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B2B Brands: How to Build Brand Advantage

I don’t usually do a straight reprint of another blog article, but this one is too important not to share with my clients — most of whom are B2B (business to business). My perception is that frequently technology and financial marketers think their brand needs to feel uber-professional, so not much personality is revealed. But after all, it’s still speaking to people, albeit people representing a company. According to Marc Di Somma of Brand Strategy Insider, this is just one mistake. Here’s the reprint:

1. Build your authority – the fastest way to de-risk the decision to go with you is to show that you are a wise choice. Do that through story and demonstration not hype and hope. Shape what you say about yourselves so that you make sense as the choice to everyone who will make the decision about whether to use you. Much of the perceived value of powerful B2B brands like GE is predicated on the market’s understanding of the worth of their vast knowledge across all the markets they choose to do business in.

2. Be uplifting – genuine energy is hugely infectious. People want to do business with brands that are passionate about what they do and the difference they can make. Present problems internally in ways that inspire people to solve them, and present your findings and answers with gusto but humility. There’s huge power in suggestion. In areas like consulting, for example, the most powerful B2B brands are those that people want to be in the room with because they’re excited about what they’ll hear.

3. Problem solve – it’s not about what you offer, it’s all about what they need. Yes, everyone says they know that, but precious few act on it. Instead, they focus on displaying their own expertise rather than discussing how that expertise could be applied. Market yourselves as a brand that understands and is working to positively address the issues that come between your clients and their objectives. Put what you know in the context of what your client or prospect needs to address. Ideo is a great example of this approach in action.

4. Have real personality – so many B2B brands are afraid of being anything other than beige. They worry that it compromises their “professionalism”, whatever that is. Not true. Stand apart by presenting yourselves in a colorful and savvy way – in your actions and in your marketing. Mailchimp are a prime example of an email marketer with a strong and instantly recognizable voice. Remember, your brand puts a face to the resources you have available. It brings your experience and knowledge alive. It telegraphs powerful messages quickly and decisively. Work with that. In today’s aesthetically aware world, beauty inspires confidence because it signals attention to detail.

5. Listen carefully – monitor the market, provide input, shape debate, engage with others and take onboard what you get back. Then share the insights you’ve gathered generously. A brand that listens and reports is a brand that others also come to look to for cues. Take up a cause. Speaking for the industry to consumers or on behalf of consumers to the industry bestows authority and authenticity and makes you a critical pivot in the journey to resolution. IBM with its Global CEO Study and Edelman PR with its Trust Barometer are great examples of B2B brands that have put themselves at the center of valuable and dynamic conversations this way.

6. Start relationships early – expressing an interest in doing business with another brand and then exhibiting the patience to wait till a slot becomes available shows planning and discipline. Look for ways to involve your executives as an unofficial sounding board for difficult decisions that the target company is facing. Show them you want to see them prosper before you ask them to help your bottom line. Pitch doctor Neil Flett has said that a high stakes pitch is often won or lost long before the presentation takes place.

7. Open doors – making introductions that display no self interest reinforces trust and helps businesses perceive your brand as connected and enabling. You are part of the solution, despite the fact that you didn’t actually contribute directly in addressing the issue. Those introductions don’t have to be to other people or firms – they can be to thinkers, books, presentations or alternative viewpoints. LinkedIn has of course literally built a business out of being that global introducer.

Amen! Read the full article here »

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Introducing The Dog Studio

Introducing The Dog Studio

AJ-MT-Shopped-SMA fresh approach to greeting cards and social stationery for dog lovers.

I’m excited to finally share my big news with you! For the past few months, I’ve been working hard at starting up an exciting venture with my sister, renown dog photographer Amanda Jones, and my brother-in-law Chris Jones. Our new company, The Dog Studio, pairs Amanda’s stunning dog portraits with my enthusiasm for beautiful design to create contemporary stationery and cards — and eventually gifts and home items. Very soon we will be releasing products that dog lovers (and lovers of dog lovers) across America will go crazy for! We hope.

Ultimately, we want to influence the quality of dog imagery used on products everywhere. And make beautiful cards and gifts. Our goal is to create products that are unique, smart and beautiful while giving back to the dog community. For that, we have created a “Royalties to the Rescue” program that makes financial and product donations to groups that help shelter dogs.

Here’s an example of our cards…

The Dog Studio Greeting Cards

The Dog Studio Greeting Cards

We will be launching to the resale trade in May at the National Stationery Show in New York City. In September we hope to launch our online store so everyone can buy one! Or two or twelve.

We hope you’ll come along for the ride! Learn more about it and how you can keep up with us at www.thedogstudio.com.

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The Workshop Workshop: “Facilitation by Design”

Facilitation by Design Workshop

This week I attended a workshop on…workshops. A part of AIGA‘s Design for Good initiative, “Facilitation by Design” was led by service design superstar Renna Al-Yassini of user experience firm Adaptive Path. With loads of experience under her belt leading diverse groups to successful solutions, Renna led us through her process of how to prepare and execute a productive collaborative session.

