Do you crave more attention for your business? I’ll bet you do — and it’s getting more and more difficult to achieve.
Studies prove that visuals capture our attention and inspire an emotional connection unlike anything else — key for getting noticed and creating the deeper engagement businesses seek in today’s media environment.
Visuals are social. People respond to visual media in a direct, visceral way unlike any other content. Research shows that 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual. Visuals are processed 60,000X faster than text — we pay attention to them, believe them and remember them. And once someone is engaged and emotionally vested in your business, the broader story can be told.
Not only do images capture our attention, they are perfectly suited to today’s mobile environment and small screens where reading small text is more difficult to do. Visuals clarify otherwise complex messaging. It’s been said that it is much easier to show a circle than describe it, and in many ways we are returning to our earliest beginnings when pictures dominated communication.
A consistent visual content strategy will unify your business as it drives through the busy, distracted, hyper-engaged media environment we all participate in these days — continually reinforcing your brand and your messaging.
And what’s more, people love sharing visuals on social media! We are increasingly becoming a visually-oriented society as things constantly zip by us in today’s media from all directions. Did you know that photos are twice as likely to be shared on Facebook as posts with text only? Photos and videos on Pinterest are driving more traffic to websites than Google+, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon and Twitter combined!
If people enthusiastically share images that are part of your business’s visual strategy, it vastly expands your reach in a very powerful way! Visuals give your brand advocates the tangible content they are looking for to share with others in the lively social streams.
Are you missing out?
It makes total sense, today more than ever, to pay serious attention to your company’s brand and visual strategy. Too many businesses miss this powerful concept — from weak branding to randomly posting images without rhyme or reason — fracturing their messaging as they get lost in the shuffle. And the unfortunate irony is that the more of this they do wrong, the worse it is for their business as they then create widespread brand confusion.
Two steps to total visual domination:
Step 1. Nail down your brand
Since your visual strategy will play off of your brand identity, you need to make sure that’s right first. Get to the core essence of your business and then communicate that in a simple, visually unique way.
A laser-sharp, visually-powerful brand is the singularly most important step you will take to reach, excite, and inspire people to action. It mustn’t be taken lightly. Many businesses ignore this and then struggle to gain a foothold — maybe even redoing their brand in future months and years finally trying to get it right — only to lose the brand equity they did establish which leads to lost revenue, costing way more in the long run.
As design legend Paul Rand once said, “Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.”
Step 2. Develop a visual strategy
A visual campaign should be developed and coordinated for both your online and offline endeavors. It should be consistent, compelling, on-strategy and on-brand — making you engaging but with a purpose.
People interact with those they know, are comfortable with and inspired by. It’s been proven over and over that you only have a few precious seconds to capture someone’s attention before they move on. We all know quality when we see it and well-crafted visuals draw people in, humanizing your business and giving people things to share.
Visual content includes photos, infographics, illustrations, quote graphics, slideshows, memes, videos, animations, and any other type of imagery that can be engaged with and shared.
What are the powerful messages you need to communicate and how will you visualize them?Amazing opportunities for your business
Good design, branding and a smart visual strategy are the keys to making your mark in today’s noisy, competitive world. Yet few companies are taking advantage of this visual revolution — and that provides amazing opportunities for your business.
The big qualifier
If you do this with a half-baked plan and less than stellar images — you know, those with amateurish design, blurry photos, low resolutions, etc. — and in a slipshod, inconsistent manner — it will backfire. You would actually then be better off blending in and lost in the crowd, because if your visual presence isn’t going to be at the same level as the business you excel at, it will only bring you down. If you don’t have the resources, hire a pro.
These are exciting times for media and the part that smart visuals can play in capturing eyeballs and driving a message home. It’s time to partner up with good, custom design and develop an effective visual strategy that gets your business the attention it deserves.
If you want to really start enjoying the benefits of belonging to an online community, Google+ is the place to be! Once Google+ started their communities feature a few months back, I jumped in right away and have been spending a lot more time on “The Big Plus,” as it suddenly became a lot more relevant to me.
Developing rich social experiences and fruitful relationships is what good online engagement is all about! With Google+, one size does not fit all — there are communities to discuss all kinds of topics, industries, hobbies and interests — with highly-focused conversation. My re:DESIGN community is for people interested in design, creativity and innovation.
Sort of a cross between Twitter and Facebook, Google+ has a great blend of engagement and smarts: quieter and deeper than Twitter, yet more alive, better focused and less clutter than Facebook. The Google +1 has also recently begun to take on a whole new meaning — more powerful than a Facebook “Like,” it promises to boost engagement, online influence, and search rankings.
I enjoyed discussing some of the virtues of being on Google+ with New York’s Newsday recently. Right now though, I’d like to make the case for why G+ is the best social platform for starting or participating in an online community:
1. Nicely-organized streams
Cleaner pages with multiple columns yet more white space and less clutter than the other social platforms. This allows quicker scanning and access to good content by distilling the information down to what you want you want to see. More good stuff and less junk — and that can only help your overall engagement, too. Happier, more inspired community members makes for a happier, more inspired community.
