Author Archives: Carroll Ray

Top 5 Annoying Tweets

February 28, 2013 | Author:

1. Any tweet that starts with “Top 5…”. Can’t we find another gimmick to grab attention?

2. Incomplete thoughts with a link. If I have no idea what you’re talking about, I’m not going to take the time to click your link.

3. Anyone that sends more than ten tweets a day. Come on, be a little selective.

4. Avoiding brevity by overuse of acronyms and abbreviations.  Kind of misses the point of having a 140 character limit.

5. Tweets that use every technique in the Twitterverse to show they’re charter members of the Twitterclub. HT@CarrollRay 4 RT of #FF

Oh my! Punctuation does matter.

May 11, 2012 | Author:

I saw a TV commercial this morning for Lord & Taylor. I was so struck by the campaign line, “OH MY LORD & TAYLOR”, I couldn’t decide which angle to take for this blog. I did a little research and found a few Web links referring to the campaign, showing behind-the-scenes filming of the campaign, etc. If I hadn’t HEARD the TV spot, the entire thing would have passed by without notice and I would not be writing about it now.

But in the TV spot, unlike the references I’ve seen online where there is no punctuation, a critical pause was inserted into the narration. And instead of ending the spot with “Oh my, Lord and Taylor”, the woman breathlessly exclaimed “Oh my Lord, and Taylor.” Wow. by moving the comma back by just one word, they entirely changed the meaning and the brand. With one pause, they changed the campaign, invoked the Son of God and messed with the company brand. The Lord & Taylor name is so well known, they won’t be harmed by the interpretation, but I would love to know how this decision was made. Did they agonize over it in the boardroom debating the merits and dangers of this interpretation of the phrase, or did the art director just like the way it sounded while editing, without giving full consideration to what he was doing?

Maybe it’s just me, I am a brand geek after all.

The politics of branding.

September 22, 2011 | Author:

Politicians grasp the concept of branding. However, like much of what they grasp, they have misused and abused the practice.

Here are the parts they get. Anyone running for President must:

– carve out a unique position which will separate them from their competitors.
– develop a simple, memorable phrase that effectively communicates their brand.
– design a distinctive look that builds on their brand message.
– communicate their brand with every opportunity.

Let’s just look at this last election to see how it worked out.

Barack Obama
Brand Position:  The first black U.S. president who would stand for the disenfranchised and change the way things were done in Washington.
Brand Personality: Peace, love and understanding.
Brand Slogan:  Hope and change.
Brand Logo: The O shaped flag, looking like the sun rising over the horizon, communicating the dawning of a new day.

Obama even understood the need to extend his brand once he was elected. The overall brand remained, but has been tailored to individual campaigns to meet his tactical objectives. He’s had many. Like the “Health Care for All” campaign and the “Win the Future” campaign, and his current “Pass this Bill” campaign. These all fit neatly under his “Hope and Change” brand.

So, that was the winner. Let’s look at loser of the last election.

John McCain
Brand Position: War hero who is not afraid to stand up to power, whether they be North Vietnamese prison guards or the Washington establishment.
Brand Personality: A fearless fighter.
Brand Slogan: The Maverick
Brand Logo: A military patch, complete with a military star, and looking like a World War II fighter coming directly at you.

In 2008, consumers (voters) chose the brand that was most closely aligned with how they were feeling. We were tired of fighting, we wanted a change.


Now, to all of you presidential candidates, here’s what you DON’T get about branding.

THE BRAND SLOGAN IS A SUMMARY OF WHAT YOU  STAND FOR, NOT YOUR ENTIRE PLATFORM! There needs to be more substance to your brand than simply repeating the words “Hope and Change” or “I’m a maverick”.

IF YOU DON’T LIVE UP TO THE PROMISE YOUR BRAND MAKES, WE WILL COME BACK TO BITE YOU! If you campaign on “Hope and Change”, and what we really get is “Hopelessness and the Same”,  people will remember and we will hold it against you.

And finally,

YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BRAND YOURSELF, NOT THE OTHER GUY! If politicians spent more time clarifying, building and reinforcing their own brand, and less time trying to brand their opponent, this country would be in much better shape than it is. It may be unsettling when they repeat their own slogan over and over again, but it’s downright nauseating to see them do the same to the opposition, no matter which side of the isle.

