Monday, May 2, 2011

And You Are?: The Misconception Behind Name Recognition in Buisness

Riding home from the sign shop today with my Partner in Crime, I was made aware of a fact that I must have known somewhere in the back of my mind--people like their names. My partner was telling me that a woman had wanted to buy a set of car magnets for her business and wanted a picture of her face on them. He had to politely decline because our shop doesn't do full color anything (vinyl only). As he was talking, I thought to myself, "Oh, the woman must be a Realtor or a Makeup Artist." I was wrong. She had a cleaning service. The novelty of the whole story is what inspired me to write this post.

People Like Their Names
And I don't mean that it has anything to do with the actual name. Whether they think their name is plain or ugly or whatever, they like their names because it is the one thing that is always 100% about them. A name is unbelievably personal, probably the most personal thing a person can have....that's probably why when you "personalize" something they normally just put your name on it in fancy letters and hand it back to you. Being attached to our names means that we want to attach it to something bigger, better, greater and that's why most people have the uncontrollable urge to "name brand" their business.While "name branding" has its proper place in the world, there are a couple of misconceptions I'd like to clear up.

Names Don't Always "Make You"
Unless you're a well respected professional, connoisseur, celebrity or celebrity train wreck, your name won't get you much of anywhere. The sad truth is, unless people already know your name they won't learn it just because you want them to. You have to make them. Sound tough? It is. Example: You decided to open a mechanic garage. After working for years at top repair facilities and even with pro racing teams, you make your first foray into the entrepreneurial realm. The name of your business? Johnson's Garage. You hand out fliers a week before you open then sit back and wait for the customers to flood in. But...nothing happens. You keep waiting, and the only things that fill the office are dust bunnies. You start to wonder what went wrong... I mean, you've gotta be the most qualified mechanic within 100 miles of your shop, so where's the line out the door? Still wondering who this "Johnson" character is.

It wasn't wrong to name your business after yourself, but to reap the benefits you have to cultivate the reputation first. As a fictional mechanic, you must consistently provide top quality service at a reasonable price and be honest. After a few years people will stop saying "oh, I took my car to that place on 3rd St, you know the one next to the Taco Bell" and start saying "yeah, I took my car to Johnson's." This is true for most businesses you might participate in. Excellent services or products sell the name, not the other way around--at least for newbies, business vets play by different rules.

The Name Game Reversal
There is a flip side to name recognition that could be very negative, even detrimental to the new/small business owner--"Too Much Me." "Too Much Me" is where customers identify with you more than your product. At first it doesn't sound all bad but let's look at an example shall we? You graduate from a top technology college and decide to open a company that supplies parts and kits for solar panels and wind turbines, for residential consumers. You name it Circy Agro-Energy, your fictitious last name being Circy. Your customers become familiar with your name because your stock has just gone public, you were recently featured in INC. Magazine and your new clean energy plan just opened in Detroit, employing 75,000 people. But no one knows what "Agro-Energy" is or that it's for homeowners like them. Is it a bio-fuel processing plant? Hydroponics? Alternative energy producer for city electric grids?? Nobody knows and they don't care to find out. Eventually you have to launch a public awareness campaign to associate your name with your product, otherwise, your name would be on everyone's lips as the latest big bankruptcy case.

The moral of the story: Never puff up your name so great that is overshadows your purpose

When Image Matters
In certain businesses, names mean EVERYTHING. Banking and Real Estate are a few examples, fashion is another...after all they are in the image business. The reason names resonate so greatly with us in these areas boils down to trust. We have to feel like we "know" the business to trust them with the big decisions--retirement planning, home buying and new hair colors--and the best way to get to know a person starts with their name. Remember, names are personal. That means 2 things
(1) We attach values, feelings and expectations to another person's name once we know it
(2) Names hold people accountable for their actions, we can recall who hurt us and avoid them later
And that brings us to another word of caution: if you tie your business to your name, they both must stay afloat, i.e. if the reputation of one sinks, so does the other. You can make people learn your name just as easily through lies and trickery as you could good works, maybe even easier since people love scandal.

