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

The Face of Branding

February 2, 2018 | Author:

It seems as if people have been using names — and in some cases faces — to identify their company or products since companies and products were first invented. Sometimes the faces depicted are of real people that were somehow associated with the company or their products. In other cases, the person was fabricated. See if you can guess which of the logos below feature real people and which were pure marketing creations.

Here are the stories behind each of the faces:

1. Buster Brown. Buster Brown, along with his sweetheart Mary Jane, and his dog Tige, were comic strip characters created in 1902 by Richard F. Outcault. In 1904, Outcault traveled to the St. Louis World’s Fair, selling licenses to up to 200 companies to use the Buster Brown characters to advertise their products ­— including the Brown Shoe Company. 

2. Smith Brothers Cough Drops. James Smith bought a cough drop recipe from a peddler in 1852 and sold them out of his small restaurant. When he died, his two sons, William and Andrew inherited the business, and began manufacturing the cough drops on a larger scale. In fact, the brothers developed one of the first factory filled packages with trademark branding. Interestingly, on the packaging, the word “trade” appeared below one brother’s name and “mark” under the other. leading people to incorrectly assume that their names were Trade Smith and Mark Smith.

3. Little Debbie. In the 1960s, the founders of a baking company — O.D. and Ruth McKee —decided to name a product after one of their grandchildren, four-year-old Debbie. The original image of Debbie used on packaging and advertising was based on a black-and-white photo, although based on instructions from the founder, the little girl was made to look a little older.  Minor changes were made to the logo in 1985 and again in 2013.

4. Cracker Jack. In 1896 the company F.W. Rueckheim & Bro., started by two immigrant brothers from Germany — Frederick William and Louis Rueckheim—developed the kernels of molasses-coated popcorn later named Cracker Jack. Sailor Jack and his dog Bingo were introduced as early as 1916. Sailor Jack was modeled after Frederick’s grandson, Robert Rueckheim. The dog was based on a real-life dog named Russell. 

5. Sun-Maid Raisins. Lorraine Collett Petersen, the woman portrayed on the Sun-Maid raisin box was an employee of Sun Maid raisins. In 1915, the California Associated Raisin Company, had a booth at an International Exposition in San Francisco. They hired several young women, including Ms. Petersen, to wear white blouses, a thin kerchief, and a red bonnet, and walk around the fairgrounds passing out samples of their raisins, which they had named Sun-Maid. In the afternoon, Ms. Petersen flew overhead in a plane sprinkling raisins on the crowd below. Later, she was asked to pose for an illustration they were creating for their new packaging. She kept the red bonnet until 1976, when she presented it to the company, now called Sun-Diamond Growers of California. 

6. Lipton’s Tea. Sir Thomas Lipton started Lipton Tea at the end of the nineteenth century. Lipton took the marketing skills he learned in America back to Scotland, where he was born, and started a grocery store. His grocery empire eventually grew to twenty stores. On his way to Australia one time, he stopped off in Ceylon. Disease had decimated Ceylon’s coffee industry that year, so plantation owners started growing tea instead. Lipton bought five bankrupt plantations so he could supply his own stores with tea.                 

7. Chef Boyardee. Chef Hector Boiardi was real and a fantastic cook. His brother got him a job as a waiter at the Plaza Hotel in New York, where he later became a chef. His sauce was so popular that patrons began asking for extra to take home with them. He eventually started canning the sauce and other products, changing the spelling of his name to make it easier for people to pronounce.

8. Uncle Ben’s. According to the maker of Uncle Ben’s, Uncle Ben is the composite of two people. The name comes from a black Texan farmer—known as Uncle Ben—who was well-known for the rice he grew. Since 1946, the image of an elderly African-American man dressed in a bow tie, is said to have been that of a Chicago maître d’hôtel named Frank Brown.

