• How a Web Design Scam Tried to Ensnare Us

    A web design scam is making the rounds and landed in our inbox. Here is how we handled it, and what you should know to protect yourselves.

    An inquiry for a new project came through our website. It seemed harmless enough. It’s not unusual to get requests for our services, and we do our best to respond to them in a professional manner.

    Upon engaging the new lead, we were sent a scope that appeared to be from someone familiar with the web design process.

    The scammer said:

     l have a Auto painting company business and i need an information website to promote my business, so i need you to check out this site but i need something more perfect than this if its possible.

     <website link>

    i need you to get me an estimate based on the site i gave you to check out, the estimate should include hosting and i want the same page as the site i gave you to check out and i have a private project consultant, he has the text content and the logos for the site. Note:

    1. I want the same number of pages with the example site i gave you to check excluding blogs.
    2. I want only English language
    3. I don’t have a domain yet but i want you to purchase a domain name www.al-qayyumauto.biz Or www.al-qayyumautos.me
    4. i will be proving the images, logos and content for the site

    I will be waiting for your email for the estimate”

     What followed was a list of features and directions to use X Theme.

    Sounds great, right? The bad grammar and urgency should have been our first sign of things to come, but who doesn’t want a motivated prospect?

    Red Flag #1

    At Divining Point we use a consultative process to establish a partnership with each client. We take our time to discuss the purpose of a website, the design requirements, and the user experience that will ultimately lead to conversions.

    We are also reluctant to quote exact pricing without ensuring we have a full understanding of a client’s needs. There’s no point in rushing the process if a project isn’t fully assessed.

    In order to gauge the level of seriousness with this prospect, we sent over a very rough ballpark with the following caveat:

    “We need to speak with you further to properly define the scope and learn more about your business. How did you hear about us?”

    The Scammer sent back:

    “Thank you for your email. I haven’t paid the project consultant that have the logos and content for the site so i would be Making the total payment of $XX,XXX and would deduct $X,XXX payment for my website design and the remaining you would help me send it to the project consultant that has the text content and the logo for my website so once he has the $X,XXX he would send the text content and logo needed for my website to you also the funds would be sent to him via Bank deposit into his account,and also a tip of $XXX for the stress.Thank you once again and God bless you!”

     A full upfront payment from which we’re going to cut 50% and pay a third party the other half, plus a tip? We knew something was fishy, but we had yet to discover this was a web design scam.

    Red Flag #2

    Our Founder, Coy West, sent back the following request:

    “Thanks again for sending in the website inquiry to us. Can you send me the
    following information?

    company name
    name
    phone number
    billing address
    business address”

    Almost immediately we received:

    “Thank you for your email .I will send you the details but I would like to know the credit card processor you are usingand your cell phone number.”

    Coy merely said that all invoices and payments are made using QuickBooks, which is pretty standard for many businesses. Our Founder’s cell phone number is already in his email signature.

    They responded:

    “Okay sound Good !

    Name .. David Vend 

    Business name .. Dvend auto 

    Address .. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

    Also the business address is the same thing with the billing address please get back to me before issuing the invoice!”

    They still didn’t send us a phone number.

    Red Flag #3

    As is standard, we researched online and didn’t find a “David Vend” in Columbus, Ohio. Additionally, no company registered as Dvend Auto turned up in online searches.

    We searched the physical address and learned it is listed to a wholesale auto sales company with multiple complaints from the Better Business Bureau. A deeper dive into the company showed that the business had changed names and ownership multiple times. To an unsuspecting small business, it would seem plausible the new website project was simply another rebranding effort.

    At this point, we decided to slow down the process way down. There was no need to rush.

    It Gets Weird

    The next day our Founder received a text at 2:09am on his cell phone.

    “Hello Coy this is david.Please confirm to me if you receive my text”

    Coy was preparing to travel out of town for a funeral. The next morning at 5:05am, he responded that he received the text message. The scammer immediately responded:

    “Great I would like to proceed by making the full payment can you make the invoice so I can pay it?”

    Coy informed him of his travel plans and said he’d get back to him later.

