Does your brand need a prescription?

I’m often asked how I diagnose identities and brand health before I begin work with a client. Getting a quick impression isn’t as complex as some may think, there are a few key indicators to looks for.

Identity Health

This is the easy one. An identity is really just about the mechanics. Do you have the right pieces and do you use them consistently? If you’d like a basic idea of where you are at here’s what you can do:

  1. Put together a folder that contains a sample of documents that in some way touch your clients. Ex: invoices, letterhead, envelopes, brochures, business cards, promotional flyers, catalogues, promo/sales kits, product sheets, etcetera. Anything that when seen by a client or target audience connects them to you.
  2. Spread out the contents of your folder and check for the following:
  • Is your logo the same on all the material? Shadowed on one and not on another, one is outlined another isn’t, or even two different logos from different eras.
  • Do you use the same font in your formatting? Ex. same fonts for headers, same for body text in all the documents.
  • Are your colours consistent? Certain colours are hard to reproduce, but if your blue looks green in one sample but purple in the other, it’s a hint that you don’t have established colours.
  • Do you use your colours consistently? Ex. Your colours are used in graphs, headers all coloured the same, consistent graphics or lines in company colours, etcetera.
  • Do your images match? This is harder to assess, but essentially you want them to look like they belong together. They can be tied together by colours, backgrouds, or subject matter. You want to avoid the cut and pasted look.

Brand Health

Brand is the impression an audience makes of you, so this is a little trickier to assess. What you want to do first is sit down and answer:

  • Who is my target audience? Who do I want to attract?
    (Note: People often make the mistake of being to general here. Be specific, the more specific the better. I for example look for growing companies around the 3-5 million dollar range that are family owned of have an admin person doing the marketing flyer that they find stressful. The admin person is usually valued therefore they are motivated to find support for them, while they have the money to pay my rates and see it as worth the value if it will give them a more professional appearance.)
  • What do I promise to deliver? Tie in the emotional component in here as well. My flyer says ” We help you Stand Out at the show.” What does your service or product provide?
  • How am I different from my competitors?

If you don’t have the ready answers for these questions, there’s a good chance that your brand message and target isn’t strong. I recommend solidifying the answers, it will give you direction on how to move forward.

If you have the questions answered, spread out your materials once again (particularly sales materials) and ask yourself:

  1. Would my materials attract my target audience, does it belong in the same arena they play in?
  2. Am I communicating what I promise to offer? Is it included?
  3. Am I presenting my unique selling features, benefits and differentiators in my materials?

This is by no means the full picture, a brand analysis goes further and includes all kinds of demographics and industry research. But on the visual end, a quick glance through this list should give you a pretty good indication of your brand health and if you should be looking at aligning your current business materials.

Are we at the beginning of a second Renaissance?

In a past life, not so long ago I was a visual arts teacher for 9 years. I loved it, especially the history components and how it tied into culture at the time. For me the canvases with human nature unfolded for us all to see – a moment in time captured- was fascinating. In those years, students often commented on a reoccurring theme that never failed to emerge, the cycle of movements and history repeating itself.

The Brink

I am growing more and more convinced that our society is on the brink of a second Renaissance. A rebirth of our culture. Today’s entry is slightly different than my others. I’d like to be a little philosophical about us, the power of brand, and what we strive to achieve as a human culture.

The basis

First, there is a misconception that the Renaissance began as an art movement, when in fact it was a science and design movement first. A development that came out of the need to survive. The dark ages were exactly that, destroying neighbors, homes, communities, and even cultures. To hear it described it was a time of plundering.

The Renaissance was started with meetings of the minds. Florence was a city under siege, surrounded by enemies and constant threat. It chose to elevate itself in the eyes of its enemy through innovation, in essence they elevated their brand. I know it seems a stretch but please stay with me here.

The Power of Projection

If brand in an impression an audience makes of you, it doesn’t matter what the application – the core goal is the same. Project what you want and hope it attracts what you need.

In response to the threat, Florence’s resident scientists, philosophers, inventors, politicians, investors, artists, mathemeticians and so many more banded together to exchange ideas. The buildings, inventions, culture and art that emerged out of this still stand to remind us of the power of collaboration and the strength of the human condition. Out of dark times came a radical change, much like the one we are currently experiencing in both environment and culture.

The balance Needed

The industrial age brought us many wonders. Printing and literacy, industry and revolution, but with it came a price no one really understood. I read today a wonderful essay by a Paul Hawken named You are Brilliant and the earth is hiring (Design Does Matter, Teknion) , in it he says: “We can either create assets for the future or take the assets from the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation.”

My hope

The last one hundred years have been our cultures plunder. The generations before didn’t see the impact, had no real way of knowing what would happen. We however, now have knowledge. We see our environment changing and a fundamental shift has begun. We have the opportunity to move from plunder to healing and restoration, and we will be a better culture for it.

