designing a brand

08/06/2010

hand print - brandingDeveloping an all-new company identity – or brand image – in a competitive marketplace can be a very daunting task. What really constitutes a good versus a bad logo design or brand image?  Well, it really depends on your product or service, how you deliver on your promises, and the relationship you as a business owner develop with your clients or target demographic.  Yeah, I know that’s not what you meant.  You want to know what’s the best logo design out there, what company can I mention that really hit the nail on the head?  Well, I’m sorry to tell you that the answer is just not that simple.

A true brand is developed through several key factors in a client-to-business or business-to-client environment.  The success of a brand or logo design will ultimately depend on how you identify your business strategy, your marketplace competition and your goals for your new identity – to name a few.  Every business has it’s own persona – it’s own approach to doing business, and this needs to be inherently translated through your branding efforts to help bolster your business philosophy and marketplace approach.

The first area of focus as a brand is being developed should be defining your business persona.  Understanding who you and your business are vital to the success of a brand.  What three characteristics would you use to describe how you go about doing business?  How would you define your business strategy with regards to service, sales and support?  How do you think your customer base might define you as a business entity? These must first be defined in detail before a brand can be developed around you.  Doing some basic market research and soliciting participation from past customers can help you determine the answers to your questions without a great deal of effort.

The second aspect to define is how you and your business are different from the competition in your marketplace.  Have you developed a product or service that is like none-other?  Have you identified your business attributes that make your business more appealing to a client base that cross-shops other brands and businesses?  If not, I suggest you do so.  Again, with minimal effort (and some introspectiveness) these key elements can be determined.  If not, then there may be some opportunities to rethink your business approach to gain attention from those you wish to attract by adding features that you now know your competition simply doesn’t offer.

The third key element to developing a strong brand is to know your target demographics.  Identifying their spending trends, their ‘hunting’ triggers, how they shop, their age ranges and socio-economic stature can be crucial information to factor into your visual brand.  Without knowing who you’re targeting, the visual identity you design/have designed will never appeal to their spending triggers.  Define your target, aim, then shoot.

The final aspect to consider while developing a new brand identity is what sort of impact – or impression – do you wish to instill on prospective clients when it comes to the visual identity package you seek to have designed?  What emotions, key drivers or instinctual “triggers” to you want your identity to conjure up? Whether we choose to admit it or not, we all experience intrinsic emotional reactions to visual stimuli on a daily basis. Some of it occurs on a cognitive level, but most on a sub-conscious one.  So, on a daily basis, we react to brands without even recognizing it. Colors, shapes, imagery and unrelated personal associations can have an immediate impact on how we perceive a brand and whether or not we may eventually do business with said brand.  Being aware of all these elemental and influential factors will also be of paramount importance as you design your identity.

Although these are not the only determining factors in developing a strong brand within your marketplace, they are certainly key determinants to the over-all success of  brand development – not to mention how your clients will associate your brand with your product or service.

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googel, yahoo, bingIn the myriad of unlimited resources and self-proclaimed experts in SEO available via the web, in print and more, one can certainly see the world around them begin to spin. “Experts” in this field riddle us with BP’s ranging from phrases like ‘keyword optimization’ and ‘reciprocal linking’ to the extent that their recommendations often get lost in translation to the average website owner.

In an effort to render some clarity to the dilemma of setting up your website for optimal exposure, we’ve made an honest attempt to clarify which practices might be best to focus your attention on as you head down this rocky road of discovery. As a disclaimer, we need to be clear that these are not the only practices worthy of attention, but are the building blocks to better search engine performance. So, with that said, here we go.

Site naming -
When building a website, a crucial way for search engines to identify what your site is all about is to be sure you choose a site description (the text that appears as a blue hyperlink in an browsers search results page) that not only incorporates your site/business name, but also a few select keywords to describe you product or service. We also see great merit in adding your city or state as the name, keywords, and locations are the first lines of text that a searchbot will hit on in a viewer’s organic search results. Don’t try to conquer all locations or words, just pick ones that acutely describe your site. If you spread yourself too thin, you’ll dilute your visibility. Don’t forget the short descriptive text that shows up under you site link in browsers as this plays an important role in page ranking as well.  This can be done via the CSS or in your settings in a WordPress site.

Page naming -
The same rules apply to each of your site’s pages. Think critically of the content on your page and use site-specific words to tell the searchbot what kind of content resides there. This can be done easily in Wordpress sites via the SEO booster plug-in – so get it if you don’t already have it! If you’re dealing with an HTML/Flash/other site, these names can be assigned via the metatag descriptions or added directly into your CSS.

