AboutUsHead
Carroll and Paul share their thoughts on the world of branding,
marketing and design.

Do You Believe?

June 7, 2011 | Author:

We are in the middle of developing an ad campaign for a medical products company. Previously, they were running ads they developed themselves.They shared the results of a survey one publisher initiated on the effectiveness of ads that appeared in their magazine. The ads were judged in three categories:

1. eye-catching

2. informative

3. believable

Valid criteria to be sure. But what is needed to make an ad eye-catching, informative and believable?  Which is most important, and which is the hardest to achieve?

Let’s start with the first question: How do you create an ad that is eye-catching, informative, or believable?

1. Eye-Catching

There are a number of ways to make an ad eye-catching. Use big, bold colors or type. Or lots of white space. Use a shocking or incongruous image for that particular market or trade publication. Say something controversial or even scandalous. And so on.

2. Informative

To be informative, or at least to give the appearance of being informative, requires more hard facts and less marketing “fluff”. It’s even better if you can sprinkle in some charts or tables or present tangible data about your product’s capabilities or superiority.

3. Believable

Being believable implies a level of trust on the reader’s part. But how do you gain someone’s trust within a second or two?

Answering the first question helps us answer the second: Which is most important and hardest to achieve? Obviously it’s important to attract someone’s attention. But if the ad isn’t relevant or believable, the reader is quickly gone.  Information can be a powerful weapon. However, presenting a lot of information isn’t always a good idea. First of all, it can make the ad uninviting to read. But more importantly, it may not be possible to encapsulate all your products’ capabilities or benefits in the relatively small amount of space an ad affords. It might be more beneficial to leave the reader hungry and instead, lead them to your website or into a conversation where you have more opportunity to explain your product.

If a product or service is of no use to someone, being believable won’t make any difference. But if after reading what you have to offer, someone is interested, being believable helps to break down barriers, which makes it easier to sell.  But what do you do to gain that trust in a matter of a few seconds? Perhaps it’s what you don’t do:

• Don’t use deception or trickery. If you start a relationship with a lie or deception, there is no trust and it’s hard if not impossible to gain it later.

• Don’t presume to know what’s best. “This is the last product you’ll ever need.”  “The one solution to meet all your needs.” How can you possibly have the answers to someone’s needs if you haven’t even been introduced yet?

Don’t over promise. Don’t offer a solution that you can’t deliver on. If something even hints at sounding too good to be true, it will immediately set off warning bells. It’s much better to present what your product  can  deliver under normal use, not perfect conditions.

In truth, real trust is earned over time. But starting off on the right foot makes each it easier to gain it down the road.

Warning Signs

April 29, 2011 | Author:

The government recently announced that the terrorist warning system is being revised. The old color-coded system, instituted shortly after 9/11 had five levels of threat: Green for Low (low risk of terrorist attack); Blue for Guarded (general risk of terrorist attach); Yellow for Elevated (significant risk of terrorist attack); Orange for High (high risk of terrorist attacks); Red for Severe (severe risk of terrorist attacks).  The new system will only have two alerts: Elevated and Imminent.

I was speaking with a  client of mine about the new system. In the course of our discussion, he asked what I thought of the old one. I told him I didn’t like it for a couple of reasons. First, it gave us a level of information — color-coding — that was unnecessary. The words alone told the story — succinctly.  But I’m a communicator. My client liked the color coding.  Maybe that’s because he’s a software engineer and the system had built-in redundancy. Engineers like that. But what’s good for communication on a  computer network is not necessarily a good thing for the human network.

One of the problems with the color coding is that we never saw the system on a daily basis. Frequency builds understanding. Think of street signs. We could paint over the word “STOP” on every stop sign, but you would still know what to do when you came to an intersection that had one of these signs.  If we saw the terror alert system every day on the news, appearing in the lower right corner along with the weather and time, we would have learned the significance of each color. I never saw the terrorist alert system anywhere in public. I heard it announced on radio or television a few times, and each time, the announcer said something like “The terrorist alert system was upgraded to Orange today, meaning high alert for terrorist attacks.” He could have skipped the color and I would have gotten the message that much faster.

There were also too many levels to the system. And each level didn’t indicate some corresponding action to be taken. I couldn’t think of what I would do different if we had a blue, green yellow or even orange alert code.

Sometimes words alone are enough. What’s most unfortunate of course, is that we need to use these words at all.

A New Logo — Why?