Putting your name on the line should never be an easy decision. You must weigh it carefully and never expect a no-fame name like your own to rocket to the top without work. Play the Name Game smartly and you'll win every time.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Pragmatics and Advertising: Content, Relationship and TV Ads

On a whim and technically by the direction of another book I’ve been reading I’ve started reading a book called “The Pragmatics of Human Communication”. Its stuffy scholarly book written in the 1970’s that apparently hasn’t been updated since. Despite its obvious lack of information related to the way the internet has affected communication, and its frequent use of the term “cybernetics,” Pragmatics is unbelievably helpful. Though I haven’t finished it yet it has inspired me to talk about one of its recurring themes content and relationship.

The Recap
Messages can be divided into 2 parts: Content and Relationship. The Content is everything you’re actually saying. The Relationship is all the intangible stuff about a message, like your body language and tone of voice. For instance, if you were talking to your significant other, you could be annoyed because you’ve stayed up all night and you’re tired and say “Honey, let’s go to bed” or you could be interested in some intimacy and say “Honey, let’s go to bed”. The Content is the same, but the Relationship is different—upset or affectionate.
Healthy relationships focus more on Relationship than content and dysfunctional relationships focus more on Content. A healthy relationship example is when two people know each other so well that even with little to no Content they can communicate—like knowing the other person’s mood or their possible reaction to a given situation. An unhealthy relationship example would be the tumultuous partnerships full of arguing that never seems to solve anything. The partners aren’t hearing each other and are so focused on their own Content that nothing else gets across, not the other person’s Content or feelings.

Why does all this matter? Because we as consumers have healthy and unhealthy, relationships with brands and that effects their advertising.

Healthy Relationships
There are certain brands that always come to mind when making a purchase. Detergent = Tide. Soda = Coke. Chips = Lay’s. These brands have a big market share, and the biggest slice of brand awareness in our brains. Because we have been exposed to them so much, we have a healthy relationship with them. That healthy relationship means we no longer place a lot of focus on what their commercials say but how they say it—the feeling we get when we watch them. For example, the Coca-Cola Christmas commercials with the polar bears.

If we were focusing solely on Content we would be wondering why in the world bears were drinking sodas. But because our relationship with Coke has moved past that, we unconsciously focus on the feeling cute polar bears give us, namely, happiness. 

Brands with a healthy consumer relationship can take risks in their advertising. They know that the consumers they are aiming for already “get it” and so the information about their product or service can be substituted for entertainment. Some of the funniest and most well received commercials are from the brands we know and love, and while there are a lot of contributing factors that make the previous statement true, none of it would be possible without a healthy relationship.

Unhealthy Relationships
We’ve all seen those commercials that just leave us wondering—what the point is, what their selling, who thought it was a good idea in the first place—and they just leave a bad taste in our mouths. Most of these commercials were made by “runner up” brands, names that occupy a smaller amount of space in our brains. These brands don’t have the same connection with us so we are often looking for more when we see a commercial. We want to be convinced of why we should pick their product over the brand we always buy, what gain we’ll get. Runner up brands normally miss the mark on this because they are not “hearing” us, they are too busy trying to compete with the big brands. An unhealthy relationship is marked by a focus on Content to the point where no actual communication is happening. They are not telling us anything with their commercials and they are not hearing what we need.

A great recent example of this is the new Dairy Queen commercials that heavily draw on another big brand from another industry

Look familiar? DQ (Dairy Queen) is trying to draw on the spontaneity of the Old Spice commercials to engender a similar kind of healthy relationship. It won’t work and here’s why:
  1. Its been done. Old Spice has cornered the “random” market when it comes to commercials. Everyone else will look like a copy cat and it’s the originality of the idea that sells it.
  2. DQ is a runner up. While Dairy Queen has been a staple in the South for a long time, it’s still no Mc Donald’s and doesn’t have the same “share of mind” with consumers. Trying to skip the important part of relationship building and go straight for entertainment fails almost every time.
  3. Bad positioning. DQ isn’t hip or new, or anything really. It’s another fast food chain with one selling point—the Blizzard. Trying to be funny with “shaving bunnies” doesn’t remind people why they should come back to Dairy Queen—the Blizzard.
Most brands don’t understand why their commercials never “come though” and equal to increased sales. Again, there are a lot of contributing factors, but more often than not it’s because they don’t fully understand the kind of relationship they have with their audience.