Keywords -
Keywords drive traffic, simply put! Be selective and specific to your website’s content in the words you chose. Keywords are a crucial element to your website’s visibility and ultimately helps to drive hits to your content. If you want to get creative, go to one of your primary competitors sites and right-click on their homepage and select “source”. By doing this, you can look at the content and keywords they may have incorporated into their site and this can help you differentiate your words from theirs or, you can borrow some of their ideas. It really depends on each particular situation.

Use Google Analytics -
There is such a wealth of knowledge and insight you can discover about your website, your visitors, your page performance and the keywords that web searchers use to find you (and which keywords you might not be utilizing). Don’t miss out on this valuable insight – it’s free!

Don’t Focus on just Google -
Although Google is a primary weapon in creating visibility for your website, it’s not the only game in town. So don’t focus all your attention solely on it. Be sure to submit your site to other browsers! Yahoo, Bing and MSN are other big boys on the block. In fact, via your analytics you can discover some interesting things about your web visitors by learning which browsers they use. For example, if you are getting a lot of traffic from MSN or Bing, you may have an end-user who tends to rely on their default settings on their computers. This might indicate that your visitors may tend to not be very computer literate and/or are folks who jump on and off quickly – shopping for specifics and not willing to read through heavy copy. If this is the case, you can identify this and edit your content down, simplify how one navigates your site and make your pitch early. If you’re getting a lot of Firefox or Safari users coming to your site, then you might have a tougher sale on your hands and will need to build value in your product or service via your web copy as these folks tend to be more web savvy and more inclined to do thorough research before making a purchase or commitment online.

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Building blocks of designAfter having been in the creative business for some time now I’ve noticed specific patterns among the processes involved in developing designs for clients that might warrant further discussion. Let’s focus on the “management” aspect of design in order to identify potential problems that could arise between designers and their clients.

Clients come to us to help them put together designs for a wealth of projects from new brand identities to PowerPoint presentations. I have my share of the last minute calls from clients asking us to put together designs in haste, whether due to time constraints, last-minute ideas or procrastination. This is often the nature of such design needs. Clients are often asked last-minute to run a promotion, present to colleagues, or submit a project that they themselves were not given much time to plan or execute.

So, as we “creatives” know, these are often funneled our way much to our chagrin. We are driven by innovation, translating creativity, quality in creation, and a design process that ultimately helps us render a refined product to our clients. The catch here is when we are given either rushed content or timelines from our clients. Poor content and limited timelines inevitably render equally unimpressive designs. Having that “eye” for design, that innate ability to construct aesthetics in a pleasing yet functional manner is not something that tends to mesh well with a rushed timeline or underdeveloped content.

With this said, here are a few key elements to consider when seeking out the services of a graphic designer or team.

Forecasting-
If the project affords you some time to prepare, make solid use of that time. If you have a design team in mind, let them know the project is coming and share any insight as this will help the designer(s) prepare and begin conceptualizing ideas.

Content Development-
A beautifully designed project from a designer can be rendered inept if the copy/content isn’t fully structured, well edited, and finely tuned. Ever been at a sporting event such as a bike race or neighborhood ball game and seen that guy with the ridiculously expensive equipment and immediately feel a little intimidated when you look at yours in comparison? Then, when it’s his/her turn to perform, the skill level doesn’t quite match up to his equipment. The same conflict can arise on a project if both the design and content aren’t fully developed.

Participation-
In the past, I have experienced a few clients that only provide a rough idea of what they are looking to have designed. Novice designers get excited about this. What they don’t realize is that without clear specifics as to desired elements, forms, colors, placement and imagery the design will undoubtedly run into issues with respect to taste, style or layout differences between the designer and the client. So frank discussions and frequent communications are key here.

Design Time-
Plan ahead and allow for adequate development and editing time for both content and design. Remember, the less time allotted here for conceptualization and implementation, the more likely the design will lack the desired refinement.

Review-
Once the content and design have been combined into a proof, ample time should also be planned in to allow for editing the proof. Regardless of how much effort was put into either the design or the content, when merged together there will inevitably be aspects and elements needing editing or adjustments to placement. Designers build this stage into their design cost specifically due to the fact that a simple merge does not make a final product. There will always be further fine-tuning needed. Plan for it!

Review footnote – Please understand that in the editing process, a slight shift here or a new image there (depending on the platform one is working on) can be easily construed as a simple fix by a client. The designer knows otherwise. Some adjustments can be very labor intensive or time consuming regardless if they are visually minor or not. It is the designer’s responsibility to communicate inherent difficulties in the design process. Communicating these issues up front will allow for a better work-flow and better mutual understanding on both ends of the process.

Steve Muth
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Logo design is a uniquely finicky business, considering the entire process is based on the ever-present, double-edged sword of subjectivity. The common denominator for so many designers is the bridging of design principles to a clients needs without breaking down the trust. I have read blog after blog on this, ranging from utter frustration to sheer elations of the rare finding of an “ideal client.”  In most scenarios, there is often a gap (large or small) between the creative and the client in terms of direction and construction of a design.

