Saturday, May 31, 2008

How to Compete with FREE!

Over the past few weeks I've been observing a common situation that continues to get the blood boiling among Graphic Designers world-wide: Logos done fast 'n cheap!

A company I have an association with tried their hand at using those cheap logo factories on the web. You know the ones that promise a logo for a few dollars and a limitless number of versions until they get your approval. Well, the owner of this company wanted my opinion on some of the samples they submitted. Most were pathetic from a design perspective but a few were interesting. But the bottom line for me was none hit the mark because they just didn't get it. They were not designing to communicate a brand message they were just designing a compelling graphic.

Another case was a discussion on David Airey's logo blog LoveDesignLogo relating to pricing of logos and the feeling of many designers that cost reflected quality. It was a spirited discussion. But all of this boils down again to brand. If a lead views you as too expensive for them, then your brand has no value with them. That is not to say that your brand is bad, it is an unknown quantity to them. All they have left is commodity. You leave them no choice.

Graphic Designers will always have this disagreement because their individual and industry brands are weak. They have been reduced to a commodity. If they were to concentrate on their brands and develop a compelling positioning strategy, the discussion above would not rile them so.

For myself and logos, I compete with free and still come out on top. Many times I have seen companies use logos done for them by local publications or printers just to get their business. I still have customers who want to pay me substantially more to work on the brand image. Why - because I give them a compelling reason to do so. It always astonishes me how many start-ups, pay little regard for their brand images, opting for the cheapest possible solution. That's not to say that high price = high value.

It's been pointed out that Nike paid $35 for their swoosh and now look at them. This isn't a case where the company was a success because of the logo but the logo was a success because of the company. The point isn't your price really, it is your brand. I could design a logo that communicates a brand and charge nothing. That doesn't make that mark any less effective.

It's all about your brand. Are you an expert in your field? If so, and if your message is compelling you can rise above price. Customers will value the relationship and their ability to profit from it. You get to charge fairly. What price you charge is of course up to you. The goal is to have a customer respect your price because they value your brand and want what you can offer them.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Small Business Branding Interview

In case you are unaware, I also write weekly for Small Business Branding, and they honoured me with the first in a series of interviews with their business writers. You can find it here. We will also being doing podcasts in the near future.

Forget The Logo, It's The Brand That's Costing You Money!

To a lot of graphic designers and advertising agencies, brand and logo are interchangeable. To be clear they should be referring to your brand image or your brand logo - there is a difference. A logo is just a small part of your overall corporate brand. Simply put, your brand is essentially your reputation in the marketplace. It is affected by all of your stake holders (customers, employees and suppliers).  If I stop a person on the street and ask them what your brand is, I am looking for them to tell me what their understanding of your company is. If I were to ask you what you feel about Detroit and you reply, "Murder City". That is it's brand. The brand may or may not be true, but it is the perception at this point in time. 

The same is true with Detroit's brand. It may not be true that it is the Murder Capital, but over the years the city has allowed it's brand to be determined by outside forces. Movies, comedians and the media in general have used Detroit as their whipping post for all that is wrong with urban blight in America. Your ultimate job is to constantly have your finger on the pulse of your brand. You simply can't afford to allow the marketplace to define you. The goal is to have a strong brand - one that makes you money.

Cities have what is called a 'place brand'. It's been said that our own community has a poor brand. You don't have to agree with the assessment, but you'd be a fool to ignore it. We have allowed the marketplace to define our city's brand. Windsor has to address it's poor brand directly, it can't be 'spun' out of existence. The root causes must be addressed.  The problem with a less than accurate brand story is, the very audience you want to become advocates, feel betrayed and become ardent critics.  

All of these scenarios are brand issues and are why smart companies are sitting up and taking notice. Any smart company who brushes off branding as merely a buzz word is passing the baton to their competitors. It has been said that the fasted way to kill a bad product is with great advertising. You can't fool 'em twice no matter how pretty a face you put on it.