2. Controlled environment
Google+ has nicely engineered mechanisms for moderating and managing communities. Communities can be made either public or private, depending on the intentions. It is also important to bring in the right people, and Google provides a couple of ways to promote communities that help set the foundation for a good social experience:
• Share the community — similar to inviting, this button lets you promote both public and private communities by sharing them with a broader group of people.
• Invite people — just click this button in your public Google+ community and it’s a nice, easy way to bring other people whom may be interested. This feature also pairs well with your curated circles, where people may already be grouped according to certain interests and possibly also a good fit for a particular community.
3. Speak freely
You can say as much as you want on Google+, yet you see only the first few lines until you click for more, similar to Facebook. When you want to pursue deeper conversation, it’s nice not having the 140 character limits of the Twitter hashtag communities.
4. Categorized discussion
I find that the Categories feature really helps organize the community and, along with Search, lets you filter the content better than the other social channels. Anything that helps you decipher what’s what quicker is a community benefit in my book.
Details about the community are readily available and clearly posted — not buried like on the other social channels. Knowing the ground rules right upfront is critical for any smoothly functioning community, and Google+ provides a nice spot to make those crystal clear.
6. Strong identity
A well-branded community visually identifies the space as “your community.” Having a familiar place to engage on a daily basis with people you know creates a virtual home, and a clear identity makes it easy to find while igniting a sense of community pride.
Posting within public communities is visible outside the community too. Time spent in the community doesn’t mean you are totally isolated — your influence can still spread. And it’s great knowing that your engagement in a community, especially if frequent, is still getting the highly-coveted Google rankings juice that helps get you found in search. Posts on G+ rank similarly to blog posts, so together with Google’s increased emphasis on the importance of +1’s and their secret algorithms, your online influence will spread as you gain influence among your peers in the community. Sweet!
8. Stunning images
Great visuals will help any stream by making them more interesting to look at. Google allows for bigger, crisper images than the other social platforms, and that makes for a much more pleasant experience overall.
9. Well-crafted, nicely-styled posts
Bolding, italicizing and even strike-throughs are all fair game on Google+ — it not only looks better, it draws the eye to what you want to emphasize and aids in communicating how you mean to say something. Together with a beautiful image, some hashtags for better search and… BINGO! Better visibility and better communication — and that helps any community.
10. Ability to edit
On Google+, you can edit whatever you say at any time. There’s nothing like being able to fix a typo or revise the way you said something to make what you are saying clearer. Try that on Twitter! Heh.
11. Video calls
This option, called Hangouts, is available right within Google so it’s a seamless community experience. Being able to see and speak with members of your community make the bonds stronger for richer and deeper social engagement.
12. Stay in the loop
It’s great being able to stay abreast of comments and updates. Google+ notifications does a good job with that, and if you really don’t want to miss anything, you can also get emails whenever there’s a new post. I make sure I get these with the re:DESIGN community I run. Well functioning communities are happy communities.
I think you can see how these twelve points help facilitate a well-oiled process for online communication and relationship building. As people become more experienced on the social networks, it’s the depth and quality of these relationships that they crave. Developing rich, online, social experiences drives deeper engagement — this is as true for individuals as it is for businesses and brands delving into engagement marketing. Communities facilitate this, and I don’t think you’ll find a better place to do it than on Google+.
Do you belong to any communities on G+ or want to join one? Or maybe you’re interested in starting a community yourself?
There’s lots more to say about Google+ communities so hit me up in the comments section below.
Suddenly, flat design is all the rage. From Microsoft to Apple, the “new” flat style is taking over screens everywhere, and our buttons and apps have never looked smoother. Of course, companies are now also in a mad race to make their logos flatter than the next guy’s.
Beyond the trend, there are several legitimate reasons for this. Simplicity removes distraction and communicates quicker — perfect for the online engagement frenzy and especially the mobile world of the smartphone. Things are just more easily decipherable with pared down visuals, and their smaller file sizes also satisfy our ever-increasing need for speed.
But one of the most compelling reasons for the change is that skeuomorphism is out — that is, we no longer feel the need to pretend that new media should somehow copy and replicate the look and feel of the tools and objects that came before. Digital folders on our computer screens no longer need to look like the paper folders in our file cabinets (do we still use those?), and navigation tabs on websites no longer need to look like the things that stick up from those paper folders. Just as we ditched Naugahyde in the ’70s, skeuomorphism was fun while it lasted — it served its purpose but it’s no longer necessary.
It seems like just yesterday that we were all scurrying to make every design look as 3-dimensional, shiny and “real-looking” as possible, with several drop shadows thrown in for good measure. Making things look like real-life objects was a handy style-bridge between yesterday and today, helping us familiarize ourselves with the cold new world of pixels. But we’ve been living in the digital age for a while now, and we don’t need that security blanket anymore. A digital world requires its own visual language, not a second hand copy of things that came before.