9. Betty Crocker. Betty Crocker was invented by the advertising department of Washburn Crosby, a milling company, as a way to give personalized responses to consumer product questions. The name Betty was selected because it was viewed as a cheery, All-American name. It was paired with the last name Crocker, in honor of William Crocker, a Washburn Crosby Company director. 

The Long Way Home

December 26, 2017 | Author:

As online consumers, we want to get answers to certain questions quickly and easily — Am I at the appropriate place for what I’m looking for? Is this product or service relevant and beneficial to my needs? Most sites have done a reasonable job at answering these basic questions on the home page. It’s when we begin to look deeper that issues can arise. Some sites can be very confusing to navigate — like trying to find your way through a corn maze created by a runaway tractor — leaving you hopelessly lost, giving up and hitting the “eject” button. To counter the drop-off as people navigate through a site, there has been a trend to move more content to the home page.  

This approach has helped, but like many trends, it’s been taken to extremes that no are no longer logical — like moving all the furniture in a house onto the front lawn so you don’t have to go navigate from room to room. It’s weird, and also has some important negative implications.

For one thing, putting so much on the home page doesn’t take into account how we behave as consumers. As consumers, we use both our heads and hearts in the decision-making process. We use our heads to gather and analyze ever-increasing amounts of information based on our interest level. We use our hearts to get excited about the product or service we’re interested in and as get close to a final decision, to feel assured that we made the right decision in terms of not just the product or service, but the organization behind it. For more on bringing emotion to website content, see my blog from November 21, 2017.

As consumers, we initially want to invest as little time and effort as possible to get the answers we need to our initial questions, and these way-too-long home pages can be anything but quick and easy to get through. Some are so long they practically cause blisters from the endless scrolling, particularly on a mobile device. On the other hand, if we like what we see, we want more information and we’re willing to go to a inside page and spend the time and effort need. The more we like, the more information we want in order to make a final decision. This page (or pages) can be as long as needed without worry that all this content will turn visitors off and they’ll leave. 

To make matters worse, each of the different sections on the home page of some sites have approximately the same visual weight, putting the burden on the visitor to read each and every one to figure out which is more and less important. So forget the concern about visitors dropping off as they navigating through the site. By requiring them to work harder on the home page, the risk is now losing visitors right at the start.

To reduce the length of any page on a site, including the home page, bullets or truncated sentences have often been used extensively. Unfortuntately, this approach can make a site as exciting as reading a laundry list and doesn’t have the power to engage and fire up the interest of the visitor.  And when superfluous stock images, meaningless icons, and industry jargon are thrown into the mix, one site can seem almost indistinguishable from another. 

Since we’re on the subject of copy, besides trying to minimize the length of a page,  there is another reason people give me for using  bulleted and short amounts of copy. It’s that “people don’t like to read”.  I think this misses a bigger point. It’s not an either-or, bullets-versus-copy argument that a site needs to use either bullets and short copy or full prose. It’s a when and where argument, that is when to use bullets and when it’s okay and even beneficial to provide paragraphs of copy. As I mentioned, the content on a site should dovetail with the way we think and feel as consumers in terms of how much information is provided at any one time, where the information is presented on the site, and how copy is used to get visitors emotionally engaged.

The short version goes something like this —at the start, visitors want to know whether what is being offered addresses what they’re looking for — does it meet their needs/solve their problems/make them better at what they do/save them money/etc. For this, short overview and bulleted copy works best. As interest grows, the more time a visitor is willing to invest, the more content they want, and the deeper they’re willing to dive to get it. 

Show Some Emotion

November 21, 2017 | Author:

Over the course of my career working on many branding projects, my clients have told me some amazing stories about their company or products — what the impetus for them was, what obstacles they faced and overcame, their obsession to detail, a time when they provided support to a customer that went way above the call of duty….. the list goes on. By the time they finished relaying their stories, I was inspired and as committed to their cause as they were. To me, each story represented a piece of their corporate DNA. And when the time came to work on a project where we’d get the opportunity to share their story with the rest of the world (e.g. a website), I couldn’t wait to get started. And then I received their copy.