It doesn’t matter what trade show floor I walk these days, like minds of innovation are  reaching out in every industry banding together using media to discuss completely new ways to do the old. Sustainable ways to move us forward with awareness, it’s truly inspiring.

I sit here struggling, unsure how I should end this post. So I’ll leave you with questions instead.

  • How can one innovative voice be heard in a sea of voices?
  • How can we as individuals contribute to change?
  • Do you believe there is a change or is it just a marketing angle?
  • Where do you see this going?

Feel free to post your thoughts.

Being brand aware as things pick up…

When things get slow many of us take the time to reflect on why, a good company then takes that down time to fine-tune or even revamp some of their offerings to gain a competitive edge. At the start of this year I did exactly this, and now as things really kick into gear I have a few lessons about brand safeguarding that I’ve learned and would like to impart.

Beware of quick responses

I love it when my phone rings, however, sometimes  a caller is asking for something I don’t have ready material for. As a designer it’s hard to reign myself in and not fire up my artsy software and revamp an existing document to respond. If brand is an impression the audience has of me and my business, then I need to first consider:

  • What am I promising to deliver?
  • Does this fit into my target business and audience?
  • Am I presenting this differently than my competitors?
  • Once designed: Does it target who RBKartworks wants as a client? Does it look like us and consistent with our other material?

Every piece of  material sent out is part of a company brand.

Each invoice, quote, email, assessment, report, or presentation carries with it an impression of me and my company. It doesn’t matter how small or large the piece, if it is leaving something behind it is important. As a small business owner I strive to build a consistent brand (being a designer this is doubly important) by making sure my  identity system (logo, colours, fonts, design) is applied to each of them. The resulting professional look is worth the investment.

Names and Spelling Count

This year I lost an excellent chance at good business because I made this error. Spelling errors in names or any of the above material, even minor, carry an impression. I don’t want my brand message diluted with the resulting small doubts so : lesson learned.

Acknowledge who the target client is

In the quest for business, it’s fair to say this can sometimes fall lower on the priority when taking on jobs to meet the bills, but shoehorning someone in to make the bills can cost me more time and energy than the job was worth. Building my portfolio with my niche market is far more productive and focused, and when the opportunity to work exception “passion” jobs come up, I have more energy to take them on.

Taking Breathers at checkpoints

Caught up in the mechanics of my business’ day to day activity, I can start to lose perspective on goals. Stopping to take a deep breath, sit back and assess the situation before continuing is key to maintaining some focus and objectivity.

Saving valuable energy

I do what I do best in my business and I enlist help from other professionals for the rest. I admit, this one can be hard one when you are used to counting the coins in the bank, but it comes down to simple math. If I save myself 5 hours a week doing stuff a book-keeper can do in 2 for half my cost, how much is that time worth to me? The answer in my case was “A whole lot!” Hired professionals can help a business run smoothly and appear more professional (brand), so in growth I am expanding my support team.

Enjoy the business

I love what I do, and consider myself lucky to have the opportunity to do it everyday. My business is growing and it’s a good thing, I’ll take the stress of growth over the stress of no business any day!

What key lessons have you taken out of your growth mode? Feel free to share.

Additional Resource: For start-ups and small business here is a good article on Brand Building Tips found at ConceptCurry

Kids Playing IPhone App Games Understand Basic Branding

The idea came to me while playing “We Rule” (an unfortunately addictive free platform game on my IPhone.)

First a short description of the game  before I circle back to the crux of the message (and no I’m not getting payed for this 🙂  ) We Rule is very similar to the Facebook game Farmville. In this game you are given a plot of land with a basic fort and the ability to buy farm patches to harvest. You sell the crops to earn money, then buy different businesses and more land to grow your kingdom. The social aspect of the game allows you to add friends and then begin placing orders and taking orders from them and their businesses.  Very entrepreneurial, so it isn’t hard to guess how I got hooked.

Account Icons = Brand

So how does that tie into branding? Well, you have an icon on your account that appears next to your kingdom and also in every kingdom where you place an order. If you don’t upload your own, a generic one that thousands of players are using is shown instead. The branding reference occurred to me while explaining to a friend that she should upload a custom icon instead of using the generic ones provided: I realized I do more business with people I know (and it doesn’t matter if they are kids,) seeing their face or icon over and over again builds loyalty. Each time I see their icon pop up on a delivered order I feel the need to go to their kingdom and reciprocate with an order of my own. It’s genius in its simplicity really.

Business Tie-in

Branding for business is really no different. You want the same image projected everywhere you go and left behind everywhere you’ve been. With repetition companies, suppliers and clients should see you as a reliable person who comes through based on your actions; and seeing your face or icon over and over again really helps with the retention. It keeps you at the front of the list when they need to place that next order.

Staying Top of Mind

The big question is, if you aren’t consistent in how you appear and your icon or image keeps changing, how do you prevent yourself from falling off someones radar by accident? We are all busy people these things happen, so make it easy on everyone in your network by being consistent in your brand applications to avoid this. Keep your icon down to 1 version, photos and images consistent, stick with a limited and repeated colour scheme. That combined with a professional approach that inspires trust, you are sure to make a lasting impression that keeps you top of mind.

