Saturday, August 21, 2010

Look who's talking

Digital Activation and Social Media
One of my favourite client presentation moments occurred this year during a session where I was promoting the benefits of social media for business gain. After stating that digital was one of the battlegrounds with their competitors that they needed to own, the client casually remarked they already had a twitter and a facebook page. 'Great ... is it working? Are you engaging with consumers? Are you measuring the impact?' I replied, to which I received a few casual headshrugs and a paper aeroplane.

If you build it, they will not come
This illustrated one of the common misperceptions of digital activation. You can't just put up a website with a few social media channels and expect people to automatically find it. There has to be a breadcrumb trail that leads to a gingerbread house of rewards, minus the witch of course. Integral to the success of any social media channels then is a well-constructed launch strategy. Be it teasers, count-downs, microsites, dollars thrown into the street or free balloons ... generating buzz before the reveal is half the battle. But I'm jumping the gun ... before you even get here, you need to ask 'do I really need social media?'

Strategic Alignment
My Managing Director has a simple technique to test the solutions we develop in the creative studio. He responds to everything with a 'So what?'. Sounds horrible ... but it's amazingly effective. What's the reason for recommending social media to a client? Does it align with their business goals? Some reasons that may resonate with clients typically include:
• Crowdsourcing ideas (think Dell's IdeaStorm and Starbucks My Idea)
• Increased visibility with a younger crowd
• Improved market relevance (typically as part of a brand refresh)
• Consumer behavior analysis
• Promoted perception of business transparency
• Real-time customer service (think Zappos)
• Brand dialogue channels
• Location based monitoring
• And more ...

Social media by itself is not an answer. It is, however, a powerful compliment to your primary marketing and branding activities.

So your client agrees that they need to build a social media presence. Now comes the really hard part; even when people find your brand online ... the challenge is giving them a reason to stay. Unless you're a hacker and able to trap them with multiple pop-ups and fraudulent redirection tactics (generally not encouraged), brands need to provide consumer incentives to promote return visits and advocacy to others.

In the 2009 Razorfish Feed Report they conducted a study on the primary reasons consumers follow a brand online. The main results were:
• 43.5% exclusive deals or offers
• 23.5% current customers
• 22.7% interesting or entertaining content

Brands that are successfully leveraging social media for business gain like Starbucks and Dell have tapped into consumers incentives. The appeal of a location based service like FourSquare is that brands are able to reward loyal customers with special offers and an increased personal profile. I just recently had a colleague excitedly show me her new 'Crunked' badge with pride. I mean, who doesn't want to be the mayor of ... well, anywhere.

I love stats. So much I'm expecting an intervention from colleagues soon 'Quick! Hold him down! He's trying to measure our time spent on facebook during work hours! Get that graph off him!'. It was discussing monitoring of brand sentiment that resulted in the client presentation story I promised earlier:

'Has everyone seen the Superman movies? (a few positive nods). Well, do you remember when Louis Lane has been kidnapped and Superman flies up above the earth and listens to every conversation in the world for a single mention of her name? (more nods). Imagine we could do the same and listen in to every conversation that mentions your brand, see who is speaking, see what they're saying and even zoom down to talk to them. Well, we can. Here's how ...'

Someone then asked if flying was involved, but unfortunately I couldn't promise anything beyond a flying fox. Tight fitting costumes aside, the other reason I love metrics is because it's relatively easy to measure the short term impact of social media activities. You can assess whether you're increasing your follower count, flag popular and contagious content, assess shared/retweeted posts and count increases in consumer conversations.

More advanced tools also allow you to check not only your brand's online reputation but more real-time behavior:
• brand sentiment (are people talking about your brand positively and negatively)
• influencer identification (when these people speak, the crowd listens)
• content tagging and flagging (what are the most common keywords used in association with your brand)
• demographic information (age, gender, location, referral data, bounce rates, visit times and more are often available)

With so many free tools available, there's really no reason not be participating on even an intermediate level.

Time is not on your side
I've heard a few clients say 'Yeah, we will get to that, it's in next years activity list'. But the reality is that to stay market relevant you need to catch the wave and ride it, not surf in flat water behind it. Plus, that's typically where the sharks wait. The typical long term development of a brand is a debating point but I'm more and more convinced that brands need to update every 2-3 years. The outdated concept of building a 5-10 year lifespan is dead and buried. The market changes so quickly that to avoid regular brand evolution is to fall behind. Whilst a brand's core positioning may stay the same, successful companies like Nike and Apple have proven that it's best to outdate yourself before the competition catches up.

Digital brand experiences can create some of your most powerful brand advocates. If you're not playing in the space now, it's time to change.

Christian Teniswood

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Welcome To The Hotel California

Whilst stretched out on a beachchair at the Intercontinental in Bali I started thinking what created such an amazing experience (cocktail buzz aside). Starting with a great location overlooking a beautiful beach might be a bit obvious but as a business, what does a hotel resort need to deliver in order to create advocates and repeat customers?

I thought I can’t do better than write this whilst still immersed in the experience (a proud red tan in development) and I ended up distilling the experience down into four key values a hotel/resort needs to deliver for brand growth and consumer advocacy :

It doesn’t matter whether you promise unlimited alcohol and luxury backrubs (although I’m interested and willing to review your offer in person) … customer service has been and remains the key to service orientated success. You could do everything else right but if your staff go the extra mile with a genuine smile and respect for the consumer, people will recommend you and your brand reputation will grow. It also reminds me this is also a two way street. My friend is a consultant for the hospitality industry and she has a simple motto ‘Happy staff mean happy customers’*. We all recognize a plastic fantastic fake smile, so a great manager will make sure their team are relaxed and enjoying their time as well.

The Les Suites Taipei Da-an in Taiwan is a boutique hotel I stayed at that sticks in my mind because the staff and concierge service was exceptionally good. I remember the hotel room less than I remember the front desk recommending great places to eat, organizing taxis, booking me a haircut and providing tips where to shop (‘don’t go there, that’s for ignorant tourists … locals go here’). The staff were the primary brand touchpoint and when they’re this good, customers will spread the word.

The Mandarin Oriental in the Philippines also has this category nailed. I don’t know how the staff all remember my name with my infrequent visits, but being greeted like a friend immediately takes the edge off a long business flight over. A little ego pampering goes an amazingly long way to making you feel special and welcome. It’s essentially the rockstar effect … walking into a room and having everyone cheer you have arrived.

Touching the senses can be both a value and an activation channel. Lying on the beach perpetrating a tan (I won’t sing the rest) with blue waves crashing in front of me, it’s hard to imagine how to add further value around the experience without over or under delivering. The key is complimentary and authentic touches.

The pineapple cocktail delivered in a real pineapple gets the thumbs up (I’ll take another, thanks), the beach chairs all with fresh towels, the beautiful crafted menus with real wood covers and the soft background music that I can’t work out where it is coming from all made what is essentially a simple ritual much more pleasurable.

Disruption needs to be avoided at all costs. Earlier on a worker started chainsawing a tree in the middle of the quiet Sunday afternoon. From the look on some of the hotel residences faces, I thought someone might go a little texas chainsaw on him themselves. Keeping peace and serenity is what people pay for … so scheduling non essential repairs and cleaning during off-peak hours would be a smart business decision.

Authenticity falls into this category as well … tapping into positive country or city associations can make your brand stronger and distinctive, whilst remaining true to core values in the case of chains and franchises across markets. The Intercontinental in Bali has distinctively Balinese furniture, food, interiors and design touches across most of its rooms and restaurants. It still retains the business orientated professionalism that is associated with it in all markets however.

In Japan, I spent a night in a capsule hotel for similar reasons … it was authentically Japanese. Sure, I wouldn’t recommend staying there a week but one night feeling like an astronaut in an escape capsule (with a tiny tv screen showing gameshows on repeat) was a culturally unique and sensorial experience. Remember to give consumers a good brand story they can share with their peers and associates.

In unfamiliar environments, consumers want to feel safe and secure. Many business travelers travel alone and know that staying locked up rapunzel style in your room does tend to grind after a while, even with great room service cheeseburgers and 24 hour sports channels. Getting out and seeing more than your fancy bathroom becomes a necessity.

Most unfamiliar destinations do pose the need to be a little bit careful though, especially if that includes a tour of a few bars and clubs where you plan to unleash some dance moves on unsuspecting locals. In these instances, it’s much more assuring when the hotel concierge can organize a car to and from your destination, or have the driver drop you there and give you a number to call once you’ve run out of witty conversation at the bar … ‘Is your dad a baker?’. Oops, time to go.