Workshops can help with…

…gathering information
…making decisions
…clarifying direction
…generating new ideas
…building consensus
…creating compromise
…making a plan
…gleaning knowledge
…engaging teams
…boosting morale

Why a Workshop?

Collaboration. Workshops (like designers!) are by nature collaborative. As opposed to a regular old sit-down meeting where people may discuss a topic, a workshop is designed to resolve a specific challenge question by engaging invested participants. Problem-solving is approached with pre-conceived activities designed to gain perspective from diverse participants. It’s the perspective of the participants that brings the most value to the session. Whether it’s designed for morale-building or to conceptualize improvements for the staff onboarding process, getting the right people in the room who can speak to the details of the problem and offer constructive insight toward a solution is key.

Problem-solving. Workshops solve problems, or at least one specific part of a bigger problem. They can be used to bring different community groups together for consensus-building and planning (like building a local dog park), or strategic planning for companies or nonprofit organizations. They can be used in the very beginnings of a project, such as the start of a new design initiative, or checking in on the progress of a longer-term project to see if the roadmap is on track. Or it can be used at the end of a project to set final deliverables and a launch plan.

Flexibility. The beauty of the workshop is its flexibility of application. Once you get that the collaboration can be designed to target any specific challenge question (that is, what do we want to accomplish by coming together?), you can see that it can be used to approach any business problem…or community or organizational challenge, for that matter. The problem can be big or small, involving many participants or just a few. Which brings us to…

Who Needs a Workshop?

Workshops are not limited to launching a new design initiative. Here are just a few examples of who can benefit from a workshop:

  • Nonprofit organizations for strategic planning
  • Banks for new line of business ideation
  • Community coalitions for creating a roadmap
  • Marketing departments for successful brand rollout
  • Corporate mergers for information gathering
  • HR departments for troubleshooting internal processes
  • Product development teams to review & refine product design

What’s your main business challenge right now? Maybe it’s time to reach out to an objective facilitator to create some structure and collaboration around tackling it.

For more information:

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Web Design: 5 Trends from 2013 that Won’t Go Away Any Time Soon

Just when you think you NAILED that website, another technology comes along to make it seem outdated. It reminds us that the web is fluid and changing all the time. It’s not like print, where you print it and it’s done. In fact, don’t bother looking at many of the websites I’ve used as examples this year because they’ve been redone already. Evolved. Improved. That’s our goal. But we are still talking about some trends that were hot at the beginning of the year, I think they’re here to stay. For now. So get out your notepad and start your New Year’s resolutions to keep up with the fast pace of the www.

#1. Responsive Design

At this point, we are building our WordPress sites with responsive themes. It’s not SO much more to build it this way, and it sure makes user experience better for everyone. What is responsive? The site changes layout to accommodate different sized screens, so it looks good on a phone or on a laptop. Rather than having a mobile version of your site, the same site displays slightly differently on the phone. Looks good and works well.

Lisa Cueman Responsive Site

While lisacuemanphotography.com displays just as well on your phone as on the laptop, I’d recommend taking a moment to browse on your laptop because the images look so great at a larger size.

#2. Web Fonts & Typography

As the number of web fonts increases, the happier I get! Even though this isn’t exactly NEW news, I’m including because I think my clients don’t realize how freeing this is to the designer and how much fresher their website will look with better typography. Whereas previously we had to design text on a website with the tired system fonts Microsoft deemed good enough to look at every day (ie., Arial, Times New Roman, Georgia, etc.), Google has upped the game by providing free web fonts to choose from. So I’m a happy designer and you’re a happy reader.

Design@Work

Why does DESIGN@WORK look so dang slick? Because we’ve used the web version of our corporate font, Avenir. Yippee!

#3. Big Ole Buttons

Because, really, who reads anymore? The contemporary web viewer wants to get where s/he wants to go on a site STAT. So we work to predict where that may be and send them there ASAP. OMG! Another good case for rapid technology iteration and paying attention to your analytics. Know what I’m saying? No? Let’s chat.

BirchwoodCenter.com

Client Birchwood Center did their homework and knew they wanted their clients to get to their membership specials first and foremost. So we featured them on the home page with big ole buttons. Can’t miss them!

#4. Scrolling, Scrolling, Scrolling

I’m not saying everyone should jump on the scrolling bandwagon. An “infinite scroll” — when one keeps scrolling and content keeps loading —  is great for loading products or a social media feed. Parallax scrolling is used to suggest depth and dimension, which is great for the web and helps with storytelling. Both types of scroll are useful for certain things, and lots of cool effects can be done with them. But first let’s focus on what we need to get done with the website, then we can decide if that’s the best way to go about it.

Walking Dead

My personal favorite example of parallax scrolling: behind the scenes of the Walking Dead. Shows how the actors get zombified into “walkers.”

#5. Static Headers

Perhaps on the heels of the scrolling trend is the static header trend: when the header containing the logo and navigation stays in place no matter where you are on the scroll, stuck to the top of the browser. I’ve long been a fan of a footer stuck to the bottom of a screen for the same reason — it’s there when you need it, but out of the way. You’ll also notice a rise in static sidebars — where the sidebar stays in place as you scroll down a page. Better functionality is always fine with me!

amandajones.com, in progress

The new amandajones.com, currently in design, will utilize a static header so the user can use the navigation no matter where s/he is on the page.