“Liberal elite.”
“Racist tea bagger.”
“The party of No.”
“Tax and spend Liberal.”

Some people believe we need a businessman to run this country because of their ability to work within a budget. I say we need a businessman who not only understands finance,  but understands how to live up to the brand that they create.

The clock inside my head.

May 9, 2011 | Author:

In my other life, I’m a volunteer firefighter and an EMT. In Emergency Medical Services, the Golden Hour is the term we use to describe the time we have to get to the scene, stabilize the patient and deliver them to life-saving interventions. The clock starts ticking at the moment of trauma.

In branding and marketing, we have a clock too. It starts the minute an individual takes any action (such clicking a link or dialing a number) and continues until they receive the reward for their action. Let’s call it the Golden Minute. The actual time varies but the point is, once you’ve motivated a prospect to take action, you need to know that their clock is ticking and you have very little time to deliver. Here’s a personal example.

The first thing I do each morning is clean out my emails. I read the ones that are relevant to me, and delete the rest, most without ever opening. This morning, one email managed to get past the Carroll filter. Upon opening the email, I saw links to white papers and articles that were of interest to me. I decided to download one called “10 Ways Social Media Monitoring Enhances Your Brand”. I clicked the link, and the invisible clock started.

tick…………. tick…………. tick…………..

Immediately, a form popped up with all of my personal information pre-populated. My name, email address, address, phone number. Some of the information was old and the fields were editable, so I went ahead and made the changes. I then clicked the CHANGE button.

tick……..tick……. tick……..tick…….

The form refreshed and now wanted me to provide my email address again. But this time the CHANGE button appeared as a CANCEL button. ???

tick… .tick…. tick….tick….tick…..

Having no other choice, I clicked the CANCEL button, which brought me back to the beginning.

tick…tick.. tick…tick…tick…tick…

Giving it one more chance, I found some small print at the bottom of the page where it said  “Until you click the confirm email address link in the email we sent you, you will not receive any more bulletins from xxxxxx.” So, I went back to the original email and looked for where it said that.


I could not find what they were referring to anywhere.


I closed the email and hit delete. My clock had run out. I had invested as much time as I could and I needed to get on with my day.


Everyone has this internal clock and it moves faster for some than for others. Marketers need to be aware of this when planning  promotional programs. Getting the customer’s interest is important. Getting them to respond, and give up their contact information is very important. But unless you deliver what they came for, quickly and simply, you will have wasted the opportunity you worked so hard to create.

Surrounded by stupid.

May 2, 2011 | Author:

If you’ve read my blogs, the recurring theme is the importance of clear, concise communication. So just for fun, take a look at this sign that’s hanging in a local diner. It seems there might have been an easier way to say they’re open every day from 6AM-2PM.

Eggie's Hours

When a brand goes South(west).

April 25, 2011 | Author:

I’m a big fan of Southwest airlines. I like the brand. I like flying with them. To me, the Southwest brand is all about “simple, safe, fun, and affordable travel”. Southwest always seems to be one step ahead of the competition. While other carriers get into price wars and succumb to the commoditization of their “product”, Southwest stands out. They have done this by:

• focusing on mid-size markets and operating only one type of airplane (Boeing 737’s).
• making it fun to work for the company and encouraging employees to share that fun with travelers.
• only selling direct to customers, which allows them to control the customer experience and protect the brand.
• producing a simple Website that’s easy to use.
• making the boarding process simple — “Stand here when we tell you to.”
• making the seating process simple — “See a seat? Sit in it.”
• sticking to the basics — no food, no frills. Just planes that work, seats that aren’t broken, staff that are friendly and in my experience, planes that almost always arrive ahead of schedule.
• creating a rewards program that’s easy to understand. Take 16 flights and earn 1 round trip.
• operating a safe airline — consistently named one of the safest airlines in the country.

But I’m worried that Southwest may be losing sight of what made them such a strong brand. Within the past 6 months, things have begun to change.

Southwest purchased Air Tran. There goes the efficiency of operating one type of airplane in midsize markets. And, it doesn’t give me good feelings about safety. In case you’ve forgotten, AirTran used to be ValueJet, the company whose maintenance practices were so bad, they were grounded by the FAA in 1996. After years of record numbers of emergency landings and an accident rate 14 times higher than other carriers, it took the crash of Flight 592 into the Florida everglades, and the death of 110 passengers to finally get the FAA to pull the plug on ValueJet.