It’s also nice to know that when you’ve been forgetful of putting valuables in the room safe, your credit card is still in the same place once you get back. Common sense suggests you don’t want to test that theory too often of course, as you’ll eventually find someone who takes a trip to Paris at your expense without inviting you along.

Security can also be delivered at online touchpoints. Secure websites and competent online booking features are a must. I particularly dislike being re-directed to a booking site rather than remaining within a hotel website that can show real-time availability, flexible and credit card secure booking and social media links to demonstrate transparency and open up communication. Delivering safety at all times is a difficult proposition but one that is worth the effort. Communicating a brand promise of safety, security and assurance and then delivering it are the moments that build long term trust with the brand.

I stayed in the JIA Hotel in Hong Kong recently and casually twittered about it ‘Nice Philippe Stark interiors at JIA Hotel in HK #hotel’ once I got back to Singapore. Within five minutes of posting, I got a direct response from JIA asking how my stay was and if they could improve anything for a return visit. I was actually surprised by the immediacy of their monitoring and looked over my shoulder to check I hadn’t been followed. Then I thought how good this was. On a public forum they individually addressed me and were able to demonstrate high level customer service even after my stay was over.

It made a fan out of me to know I was being given the chance to say good or bad things about their brand in a completely open and contagious environment. This type of transparency is what social media is all about. It was a great brand building exercise not only to me but to other passive watchers. I had just become a brand advocate without any active intention. The opportunity I felt they missed though was to offer an exclusive deal for participating in the conversation (eg a price reduction or value added service like inclusive of breakfast for a repeat customer is an easy to deliver incentive).

Summary S
Communicating and delivering these four values is integral to create a positive consumer experience that will promote great reviews and recommendations both online and off for a hotel or resort brand. From a brand strategy perspective, the main challenge is not promising these aspects … it’s ensuring they are delivered to consumers. This doesn’t have to be just at the front desk either, JIA’s use of social media (as mentioned above) demonstrates how the brand experience can continue even after check-out.

In this category, it’s not what you say, it’s what to do.

Christian Teniswood • Design Director • FutureBrand

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

How's things?

Paul: 'Hey Christian, how's things?'

Christian: 'How's things? Its pitches and tenders and proposals and alcohol and more pitches and pitchers of beer and more tenders and tender points and massages and it's 3am and love this song and when can we see it and revenue streams and dreams of streams and resorts and trains, planes and taxis and cold grey airports and colourful creative executions and more concepts please and lets see it in blue and strategic alignment and graphs, charts, wheels and methodologies and processes and four step approaches and dancefloor moves and franchise models and art directing models and social media communities and updating statuses and best practices and wow that's inspiring and digital capabilities and buzz generation techniques and online traffic and offline waking up late and getting home late and this is my life.'

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Brand provocation, next generation, authenticity, collaboration

How do you contribute to, or provoke, new thinking and generate ideas in your office?
With every new client comes the potential or provocation for new ideas. Listen first to the customer/client, see what their issues are and how they give us a different or new perspective. This opens the door to new approaches, opportunities to challenge conventions, push boundaries and move into new territories. Unfortunately this can sound like a creative agency cliché … with safe and sometimes cookie cutter results despite the bold promises. The goal is to create thought provoking work. But how?
My simple philosophy is to make myself nervous. It’s the only way to truly assess whether the approach or creative output is moving towards something unique. When you feel uncomfortable, you’re generally treading in new territory (even if that means scraping your shoe afterwards). I push this approach on each creative project and encourage others to put themselves outside of their element, starting with a different discipline as a basis; be it scientific, artistic or strategic.

Which business or consumer-facing company (or brand) do you believe best demonstrates next generation thinking and why?
From within the agency realm, who can argue with the quality of R/GA’s digital and interactive solutions. They create brands that allow consumers to interact, contribute and shape their own experience … and represent the next generation of brand approach. In the consumer facing arena, it’s easy to put forward a brand like Apple … but I applaud them because they truly live innovation. It’s not a throw-away brand value in a chart, it’s a true brand culture that the company lives. Every organization should have the courage to outdate their own products … and it’s shown to make a lot of business sense too. Lastly, India’s Tata Motors Nano, the world’s cheapest automobile, has the potential to revolutionise the Indian economy. With variants including compressed air engines, and hybrid electric motors in development, interest is not only swelling in the local market but from European nations. It may portend a new era in inexpensive personal transportation, aligned with the global trend towards smaller cars.

What does authenticity mean to you?
Authenticity means having relevant substance and history. Here in Singapore, the local Thai restaurant down the road claims to be authentic. Is it as authentic as flying to Thailand and eating there? No, but taking the thai belly from the experience may be a preferred level of authenticity for some, whilst the risk factor and cultural immersion holds appeal for others. The experience can remain authentic as long as it encompasses unique cultural attributes and a sense of the original source.
And why is it important? Authenticity means something because it’s hard to create and impossible to emulate. We’ve seen with the Asian market entry of global luxury brands like Vuitton and Prada a shift from the slick westernized look to a more authentic Asian style. Familiar faces like Gong Li, Joan Chen combined with the cinematic style of local Directors Yang Fudong in the surrounds of Beijing and Shanghai means more to the local audience than the backdrops of New York or Madrid. Audiences know what authenticity is … they sense it inherently because they know it can’t be faked.

When and why does collaboration work?
Just putting a lot of people in a room together does not equal collaboration. There is always the danger of simply averaging out the results. Do you want a team of a hundred junior doctors operating on you? Or one doctor who has done the operation a hundred times? But in a creative environment, where inspiring the unexpected is core to success, collaboration is essential. Much like assembling a champion sports team, success occurs when complimentary talents are placed together. The classic advertising team of an art direction + copywriter worked for so long because they attacked every problem from at least two very different perspectives. On a personal level, I’ve been eternally thankful on late nights to be able to call in second opinions. Sometimes you get so involved in a project you lose sight of the details, especially when you’ve been staring at the screen for seven hours straight. There is nothing like asking a colleague over at 3am in the morning for a second check … and having him tell you ‘It all looks good, except you’ll want to remove ‘ButtHead’ from the client name area’.

You’ll owe him a beer after that. Collaboration works.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Brand Storytelling

Storytelling is an often overlooked and undervalued communication method in branding. Using a metaphorical journey to describe aspects such as brand personalities and values is a unique way to get a client to understand a proposed brand idea. Stories are also metaphors and very powerful ones. They allow us to talk to the subconscious mind in such a way that the conscious mind does not reject or censor an underlying message (Developing Your NLP skills : Andrew Bradbury. P96)

Remember this point: A story can be used to communicate an underlying message that will not be questioned like an opinion or statement. A case study can be presented as a story to substantiate other claims or recommendations. Minimising confusion and conflict whilst providing clarity, a story becomes a very powerful tool in creative presentations. Selling an emotional concept in an analytical way results in a conflicting communication model. I agree with David Ogilvy that clients require rational reasons to make emotional decisions. However, they need to experience the emotional connection you're selling to understand the consumer's state of mind. It must be remembered that consumers make emotional choices and decisions just as much as logical choices. More importantly, it is emotional experiences that are remembered.

Therefore conveying an emotional value or idea with emotional language is clearly a more effective tool in a creative presentation. This is where telling a relevant story becomes so effective. For example, if selling a positioning that revolves around the concept of magic, a story that tells of the wonder of a child experiencing something like flying a kite for the first time can be extremely compelling. A concept like determination brings to mind some of the amazing stories of training that professional atheletes go through. The important point is to tell a story that the client will be able to personally relate to and let them recall a similar experience. If you can't tell the story yourself, there may be a video you can present that sells the experience you want to convey. This is another sensory method of selling a concept at a visual, auditory and kinesthetic level.

The average memory space of a person ranges from four to seven items at best, best represented by numerical sequences like phone numbers which are broken into digestible chunks for better retention. Research has also shown that worldwide attention spans are shrinking and people are more effectively blocking out the constant bombardment of visual stimulus such as advertising. Having methodologies to enhance a brand's memorability and recall is essential for success. I recently became interested in the way we record information after watching a world memory challenge.

What was fascinating was that nearly all the competitors used the same method to memorise what appeared to be a staggering amount of information such as numbers and patterns. An explanation from one competitor stated that by linking long number sequences to people and places he was already familar with, then creating a story as he walked through his imagination from person to person and place to place enabled him to remember the entire numerical sequence. It was compelling proof of the ability of a story to ensure maximum recall once you leave a presentation.

