Archive for the ‘Branding’ Category

Meaning is What Matters

Saturday, November 29th, 2014

meaningiswhatmatters

I challenge people for a living. I find ways to ask questions that actually matter and pursue them until I have exhausted the possibilities. Because unless I’ve pushed my clients way outside where they imagine themselves, they won’t actually be able to see their organizations in a way that is meaningful to the human beings that matter to them. And meaning is what matters in business today.

Meaning is the secret sauce that businesses need to thrive. It is the key differentiator. It’s not fluff, it is the core value. If you don’t get it right, it’s only window dressing. It’s not just for outside your company. Meaning is for every single person your company touches, employees, suppliers, competitors, government, partners….People, in general, are becoming much, much more discerning and they’re looking for authenticity in everything. Nathan Shedroff, Chair of the MBA in Design Strategy at California College of the Arts in San Francisco taught me that “Design is the process of evoking experiences. Meaning is strategic.” Every aspect of design today focussed on looking for and finding meaning. Meaning creates value. Meaning creates loyalty. Meaning is enduring.

You can’t make meaning up. It “is”, whether you have a handle on it or not. Anyone who knows about your organization, in any way, is out there making meaning about you right now. The most successful companies know what they mean to people and they live it — authentically.

When I recently helped a medical research organization create their brand, we started with science. That’s where they were coming from. It was about beating disease through cutting edge therapies and new methods of detection. Their function was to do three things: raise, and continue to raise funding; attract the brightest minds in their field to help them; and find the most innovative ways to outsmart the disease. The surgeons, clinicians and oncologists I met with needed to step back from science and revisit what the disease meant to the patients and their families. They needed to see what meaning their organization created for potential employees, experts, partners and funders. At a human level, what did the fight with this disease mean to these people? The process was pragmatic and thorough, but it produced a brand that was steeped in meaning that they had found. I simply helped them to do that.

Your organization could be doing, making, selling the next best thing ever, but without understanding its meaning, you’re missing your upside. Because meaning is what matters.

* Also posted in Dangling the Local Carrot

Is what you don’t know about your customers driving your decisions?

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

There is a big difference between branding and strategic branding. That’s why you can buy a logo for $99 on line. It’s a logo, not a strategic brand identity. A brand is not a logo. It’s everything that represents your organization, whether you control it or not. The objective is to control as much of it as you can, know exactly what it is, and live it every day like it’s what keeps you alive. Because it does.

atbcworkshop1

A serious business will always treat their branding seriously. It costs more, but it’s worth vastly more. You need to know what will resonate with your customers and potential customers and that can’t be left up to an educated guess. You need get to know your customers on a personal level — to get out of your own (and your company’s) head and get into your customers’. You need to go where they use your product or service and see what they do. 
Ethnography, used in design research, allows researchers to test theories about how brands — and in fact, whole product or service segments — are perceived. In traditional qualitative research, questions are often asked so directly that the answers aren’t what you need to hear, they’re what you want to hear.

ubcimage1

Field research techniques used by design teams like Herrainco can uncover not only brand weaknesses, but most importantly, brand opportunities. What starts out as a “branding” exercise can become a discovery of ways that your company innovate to serve customers better or speak to them in ways that they find compelling — and more worthy of a purchase. It may be as little as a change in “voice” to as much as a change in systems, or adding products or services. The more open the research is left, the greater the value and opportunity for you and your company.

Think of a strategic branding consultancy as a resource for seeing a bigger picture, then shaping that picture into a story people understand, love and will follow.

Cusp 2013 and the Design of Everything

Friday, September 27th, 2013

pipercusp

Patrick Lynch, City of Chicago Pipe Band and 2013 U.S. National Champion

Chicago is a design city. It is the cradle of mid-century modern architecture. It buzzes — constantly.