Southwest changed their rewards program and their Website. You now need an advanced mathematical degree to figure out when, or if you will ever get a reward. Advertising for their new program may claim “No Blackout Dates” but what they fail to mention is their new “Blackout Locations”. Yes, you can fly anytime, but you just may not be able to go where you want to go. And their site, once familiar and easy to navigate, is now maddeningly counterintuitive. Finding or redeeming awards is an exercise in frustration.

And finally, any safety concerns I might have had as a result of the acquisition of AirTran were magnified when a Southwest 737 recently blew a hole in its roof in mid-flight, leading to hundreds of its aging planes being grounded for inspection.

So, with that as a backdrop, let me share the story of my most recent trip, my first with Southwest since all these changes have occurred.

Booking the flights was harder than ever. I was able to use a reward for one leg of the round trip, but not the other. I don’t know why. Two phone calls, hours on hold, and a very confusing explanation from the operator when I finally got to her was the first sign that something had changed.

The reward flight allowed me to take the scenic route from New Hampshire to Tampa — through Chicago. The return flight was worse. Stuck for five hours in Baltimore trying to catch a connecting flight home. Two planes grounded with mechanical errors and nobody able to tell me when, or if we would ever get off the ground. Constantly moving departure times and conflicting stories about what was happening only made me more angry as I looked at my luggage, sitting in the rain on an uncovered cart on the tarmac. Somehow, when I finally got on the plane late last night, the cheery flight attendants weren’t quite as funny as I remembered.

This became a story about branding as I listened to the woman next to me on the plane go on and on about her bad day, and how little she thought of Southwest. This being her first flight with the airline, I found myself defending Southwest, trying to convince her that this was unusual and they really aren’t this bad.

For me, the Southwest brand has been well established. Years of positive experiences had generated enough good will that I was able to come to their defense, even while weathering a bad flying experience myself. But after some reflection, I’m worried. A brand I trusted is changing and the seeds of doubt have been allowed to take root. It’s going to take more than a funny commercial to reassure me.

Words matter.

April 6, 2011 | Author:

I just have to get this off my chest. I received a piece of mail today from a company promoting their 1:1 personalization capabilities. I won’t name the company or the name of the publication. I just want to share the headline with you. Maybe you can help me understand what the hell they’re talking about.

“Welcome to the latest issue of  [Publication Name].  Providing you with information, tips and insights is part of TR Design’s commitment to helping our clients achieve the best results possible.”


I guess I’m supposed to be so impressed that they printed my company name in the headline that I’m supposed to ignore the fact that I have no idea what they’re saying, or what I’m supposed to do about it. Are they providing me with information, tips and insights? Are they saying that TR Design is committed to providing information, tips and insights? If so, how do they know that’s our commitment? Or are they saying that TR Design is committed to helping their clients achieve the best results possible? Why do I want to help their clients? I am so confused!

Your audience will give you very little time to get your message across to them. Don’t waste your opportunity, or their time with copy that is not absolutely clear.

A week in the life of a communicator.

March 4, 2011 | Author:

I imagine that musicians hear many things during the course of a day that I can’t. And painters see things that I don’t. As a designer and business communicator, I’m constantly struck by examples of thoughtless business communication.

A few observations.

Monday: We have too many icons.
Does every car manufacturer really need their own special set of icons? Do they really want me driving my car at highway speeds while trying to figure out the difference between that squiggly circular arrow and those three wavy lines? I just want to defrost my window. How about a button that says “DEFROST”? I’m a designer and have designed my fair share of logos and icons. There are often good reasons to utilize icons, but the truth is, icons just as often get in the way of clear communication.

Tuesday: Shampoo packaging designers should be stripped of their degrees.
I wear glasses. I can’t read 48 pt. type without them. How am I supposed to tell the difference between shampoo and conditioner in a poorly lit, steamy shower when the only difference between the two bottles is written in 7 pt. sliver type.

Wednesday: Assembly instructions need words (preferably in English).
I don’t know what’s worse. The 100 page manual that includes every language known to man, or the universal instructions with illustrations and… NO WORDS. I have turned the page in every conceivable direction and I still can’t figure out what that picture is trying to tell me. And why do I have all these extra parts?

Thursday: I don’t know how powerful my microwave oven is.
If frozen foods are going to specify different cooking instructions based on the wattage of the microwave oven, it would be nice if the wattage on the microwave oven was indicated. Somewhere. Anywhere!