November 18, 2010 | Author:

While visiting family recently, I brought up the story about the new Gap logo debacle. (In case you haven’t heard, the Gap recently presented a new logo on their website that was, to be kind, very poorly received. In a failed attempt to recover from this,  Gap then announced a contest to design a new logo. It was open to all, and didn’t offer any monetary compensation. During our conversation, I was taken aback by one comment in particular — Why do they need a new logo, we all know who they are and what they’re about anyway? I responded as best I could at the time, but for some reason, the question kept gnawing at me.

The Gap may have had a perfectly good reason. I don’t know the specifics. But its decision raises a very good question. Why should a company — particularly one that is well-known, enjoys a good reputation, and continues to offer the same kinds of  goods or services — look to change their logo or even their entire brand, even if the logo is not outdated and is still representative of the company’s direction?

There are several good reasons why would a company might change its logo, even if things seem to be moving along nicely. On a practical level, the logo may not work well across mediums. This can be particularly true if the logo was developed before the advent of the web and mobile applications.

Internally, a new logo and brand can reinvigorate and add cohesion to a company’s workforce that has grown complacent. It can also reinforce the principal that everyone is working for the betterment of  the company — not their department or group.

Externally, a new logo can reintroduce a company to its customer base. It can announce to the world that it is not standing still,  but rather, it is a vital, forward-looking organization.

Companies with ideas of being acquired may want to polish up their look to be more attractive to investors, since a brand says a lot about what an organization is, what it stands for, and how professional and organized it is.

The ramifications of changing a logo should be considered long and hard before any decision is made. It doesn’t seem that the Gap did that, because if they had, I don’t think they would have changed course and ultimately reversed their decision as quickly as they did.

The Amazon Bungle

November 12, 2010 | Author:

Amazon has stirred up quite the controversy. Some is the result of the world we live in. But much of it is its own doing. Amazon’s online bookstore was selling copies of the book “The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure”. When someone posted a blog asking how they could do such a thing, their response was:

“Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable. Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.”

Let’s admit that it is seems harder today than it has ever been to determine morals and right from wrong. And it must be harder still for to determine what pieces of literature are acceptable and which should be censored. After all, some of the greatest literature ever written has been banned at one time or another.

But let’s also admit that certain things smell, well, let’s say odious enough to know that they aren’t acceptable. Period.

And speaking of smelling bad, Amazon’s stated high principles smell to high heaven. After all, Amazon was accused last year of removing books with gay and lesbian themes. They didn’t seem to have a problem then of censoring materials. That is, until boycotts were threatened. It didn’t take long for the books to reappear. Amazon blamed a cataloging error for that one.

Second, it’s funny how their belief in the right of people making their own purchasing decisions vanished when it became apparent that those purchasing decisions weren’t going to include Amazon.

Let’s not be fooled — principles were never involved in either of these cases. Money was. And we understand that  because Amazon is a business. And in a business like Amazon’s, this can be hard to do when you’re bound to make some group unhappy depending on what you do or don’t do.

But a business, and a brand, needs to be built on a set of principles and actions that people can believe and trust. Anything less makes you look like a greedy liar.

So how Amazon get out of its mess? It doesn’t. It would have been smarter to avoid it by learning their lesson last year and establishing a policy on what books it will or won’t include on its shelves, and how those decisions are made. And then posting it clearly on their site. I checked out their site today, and there wasn’t a hint of it on their home page.

As for me, at the very least, my Kindle is going to be placed on a shelf for a good, long while. I might even exercise my right to make my own purchasing decisions — elsewhere.

Design Thinking

August 9, 2010 | Author:

What is design thinking? Before I explain what it is, let me explain what it isn’t. It’s not something only designers do. Anyone can employ design thinking  to achieve better results to any problem.

Design thinking utilizes analysis, empathy, and creativity in a problem-solving process to meet user needs and achieve improved future results.

What makes design thinking so powerful is that the three attributes it requires — analysis, empathy, and creativity — dovetail nicely with the attributes required by end users/consumers — analysis, experience, emotion —when deciding on which product or solution to go with. The same kind of analytical thinking that went into developing the solution is the same kind of rational thinking that consumers use to study the features and weigh the benefits of a product or service. The ability to empathize with the end user is to understand their experiences and how these experiences, both good and bad drive future decision-making. And last, creativity can take the consumer beyond simple understanding and lead them to a strong and memorable emotional connection to a product or solution. This is no minor feat, since research indicates that about 70% of the decision-making process is emotional.

The design thinking process involves the following steps:

1. Define the problem/audience. The better and more specifically the problem and audience is defined, the better the odds of arriving at the correct solution.

