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.


  1. Laurel, This is great stuff and certainly should become one of those client education handouts that should go right along with the design brief questionnaire. How many times has this scenario been repeated in the life of every freelance designer, too many to count for me personally. The challenge that I find is to take "Mr. B's" disappointment and wasted money and turn that into a "makeover project." Usually a pretty hard sell unless "Mr. B" can be shown that doing it over and doing it right will make for a good ROI. With your permission I'd like to share this with potential clients who always want to know where should we begin.

    Again, Nice work.


  2. Totally Trenchant!

    Poor Mr. B.

  3. Great advice, totally sound.