Strategic Design | marketing & branding thoughts by Nick Rice

Dynamic marketing, branding & design strategies that span the gap between business & creative.

Expanding my reach

I wanted to let everyone know that I will be blogging on the blog as well. A little backstory; while surfing around I came upon Yaro's blog the day that he announced that he was looking for 2 additional writers to grow the blog. So I threw my name in the hat and was accepted.

We are building a nice team of international writers with experiences from big business to entrepreneurs on SBB. The goal is to share information and best practices about all things branding and marketing. It's geared toward small business. But that's a broad category, so there will be valuable content for everyone.

As soon as my posts start to go live, I'll let you know.

Check it out. We're also going to work on a site redesign so that it's easier to navigate through the multiple authors.

technorati tags > small business, branding, marketing, blog,

The typical customer

I was reading this post from Olivier and I realized that he is describing how a large percentage of the American population consumes.

There are lessons to be learned.
  1. Most of time, consumers will tire of your products/services
  2. Comfortable and safe is only tolerable for so long
  3. The products that work today probably will not tomorrow
  4. Brand loyalty is hard to generate and harder to sustain
  5. Consumers are human, not statistics.
  6. Listening is better than analyzing.
  7. The "what have you done for me lately" attitude applies to products/services as much as people.
technorati tags > branding, consumers, customers, market research, trends, product development

Live or die by documentation

For some reason the rigorous documentation practices that drive software development have not migrated to the creative space. The ability to write down your expectations, audience desires, and overall strategy is critical to ensuring success.

A lot of professional design firms that I worked with as a Fortune 500 marketing manager didn't even have a standardized project management process. This was very scary. To think that you're spending thousands if not hundreds of thousands or millions on an agency that just "wags" it scared me to death.

Trust me; I know how hard it is to get senior executives to give good direction on projects. They like to be elusive and provide vague instructions on what they want. They believe that it "empowers" their staff. For a lot of people, documentation freaks them out. They are not comfortable seeing everything on paper without any wiggle room. Most clients know that the unexpected will happen (budgets change, timelines decrease, management overhauls, etc...). When everything is written in stone, no one is sure how to handle these changes.

I've written about it before (here, here, and here). Documentation is your savior. It allows both client and agency to be on the same page concerning deliverables, strategy, timeframe, and budget. It's not fun or glamorous; but it's the #1 way to ensure that your projects meet and/or exceed all expectations. And that's the #1 driver of customer satisfaction.

technorati tags > marketing, process, collateral, project management, documentation, budget, timeframe, strategy, audience, creative brief

How to give better feedback

Another wonderful post (an oldie but a goodie) from Seth Godin via Core77.

How to give better feedback.

  1. No one cares about your opinion
  2. Say the right thing at the right time
  3. If you have something nice to say, please say it
  4. Give me feedback, no matter what
Giving good feedback is all about putting yourselves in the shoes of your audience. It's not about your personal feelings or your favorite colors or what you think your boss will like. When you approach everything from the POV of your customer (hopefully based on research) your opinions don't matter. It's what's best for your audience.

Here's a good hierarchy for reviewing marketing materials. Start at the top and answer the hard questions first.
  1. Does it meet the stated strategy?
  2. Does it succinctly convey ONE value proposition?
  3. Is it visually interesting? Does it make you stop and want to learn more?
  4. Does it meet your branding guidelines?
  5. Can it be developed within the stated budget and timeframe?
  6. Is it legally appropriate?
  7. Is it free of typos and grammar mistakes?
Notice that copy editing comes last. A lot of people want to dig right into spell checking as opposed to making sure the collateral is on target and effective. It's easy but it's not appropriate to do first. Having the ability to better review materials will increase the effectiveness of your marketing.

technorati tags > marketing, review process, strategy, seth godin, opinion, research, core77, guidelines

Creative Constraints

Johnnie Moore's post on constraints got me thinking about limits that clients naturally put on projects. It always surprises me that no one likes to talk about budgets or deadlines up front. Especially considering that those two very real constraints drive 99% of all marketing projects. After all who is going to pay an agency to work forever with no goals or defined invoice amount?

The true genius of a creative person is finding the best solution available given project constraints. It's not unreasonable to renegotiate deliverables to fit within constraints - and that goes for client expectations as well as agency desires to produce top notch materials on every engagement.

It's hard to fault a designer for wanting to do the best job possible on each and every assignment. Unfortunately the business world is one of realities more so than possibilities. The trick is doing the best job possible under the deadline and budget restrictions. That's hard for a lot of creative directors and producers to wrap their heads around. You have to make conscious design decisions that meet the project/brand goals while staying on time and budget.

