Industry Commentary, Agency Initiatives and Inspiration

What You Think You Know About Branding, But You Don’t

Advertising, Best Practices, Branding, Uncategorized Sep 19, 2016 No Comments

What is a Brand?

Branding can be an intangible concept. It’s not something you can hold in your hand. It’s much more than a sign. Or a collection of fancy fonts arranged into a newly-coined phrase. And while, when done well, it’s worth a thousand words, Branding consists of way more than some interesting photography.

Many Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) still don’t have a good handle on what exactly their Brand is or should be. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise; after all, there are still members of my family who don’t get what I do. Holiday dinners sure are interesting. No matter how many conversations are had about the concept of Branding, I’m still met with my fair share of confused looks and vacant stares, resulting in the general consensus that I must do “something” in “Advertising.” Advertising is much easier to wrap one’s heads around.

Despite the holiday confusion, here’s the first in a series of articles attempting to explain — in the most basic terms — what Branding is and what it is not.

1. Your Logo Alone is Not Your Brand

Many SMBs think their logo is their brand. Perhaps this misconception is a holdover from the Wild West when it was common for cowboys to burn the name of their ranch into the hides of their livestock.

This practice of identifying cattle is a good place to start, since our modern understanding of “Brand” and “Branding” comes specifically from these acts of cruelty. And, as holiday dinners have shown, explaining Branding can be a cruel affair itself. Back in the day, livestock ranchers in need of a way to distinguish their product from their competitor’s, decided to brand their cattle with a unique identifier. Today we call this unique identifier a logo or, more appropriately, a Brand Identity. And while your Brand Identity visually identifies your business, it alone is not your company’s Brand.

Generally, a Brand Identity consists of a combination of elements including a font for your company name and possibly a snazzy graphical element. A logo is designed to be easily recognized and to succinctly state what it is your company offers. An effective Brand Identity should only be created after careful consideration of your overall Brand position, as the ID should reflect all aspects of what your Brand truly represents.

But don’t stop there. Just because you now have a Brand Identity, your Branding work is far from over.

2. Your Tagline Alone in Not Your Brand

A Tagline is, generally, a catchy phrase that’s used in conjunction with your Brand Identity to communicate in greater detail what your business does. It’s yet another of the many elements that make up your Brand. And like your logo, a Tagline alone will not hold up as your company’s overarching Brand.

Creating a Tagline that works for your business is simply the next of several steps in the Branding process. As with everything, some Taglines accomplish this better than others. For instance, what does “Denny’s. A good place to sit and eat.” or “Bacardi Spice. Distilled in Hell.” say to you? Perhaps Denny’s has comfortable booths? Or Bacardi Spice is too dangerous to touch? However poorly they’ve been done, these taglines are attempting to give us a sense of personality for each company, and why you might choose them over a competitor. And there’s another bad favorite of ours from Jimmy Dean Sausages: “Eat Jimmy Dean.” We’ll just agree to leave that one alone.

Even the savviest marketers can get it wrong. But at least we’re going to understand the ultimate goal, even when we miss the mark. So while your Tagline isn’t the epitome of your Brand, it will help define your business.

3. Your Color Palette Alone is Not Your Brand

In 1939, the Wizard of Oz hit theater screens everywhere. The movie utilized color in an all-new way; at least for the time. The action changes from plain old black-and-white Kansas to a Technicolor dream when Dorothy lands in an alternate universe. This was the first ever use of full color in movies. And ever since then, we’ve been color-obsessed.

Every Brand is faced with how it’s going to differentiate itself from its competitors. And one of the most effective ways to accomplish this is through the use of color. However, color palette alone is also not a Brand. Visually, a color palette is chosen specifically to complement and support your overall Brand positioning in the marketplace. And it’s also often the single element that ensures consistency throughout all your marketing and communications efforts.

But don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s easy. There’s a lot a strategy behind choosing colors for a Brand. Many of which are based on your market segment, principles of psychology, cultural influences, and the science of color theory. Different colors affect us differently; and colors have different meaning depending on culture, psychology or as a result of generational influence. When selecting colors, your Brand will benefit from the advice of a professional who understands the process.

And, there’s still much more work to come.

Now What?

