Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cake Inscriptions Gone Horribly Wrong

Apropos last week's post about mangled names, Alert Reader Francine Rose sent this photo as further proof that a feeble grasp of language can sabotage the happiest of events. Thanks, good buddy!

Monday, April 18, 2011

In Defense of Boring: Watch Out for “Clever” Names

One of the most exhilarating parts of starting a business is to dream up a name for it. Or it’s one of the most excruciating – depends how comfortable you are with words. If you aren’t, you may default to something generic like “Joe’s Yard Service.” In my early days as a business, I would have greeted such an approach with a big yawn. BO-ring. But sometimes boring can be your friend – read on:
When my then-associate and I planned our business launch, we agonized over the name issue. It had to reflect our values and unique flavor, and make us stand out from the herd. We finally had recourse to the dictionary, and found our perfect name in the A’s: anaglyph. An anaglyph is an image created by combining two points of view. How perfect, we thought – we’re combining our unique points of view to create images for our clients! So we became Anaglyph Art Services.
As time went on, we found that people had a hard time spelling and pronouncing it, didn’t know what it meant and generally found it obtuse. We kept using it because we loved how well it reflected what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. After a few years my associate left, but I kept the name because, I reasoned, my work reflected the combination of my viewpoint and my client’s. Still perfect!
However, the afore-mentioned problems with “anaglyph” continued. People continued to misunderstand, mispronounce, misspell and generally mangle the name. But as years passed, I got used to it and more than able to tune out signals that it wasn’t working all that well. Until one fateful day when the phone rang: I picked it up and a quavering, little-old-lady voice said, “Hello? Is this Analgram?”
Well. Talk about a wake-up call.
Without dwelling on the logistics or definition of an “analgram,” I lost as little time as possible in changing it. As it happened, I was about to move to a new town and would have to get new business materials, so it was a perfect time to become Laurel Black Design. Here’s who I am and here’s what I do – no mystery, no embarrassing or bizarro misinterpretations. It may be boring, but at least it’s clear. In the years since, I have tried to add meaning and interest to it by producing un-boring work.
So when you decide on a name, go for clarity first and clever second. That way no one will ever ask you for an analgram.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before I Had to Find Out the Hard Way:

Never sell your product or service to someone who doesn’t understand its value.
This happens when we make assumptions about the customer’s knowledge level. It is our job as businesses to make sure our customers understand not just what they are buying, but how it will benefit them and why it is valuable. People don’t always know what assumptions they have because the assumptions are unconscious. Sometimes these are wishful thinking; sometimes they’re based on a customer’s previous experience that has nothing to do with you and your offer. So we need to identify a customer’s knowledge gaps or run the risk of bad surprises, especially at invoice time.
A new client once asked me to design a business card including a small illustration. At the time it was about a $200 job – not huge, so I didn’t feel a formal contract was needed. I thought we had a good understanding about the project parameters, and got to work. When I had a draft ready, I faxed her a proof (that’s how long ago it was) and waited to hear back. When time passed with no response, I gave her a follow-up call. She said, “Oh, we’ve decided to go another direction with this project, so we won’t be needing your work.” I said in that case I would send her a bill for the work I had already done, and that’s when it all hit the fan.
She was incensed that I would have the nerve to bill her for anything when all I had produced was a fax. I explained that I had spent some time designing the card and creating the illustration, but she insisted that I had delivered nothing of substance and that she owed me nothing. When I continued to disagree with her, she became very abusive and even threatened to sue me if I tried to pursue the matter. At this point I realized that she was a) nuts, b) had absolutely no intention of ever paying and c) had every intention of being as obnoxious as possible or whatever it took to make me go away. Not worth $200, so I let it go.
What I learned was that I should have made certain that this person understood what exactly she was buying and what its value was. I assumed that she knew that what designers sell is design, not pieces of paper with ink on them. She assumed that she would get a physical thing of some kind – or maybe she had found someone else to do it for less money and just lied through her teeth. Since then, I have made sure that clients understand not only what they are buying, but how design will help their businesses.
Some have told me that they assumed that graphic design is like architecture: the design is part of the proposal process and what they actually pay for is the project execution. (Notice how the word “assume” keeps recurring?) These folks need to understand that when creative services are sold, those are the end product, not a means to another end, like a house. And it is also my job to make sure clients understand that they’re not just buying little graphic doodads to dress up their business materials and impress their friends. They are buying visual marketing tools that that will powerfully support their own business success.
What are the values that you need to make sure your clients understand? How do you convey the purpose and worth of your services?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Features & Benefits Revisited

I received a very thoughtful email from a reader of the March 14 post about features and benefits that I thought well worth sharing (with a bit of abridgment for space’s sake). My responses are in black.

I read your blog post [and] I understand and agree with your premise; however I felt you could have taken it further. The examples in the blog didn't connect for me. In order to work, the features being sold/promoted need to have a perceived benefit to the customer. Using a features/benefits filter is a great idea, but first you have to be clear on the customer viewpoint so you are able to identify the benefits to that customer . . . 

. . . No one will ever totally nail how benefits are perceived by anyone because perceptions are fluid. Even within one individual, what are perceived as benefits will change from day to day. The goal is to do your best and keep trying to understand the needs and perceptions of your market. You do that by nurturing an on-going awareness of whom you’re serving.

Some choices, like fashion, may often be made emotionally. Others, like choosing a lawyer, are made to meet a perceived need.

Needs and emotions are not in separate categories; rather, they tend to feed and color each other. Many people view fashion purchases as needs-based. Even with something as apparently pragmatic as choosing a lawyer, the emotional component is still huge. Any time a person is choosing a professional service, the rapport between the client and the professional will be as crucial to the success of the process as the skill level of the professional.

It is a fine line that must be walked in tying the features to the benefits lest the customer feels his needs are not being heard and/or addressed because the "benefits" are being sold apart from the features - benefits not desired and/or viewed as false by the customer.

If you mean that benefits are often marketed with little or no basis in or relation to the product’s actual features, I would call that bad marketing. The ironic effect of bad marketing is that people will find out that much faster that the offering is crap. A sort of built-in karma.

Honest communication is the key, as I see it.

Absolutely. People in general are not stupid. Sooner or later charlatans will be exposed.

So I think it must be understood and acknowledged that customer-centric marketing as you define it, with the emphasis on benefits is potentially exclusionary - especially if benefits are pre-conceived and/or "targeted".

Emphasis on benefits is not exclusionary because the emphasis does not ignore features, but uses them as a basis for asserting benefits. When people read a list of features, they subconsciously interpret the features into their own internal list of benefits – how they perceive what’s in it for them (self-interest). Benefit-centric marketing does this for the customer and brings the benefits up to consciousness. Often features are used to bolster the assertions of what the benefits are. You can’t really make a strong case for benefits without referring to the features.

And on that note, I’d like to share a great quote from David H. Sandler I ran across that neatly sums the subject up: “People buy on emotion, then justify with logic.”