I’d hold my breath while I opened the file containing the copy, anxious to read the copy and see what we could do to bring their story to life. What I typically found was solid and professional, but the passion, drive, personality — all the things that made them unique — were gone. In their place was bland descriptive copy, industry jargon, and bullets. It was like reading War and Peace in Cliff Notes. The Grapes of Wrath in outline form. 

It’s true that we live in a  fast-paced, automated, and online world. As a result of this, we’ve concluded that we must present information as succinctly as possible because “people don’t like to read a lot of copy”.  This oft-repeated mantra is an oversimplified perversion of how people digest content. Recent research bears out that people don’t mind reading copy — what’s important is when and where to keep copy short and when and where it’s appropriate to provide more detailed content. This is particularly true for websites (which will be discussed in a future blog). 

Human connection is important — even if we’re not actually connecting with a human being. 

We spend much of our day in a digital world. And for a long time, this people seemed okay with that. But this seems to be changing. A recent New York Times article1 stated that  almost half of millennials worry about the negative effects of social media on their metal and physical health. At the same time, there is also a resurgence of things that were seemingly destined to oblivion — vinyl records, real books, paper notebooks. To me, this article illustrates not just the limitations of the digital world but more importantly the need for more real, physical connections in our lives.  But these two worlds don’t have to exist mutually exclusive of each other. 

In the absence of being able to communicate directly with someone, it’s important to find other ways to make a connection that touches an emotional chord. Doing so will certainly help to distinguish you from the rest of the pack more effectively than the usual laundry list of features or benefits, particularly in a world of indistinguishable templated, icon-ridden, data-driven websites.

Don’t underestimate how much sway the thoughts and actions that shaped and continue to influence your company, product or services has on prospects. These stories serve to demonstrate in a real-world way many of  your claims (e.g. innovative, attention to detail, unparalleled support).They also serve to support or make a prospect feel good about deciding to work with you or buy your product or services. After all, decision-making is as much emotional as it is rational. So go ahead and show some emotion.

1 New York Times, Sunday Review, Sunday, November 19, 2017

Idiots and Maniacs

March 3, 2017 | Author:

“Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac!” 

                                                                —George Carlin 

Everyone has an opinion and no one can agree on just about anything. Animated debates on CNN…. opposition parties within the halls of Congress….. hostility between the president and the media….. ridiculous sniping in social media….. and on and on. Differing opinions are a good thing, but at some point you need to convert opinions into an actionable solution, whether you’re running the federal government or a marketing department. 

How can you get everyone to agree?

It’s easy to make a final decision when everyone agrees. Unfortunately this rarely happens. But perhaps the question we need to ask is this: why do we need everyone to agree? When it comes to a new design, promotion, or campaign for a company, the people in charge seek out other opinions to bolster their decision. And yet if that same company were looking into a new business deal, I doubt the CEO would be asking employees’ opinions about whether or not to make the deal. And the reason is simple — people don’t have the information and experience necessary to render an informed opinion. The same is true in marketing, and making a final decision based on consensus can lead to a bad decision, or at least an ineffectual one. 

Let’s say you’re part of a group that is reviewing concepts for a new advertising campaign. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone thinks theirs is the right one.  The debate rages on, and finally, in an effort to end the arguing and form a consensus, the group institutes the tried-and-true method of ranking the concepts. The concepts that people either love or hate are cast aside, leaving the one that’s middle-of-the-road — not offensive, but not exactly memorable — as the winner. But why aren’t people excited by the decision? It’s because it’s a compromise. It’s as if you’ve gotten all the maniacs and idiots to drive down the highway at the same speed, with no one standing out. While this may be safer in the real world, in the world of marketing, safe really means dull. So, unless you have a hard time making decisions or need a scapegoat if things go south, make the decision yourself or keep the decision-making to  a small group of trusted stakeholders. 