To sum it all up, healthy relationships connect the brand and the consumer. Unhealthy relationships usually miss the mark.  Now you may be thinking that with a little effort, every unhealthy relationship can be made healthy. Wrong. Just like people, brands—at their core—don’t usually change. A resistance to real transformative change will always equate to an unhealthy relationship. They can ply you with flowers, candy and special offers but without a bigger shift, they’ll never get the share or your mind and heart they need to get the share of your wallet they want.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sign Making for Designers 3 Easy Steps

Sign making is very different than designing for other mediums--even different than billboard because you have images to work with. Making a text only sign seems simple, but it's that simplicity that will ruin the effectiveness of a sign faster than you can say Helvetica, if you don't apply a few basic rules. Rules that I will kindly detail for you now:

Distill the Message
It's fairly common that people will ask for what basically amounts to a paragraph on a sign. Paragraphs belong on paper, in books or magazines, NOT on signs. So what do you do? Distill it.
A woman came to the shop needing a sign because her dog ha behavioral issues and she needed something more specific than "beware of dog." She suggested to me that "warning, dangerous dog on premises" go on the sign. The size of the sign she wanted was about the size of a sheet of paper. Putting all that on a sign would make the letters too small to be a warning. I asked her what she was trying to alert people of. She said it was that the dog would bite anyone who it was unfamiliar with. I suggested "Why not just put, 'Warning DOG BITES' on the sign." She was skeptical, until she saw the difference.

By distilling the message, we determined purpose. A sign's purpose will dictate a lot about its design. Which brings us to step 2, Deciding on Emphasis.

Decide on Emphasis
Not every part of a sign can be bold or it will lose it's meaning. The various parts of a sign must be broken up in order to create an information hierarchy. Going back to the dog example. The words "Dog Bites" are the largest things on the sign. Why? Because the word "warning" is almost irrelevant. If you were going to enter this woman's yard to attempt to sell her a vacuum cleaner and saw "DOG BITES" you would go to the next house right away because you wouldn't want to be bitten.

When deciding on how a sign should be laid out, you first have to determine which parts you will emphasize. Once you've done that, you can move onto step 3, arrangement.

Arrange the Message
Lets go back to our design again and change it up a bit. If we were to go with her original idea and try to arrange it, we'd end up with something like this.

Not bad. A different arrangement but not as effective. "Dangerous" is far too long to try to stretch on a sign this size. And being placed inside a box, it now competes with "dog" for supremacy on the sign. Arranging the sign means bringing all the elements together to look cohesive. The purpose of the sign is the message, the message should never get lost on the sign.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The "New" Elevator Speech

A few weeks ago while wrapping up at my sign shop I was approached by a very friendly Middle Eastern man who wanted to share his business with me. Working out at a flea market, people are always trying to sell me something but this guy's pitch was so amazing I just had to share it. Maybe, with any luck it will help some budding salesman out there.

Why it was awesome 1: He had a great opening
I was tidying up at the end of the day when he approached me. It had been a long, busy, Sunday but Mr. Salesman walked up briskly with a smile, handed me 2 business cards and said "Help keep us busy." Wow. I know that it's not much in the way of catchphrases as things go but the take away point is: a good opening is your foot in the door. If he'd come at me fumbling with his words, no eye contact or like he was going to go right into a lengthy pitch I would have slammed the figurative door in his face. Also his opening gave him a way out. Since he'd handed me a card, if I seemed uninterested he could thank me and leave without needing to explain further. He'd already told me he wanted by business in his greeting, the card would tell me what that business was and how to contact them if I ever needed or wanted to. His job would be done at that point if I hadn't given off vibes that I wanted to hear more...which of course I did.