I love flat design and am happy that things have progressed to the point where simple forms, beautiful layouts, and typography can once again rule the day in visual communications. Trends are cyclical by nature, but what matters most is not the style — but rather, is it good and does it work?
Flat design can be wonderful but it is very difficult to do well — it takes “real” designers and illustrators to pull it off. Minimalism is deceptively simple and unfortunately, we see a lot of bad flat design because of it. As flat design’s inherent simplicity offers no place to hide, it will now be easier to separate “those who can” from “those who can’t.” All those tacky stylistic renderings and cheap “special effects,” layered upon ugly layer, did a fine job of concealing a lack of real design skill — but Halloween is over and the mask needed to come off eventually.
The key now is to make flat design and the return to minimalism as clever and interesting as anything more elaborate — boring, empty design won’t spark anyone to action and is the risk taken with less capable hands.
So… bring on the flat — no more 3-D buttons that feel like we can push them, no more leatherette backgrounds (why do we call them “wallpapers” anyway?) and no more spherical balls when a plain circle will suffice.
It’s time to move past all the unnecessary adornment and the land of bells and whistles — to embrace our present by looking to the past. Flat design is not a trend, it’s a reawakening.
There’s never been so much content, and there’s never been so much crap. Pin it now!
That is the sad fact in this time of the content creator, where everyone is making stuff and publishing it, willy nilly. Friends, colleagues, business associates and family — posting one blurry kitten photo after the next, banging out blog post after crummy blog post, ad hoc images with quotes slapped on them in Comic Sans, shaky videos that would make a sailor puke…
Even worse, the persistent drumbeat of current social media thinking says that content must be created on a consistent basis to stay relevant and expand influence, so the bombardment grows worse with each passing day.
Well, I've got great news for you, content creation isn't for everybody — and it doesn’t have to be!
But ever notice all the frenetic talk about the latest, greatest DIY tools these days? And all these great new technologies? Everyone goes gaga over the next quick fix for throwing up a website or using all these new social platforms, cheap templates, plugins, widgets, software… Mac vs. PC… ARGHHHH!
People always seem to be enamored with the latest-new-hot-gadget or gizmo, hoping to produce the next most amazing thing ever known. Talent can be checked at the door — the tools will do it all, or so they think.
When the desktop publishing revolution began back in the ’80s — everybody and their office assistants were soon calling themselves designers. As if just pushing some buttons would magically produce the same work that professionals who spent their entire lives mastering their craft could do.
But just as a paint brush is a tool and will not paint a beautiful painting by itself, a computer is a tool and will not design a beautiful design by itself either. It certainly won’t think strategically.
A paint brush will not paint a masterpiece without a master behind it. The brush is a tool.
A scalpel will not save a life without a skilled surgeon behind it. The scalpel is a tool.
A garden tool will not grow a bountiful garden without a green thumb behind it. The garden tool is… you got it — a tool!
Nobody cares about your tool
Social media is awash with people talking about… wait for it… social media! But social media is also just a tool! Now, there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s a relatively new area and if you’re trying to establish “thought leadership” in the social media space, then maybe non-stop conversation about Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google Plus fits your MO. I get that. But shouldn't the focus really be more on what exactly we are doing with social media? And no, I don’t mean the ROI conversation, I mean the content creation conversation and sharing good, engaging, original content.
Isn't that vastly more interesting, anyway? And isn’t that what, ultimately, will separate the best from the rest — perhaps eventually putting you in a position to grab that highly-coveted ROI?
What separates the best from the rest is what you do with the tools, not the tools themselves. It’s always been this way, of course, it just seems to be more-easily forgotten these days. Computers, software, platforms and the like are all part of the same thing — they are a means to an end, not the end in and of themselves. Producing amazing work is really where our focus should be, and while tools and the other things may help you get there, they will not auto-magically produce good work any more than a paintbrush will produce the Mona Lisa; or a pen will write a Shakespearean sonnet. A camera does not a good photograph make — without any regard for composition, lighting, timing, and all the other things that go into capturing a wonderful moment in time — it will never happen without the proper training, practice and talent!
And believe me, any illusion of slickness is quickly disregarded as run-of-the-mill by most people and brushed aside as completely amateurish by others who know better. Is that the impression you want to make? Is extremely average OK with you?
Everyone else has access to all those same tools and using them will make you look like everyone else, at best. That’s not going to get you very far in a time when there has never been so much content produced and the need to stand out never greater. Crappy content is everywhere — producing more of it is not going to get the results you need.
Why, oh why?So why are we so enamored with technology and tools? It is amazing, I admit, but perhaps it’s also an easier conversation to have. But if we stop and take a moment to realize what will truly set us apart and make a difference, shouldn’t we be spending more of our time discussing the very things that will get us there?
The best creators, those with real talent and the chops to back it up, are not the ones endlessly talking about the tools. They are too busy doing the work — feeding their creativity with the information and inspiration it needs to be remarkable, and then using the tools the way they were intended — as a means to get the job done. That’s it.