So what’s the source of the problem and how do we as designers find the happy middle ground? How do we knock our clients socks off while still giving them something that reflects their initial ideas in a fresh, creative way?

Well, there’s no elusive or self-evident answer here. Many factors come into play right off the proverbial bat that begin to emerge from the first client consultation.

First, in todays “The World is Flat” age of technology that knows no boundaries, creatives often result to email, facebook, twitter and sometimes phone or Skype – even texting to communicate ideas and thoughts with their clients – and visa versa. The inherent problem with this as a sole approach to contact is that it does not allow for the designer to truly get a sense of the personality and identity of their client.  Without building a strong client profile, the design process will most likely discover significant gaps between the designer’s renderings and the client’s desired look.  As we all have witnessed, many of us take on a distinctly different personality (good or bad) in our email voices compared to our true personalities.  So, ultimately, nothing replaces quality face-to-face time with a client when possible.

Second, we need to look into whether the phrase the customer is always right is truly applicable to your business or not. Frankly, it’s a meaningless rule on its own.  If a client was always right, then they simply wouldn’t seek out your services now, would they?!  Many designers hop on the ego train and can’t adjust their vision to better suite their client’s desires.   Others will simply render anything the client throws at them.  Either way – you’re doomed to fail in your client’s eyes!  Ultimately, the best recipe for success is to listen to, and utilize the input from your client while providing creative insight and adjustments to eventually present your client with a design that wows.

Finally, the most common error in the design process is not taking the time to explain the mechanics behind designing logos, brochures or whatever it is your putting together for them.  The more time a designer invests in describing their process, their tools and their normal steps of operation, the better off all will be.  Designer’s should avoid getting caught up in becoming a “yes” man/woman and focus on how to cooperatively coach a client through ideas that allow for a reasonable work flow and well-constructed design in the end.

The more either side understands each other’s intentions and undertakings the stronger the outcome will be.  Mutual understanding are often significantly under-appreciated.

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Writing content for your website is often looked at as a daunting task.  For those of you who have done it, you know that professionalism, accuracy and proofreading are clear essentials to writing quality web content.  But how often do you consider how your specific word selection and sentence structure can either make or break your website’s effectiveness when it comes to visits, click-through and conversion rates?

In today’s hyper-competitive online marketplace, web browsers are constantly bombarded with in-your-face marketing and sales tactics telling them what they want and when they want it. Hard selling has become so common online that you no longer know whether you’re at a sleazy car dealership or in the comfort of your own home surfing the web.  Because these tactics have been used over and over while shopping online, readers have now developed a canny ability to simply ignore what they perceive to be marketeering.

This is why your shrewd attention to how you write you web copy can be a difference maker.  Tim Ash, from Website Magazine, states that the primary goal for writing your web copy is to “reduce the visitor’s cognitive load.”  By starting your sentences and paragraphs with your core points – not your lead-ins – you will increase your chance of capturing their attention.  He called this the “inverted triangle approach.”  These days, web readers have honed the art of skimming content until something catches their interest while screening out the unnecessary fluff.  So this is why making your point early is a vital technique.  Allow for brief introductory paragraphs that then lead to a link where more can be read if so desired.  If you force a reader through all your content at once, they’ll most likely not find reward in having to dig out pertinent content and move off your site before you’ve made your impact.  Be direct, be prompt and be on point.

With that said, your voice – your tone – can also dictate whether or not someone will stay with you and your site for any length of time or not.  Time on site is an important measure of content effectiveness.  The longer the stay, the better your chances of increasing your conversion rate. Don’t use marketese. Speak to them like they’re your fiend or neighbor.  Be polite, but not overly formal. This tends to turn people off. Natural defense mechanisms respond quickly to the hard sell or a overly formalized structure.  Provide immediate information up front (without a sales voice) pertaining to your product or service, then follow it with supportive material. If they feel like reading on, they will.  But if they don’t, they will have at least received your message.

Keep your thoughts and sentence structures short.  They are easier to follow.  Don’t use superlative adjectives and try to focus on providing objective information.  Keeping things short, to the point and inline with your readers attention span in this competitive web market is essential.  A secondary side-effect of brevity is that retention is often bolstered.  Your readers will walk away with a better understanding of your products and services.

SCM Designs

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social mumbo-jumbo?

03/03/2010

Yes, graphic designers build websites!  But how strong is it when it stands alone?  Have you ever considered having your designer work with you on what I’ve come to call “marketing tentacles”? Web optimization techniques can certainly help your website rise from the ashes, but what about other avenues like social media?  Do they really work?  Are they worth the time and attention?  Well, watch this video short video and see whether you think getting involved in social media is worth it now.

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