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More about trusting your graphic designer

by Kelly Hobkirk

What makes trusting the work of a graphic designer so darned hard is the very nature of the work they do, which often must counter what management thinks ought to be done if it’s to be effective. The graphic designer brings the needed objectivity often lacking at the management level of businesses (large and small alike) to make your marketing communications work.

Trust the objectivity, work together on strategy, and you get inspired creative that fuels great marketing communications.

How do graphic designers gain your trust? Listening is key, but so too is aligning themselves with employers or clients who give them the freedom them to do outstanding work. And as much as it chaps upper management’s hide, good graphic designers have to maintain outside objectivity. That means they can’t be squished to fit the corporate cookie-cutter, which often makes your graphic designer stand out like the rogue entity they are.

That’s why you hire a graphic designer. We know how to stand out. We bring originality to your marketing and objectivity to your team. Graphic designers help you gain the long-term trust and loyalty of prospective customers. Sound appealing?

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • June 6, 2012 • Tags:

How to trust your graphic designer

by Kelly Hobkirk

Ever notice how all nearly businesses have either an in-house graphic designer or they work with a freelance designer or design firm? So you recognize the necessity. It’s not a big leap to extend your trust in the same way you do to other critical team members.

Since graphic designers and copywriters are typically not board-certified (there is no such thing in the industry), clients and some bosses look down on them, telling them what to do and how to do it, often without regard for how their (micro) management may negatively effect the outcomes.

The truth is graphic designers (and copywriters too) are just as critical to product or business success as salespeople, attorneys and accountants. Graphic designers are a critical cog in the team.

Consider how your advertising, interactive and marketing communications might suffer if the warehouseman or sales team did them. If the thought scares you, place your trust in your graphic design professional.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • June 4, 2012 • Tags:

Great graphic designers challenge you

by Kelly Hobkirk

Great graphic designers challenge their clients. They work with them too of course, but graphic design that fails to challenge the client also fails to engage it’s target. Great graphic design upends the cart, and makes you uncomfortable. You don’t hire a graphic designer to bore you or keep you yawningly safe, do you?

When graphic designers deliver strategy-driven design concepts that make you uncomfortable, realize that the more uncomfortable you are, the more likely you are looking at either a business-winning design or an absolutely abhorrent amateur hack job. As a seasoned businessperson, you can probably tell the difference. It’s the stuff in between, the designs that bore you, that you should really be concerned about.

How will you know if the design is boring? Simple, you will experience neither nervousness nor that excited feeling you get at the moment of a great success.

If your graphic designer works to keep you comfortable, they’re not doing their job. And if you micro-manage your graphic designer, know that you will not get the results you want (unless your ideal result is mediocrity). BTW: This applies to web design, advertising and brand development too.

In my experience, clients who accept the challenge and push gently back or collaborate to develop stronger concepts are clients who encounter the greatest market success. They tend to enjoy their designer relationship more to boot because we develop mutual respect and admiration.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • June 1, 2012 • Tags: ,

Hire great people and let them do their thing

by Kelly Hobkirk

David Ogilvy once said, “Why have a dog and bark yourself?” I love this question.

Think about it. Do you tell your surgeon or dentist how to perform her work? Do you tell the chef how to prepare the meal? How about your attorney—Do you tell him the law precedents? Or do you let them do their jobs, so they can deliver their best work?

One of my clients shared with me how he manages his employees: “I hire great people, then I let them do their thing.” That’s smart strategy.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • • Tags: ,

Why tie your company Facebook page to your personal account?

by Kelly Hobkirk

A common client question: can I create a company Facebook page without tying it to my personal Facebook account?

The answer is, yes, you can create an independent Facebook company page, but why would you want to?

Detractors from creating a company Facebook page without having it tied to your personal Facebook account:
• Facebook is fundamentally about connecting people. An independent company page will not connect people. In fact, it places a virtual wall between you and the people who ‘Like’ you and your company.

• A company Facebook page will not garner as much trust when it is not connected to a person, undermining one of the primary benefits of Facebook. Think about it, when you ‘Like’ something on Facebook, you endorse it, believe in it. With your company page, you are asking people to do the same thing. Ultimately, you want their trust. Thing is, people don’t trust companies. People trust people.

• You can’t create applications or connect to them. What if your company Facebook page needs to connect people to a third-party application or website? No can do if it’s not connected to your personal Facebook account.

The bottom line is this: If you want people to trust your company on Facebook, Facebook needs to know they can trust you. They do that by being connected to you and your company. They’re keeping it personal, and they are asking you to do the same.