But let’s face it — not everyone is cut out for content creation. And that’s fine. Maybe it’s about fear, or people simply trying to make up for what they feel they lack. Hey, we’re all human and we don’t all have to be good at everything.
Producing good content is hard — writing, producing an infographic, an e-book, a good photograph or illustration — and not everyone is cut out for it. Access to all these new tools doesn’t change that. It may be easier to produce a cheap facsimile, but that’s all it is. If you produce insignificant work, then you will also be stuck in that same rut of insignificance. Period. Is that what you want for yourself and your business?
Now, while I encourage everyone to develop their creative skills and interests, I also encourage them to make an honest assessment of where they are and the impact they are having on their professional reputations and personal brands. Maybe even consider hiring a pro, especially for matters as important as your business.
Nope. Content creation isn't for everybody. And that’s OK.
When Google+ first introduced communities, I jumped right in and started a community myself. It suddenly made G+ a lot more relevant for me and seemed like the perfect platform to enable in-depth dialog around a specific topic. I haven’t been let down — Google+ is proving to be a fantastic place to meet interesting, smart people from all over the world and have targeted, coherent conversation. Pin it now!
The re:DESIGN community I started is focused on smart design intersecting with business strategies to reach, engage, and inspire people to action. We have had countless conversations around all things design, creativity and innovation — and Google+, with its great way of handling images, has enhanced the community with beautiful images that continually illuminate the topics we share. So if a post isn’t inspiring enough on its own, those big, luscious images sure do the trick!
Of course, running an online community isn’t as easy as it sounds and there are some very important things to keep in mind when starting a G+ community to ensure its success. There’s nothing worse than a community that stagnates with no engagement.
Follow these 12 points and you’re sure to rock your Google+ community!
1. Community focus and organization
Let’s start right at the top, since these are important factors that will be critical to the success of your G+ community:
• Topic focus — what will you talk about?
• Name — what will your community be called?
• Tagline — how will you encapsulate what you’re about in just a few words?
• Introduction — how can you tell a little more of your story?
• Categories — what subsections will fall under your main topic focus?
• Type of community — will it be public or private?
Your topic and focus should be crystal clear and hopefully different from all the other communities out there. Keep the name short and add a compelling tagline. You can tell a little more about your community in the introductory “About this community” section. The topic categories you choose will also play a part in how clearly people understand what types of discussions take place and help encourage engagement. Making the community public or private affects how people can join and what people can see — it’s a decision only you can make based on what you’re trying to accomplish. Careful though, because you can’t change this setting later.
Taking #1 a step further, use the profile photo to create a brand image that will stand out and express the feeling you want your community to have. The profile image will be the welcome mat every time someone visits your “home” and function as a little ad as well — so spend some time on this. It could either be a photo or a total branded image complete with a logo. It’s a visual world, and Google+ is highly visual — doing this right will encourage people to join and visit more often.
3. Set rules and establish protocol
The “About” section is a great place to establish some basic ground rules right upfront. I include things like “no link dropping” and that people should include a thought or opinion when posting to encourage dialog. After all, conversation and building relationships are the whole point of having a community.
4. Show up
It’s important to be visible in the community you run. People will take your lead — if you are active, they will be active. If you’re MIA, it sends the signal that you don’t care so nobody else will either. As community owner, you also become de facto model member, so it’s important to always exhibit the behavior you want to see in your community.
5. Post good stuff
It all begins with good content — and good content spawns more good content. So it follows that if you desire to build a community with rich content, make sure you start by posting good content focusing on quality, not quantity. A strong, well-run community will post more good content than a poorly run one.
6. Enlist moderators
You can start right off by designating moderators to help run the community or wait until later — but once you grow to a certain size this becomes very important. Moderators can help keep things moving and relieve some of the daily tasks of monitoring spam and approving/greeting new people who join. It’s always good to have another set of eyes making sure everything is running smoothly. Cheryl Bochniewicz is doing a wonderful job helping me with the re:DESIGN community! I knew she would — always attentive and supportive with smart things to say. Moderators also help post content, especially during slower times in the community — Cheryl does this too.
7. Be encouraging
Generously +1 people’s posts and comments. Do it often — show your community that you care and appreciate their contributions. Everyone is busy and there are lots of other places people could be spending their time, yet they chose your community and took the time to engage. Welcome them enthusiastically and thank them. There are lots of ways you can do this, and if you really like something that was posted, don’t forget to share it outside the community too!
8. Be friendly but firm
Nothing will kill a community quicker than a stream full of links with no engagement, or other undesirable behavior. If you’re not careful, this can happen faster than you think. So while a positive, friendly demeanor is important in any community, do not hesitate to enforce the community rules — repeat offenders must be bounced.
9. Pump it up!
You can instill new life in your community at any moment. So do it! When you’re really “feeling it,” that’s a perfect time to engage and communicate your enthusiasm at its authentic best! People will know it’s real and be motivated to respond with their own enthusiasm. Maybe you’ll even help turn someone’s bad day into a better day. It works!