I attended the Cusp Conference there a week ago. It had everything from Constance Adams, NASA space architect; to a sword swallower; a Canadian researcher hoping to gaze at the actual edge of the universe from a balloon above the Antarctic this year; to Dave Carroll, the guy who produced the viral video United Breaks Guitars; and — oh, yeah — a bag piper and a teenage rock band. This melange was about the “design of everything”. For the attendees (I would estimate about 90% non-designers) it was an eye-opener to what is going on right now in design. The hackneyed term “Design Thinking” (with apologies to Bruce Nussbaum) has permeated the awareness of the business folks who are shaking things up. What we have called “thinking out of the box” is given a framework and process through design thinking (this time no caps, on purpose).

Maria Giudice of Google

Maria Giudice of Google

There is no magic bullet, no acronym-laced corporate efficiency model here. It’s about thinking outside of comfortable paradigms and just flippin’ doing things differently. And, as Maria Giudice from Google puts it, it’s just plain GSD (Getting Shit Done). Business models are changing. No longer are the good companies looking for cost-efficient ways to do the same thing more cheaply. The good ones are looking for ways to get new things done, to create something that helps their customers, helps the world and is valuable enough that people want to pay for it. It’s about adding real value, not taking away. As Marsha Sinetar says:

Do what you love and the money will follow.

And that doesn’t just apply to individuals. If you put heart into what you manufacture, into the services you provide, people feel it. You have a clear idea of who and what you are as a company. You know your story.

Story telling is what I am most interested in for my work. I love finding the stories that are sometimes buried deep inside companies and bringing them into the light. A good story attracts good employees, good customers, good suppliers — good stuff.  And a good story is the way for people to understand you and become followers, promoters of your company.

I’ll be at Cusp next year, looking into the future of business.

Brand Personality: It’s all about love.

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
love
Image by Perry Danforth

We talk a lot about storytelling in brand communications at Herrainco. We like finding and shedding light on our clients’ stories. In a world packed to the gunwales with more choice than you could ever possibly sample, it’s the brands we love that make it. And they don’t have to be big brands. Dave Ansett of Truly Deeply, a branding firm in Melbourne, Australia wrote a lovely little piece today called The Power of Personality in Brand Communications. You can read it here. It’s a great little read and illustrates so well that any brand can be loved, Truly and Deeply!

The Truth Will Set You Free

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Reflecting on this short article by Paddy Harrington of Bruce Mau Design about Ricky Gervais’ bold, in-your-face style at the Golden Globes, I am reminded of how important it is for designers to be brutally honest. Honesty from designers is largely not rewarded with any kind of love, because good designers ask tough questions. They often don’t like the way you phrase your problems. They rephrase them. And then might tell you that there are things you have to do that you didn’t think of. And often, for your own good (and your company’s) they say “no”. Ouch.

Suffice to say that not once in the previous paragraph did I mention typefaces, colours, logos or branding. Design is about getting to the seminal truth. And that truth will set you, your company, or your cause free.

Finding Your Brand’s Passion

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Take a Lesson from Gordon Ramsay
If you’ve ever seen an episode of  “Ramsay’s Nightmares” where celebrated chef Gordon Ramsay helps ailing restaurants revive themselves, you might see a parallel to other businesses. We see it all the time. Sometimes it’s too many cooks in the kitchen, but more often it’s about a chef/business owner who has lost his passion. It’s that fire-in-the-belly that drives us to accomplish things we might not otherwise do. It’s usually what sparks an entrepreneur’s vision in the first place; about doing something better than the other guy and/or something that’s never been done before.

Somewhere along the way, things go off the rails and compromise after compromise starts to creep in. And before long, decisions are based on doing things the cheapest or easiest way, without thought as to whether these decisions are in the best interest of the business. Sometimes the pressures of running a business becomes overwhelming and the decisions made [unknowingly] become counterproductive.

From Market Fresh to Frozen and Deep -Fried
Where, once, things like fresh ingredients were important, standards start to slide, and with them, confidence. Eventually every decision becomes a safe one leading to mediocrity. The things that mattered before — the things that really set you apart — are abandoned. And so begins a slow downward slide.

