Monday, December 04, 2006

Own Your Logo

One of the core requirements for any logo is that it is ownable. This means that there is something about it that is difficult for another company or organization to duplicate. Before we discuss how to own your logo (aside from simply paying your design invoice), we should define what a logo is.

A logo is a visual representation of your organization. It is typically comprised of a wordmark or an icon, or both together. Think of the word Nike (wordmark), and the swoosh (icon), or the word McDonald's (wordmark), and the golden arches (icon). Remember that a logo can be a wordmark or logo on it's own; they don't have to be used together. Often a company will introduce an icon with a wordmark, and over time the icon will become so synonymous with that brand that they can then remove the wordmark altogether and still communicate effectively to their target demographic.

So, perhaps you have an existing logo, but do you truly own it? What is it about that logo that makes it yours? If you've created it by slapping together clip-art or something you've found from the internet with your company name in a font you like (that came pre-installed on your computer), chances are your logo is not ownable. Anyone out there can recreate that logo, and may, without even seeing your version of it.

When you retain a professional design studio to develop a logo for you, one of the objectives should be how to make your logo ownable. This includes creating a unique icon, and possibly having it illustrated by a professional illustrator or photographed by a professional photographer. It also includes exploring different type treatments that will include altering fonts to style them for your specific application. Colours, placement, and size of the logo elements will all communicate different messages to your customers, so these should be explored as well. Taken together, all of these different considerations will help you to arrive at an identity that is ownable...whether or not you pay the bill.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

SEO for Referral-Based Businesses?

When I start to talk to small business owners about the importance of Search Engine Optimization, the first thing I hear from most of them is "I don't need to be found on Search Engines, my business is all generated from referrals." My response to this should be "Of course it is, because you're not getting any exposure anywhere else", but I often take a different approach.

How Referals Are Generated: An Example
Imagine I am at a party, and I become engaged in a conversation with people you don't consider close friends, but mere acquaintances. One of the parties involved asks another about the new deck he had built, by a company called Decks 'R Us. He raves about the service and quality of work, and says that the price was better than a lot of other companies he had quote on the job. Since I am in the market for a new deck, I attempt to get some contact information, but am interrupted before I am able to.

No problem, I think...I'll just find them online. It's Decks Are Us, so it should be, right? Or is it .net, .org, .ca? Perhaps it's decksrus.whatever. OK, I think, I can't find it under any of those, so I'll just Google it.

What's In A URL?
Now, imagine you are the proprietor of Decks 'R Us. You've been in business for a long time, but were unable to secure a URL that has your name in it, choosing instead to register as Since you have built up a considerable amount of equity in your name, you don't want to change it to A Better Deck...that won't be a problem, right?

It's no problem right up until I type in Decks R' Us in Google, and find a lot of deck companies, but not yours. I may give up looking for you, get interrupted, and someone else might refer a different company. Or worse, I might find another company during that search that looks good, and contact them for a quote. The point is, you're not getting my business. I knew your company name, but still could not find you to contact you. I'm busy...I don't have time to go out of my way to find companies that obviously don't need the business.

Get Busy...Get Ranked
Ranking for your company name or even your given name are important to ALL small business owners, whether your business is 100% referral-generated or not. If you can't be found by someone searching online, you are turning away work, without even knowing it. Your brand is only as strong as the exposure you can generate for it; creating more opportunities to saturate the market with your brand messaging is one of the most important things you can do for your company. The web is a relatively inexpensive place to start.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Your Corporate Identity

So, you're in need of a business card, perhaps some letterhead, and a fancy envelope to put them in. These elements are referred to as your corporate identity. Your corporate identity should be the first place you see your logo in print, and must be given the attention that it deserves.

But printing is complicated. Oh, your printer will tell you "no sweat, give me a digital file with your logo, and I'll lay out the information for you, free of charge." Don't do this. Please don't do this. I beg you.