10. Post reminders
Every once in awhile, it’s a good idea to remind people of the little things that will make the community better. We post reminders about selecting the correct category when posting to keep the community’s content organized, and things like asking people to introduce themselves if they haven’t done so yet.
11. Google+ Hangouts
There is great benefit in deepening online relationships by going offline too — and video is the perfect bridge from online to offline. Google makes strengthening the bonds of a community easy with Hangouts.
12. Invite relevant people
OK, since you’ve made it this far, here’s a little tip that I’ve tested and refined to achieve about a 40% conversion rate when inviting new people to the community: create a circle of people you think will best fit your community. If they’ve also proven themselves to be active G+ engagers, so much the better. Then with one fell swoop, invite that circle to your community. Google limits this to inviting 150 people at any one time, so keep your circles to this number — but you can create multiple circles and repeat this as much as you like. That’s plenty of “pre-qualified” potential for sparking your community!
Like any successful venture, it’s the little things that matter. I hope I gave you a bunch of little things here to consider so that you can get your Google+ community off to a rocking start!
Are you planning on starting a Google+ community? If you have one already, what do you do to rock yours? Let me know in the comments section below.
So after 30 days of anticipation, parading out a different logo every day to generate excitement, Yahoo had the “big reveal” of their new logo. We are not only uninspired, we are yawning. And stunned. Stunned that another major company could take such an embarrassingly amateurish approach to their rebranding.
Now let me be clear, I’m not one for logo bashing — I think that’s way too easy to do and it becomes a kind of blood sport for a lot of people whenever a new logo is announced. Everyone jumps on the bandwagon to rip something apart rather than build it up. I much prefer the latter, when it’s warranted.
I held out hope for Yahoo, even during the 30 days of bad logos that they decided to roll out. I did harbor serious reservations about that strategy which in my opinion, created more brand confusion than it did excitement. Skeptical, yes, but I kept an open mind to see where they would take us.
Well, the logo would have had to be pretty damned impressive after all that buildup for it to have any hope of working. It was worse than I imagined. Not only is it uninspiring, it is technically bad in that there are just so many design no-no’s that scream “amateur hour” to any professional designer worth their salt.
Unfortunately, the video demonstrating the “science” behind its creation left me unimpressed and unpersuaded — in fact, it feels like a lot of smoke and mirrors to convince us in mathematical terms why it works and why we should like it. Such BS. In the end, it still looks terrible! Check your pockets folks, you’re being swindled.
But the clincher was CEO Marissa Mayer’s Tumblr post, where she explains the design process in her own words. After the first few lines, I honestly thought I was tricked into reading a satirical piece from The Onion or something. But no… here are some tidbits: Pin it now!
“Our brand, as represented by the logo, has been valued at as much as — $10 billion dollars. So, while it was time for a change, it’s not something we could do lightly.”
OK, fine so far.
“On a personal level, I love brands, logos, color, design, and, most of all, Adobe Illustrator. I think it’s one of the most incredible software packages ever made. I’m not a pro, but I know enough to be dangerous :)”
Wait, what? Uh oh, not liking where this is going. Why is the CEO of a $10 billion dollar company talking about Adobe Illustrator? The tools of design creation are so far down the pipeline from what she should be discussing… I am… well, let’s wait and read some more…
“So, one weekend this summer, I rolled up my sleeves and dove into the trenches with our logo design team: Bob Stohrer, Marc DeBartolomeis, Russ Khaydarov, and our intern Max Ma. We spent the majority of Saturday and Sunday designing the logo from start to finish…”
Holy crap — now she really lost me.
So the logo for this $10 billion dollar company was created over a weekend with a team that included the CEO and an intern? Perhaps Saturday was also spent with a tutorial of how to achieve bad kerning in Adobe Illustrator?
Nope. That was real, folks. It really was Yahoo’s CEO discussing in her own blog post how they went about rebranding a $10 billion dollar company.
I’m sure she thinks this was a radical move, with a take-charge CEO working down in the trenches on creating something in an inspired fit to reinvigorate the masses. But as CEO, you would think she would spend more time explaining the strategy and rationale behind the new branding — perhaps there just wasn’t too much more to say there. Instead, she chose to discuss the actual design.
Now, I know Ms. Mayer has an MS in computer science and was a software engineer, but as far as I know, she never had any design training or professional experience, other than playing with various shades of blue at Google. She fails to see why the new logo is so insipid and does nothing to inspire the feeling of “whimsical, yet sophisticated; modern and fresh” that she portends in her post. She explains the playfulness of the big “O,” fine — but any professional designer sees that there is no balance to the spacing between the letters. The kerning between the “Y” and the “a” is downright horrible. Close up that space! And then the spacing between the “o’s” is too tight. The exclamation point doesn’t look right either — it’s too wimpy and looks like it should be pulled down a bit. The whole thing just looks disjointed and unbalanced — which in the right hands could work — but here, just looks like something that a CEO with no design experience and a summer intern helped create.