    “Okay I will be waiting for hear from you”

    At 4:32am the next morning, Coy received another text.

    “Good Morning ., I am still waiting for invoice so we can proceed”

    Does this guy ever sleep?

    How This Web Design Scam Works

    Scams come in all shapes and sizes. Everyone by now has received friendly emails from a Nigerian Prince claiming to send money directly to their bank account. Robocalls, phishing, and malware attacks are now a part of everyday life. But a web design scam was new to us.

    We searched for www.al-qayyumauto.biz and www.al-qayyumautos.me and discovered another fine gent who’d encountered the same hoax.

    Had we rushed to process the full upfront payment, we would have been party to credit card fraud, since the scammer most likely uses a stolen credit card. The “private project consultant”, to whom we would have sent 50% of the money (plus a tip!), is most likely the scammer himself.

    By preying on a small business, we speculate that the scammer(s) found a way to have someone else process a stolen credit card and then launder a portion of the money, which is sent directly to them.

    For any company eager to get paid, this web design scam presents a real threat to their business. You’d be on the hook for credit card fraud, money laundering, and all the money when the authorities come to investigate.

    The Weirdness Didn’t Stop

    Upon discovering the scam, Coy sent a text:

    “After a thorough review, we are unable to fulfill your design requests. Best of luck to you.”

    Two hours later:

    “why do you say that?You are the only one i want to handle my website,What is the problem”

    Twenty minutes later:

    “Hello Am waiting for you to reply me”

     Thirty minutes later:

    “i will be making upfront payment .I want you to handle my project please dont say No”

    Many more texts followed for another hour until they finally stopped.

    If It Seems Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is

    This web design scam is probably the first of many more to come. Businesses of all sizes get excited when a prospect appears out of nowhere ready to move forward. Whereas we might recommend keeping a new business deal moving forward, we also urge extreme caution when a prospect comes on too strong and doesn’t demonstrate any apparent due diligence.

    Even if it isn’t a scam, there are problems associated with failing to establish a clearly defined scope and good working relationship with the client. The stability of your company and the success of each project depends on moving at a measured pace that doesn’t introduce risk for you or your client.

    ***

    Need a team with a professional approach? Give us a call. We’re here to help.

  • Q&A With Our Creative Director, Jon Taylor

    “My favorite part about being creative and assembling things in novel and respectful ways is seeing the client be blown away by our vision.” 

    These words were spoken by Jon Taylor, our Creative Director and all things visionary. See what else he had to say when we sat down with him and spoke on managing creative assets, working at Divining Point, and decompression!

    We know you cover a lot of ground at DP, but can you explain exactly what you do here?

    Being the Creative Director, I oversee all the creative initiatives. I make sure we have a creative vision at a higher level and work it out whether it’s a design brief, website, photoshoot, or even written text. I’m basically paid to be critical and point out flaws. If I say, “it’s good, I love it,” I feel I’ve failed at that task. There’s always room for improvement.

    What is your favorite thing about your job?

    I like being creative. My favorite part about being creative and assembling things in novel and respectful ways is seeing the client be blown away by our vision.

    What is your least favorite thing about your job?

    I know most would say having their ideas adulterated, but I’ve been doing it for so long that it doesn’t bother me. One part of the process that bothers me is if I fall in love with a vision and it’s changed to the point where the vision is gone. In these cases, I will come up with an entirely new vision, ultimately breaking up with the other one and no one likes a breakup.

    What was a recent obstacle you had to overcome? What were you thinking during this?

    Working on a website recently I had to realize that the solution for a client’s sales system that I came up with – which was beautiful – wasn’t attainable in their scope. I had to go back to the drawing board and come up with something new, but that was also unattainable. Ultimately, the solution from the technical side seemed to destroy the whole vision in my head, and that’s still an ongoing problem.

    If you could tell clients looking for creative work to be done, what advice would you give them?

    I would say don’t start with who YOU are but who your customers are. When you’re creating a business, it needs to be about who you are. But when you’re getting into the creatives and trying to push sales it needs to be focused on your customers and who they are because that’s who’s going to fall in love with your brand.