A lesson from the NBA

For many companies, budget dollars and marketing opportunities are relatively limited, so decision-making and risk aversion go hand-in-hand. It also leads to the urge to go with safer solutions.

But we can take a lesson from the NBA as to why, ultimately, this might not be the most effective course of action. When the NBA first introduced the three-point shot, players didn’t shoot it that often. The logic at the time was that gaining just one more point for a shot that had much less chance of going in wasn’t worth it compared to an easier, higher-percentage two-pointer. But once the data was analyzed, teams realized that even though the three-pointer had a much lower success rate (around 35%), teams still scored more per game than they did just shooting two’s (around 50%). The focus changed — they went with what would ultimately help them win, and not necessarily what was the safer, more reliable approach. 

We need to stop looking for safe solutions that everyone can agree on but no one is excited about, and instead embrace bolder ideas that generate strong opinions. I’m not advocating campaigns that intentionally create a negative response, but too often, bold ideas are rejected because of the strong emotions they kick up — even if some of the responses are very positive. Rather than dismissing them out of hand, we should be asking these questions:
• Did it get people thinking? 
• Can the idea be made to work? 
• Will it meet the objectives? 
• Is it true to the brand?

Pushing bolder ideas through

When a person has a negative reaction to an idea, they tend to harden against it rather than really listen. That’s a shame because sometimes new ideas, even those that seem counterintuitive, are just what’s needed. As an example, imagine floating the idea that homelessness can be eliminated by providing homes to those without one. Sounds crazy, and completely unaffordable. But this is exactly what Utah did. They did a study and found that the annual cost for ER visits and serving jail time by homeless people ($16,670) was considerably more expensive than providing an apartment and a social worker ($11,000). Since instituting the idea, they’ve reduced homelessness by 78 percent while saving taxpayers a considerable amount of money.

One way to stop the quick negative reaction is by applying a simple rule: when an idea is presented, no one is allowed to react by beginning a sentence with “I don’t like it….”, or “it won’t work because…..” Take likes and dislikes off the table and instead ask people to evaluate an idea solely on how it might work or how effectively it achieves the objective. People can offer suggestions or ask questions, but they need to be shaped in a way that promote a constructive discussion and not add roadblocks. For example:

Bad: We don’t have the money to do this.

Good: How can we fund this?

Here’s another rule that should be applied: while ideas are being developed, don’t ask the opinion of anyone who is not familiar with the objectives and issues surrounding what you’re trying to accomplish. Random people around the office or friends can only answer based on their personal likes or dislikes, which may not be relevant. The only exception to this rule is if you are using focus groups. Focus groups are comprised of a specifically selected group of people who are asked specific questions to see how your target audience will react. And once you get close to a final solution, you can ask people their opinion — just to make sure there isn’t something objectionable, misleading, or confusing that you might have missed.

This is my opinion on the matter. Let me know if you agree. And if you think I’m an idiot or a maniac, you can keep your opinion to yourself.

Escape from Reality

March 27, 2013 | Author:

Whenever we’d meet with prospects, we used to show samples of projects we’d worked on, describing the challenges and showing the solutions. Sometimes a curious thing happened. If what we showed was even slightly different from a prospect’s needs or who their audience was, they’d have a hard time connecting the dots between what we did for someone else and what we could do for them.

This both frustrated and intrigued me. After all, I reasoned, these are smart, articulate, successful people. How could they come up short in this one area? What’s happened to people’s imagination?

I bring this up because a client recently experienced a similar thing. I can’t discuss specifics here, but suffice it to say that his company produces systems which monitor patients in a hospital room environment, and they are developing a new product utilizing the same technology, but for the OR.