Why it was awesome 2: He had visual aids
The business Mr. Salesman was trying to sell me on was pretty unusual...they sold tires, furniture, and were mechanics. The card he handed me was decorated with automotive stuff and had absolutely nothing to do with furniture. No problem, he had pictures. In just a few seconds he had his smart phone out and was showing me and a friend of mine pictures of the furniture. Granted they were just regular phone snap shots but they were easily accessible and organized into categories so if he was pitching to parents about kid's furniture it was an easy skip to the right set of pics. Handy and a time saver for both him and his customers.

Why it was awesome 3: He kept it brief
For as much as he showed my friend and I his pitch was around 7 minutes. The typical elevator speech is between 3-5 minutes but we did ask a couple of questions so I'll give him a break. Most people will give you 3 minutes if you talk fast, 5 if they're interested in your product. His quick speaking, just like his walk, didn't seem unnatural at all. On the contrary, it seemed appropriate. He was straight to the point. In. Out. Boom. Before you could really reach full annoyance (unless you were already having a bad day) he was wrapping it up and getting ready to leave. Customers are less likely to talk to you again if they didn't enjoy talking with you the first time.

I could go on and on about all the little things that made this a fairly effective pitch (not completely cause I haven't spent any money with the business yet) but I'd rather just refer you to a man who knows a lot more about speaking than I do. Ron Hoff. You can read the first pages of his most awesome book "I Can See You Naked" on can also buy it too!.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Audi's New Strategy

After a long blog post hiatus I have returned to the world of the living...well to the living world of the blogosphere. A few other writing projects pulled me away and leeched what little free time I had from my little journal here. Those projects are not yet completed but I would be remiss if I did not have at least one ad commentary post related to the better Super Bowl Ads for this year--even though it is kinda late.

Standing in a bar for the entire duration of a football came can be kinda tiring for some, but not for true fans of a "Super Bowl Experience" lots of drinks and food everywhere, Packers and Steelers fans alike griping and cheering in unison. Football season's grand finally was punctuated with a few really impressive commercials this year. As I'm sure you can tell from the title, it was Audi for the win, at least in my book.

In case you haven't seen it, here's the commercial:

Pretty funny right? Humor is one of the best ways to deliver a message and get people to remember it. But just what was Audi's message?
"This isn't your Father's luxury"

This message is communicated in 3 ways 
(1) the cast 
(2) the action 
(3) the dialog

The Cast
Kept in these amazing prison cells are the vestiges of Old Luxury, opulent rugs, decadent crystal, gaudy chairs and old people. I mean the true to life stereotype of what most of us consider the "Rich Old Bugger"--heavily wrinkled with white hair, just like Ebenezer Scrooge. The people we characterize as heartless, out of touch, and impractical stand behind gilded bars as 2 of the prisoners try escaping--one of whom is "The New 50" (handsome, grey haired and on the move). He's the one Audi wants us to identify with, mature--not old, smart, stylish and full of passion for life. Much like the way they want you to see their cars.

The Action
Escaping from this prison doesn't seem to be all that difficult (hint, hint). But the duo do have to break through a window. The dapper escapee is pretty agile going through the window while the typical bugger has to bumble though the opening. Its not just for comedic relief, the cat like reflexes and smooth style of the dapper escapee hearken right back to the main message "Your father couldn't/wouldn't but you can/will". It makes our subconscious believe that we are better than our parents somehow and so, we would want a better car, one just as action oriented as we are.

The Dialog
When the pair finally get outside, the typical bugger chooses the Mercedes because "his father had one." The dapper escapee chooses the Audi. How does he know it's a trap? Again he's smart. He knows that the typical bugger would be fooled into thinking that luxury only existed only in the backseat of a Benz. Oh but not Mr. Dapper, he knows what Audi wants us all to know after watching this commercial--luxury is a choice. The Audi driver chooses to drive himself, he has no driver, he doesn't need to depend on anyone. He makes his own decision based on style and preference, not on legacy.