As an agency, we have to set client expectations up front about what is possible within given project constraints. With margins thinning, it's a fine line to walk between customer satisfaction and agency profitability. And I don't think that's a bad thing. The days of multi-year retainer client/agency relationships are gone. I've heard a lot of mega-agency people talk about retainers as if they are an open bucket of money without defined deliverables or deadlines. In reality, retainers are just multi-project engagements under contract with one agency. You still have the same constraints as one off project work; you're just not fighting off other firms for each job.

We have to learn to embrace constraints. Use them as fuel for out-of-the-box creative thinking. Great work comes from finding unique solutions while meeting all goals (project objectives, client satisfaction, timeframe, budget, agency goals and designer expectations - probably in that order). Budget and timeframe should determine level of effort on a sliding scale. A seasoned design professional will know what is possible when they understand the constraints. After that it's a matter of aligning client & agency expectations with those constraints and everyone involved making purposeful decisions to stay on target.

technorati tags > marketing, communications, advertising, level of effort, constraints, retainer, projects, budget, deadline, project management, designer, client, agency, creative

Simple vs. Dumb

Great post from Mary Schmidt.

The summary is that "dumbing down" your marketing so that it seemingly appeals to all audiences is the wrong thing to do. That tactic will appeal to no one. On the other hand, simplifying your message so that it's easily understood and actionable is key to connecting with your customers/clients/prospects/etc...

New technology, being constantly connected, and having fewer hours in the day have created an environment where people are demanding more control over their marketing & sales exposures. You have to keep your message short, unique, value laden, and available on their terms to gain traction.

technorati tags > marketing, advertising, strategies, consumers, messaging, targeting

How to live happiliy w/ a great designer

I had to include this post from Godin... It's good enough to be considered professional development for a lot of marketing managers and company presidents.

Why do some organizations look great... and get great results from their design efforts and ads... while others languish in mediocrity? I think it has little to do with who they hire and a lot to do with how they work with their agencies and designers.

Here are the things your design team wishes you would know:

  1. If you want average (mediocre) work, ask for it. Be really clear up front that you want something beyond reproach, that's in the middle of the road, that will cause no controversy and will echo your competition. It'll save everyone a lot of time.
  2. On the other hand, if you want great work, you'll need to embrace some simple facts:
  3. It's going to offend someone. If it doesn't offend them, then it will make them nervous. The Vietnam Vets memorial offended a lot of people. The design of Google made plenty of people nervous. Great work from a design team means new work, refreshing and remarkable and bit scary.
  4. It's not going to be easy to sell to your boss. That's your job, by the way, not mine. If you want me to do something great, you've got to be prepared to protect it and defend it. Come back too many times for one little compromise, and you'll make it clear that #1 was what you wanted all along.
  5. You can't tell me you'll know it when you see it. First, you won't. Second, it wastes too much time. Instead, you'll need to have the patience to invest twenty minutes in accurately describing the strategy. That means you need to be abstract (what is this work trying to accomplish) resistant to pleasing everyone (it needs to do this, this and that) and willing, if the work meets your strategic goal, to embrace it even if it's not to your taste.
  6. Help me out by pointing out the work you'd like this to be on a peer with. If you want a website to be like three others (in tone, not in execution) then point it out. In advance.
  7. Be clear about dates and costs. Not what you hope for, but what you can live with!
  8. You don't know a lot about accounting so you don't backseat drive your accountant. You hired a great designer, please don't backseat drive here, either.
  9. If you want to be part of the process, please go to school. Read design magazines or take a course from Milton Glaser or get a subscription to Before & After. By the way, that one link is the single best part of this post.
  10. This one may surprise you: don't change your existing design so often. Not when your kids or your colleagues tell you it's time. Do it when your accountant says so.
  11. Don't get stressed about your logo.
  12. Get very stressed about user interface and product design. And your packaging.
  13. Say thank you.
What I like about this is that he's not talking about an artist, he's talking about a designer. There is a difference. Because the marketing communications & advertising industry has done a poor job of aligning itself with business, a lot of of business people still think of designers as artists. Designers are really just communication specialists. They are trained to find the simplest, most effective way to get your unique message out to your unique audience. They are simply proficient at another part of business. There's no mystery to the creative process, but it may seem that way when people don't follow Seth's advice above.

technorati tags > graphic designer, marketing, relationship, management, professional, development, performance

Q1 Online Ad Spend Up 46%, MySpace Gets 17% of June Ads · MarketingVOX

Q1 Online Ad Spend Up 46%, MySpace Gets 17% of June Ads · MarketingVOX

Interesting fact; Yahoo Mail & MySpace account for over 50% of ALL online advertising clicks. That's amazing.