    What are your thoughts on the importance of collaborating and bridging the gap between other team members such as social media specialists and the marketing strategist?

    If I had my own way, everyone would be involved at one point or another. That doesn’t always work out because of heavy work loads at a smaller agency, but I really like when everyone gets involved because I thrive with criticism and different viewpoints. Everyone brings baggage to the table and unpacking all of that creates a better product.

    What advice would you give to someone just entering this role?

    Check your ego at the door. You are not a badass. Most entering a position like a Creative Director feel they have something to prove. In reality, when you let go of that and let yourself flow as part of a team and accept criticism with grace, then you will create really beautiful things.

    What recommendations would you give to clients to help streamline the process between their vision and your process?

    It’s a mutual trust. The moment you don’t feel your creative team trusts you, is the moment you need a new creative team. They need to trust you and likewise– the creatives need to trust the clients. That needs to be taken seriously and not dismissed because it goes against your ideas.

    What’s your favorite thing about working on the DP team?

    The levels of trust. I lean into things that aren’t traditional employee traits, like laziness. I think it’s an important part but has to be structured. This is the right culture for that. I also lean into criticism and alternate ways of thinking about things. That doesn’t always work in other agencies because other agencies are systematic, and it’s worked out really well for me here. 

    For example, in a branding meeting I’m not going to ask the same questions, even though it may seem systematic. My questions depend on the needs of the clients.

    What are your favorite ways to decompress outside of work?

    I like to travel… a lot. I’m really into extreme stuff. A lot of times I’ll shut everything out of my life and relax and that’s when I find I’m the most decompressed. 

    ***

    Need to a creative force to take your marketing to the next level? Give us a call. We’re here to help.

  • The Power Of a Photo

    The competition for attention is fierce. Merely having something to say doesn’t mean people will notice you. 

    It’s estimated that the average American sees up to 5,000 advertisements every day. Most of these ads are image based, which means we are bombarded with hundreds of photographic messages every hour. 

    You may have the best product in the world with the best story behind it, but that doesn’t mean anyone will give your brand, your story, or your company two seconds of their precious attention. Often, the best you can hope for is a fleeting glance. 

    Honestly, who can blame them? You’re asking for the one thing that matters most to people: time. 

    People scroll through Facebook and Instagram at the speed of light. They vacantly drive past hundreds of billboards every day. They sit idly watching television, hit the mute button and walk to the kitchen during commercial breaks. They’re searching for something impactful, something meaningful to grab their attention. 

    When a buyer experiences your marketing they make a split-second subconscious decision about how much time they want to give you. All too often they turn away. 

    Simply put, no one has the the mental bandwidth for an uninspiring pitch.

    They only stop and look when something stands out. That precious moment is only earned through the power of great photography. 

    Why Custom Photography Matters

    It’s easy to find an image on a stock website that you feel tells the world who you are. Before you do that though, let me caution you: your brand is more than a product or a service. 

    Your brand is your story. 

    There are reasons why people choose one burger shop over another. They buy Nike instead of Adidas. They drive a Chevy instead of a Ford. There’s a reason why people choose you rather than a competitor. 

    You might think it’s price or location or even because you spent the most on marketing and advertising. All of that certainly helps. But in reality, the real reason people choose your brand and find it so appealing is because they feel like they know your company intimately. You’ve become friends. 

    The choice to invest in custom photography is the decision to boldly tell your story in an original and heartwarming way that establishes a deep connection with the viewer. Each image gives you a unique place in the world and in people’s hearts. It is a specific moment in time directly relevant to your brand’s story. The context is purely yours. 

    Stock photos, while beautiful in their own right, are taken in a way that gets used and reused for commercial purposes. As such, the image is applied in ways that lose its original context. It’s a flat representation of your brand. 

    Even worse is when the stock photo you selected to tell your story appears in another company’s marketing… sometimes even your competitors’. 