For such a simple 1minute spot, Audi managed to embed an image in its viewers that will start to chip away at the crag of established luxury. Instead of attacking quality, styling, efficiency or some other typical aspect of determining car supremacy, they picked a stance that aligned them with one of the most famous high class car companies in the world and said simply "Luxury is your choice, choose wisely"

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Top 10 Uses for Twitter

I was late to jump on the Twitter bandwagon. To be honest, I didn't understand why anyone would want to post text message style updates to a blog format for other people to read. A former boss of mine convinced me to try it out before I wrote it off and thanks to him I was immediately hooked.

For a period of around 6 months, I was tweeting several times a day. At first is was all the regular boring stuff like "I'm hungry" or "Watching day time television, I heart Maury" ok so the last statement was a lie but I was another one of those useless twiple (twitter people) that babbled on about nothing until I started following people who actually had something to say. I felt bad that I didn't have anything to say so I stopped talking about what I was eating for lunch and started talking about design and movies and sharing opinions/information on topics that other people might find relevant. That opened up my world and I wanted to explore more uses for this blub-blog phenomenon.

So without further ado and in no particular order, here's the list:

1. Breaking News
Because of Twitter's constant stream of information, it's practically a news wire. Reliable and questionable sources alike post "news" from around the globe on a 24hr basis, in some instances a big story may break on Twitter before the anchors behind the desk at CNN even get a flash. Realizing this Twitter actually has a thread set up just for getting the latest news. If you like to be in the International-Know then you may have hit the jackpot.
2. Link Sharing
This was one of my favorite parts of Twitter. Since I followed a lot of designers, they were always sharing links to their latest work, good inspiration places or just free stuff. It can take a lot of time to root out good, free, design resources online, but with someone practically spoon feeding it to me, I had more time to focus on work and my blog. Even if you aren't in the market for information, link sharing can benefit your business by driving traffic to your site.

3. Corporate Communication
One of the companies I follow on my twitter account is Popeye's chicken. I know it sounds silly but they're one of the few national chains who are using Twitter effectively as a means of corporate communication. They engage customers in "conversation" and announce special deals online that are too time sensitive for an email or similar campaign.

4. Trend Alerts
In case you aren't all that familiar with Twitter, there's something called a Trending Topic that indicates what most people are talking about right that moment. People who's jobs depend on "keeping their finger on the pulse" of something or other can and usually do make good use of this feature. Anything from which person most people are considering casting their vote for on American Idol to World Series favorites can be found within the millions of tiny posts happening every second on Twitter.

5. Networking
Connecting to people and having them connect to you is what networking is all about. Twitter makes it easy for you to link up with potential customers, clients or business partners and see what's going on in their world. Making yourself more involved can pay off...big time. 

6. Creating Specialty Communities
 If you like gardening, you can follow a bunch of accomplished gardeners, a local greenhouse, a plant nursery, and an organic seed company if you wish to create your own little news feed of things relevant to you. Twitter allows you to personalize lots of mini news feeds for all your different interests.

7. Job Pulse
Finding a new line of work or hiring a new employee with Twitter has become so popular that instead of just searching for the tag #jobs an entirely separate search engine has been created to help jobseekers find gainful employment.

8. Personal Branding
One of the things that creatives do well is personal branding. Writers, photographers and designers are all using twitter to stay in touch, share their work and promote their personal brand. Everything from the way they write their tweets to the profile background speaks volumes. If you are your business, hype you, and let Twitter do all the heavy lifting.

9. Live from New York It's....
Twitter has the ability to provide great play by play action, whether its a football game or a conference. Because of its brief and immediate nature--and the fact you can tweet from your phone--live "simulcast" accounts of events can be given with ease.

10. Sell
After my journey of self discovery with Twitter, I finally found its best use for me--selling. I design a line of Anime inspired Tshirts and since most of my followers were interested in the same things, I started posting links to my Zazzle Store for people to check out my new creations. It actually boosted my sales a bit and it didn't cost me a penny.

After all the nice things I've said about Twitter, I should add that I logged in just a few days ago for the first time in almost two months. Which brings me to my next point, if you decided to use Twitter for a business reason, don't follow my example, you have to make a continuous schedule and stick to it. To have an abandoned and dilapidated twitter account connected with your business speaks volumes, negative, negative volumes.