In an attempt to save money, it’s common for SMB owners to take on Branding efforts themselves. This can be a bad idea. Decisions regarding Brand Identity design, color palette and copywriting can often be affected by personal preference and emotion, rather than critical business thinking. A fully-developed Brand for your business should take into account who you are as a company, but also who your customers are and why they choose you over your competitors. Creating a Brand is not like selecting paint for your walls. Just because you love fushsia doesn’t mean it’s a good choice for the your new men’s clothing line.

When developing your Brand, hire marketing and graphic design professionals who fully understand branding and can lead you through the process. Just because your nephew did a good job on the signs for last year’s prom, doesn’t mean he’s going to be able to build your Brand for you.

Adspiration: MyShelter Foundation’s “Isang Litrong Liwanag” (A Liter of Light)

Advertising, Cause Marketing, Social Action, Things That Inspire Us Sep 16, 2016 No Comments

MyShelter Foundation is Bringing Light to Filipino Families

Isang Litrong Liwanag is a campaign dedicated to providing sustainable lighting to dispriviledged communities throughout the Phillipines. “Isang Litrong Liwanag” is Tagalog for “A Liter of Light,” and is the subject of cause-related ad spot from the MyShelter Foundation that is using inventive recycled soda bottles as a cost-free light source for thousands of Filipino families living in darkness.

Designed and developed by students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Solar Bottle Bulb featured in the spot delivers solar powered light to once-darkened homes. The unique lighting source is based on a concept that provides simple and easily replicable technologies to address the basic needs people in developing communities.

The MyShelter Foundation was established by Illac Diaz in order to create a system of sustainability and reliability through capability-building and employment-generating projects.

You can support the efforts of the Liter of Light campaign here, and you can follow Illac Diaz on Twitter @illacdiaz. His work is truly inspirational.

Ten Commandments for Effective Client Service for Business

Agency Initiatives, Best Practices, Client Service, Graphic Design Sep 15, 2016 2 Comments

Where Has Customer Service Gone?

More than ever we question where in the world has the concept of good customer service has gone? Whether you’ve got an issue with your phone bill or you’re trying to fix a broken appliance, there seems to be a general lack of customer-first service. This is often written off as a result of outsourcing. But it’s not that simple.

Maybe because we’re in the client service industry we notice this more than the average bear. But either way, we think every group that works with people — which would be every business — should follow our Ten Commandments to ensure appropriate client service.

1. Always Maintain Your Ethics

Being ethical is probably the most important concept to running any successful business. Maintaining high ethical standards, both internally and externally, is the foundation for everything else your company does. If you operate within the most fundamental concepts of what’s right and what’s wrong, and you’re on the “what’s right side,” it’s going to show in all your professional interactions. Just do what’s right. And do it consistently. It’s easy. And it feels good.

2. Never Misrepresent Yourself

In other words, don’t lie. This may seem obvious and should go without saying. If you’re operating ethically, the chance you’ll misrepresent yourself is probably small. It’s common practice for agencies in our industry to “fudge” the truth. Especially during the new business phase. It’s only after receiving the project that they scramble to situate themselves in a way to deliver on promises previously made. If you’re part of an international network of offices, it’s likely your agency is going to provide all the capabilities you claim. But if you’re a small agency, you’ll probably have a network of partners who routinely fill some gaps here and there. Either approach is fine. Just don’t say you can do something you can’t.

3. Always Deliver on Your Promise

This is a biggie. When you don’t deliver on your promises to your clients you lose credibility — something that can damage your reputation forever. Simply put, do what you say you’re going to do. Meet your deadlines. And deliver the project as you said you would. It’s inevitable that one day — or maybe every day — you’ll find things not going as planned. Problems happen. Deal with them. They’re usually not career-enders. Simply do what needs to be done to make sure you’re delivering what you promised. And if for some reason you can’t, it’s easy to explain the situation by keeping the customer in the loop. Believe us, they’ll understand.

4. The Customer is Always Right

An old cliche, but one that is probably something you should still live by. Even in 2011. If you’re in a client service industry, which is most of us are, the customer is still always right. However they aren’t often treated that way. Your customers chose you from a long list of competitors. You thought they were right when they did that. And they’re paying your bills, which you also think is right. So when they seem over-demanding, send too many emails, want to talk about their cats (we don’t much like cats). This is all right too. Agencies need to step it up when it comes to treating their clients properly. If it weren’t for them, you might not have a job. And that, of course, would be something you’d think wasn’t right.