Friday: My car can’t fly.
Why do they give the recommended air pressure for tires and then specify that the tires should be cold? I do not have an air compressor in my driveway and I can’t figure out how to get my car to the gas station without my tires getting warm.

Saturday: No, I won’t hold.
I answered my phone yesterday and a computerized voice greeted me with “Please hold for the next available operator”. Wait!!! Let me get this straight. You had your computer call me, not identify who is calling or what it’s about, then ask me to hold and wait for someone to come on so they can try to sell me something that I don’t want. Really? This is how you want to start our business relationship?

PC vs. Mac Iconography

PC vs. Mac Iconography

Sunday: Did I mention that
we have too many icons?
Microsoft seems to think I need an icon for every single action I want to take in their applications. One of the great things about the Mac OS is that it uses simple word commands in its basic navigation — words like File, New, Open, Close, and Save. I understand what those words mean. Using tiny icons to represent simple English words just impedes communication.

Creating a strong brand for your company requires clear, thoughtful communication. It starts with the first interaction you have with your prospect, and continues long after the sale is completed. If you want to create a strong, and lasting brand for your company and/or product, it’s important to get this right.

We need more miniskirts.

November 21, 2010 | Author:

We truly are sheep, just following each other from one pasture to the next. Someone told us all that content is king and we need to write to establish ourselves as thought-leaders. And the more we write, the more we will be rewarded by Google in its organic search placements. After all, Google rewards sites that generate lots and lots of relevant content. We all bought it. And we all thought, “Heck, I can write.” So we got busy, excited that we now have this opportunity to share our great untapped wisdom with the world. We blog and we post. We update and we tweet. But there are some things that really have to be said.

We can’t ALL be thought-leaders!

To be a leader, you need followers, and in this context, that means readers. And with the millions of blogs and newsletters and Twitter posts, it would take a hundred years for one person to read what has been posted in a single day.

Everyone should NOT write!

Just because everyone can write, doesn’t mean everyone should write. We can all sing, but not everyone should sing. We may all dance, but not everyone should dance. And so it goes for writing. If you can’t write a complete sentence, form a coherent thought, spell—or at the very least, use spell check—then you really need to stop. You will be doing your brand more harm than good.

We do NOT all have something interesting to say!

Blabbing on and on does not prove that you are thoughtful. What’s going on today online reminds me of Steve Martin’s quote from the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Admonishing John Candy’s character for his incessent talking, he says, “When you’re telling these little stories? Here’s a good idea – have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!”

Not all Websites SHOULD be found!

You’ve bought into the SEO mindset. You’ve generated more content than any person could read in a lifetime, all appropriately keyworded to maximize search results. You’ve loaded up your site with so much information, you need a room full of servers to host it. You’re getting lots of hits on your Website. But then what? What happens when they get there? Are you communicating clearly and simply who you are and what you do?


In today’s world, it doesn’t seem to matter so much what you say, as long as you say a lot. What company’s truly need is clear, concise communication. Whether blogging, posting, or generating content for your Website, keep in mind the advice of Wilma Roby when she said, “An essay should be like a miniskirt: long enough to cover the subject, short enough to be interesting.”

Now, If I could only be sure someone would read this. Maybe I should go back and insert a few more keywords.

Whatever happened to Graphic Design?

September 30, 2010 | Author:

Not long ago, a colleague asked me “Who stole my profession?” He was bemoaning what had happened to the career we had chosen, one to which we have both devoted our entire lives. Graphic Design has changed as much, or more than just about any other role in business. In fact, it’s hard to know how to advise young graduates who come to us with their freshly downloaded degree in Graphic Design since the job is about so much more than it used to be. Almost ten years ago, I wrote about the changes I saw happening in an article titled: “The Strategic Designer Becomes a Key Part in Management Decision Making” – Boston Business Journal, May 24, 2002. The pace of change has only accelerated since then.

To understand the role of the designer today, it’s important to understand where we’ve come from.

The 60s
Our profession has had an identity crisis for years. In the 60’s, it was called Commercial Art and its practitioners were Commercial Artists. It was an accurate description of the role, but to some, it seemed an oxymoron. “True artists” believed that art and commerce could not coexist and, in fact, Commercial Artists were nothing more than uninspired artists who had sold their creative souls to the corporate devil. By the time the 70s rolled around, Commercial Art had been replaced by a less offensive term, Graphic Design.