Other companies have had similar branding fails in recent history, one of the biggest being the GAP logo fiasco. What has happened to branding? Why is it now treated so lightly that people just toss around junk in such a trivial, jovial manner, with all those contest-driven and crowdsourced activities that come with it? Logo design is not a beauty competition, but in the end, it is the professional designers and design agencies that will make it beautiful! And relevant. And on target. And effective.
For my money, rebranding a business, let alone a $10 billion dollar global corporation deserves more. What say you?
And if you need a logo or rebranding for your own business, contact me and let’s discuss how we’ll get it done the right way.
There are three things missing from most of the businesses I see, and I can’t help but wonder where they’d be if they simply took these steps. Here’s a hint: they all involve steering attention towards design, and in this new era of relationship marketing they’ve become even more important — for small and large businesses alike.
Ask yourself these questions:
1. Does my business lack focus?
Lacking focus and clarity is a common pitfall. The tendency is to try to be all things to all people. It’s tempting — one doesn’t ever want to risk losing potential opportunities. Yet by doing that, you position yourself to be just like everybody else. Ho-hum, a collective sigh and a big “so what?” You’ve just mixed yourself in with the giant soup of mediocrity. But — if you focus on a unique strength and really push that, then you start setting yourself apart. NOW you’ve staked out your territory and have distinguished your business as the go-to company for that special service that only you offer. Run with it.
2. Am I being lost in the shuffle?
Even after you achieve more focus it’s likely that your business will still struggle to have its message heard, because one thing is still missing: design.
Design brings clarity and consistency to your unique offering — building a targeted, cohesive brand experience. Now you will be seen, understood and everything you put out there will reinforce the same message. Killer.
So, if you lack visibility — good design will get you noticed. It cuts through. And your message will be heard.
Laser positioning with laser branding — you’re now locked and loaded to shoot your competition to smithereens.
Oops! There may be one more question you’re asking yourself in this new socially-engaged world we live in:
3. Why am I so lonely?
If no one is engaging with your business, it could be your personality. Sorry, but you’re probably boring.
Hey, someone had to break it to you, but I have good news! Design can do wonders in this area too because good design has always been about being personable, engaging an audience and pulling people in. The same goes for drawing in your readers, target market, end-users and/or communities.
Design and visuals are social. Always have been, always will be — from a friendly logo that attracts your attention and warms you to an otherwise faceless company, to a website that draws you in as you happily find the information you need, to an engaging brochure that keeps making you want to turn the page and see what’s next — print, digital, experiential… you name it! Design brings energy and excitement to your offering, whatever it may be.
Furthermore, today’s socially-engaged environment is becoming increasingly visual so that makes design even more relevant. Humanize your company and brand through design. It makes a HUGE difference, and people respond.
Yet, as hard as it is to understand, most businesses lack these things. Without any one of them, it is very difficult to compete. But put them all together and… lookout world!
Good custom design that is welcoming, warms the heart and excites the soul is the answer. Cheap online DIY solutions and crowdsourcing won’t get you there. Custom design where you partner with a professional will. Why? Because everything we’ve been discussing here is about the unique “you” and developing a sound strategy that will get you where you need to be, and that means working together with a professional towards the most effective solution. This is no time for a quicky, “one-size-fits-all” approach — it’s too important for your business.
Once you nail down these three basic fundamentals of clarifying, targeting and making your brand visible, a broader visual program can be established. People are attracted to images, and developing a visual strategy is the smart way to take advantage of the social channels, giving people a way to share who you are and what your brand is about. Give others the assistance they need to become your brand ambassadors. More on that soon.
In the meantime, invest in design. The returns are enormous.
There are as many ways to develop good creative as there are people in this world. When it comes to getting good work done under the pressures of business, budgets and ever-tighter deadlines, however, it’s good to know how to get the most from your design investment.
After working professionally in the creative field for almost 30 years now, I’ve found what works and what doesn’t, at least from a designer’s perspective. Assuming that most of you work on the other side, I thought this list would be helpful.
Let me know what you think in the comments and please don’t hesitate to elaborate on any nuances I may have left out. Business can be complicated, and I am sure that much more can be said!
1. Hire someone goodObvious, I know. But hiring a good designer or creative agency is truly the single most important decision you will make. If you don’t know any designers or agencies, recommendations from other people you trust is always a good bet. Review their experience, portfolio and clients. Social proof is another great gauge — social media provides a great way to see firsthand how people interact, follow through on their commitments and how trustworthy they are.
2. Define objectives/determine strategyToo often companies and clients like to jump right into the “fun stuff” without doing the due diligence required upfront to set the roadmap for everything else that will follow. Design is not about just making something look pretty — creativity directed towards business goals is serious work, and it will only be effective if time is spent defining what actually needs to be accomplished first. I’ve even seen big marketing departments miss this crucial step, as ancillary interests come into play and take on a life of their own, or the pressure of just “getting it done” takes precedence.
Bear in mind, your design investment will only be as good as what fed the design in the first place.