While the example I’m using here is restaurants, it really could be almost any business. As we lose our sense of passion, we lose the ability to differentiate ourselves among the hundreds of other businesses that offer similar services. When you can’t offer anything unique, you become another “me-too” business. This affects everything from how you compete and attract customers to the prices you can ask for your product or service. It affects the quality of employees you’ll attract as well as the type of PR you get, if any.

Tasting the Menu
Like chef Ramsay, the first thing we recommend is to evaluate the current situation — tasting the menu so to speak — we gather all the elements & experiences that contribute to the brand to determine how best to bring back the unique qualities that will define the company.

Where chef Ramsay usually finds overly complicated menus of less than flavourful food made from processed ingredients, we likewise often find both retail and corporate businesses who have lost their sense of direction.In a retail store, this may appear as a business that tries to be all things to all people. It may offer too much or too broad a range of products. The store may appear cluttered, with little sense of focus or contrast. Not enough attention is paid to architecture/interior design, signage and typography, colour, service.

Like the restaurant example, success is never built from one thing alone. It is the sum of all the parts working together — from the person taking the reservations, to the hostess, to the waiter, the decor, the music, the sommelier, and finally the meal. Every step along the way allows opportunities for sabotage or success, and one false step can damage what might have been a very enjoyable meal.

Is it human nature, or a lack of confidence, that seems to make most people unsure of when to quit when cooking a meal, designing a room or a company brochure? Herein lies the problem. In most cases, design is about taking away — a reductive process rather than an additive one. Just as you may have seen an interior designer remove all the furniture from a room, or a fashion designer clean out the closet of someone getting a makeover, it requires stripping away as much as possible before adding on.

Novelty is Not a Strategy
In their book Subject to Change: Creating Great Products and Services for an Uncertain World authors Peter Merholz, Brandon Schauer, David Verba and Todd Wilkens remind us that seeking parity with our competitors “appears very logical on the surface, yet focusing on deficient or missing features is not a strategy” nor does it help you define your differentiation. It creates sameness. Businesses frequently confuse differentiation with novelty. This is often the approach car dealerships take with bizarre situations or themes that rarely have anything to do with the car buying experience. Novelty lacks context and therefore a sense of authenticity. Consumers want a genuine experience, one that has context and, as such, has meaning they can identify with.

We can strip away much of any business down to two questions; what is your purpose and why should anyone care? The answer to the second question should provide some insight into what makes you unique. Business owners often respond with “I want to be the best” yet, because no one can be the best at everything, being the best is not a strategy. Its too general a goal. It‘s a statement focussed on the business owner not the customer.

Karen Post, the branding diva and author of Brain Tattoos, tells us “a brand is a psychological impressionof value-based emotions, lodged in the mind of a buyer or prospect.” It is an emotional relationship between the buying market and a marketed product or service — a bond of loyalty, a connection of relevance and earned trust.”

Imagine the Questions Your Customers Ask
We can strip away much of any business down to two questions; what is your purpose and why should anyone care? The answer to the second question should provide some insight into what makes you unique. Business owners often respond with “I want to be the best” yet, because no one can be the best at everything, being the best is not a strategy. Its too general a goal. It‘s a statement focussed on the business owner not the customer.

Many products and services have become successful by capturing a single aspect of something rather than trying to be everything to all people. The Palm Pilot succeeded by reducing the features found in the larger, feature- crammed and bulky Apple Newton, to those deemed most needed by users.

What Makes You Unique?
What makes you different? And how can you make the experience for the customer the more meaningful?

Here are a few simple guidelines that will help you drill down to find your essence. Using one or more pieces of 24” x 36 “ poster board, collect all the various items your company or store uses to identify and market itself. Include all stationery, brochures, colour chips, typefaces, photographs of merchandise and promotion, displays and signage, storefront — any and all promotional items.

