Time to refresh your brand

March 12, 2012

A brand refresh isn't something that big companies do every 10 to 20 years only to be lambasted in the media (think Gap). Any business serious about remaining competitive in the market should revisit their visual brand on a regular basis, even if to only decide that you are still on the right track.

Before we go on, visual brand is defined as the components that make up your corporate identity including shape, color, font, composition, materials and finish which communicate a company's values and personality. Some people define visual brand as "logo" and stop there. In reality, your visual brand includes anything physical (and digital!) about your brand.

Here are a few tips that demonstrate it may be time to refresh your brand.

1. Photocopy test. A couple of years ago I attended a networking event where, upon arrival, everyone dropped a business card into a bowl. At the end of the evening the host photocopied all the business cards to share with everyone. One card stood out from all the rest, not because it was beautiful, but because it photocopied as a solid black rectangle. It's a very simple test, photocopy your own business card to see how it turns out.

2. Color test. At an industry event some time ago I was handed a business card that had more colors than a rainbow. While I could vaguely see some design elements, it took all my focus just to read the card because the colors kept distracting me. Like all the visual components, color is a tool that, when used incorrectly, can actually damage your brand. A good rule of thumb is two colors, maybe three. But even with this, you are best to hire a professional who knows how to appropriately and safely use the color wheel.

3. Industry test. This is a fun one. Hand your business card to anyone and ask that person to tell you what industry it's for. Now, if you card states the obvious, this won't work. But many cards don't state the obvious. So many, in fact, that I find myself doing this test more than any of the others.

4. Logo test. Similar to the industry test, ask someone what is the meaning of your logo. When little strategy is put into logo creation, how people interpret it can be startling. If your logo was designed based on strategy, however, it can do loads of work for you before you even open your mouth.

5. Cliche test. If you are an attorney and your logo includes the scales of justice, or you are in the medical profession and your logo includes the caduceus (staff entwined with two serpents and wings) then it may be time to refresh your brand. That lack of imagination can make a world of difference when someone is deciding on which name to call from the 6 business cards in front of him.

Of course I only touched on logos and business cards. You could use any of these tests for any of your marketing collateral. The point is to take a good look what your visual brand says about your company. Not to you but to others. If it's sending the wrong message then it may be time to refresh your brand.

When a big website is a bad investment

March 05, 2012

I've written before how it's not a good idea to put all the information you have into one marketing piece. Time and time again, I see that's exactly what companies do with their websites.

Start off by asking yourself, what is the purpose of my website? Now, that might sound like a silly question but think about it. Perhaps you provide a professional service that is not well known or understood by your target audience. Your website could be used as an educational tool to introduce prospects to what you do. Or perhaps you provide a professional service that is heavily saturated with competitors. Your website could be used to differentiate you from the dozens or even hundreds of others who offer similar services.

These are two distinctly different scenarios that would require two very different websites. In neither case would we prescribe a big website full of tons of content and functionality. Let's look at the two scenarios a little more.

In the first case, with the service not well known or understood by your target audience, imagine filling a site with everything you can think of. If you offer a truly inventive solution, then lots of education will be necessary. But people respond to different types of information in different ways. If you only present the information as written word, you may turn off a lot of folks long before they get to your contact page. In this case, the information needs to be shared incrementally, in phases or steps, and in different formats (think text, infographic and video).

In the second case, your service is offered by lots and lots of others, a concise website is necessary because of the starting point of the conversation. Let's say you are a tax preparer or an attorney. People know what you do. They need to connect with you on some other level because, frankly, they can find a substitute with a blink of an eye. So you need to catch their attention instantly. Now imagine a site laden with text that is irrelevant and meaningless to your target audience. They've already clicked to the next provider.

In both cases, it's important to understand what purpose your website serves and then let it serve that purpose. Making it big and shiny and a marketing catch-all isn't going to help. It may take some restraint to not let it do more but, if you do it right, it will become a great lead-generation tool for you. And that's a wise use of marketing dollars.