3. CommunicateBe clear on all requirements and needs upfront. Of course, not every single thing can be foreseen, but the basics should be established: budget, schedule/timing/deadlines, context, size, any other potential broader uses or repurposing, and any other special considerations that come to mind.
4. Trust your designerIf you adhered to number one on this list, this step should be easy and is why that first point is so important. Once you hire a person or agency whose work, experience and reputation you like — let them do their jobs. You know your business like no one else, and they know theirs. It’s incumbent upon both parties to partner on nailing down the specifics and then getting to it — establishing the processes that will result in the best work with the most efficient execution for your design investment.
5. Don’t ask what other people think of the designWhat is that, you say? I knew this one would get your attention, but… engaging in this all-too-common behavior reduces design to nothing more than a beauty competition which flies directly in the face of what branding design, marketing design and communications design is all about.
Soliciting a million opinions from people who weren’t privy to the project objectives, don’t know the backstory on the market, data, strategy, budget, timeframe or anything else that needs to be accomplished, will only confuse and obfuscate the process, often derailing it. If you think an entirely unscientific survey has value and simply can’t resist asking people what they think, tread carefully and take the feedback with a grain of salt. Only then may it have some value, but everybody brings their own biases to a subjective question about what they like, including you — the person asking the question. So even if there is a definite consensus after taking such a poll, the exercise is largely misleading and therefore, also largely useless.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there is no “one way” of doing something. There are often several different, equally legitimate and viable solutions to any visual communications challenge. Go with the person’s opinion whom you hired to trust. (See why hiring the right person is so important to your design investment?)
6. Bring all decision-makers into the process at the earliest phasesIt really doesn’t make too much sense if the people who will ultimately make the final calls aren’t present when the marching orders are decided for all the work that will follow. No matter how much authority you may have in the decision-making process, everybody needs to be on board for an efficient process and a successful outcome, devoid of any late inning surprises. Nobody likes redoing weeks or even months of work and the associated costs, not to mention the stress and pressure of a deadline that suddenly became yesterday.
7. Provide timely input/feedbackAll those project schedules that are drawn up will have forever sliding timelines if prompt feedback isn’t given as things progress. Creative projects, even the “smaller” ones, are made up of a series of phases that require input along the way. Designers don’t leave the first meeting and then work in a vacuum only to resurface at the end with work that magically satisfies every desire. The process is more of a collaboration between designer and client — and each has their own responsibilities to see that the process is a successful one. Good designers will seek the answers they need.
8. Show you careReturn emails, pick up the phone, respond to voicemails — the designer and/or creative agency are doing their best to do the work you asked to be done by a certain date. Oftentimes, questions arise that need to be answered before the designer can proceed. Ignoring messages and communications from your creative person sends the signal that the work is not that important — not good when you want others to give their best and get the most for your design investment.
9. Be respectful of the expertise they bring to the tableCreative professionals not only have talent but the training and experience to apply it. Provide input, but don’t dictate design — big difference!
Now, this is not to say that designers are infallible. Of course, they aren’t. And good designers are good listeners, especially when it comes to client opinions and input. Everyone has opinions — but isn’t your best bet to trust the expert who studies, practices, eats, sleeps and breathes this stuff? They also may bring a certain amount of business objectivity which can be really helpful, so they are in a strong position to know what works and what is best from an “outsider’s” point-of-view as well.
10. Provide content and feedback in organized chunksSending separate emails for every little change is highly inefficient and error-prone. This places the client’s own project management responsibilities upon the designer, which will likely lead to missed items, endless back and forth follow-ups, and friction on both sides — possibly even costly mistakes. Instead, gather changes and organize content in a way that will be clear to the person you are sending them too. This is less time-consuming in the long run and better for you, better for your creative partner, and better for the project and design investment as a whole.
11. Be decisiveChanging your mind once in awhile is one thing — we all do it and we’re all human — but when it becomes a habit then it can become a major issue. Constantly shifting input can cause serious problems for the client/designer relationship and ambush the process, turning an otherwise successful project into a time-consuming, expensive nightmare. Not a good design investment.
12. Navigate political hierarchiesBringing the ultimate decision-makers into the process early is important, but so is knowing who needs to know what and when, or what sensitivities need to be addressed. But be careful, because raising too many unnecessary questions can also lead to project paralysis as competing opinions lead to more questions and so on. The best clients get the input they need but take charge, and know how to shepherd the project through the multiple layers of approval necessary to get the job done, and get it done well.
And here’s a bonus tip: refer your designer to others. Most designers rely on referrals as a way to get new business. So, if you like the results your agency provided and refer others to them — you’ll be helping out your colleagues get the most from their own design investment, and your designer will likely treat you “extra special” on that next big job!
I hope this post is helpful for maximizing your investment in good design and leads to many more creative successes! Perhaps it also helped you recollect some of your own experiences. What’s worked for you when working with a designer or creative agency?
Share your tips below because we can all learn from each other and how design can be a major catalyst in helping your branding, marketing communications and social engagement ROI. If you’re a fellow creative person, what did I miss? (And if anyone has any nightmare scenarios they’d like to share, let us have those too!)And of course, please don’t hesitate to contact me for that next great project so we can get the most for your design investment!