In order to gauge interest and better understand the specific needs of those using the product, they decided to exhibit this product at a recent trade show aimed at their target audience. In order to demonstrate the new system, they brought along the hospital bed they use to show how their current system works. But because the environment the audience at this trade show is familiar with is the OR, the hospital bed created confusion — was the product applicable to them or for those involved in post-surgery patient care? Even a large sign in the booth showing an OR and accompanied by a headline explaining the product’s purpose failed to clarify things.

Did these people lack the intelligence or imagination to make the leap? Hardly. I think the issue has more to do with how we search for information. In a world of information and sensory overload, we have learned to look for shorthand visual cues that signal whether or not something is of importance to us. The hospital bed represented a different, and irrelevant world to this audience.

The lesson here is that the more you look to simulate reality, the more accurate you need to be. Even small differences that can be significant. (After all, humans and chimps share 96% of the same DNA.) In a seeming paradox, going in the opposite direction (e.g. abstract, imaginative, or non-descript) can work better, especially if it’s hard to accurately imitate reality. If the prop or environment doesn’t offer any visually informational cues, people instinctively skip over it and look to whatever will provide the information they need. In the case of my client, had they used a non-descript black box in place of a hospital bed, people would not have even noticed it. Instead, they would have gone straight to the large sign for the information they were looking for, and any confusion would have been avoided.

As for me, I realized that the problem wasn’t with our prospects’ lack of imagination. We weren’t sending the right signals. Instead of hospital beds in an OR environment, ours centered around expectations. We were showing results while our prospects were looking for someone who could figure out how to solve their problem. And since the results we were showing didn’t match their needs, they had a hard time finding any relevance in them. So we stopped showing our portfolio and began demonstrating our thinking, since this is really what our clients need from us and where our expertise lies.

Branding Your Product

December 21, 2012 | Author:

At some point in the course of product development, the task of applying your brand to the hardware or software comes into play. Too often, it boils down to a late-addition exercise in labeling — where and how to place the logo and  color. What this seems to imply is that branding from a product standpoint is only skin deep, and the real burden of branding is the responsibility of marketing. This is misleading. Marketing has the role of promoting the brand. But it is the  product that defines the brand more than marketing efforts ever could.

Brands are built to attract consumers. And consumers fall into two categories: prospects and users. Prospects are introduced to a product through various marketing efforts (e.g. website, ads, trade show exhibits, commercials, etc.). Some people mistakenly assume that all of these efforts constitute the brand. Not so. These efforts introduce the brand promise — a set of expectations for a product. But a brand is more than what is promised — it’s also about what is delivered. Because once prospects become users, the brand promise will either be fulfilled or not, depending on their experience, and this will ultimately form their perception of the brand. Additionally, there will be some users of a product whose perception of a brand will be based solely on their use of it and not by any exposure to marketing efforts.

What this should make clear to anyone responsible for developing a product is this: think beyond the product logo, colors, graphic elements, type, etc. to build the brand. The visual and user experience needs to come together into one seamless, consistent presentation of the product in order to convey the true meaning and value of the brand.

If you’re developing a software product, there are a number of things to consider to create a better user experience:

• The application needs to be intuitive and easy to use

• The navigation, icons and language should follow common practice

• Prompts, instructions, commands, etc., should be clear and concise

• Icons need to be understandable and distinct from one another

As communicators, designers can serve as a link between software engineers and users to help make the presentation of information and instructions simple and clear. This is particularly helpful when time or resources don’t allow for testing with user groups.

One of our clients recently asked us to develop the icons for the software interface of a new product they were developing for cell metabolism research. Icons are a visual language that serve as a shorthand for words, requiring less space on a screen. Some of the functions that we had to create icons for are common to all applications (e.g. save, delete, rotate), and so the icons we developed were universal as well. For all the icons that needed to be create that were unique to this product, we took great care to make sure each conveyed an intended action or element, and — this is most important — each was distinct enough not to be confused with any other icon. (Icon design will be discussed in more detail in an upcoming blog.) Clear communication enhances the user experience, which enhances the brand. We also designed the launch icon and elements for each interface to pick up the brand design we developed. This helped to reinforce the brand identity and give a consistent impression across the brand experience.

There are a number of considerations for hardware development as well. As with software, the quality of the product, engineering, and ease-of-use will shape the user’s opinion of the product. There are ways to integrate the brand into the look of the product apart from the logo and colors. The shape of the product is one way. For example, one of our clients was developing a navigation and robotic targeting system for interventional oncologists. As we were in the process of developing the overall brand, we received some CAD drawings of the new system from the industrial designer. While our brand designs were evolving toward soft curves and archs, the system was more hard-edged. Since the system design was still at a point where changes could be made, we worked together to round the edges of the system and introduce subtle arched lines. We also introduced an abstract graphic that we had developed for multiple uses to create a visual to link throughout the brand.

Regardless of what else you do, at some point you still need to include the basic branding elements — logo, color, graphic elements — that identify your company or product. Careful consideration should be given when applying these elements. Should the company logo, product logo, or both be used? Where and how large should they appear? If both logos are to be used, which should be prominent? Should they be in color? Black and white? Embossed? Each decision needs to be made in relation to the overall brand strategy. If color is used, it should look as consistent a possible between RGB and CMYK color modes (RGB is what you see on a computer display; CMYK  is for printing).

In conclusion, introducing the brand design into the software and hardware development sooner will helps achieve the main point of this article:  In order to convey the true meaning and value of the brand, the visual brand design and user experience needs to come together into one seamless presentation of the product.


Developing Your Brand from the Inside Out

October 16, 2012 | Author:

Many companies, under pressure to get to market and generate revenue, will try to develop a new corporate or product brand as quickly as possible so they can begin to build brand awareness in the marketplace. This effort is typically spearheaded by an individual or small group of people, usually in the marketing department, working in conjunction with some C-level position. This outward focus is understandable, but as a result, little or no time is afforded to introducing the new brand to other departments within the organization. What little time is allocated is often limited to a show and tell, featuring the new logo, tagline and perhaps a few examples of a brochure or ad using the new brand design as opposed to giving employees a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the brand and the thinking that went into it.

This makes no sense. Think about it for a second. Promoting a brand without first educating every member of the organization about it is like creating a football team by putting people in uniforms, giving them  a cute mascot, and sending them out to play. They may look great trotting out on the field, but they won’t win many games. Teams that win year after year get their players to embrace the same philosophy, understand what they are trying to do as a team, and get everyone to work as one to accomplish those goals. And by the way, this kind of approach usually builds a rabid and loyal fan base.

In no other aspect of the business would a company think of having an employee perform a function without training them first. And yet, companies routinely fail to adequately educate their personnel about their brand, even though it is the foundation upon which everything is built. After all, a company or product  brand is, in essence, a promise to its customers. Every touchpoint that an individual from a company has with a customer helps to communicate the brand, whether it’s from the CEO, or a salesperson, repair technician, or delivery person. How can employees be expected to effectively and consistently communicate what customers can expect from a company and its products and services if they haven’t been trained to do so? And while it’s true that marketing departments rely heavily on the brand, branding is much more than the sum of materials they generate. Despite a marketing department’s best efforts, the failure to educate all employees can impinge a company’s future marketing efforts.

Educating all personnel also has a beneficial byproduct: In the workplace, attitudes — both good and bad — are contagious. If people have embraced the brand promise and are motivated to fulfill it, their actions can serve to influence the attitude of fellow workers or new hires and create a positive, productive culture within the organization.


Create More Consistency

January 6, 2012 | Author:

Corporate and product guidelines have been in place for a long time. But guidelines can be used for other purposes as well. Take the case of one of our clients — Z Corporation (now part of 3D Systems).

Z Corporation produces 3D printers that build three-dimensional models. These models are incredibly precise, allowing architects, engineers, designers, and other professionals to develop more ideas and innovation, and to communicate it better and faster. Recently, the marketing department created a slogan  — Create more™ — to promote the power and benefits of their products. By adding words after Create more, this dynamic slogan becomes even more powerful: Create more innovation; Create more communication; Create more ideas. And so on.





The Create more slogan uses a specifc font colors. The marketing department took great care to consistently apply the slogan to a range of marketing materials. Employees outside the marketing department also began adding the slogan to materials, including PowerPoint presentations and emails. But without clear directions to guide them, the slogan was sometimes misapplied. The result was an inconsistent use of the slogan, which threatened to undermine the overall effectiveness of the campaign.

Example of incorrect use of the slogan added to end of emails





Before things got out of control, Z Corporation asked for our help. We developed a set of guidelines to:

• explain why the slogan was developed and how it ties into the company’s broader goals.

• provide a set of rules on how to correctly create the slogan and apply it to materials.

• provide examples of the slogan being used in a range of applications, from PowerPoint presentations to coffee mugs.

























The final guidelines were created as an easy-to-distribute PDF in a horizontal, 8.5 x 11 inch format so it could be easily viewed on screen or printed if needed.

When creating guidelines, four important rules are:

• Explain the reasons behind the guidelines. Instead of simply giving people a set of rules to blindly follow, take the time to explain the rationale behind the guidelines. People are more willing to comply with rules if they understand the reasons behind them. In this case, we explained how the Create more slogan fits into the overall Z Corporation brand, how the slogan would be used, and why it was important to use it correctly.

Make it easy to understand and use. The harder guidelines are to read, the less likely people will be inclined to use them. For Z Corporation, making it easy to understand and use as a quick reference tool was particularly important because unlike most sets of guidelines that are designed for use only by marketing and design professionals, these guidelines are intended to be used by all employees, most of who are unfamiliar with standards guides.

• Provide lots of samples. Samples help people visualize what they need to do to conform to standards. We included samples of the logo in PowerPoint slides, ads, and coffee mugs. We even included a sample of how it would appear at the end of an email and included specs so emails would look consistent throughout the company.

Make it easy to implement. In addition to guidelines, provide tools that make it easier for people to implement whatever it is you want them to do. These tools can include logo files, templates (e.g. PowerPoint, Word, InDesign), and specific graphics or images. In
Z Corporation’s case, electronic files of the Create more logo in different formats were made accessible.

Controlling Your Brand

December 29, 2011 | Author:

Building a brand from scratch takes considerable time and attention. But too often, in an effort to launch a new company or product, branding hasn’t always gotten the attention it deserves. The reasons are understandable: There are so many things needed to be done. Resources are limited. There is an urgency to get to market and start generating revenue.

Maintaining and growing an established brand is an ongoing process that requires a lot of work. And it’s only getting harder and more complicated today, as more and more, external factors are beginning to have an influence over a company’s brand. A recent article by AMA Access cited a study of senior executives in both marketing and general management which stated that while overall, 66 percent of respondents believe that their company owns their brand today, the dynamics of a shifting marketing landscape will mean less control of their brand over the next 3-5 years. Interestingly, marketing people in both B2C and B2B environments felt that their company already had less control over their brand than their non-marketing counterparts.

From this, three conclusions can be drawn. First, more than ever, it is critical that the proper amount of time and resources be allocated to build and grow your brand. Second, what constitutes your brand needs to be thought of in the broadest terms possible. And third, in a world where people outside your organization are increasingly gaining control over some portion of your brand — it’s critical to control those aspects of your brand you can control, as tightly as possible.


Building the Brand

All too often, development of the brand is initiated toward the end of product development, when it should be started much sooner. Doing it sooner can help ensure that the brand strategy is thoroughly developed and tested, and that the brand design is complete and  support materials ready for launch. Brand design, if developed soon enough, can also have an impact on the final product design. For example, one of our clients is developing a new product for interventional oncology. We began working on their brand early on, so when the time came to develop the look of the product itself, they were able to integrate the brand design into it.