Linking your personal Facebook page to your company Facebook page is a strategically sound approach for everyone. If you need a frame of reference, just think about how consumers have developed contempt for large corporations who failed to earn their trust by marketing false claims for decades. This approach keeps each person and company accountable for the claims they make, the offers they promote, and the connections they forge.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • May 30, 2012 • Tags:

Are you making strategic commitments?

by Kelly Hobkirk

Countless times, I’ve listened to owners and managers back away from that critical point at which they must begin making strategic commitments. It’s usually when they reach that point of discovery in their project which reveals to them that insisting on skipping strategy was a critical mistake, leaving a gaping hole in their creative marketing efforts.

This happened about a month ago when a client sidestepped all of our strategy questions, instead pointing us to a brand style guide for a yet-to-be-launched brand. I should have red-flagged the project as soon as the sidestepping began, but always the optimist, I kept the project moving forward by filling in the style guide’s holes.

I’ve become quite skilled at quickly routing out the weak points and shoring them up for clients, but there can be some initial backpedaling, where the client feels out of control. What they sometimes don’t realize is that out of control feeling is the best thing that could possibly happen at that moment because it forces us to address important issues before moving productively forward. It also lays groundwork for a smoother process next time. For their part, answering strategy questions, and for our part red-flagging instead of moving forward.

It’s beneficial to understand that forcing a team member to skip a critical step such as strategy is a mistake that undermines team connection, messaging consistency and creative. (Strategy reinforces marketing’s three C’s.)

The resulting clarity of direction is often profound, opening the door to project success.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • • Tags: ,

Start with strategy

by Kelly Hobkirk

Knowing what you want isn’t always black and white. If you start out in a grey zone, not knowing the specific end-goal, then add strategy, you will often wind up in no man’s land.

If you skip strategy, moving straight to initiatives, you start out in no man’s land, which is even worse because at the end you will discover that you have nothing useful. Creative that is lacking a strategic foundation is simply art.

If you begin with a specific goal, devise a solid strategy, then get creative with graphic design, art direction and copywriting, the end-product (website/brand/design/ad campaign), will meet your goals and staff will get behind the effort. Everybody wins.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • May 28, 2012 • Tags:

What is Brand Positioning?

by Kelly Hobkirk

Brand positioning is one of the single most important steps any business can take on the road to success. Yet, brand positioning is perhaps the most shunned part of branding that exists, especially for small businesses who understand the value of positioning only after the results of the effort are in. That means their motivation for the work itself is often low because they would rather be tending to the hundreds of other tasks calling for their attention.

I’ve found that clients often expect to see visuals at every stage of brand development, yet in positioning and strategy, there frequently are no visuals (or only those of your competitors), only text. Pointed text, valuable text, but still just text.

It’s easy to just say, ‘This is our position,’ or, ‘This is where we want to be, so we will be there,’ but the problem is if there is already someone there who is bigger, better, or far more financially endowed, you may need to shift positions. Brand positioning reveals that.

Positioning can be tough because it can reveal that your golden egg is perhaps a little more on the bronze side. More often, brand positioning is an empowering exercise in clearly defining your niche.

We all like to believe that our ideas are completely original, and often times they are. But – and this is a big but – sometimes original ideas are not so original, without you knowing it. In positioning, you gain valuable insight into who will be your true competition.

Brand positioning brings to light the viability of your product or service. It can also show alternate paths, and even reveal new opportunities.

Brand Positioning is a difficult task which can rarely be completed by one person alone. Good brand positioning is a question and answer proposition, requiring hours and days of intense research, along with a ton of true objectivity. I usually create a team of designer and client who work together.

Combined with brand strategy, positioning is a potent step in brand development. Brand positioning and strategy will provide you with a clear direction and a wide-angle view of the future for your marketing. It will also give your graphic designer exactly what they need to be able to design your corporate or brand identity with purpose and meaning.

Brand positioning clearly defines the following crucial things, before you invest time, money, hopes, and energy in realizing your vision:

Determine originality
Is your idea unique? You may think it is, but now is the time to do some intensive research to discover whether or not other companies are marketing the same product or service.

Establish your unique position in your chosen market
If your product is totally unique, you may have hit a home run. If there are other products just like it, you may have to position yours as being different in one important way, which can capture the attention of your audience, and can garner enough sales to justify the effort.

Identify competitors
Everyone has competition. Everyone. I once had a boss who liked to tell his employees that the company had no competition. He wanted them to think only about their own success. There is wisdom in that approach, because it can help people focus, however, a strong competitor is a valuable asset. It gives you a peer, a potential equal whom you can rise above, or set incremental goals against, to capture a market. All great athletes have competitors. Businesses do too.