Overall, I prefer to pay attention to technology and usability trends over design trends. They are typically innovated for a reason — to make life better for us on the web. While I love design, it can be fickle and change so much that the look of something can be outdated in a year. Technology trends are typically replaced by something better, which is good for all of us.

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Step 1: The Branding Workshop

13-1022-WorkshopRecently, we looked at the 6 key elements of successful brand deployment, which gave an overview of our process for developing brands. The first two elements were “Company Definition” and “Corporate Strategy” — makes sense to start with the basics. But how do we get to know the company so well we can define it? That’s where our Branding Workshop comes in.

A workshop! Doesn’t that sound fun? Yes, you may have to bribe your team into participating. And you will need to speak up and share your ideas and opinions (harder for some than others). But we’ll all work hard, collaborating as a group. All this work will be well worth it in the long run when everyone is on the same page about exactly what your brand stands for.

Here’s how it works.

1. Preparing the Workshop: Where is the opportunity?

While preparing the Workshop, we gather a lot of information about you — interviewing key internal and external stakeholders, throughly reviewing your marketing collateral, looking at your competitors, and more. But we want to identify any gaps in our knowledge about your company. This could include gaps about your business, your brand, or maybe your audiences… all the relevant details that go into brand building. We recognize that these gaps could be symptomatic of the information you aren’t communicating about your biz in general, so we pay special attention to them. Then we design the workshop specifically for your biz, building upon the knowledge you’ve shared with us and working to bridge those gaps. The goal of the workshop is to get a deeper understanding of your brand and all the specialness about it. This is how we’ll be able to successfully translate your biz to crisp clear communications.

2. Scheduling the Workshop: Who’s around the table?

Scheduling the workshop is easy…maybe. It depends on how many people need to be in the room. And let’s try to get them all into the room — a workshop in person is far more efficient than a virtual one via video or telephonically. In my experience, a working group of five brings enough diversity and knowledge into the room, but is still a manageable number of voices. These five should be chosen carefully — they should be dedicated staff who can bring insight and expertise about your biz. A diverse perspective is very important here, as is choosing team mates who get your core business, brand and company culture, along with a shared vision for the enterprise.

3. The Workshop Agenda: What does it look like?

Workshop agendas are all different, as each Workshop is designed specifically for the client. The focus of the Workshop is typically on those items that are still not clear after our research — the elements of brand that the company needs the most help defining.

A presentation deck will outline the Workshop; it is distributed to the working group several days beforehand so that folks can consider things before we all meet up to discuss. Typically designed for three hours or less, we try to keep the agenda chunked in a way that is not overwhelming.

What follows is an example of a workshop we did last spring for a client who was looking for refinement due to a major shift in their core business which was never reflected in their branding.

13-1022-Workshop-1

Keeping it to 5 items or less makes the most efficient use of our time.

13-1022-Workshop-2

We try to cut to the quick of your core business.

13-1022-Workshop-3

Discovering your big audacious goal.

13-1022-Workshop-4

We spend a chunk of time discussing your customers and other strategic targets.

13-1022-Workshop-5

Getting to the core of “what you are all about.”

13-1022-Workshop-6

We are sure to discuss the visual and tonal qualities of the brand, which inform the creative direction.

4. Workshop Outputs: What do you get?

Workshop Notes

We distribute our raw notes immediately after the Workshop, and get going on the Brand Frame.

After the Workshop, we send out our raw notes from the event. This is just to remind you of what we discussed. Our next big task is to start pulling together the Brand Frame, which holds the company definition and the brand DNA. We spend a few weeks iterating on this fundamental piece. It’s the critical document that pulls together all of the ideas from the Workshop and lays the foundation upon which we’ll build our brand. The whole point of the Workshop is so we can make a really great, relevant Brand Frame. More about that in the next post in this series.

5. The Take-Away

There are a few key things to keep in mind about the workshop:

1. The prep pays off, in spades. While it may be a hassle to get the right people together to put their thinking caps on about the company and the brand, it’s critical to building a successful brand. Hone your leadership skills to get them excited about the process, and be sure your team is on the same page when it comes to the goals and the direction the company or organization is taking. There’s nothing worse for a Workshop than when the internal team starts arguing about where the company should be going.

2. 5 people, 3 hours. The majority of the work is in the preparation. Once the structure of the workshop has been defined by the prep, your team is free to be creative and think “outside the box” about the potential of the brand. You’ll be surprised at the awesome ideas that will come out of these three hours of interaction. And your team will find itself energized by the process.

3. Keep your team focused. It’s easy to get distracted by other business initiatives. Brand building may be lower on the priority list, but it will get done faster, and better, if your internal team stays focused and responsive through the duration of the project. Do whatever you can to keep them motivated and psyched about the project. Scheduling regular meetings will help move things along. And keep it fun!

See all the posts in this Brand Series »

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