Edit thyself

February 27, 2012

If your business card includes more characters than a tweet, edit thyself. If your brochure includes complete paragraphs lifted from your website, edit thyself. If your 30-second elevator speech isn't 30 seconds, edit thyself.

It's logical to think it's proactive or efficient to include as much information as possible. But then you take away an opportunity for people to contact you.

Good marketing collateral is designed for the various stages of the sales cycle with just enough information to pique people's curiosity to keep them coming back for more. Give them just enough information so the story begins to take shape, then direct them where to learn more. It's like a good cliffhanger; people are desperate to learn what happens next.

If you create marketing collateral - business cards, brochures, videos, websites - just for the sake of having them, then they may not be serving you as effective marketing tools. Take a step back and review what you have. Are they designed as independent pieces? Or do they collectively tell a compelling story?

I don't know anyone who would pay for tools that don't work. Why settle for that with your marketing tools?

Branding lessons from Jeremy Lin

February 20, 2012

It's hard to escape the media coverage of what has become one of the most viral brands in history. Jeremy Lin, the 24-year old point guard for the New York Knicks, has so much media coverage he has become a household name and spawned a litany of new pseudo-words. Linteresting stuff.

How fast is his rise to fame? Well, consider that a few weeks ago he was unheard of. Now consider that today, according to Celebrity DBI, an independent organization that quantifies the marketability of celebrities, Jeremy Lin is as appealing as Jim Carrey, as aspirational as Denzel Washington and George Clooney, and as influential as Jennifer Lopez, Reese Witherspoon, Hank Aaron and Steven Spielberg. He is a marketers dream.

There is much to be learned by his meteoric ascent, things that every business should heed. Let's take a look at a few of these lessons.

  • If you do your job really, really well, people will take note. Everyone wants to be the best at what they do but, in reality, many do just enough to keep their place on the team. For those who transcend the average, they stand out from competitors without even really trying. The quality of their work says it all.
  • If you perform consistently, people will love you. Whether it's shooting 3-pointers or selling potting soil, people respond to consistency. In fact, most Americans prefer consistency to quality. That's how important it is.
  • If you stay true to your values, people will respect you. Jeremy Lin is a devout Christian. He doesn't shirk from this. Instead, he proudly wears his devotion as effortlessly as his uniform. When we embrace our values and live them, it displays a strength and confidence that earns respect. It's not about whether others share your values; it's about your level of commitment.
  • If you can sustain what you do long enough, people will become your brand advocates. Sometimes these things are a flash in the pan and it's still too early to know for sure about Jeremy Lin. But when a business can perform at this level for any extended period of time, others jump onto that bandwagon and become some of the most vocal brand ambassadors.
  • If you play it cool, people will listen. When a business carefully crafts a message, keeps it concise and sticks to the script, people pay attention. When a business bombards the market with tons of messages at every turn, people will tune you out. Another case of quality versus quantity. If you want people to really hear what you have to say don't hit them over the head with it. Present your information in manageable sizes, measured steps and meaningful words.

These are just a few of the lessons businesses can learn. For more, stay tuned.

Gaining Ps of Mind

February 13, 2012

Whether you subscribe to 4 or 7 Ps of marketing, it's important to know that defining these pillars of marketing (the 4 are product, price, place and promotion, while the 7 add on process, physical evidence and people) is just one step in creating a marketing strategy.

The Ps alone won't deliver success. However, more often than not, I see business owners absent-mindedly define the Ps for their business then expect dramatic results.

It requires a bit more elbow grease to get any kind of substantial results. For starters, the Ps are meant to work together. It's this working together, or synergy, that contributes to a strong brand presence. When your product and price are aligned with your promotion and place, and then your people and process support that vision, only then can you begin to realize the full potential of these components.

The Ps of marketing are but one tool to help you find your niche. Make sure you know how to use them before expecting results.