What BRAND are you smoking?

Every discipline has its language, a verbal shorthand to pack paragraphs of meaning into single terms relevant to the specialty. Those terms speed communications but can lead to banal statements if the definitions aren’t kept sharp. This post seeks to reel in some bad habits that have cropped up in my life and the lives of others. In particular I’m feeling bad about some of the verbal flair, the hip-shot opinions and quick assessments that lack substance. If you don’t suffer from any such problem, congratulations. I am truly proud of you.
Too often, rather than say what we mean, we use terms that sound a bit more important, a splash more encompassing. For instance, if you can’t decide on the pictures and type that are going in the next web ad, you don’t say:

“I can’t decide on the pictures and type that are going in the next web ad.”

Instead, we use the more important sounding:

“I am still processing through the branding implications”
or “I don’t think that we’ve settled the verbal cues that will truly create a brand connection.”

I’ll save the problem of posturing for another post, but maybe we could make a little progress on this one term, branding. If you use “brand” as a synonym for design, layout, logo, type or color (or some combination like that) I question your use of the term.
Well “So WHAT?” you may ask. Yes, we are all a tad insecure and I should be understanding and if you’re not guilty of this, AWESOME! But at the risk of being pedantic, I want to say, “words have meaning.”
Too often I’ve caught myself using ill defined words….exercising a vague hope in fairy dust I suppose. This fairy dust attempts (since I’m using terms with no definition) to make people nod their heads, rub their chins and consider me a sage.
My biggest fear is that the improper use of “brand” or “branding” is actually worse than posturing as it leads to an improper understanding of WHY we do WHAT we do. Those of us in the graphic arts community tell our customers that they need to “differentiate” or stand out as “unique.” We pass on the common knowledge that the marketplace is crowded – massively crowded with products, choices, features and all the clutter of advertising and logos that go with it.
Then we sell them a logo, a redesign or a website and they JOIN THE CLUTTER. They may look sharper, BUT they don’t think differently, they don’t act differently and that all but guarantees little change in their visibility to customers.
So what is branding? I haven’t found a better definition than Ted Matthews’:

“Brand is what people think of you, it’s everything. It’s every touchpoint that anyone ever has with your business. And when the Brand is this important, it can’t be delegated away, but must be owned by the CEO – the only person in the organization with the clout to make sure that employees are delivering the Brand at each and every point of contact.” — Matthews, Ted  (2011-04-10). Brand: It Ain’t the Logo* (*It’s what people think of you) (Kindle Locations 172-174).

Ted Matthew’s book is important for several reasons, not the least of which is this nifty quote. (If you don’t have a good sense of brand, I thoroughly recommend it. His company website is instinctbrandequity.com. I may not be able to get you to stop thinking (and speaking) of “brand” as a logo, type and some colors. However, could I at least encourage you to start thinking and speaking of your brand as “every touchpoint that anyone ever has with your business.” Design can be part of the clutter of our modern world or part of building an intelligent, multi-faceted strategy to influence  “what people think of you.”
One methodology helps dilute people’s attention and the other enforces your uniqueness at every point of presence.

Caring Again

I used to build things that flew, engines of gas, steam and noise
I sang loud, danced, drew pictures
The breakfast at the Highway 29 Cafe was almost a religious experience
In those days, there was time to sit on a hillside in Japan in the rain
just to watch a spider fix her web
The windblown hair of a woman could stop the stars in the sky, and my heart
In short, I was alive
Over time, I don’t know where or when,
I got in the habit of doing more, doing it faster…
“good enough” became my favorite lie.
Suppose I could blame it on the demands of others, but it was really me
I stopped caring,
I stopped loving,
I began to despise
and make excuses
and judge…
I did those things and I repent
By the grace of God I will remember that family, friends and associates are neither angels nor demons, just people who should be forgiven and loved
I can’t change yesterday and I don’t have tomorrow,
so today is my only chance to

  • ruin my wife’s shoes by walking her home in the rain,
  • waste money on dates and dinners
  • lose too many hours over truly great coffee and steak and beer
  • obsess over the needs of others

And finally, by the power of God’s indwelling presence I promise to linger over daily marvels, infuse my life with wonder and my work with diligence so that once again I might truly live.

Academy for Creative Excellence – UK Opera Theatre

UK’s Academy for Creative Excellence (A.C.E.)  had a vision “to inspire a life-long love for opera and musical theatre.” They wanted to offer students in the central Kentucky area an opportunity to be engaged in the highest possible standard of performing arts training and performance experience!
A.C.E approached us with a desire to raise their visibility while maintaining a tight budget. Since they are young, entrepreneurial and tech-savvy, a website was a natural place to begin the branding process. They are positioned well to exploit the web and social media because their daily activities can be a rich source of unique content.
In establishing the site, there were several parameters. We were asked to portray a serious (albeit beginning) training in the three theatre performance disciplines, vocal performance, acting and dance yet maintain a solid sense of fun and approachability. Setting a tone of excellence for the UKOT Academy for Creative Excellence (and their summer Broadway Bound programs) was important because the instructors at the Academy are directors, vocal coaches, and choreographers who are actively engaged in the arts on a local, national, and international scale.  However, all of their instructors have a love for young people and a passion for performing arts education – and their passion is infectious!

Branding – Black and White

Geez….color doesn’t cost anything on a website, so why not put color on everything? Blue headlines, green subheads, chartreuse backgrounds, etc. And then make it flash enabled, and give me some dancing squirrels and a picture of my cat.
Why not? Well, because people need to actually use your site to accomplish a purpose.
There are lots of people out there who want to sell you the website equivalent of a Bugatti Veyron. “It’s hand coded, its custom built, its one of a kind…very cool design.” But honestly, do you actually want the “hand built Bugatti” of a website if you are an ordinary carpenter, brick layer or plumber? Wouldn’t a “pickup truck” of a website more accurately reflect your business and actually do a better job of introducing you and your business?
Granted a Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge, Toyota, or Nissan, pickup truck won’t do 250 mph plus, but try hauling 20 sheets of drywall, screws, mud and all your tools to a job site in a Bugatti.
If you don’t need a “hand coded wonder” don’t pay for one.
To say “don’t spend too much” may seem counter intuitive for a guy who builds web sites to say, but I am completely convinced that only what makes your business brilliant matters. If the core of your business is a guy with a dream and a pickup truck, you need a website that reflects that.
Amazingly Creative, Inc. revolves around one core offering: we believe in your amazing creativity. Our core competency is to listen for and discover what makes you and your business unique. We then study your market space and collaborate with you to create a design solution that expresses why your business offering is superior in light of your customer’s desires.
We offer design solutions for print and web. We succeed by creating marketing vehicles that tangibly express why your business offering is preferable in light of your customer’s desires.
Having a solid marketing plan that includes a budget for print collateral and a web presence is money well spent. Having a clean, professional look is simply one of the basics of business.
What may we do for you?

Black Canyon Consulting Group

The Black Canyon Consulting Group has three different practices. In complete distinction from the average consulting firm, their methodology works in all aspects of strategy and business modeling, sales effectiveness, and customer experience. Even during the recent downturn in the economy, BCCG’s customers were turning profits while turning their companies around.

Rather than choosing a the usual take on the amorphous buzzwords of consultant speak, Black Canyon Consulting Group chose strong landscape and navigation concepts to point out their ability to equip and enable their clients to create and strengthen a sustainable competitive advantage. A real privilege to work with Wayne Peterson and his team in both their original entry into a web presence as well as the current version which went live in April 2011.
Another fun feature was putting a Prezi into a permanent format as a landing page presentation