technorati tags > online, advertising, myspace, yahoo, spending, budget, increase

Brand Autopsy: Creationist WOM Eggs-ample

Brand Autopsy: Creationist WOM Eggs-ample

John Moore is right on. I'm not sure what made CBS thinking that advertising on eggshells made sense for their brand, but they're trying it anyway. Just because it's technically feasible to put a message on a substrate doesn't mean it's appropriate for your company's image. WaffleHouse maybe, but CBS? I'm all for trying new things, but you have to stay in alignment w/ your business.

technorati tags > word of mouth, marketing, advertising, eggs

Don't squeeze the Charmin

Great post from Olivier Blanchard on Charmin's latest ad in the UK - there's even a blog to go along.

It took me a little while to catch on, but it's pretty clever. Great job on getting people to talk about toilet paper of all things. If TP can be viral, anything can!

technorati tags > advertising, viral, toilet, paper, UK, branding, blog

Are blogs in your corporate strategy?

Still think the blogosphere is just for early adopter fringe web users?

Think again. Check out some of the stats in this article.
  • YouTube traffic doubles monthly
  • MySpace is bigger than Yahoo
  • Blogs can drive explosive growth or outrage
  • Revolutionize customer service programs
  • Senior citizens are the fastest growing blog population
User generated content or free for all communication; call it what you like but blogging and social media networks have really grown into their own over the last 12 months. Companies are launching new 3o second commercials solely on YouTube instead of paying $$ for network airtime. Fortune 5oo companies use MySpace to launch products to highly influential young adults w/ billions of dollars of purchasing power.

When a customer is happy enough or mad enough to talk about your product or service you should pay attention. In fact, you should encourage the conversation. That's what web 2.0 is all about. The tables are turned and if you're not taking the lead you will be left behind. Your audience is too savvy. They demand control over their experience with your brand and the ability to speak out about it - good and bad.

You cannot control your brand. You can only hope to guide it's direction by knowing who you are, who your customers are, what they want, and who you want to be to them. If you think the world is small; the gap from CEO to customer is tiny. You don't need a million dollar research program; just start a blog and pay attention.

The truth is that they're already talking. They always have been. Read more...

technorati tags > blog, social, networks, media, youtube, myspace, marketing, advertising, customer, branding, web 2.0

Everything a marketer needs to know...

Advertising & Corporate Strategy

Check out this great campaign from Carmichael Lynch. It was commissioned by the AAF to educate CEO's on the powerful cultural impact iconic brands possess. Their research showed that many CEO's undervalue advertising contribution to corporate strategy.

technorati tags > advertising, carmichael lynch, aaf, ceo, corporate, strategy, branding, iconic

It's official! Apple overtakes Microsoft

Battle of the brands and walletshare...

As Bill Gates prepares to exit the company he founded, Microsoft finds itself dumped from the US's favourite brands... by, of all, people, Apple! Sony was ranked the best brand in the US for the seventh year in a row, according to Harris Interactive.

read more | digg story

technorati tags > apple, microsoft, sony, hp, branding, US top brands, harris interactive

Branding 2.0

Here's a quick tutorial of some of the web 2.0 sites that are driving viral & social networks.

Branding 2.0 - Mashable

technorati tags > branding, web 2.0, youtube, myspace, ask a ninja, social networks

Brand vs. ROI

Great article from Jim Lenskold. The gist of it is that long term branding activities should not be in a death match for budget dollars against short term marketing projects that generate a measureable ROI. They should be complimentary. You may not be able to pin-point exactly which branding initative contributed directly to quarterly sales, but branding has long term impacts on pricing, stock value, and strategic direction.

If you only focus on short term project-led ROI, you miss out on big picture industry-shaping strategic activities that lead to future sales growth. If you're not tracking either; you should and need to be able to prove a positive return on your daily activities. If not, how do you expect C-level execs to continue funding? Not to mention, you'll never have a true seat at the table for strategic discussions.

It's funny that I was just talking about this the other day as well. The point is that what gets measured improves. You can track long term strategic goals like preference, attitude, and profitability; as well as short term goals like purchases from online ads, direct marketing response rates, and event marketing.

Done well, all short term activities feed and strengthen your long term strategic goals. You can build brand while making sales - as long as you are truly working with your customer's best interests/desires in mind.

technorati tags > branding, marketing, ROI, investment, strategy, metrics, measurement

Sony steps in it

Sony's just released and pulled ad (more) in Amsterdam is over the top. I'm sure they thought they would create a little free PR; but the overtly racial overtones are too much.