We’re human. We get tired, sometimes burnt out.
What does that mean for our creativity? Not good. If you’re like me, we do our best and most creative work when we are alert, energized and better yet, passionate about what we are doing.
We all know that vacations and breaks from our usual activities give us renewed vigor when we return to our more ordinary, daily routines. But do you also know that “micro-breaks” can be just as important? And I don’t just mean those little breaks everyone recommends we give ourselves to rest our eyes, bodies, and spirit — I mean really little breaks — going to a different room or stepping outside for a moment, then returning to look at our work in a fresh light.
I often find that when I just give myself the chance to see something different and experience a different environment, even if only for a few minutes, I get the objectivity I need to see possibilities in something I may not have seen before. Sometimes these insights are quite minor but just what the project required; other times, it could mean seeing everything in a completely new light and turning it all upside down — again providing just the answers I need to take something to the next level.In a way, these breaks provide the objectivity and point of view from another person who isn’t actually there — extra beneficial if you’re a solopreneur, like me.Try it. I’ve come to rely on this tactic so much that I always try to build extra time into my projects that will allow the luxury of “time away” so crucial to taking my projects to places they would not have otherwise gone (while staying on deadline, of course!).
There’s been a lot of research in this area as well — this Wall Street Journal article has a lot of studies cited and goes deeper into this phenomenon.
Try it. Your projects will like it!
Featured image courtesy of stock.xchng
We all think we would enjoy being able to do as we please — especially when it comes to creativity. Imagine being able to create without any obstacles or boundaries. An unlimited budget would be great too! Or at least we think so.
We tend to think that the ideal creative situation would be one which has open-ended parameters and where our options are wide open with no limitations. Right?
In actuality, this scenario would stifle most creative people. Here’s why…
1. Too many options cause paralysis
Limits tell us where to start, when to stop, and perhaps most importantly, what to ignore. An overabundance of options is not always a good thing — without constraints, the possibilities are endless so how can one know where to begin and where to go?
2. A roadmap provides the clues that lead to solutions
Defined parameters act as guideposts that help channel creativity in a focused way as we journey towards an effective creative solution. Just as in sports, rules tell us how to play and give us the ground rules that establish where we play. With the right mindset — that space will allow plenty of great creative ideas to flourish.
3. Give a creative person a box and they will find a way out of it
Not sure how that happens exactly, but it does. Every time. Even when the situation seems dire at the beginning — unreasonable demands and ridiculous deadlines — once the whining subsides and the work begins, it is simply amazing how often it transforms into a pleasurable, stimulating adventure in otherwise unchartered waters. Don’t make the sharks any bigger than they have to be — get moving because failure is not an option.
4. Challenges drive us to push and succeed
All sports and games are based on this simple premise — embrace the challenge and figure out how to be better than anyone else playing under the same rules and circumstances. See how much can still be done within those harsh restrictions. Victory awaits!
5. Forces us to think harder
Creative people can fall into a pattern of repeating themselves. Sometimes, this is what establishes one’s own unique style but other times, it is redundant and we risk becoming a cheap knockoff of ourselves. It can be a fine line sometimes.
6. Leads to less obvious solutions
Outside limitations force you outside of your comfort zone. You are literally pushed to discover new approaches you would never have found otherwise, and make connections you may have not thought of otherwise. As the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
7. Let’s us discover new creative outlets
Finding new solutions often requires a different approach that leads to different tools and techniques — perhaps also requiring us to learn new skills. Who knows where all that could lead?
8. Creates a wealth of new ideas
Ideas spawn other ideas — now those ideas will be sparked from a different place so they can’t help but end up somewhere else.
9. We may be forced to use a new medium
Being forced to work in clay when all you’ve ever done is paint in oils; or writing a short story when all you’ve done are novels can unleash a creative cataclysm we may not have thought possible. This can also help overcome creative blocks.
10. Exposes us to new audiences
Different work will be appreciated by different people, potentially opening up new horizons and markets we may have never pursued before. The door is opened to serendipity.
11. New kinds of projects will be attainable
A different project in our repertoire could stimulate more work in that area. People will see another side to our work that will get their own ideas flowing… streaming right back to us and feeding more new work.
12. Stimulates our souls
Being forced to do something different from how we might have done it otherwise can be energizing and reinvigorating. If we find ourselves becoming somewhat complacent in our work — burnout from churning out the “same ol,’ same ol’” — this could be just what the doctor ordered.
I know the idea that limitations can produce more limitless, creative results seems counterintuitive — but it’s true and studies prove it. And let’s face it, when do we really have the “perfect” environment without constraints anyway? So — better to accept it and embrace those shackles that the world so often likes to bestow upon us. You will be happier for it and may just surprise yourself by creating something… ground-breakingly awesome.
Have you found that constraints and boundaries have helped you in your creative endeavors? Do you still think being able to do and create what you feel like works better? Let me know in the comments below.