Never Let Your Printer Design Your Corporate Identity

Your printer is just that; a printer. They are not designers. They'll tell you that they have designers on staff, but these people are really technical production people who have a serviceable knowledge of Illustrator, perhaps Photoshop, and maybe even Quark. Who knows, they may even know CorelDraw (does anyone outside of Ottawa and the Ontario Education system know CorelDraw?), but I'll guarantee you this: they don't know design, even if design walked up and punched them in the face. They are employed by the printer to set up digital artwork, so that it can go to print. Allowing them to "design" your corporate identity is like letting the guy on the line at BMW design your car. No offence to BMW lineworkers (they are an integral part of the production process), but I wouldn't expect them to know a thing about car design.

Layout is NOT the Same Thing as Design

You need a design company to create your corporate identity. Why? Because design companies are strategic in the way they approach your corporate identity, and will create you an identity that distinguishes you from your competition. If your competition walked into the printer ahead of you and ordered business cards, do you think your "free" layout will be any different than theirs? Doubtful. The printer is looking to set your corporate identity pieces up quickly, run them 4 over 0, on paper-thin stock, and get them out the door to you so that you can look the same as everyone else. Oh, you'll pay a ridiculously low price for them, but you do get what you pay for.

Your Corporate Identity Deserves to be Different

Your corporate identity is often the first place that people see your brand...shouldn't it be memorable? Don't you want your business card to stand out from everyone else's? If not, why bother. When I get your card, I won't distinguish it from the last 5 I got, and it will go in the same pile as all of the pens I lost in school (did you ever wonder where they all went?). You should be proud of the business you've worked so hard at; give it a fighting chance. Invest in a corporate identity that you can feel good about handing out. You will notice immediately that people will comment on how nice it is, or how professional it looks. Congratulations, you just earned their respect, their trust, and the right to charge them more money for your service, because they see you as THE company to do business with in your field. Position yourself as the best at what you do, and you'll find that people will buy into that and want to associate themselves with your brand.

All that from your corporate identity...who knew a business card could be so powerful?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Clean Your Windows

So, I was driving home today, thinking about how I hadn't posted in awhile, and all of a sudden the topic for this post drives past me: a van, brown, 1980-something, with sidelight windows (I'm not sure what the technical term is for these, but you know the ones I'm talking about...those tall vertical bubble-type windows). It wasn't the van, or the windows, for that matter, that caught my eye. Instead, it was a sign in one of the sidelight windows that grabbed my attention, and for all the wrong reasons.

It's not that the sign was wasn't a beautifully-designed piece, mind you, but wouldn't hit my poorly-designed top 10 by any stretch. The sign simply said "Cleen Windows", in a font that indicated to me that this was in fact the company name. Now, this is normally where I go off on the importance of proper spelling, but I'll save that for another article. Underneath the "logo" was some information, I presume about the services offered, but it was illegible to me for various reasons (knowing your audience and the limitations of your medium is also a topic for another day).

The real problem (and the impetus behind this post), is the fact that the sign had to be read through the dirtiest window I think I've ever seen. We've all been behind cars with rear windows that are almost visually impenetrable, often due to the filthy habits of the owner (I'm lumping both smoking and general uncleanness under the "filthy" umbrella for my purposes here). What I've not seen all too often (to the relief of both myself and the Gross Domestic Product), is the advertising of a service through a medium communicating the exact opposite of the service expectation.

I hope that the reason for me including this article in my blog on branding is obvious, but I'll spell it out just in case.

Your brand is important. It should create an expectation in the mind of the consumer as to the quality of product and/or the level of service that you will deliver. In this case, the reasonable consumer expectation of a company called "Cleen Windows" is not to win a national spelling bee, but to take your dirty windows and make them clean again. If this company cannot see fit to keep their own windows clean, then it is a logical extension that clean windows are not something that the "Cleen Windows" company takes pride in, or is passionate about. From there we can deduce that if they're not doing the best job cleaning windows, then they must be cheaper. You can see already what having dirty windows in the "Cleen Windows" company van has done. It has taken them out of the premium window cleaner market, and relegated them to being a value service.

The moral of the story is, if you want your brand to make you more money (and who doesn't), you have to put it to work for you. You have to ensure that you are consistently communicating your brand in the best possible light for your organization, and be aware of the environmental situations that your brand communications might be found in. Disregarding the way in which the consumer sees your brand undermines the value of your brand, and subsequently the value of the product or service that you are providing.