Here's what Sony says:
"All of the 100 or so images created for the campaign have been designed to show this contrast in colours of the PSPs , and have no other message or purpose."
I'm sure a little testing would have served TBWA well in this case. Either way, this ad should have never made it out the door. They are getting attention, is it worth it? I'm not saying go back to boring product shots, but this crosses the line IMO.

technorati tags > advertising, sony, psp, bad taste, racist, tbwa

KFC is pushing it...

Geez, I can't believe that someone is going to fall for this. Or better yet, pay an agency to come up with it.

More comments

technorati tags > icon, logo, KFC, YUM, branding, rebrand, strategy, advertising

Marketing measurements

Naras Eechambadi has a great article on making your marketing measurements count on It's hard to pinpoint which specific activity persuaded a prospect to turn into a customer. It's even tougher considering that industry best practice dictates at least seven touches need to be made before a prospect recognizes your brand. It's difficult to fully understand where your budget dollars go the farthest. This doesn't even touch the sticky mess that is short term ROI versus long term shareholder value.

Too many companies think that installing Siebel or will automatically make all sales & marketing activities measurable. Anyone in the midst of a CRM roll-out knows that the devil is in the details. How clean is your customer database, are there duplicate database field names in disparate legacy systems, where did the inside sales team get their pre-show mailing list? There are too many questions to wrap your head around.

But you have to start somewhere. Start by mapping out what actions you want to take to be able to improve your business. Make the data available to base decisions on that inform those actions. Transparency and accountability are crucial elements required for success. And always keeping moving forward towards your end goal. Just remember, that which is tracked improves.

Here's the best quote from the article:
An honest diagnosis of current capabilities and an assessment of how suited they are to future strategy is a crucial step in improving marketing performance. Ensure that the organization is properly aligned to strategy and to the processes that are essential to execution. Develop the right processes and make sure people are trained on these processes. Align the incentives for all of the people involved in planning and executing campaigns.
technorati tags > marketing, CMO, measurement, ROI, CRM, programs, effectiveness, strategy

The 25 Greatest Calvin & Hobbes Comic Strips

I just had to include this. Calvin & Hobbes ran from 1985 to 1995. They are my favorite comic - by far. Bill Watterson drew thousands of strips, and while I wish that he would come back and draw more, it's probably best to reflect and be thankful for what he's done. Below we have showcased, in no particular order, some of our favorite Calvin & Hobbes strips of all time.

read more | digg story

So, what's this going to cost?

In my opinion, one of the most consistent hot-button issues when working w/ vendors is price. I've personally seen it more times than I care to think about in my life on both sides of the marketing communications table. I've asked the question to dozens of firms and I've answered the question from dozens of clients. So believe me, neither side has it easy.

As the client, you're struggling between "good enough" and "best available". You (and your customers) want best available, while the finance guys like good enough. Seth Godin talks about it here. You get this feeling deep in the pit of your stomach as you're watching the agency go through their pitch. You just know that they would work hard for you. You know they would bring all of their world-class expertise to bear on your project. You're thinking, "they know the industry, they know my business, we get along and their work is top notch". It's exactly what you're looking for. But you have a feeling they're going to be outside of your budget or at least outside of your idea of what their services should cost. You hate to bring it up because you know that budget shouldn't be the ultimate deciding factor on what solves your problem or need. Sure there are cheaper firms out there, but these guys have it all and they're right here in front of you.

From the agency side, you can see it in their eyes. During the discussion and demo the client's eyes light up. They ask the right questions. They understand what you're about. But there's a hesistation, a slight glint of uncertainty. You know that sooner or later you're going to get the price question. Charging by the hour isn't really an option because clients demand to know at least of range of prices to consider before signing the dotted line. Charging by the project, or value pricing, is a strange magical mix of time, hourly rate to cover overhead, and some profit padding. Either way you sense there is going to be sticker shock.

In my experience, this scenario happens most often when agencies are presenting to budget spenders not budget deciders. Budget spenders are only worried about their bucket of money being spent efficiently. Solving greater business concerns are typically a secondary requirement otherwise known as "nice to have". If you're on the client side and this firm provides the solution you need, then move them up the chain if you cannot make or justify the decision yourself. Become their biggest proponent. Get them in front of the true budget decider. She/he can find the money required to solve problems. Your foresight and problem-solving abilities will be recognized and rewarded. Unless you truly do not have the money available, price is rarely a reason not to buy.

Back to the agencies; if you cannot get past the price question, one of two things is happening. You're either not working with the right people (budget deciders versus spenders) or you're not providing enough value to the clients and the price objection is an easy way to say no and move on to another agency with better relationships and/or better offerings and value.

technorati tags > price, client, agency, marketing, communication, budget, seth godin, vendors, value

New Look & Feel

It didn't take long to tire of the standard Blogger templates; so I'm trying out a new look & feel.

I'm still tweaking the final design, but let me know what you think so far.

technorati tags > new design, blog, blogger, templates, opinions

Market Trends

Companies that ride economic trends grow more rapidly than companies that rest of their laurels. Pretty obvious, but without good trend data it's hard to know where to point your business strategically. Here are McKinsey's ten trends in 2006 that will shape 2015:
  1. Centers of economic activity will shift profoundly, not just globally, but also regionally.
  2. Public-sector activities will balloon, making productivity gains essential.
  3. The consumer landscape will change and expand significantly.
  4. Technological connectivity will transform the way people live and interact.
  5. The battlefield for talent will shift.
  6. The role and behavior of big business will come under increasingly sharp scrutiny.
  7. Demand for natural resources will grow, as will the strain on the environment.
  8. New global industry structures are emerging.
  9. Management will go from art to science.
  10. Ubiquitous access to information is changing the economics of knowledge.
If you're on the business battlefield now, there's not doubt you're living a lot of these. So while these may not seem revolutionary; the real question is how are you evolving your long term strat plan (5-7 years out) to account for these trends? Your short term plan (1 year out) should be able to flex enough to allow for changes to make you more competitive.

Unfortunately a lot of marketing teams are not a core part of the corporate strategy sessions that define business direction. If that's the case you have to step it up. You're not bringing enough value to the table. No one should know more about customer desires and how to address them properly than the sales & marketing team. Over time a data-driven process that keeps you riding current trends instead of fighting them will get you a seat at the table. Drive it and you will succeed.

technorati tags > market, trends, research, mckinsey, strategy, strategic plan, business,

Very cool news aggregator

I told myself that I'd only blog on M-W-F, but I keep finding these cool little sites and posts that I want to pass on. So, check out

It aggregates headlines from GoogleNews. The use of multi-variant data to display news category (world, technology, health), most popular story, geography, and date works really well. You can sort by "squarified" or standard layout to change the view to your preference.

I think it's great to show what a different point of view can do. Same data, completely different presentation layer.

technorati tags > google news, map, data, presentation, visual, news map

Strategy by Design

I had to provide this article from Tim Brown. Tim is the President & CEO of IDEO, one of the largest and most respected design firms on the planet (think Leap chair, Palm V, Apple’s mouse, standup Crest toothpaste, HP industrial design, etc…). Tim breaks down five points to develop and execute your strategy by thinking like a designer. The summary is that design thinking can help everyone from the executive team, employees and customers better understand your vision and unique value prop. This is accomplished by translating strategic concepts and ideas into visual realities. It’s about storytelling. It’s about evolution, simplicity and consistency.

I believe that a business must innovate and communicate better than the competition in order to grow. And who does innovation and communication better than designers? It’s their God-given gifts to the world. Unfortunately the design community has done a poor job of aligning themselves with the business community. And because of that, a lot of executives will read this and think “artist”. But not the smart ones.

Article courtesy of FastCompany

technorati tags > strategy, design, IDEO, Fast Company, innovation, communication, talent, skills

Great TV Spot

I had to pass on one of the coolest commercials to come out in a while. It's getting a ton of buzz right now...

Video link

W+K & PSYOP hit a home run w/ this one. And don't forget to check out the new logo/tag at the end. I like it. Retro and classic with a modern twist.

technorati tags > coke, weiden kennedy, psyop, TV, commercials, viral, coca-cola

You get what you pay for

Doesn’t your business deserve the best talent? Here’s a great post from new marketing guru Seth Godin discussing what investments will pay off. If your people (or their direct work product) are a key differentiator for your business, you want the best talent possible.

Notice I didn’t say the best you can afford. 99% of the time the old adage rings true, you get what you pay for. If you are only willing to spend pennies, expect little to no short-term return. Experience is expensive. Scar tissue is expensive. It’s also the best way to fuel explosive growth. If your business is so process driven that you can afford junior people, then great, but now you’re in the commodity widget business and I’ll bet you compete on price. If you compete on value, your currency is talent and skills. One is taught and the other is a birthright. The right people on the right job make a quantifiable difference. Check out Buckingham’s book on getting the most from the people you have and becoming a better manager.

technorati tags > seth godin, talent, skills, employees, salary, marcus buckingham, ROI, experience

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