Posts Tagged ‘differentiating’

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.

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.

Typography for all (not just for lawyers)

Monday, May 11th, 2009

Here is a great link on typography basics. Not just the technical but, even more importantly, the semiotics of typography. Very useful.

Fresh Thinking on May 7 at Kwantlen Polytechnic University

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Louis Gagnon and Joanne Lefebvre of Paprika (Montreal) and Dave Mason of SamataMason (Chicago) at Fresh Thinking at Kwantlen Polytechnic University last Thursday. We participated in a roundtable discussion on issues facing design and designers in the coming years. Three student moderators asked us questions and we gave our varied perspectives on what we thought the future held. It was an excellent event. The variety of experiences and thinking between Louis and Joanne (a husband and wife team and principals of an extraordinary design practice), Dave (an innovator and highly entertaining speaker) and myself gave the audience a broad view of design, from theory to practice and from print to film. I’m hoping that the videographers who captured it will share the video when it’s ready. If so, I’ll post it here.