Try to be objective and ask yourself these questions:
> Do the items accurately and consistently describe the type of company you believe you are?
> Ask some outsiders or customers to answer the same question.
> Does the collection of items paint a clear and consistent picture of what you are about?
> Looking at this collection, does it say that your company is exciting and/or remarkable at what it does?
> If you were not an owner or employee, would you do business with this company?

To many people, it appears that design is about making something pretty — and they would be right to some degree. But more importantly, it’s about creating the right visual and verbal messages. In the restaurant example, it’s often a matter of getting back to the core — the passionate idea that first got you going. The menu is simplified, and replaced with fewer, but fresher and more selective items. The interior is cleaned and made more inviting, the service is made more responsive, the menus easier to read.

In a retail store, better attention is paid to what makes the store special and unique. This can require reducing inventory, and/or selecting specific products that better reflect the nature of the store brand. Notice how many successful retail stores have simple interiors. It takes skill to simplify elements down to those few that are critical.

This would include:
> Eye catching store signs, photography, displays and graphics
> Unique, quality products
> Organized merchandise that is colour blocked and neatly displayed
> Clear interior signage/ information
> Attentive, helpful staff
> Functional and pleasing fitting rooms
> Appropriate and appealing store scent and sound
> Be empathetic. Revisit the experience from a customer’s point of view; is it enjoyable, meaningful, exciting?

We Buy What We Feel
Better attention should be paid to in-store visual merchandising. When you considering how important a company’s product or service is, it’s surprising how little time and money is spent on professional photography. A few signature images should be created that define the brand emotionally and speak to customer aspirations. Should your images and colours be edgy, relaxing, serious, playful, historical or modern? In every case there are certain colours, images, typography and even language that will better reflect your specific style and story or history and, as such, help you define your brand.

It takes confidence and sometimes courage to drill down. Less is more. It’s true in almost every type of design from garden design to restaurants and retail stores. As consumers, we often take for granted many of the successful brands around us, not realizing how much effort they make to ensure brand consistency. At the end of the day, your brand is a promise you make to customers that the experience they have with you is repeatable. And in order for you to repeat it, you must know all the elements that are entailed in detail, from what colours, typefaces, sounds and smells best reflect your company, to how merchandise is packaged and displayed. Like a recipe this documented list becomes your guide or manual and will help you stay true to your vision, your passion — I promise.

Ray Hrynkow, Partner + Creative Director
Herrainco Brand Strategy + Design Inc.

Creative Commons License
Finding Your Brand’s Passion by Ray Hrynkow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at blog.herrainco.ca.

You’ll Always Get What You Pay For

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Communication design is one of those “hoodoo voodoo” (thanks Jim!) professions that no one quite understands. They think they could probably do a decent job of it themselves, but at some point they say to themselves, “maybe I should hire a professional”. When they talk to us, they are often gobsmacked by the fees we quote them. Even when we’re quoting our “friend” and “altruism” prices. I’m speaking here of people new to buying design. Our “big” clients understand how it works and generally know the value of communication design and respect it. So I’m extremely grateful for the articulate missive from Blair Enns who understands the issue and wrote this.

Why I Charge More
A Designer’s Open Letter to His Future Clients

“The more I charge you, the more pressure I put on myself to perform for you.

“The client who grinds me on price is the least satisfied. He gets less attention from me and is most likely to be pissed off at me. And I don’t really care, because to be honest, I resent him. The very fact that he is on my roster reminds me that I’m part prostitute. For him, I’m doing it for the money and as it isn’t very much money I’m not troubled by not doing it well. He pays me a paltry sum, I perform poorly, he gets angry and I resent him. We can have that type of relationship if you like.

“The client who pays me the premium gets my best work. He’s the one I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about, wondering if I’m doing all I can to earn his money. When he calls, I jump. Hell, I call him first. I take pride in moving his business. I try to make myself indispensible to him. I imagine that he winces when he opens my bill (he doesn’t say), but he thanks me for all I do for him. He’s the one I worry about.

“I’m great at what I do, but if someone hires me without giving me the resources (money, time, access) to do a great job, it’s easy for me to rationalize poor performance. When a client gives me everything I ask for, he removes all the obstacles to a high quality outcome. There’s no way for me to rationalize anything less than perfection.

“There is no greater pressure than the pressure I put on myself, and the only way you can add to my own sense of pressure is to pay me well. Yelling won’t do it. Neither will threatening to pull your business. My deep sense of obligation comes from you paying me well enough to dispatch all of the excuses. Then I have to prove to you, and, more importantly, to me that I am as good as I say I am.

“So, I’ve given you my price and it’s the price that I need to charge to bring a deep sense of obligation to the job. Will I work for less? Probably. Can you negotiate with me? Sure. We can have that type of relationship if you really want me to be that type of designer and you want to be that type of client.

“Let’s just understand each other before we get started.”

Rebranding in a Democratic Marketplace

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Democracy in brand identity is here. With brand “Tribes” comes the benefit of being a loved brand and the disadvantage of being a democratic brand. Having read this in the Economist yesterday, there is clearly a new dynamic afoot in rebranding and it can scuttle the process at great cost to the incautious. It’s a massive expense, with everything from signage to vehicle livery dwarfing the actual cost of initial design. Rebranding may not always be necessary and may — occasionally — be a symptom of myopic navel gazing on the part of senior management.

Rebranding has a place in the growth and change of a company and, where significant shift has or will occur, it can often guide the process and be the banner under which it takes place. The recent Starbucks rebrand is a case in point of what I believe will be a success. It maintains the familiar elements, the Siren being the most central, and it carries a emotional friendliness. It frees the company to some degree, allowing it to do some things other than coffee while still being under the familiar banner. Like Starbucks or hate it, the rebrand will work.

40 years of Starbucks visual identity.

40 years of Starbucks visual identity. Starbucks.com. http://tinyurl.com/29u33zu.

But when you pull away the very things that resonated most with people as Tropicana did, you are bound to piss people off. I am amazed that Tropicana didn’t see that their photographic orange and straw as the important asset it is. When senior management speaks in immortal terms about the reasons and representations of a new logo, they may be setting themselves up for a public relations disaster. It’s not a language they know fluently and it comes off as weak in almost every instance. You can’t tell your customers that a logo makes you more relevant to them. They will decide that. And you sure as hell don’t start talking about design issues that are esoteric and irrelevant to the customer, such as references to things like the golden ratio. That’s an internal discussion. What you can talk about is what your changes are in the company and how the logo represents those to you. Howard Schultz put it perfectly,

“Throughout the last four decades, the Siren has been there through it all. And now, we’ve given her a small but meaningful update to ensure that the Starbucks brand continues to embrace our heritage in ways that are true to our core values and that also ensure we remain relevant and poised for future growth.”

That’s plain language and it’s bullet proof. There has been lots of outcry about the change to the Starbucks logo because it is so known and loved and because of the democratic marketplace. But they’ll get used to it as they have the last two times the logo has changed. Starbucks understands its assets and has honored them.

If you need to rebrand, don’t do it in half measures or without doing your homework. Audit your assets and know their value before you burn them. Then make the right decisions and talk about them in the right terms.

Casey Hrynkow, Partner
Herrainco Brand Strategy + Design Inc.

Creative Commons License
Rebranding in a Democratic Marketplace by Casey Hrynkow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at blog.herrainco.ca.

Build Your Brand on a Solid Sense of Your Identity : MarketingProfs

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Think of your brand as a mosaic. In that mosaic, you can select and place most, but not all, of the tiles: You can control the communications you make, your offerings, and how your organization behaves––and, therefore, you can control the brand picture these tiles present.

But some of the tiles in your brand mosaic are placed by others––the media, bloggers, tweets, the conversations that happen outside your walls.
Build Your Brand on a Solid Sense of Your Identity : MarketingProfs.