Being My Own Client.

I am a graphic designer. I am also a business owner. I view these two as very separate things. I find it hard to be creative when my head is full of business, so this necessary segregation of time has worked well – until now.

This quarter, I developed a trade show product line.

It all started with the idea that it’s easier to refer a product than an often intangible service such as graphic design. So I set out to design a line of products that is fool proof. Business-self kicked into gear. I set up meetings with other independents to provide additional services, I sourced out supplies, exhibits, and printing, then proceeded to arrange it all into tidy frameworks for clients.

Worlds Colliding

It wasn’t until one of my suppliers offered to send me sample images for my flyer that my worlds collided. Wow, I still needed to design all the marketing material…I still had to write all the marketing material! I froze. My brain had a cramp when faced with doing design for myself, I was stumped. I began to truly sympathize with the clients I so often help. They have the ideas, they know their business, they just don’t quite know how to make it look the way they want. Now it was my turn.

Treating myself like a client

A wise friend and mentor told me on day 2 of this brain freeze “Renee you have to treat yourself like a client. Start that fancy time counter software you have and bill yourself for the time spent.” It may sound odd, but that mind shift worked wonders. It was something my design-self understood. Time and accountability.

I give clients deadlines for content submission, provide them with rough layouts for initial direction concepts, and work with their print deadline. I did this for myself. I wish I could say it was all smooth sailing, but the truth is it was hard. When I hit snags I called the reinforcements, business people I knew and trusted to give me objective opinions.

Communicating my message

During each first interview with a client I ask a set of questions aimed to help me get a handle on where they are heading, so I ask myself the same questions:

  1. Who are you? I am the organized artist (personal brand)
  2. Who is your target? Larger small companies in growth mode, family owned or with a primary decision making partner
  3. What is your unique selling proposition or promise?  I’m an independent designer with branding experience, who has an extensive communication network and is able to provide organized outsourced support with creative solutions to these companies.

My flyer took the shape of a miniature file folder complete with tab that said Trade Show Planning. The inside read – You know your business. We know how to brand your exhibit for impact. Three frameworks were showcased in their own boxes, descriptions kept short and simple. I included enough information to outline the solutions without overwhelming with details.

Ongoing lessons

Last week I officially launched the line, this month I’ll be rolling it out in full. It has so far been a very rewarding and challenging experience. I continue to learn:

  • Project development is an ongoing process
  • Keeping track of time spent holds you accountable to results
  • Being true to yourself and your company makes for an authentic and unique brand
  • Staying focused on a specific target audience prevents your message from getting diluted.
  • When you need an answer simply ask the question, somehow the solution presents itself.

Have you had to do your own marketing? I’d like to hear about your challenges and how you got past them.

I‘d like to take this opportunity to thank my networking chapter and extended network of business friends who have supported me these last three months. I won’t name you, you know who you are. Your time and support was so very much appreciated.

Colours, colours, colours…Who cares? Every Business should!

Company Colours. It is an under-utilized tool in day-to-day business communication. There are so many applications for them yet many people never consider their full potential.

Background or graphic object colours for presentations, graphs and charts in excel, even highlighting text in emails and word documents; these are all ways a business can use their colours to further their brand and create consistently. It’s a small thing that makes a very big difference.

Part of any good company logo and/or Identity system is providing colour formulas, both print and web. Many company’s make their colour formulas available to staff, but for those who don’t have these it’s a missed opportunity.

Establishing your colours and having the formulas (CMYK and RGB) to enter into simple office applications is a great way to further your brand in a simple and cost effective way. Here are some sample applications:

  1. Words
    Whether in a document or an email, highlight important words, messages, or links with your company colours to give impact. With repetition your material will become easily recognizable.
  2. Graphs
    If you need to insert a graph into a presentation or company report, take the time to manually choose the colours to customize this graphic to reflect the company.  On it’s own it doesn’t seem like such, but when inserted into another document with the same colours this looks sharp.
  3. Graphics/Diagrams
    As a rule I avoid clip art at all costs, but if you are creating your own simple shapes, arrows, or more complex diagrams to illustrate a model incorporate the colours into the design for a seamless professional look.
  4. Pictures
    When picking images to use in a presentation or other company communication (like a blog or newsletter) try to choose images that echo or have a predominant company colour. Ex: Your colour is blue, try picking a picture where that main person in the photo is wearing blue.
  5. Presentations
    If you are going to have a bar above or below each slide, make it a company colour. The same rule applies for frames around images, titles and rule lines for emphasis.  Using the 4 points above in conjunction with these key points will give any presentation a visual wow factor.

Have you been applying your colours for your business or brand? I’d like to know.

If you have some more ideas to add to the list please don’t hold them like a miser, share and share alike!