Determine required budget to compete
Do you have the needed budget? You may have the drive and determination, but if a larger competitor has the marketing budget to outgun you at every crucial step, you are going to need to change your strategy, and you may need to consider a different position in the market.

Brand positioning is often a hard process. When you’re excited about getting your business started or launching a new brand, objectivity is usually the one key ingredient most people lack, and often in a big way. I highly recommend pairing with a brand consultant or graphic designer who truly understands branding.

At the end of the process, you should have a brand position summary that clearly states your market position, and can guide your product development, brand development, and marketing planning.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • May 26, 2012 • Tags: ,,

Launching our new website

by Kelly Hobkirk

It seems the longest project is always your own. We are finally launching our new website, which we’ve been working on for a while now. A long while in fact. So long, it’s hard to think of it as the same project we began in 2010. (2010!) Yet, the site’s design and vision remains largely the same, and happily, it’s just as contemporary and true to our brand now as it was then.

We had four objectives for the site:
1. Create a site true to our brand vision, voice and actions.
2. Showcase our philosophy, breadth of services and depth of our work, so clients and prospects really understand what we do.
3. Create valuable editorial content for people seeking knowledge of graphic design, branding, and marketing.
4. Build the site on the same WordPress CMS we use for most client websites, so we can regularly show our latest work and share our experience with ease.

We’ve handily accomplished all of these goals and even learned some things along the way.

A worthwhile effort
I’ve found that with graphic design, brand development and websites, business owners and marketing managers frequently have a hard time articulating their vision until they get inspired by visuals. So our site new site is focused on giving a good gander at large visuals that bring greater perspective to the depth of the work, each accompanied by project background info and a list of skills we tapped.

We’ve also described our services in depth, using simple terms that won’t boggle your mind with technical jargon, yet give you a good feeling for how we might help you communicate your value to the peeps who need to know (your target market).

I’ve been writing branding and marketing blogs for a few years. I ghost write on some blogs too. I wanted to include a blog on Train of Thought only if it was a value-add for clients and visitors. (Don’t you just hate blogs with entry after entry that are little more than advertisements?) Our blog is content-rich, with posts designed to educate and hopefully entertain a little along the way.

The result, we believe (and hope), is a valuable site for startups, seasoned business folk, clients, and even for tire-kickers who hope to learn something along the way.

The show had to go on
In between designing the site and programming it, we had to perform for our clients. In fact, client work always takes precedence over our own, so the Train of Thought site was put on hold each time the firm’s work schedule reached maximum capacity. This happened at least eight times! Which is good because it means we do our job well, and clients like us. And it’s also bad because it meant we had to put off launching the fruits of our labor for longer than we’d like.

Hundreds of hours have gone into planning, optimizing graphics and programming the pages of our new website. The copywriting was completed in our usual manner (rocket-fast). Look for an upcoming post where guessing how long it took to write this website’s text could win you something [probably] better than a fruitcake.

Launching our new website
We have finally completed this protracted cheerful chore of birthing (launching) our brand spankin’ new website. It’s been a nostalgic trip through our work archives. I’ve found the act of pouring over the portfolio to be quite reaffirming, underscoring the on-brand text written in the services pages, while highlighting the depth of our work.

We hope you find our new website to be of value, and that you might tell your business-inclined friends, business owners, startups, lovers, and otherwise marketing needful mates about it too.

Thank you for reading, perusing, or even lounging about. Give us a shout if you have questions, comments or burning desires.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • May 15, 2012 • Tags: ,,,

Branding in 5 minutes a day

by Kelly Hobkirk

Do you think it’s possible to brand yourself? Can you do it every day? Of course you can. Branding is about being true. Nothing more, nothing less.

Can you be true every day, for just five minutes? Think what you can do.

Pick a 5-minute window in your day, schedule it in your calendar, and write down one new thought each day about your brand, customers, prospects, products, employees, yourself, advertising, website, messaging or any component of your company that touches your brand.

Keep your thoughts together in a notebook. When it comes time to review your brand, perform a brand audit, or rebrand, you will have a valuable compendium of thoughts about your brand right there at your fingertips.

You can use your 5-minute brand thoughts to reaffirm your motivation, share it with your branding firm, teach your employees, or even to fuel your ad messaging.

Your daily thoughts don’t need to be earth-shattering, new or profound. All they need to be is true.

Have you got 5 minutes? That’s all it takes.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • April 15, 2012 • Tags: