crunch” time.
Ok, so let’s pretend that you didn’t meet with a designer for your logo. You ponied up the $99 to get a logo done online, arming you with an ”ok” logo in tons of different formats, most of which your computer can’t read. Proud of your financial prudence, it looks like you are off and running – now let’s go get some business!!!
First stop: a business card. Knowing that graphic designers charge far too much for a 2″ x 3.5″ slip of paper, you decide that Microsoft Word is the weapon of choice to slay this dragon. After all, Avery templates and a couple ink cartridges produce results so much quicker than a print shop. Therefore, with a dozen fonts and a stretched-out logo, you throw together your cards, spit them out of the printer and head off to your first networking event. Each business card you hand out doesn’t look quite as nice as every card you receive, though. But who cares; it does the trick, right?
Next, you’re going to need some print collateral. Once again, we fire up MS Word. Pulling photos from Google and applying the same extensive font collection (it’s good to be consistent), you just saved yourself a few bucks yet again. You now have a Word document that may be a bit hard to read, never looks quite right when someone gets it in an email, and weighs about 5mb. But who cares; it does the trick, right?
Eventually, you will need a website. We will all need a website at one point or another. So, after putting it off as long as you can, you finally break down and get the budget $200 website. No one is going to look for you on Google, so you saved some money by avoiding those SEO witch doctors. The artistic geniuses at the other end of you short email chain have thrown together a website practically overnight; why would you ever consider spending more? It does the trick, right?
Unfortunately, after about six months, you almost forget that the website is there. You don’t get any business from that or any other marketing material, so you go back to revisit that one-pager. It will probably only take you a couple hours to get it perfect. Maybe your ”look at me” starburst isn’t big enough on it. Maybe you’re not saying enough, so you add a couple pages – in really big text – so that your idea gets across. Or maybe you need to do some work to that logo…
After all this work is not the time for clients to point out that your logo is hard to read. Or to realize that everyone you’ve come in contact with needs to ask what you do, even after taking your business card. This may seem like an exaggeration, but it’s not. It’s the second such case I’ve encountered this month.
I recently sat through a webinar that broke down the “science” of branding, where I only learned one thing – a greater respect for mankind’s ability to complicate things. This mind-numbing onslaught of graphs and scenarios broke the average consumer down to a series of worthless numbers and statistics, so mundane I actually felt my life leaving my body. Maybe I would have been more attentive if they looked at their consumer as something with a pulse. Maybe it’s my short attention span that forced my hand to close my browser. Either way, I couldn’t sit through it.
Just about everything I learned about branding was taught to me before I could perform long division. I still have trouble with long division, but that’s getting off the subject. Developing your brand can be compared in many ways to developing your personal character and, I don’t know how you were raised, but my parents never flashed pie charts at me to keep me in line.
1. Find your voice and be authentic. Ask yourself one question: what makes you different from anyone else? If you can’t answer that question with a quick, less-than-40-word elevator speech, take some time now and develop it. I’ll wait.
Once you have an honest, distinct statement that truly sets you apart in your industry - be it a specialized niche offering, a cost advantage, whatever – make sure that it’s spoken loud and clear. Your consumer doesn’t like mixed signals, and I’m sure I don’t need stupid charts to show you that.
2. Be a team player. The only way you can hope to develop a strong brand is to have the entire company on board. The way they interact with your consumers, and each other, has to be a reflection of that statement. So, if you have a number of employees, distributors, contractors, etc., your best bet is to bring them all together to help you define step 1. A company party is always a good, tax-deductible way to develop ideas.
3. Know your limitations. You know your industry better than I do. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you make a branding expert. Once you have found your message and what makes you different from anyone else out there, it’s time to show it to the world. Find an expert that can deliver that message, and don’t let them show you too many dumb charts – it’s just showing off and you do pay by the hour.
Building a brand, in my opinion, is more of an art than a science. It’s an expression; a communication that transcends “key phrases” and doesn’t limit itself to suburban housewives, aged 25-34 with 2.5 kids and an annual household income of $100,000 to $150,000. Seriously, I’ve had mascara ads that “spoke” to me. Good branding knows no limits.
In a lot of professions, you can almost predict the level of enthusiasm that is taken towards one’s job. For instance, if you pull up to your local drive-thru window, and ask the individual with the headset if they felt born to have that job, you may get some colorful language. You may get an airborne milkshake. You probably won’t get an enthusiastic affirmation. The work is for pure necessity; not a lot of passion, if any at all. It pays the bills and they save their quest for fulfillment for their free time.
Something I have found fascinating about graphic design is that it carries a breed that is rarely found in any other industry. Please keep an eye out for these people, particularly if you’re looking to hire one. They are the designer that, in high school, had doodles on almost every flat surface they owned. They made decent grades in art class, but loved it far too much to care about the grade. Nowadays, they will annoy you to tears about the fonts they see in public, and will debate with seemingly unnecessary fervor on whether Paul Rand or Saul Bass made a greater contribution to the trade. Their favorite color is a number. They are the designers you want to have developing your image, because they will put everything they have into it. They will forego sleep, solid food and social interaction to ensure you are glad you chose them. The strangest part of it all is that it’s not work ethic; it’s passion for the art.
If you work with a designer like the one I have mentioned, you are strongly advised to keep them. They may not be incredibly business-savvy. They may run late to meetings. They may use designer-speak far too often, but I’m sure that they can’t help it sometimes. It just happens.
You get the point. If you have a relationship with one of those far-out, artsy-fartsy, backstock-of-midnight-oil gluttons for punishment, hold on to them. I highly recommend it.
Okay, so you’re in the market for a graphic designer to help out with your business. And by the look of things, you obviously have an internet connection with a myriad of options and related costs, making it tempting to go with the quick and cheap. But wait; there are a couple things you need to know before you venture into the nebulous design industry. There are a few misconceptions to clear up first.
“I can have my brother-in-law’s plumber’s niece’s baby daddy do my logo. He’ll do it for $50.” At first, this is a very tempting offer. But let’s put it into perspective. If you want to get your car painted, do you A: go to a professional shop where the people there do it every day, or B: clear out Wal-Mart’s inventory of spray paint and make a weekend of it? Exactly.
“There are websites that sell logos for $79. A logo can’t be worth much more than that.” Any logo you get from the internet will do very little to represent the individuality of your company. It will, however, look a lot like everyone else’s logo, so, if you’re a lawyer, expect to have scales in your logo. If you’re a carpenter, expect a hammer. A perfect example of an ambiguous (and, in this case, inappropriate) logo can be found here. If the time isn’t taken to learn about who you are, there will be no you in the logo. And I tend to place that at the bottom of things I would like to have happen to me, right with being hit by a bus or set on fire.
“I could just do it myself. A professional logo isn’t important in my line of work.” This is a popular one. If professionalism isn’t a requirement in your business, then I agree – you don’t need to look professional. Considering that those industries are very limited; if your company only manufactures after-market passenger-side door handles for 1980 Monte Carlos, a logo won’t necessarily offer measureable growth. Chances are, however, that you have competition and they are looking for an advantage over your business. You should probably do the same.
The number one reason for avoiding a graphic designer to create your logo is always cost. True, it is an investment, but let’s put it into perspective. Think of the attraction that potential clients will have to that image, and the advantage you will have on your competition and their less-than-appealing image. That’s where it hits your bottom line. A professional job will make a difference that you can notice, as every successful business you can think of knows. A poorly designed logo will make a difference too, but that’s not the type of direction we want to go, is it?