    Show me something new

    Lest you call us hypocrites, we use stock photos, too. Our blog is full of them. But when it comes to representing who we truly are, what we do, and what our brand means, we break out equipment to shoot something original. 

    That’s because we know that the secret to great marketing is to produce photos that present what we do in a way that is different than what people experience every day. 

    Subscription box services perfectly illustrate this philosophy. To demonstrate their products, they purposely lay out each piece in an orderly fashion on a clean table. These companies know that the lives of average people are not so clean and tidy. The presentation is so appealing you’re driven to say, “I want that!” because who doesn’t want a box of products that could bring some kind of order to your life? 

    Everyday we see flowers, dogs and children from our normal vantage point. We tilt our heads down to look at them. However, when seen from the ground, that same flower, dog, or child suddenly becomes fascinating. We’re not used to seeing them from that angle, and when we do our eyes are opened to discover these commonplace objects in new and unfamiliar ways. The same technique applies when we seeing tall things from above. 

    Almost everything can be shown in a different way to make it interesting. From oilfield services to medical procedures, everything can be presented in a manner that catches the viewer off guard and forces them to take a second look. The images linger. The meaning is processed for days. 

    Applied to marketing, when you use custom photography your brand leaves an indelible mark on the viewer that inspires top of mind awareness and a long lasting impression. Sales are directly correlated to the amount of time the buyer spends on a website. When a photo ignites the imagination of your buyer they move forward to buy. 

    Details matter. 

    The thought and attention to detail that is put into an image finds its way into the emotional center of your customer’s brain. It connects with them in ways that a stock photo cannot. People prefer quality over inferior value, and they’re naturally moved to take action when they see it. 

    The key to quality photography involves lighting a photo in a way that makes it interesting, carefully setting the scene, and posing the subjects in ways that both follow and break the rules of composition in order to create compelling visual interest. These little details matter. When applied to your brand, it tells a story that is unique to you.

    When a photo is well lit, when it’s clear, when it’s obviously not just a selfie, people automatically assign a higher value to what that photo represents. 

    What is your brand worth? What is the service you provide worth? What are you worth? Honestly, you are worth great photography.

    ***

    Need to a marketing team to help you “stop the scroll”? Give us a call. We’re here to help.

  • A Primer for Progressive Web Design

    Progressive Web Design (PWD), or Progressive Enhancement, is a way of designing web pages so that they will work for 100% of users, no matter what browser they are using or in what manner they are interacting with the page. It’s a contentious topic for some people – usually designers. For marketers, it’s an important method for ensuring every possible audience encounters an experience that leads to conversions.

    Progressive Versus Responsive

    Progressive Web Design is not the same thing as Responsive Web Design.

    It is a core fundamental of web development that the design must be elastic and be appealing at all viewport aspect ratios. However, it’s not an either or decision between Progressive and Responsive. Both standards should be used together to ensure an optimal experience for all users.

    Responsive Web Design uses design elements that respond to changes in the size of the viewport – desktop, tablet or mobile phone. This is done by rearranging the components of the page, changing the top nav into a “hamburger menu,” and other techniques. The motto of Responsive Web Design is “mobile-first”, meaning that if a site works on mobile, it will work on desktop but not vice-versa.

    Progressive Web Design takes this same elastic approach toward browser functionality and context. However, the Progressive Web Design workflow is based on the idea of layering. At first pass, a page is designed for the least common denominator, i.e., a small screen with no CSS, no JavaScript and HTML4. Then, the enhanced features are layered on. Consequently, this also enhances the SEO performance of the website since the underlying content is easier to crawl by search engines. 

    Why Is This Important for Designing Websites?

    From the beginning, the Web was designed to be platform-agnostic, which is a fancy way to say that a page will work on any computer and in any browser that implements the HTML standard. Progressive Web Design embraces this goal of accessibility by ensuring that a page is functional in any context.

    Modern web browsers provide powerful styling and scripting abilities for web designers and developers using HTML5, CSS and JavaScript. However, only a certain percentage of users interact with a design with all these features enabled.

    Some common contexts in which a user may be interacting with a site are:

    The Whole Enchilada – Using the latest desktop version of Chrome, Edge or Safari with all features enabled.