In the industrial heartland that is southwestern Ontario, smart companies are engaged in initiatives that position their brands as leaders. In discussions with Peter Berry, President of OB1 Consulting, a respected Risk Management Expert, it was pointed out to me that companies who want their brands recognized as leaders in Green Initiatives, Compliance issues and Cross-Border Efficiency are also companies who are serious about taking control of their brand and how it is used. Many of these risk initiatives are used as effective differentiators when promoting the the corporate brand image. These pro-active companies are not waiting for bad things to happen to their brands, things that will cost them an enormous amount of money to fix and in some case cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential lost revenue due to hits on their brands. They are reducing risk now and reaping the brand payoffs. Having a strong brand in the first place will determine if these storms can be weathered. 

Here are 10 things you need to do to gain an insight on your brand:

1) Resist changing your brand logo. The problem is much deeper than that.

2) What are your stake holders saying about your brand? Ask them. Stake holders include employees, customers and suppliers.

3) Tomorrow morning ask the first staff member you see, "what do we do here at...?" Their answer may startle you.

4) Do a risk assessment to determine if there are areas of compliance and opportunity that might increase your brand strength among your market.

5) Are you suffering from any brand negatives? Are these issues keeping you up at night?

6) If you are currently putting a happy spin on your marketing, make sure it reinforces your brand values. 
7) You do have brand values don't you?

8) Do you have an effective differentiator? (this is key to branding properly)

9) Do a visual analysis to address brand issues with inconsistencies.

10)  Strengthen your brand. It invigorates staff and makes them passionate advocates for you.

Remember you have a brand whether you want one or not, your goal is to define yourself.  If you don't, your competition will do it for you - and that's never a good thing. Where do you fit in, in all of this?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Do You Have A Magical Brand?

I just spent the last week with my wife walking the theme parks of Disney World. We haven't been there in many years and a lot has changed. I have to admit that the Disney brand is alive and kicking in Florida. Where else do you see grown men and woman walking in public wearing various themed mouse ears and Goofy hats? At Disney World it seems perfectly suited to the atmosphere created there.

The Disney experience is essentially the audience immersed in theatre. The resort we stayed at welcomed you "home" upon entering the grounds and the entire cast consistently wished you to "have a magical day". I was very impressed by this brand experience. One morning my wife and I went for a walk around the grounds and came upon the main gate from the outside. The guard came out, asking to see ID and once we were identified promptly "welcomed us home". Are your staff as fine tuned to a consistent brand message?

In all of the attraction areas, is music playing the "soundtrack" of the park. You quickly recognize that everything you see and experience has been "created" to best position the Disney effect. It got to the point where my wife Rose, asked me if the birds in the trees singing were the real thing or a recording? All of this control over experience really does make you forget the real world outside. The effect is absolutely convincing. You forget you are walking around an enormous set. You really want to believe. My wife was actually excited to get her picture taken with Mickey and friends. (I thought it was pretty cool too)

I took away a lesson in how to make customers love you. Give them a consistent message and over deliver on everything you do for them. I loved the experience so much, I was willing to pay $8 to $10 for a Manhattan (my favorite drink). Back home in a restaurant I would shell out half that amount. Everything cost more, but the brand delivers and so I was smitten. When you love something you are willing to pay more to prolong the experience. Are your customers willing to pay more for your experience? Maybe it's time you have a hard look at how you deliver to your audience.

Many people might say that they resent the manicured experience at Disney World, but I would challenge them to show me any successful brand that doesn't succeed by delivering their product on an emotional level. The Disney Brand conjures up a deep heart felt desire to believe that the world is a good place where everyone wishes you a magical day even if for a moment. Even if that belief lasts only a week, it is good for the soul. But what is important to note from a business perspective is, every time I see the Disney name I will be reminded of the great feeling that I felt at Disney World. That brand experience translates into major dollars for the Disney Corporation. It allows them to sell me on many product offerings based on a brand promise that is magical.

We could all use a bit of that magic.

Disney doesn't appear to ever be sitting still. New attractions and resorts keep adding to the magic. Are you continually delivering new services and products to your audience? Don't sit still and let grass grow under your brand's feet. The magic is in your brand - this is your opportunity to control it's delivery.
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