2. Do research. Get input from the people involved in the project, and understand what factors created the problem, and collect examples of other attempts to solve the same problem.

3. Generate ideas. Sift through the findings from step 2 and make sure it’s clear what the motivations and needs of the end user are. Starting from this point, generate as many ideas as possible to try to solve these needs — without debating or judging their merits.

4. Review your options. Discuss, combine, refine, modify or ultimately eliminate unworkable ideas. At the end, you should have a selection of ideas worthy of presenting for final consideration.

5. Choose one idea. Set aside any sense of ownership to an idea and select the most powerful idea. Avoid consensus thinking — too often, the most tepid, unmemorable ideas are selected this way.

6. Implement it. Execute the idea and present it to the world.

7. Learn. Gather feedback, measure the results and determine how effectively the solution solved the stated problem, and what, if anything  can be done to improve the results.

8. Repeat. Use the lessons learned to refine the solution or to develop new ideas to solve the problem better.

Great solutions shouldn’t be the result of divine inspiration, and with design thinking, it won’t be. Instead, you’ll have a roadmap to better, and more predictable results.

Branding or Blogging

March 24, 2010 | Author:

A recently posted blog gave those of us involved in marketing and communications the following advice: Between developing your brand or starting a blog, you should choose the blog and figure out the branding later.  The blog went on to say that online, content is king, so it’s important to create content every day, even if you continue to work out your messaging on your blog until you get it right.
Wow! What a recipe for disaster!  Creating content while you figure out your messaging is like getting in your car without any clear idea how to get somewhere. Even worse, what impression does it give the person reading your blog? I would guess it’s like those experiences at a party where you get into a conversation with someone who loves to hear himself talk. You know the type. He starts to talk before he knows what he wants to say, babbling on until eventually getting to some point. How impressed were you with this person once you were able to extricate yourself from his clutches?
Content is king — online and everywhere else. It always has been. But lately, that belief has been modified by some who believe that online “a large quantity of content is king” even at the expense of quality.  I don’t subscribe to that theory. More quantity may draw people to you through search engines, but what impression will they have of you once they’ve been there?
To go back to the blog’s initial premise — should you develop your brand or write a blog first?  Well, to answer that, let’s be clear what a brand is. At its simplest, a brand is the image of a company or product in the market. But it’s also deeper than that. It’s a core set of principles and beliefs — communicated through words, images, and actions — that leaves an impression of who you are.  So it’s really not an either/or argument because whether or not you formally develop your brand, you create an impression. Which begs the question: what kind of impression do you want people to have — one where they clearly understand your core principles and what you have to offer, or one that gives the impression that you’re a company trying to figure it out as you go?

A recently posted blog gave those of us involved in marketing and communications the following advice: Between developing your brand or starting a blog, you should choose the blog and figure out the branding later.  The blog went on to say that online, content is king, so it’s important to create content every day, even if you continue to work out your messaging on your blog until you get it right.

Wow! What a recipe for disaster!  Creating content while you figure out your messaging is like getting in your car without any clear idea how to get somewhere. Even worse, what impression does it give the person reading your blog? I would guess it’s like those experiences at a party where you get into a conversation with someone who loves to hear himself talk. You know the type. He starts to talk before he knows what he wants to say, babbling on until eventually getting to some point. How impressed were you with this person once you were able to extricate yourself from his clutches?

Content is king — online and everywhere else. It always has been. But lately, that belief has been modified by some who believe that online “a large quantity of content is king” even at the expense of quality.  I don’t subscribe to that theory. More quantity may draw people to you through search engines, but what impression will they have of you once they’ve been there?

To go back to the blog’s initial premise — should you develop your brand or write a blog first?  Well, to answer that, let’s be clear what a brand is. At its simplest, a brand is the image of a company or product in the market. But it’s also deeper than that. It’s a core set of principles and beliefs — communicated through words, images, and actions — that leaves an impression of who you are.  So it’s really not an either/or argument because whether or not you formally develop your brand, you create an impression. Which begs the question: what kind of impression do you want people to have — one where they clearly understand your core principles and what you have to offer, or one that gives the impression that you’re a company trying to figure it out as you go?

Moving Forward

February 24, 2010 | Author:

Ouch! Sometimes taglines can come back to bite you. Because of all their recent troubles, Toyota’s tagline, “Moving Forward”  takes on a a whole new, unintended meaning. After all, moving forward isn’t a problem for their cars. Stopping seems to be.

The Toyota brand has certainly taken a hit, and the road back continues to hit bumps. Not the least of which are the recent emails that seem to indicate that Toyota has been concerned about the electronics of their cars for some years — something they have been publicly denying as the problem for quite some time.

Other companies have had their brand dragged through the mud and have come out of it in good shape. For example, another Japanese leader in the auto industry received terrible publicity after safety experts linked their product to several fatal accidents, went through a massive recall, and was forced to testify before Congress. In this instance, the company was the tire maker Bridgestone. 

However, within two years of the recall, the company returned to profitability, and over time was able to recapture much of the market share it had lost.

Another player in this safety issue was Ford, which had many of Bridgestone’s tires on its SUVs. At the time, Ford was struggling to rebuild its own brand, and the public squabble with Bridgestone as to who was at fault, didn’t help. 

Like Bridgestone, Ford publicly acknowledged its errors, corrected the problem,  and plodded forward to win back the public’s confidence. Today, Ford is one of the darlings of the auto industry.

Although I’m not recommending they change their tagline to “Plodding Forward”, Toyota will need to do just that for the foreseeable future as they slowly win back customers’ confidence and restore their brand.

Perception is the Mother of Invention

February 2, 2010 | Author:

In a recent edition of my local newspaper (yes, I’m one of the few still getting my hands smudged with ink), there were three articles on the Opinion page. Each was on a different subject, but they all shared a common thread. One compared the assumptions for the surprising results in recent election in Massachusetts, with the data that disputed those assumptions. Another article talked about the disparity of salary levels between private and public sector. Surprise again: the public salaries were rising faster and were significantly higher than those in the private sector. The third article talked about the negative poll numbers of our governor and the perception that he has done little, compared with a record that shows some impressive accomplishments.

The point of all this is two-fold. First, perception can be more powerful than the truth. Chew on that for a while and let me know how that tastes. And second, but more significant — when starting a product launch or a marketing campaign, perception can cause decisions to be made that are contrary to fact and can take you in the wrong direction.

It may be hard to justify the cost and time for research, but in the end, it can prove its weight in gold. Otherwise, perception might be like the lead lemming, directing you and all your efforts right over the cliff. And by the way, the perception that lemmings commit mass suicide — that’s completely false!

Happy New Year

December 30, 2009 | Author:

Well, here we are at the end of another year. This one also marks the end of a decade – the aughts. Based on the stock market and my 401, it’s an aptly named decade! It seems like only a few years ago we were worried about Y2K.

And now it’s on to the next decade of the 21st century. If this decade is anything like my kids were in their teens, it should be a very interesting one. But before it starts and we get caught up in the everyday bustle of our lives, it’s a good time to reflect on things both personal and business, take inventory and set some goals. I know I have made my list already.

So as the year draws to a close, I want to thank everyone this year for their support, their help, and most importantly, their friendship. It’s on to 2010 and a whole new decade. I can’t wait to get started!

Happy New Year!

Searious Brand Damage

December 15, 2009 | Author:

I don’t use my rider mower very often. Usually  just in the fall to help collect leaves.  So when my old rider mower finally died, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a new one. I decided to go to Sears. I’ve used Craftsman tools since I was little, and they have always been a good value for what they are.

The salesperson who helped me pick out the right mower for my needs was fantastic. Since it was late fall,  the one I wanted was not in stock. I was told it I could pick it up within the week. No problem. I left happy with my purchase and decision to go to Sears. Things deteriorated quickly after that.

My rider mower didn’t come in as promised. Disappointing, but these things happen. What followed over the next week didn’t help. Without going into all the details, what I encountered in my quest to find out when I might receive my purchase included misinformation by sales people, a faulty phone system that wouldn’t let me connect to any department — or anyone — in the store for days on end, computer problems at the store, and insufficiently trained and rude store personnel. All of this was aggravating, but none of these were the reason I won’t be going to Sears anymore.

What did it was how my problem was handled. Not one person was willing or had the authority to help me. Not at the store. And not at the customer care hotline that I called a couple of times. Instead, they read from scripts, wrote down notes and passed my problem on. They told me that someone of authority would contact me, but no one ever did.

Much, but not all of the problem was the fault of the local store where I bought the mower. Regardless, the damage was done. My image of Sears, the company, had been tarnished.

My point in all of this is not to rant on about Sears, but to illustrate that a brand is more than a visual look. Your brand encompasses everything someone experiences with your company or product. That’s why it’s critical to educate every employee — from the CEO to the delivery driver — about it. Because whether they know it or not, they are a big part of your brand.