The conclusion was that stories are both emotively powerful and memorable. A very simple example I found effective was asking someone to write as many animal names as possible straight onto paper, then comparing it to someone who I asked to imagine walking through a jungle and naming animals they saw. A person who is able to internally visualise finds it much easier to recall items. Taking a conceptual journey stimulates more of our senses and sparks more links to existing

In oversaturated global markets every advantage to improve communication and heighten recall is beneficial. Brand stories should be part of every presentation and brand toolkit. Knowing that the brain works best by linking stories along a journey, telling a brand 'story' is a powerful tool in selling creative concepts. It also ensures the client experiences an emotional connection that is closer to the consumer experience.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Geosotal Album EP Free Download

Like your trip hop / rock / metal with distorted beats, crushing guitars, loud soft dynamics and haunting vocals? If you haven't got a copy of the dark, atmospheric EP Album by Geosotal ... Schoolgirls + Demons ... it's available for free download (and use in all commercial projects) here:

How to download :

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Be careful, we're watching you

Consumer profiling is always an interesting phase of any branding project. And with social media making consumer voices more transparent than ever before ... I'm starting many projects with RSS keyword alerts across news, twitter and blogs. Combined with several social media tools (compete, social mention, socialseek and whostalkin are just a few favourite starting places) it's a great way to begin getting a clearer brand picture from a customer perspective.

But why scour the dark corners of internet alleys? Well, like any moment in a dark alley, the difference is honesty. People tend to say what they really think in a public forums, untempered by a social surrounding or within earshot of small impressionable children. A focus group creates a different context that can, if not properly moderated, create diluted or steered responses. But you can't argue when a customer posts a comment on Twitter saying 'Your product not only made my problem worse, my shrieks of pain scared the neighbours. My ex-girlfriend finally got it off with baby oil. Length and girth extender ... never again!'. The damage to brand perception and potential customers is almost irreversible.

That said, there's so much potential for real-time monitoring and instant feedback. Having recently stayed at the JIA Hotel in Hong Kong, I'd tweeted a general message about the Philippe Starck association and within five minutes, a JIA representative had replied directly to me asking about the service and overall experience. I was both surprised by the immediacy of the response but appreciative that they appeared to be concerned about my stay (or that customers are promoting a positive public facing message). My stay was genuinely a good and recommended one ... but out of pure curiosity I would have liked to have seen a response to an unhappy client...the true test. It's still a good reminder that marketing divisions should always have brand alerts set up for these scenarios. The ability to put out spotfires quickly before they become rampant is truly a part of any PR and brand perception campaign and assists in promoting a consumer first attitude to the public.

Combining the real-time presence of online monitoring with consumer profiling also changes the areas of brand focus. I've been working at integrating product adoption potential, social/peer influence and consumer brand alignment into our methodology to compliment our other data. "More stats!" can occassionally overwhelm a definitive point (as Mark Twain said 'facts are stubborn, but statistics are pliable') but in the consumer realm, they're king. In conjunction with behavioral patterns and levels of influence, online consumer profiling should be a part of your every project.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Stop yelling and selling. Start participating.

As I write this branding continues to change at a rate faster than the average cheetah can keep up with. Digital is the buzzword floating around my office at the moment, but I'm personally seeing this less as a complete direction change and more as the space in which brands now live and interact with consumers in. It's a natural progression versus a radical departure from most agencies core competencies.

Where real change is happening is communication. Branding has moved from yelling into a crowd and seeing who listens, to opening up the forum floor to anyone who wants to speak. For the uninitiated this can be quite intimidating. Transparency has taken on the true meaning of the word as regulation, within reason, is often perceived as a negative influence to the participation process.

But this is the change that every brand must embrace. Negativity is productive. Change is good. Opinions are wanted. As Microsoft's Mich Mathews stated, brands have moved into the 'Era of Customer Participation', a business space where brands must be able to organically adapt to an ever changing landscape. Successful brands must open direct channels to consumers and ask them 'Let us know how we can help you more, because this is your brand as much as ours'.

Social and rich interactive media solutions open up a new world of possibilities to both consulting and creative people. Speaking a differentiated message consistently at all touchpoints? The tradition. Providing a vehicle for consumers to shape, create and fulfill an untapped need? The change.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Why be simple when complex will do?

A quick list of often forgotten tips that I like to remind myself of before presenting work to a client:


Entrance strategy
A client decides whether they like you in the first fifteen seconds you enter a room. Absolute fact. So, how much time have you spent on your introduction?

Overstated...but the reality is, a client will do business with someone they like. They need to connect with us as people as well as professionals. So build rapport. Don’t walk in, set up and start showing self absorbed slides. Ask questions about the business problem, show genuine interest and demonstrate expertise in similar scenarios.

Body Language
Are you prepared to deal with hostile body language? Do you know what to do when a client is unresponsive? Break their pattern. Have a strategy ready to deal with difficult clients. Oh and maintain eye contact. We like and gravitate towards people who are confident enough to look us in the eye when we speak.

There’s a unique phenomenon that we’ve all experienced ... Awkwardness dealing with someone whose name we have forgotten (or can’t remember). Make sure you get to know everyone’s name in the room. You make a more powerful impression when you can talk to someone directly using their name.

You're Selling What?
Are we selling a process? I hope not. That’s telling, not selling. Are we selling a solution? Everyone is selling a solution. Let’s make sure we’re attuned to the needs of the client and what will move them above and beyond our competitors.

Know Your Audience
Great speakers find out everything they can about their audience before presenting. Speak to the interests of your audience in a language they understand and engage them through relevant content and delivery style.

Psychologically speaking
Our capacity for information retention is quite limited. We’re lucky if we get four (at maximum) points retained in a client’s short term memory after a meeting. Have you worked out the primary point(s) you’re trying to get across in a presentation? So, what do plan to leave the client thinking after your presentation? ‘Geez, those guys get it. And they’ve clearly done this before with great results for other clients. I’m comfortable they’re the right group for us. And I liked the guy talking about Bruce Lee. Sharp.’

Use The Stage
Find two spots in a room from which to speak from. One is your main stage from which 90% of your info is delivered from. But when you need to deliver one of your four core points (eg ‘Hire us, we have brilliant designers’) you should move to the other spot. Say it, move back. The client will associate (and remember) those impact statements more than the 150+ slides you read out to them.

Don't Talk To A Slide
It's not talking to you

You Have Four Seconds
When a person has to read a powerpoint’ve failed. The average person looks at a powerpoint slide for around three to four seconds starting in the top left hand corner. They scan for an area of interest, settle for a second or two, then move on. A slab of text or complex diagram is not an area of interest. If it’s important ... You must interact with the client and verbalise (it’s even better if you can make them say it..double the retention power! Christian is brilliant Christian is a design god)

A Picture Says A Thousand Words
So we write a thousand and one? No. Use a picture. Move them.

Retention of concepts and ideas is improved when multiple senses are engaged. Maybe you could sing them a big idea? (then again, maybe not). Think about how to engage beyond the normal. Stay front of mind. Be unique.

There’s an artform to selling complex ideas in. If I knew someone who could tell you how to do it, I would ask them to explain. But I don’t know anyone. You’ll have to figure it out yourself I suppose. I’m sure it’s simple though.

Say Less Than Necessary
Robert Green wrote this describing the common habits of great leaders in history ‘Great leaders say less than necessary, not more. When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you appear, and the less in control. Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.’

Power. Through simplicity.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Branding needs to change. And fast.

Branding as most agencies currently deliver has failed to adapt to a changing consumer landscape. So what's next? With digital changing the face of business more rapidly than ever before, great brands of tomorrow will need to address the following:

Be First
First to market has a two-fold advantage. First to market means front of the consumer mind. Market leaders in a category are twice as hard to shift as challenger brands and every advantage goes to a market leader, Pepsi won't overtake Coke nor will Avis jump ahead of Hertz regardless of clever marketing.

Be Unique
As the often heard but rarely understood concepts of innovation, sustainability, partnership and flexibility are repeated across industries, the basic foundation of distinction is lost. As Stephen Geissbuler eloquently states 'artificially adopted notions of growth, global business and aggressive, forward-moving technology become meaningless and overused ... because it's everybody's strategy, mission and positioning'. In a world of brand inconsistencies, we have forgotten the art of emotional connection. The need to refocus on people and bonding helps to create the most powerful assets any brand has; brand advocates.

Digital Activation
For success in the coming decade, business needs to acknowledge that the message may stay the same ... but the medium is shifting dramatically. If your business and brand are not digital now, you're of a dying breed. Traditional print and campaign style approaches to marketing are losing relevance with today's consumers. It is the user that drives and shapes brands today as they look to align with brands that reflect their lifestyle. The equation is simple; go digital or die.

Brand Communities
Brand champions and brand advocates are terms we're all familiar with. However, the places where they are developed has changed. Online communities are deciding the fates of businesses through advocacy and recommendation. The hotel industry is a good example, the consumer reviews on Tripadvisor often determine the fate of a hotel regardless of their external marketing. It also checks whether you’re positioned correctly; if you’re really a business orientated hotel masquerading as a boutique, the consumer will very quickly let you know your short-comings or misconceptions. Those who cannot adjust quickly, fall even faster.

Touchpoint Analysis
The hotel example highlights an excellent point. Agencies must analysis and pinpoint appropriate brand touchpoints and place emphasise therein. Yesterday's approach of a single message thrown into the mass market in the hope it randomly resonates is no longer working in an environment that is dictated by the end user. By targeting specific markets and demographics, mediums like mobile technology, websites and online communities can directly hit consumers that are known to have an interest in a brand, product or service. Speaking directly to an interested consumer has replaced yelling into a crowd.

Brand Service (or Consumers First)
The traditional that will never die. A simple fact that no branding or advertising can cover is; unless you can deliver the quality and services you promote, long term success will remain elusive. The digital realm has elevated word-of-mouth to new heights and through blogs, communities and online reviews consumers/users now determine the success of brands. Make your consumers happy and leverage this by giving them avenues to share their positive experiences. Zappos is a famous example; by focusing their business efforts on relationship marketing and a loyalty business model, they have become the world’s largest online shoe retailer. Built upon a core value of ‘delivering wow through service’, Zappos have achieved record numbers of repeat business.

Brand People, Brand Touchpoints, Company Culture
It's easy to forget that every employee within a company is a brand touchpoint and you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Whether or not your people are the most consistent brand touchpoint or not is irrelevant, they are the most important. Face to face communication allows consumers to experience a brand on a human level and research shows a positive human interaction breeds word of mouth promotion more powerfully than any other medium. Great branding ultimately needs to inspire, not just make visible a business strategy. Emphasis on a company culture that resonates and can be articulated by employees thus becomes essential.

Brand Metrics
Handing over a strategic solution without being able to demonstrate a tangible result will change as digital makes KPI’s and ROI’s measurable in real-time. It can also work in an evolutionary or organic way, with strategic and creative executions able to be adjusted and tailored post-launch by recording consumer feedback, keyword spikes, online reviews and other forms of interaction.


The Shift We Need To Make
Touchpoint analysis, company culture, consumer focus and digital activation are the areas that most agencies are struggling to take advantage of but understandably so. Whilst younger businesses have an appreciation of these areas, older and more established clients still struggle to recognise their potential .. and agencies have yet to develop case studies showing tangible benefits. Proving that these areas require the most attention whilst providing the best return on investment will determine an agency's own relevance in a changing marketplace.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Respect? Oops, wrong career. Become a dentist and drill your way to the top

I was recently lunching with my consultant counterparts (distinguishable from creatives like myself for their use of business-speak and symmetrical haircuts) when the topic of a company blog was mentioned. There was a casual accusation as to why I had not contributed to the archive which I parried back with that I could write a provoking design related article to stimulate conversation and intense over-coffee debates. The slow blink response however, was less than encouraging. Whilst not word for word, it ran along the lines of ‘We are not a design agency, we are a branding agency. We don’t want an article describing how to make a colour wheel.’

Oh my poor heart. These cutting words were like a nipple twist from a high-school bully who lacks the judgement on when to let go. I was shocked, appalled, horrified and shocked. Firstly, because I hadn’t used a colour wheel since my blurry university days and secondly, because of the flippant and dismissive attitude towards mention of a purely design related entry from my highly regard peers. I felt like I’d just been dismissed as a one-night stand, ‘Sorry, but it was just a moment, I don’t actually want to see you naked again. Especially with a colour wheel hanging off anything.’ Here I was thinking we had something beautiful together. That I was the ying to their yang, the peanut to their jelly, the cancer to their cigarettes. Did they really think that design was simply a logo on some stationery? I had always suspected this attitude may be hiding under the cool exteriors of my left-brained colleagues but they were usually polite enough to sugarcoat it or politely dismiss it in an confusing myriad of business terms that meant by the time you realized they’d insulted you the lights were out. Alas, it was nowhere to be found and I felt I’d been subjected to the classic retort that design is all style and no substance…and therefore, less than desirable reading to the intellectually rather than artistically gifted.

Luckily my iceman features betrayed none of these microexpressions and I kept a cooler than cool poker face. Unluckily, my choice of words didn't quite have the same neutrality. ‘Not purely design? What the f*** do you think we do on the other side of the room in between youtube surfing and vice fashion do and don’t reading? We do design. The stuff that makes people ohh and ahh. That makes you buy products you don’t need. The stuff that makes people fight over the last pair of manolo blahnik shoes at the end-of-year sales. The stuff that gets into books and wins awards and is remembered when everything else is forgotten in the sands of time you evil money hungry bastards.’

And there it was. I had aired my passionate frustration to only receive a few dismissive shoulder shrugs and blackberry checking but the thought stayed with me… That design within a branding agency was deemed less important, or more relevant only to the poorly dressed side of the office, than if I’d hinted at presenting a thesis of disagreement with Al Ries positioning assertations, disapproved of Aakers strategic analysis tools or mentioned any of the brand mascots; purple elephants, innovative foxes or consistently consistent hedgehogs.

Where oh where does design credibility lie? Must it be sandwiched between the sheets of a strategy and business threesome, waking up feeling used and dirty? That argument might be true if only it were true. Sometimes, at the best of times, it is true. But the fact remains that some of the greatest brands of the last fifty years were based on great design as well as a business strategy that was the sole invention of the business owners. Design that didn’t speak about three throw-away brand values that seem to be echoes of the last three hundred jobs you’ve worked on. Design that was just … good design…for the sake of good design ... and told a story about the company.

Sacrilege! I can hear the nervous typing of emails from across the room that independent designer thought has occurred without strategic direction to temper the flames. Wait, hear me out. Of course a brand (and design) should stand for something. It should make the business strategy visible, or tell a brand story or be a unique insight into the company. It should be more than just being pretty … it should inspire and have relevance to the company for which is stands. But it can do even more than that. Research has shown the correct interior colour scheme can improve productivity. Acoustic design can do the same. Considered layouts improve retention of information and environmental design can increase instore consumer spending and at point of sale areas. Good design is both function and form, and usually being the first touchpoint (and just as often the last) for consumers, it better be more than just pretty…because as the entrypoint into a brand it may just be the most important device to trigger recall in your arsenal. Fortune 500 companies that are heavily branded make more than those that don’t. Simple fact. Good design makes money.

But does that design have to reflect the usual brand value and proposition methodology? Maybe not. There might be credence in the words of Steff Geissbuhler when he says ‘We have run out of marks representing artificially adopted notions of growth and forward moving values for business, because when it’s everybodies strategy, mission and vision … it becomes meaningless. Audiences react more directly and emotionally to recognizable symbols and cultural icons with clear connotations, characteristic and qualities.’ Perhaps he’s on to something … if I have to design the brand of another innovative, flexible, next generation, partnership driven company ... I might have to pause to reopen the concept files of the last few jobs and start recycling. And that hurts. Down low.

So what’s the conclusion? Is it still about making strategic values and propositions visible … or is it about telling a company story that will inspire employees and create loyal customers? Easy answer is that it can be both and for the sake of a regular paycheque, it should be both. No designer can be arrogant enough to say that a good logo alone amounted to business success, but the idea that got there certainly helps. A good strategy, well, icing on the cake my friends. Tango time… and that takes two.

The argument shifts then to the need for creative strategy, emotive brand values and a broader definition of design. A call for company values that aren't from the brand dictionary and a request for connections with consumers. Brands that have real, distinctive, unique meaning. Brands that people will become loyal advocates of. Brands that want to be great. And yes, brands that are made visible through good, considered design that tells this story.

And thus we arrive at a vague conclusion. You may well be thinking ‘thank god, what is the point of this ramble?’ Well, my call to action is to acknowledge that design deserves more respect than if it was simply the final product on the strategic conveyor belt. Whether in a branding agency or design studio, this broader definition of design is an integral part of business success. It might be a long road to get there, but rest assured … it’s the good design that ends up in museums being discussed by post-modernists and art students (they can be one and the same if appearance is disregarded and only review of their comments is accounted for). If museum worthy design and strategy are able to balance like libra scales, we arrive at brand utopia. So designers, here ye here ye … go forth and strive and draw and argue with your counterparts for respect and professional recognition. They will respect and loathe you all the more for it. They may even let you write articles about colour wheels.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Creative Presentation Tips #1

It is best to display multiple concepts individually (ie each on a separate page) rather than together. Research has shown that attention is divided between objects on a page even when objects are dulled or even hidden. The brain remembers object locations and will continue being processed.