    The Smart Phone – Using a touch interface on a modern smartphone with the latest version of a major browser and fully enabled.

    The Old Browser – There are still a sizable number of users who use outdated browsers like Internet Explorer that do not implement the newest features of CSS and JavaScript. This often happens in large corporations or organizations with strict IT policies.

    The Snail – A user is in a rural setting where broadband is not available.

    Reader Mode – There are a number of applications in which a user may read a version of a page that has all CSS and JavaScript stripped away such as when subscribing via RSS, using sites like InstaPaper and Pocket, or reading a page in offline mode.

    Speech Mode – Screen readers for the visually-impaired and voice-interactive devices like Alexa, Google Home, etc.

    What Design Features Are Actually Used?

    Current analysis shows that the following features are available for the percentage of audience shown. This is only a small portion of features listed as an example. A full reference for the use of features can be found at https://CanIUse.com.

    CSS

    • Grid Layout: 91.54%
    • Sticky (prefixed) – Header stays at top: 90.36%
    • Sticky (not-prefixed): 76.74%
    • Shapes: 89.23%
    • Filter Effects: 93.19%
    • Scroll Positioning: 86.73%
    • CSS Calc: 95.83%
    • Rounded Corners: 96.48%

    HTML5

    • Audio: 96.46%
    • Canvas Blend Modes: 92.86%
    • Custom Tags: 86.59%
    • Dialog Element: 72.22%
    • HTML Imports: 72.17%
    • PNG Favicons: 85.07%

    JavaScript

    • Accelerometer: 62.22%
    • Promises: 92.74%
    • Push API: 78.06%
    • ECMAScript6 Classes: 90.83%

    Other

    • WAI-ARIA Accessibility: 94.20%
    • WebP Image Format: 78.13%
    • Ogg Audio Format: 79.79%
    • FLAC Audio Format: 89.97%
    • WebAssembly (wasm): 84.62%
    • Animated PNG: 84.42%
    • theme-color Meta Tag: 36.42%

    Basic Techniques

    Know your user. Site audiences will skew toward more or less feature availability depending on the site’s user base. A site made for techies will likely have The Whole Enchilada, whereas less technical users who tend to live in rural areas will have less functionality.

    Check usage. Each property should be checked for usage. Many firms elect to consider 98% and above as global and ignore those users who don’t have the feature. Although that seems to cover most or all of the bases, it could very well leave out important segments of your customer base.

    CSS overrides. This is a simple technique of writing CSS code that is geared toward all browsers and then adding on code for more sophisticated browsers to the end of the CSS. This method replaces the previously declared code if the browser supports the new feature. Otherwise, it’s ignored.

    CSS feature queries. This is a tool in CSS to check to see if a feature is available and only parse the designated code if it is.

    Fail gracefully. Manage feature failures proactively.

    Write for tests. Design code with functionality to easily test the site in less-advanced contexts.

    Test by touch and by click. Interaction on touchscreens may be very different for the user than by clicking with a mouse. Be sure the page works easily for both contexts.

    Think about content-only. Knowing that your page may be read by a screen-reader or in reader mode, layout the code with the intention of feeding content to these readers in a logical order and omitting elements that do not apply in that context.

    Test without JavaScript. Make sure nothing breaks when JavaScript is turned off. For example, employ post-back methods for when AJAX is not available.

    Need a full-service team to take your business to the next level? Contact us today. We’re here to help.

  • The Artistic Puppy Joins Divining Point

    We are excited to announce that Jon Taylor, the “Artistic Puppy”, has joined Divining Point as Creative Director. Jon brings his creative eye and visual storytelling talents to our full service agency, thereby giving our clients more options for engaging design, photography and videography.

    Prior to joining Divining Point, Jon was the CEO of Artistic Puppy, a photography and marketing agency based in the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. For 11 years, Jon and his team provided world class creative and marketing strategy for businesses across multiple industries. His clients included companies in fashion, outdoor apparel, tourism, hospitality, oil and gas, and public sector agencies. Artistic Puppy has a reputation for great service and dramatic media, and we are thrilled to incorporate his high standards into our firm.

    Prior to running Artistic Puppy, Jon held positions as the Director of Marketing and Development for Alaska Christian College, the co-founder of the comedy series “The Doug and Jon Show”, and Director of Creative Development for RHM Inc. He earned his chops in various other creative roles that challenged him to capture stunning photography and video in harsh environments. Over time he broadened his skills to include graphic design, ad copy, and front-end web design.

    His philosophy for marketing fits firmly into Divining Point’s core values. The power of brand and a mandate for excellence are the foundations for a successful business that generates loyal clients. He approaches every creative project with the goal to evoke emotion in the heart of the observer. To Jon, it’s not enough to create a “good design”. He seeks to motivate people to respond with passion, which in turn produces results.

    Jon currently divides his time between Austin, TX and back home in Kenai, Alaska, which extends the reach of Divining Point’s services. When he’s not behind the camera or editing video, he can be found playing the drums, exploring new travel adventures, and cracking corny jokes.

    Need a full-service team to take your business to the next level? Contact us today. We’re here to help.

  • Why Service Companies Need to Invest in Branding

    Branding is more than just big words and fancy logos. It’s an investment in your company’s future. It is the first step in reassuring your customers that you will fulfill the promises you make. Your brand tells a story and defines how your clients will experience your company. That begins with the very first impression they form when seeing your logo and hearing your name, and it continues with every interaction they have with your company.

    Some people think branding is hokey. We get it. Many people underestimate the value of a reputable, authentic brand until they have one for themselves.  Your brand is your most valuable asset and remains constant as your company changes – team members come and go, clients come and go, you expand your service line, etc. As such, it is the foundation of your company.

    The only constant is change…and your brand.

    The best brands understand they can’t be everything to everybody. They define exactly what they’re offering and exactly who it will benefit. With such clarity, their messaging is laser-focused on their target market and they position themselves as leaders. A strong brand is not only authoritative, but also authentic, and this combo draws customers in to learn more. Even though your business may revolve around “handshakes” and relationships, your brand is the glue that makes your customers stick with you.

    To establish their authenticity, a brand must separate themselves from the competition by highlighting their “why.” In a market where competitors fight on price, poach talent or build knockoff products, a unique brand is a differentiator that keeps existing clients engaged and attracts future customers.

    Your brand tells a story.

    Here’s an example of engineering companies telling different stories with their brands:

    With Austin’s hot market, local architects and developers are teaming up with engineering firms to knock out projects fast. Let’s say an architect is designing a hotel and needs an engineering firm to help with the parking lot. He runs a Google search and clicks on a few of the organic search results. The first clicked link leads to the site for ABC Engineers.

    ABC: The ABC logo is a blocky, black-and-white, “ABC.” Their website isn’t that interesting either, with just one generic picture of a blueprint and an uninspiring promise of, “we provide innovative solutions for your projects.” The About Us page isn’t much better:

    ABC was founded in 2001 on the premise of providing excellent engineering and communication with our clients. We are a family-owned business and treat our clients like family. At ABC, we’re engineering the future.

    There’s no info on the types of projects ABC does, or where they practice. The architect isn’t wowed by ABC Engineers, so he clicks on another link for a company called Zeus Engineering.

    Zeus: The Zeus homepage loads a 3D-cartoon Greek-styled city rising up through shrouds of graphic clouds. An animated lightning flash strikes their logo onto the page and it’s a mythological Greek god wearing a hardhat and raising his fists with a lightning bolt in one palm and a ruler in the other. The architect visiting the site chuckles because the site is creative and original, unlike ABC Engineers.

    The architect clicks on a page called, “The Legend of Zeus,” and finds their brand promise and firm story: “We summon our Texas engineering powers to provide a hotel project quote within 3 days, phone call updates every 2 days and check-in emails EVERY day.”

    The architect reads on to find their story:

    In 2001, two young engineers by the names of Andy and Paul were working late at an ancient Austin engineering firm. