Monday, January 31, 2011

Doing it Right the First Time: Why Sequence Can Make or Break Your Marketing

Recently I met with a start-up (let’s call him Mr. B) to discuss a project, and immediately ran into an all-too-common speed bump. In his eagerness to get the business up and running, he had decided that his top priority for marketing was his sign. So he went to a sign painter who made him a fairly generic sign. Then Mr. B decided that he needed an ad in the newspaper. The newspaper designed an ad for him that (no surprise) bore no resemblance to his sign. Then Mr. B thought it would be a nice touch if his employees wore matching T-shirts, so he went to a screen printer and had some made up. Again no surprise, the T-shirts bore no resemblance to the ad and the sign.

At this point, Mr. B called me about a web site. He showed me his sign, ad and T-shirts, and wanted to know if I could somehow meld all of these things into a coherent design that would help market his business.

Sigh. I had to be the bearer of bad news: none of it was worth salvaging, because none of it represented the true essence/ value of his company. It was just a hodge-podge created by people whose jobs are to make signs, sell ads and print T-shirts, not create effective marketing tools. Mr. B. had made a classic mistake of a start-up: no visual marketing strategy.

Signs, ads and web sites are expensive. But they cost the most when they don’t work. And when they’re based on a bunch of unrelated images, they really don’t work. So before spending a dime, think through the process. Marketing planning is a huge subject, and needs plenty of attention before and after launch, but the part I want to emphasize here is the importance of sequence in developing the tools you will use.

ALWAYS START WITH THE LOGO. This is the piece that drives the design of everything else. People experience consistency as reliability, definitely an important brand attribute. As your market becomes more familiar with your business, your logo will acquire more and more power through consistent and frequent use. This builds trust, recognition and mind share in your audience because people feel comfortable with things that are familiar. And when they feel comfortable, they are way more likely to buy.

The next step:  create your business materials. Business cards are a critical tool for networking – an inexpensive way to not only share contact information, but to make a statement about your business in a highly compact and memorable way in less than 10 seconds. Letterhead and envelopes are part of this step as tools to present yourself professionally. Probably because so much is done online, offline correspondence is becoming more effective.

Whether your next piece is a web site or a brochure depends on your business and how you tell people about it. Either way, the style of these pieces must be driven by the logo, as should your advertising in any medium, your sign, your fleet graphics, employee apparel, advertising specialties such as cups, and anything where your business presence will appear. This sequence needs to be determined before you leap ahead to have individual marketing tools designed, and a market-oriented designer can help you figure this out. This sequence is just as important as establishing your logo as the basis of your visual marketing tools. So don’t make Mr. B’s mistake – have your logo designed before you do anything else, make it the source of all that follows, and create your marketing tools in the order that’s best for you.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Climbing Out of Our Professional Silos

Being terminally curious, one of the things I love about being a graphic designer is the opportunity to learn about other people’s businesses and organizations, and getting to see what their world is all about. This can be intense, since most people who care about their work are focused almost to the point of obsession – of necessity, this is where their attention goes.  You could say that they spend most of their time in their professional silos (a marketing term for areas of specialization).
It’s great to hang out with enthusiastic people and help them get their message out, but I have noticed an increase in a certain tendency since the recession took hold.  Perhaps because of anxiety about a dicey business climate, people seem to have less inclination to climb out of their silos and visit other people’s.  Recently in one of my groups, the dialogue turned to a business sector that was not represented there, but that I had some familiarity with. I was startled to hear otherwise smart people make incorrect assumptions about that sector, and then come up with solutions for the problems they assumed existed. They seemed to have no sense that their assumptions might be wrong or needed to be verified. Yet none of these people would appreciate a stranger unfamiliar with their business telling them all the things they were doing wrong.
I believe this was a result of their being completely immersed in their own challenges, focused on their own silos, with little time for understanding the big picture. But that’s exactly why we were meeting. The value of such a group, on or off line, is the opportunity to see how your business fits into the larger scheme of things and where synchronicity can occur. We need to take a vacation from our silos every so often because none of us operates in a vacuum. Silos are good things because they allow us to really focus on our work, but when they become reclusive Comfort Cocoons, then we’re in danger of being trapped by our own limitations.
The take-away? When I want to know what goes on in classrooms, I should ask a teacher. When I want to know what’s up with land use regulations, I should ask a planner. When I want to know what goes on in the forest, I should ask a forester. When I want to know how ink gets on paper, I should ask a printer. Spending time in someone else’s silo, besides being fascinating, may shed some light on our own dilemmas. It will certainly make us more valuable professionals.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Welcome to my blog and my first post!

It seems fitting that I should begin by sharing a bit about myself. One of the main things about me is that I live and work in a rural area in Washington State, the Olympic Peninsula. It's a great place to do those two things, and I am living proof. But the challenges are a bit different than in the city. Read on:

Urban Refugee Syndrome (URS)

I identified this common affliction shortly after establishing my design practice. It shows that if you want a first-hand lesson in karma, move to a sparsely populated area. Although I didn't contract URS myself, it didn't take long to notice symptoms in others.

It begins when a business or professional person moves from the city to the country for the first time. If he or she has URS, this person will unconsciously assume two things: that he or she is one of the first people ever to have had the brilliant foresight to flee urban blight, and that it will be impossible to get support services of the same quality he/she used to enjoy in the city.

This patronizing attitude, even though unconscious, will be very apparent to the locals, and it will not create goodwill.

It will also keep URS sufferers from finding business services locally because they won't look. This unfortunate situation will continue until the newcomer has been in the country long enough to be on the receiving end of URS. At that point (hopefully), the dots will connect and the former new person will evolve into a valued member of the local business community.

My first experience of URS was with a guy who needed a logo for his salmon wholesaling business. As I was reviewing my portfolio with him, he pointed to one of my pieces and said, “I couldn’t possibly get work like that here. I would have to go to Seattle.” I was dumbfounded. Whose portfolio did he think I was showing? I had just left a design position in Seattle, but apparently when you move from Seattle to the Peninsula, all your abilities fall off the ferry into Puget Sound as you leave the city behind.

URS can be forestalled fairly easily

Rural professionals have to be hyper-aware of how they present right from the get-go. How you dress, what your web site and office look like, your business materials, how you answer the phone - everything has to be top-notch because everything sends a message. My tag line is "Perception is everything," and when it comes to establishing credibility with a URS person, perception is absolutely crucial.

By managing how you present, you tell clients how to perceive you. You torpedo those unconscious assumptions before they even gain a toehold. And you are also telling them to expect to pay you what you're worth.

One of the worst URS assumptions is that since services in the country must be of less value than those in the city, they should be cheaper. Do not reinforce this stereotype by assuming that because you live in a small town, you can show up in a sweatshirt and jeans. If you look like you only need $10/hour to live on, that's all you'll get.  

The take-away: Do not assume that people will automatically know how great you and your business are -- you have to tell them by showcasing your worth in every possible way.