Maximum attention is established by placing a new object such as a single brandmark on a new clean slide or page. This is essential when presenting brandmarks especially when pushing for a recommended option. The client should be focused on a single point rather than asked to move between multiple objects on a page.

Too many choices cause what is known as cognitive dissonance (or more simply, internal confusion). For example, a case study involving consumer choice was conducted in a shopping environment. A display of six jams were set up and consumers were asked to sample each. Another display featuring twenty four jams was used and results showed that with so many choices, indecision was caused quickly and less purchases were made than the display featuring only six.

Understanding memory retention is also important for emphasising key points. Presenting an maximum choice of four options (three may be even better) reaches the average person's memory processing and short term limit. It is also an effective way of setting up a graded context in which one option is preferred. For example, in a creative presentation, option one can be explained as a safe update of an existing brand, option two as the contemporary and market relevant recommendation, whilst option three represents the furthest leap forward. Simple enough, it helps persuades a client toward the desired recommendation with option one appearing acceptable but not forward looking enough and option three as exciting but too much of a leap.

As always, never present work you're not happy with because despite the best prepared rationales, no one can account for irrational decisions.

Further to this last point is a story I read in Kevin Hogan's book, The Science Of Influence, that struck a chord in relation to contextual selling. The book describes the following

"There is a wonderful piece of television history from the archives of the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. One night, Johnny had the number-one Girl Scout cookie salesperson in the country on. He asked her the secret of her success. She said ‘I just went to everyone’s house and said “Can I have a $30,000 donation for the Girl Scouts?”. When they said ‘No,’ I said, ‘Would you at least buy a box of Girl Scout cookies?’

If you put two products or services close together in space, in time, or in a person’s mind, the person will begin to clearly see the differences and their programming will help them choose ‘which’ instead of ‘whether or not to’. If you can show your expensive product or service first and then show what you would like to sell second, the client is very likely to purchase the second item."

Applying this thought in a creative context, could it be best to show your most 'revolutionary' brand option first followed by your preferred option second to emphasise the difference in implementation? I'll let you decide.

Further reading
Mind Hacks by by Tom Stafford, Matt Webb (Hack 19)
The Science of Influence by Kevin Hogan
Number 4 : A Reconsideration of Mental Capacity by Nelson Cowan 2001

Monday, October 15, 2007

As featured at Semi-Permanent ...

Please find here some colours, shapes and emotional turmoil all juxtaposed against the backdrop of an unforgiving consumerist driven society.

Or some pretty pixels, depends on your point of view I suspect.

To explain, I recently mistook myself for an artist and submitted some work to a publication in melbourne. I spliced together some collective thoughts over a weekend and then post-rationalised it as all good tortured geniuses do.

The concept was to represent three emotional states; love, truth and honesty. I was wondering why I'd chosen those themes until the song on the radio finished and the DJ said 'That was bananarama with the song 'Love, truth and honesty'. Man, the eighties are so inspirational.

Anyway, I thought I'd share the results ... And thanks to Kimberly Batchelor who drew the lovely flowers in the white background piece (it needed a feminine touch to validate the 'love' aspect. I haven't felt anything close to love since 1984 when my teacher Miss Jones whacked me with a ruler and I felt strangely happy).

Opps, I shared too much. Enjoy!

Christian Teniswood

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Designers like pretty pictures, not long texts

I was thinking about the possibilities of telling a narrative with only the simplest of shapes, two in fact, a circle and a triangle. Here's a few ideas I was playing with (and finally, I'm posting a visual element to this blog. The design gods will be happy).

Thursday, August 30, 2007

If good typography is like a good wine, are you making me drink cheap hooch?

Typography is the visual articulation of the spoken word. The typeface you choose has a voice that speaks in different tones and expresses different personalities. And like accents and languages, typefaces have subtle inflections and nuances that are distinct and unique. Some speak quietly and confidently, some yell from the rooftops and others dance naked in the rain. Determining what you want your brand to say and how it is said is the first step towards choosing a typeface that embodies those values.

The second part of selecting typography is to complement the brandmark or logo. I equate the experience to selecting a good wine to go with food, there are certain well followed precedents but it is also a reflection of personal taste. But this reminds us the brandmark and logotype are served together and intrinsically linked. It makes sense that the typeface should be integrated with or take some cues from the graphics (or vice versa). An organically inspired brandmark may recall a calligraphic, hand-drawn or humanist type style, whilst a more edgy mark may call for a contemporary selection. Some designers have their favourite five or six fonts that regularly appear next to a symbol but with the ever growing requirement for individual ownership of a mark, varied and custom typefaces have much to warrant selection.

Typefaces are also of different vintages and quality. Some are well made and have gotten better with age. Some need to be drunk right now because they'll have gone bad in a year and others were made in someone's backyard cellar with a strong lack of knowledge. My advice for this last category; Don't use these fonts, it identifies you as someone who lacks better judgement and was happy to accept a free bottle of peppermint schnapps rather than pay for a pinot.

The trend of neutralising the type (you could read this as using helvetica) renders a brandmark cold and impersonal. With the overabundance of visual identities in the marketplace and a recognised need to create emotive and ownable brands, typography needs to speak up for itself rather than looking back at us with disinterest.

Whilst it is a beautiful typeface, Helvetica is like weekend at Bernie's. It looks alive but when you check for a heartbeat, there's nothing. Not to say helvetica doesn't have a place. It works well when you need to let the graphics be the main focus. It's is the perfect social partner, standing quietly at your side looking handsome without saying anything at all. Your friends will nudge you and go 'Whoa, hot date. Where'd you meet?" It makes you look good just through it's presence. But this isn't the way you want your brandmark to act. Brandmarks need to have an opinion. Brandmarks need to be talking to everyone.

Using a custom typeface across a brand allows for recognition even when the brand is extended or sub-brands introduced. This is a compelling argument for using custom typefaces, as the increase in brand recognition is enhanced by an organisation being able to claim a unique ownership of the typography.

There are many cues to help you start selecting a relevant typeface. Is there a brand position or set of values to clue you in? If there is an existing symbol or logo, is it drawn in a distinctive style that could be complemented by a similar typeface? Are there some cultural, historical or locational aspects to consider? Ultimately you want the best typeface you can find for the job. Cutting corners is not an option. Typography enhances other visual elements and most importantly, highlights the content. As Bringhurst says 'Good typography is like bread; ready to be admired, appraised and dissected before it is consumed.' (every designer should read The Elements of Typographic Style)

Friday, July 20, 2007

What do you put in your portfolio? Ideas.

Q: What is the most important aspect for a design student to focus on when putting together their end of year folio?

Christian Teniswood (Design Director Futurebrand): It's a simple formula, substance and style in equal measure. Good thoughts well executed, or like McCann Erickson's tagline, a 'Truth Well Told'.

Some humour helps as well, you can't take yourself too seriously. Ideas that aren't a poor imitation of another artist. Demonstrate an interest in areas outside graphic design; architecture, photography, music, fashion, technology, cinema and other related fields. If I have to sit next to you each day, for months and years, you better tell me why you thought Akira was the best animation ever made and be able to back it up. Persistence, determination, intelligence and an easy going personality are traits I'm looking for. Happy to hear you subscribe to IDN and Graphik and can use every adobe product at a master level ... but let's get back to the idea that makes me think ... 'nice, I wish I'd thought of that.'

Naoto Ito (Senior Designer @ Cato Purnell): Be practical. A graduate folio is your asset to get a job in the real world. It's not for you to show off how good your photoshop skill is or how much rendering time you had on that 3d model. Choose your pieces carefully, don't cram too much (approx 10-15 pieces), they will not remember all of them. Speak confidently, understand your work and never ever undersell yourself! Lastly...a picture speaks a thousand words, believe in your work.

Cameron Hodkinson (Creative Director @ Aframe):I think the main thing that I'm looking for is a discerning eye. And no, I don't mean photographs of some jerks eye! I want the student to have the ability to be able to tell what's good and what's not, even if they're not quite able to technically pull it off. And I definitely don't want to see every slick photoshop pic they've ever produced. The ability to be able to tell what's right or wrong with a piece, or simply to know that something's not quite right, wins hands down every-time over technical prowess! ---> Disregard this rant, pretty off topic but rather true! Tough question though! A folio is so many things! Let me start by saying that anyone considering a career that requires a folio, really needs to see the new Transformers movie. Yes, yes, a film by Michael Bay - the guy who brought you Pearl Harbor, The Island, and The Rock. I know! Anyway, a folio should be like this movie because, believe it or not, it was kickass. A diverse range of simply executed and well planned ideas that work individually, and combine to create a damn good film. When I look at a folio, I want to see that a designer not afraid to try new techniques and explore new ideas. There really isn't any one thing that makes a folio good, it's a combination of things. Presentation, experimentation, inventiveness, individuality and originality. Don't try to mimic your favorite designer, absorb and regurgitate everything in a techni-coloured array of thoughts and opinions. Got to fly, but everyone should go and see Transformers. I was fist pumping and saying 'f*** yeah' the whole way through that movie.

Rofi Zaino (Design Director Interbrand / Futurebrand): Let's see... Focus on the big picture. The thing I'd look for in a designer is how s/he thinks about how he can solve the client's needs through his design. I'd say that good conceptual thinking would shine brighter than great craftsmanship. Now, coming up with clever ideas is great, but more importantly, s/he must show how the designs add value to the client's brand/business beyond just being clever.

Jimmy Yuan (Qube Konstruct): I think overall students project should really have a strong concept and ideas behind their design work. Of course the presentation and final execution & details are very important as well…  students should also have a strong folio layout, and try to be very different, creative and experimental. Mmm yeah that’s all really.

Paul Troon (Gollings Pidgeon):Don't print self promo's on toilet paper. You're sending the wrong message about your work and your inkjet printer hates you for it (I kid you not we received a toilet paper promo).

Sem Loh (Advertising / Design):Good design ends up in museums. Do good design.

The customer can have it in any shade of black

I recently gained some insight from overseeing some focus groups for a rebranding project that I'd like to share before I drink too much and damage the part of my brain retaining these thoughts.

Focus groups have their value. Sure, they're a powerful way to have ideas evaluated or test concepts, but more importantly they remind us we are not dealing with people like ourselves. This is important to remember. We take for granted that most target markets can think easily in metaphors, analogies and visual associations.

It's a refreshing reality check when you review a more 'blue collar' demographic and realise that the average joe doesn't think like you at all. Running some colour associations provided a very literal insight from the groups such as blue is the sky and green is nature. Nothing spectacularly surprising there but any other associations outside of those immediate links were found to be too complex.

For example, when I asked whether blue could be a existential metaphor for the collapse of modernism in a post-modernism content brought on by an intangible shift in cultural perceptions relating to bias derived from contemporary mediums utilising viral marketing techniques to infiltrate online guerilla tribes ... one of them clutched their head and dropped dead. Simple enough to me and you, but hey, not everyone grasps the semiotics of soap bubbles.

It reminds me that Tibor Kalman recommended learning all associative cliches you can simply because people respond so powerfully to them. Essentially, by over-intellectualising the issue with complex or slightly 'high-brow' design solutions, we sometimes alienate the very people who we are trying to reach. We are not designing for ourselves! (although this doesn't mean we should all start using comic sans, the font gods still get angry and make you do annual reports for the rest of eternity to repent).

It's also not to say we shouldn't continue looking for fresh and innovative new ways to communicate common ideas, but it is easy to get too clever and forget who we are talking to. If you were asked to design something for children, you would design appropriately and simply, so why is it we often design up when dealing with an adult crowd and expect them to match our level of understanding.

A good designer should always keep in mind the audience and design appropriately, in essence 'playing to their level'. You can still create beautiful design solutions that communicate a strong and easily understood message.

Another point I'd like to mention is the importance of noting the respondant's physical and emotional states during the time of testing.

I have found in particular, people under the influence of illicit drugs may skew your results. The example I'll discuss briefly here involved a number of young men aged between 18 - 25 who were participating in a focus group researching concepts for an existing product being rebranded.

Whilst the client and I sat behind some one-way glass, the moderator took this group through an introduction to the existing packaging before presenting a range of new pack options. Clearly stoned off their heads, I was forced to deem their colour choices invalid after they expressed a preference for tones that reminded them of food. One conversation went like this :

– I like the green pack
– Yeah, the apple green pack
– Yeah, yeah! It is apple green!
– Man, I'm so hungry right now
– So am I man, I like that pack too. I like the crunchy juicy apple green pack ... mmm
– Can we get some food?
– Yeah! Pay us in apples!

They may have won my respect and admiration, but unfortunately lost their chance to affect the data ... and when that happens, we all lose. Because the data comes first my friends ... the data must come first.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Sonic branding : Turn it up to eleven

One of the most rewarding aspects of being in a creative field is integrating external interests into my design work. Creating music falls into this category for me. Sonic branding is currently receiving more and more attention as brands move further into the sensory arena. In the oversatured visual market, utilising more sensory paths establish a brand's positioning in the consumer's mind is essential. As Lisa Lamb, Head of Sonic Branding for Interbrand, pointed out, sonic branding allows ‘increased brand recognition across a variety of platforms, since people will hear things where they are not necessarily looking. One does not have to listen to hear, whereas one does need to be looking in order to see.’

The objective of sonic branding is to create a memory trigger, intrinsically linking a product name, service or benefit with a pleasant memory. This is done by identifying the strategic and emotive aspects of your brand that resonate with consumers, then building relevant auditory cues. The flexibility of sonic branding over visual branding can also be reflected in the style of delivery; for example if a retail environment identified younger consumers frequented the store in evening hours, in-store music could be more contemporary. Older consumers would be presented with a slower more mature mix. Customised to the appropriate demographic, the same ownable song or notes can be played in a rock, jazz, classical or funk style just to name a few without dilution of identification or brand association.

Sonic branding can incorporate an experience far broader than just an ‘intel’ style audio mnemonic as well. Environmental and workplace music, website/multimedia applications, advertising jingles, even ringtones and the vocal qualities of client facing personnel are all touchpoints that sonic branding can influence. Some aspects can be direct and powerful (eg the intel sonic brand) while others act as a peripheral note in your customer-experience offering (eg the background music played in Starbucks). All these aspects help to establish the brand personality and enhance the overall brand experience. As a starting point, three sonic touchpoints to consider for most brands are environmental, a sonic logo and brand vocal qualities.

We all know the power of music in combination with visual stimulation. Any cinematic experience is heightened by the combination of visual, auditory and emotional connections. You only need to turn off the sound when watching your favourite movie to see how much impact is lost. By using sonic branding as part of a brand's delivery we can help to create a more sensory experience for the consumer and ultimately, improve brand recall.

There are many applications for music in environmental settings. Research has shown that listening to music can improve working conditions. Baroque music (around 60 bpm is an optimal tempo) is often claimed to accelerate learning, reduce anxiety and improve retention of information. Binaural beats is an audio form that can alter the wavelengths in the brain and help induce relaxed and enhanced learning states. Using music appropriate to the demographic in retail environments can also keep consumers happy and aid in increasing sales. Happier more efficient workers, faster learning and consumer's buying more? We should all be paying attention.

Sonic Brand
In short, and as defined by Bill Nygren of Boom Sonic Branding, ‘A sonic brand is the aural equivalent of the graphic logo. A hybrid of voice, sound design and original music, the sonic brand works by harnessing music's power to trigger an emotional response.’ I couldn't have said it better, so I didn't. Probably the best known immediate example is Intel. With a product that lacks any visual appeal, the sonic brand of Intel has become it's most valuable commodity. Immediately identifiable in advertising and branding contexts, it shows how powerful an association with a recognisable melody can be.

The other exciting part of sonic branding are the available touchpoints a sonic brand can move across. From websites to mobile phones to television to radio and more, a sonic brand can stand alone or play happily in most mediums hand in hand with visuals. It can also be regularly updated for market relevance through style, tempo and other methods without changing an underlying melody or music scale.

Branding Vocals
The first moment a potential client walks into your office or reception area an impression is being made upon them about your company. Every time a salesperson makes a pitch they are representing the company's brand. And when an initial introduction is made, people will often form a first impression (in the first four minutes on average) that is difficult to alter. Vocal qualities that reflect a brand's personality and values is an area many overlook. A receptionist may be the first brand touchpoint they interact with. What someone says and just as importantly how they say it is integral to lending professionalism and credibility to an organisation.

Introductions, presentation skills and phone manner are all available for branding to name a few. For example, nearly all of us can recall a poor phone experience. Only recently I called a company to inquire about a product and was greeted with a single word 'yes?'. I was unsure whether I had even called the correct number and the disinterested tone of the speaker left an immediately negative impression of the company. More positively, I later booked a hotel and the difference in service was striking. The vocal delivery was considered and even, tempo was kept at a pace easy to understand and the tone was friendly. The sentence order was also clearly structured; company first, introduction by name, an offer of assistance followed by reassurance of a follow-up. A simple guideline that reflected the service orientated nature of the brand also created confidence in the organisation.

Sonic and sensory branding is upon us. Implement or miss it at your peril.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Those who cannot do, teach

Occassionally I make the mistake of looking at the local design discussion forums and even though I know it's wrong I can't help clicking on the latest brand critique post.

The wisdom imparted by most the keyboard geniuses is always enlightening.
- 'Ugly ugly ugly'
- 'I could do better'
- 'It's so 90's / 80s / last year'
- 'Classic design by committee'

Yep. If you're responsible for posting this type of dribble, you've more than likely identified yourself as a person with minimal understanding of brand process. A person who thinks that given twelve months on a project, you could have come up with a better brandmark, blissfully unaware the scope probably included competitive frame analysises, existing brand audits, mood boards, personality pieces, strategic positioning, brand architecture, multiple creative directions, refinement, testing, meetings, more meetings, more refinements, applications, implementation, a late night or ten and a few beers with pizza just to name a few phases. I suspect the closest many of these people have come to a large scale branding project is throwing eggs at Ken Cato's studio from the passenger window of their car whilst yelling 'Designosaur!' and thinking how witty you are.

The majority of posts seem to be whinging about design concepts, whinging about the clients, whinging about other designers and whinging why London didn't award them the chance to design the Olympics logo because they have a kick-ass folio. Does anything actually think for one moment these projects are as simple as sketching a logo lounge worthy mark and showing it to the CEO? (unless you can spin it in Flash, then it's a shoe-in!)

I'm first to encourage constructive criticism. Just take the time to understand what you're critiquing before you start firing aesthetic judgements at everything that doesn't resonate with your personal preferences. More often than not, it's the same people posting this stuff who then wonder why the profession struggles to gain respect when we attack each other from the inside out. It's the snake eating it's own tail. Until we start to address this disturbing trend we'll continue to be labelled as expendable mac monkeys who do logo design as our day job in between waiting for our indie band to get signed or have our grafitti artist career take off.

- 'Why don't clients respect me? I hate them'

Oh, here's a hint. Clients are running a business that in most instances makes a hell of a lot of money. More money than the average design studio. I'm guessing they're smart people who just happen to not interact daily with design theory. Listen to them, understand their business and stop trying to teach them about typefaces. That's not why they hired you. They hired an expert who is (hopefully) going to understand their business strategy and create a brand that makes it visible. They did not hire a stylist who throws a tantrum when they don't understand that vista is cooler than gill.

Yes, some will ask you to use Arial.
Yes, some will ask you to evolve the existing logo by 10%.
Yes, some will ask you to show them the logo 'in corporate blue'.
Yes, all of them will ask you to 'make the logo bigger'.

Knowing that those questions are coming (and will continue to come throughout your career) you better find a way to justify why it looks better in 100% cyan.

Advice? Ok ok. Just for an example, you could try relating the design decisions back to the brand personality. Show the client how typeface x embodies the brand values. Maybe you can pull out the competitive frame analysis board you had prepared and illustrate to them the market space they can own by differentiating themselves. Showing them that it is already flooded with competitor's blue logos and that their colour choice will dilute or strengthen their market position is a compelling argument.

It also works better than 'Because it looks good.' (We are not here to put lipstick on a gorilla, even if that shade of frosty pearl really brings out ol' silverback's eyes)

Hopefully we're creating a real brand that a business can align to both internally and externally. A brand that stands for something that customers identify with and that adds value across all consumer touchpoints. Remember, a brandmark is just an entrypoint into the brand and sure, it's the most important one but still one part of a bigger picture. It's an empty vessel (no matter how pretty) that needs to be filled with meaning. So I have to ask does anyone have something vaguely constructive or god forbid, positive to say? Can we move the arguments away from purely aesthetic criticism and discuss whether the brand is distinctive and sustainable. I suppose this is my impassioned plea to lift the profession's disapproving gaze on everything that is put under it's nose and one step forward towards industry respect. And if you're so intelligent with your brand advice, please, share your knowledge by posting something that resembles coherence on BrandChannel or some place with a little credibility. Maybe I should do that myself (otherwise I'm doing exactly the same - do as I say, not as I do).

What's that you say? I can't write more than sarcastic commentary? Damn straight. That's why I started a blog.

Design forever!

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Graphic Design is not creative. It's a science.

I'm tempted to start this blog with something introspective (like a Calvin and Hobbes moment that catches you unaware) but probably better to dive headlong into the stuff that will spark discussion. So let me get to the point :::

Design is not creative. Design is a science.

De Bono stated creativity can be taught in steps through the practice of lateral thinking techniques. Altschuller recognised a similar pattern across a range of inventive solutions and subsequently developed a systematic approach to creativity based on his findings. Yet there is still the perception that the creative profession requires a unique way of thinking that only a select few possess.

We often overlook the importance of a set process to focus on the final result. The use of a systematic method not only breeds creative consistency, it can be your best friend in those times of high stress and looming deadlines, regardless how bad your hang-over is or whether you’d currently fail a urine test. These tried and true processes have designers like myself to achieve what we inherently consider good design on a consistent basis. Through a structured approach to design, my dream of leaving behind a footprint of award winning brand identities, modular systems, sketches for flying machines and the occasional fine art piece lives on.

In recognising this response to a creative process to stimulate ideas, I began to move away from my surrealist automatic drawing approach toward a formulaic sequence (developed over years of late nights and also yesterday whilst writing this article).

Not that there weren’t failed attempts. Initial experiments at establishing a routine for creative output had begun with a cappuccino, followed in rapid succession by two short blacks before hitting the sketchpad. This simple procedure did at times yield periods of design genius, but unfortunately also resulted in mind numbing clip-art stealing depression. I needed a progression that would be there for me no matter how low I may have fallen (and we’re talking gum on shoe low).

This is not to say I’m building up towards advocating a cold calculated approach, or daring to speak against the random bolt of lightning that strikes as you soap yourself in the shower. I fully encourage the complete immersion of the mind in random chaos (and the body in soap if that works for you like it does for me). But random chaos, the happy accident and any other aha! moments should be one step in a sequence or result therefore, and not a singular relied upon solution.

If you are relying on right brain thinking alone, you are under-utilising that other side of the mind your parents hoped would lead you to a medical degree.

Just think, with both sides working in unison, not only will you be able to think of the most brilliant, award winning, smile-in-the-mind type creative solutions, you’ll even be able to align them to your clients business values (and you thought the day would never come…)

So how do you develop a creative process for an industry that admires typographic self mutilation and third eye opening acid trips (when the damn cocaine just isn’t working)? Easy. Open up CorelDraw and get out your design-for-dummies book. This design thing ain't rocket science. It's about making things look pretty right?

I know, I know, you’re looking around the room to check your colleagues haven’t seen those words on your screen and a guide to step by step creativity. But here it is, without popular request and in all it’s glory, my one-two-three guide to creative genius.

1. Write down the core vision
This is the essence of a design (or brand) distilled into a single sentence. It might be as simple as ‘It’s all about sex’. That aside, it’s the post-it note stuck above your desk that is the concrete reference for each and every idea you create. You get to check anything you do against this driving statement at any time and if doesn’t in some form embody this core essence, you’ve gone a little too far off the track. Which is a good thing, in most instances, all you need to do is take a few steps back to find the breadcrumb trail again.

2. Immerse completely, rinse and repeat
New project comes in, and it’s something you haven’t done in a while. You need to get into the right mindset. Read every book, look at every magazine and talk to all the guys in the office with more experience than yourself (thank you Mr Janitor, you saved my ass again). Look at all mediums for inspiration; architecture, photography, illustration, advertising and movies to name a few. Limit the amount of other graphic designer’s work you look at as a project continues or it will start to subconsciously pervade your own designs. You want to absorb a spectrum of influences early and in one big hit to jumpstart your own thinking. Good stuff will stick in your mind, and inspire you to do even better.

For example, if you’re working on signage, look at every example application you can possibly get your hands on. Historical examples, the latest innovations, concepts, sketches and failed attempts. Then look at black and white photography of the naked form. For inspiration of course. Variety is the key, you’re not looking for trends but possibilities. You’ll probably see stuff you didn’t even realise was possible or applications that aren’t relevant but lead you to a new concept. Do the same for packaging, for annual reports, or for the logo that cheap Uncle Bob asked for (he’ll only pay you in grief and aggravation) but it’s family so do it, then tell him that when the time comes you’ll need him to do you a favour and kiss him on both cheeks. Then in three weeks time, ring him at 2.00am in the morning, breathing erratically and stuttering and say ‘Bob, it all went bad and I need that favour now. Bring your car and a shovel.’ He’ll most probably blubber something incoherent and hang up, but I guarantee he won’t ask for any more logos and you only have to dig one hole with your hands.

3. Brainstorm
It’s a cliché, but it’s a true and tried path to starting a job. You just gotta start and ideas will come (and when they don’t, do it anyway). Destroy that page with every thought that springs to mind. The reality is, you’ll pour out nine hundred and ninety nine ideas of pure rubbish. Absolute gabage. No really. It will be clichéd, imitative design that your old uni lecturer would have pulled out the red pen for. But after it’s on the page, it won’t appear in your head again. Then call it a day and go home. The good ideas will start appearing in the shower that morning and you’ll be desperately trying to draw them in the heat mist on the door with one hand whilst barely holding up your towel and your dignity (which you’ll let go of right when your partner walks in to see you naked and drawing strange symbols on the bathroom mirror. Design can be a lonely career, be warned)

Sunday, April 1, 2007

You think you're having a tough day?

As if the pantone swatchbook causing acid flashbacks wasn't enough ... my computer became self-aware around eleven this morning and doesn't like my design concepts.

And with my parole officer not letting me handle pencils, I'm forced to visualise by drawing shapes in the air in front of scared colleagues.

This career can be tough.

Which brings me to a more serious discussion. Presenting to clients can be daunting but presenting internally is at times just as nerve wrecking. I've done it so many times yet I still run the gamut of emotions when a critique session comes up.

It's hard not to let it get to you personally. You've put a little of yourself into the concept and to have it questioned, critiqued and pulled off the board for something else you swear was put up by mistake gets to most people. When it appears permanently a few weeks later in the studio portfolio, you feel you've failed designers everywhere who were looking for their own inspiration. Worse still, the design gods get angry and take away your ability to select good typefaces and colour combinations. Cursed, you roam the streets in search of booze and street art, hoping the old feelings will return. But I digress...

It's just business, yeah, but when you live this career twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, it's gonna hurt at times. You just gotta get excited about the next project, let go of the bad times and just remember those sweet summer days you and your concept shared together. The way I try to look at it, is that I have enough confidence in my abilities that those good concepts are gonna come again for the next project, and the project after that and the one after that as well. I can let a few slip between the cracks.

Maybe you'll be able to rehash it down the line for another job anyway, haha.

I'll leave you with a quote I read recently that really made me laugh. Not sure if it was the original source or not, but it was used by someone talking about the creative advertising industry:

'If you're not part of the solution, there's good money to be made prolonging the problem'.

Anyway, time to head to the bar. One or two drinks after a long day never hurt anyone (it's the ones after those that really do the damage).

Friday, March 30, 2007

Raw and Honest

An interview with graphic design Christian Teniswood

Who are some of the clients you’ve worked for?
No naming dropping here but big ones. The type that make students spit when they hear your name in sell-out disgust. But it was what I always wanted. I need to feel compelled to wear a suit to presentations. A bit of public speaking pressure and a thin tie bring out the best in me.

What should design students put in their folio?
It doesn’t really matter. I’d focus on your coffee making skills.

Anything else?
Oh, ok. Ideas. Ideas. More Ideas. Then a range of styles. Emphasise your design strengths. Don’t try to sell any poor imitations of the latest design trend. If you can’t do abstract 3D crystals with twenty five glowing layers of photoshop wizardry better than everyone else, then don’t show it. You are not Rinzen, you are not David Carson, you are not your khakis. You are the same decaying matter as the last fifty juniors who proudly showed up with a folio of cloned work. Unless you’re not. Then you'll be remembered.

What salary range should I be expecting as a junior designer?
That’s dependant on experience and the quality of your cappuccino.

Do you work long hours?
Think the eye scene from a clockwork orange. You do this job for love, not money. I walk uphill both ways to work, barefoot in the snow, just for the privilege to be in this industry. Someone is buying your ideas. Sure, they seem to come cheap compared to other career choices but it’s still the only thing I can ever see myself doing. Except for jelly wrestling, I could have been great at that. Damn trick knee.

Do you get to design much in your first year at a design studio?
On the good days the creative director will look at your best etch-a-sketch doodle and give you some feedback.

What was your first project as a junior designer?
It was an in-house exercise to develop a new 27th letter for the alphabet. I was asked to present my sketches to the team. I was full of enthusiasm as I pinned the work up on the wall in front of the assembled designers. The creative director then asked me to vocalize each so he and the excited congregation could better understand the concepts behind them. I pointed eagerly at each sketch and through lemon sucked lips vocalised my literary inventions. ‘Xerg!…sshdtx!…psssthx!…mthuph!….ghweghle!” I combined unheard before tones and flying spit into new worlds of alphabetic wonder. Saussure would have been proud.

As were the assembled creatives who were almost crying in an attempt to contain their laughter. ‘Well done’ said the creative director as he patted me on the back and handed me an etch-a-sketch. ‘You’ve earned this.’

How important are ideas?
Stupid question really. The more ideas you can have, the better a designer you become. What’s even more important is to never criticise an idea ever again, especially in team environments. Trust me, this isn’t easy. Your colleague shows you a mark that looks like a limping donkey in need of a mercy killing. You’re tempted to load your gun and say ‘Clipart might be free, but it’ll cost you your soul’ but instead (and for the rest of your career) you say ‘Interesting. Let’s keep it in the mix, and keep exploring’. He might come up with something better, or not, but his confidence won’t be dented and he’ll pay the compliment back the next time you proudly present your own struggling mule. The last thing any studio needs is fear of presenting ideas (you need lots of ideas to find a good idea, even more to find a great one).

Are the deadlines strict?
I don’t want to talk about it. We’ve lost good men to those ‘deadlines’.

Do you work with the latest technology?
Yes. The couches in reception impressively fold out into beds.

As a designer do you see the world differently to others?
I sure do. Where others see buildings, streets and corners I see strategic locations from which to launch water-balloons at unsuspecting passerbys. This is what separates us from the monkeys.

Is a career in design everything you thought it would be?
Absolutely. My children will be dentists, but this career is everything to me.

Is a little arrogance required to succeed in this industry?
I’m not sure. I don’t talk to other designers much, their lack of talent sometimes annoys me. I just focus on myself.

Other advice?
Be nice to each other. Backstabbing has no place in this industry. I’m going to steal an analogy used by Luke Sullivan in his fantastic book ‘Hey Whipple, Squeeze This’ in regards to teamwork. Whether you’re the mac master, mac monkey or coffee boy (read junior designer) just remember it’s a three legged race. One falls, we all fall.

So work together and don’t be afraid to ask for help or opinions from the guys you work with. We’re not here to practice the gentle art of making enemies (and coffee boys have long memories and a revenge list of people to crush on their rise to the top).

Thanks Christian
No, thank you.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A career in corporate branding

I vividly remember when a fellow student called me a corporate whore during my final year at university. I was so proud. My career advisor had told me I didn’t have the grades for corporate whoring, but with hard work and persistence I had eventually proved them wrong.

I’d struggled through my design degree cursed to keep my annual report fantasies to myself… whilst my talented but judgmental classmates used their dreads to paint with and repeatedly put acetate sheets into the photocopier.

My university lecturer told me after I graduated that he’d seen the corporate whore in me quite early. My persistent questions on what company we were designing for, what their brand positioning was and who was the market demographic being targeted had rung the warning bells with him. He’d often told me that there were studios other than Pentagram and Chermayeff and Geismar were not the rockstars I envisioned them to be. But I would not be dissuaded and to this day I’m glad I kept true to my course.

Having now been whoring for quite a while, I can share some of the perks of selling out:

1. You make enough money to spare some change when you see former classmates drawing in chalk on the sidewalk.
2. You can make up fancy titles for yourself like ‘Corporate Design Manager’ or ‘Branding Design Principal’
3. You actually get invited to the type of functions where you need to make up fancy titles.
4. You do design that people who are not also designers get to see as well.
5. You realize you can finally understand people with a marketing degree and their secret language of abbreviations.

There are cons of course that I should warn the weak and powerless about, dare they consider signing the contract held by the guy in red.
1. The body never adjusts to sleep deprivation.
2. Sometimes, late at night, you get an itch to do ‘real’ design.
3. Say goodbye to white space. It’s hard losing a friend.
4. Screen radiation is like a reverse tanning booth.
5. Stress makes hair fall out and there can be only one Sean Connery.
6. Clients don’t care whether you use a humanist or neo-humanist sans. You have to learn to cry on the inside.

This is an amazing career choice, for a relatively young but growing profession. The current crop of designers will determine the future value of it as a respected career path. We're all after profession respect for design but it will take time and a concerted effort. See you at the top people.