5. But When They’re Wrong, Tell Them

This might seem opposed to Commandment #4. But it’s not. Sometimes even the rightest client comes up with wrongest idea. And if the idea is wrong, it’s your job to explain why you’d do things differently. One of our favorite bloggers, Gini Dietrich at Spin Sucks explained this very well in a recent post about a chocolate company seeking to teach children about portion control and healthy eating habits. Sometimes your client will propose what they think is a great concept. And who knows their business better than they do, right? But they hired you for your expertise. And if the concept they’re proposing is truly not in their best interest, it’s your job to explain why. Not the most enjoyable of conversations, but your investment in doing right by their business will be appreciated.

6. Treat the Client with Respect

Your customers are just human beings. Even if they don’t seem like it. They’ve got their own professional egos, their own emotions and their own specific concerns — some of which you won’t fully understand. We like to think of our new clients as strangers who we’ll eventually turn into friends. We approach all business relationships as equals, members of a unified team working together for a desired outcome. As such, everyone on the team brings their own value to the project. All opinions are valid. Everyone deserves and gets the same respect.

7. Spend Your Client’s Money Like it’s Your Own

Another Commandment often considered cliche. But it’s also true. Agencies like ours say they do this all the time. But then they turn around and bill the client for every ridiculous item imaginable. It’s important to remember that it’s your job to get the best deal possible for anything you’re buying on their behalf. For example, we make a lot of media buys and purchase a huge quantity of print. Due to our extensive network of partnerships we’re able to negotiate the costs for these items as if the money were coming out of our own wallets. It’s only proper. If we can’t utilize our resources to save our clients money, we aren’t much of an agency.

8. Say Goodbye to Problem Clients

No matter how lucky you are, it’s inevitable that one day you’re going to work with a difficult customer. When faced with this issue, it’s important not to throw your hands up in the air and resign yourself to tolerate the loveless marriage you find yourself in. While challenging, it’s your responsibility to do all you can to manage a bad relationship. But with the worst of situations, no matter what you do you may not be able to resolve the problem(s). But that’s okay. It’s far from the end of the world. It’s best to say your goodbyes and move on. It will get better. It always does.

9. Walk in Your Client’s Shoes

Sometimes agency folks have very big egos. And there’s no room for this big-headed approach when working with clients. It’s important to stay grounded and humble. Throwing around a perceived sense of entitlement isn’t going to get you very far. Perhaps kicked off the business. There are likely many things about your client and their business that you’ll never fully understand, even if you walk in their shoes. It’s important you remain open to new knowledge. If you know everything already, the game is over. Fold up your tent and go home. Remain open, approachable and inquisitive, and sincerely show your interest in trying to understand your client’s concerns.

10. It’s a Small World After All, Treat it Like One

Overall, the marketing industry is a small, sometimes “incestuous” world, with agency personnel and client contacts switching jobs like they change their socks. In no time, your intern can become your client. Or your client can become your boss. Building respectful, professional relationships no matter which side of the desk you’re currently sitting on are crucial to developing successful partnerships.

It’s All About Doing What’s Right

To ensure you’re providing effective customer-oriented customer service, you just need to do one thing — do what’s right. Disregard that old adage that states “Good Guys Finish Last.” This isn’t true. It’s just something the bad guys say to make themselves feel better about what they do.

5 Ways to Handle Negative Comments

Branding, Online Marketing, Social Media Aug 31, 2016 No Comments

Turning Scared CEOs into Social Media Supporters

No matter how well-respected your brand, how brilliant your customer service, or how sincere you are with your community, you’ll inevitably face that thing that strikes fear in the hearts of many CEOs and business owners — negative reviews, unflattering feedback or potentially brand-killing commentary from someone in your community. That fear is the single factor holding back even the most forward-thinking manager from entertaining social media activities.

You know this type of manager. You’ve developed a comprehensive social media strategy, outlining all the awesome things you plan to do online and how you’re going to engage your customers to generate all kinds of new revenue for the company. You take your plan to the executives and they refuse your innovative ideas by raising issues of potential negativity and brand-busting. Why in the world would we risk putting ourselves on the line to invite negative commentary? Because the negative can be easily turned into positives with five easy steps.

Five Steps You Should Take to Address Negative Comments Online

1. Ignore Negative Comments at Your Own Peril

Never ever ever ignore negative feedback about your brand. Some brand managers still believe it’s a good idea to ignore negative posts, preferring instead to remain silent, praying they go away. Wouldn’t your response just bring more attention to the issue? This is the old way of thinking. It’s crucial you respond to every issue as soon as possible. If you don’t take the initiative, you voluntarily give up control, something you can’t do if you plan to succeed in social media. Resolve the issue publicly if possible. But sometimes you may find it necessary to take the discussion offline, handling it via email or with a phone call. There’s a possibility you may find some truth in the negative review, allowing you to permanently fix something that’s broken with your brand. As an effective communicator you should be able to resolve the issue and turn it around.

2. Goes Without Saying – Be Nice

Be as open, honest and transparent as possible. Social media is a very transparent medium, and you as brand manager must be as forthcoming and sincere as possible. Responding in a way that appears argumentative, defensive or condescending will backfire. Remember, in the community, you’re the face of the brand, and as such you need to be thoughtful, courteous and considerate even under difficult situations. If handled properly, your most vocal critic may actually be turned into a brand champion.

3. Live the Promise of Your Brand Everywhere

If your brand is truly a good brand, you must maintain your promise across every channel.
It’s important that in all interactions — online and offline, with customers and employees — that you maintain the integrity of your company, product or service everywhere. This starts in the workplace — with employees on the factory floor, with management and in the executive suite. If your company actually holds true to the values it claims, it will be evident in all your promotional efforts. Brands that are honest with themselves are rarely criticized. If you find you’re getting a lot of negative feedback, it’s likely you’re not as good as you think you are. Frequent online criticisms often result from a larger issue with the brand itself. Resolving negative feedback may be your opportunity to permanently change your brand for the better.

4. Develop a Contingency Plan

All social media activity should be based on a comprehensive social media strategy. This should include a clearly defined contingency plan that everyone involved in your social outreach is abiding by. Before embarking upon the world of social media, you should identify every conceivable situation that might arise and determine a plan of action to address each. Depending on your business, this might be a simple Q&A document or a more detailed crisis plan. And since there’s no way you’re going to identify every possible situation up front, make this blueprint a working document and add to it as new issues arise.

5. Never Fake or Stage Positive Reviews

Strategically placed reviews are a big ‘No No!’ There’s few things worse for your community than to be subjected to overly positive reviews that have obviously come from the corporate PR department. Considered established practice for some unethical spin doctors, strategic placement of positive reviews are unacceptable. Your community will see through overly-flowered and faked reviews, and you’ll lose all the credibility you worked to build.

Turn Your Detractors Into Your Evangelists

Our recommendations aren’t entirely ground-breaking, nor hard to implement. Simply put, when faced with negative online feedback, as a responsible brand that’s truly one of the “good guys,” you must respond like a genuinely concerned human being who’s a sincere member of the community, and interested in resolving the situation. No matter how cliché it may sound, the customer really is always right. And it’s your job to make sure they know you understand that.

Filmspiration: Danny MacAskill’s Industrial Revolution BMX Ballet

Advertising, Creativity, Things That Inspire Us Aug 30, 2016 No Comments

Danny MacAskill Takes Us On Another Breathtaking Journey

Danny MacAskill is possibly the best street trials pro BMX bicycle rider in the world. From Scotland, the 25-year-old MacAskill first became an Internet sensation in 2009 with the release of his first stunt cycling video on YouTube for Inspired Bicycles.

Also known as “Danny MegaSkill” for his daring jumps, tricks and oft-considered crazed risk-taking, MacAskill has released the latest in a series of compelling videos highlighting his intricate art and phenomenal athleticism. With his bike as extension of his own body, MacAskill takes us on a beautifully choreographed and thrilling cycling ballet through an abandoned Scottish train yard in “Industrial Revolution.” This short film was directed by Stu Thomson of CutMedia for the documentary Concrete Circus and includes music from Ben Howard’s “The Wolves.”

A big thanks goes out to Danny and the crew at CutMedia and Red Bull for enriching our lives and inspiring us to go that one step further. Take a break from whatever you’re doing. It’ll be five minutes out of your day that you’ll remember forever.