Do your brand a favour; keep your windows clean.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Get Rich: Building Your Brand Bank Account

I thought that discussing the idea of the brand bank account would be a good introduction to branding. Most of us know (or think we know) what branding is, but aren't sure if it applies to us, or whether or not we can afford a brand. The truth is, if you own a company, or are the key decision maker in one, you can't afford not to invest in your brand.

For the purposes of our discussion today, I'm going to ask you to think of your brand as a bank account. Your brand is, in fact, similar to a bank account in almost every way.

For starters, when you open an account at the bank, you are required to put some money into it. Your brand is no different. This may come in the shape of your logo (which it should), or perhaps you have forgone the logo exploration (uh-oh) for a corporate identity (meaning your business cards, letterhead, and envelopes). You may have even bypassed this and gone straight to signage, or store design. No matter where you started, you probably had to spend some money, and that expenditure was your first deposit into your brand bank account.

The good news is that you can't go too far wrong when opening your account. Obviously some logos, signs, and business cards look better than others, but the most important thing in building your brand bank account is...wait for it...CONSISTENCY.

More important than having the best darn logo in the entire world is using your identity consistently. This is what builds your brand bank account most effectively. Even if your logo is a steaming pile, using it consistently in all your communications will build EQUITY in your brand. The same way that putting money into your financial bank account builds equity for you, the consistent use of your brand elements at all consumer touchpoints will build your brand bank account.

The moment that you slip up and use your brand in a way that is inconsistent with the attributes of the brand that you've communicated to your customers, you have made a withdrawal from your brand bank account, thereby REDUCING the equity in your account. And you don't want that.

You want to make sure that you are constantly making deposits into your brand bank account. Just like with financial accounts, if you can make a habit of making frequent, small deposits into your brand bank account, this is often easier for your business to absorb, and you'll be amazed at the way the interest piles up on those deposits over time. Waiting to make a big deposit doesn't help nearly as denies consumers frequent access to your brand, and does not build trust in your brand in your category the same way that more frequent contact does.

The brand bank account is an interesting concept that might deserve more explanation in a future post, but I think you've gotten the idea from my explanation here. The main point is to constantly find ways to get your identity in front of your consumer base, so that they begin to identify with the brand attributes that your organization represents. Do that with the right people, and your brand will tip and become trusted and cherished within that demographic.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Laying the Ground Rules

First off, welcome to my blog about branding. I have had this blog in the works for some time now, originally intending it to be a more corporate, more professional sounding thing than that to which I have resigned myself. I was planning to have this blog appear on the Jump Branding & Design Inc. website, but have since thought better of that idea, and would prefer to keep this somewhat personal journey through the murky waters of branding at arms length from my professional career. The reasons for this will become more and more obvious with every post that I write, but mainly I wanted this blog to be more of a conversation between myself and my devoted followers (Hello? Is anybody out there? Just nod if you can hear me...), and slightly catered to those who have a business but might not fully understand the world of branding and strategic design (Shame on you!). Just because you don't have a million dollar design budget doesn't mean you can't (and shouldn't) create a memorable and distinct brand. Hopefully this blog will help you to get there.

So, as promised, here are the ground rules:

1. Please keep the discussion to branding issues. I, of course, am exempt from this rule, but I am exercising my right to hold you all to a much higher standard.

2. There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers (and very likely many more of the latter). This is a holdover from my teaching days, but is applicable here. If you read something that intrigues you, but I have not explained it to your satisfaction, please comment on it and I will try to clarify.

3. I reserve the right to blog at my discretion about branding topics, without forcing myself to go in any kind of order. A successful branding program is entirely dependant upon sound process, but I will not hold myself to following that process here. Having the freedom to mix up the issues that I discuss here will hopefully allow me to be a little more creative in my delivery...but no promises.

4. I have the right to create more rules as I see fit. This rule has only been instituted because those responsible for generating the rules can't think of any more rules right now.

So, without further ado, let's get right into it. I will be addressing many topics related to building strong brands, and other design-related issues. I hope you enjoy this, and get a little learning out of it along the way.