Think of Your Brand in the Broadest Terms

When we start working with a company and ask them about their brand, it’s not unusual to be shown their logo, fonts, color palette and a few examples (e.g.  their website, PowerPoints and some printed material). All these things play a part. But there is much more to it. Every touch point your company has with the world reflects on your brand. From the most obvious (e.g. website, packaging, signage, collateral) to the less  (call center, delivery trucks, emails — even the words, actions, and attitudes of your employees), they all play a part.


Establish Control of Your Brand

As mentioned, it’s impossible to totally control your brand today. But you can control much of what is communicated externally.  One way to do this is by imposing clear rules for all the people responsible for communicating your brand to the outside world to follow. Guidelines and templates are an indispensable way to get everyone on the same page and speaking the same language. Besides ensuring correct and consistent use of the brand, they can help improve productivity and lower costs.

Guidelines can be broad in scope, with topics ranging from how corporate materials should look to how employees should answer a phone and engage with customers. Guidelines should be simple enough for everyone to understand, and detailed enough to support those responsible for developing whatever materials they need. Guidelines present the rudimentary elements of a brand and show how specific materials should look, and provide enough information and samples to guide in the development of new and unique materials. Templates are often developed in conjunction with guidelines to offer even more consistent and efficient application of the brand. Templates can be created in a number of applications (e.g. InDesign, Quark, PowerPoint, Word) for a number of different purposes (e.g. brochures, data sheets, presentations).

Today's Trend is No Trend at All

October 3, 2011 | Author:

There used to be trends — in art, music, fashion, and even business communications. I’m talking about real trends. Trends with lasting power — not some style du jour. But today, many styles or philosophies seem to co-exist. Instead of a meal with an entree of filet mignon or pan seared salmon, it’s more like a stir fry. A lot of different vegetables with no one flavor dominating over another.

Need proof? Watch a movie from about ten years ago that was set in the time it was made. Does anything leap out at you as dated? Car designs or some reference to an event would. But not much else. Not clothing. Not hairstyles. Sometimes, not even the music.  (A little side note here: recently, I was watching a movie from 1995. Nothing stood out as dated. However, at one point in the film, the main character used a Newton.  It was an obvious predecessor to the iPhone and iPad. What struck me was how contemporary it looked, right down to the monochromatic Apple logo. It was a testament to the Apple — one of the true trendsetters around today.)


Why is it so different today?

In the past, trends were like wildfires, starting in one place and then spreading, so that even as a trend waned in one place, it continued to ignite and burn in other areas. Today, it’s more like a flash fire. It explodes on the scene and is quickly gone. One of the reasons for this is that since the world is so interconnected, we are constantly exposed to so many choices from so many people and places. When a trend starts in one place, we — and the whole rest of the world — learn about it in almost no time.  We get momentarily excited until the next great thing from somewhere else soon reaches us and “poof”, the first trend is quickly forgotten. This pattern continues in a never-ending succession of microtrends.

In the absence of a lasting trend, and in an effort not to produce materials that will look out-of-date in short order, the answer for many companies has been to create safe, vanilla marketing materials, the idea being that it’s better to not make much of a statement than to make the wrong statement.

This approach has its costs. For one, by creating safer and blander look, companies run the risk of creating an emotional schism between themselves and their customers. As much as we want to think that business decisions are based solely on careful research and careful, logical thinking, emotions also play a role. After all, we need to be both mentally and emotionally committed to making a purchase since we’re buying than a product or service. We’re also buying trust, confidence, security, safety and comfort.

Another problem with this approach is that marketing materials have become increasingly similar to each other. Or to put it another way, their brands don’t offer enough to distinguish themselves from each other.


Fortunately, a backlash to this “no trend” look seems to be developing. Companies are beginning to realize that they need to do more than simply present content. They need to do more to build their brand, tell more of a story, and engage people more in both mind and spirit.