The 70s.
Nobody really knew what the term meant.  “Graphic Design? You mean you design graphics? What kind of graphics?”  But at least it was no longer called commercial art. As the 80’s progressed, companies developed an understanding of what graphic design was — the artful combination of words and images to communicate messages, primarily intended for reproduction by offset printing. Designers worked with many skilled tradesmen to accomplish their work, including typesetters, photographers, illustrators, photo retouchers, proofreaders, paste-up artists, printers and finishers.

The 80s
With the advent of the personal computer, the world changed. With each successive software upgrade, tasks which once had required talented and practiced artisans were being performed on the computer by the designer. Entire trades disappeared, one after another — typesetters. photo retouchers. paste-up artists, pre-press persons (strippers). While the graphic designer took on more and more responsibilities, the term was at the same time being devalued. In an article written by Sandra Cirincione in “For Women First” magazine called “Best Jobs for the Nineties-No College Degree Required”, she recommended a career in Graphic Design because “it’s highly creative”. For training,  readers could “Investigate night courses offered at local universities and technical schools.” She even added, Training is available at many computer stores.” OUCH!!! As perceptions of Graphic Designers lowered, highly capable firms looked to separate themselves from the term. Needing to better communicate the breadth and value of the services they offered, they chose instead to call themselves a Marketing Communications Firm or a Communications Design Firm.

The 90s
The changes brought about by the computer were nothing compared to the impact caused by the emergence of the World Wide Web (or the “information superhighway”, as Al Gore liked to call it). Designers had taken on more and more roles over the years and when it was determined that every company MUST have a Website, business again turned to designers. The perception of designers within the executive office was beginning to change. No longer were they seen merely as window dressing. Business leaders were starting to see that designers had skills they could use to benefit the bottom line. To call yourself a graphic designer would invite the question… “Oh, you design Websites?”

The decade gave birth to a second sea-change for business, almost as powerful as the advent of the Web — Branding. Branding was nothing new, but the practice had been more common in consumer marketing and larger B2B companies. The Web had leveled the playing field and now even small and mid-size companies were beginning to understand the importance of clear and consistent communication. Libraries filled with books about branding. Evangelists spoke to everyone who would listen about the value of a brand. Everyone and his brother was suddenly offering Branding as a service, and each developed their own convenient definition of the term. To corporate identity firms, branding was all about the logo. Printers would claim that branding meant consistent, high quality literature. To a writer, branding was an elevator pitch and a tagline. And Web firms seemed to believe that branding began at the home page and ended at the contact page.  So much was changing — the demands of the new technology the expectations of the business world. As the ultimate generalist, designers were again the ones best postioned to take on the expanded role. No longer just Graphic Design, now it’s Strategic Design.

The 2000s
Advances in technology continued to change the communications industry, and continued to steamroll over the talented people who had served it. Photographers and illustrators sold their collections to stock photo agencies and nearly insured the demise of their trade. Printing presses came to a halt as companies had less and less need for large inventories of literature. The dot com meltdown and the resulting recession forced companies to find new and less expensive ways to communicate with their customers. Email marketing emerged an inexpensive alternative to expensive and time consuming direct mail. Search Engine Optimization became the rage and corporations brought more and more of their marcom needs in-house. Working with no marketing budgets, marketing specialists were asked to produce corporate literature and print them on their ink jet printers as concerns about quality and effectiveness became a thing of the past. The 2009 economic meltdown corresponded with a rapidly evolving Social Media to add to the culture of FREE. And again, smart designers evolved to become trusted advisors on how best to navigate this new world.

Graphic Designers who have weathered the rollercoaster of change in the past 30 years are the ones who understood their fundamental value to business — their ability to apply creative problem solving skills to a wide range of business problems. In fact, the creative process used to develop strategic solutions for business today is the same process that has been used by designers for years to solve a wide range of communications challenges. Now the process has a name — Design Thinking. (defined in Wikipedia as a process for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues that looks for an improved future result.) The term, coined by David Kelley of IDEO, is now part of business lexicon. The impact that Design Thinking can have on business is exactly what I wrote about in that 2002 Boston Business Journal article.

To my colleague who wondered what happened to Graphic Design, it’s not gone. It just goes by a new name — Design Thinking.