Additional Reading (Articles are from 2007-2009 at the hieght of Twitter popularity)

The Top 5 Ways Smart People Use Twitter

17 Ways You Can Use Twitter: A Guide for Beginners, Marketers and Business Owners

Top 10 Uses of Twitter


Monday, November 22, 2010

Lessons from the "Great Detective"
I've been a Batman fan since...well since the 90's. Other kids were aspiring to be like Superman when they grew up--practically invincible with a Kirk Douglas chin--I on the other hand was drawn to the mysterious allure of the Dark Knight. There was something about his melancholy and generally disinterested attitude toward others, his "gray area" moral standards, and his uncanny ability to be reborn an infinite number of times within the DC Universe only to have another area of his complex psyche become the focus of  new comic, movie or animated series.

There are a lot of things that can be learned from everyone's favorite Vigilante Playboy--like money can't buy happiness or women in leather body suits can't always be trusted--but did you ever stop to think that Bruce Wayne could teach you a thing or two

Be a Detective
Batman has been referred to by a lot of names, and with Christian Bale dawning the Cape and Cowel most recently in the Dark Knight film, people tend to forget that even though The Batman is a heroic figure for justice, in his essence, he is a detective pure and simple. With no superpowers, psychic ability or even a Steven Hawking rated IQ, he manages to solve crimes and apprehend criminals by use of his sheer intellect. How? Partly by paying attention.

It sounds simple enough but paying attention when it comes to marketing is hard work and takes a lot of time. There are 3 main areas that should always have your attention:
  1. Your customer's demands
  2. Your competitor's service
  3. Your own efforts
You'll find that if you pay closer attention to customer demands you will identify ways to improve your product or service. If you keep tabs on your competition, you can keep up more easily with trends in the market or even simple sales promotion. If you scrutinize your own efforts you'll know what you're doing now, what you've done in the past, what works, what doesn't and what you might like to try. Now that you've armed yourself with information you can conduct business more effectively.

Some people call it Market Research, but it's really just detective work. Just pay attention, gather information, then put the pieces together to create a personalized marketing plan. It's a simple notion that will pay off in the long run with the right amount of hard work.

Have a Database
In the Batcave there is a giant computer. Batman's database. Since he isn't super-human, there's no way he could be expected to remember all his case notes or analyze compounds just by looking at them--that's what his tech is for.

Ok, so you've started paying attention to your business surroundings. You have your notes and your ideas about how this puzzle should fit together. Now what? Make a database. I use the term loosely to refer to any collection of information...not just spreadsheets and forms. Its important to organize what you've amassed into something useable. Have a lot of business cards you've collected from clients or prospects? Scan them and create a computerized version of a rolodex or go low tech if you don't want to spend the money on new software and just type them up and save an electronic file. Know about competitor promotions? Make up a calendar detailing the dates then put your information in right beside it. Whatever it maybe you've collected, turn it into something you can use.

Even Loners have a Support Staff
It's no secret that while Bruce Wayne may have been the outgoing type, Batman was decidedly less...amiable. But despite his gruff nature he still managed to have helpful friends. Justice League aside, Batman had his faithful butler Alfred, crime fighting companion Robin and eventually another sassy compatriot Batgirl, to help out (even though he acted like he could handle it all on his own, regularly).

Sometimes marketing can be too big a job for just one person, or it may be the case that what you're doing is outside of your realm of expertise. That's ok, just ask for help. If you decide that you want to send thank you letters to customers who purchased from your new holiday catalog but you aren't a very good writer--ask for help. If you aren't sure what kind of commercial you should have to promote your car dealerships 4th of July sale--ask for help. If your latest product has customers beating down the door to buy and you can't possibly fill all the orders yourself--ask for help. Help can come in the form of a friend, colleague, family member or paid professional. Use the resources available to your advantage, there's no shame in asking for help--especially when it will lead to greater business success.

Other than having the best array of villains of all time, Batman can--and does--teach us a lot about ourselves and the world. Smart decisions are made with good information, working smarter means a better use of your tools and British butlers are the best at keeping secrets. Maxims to live by for one and all.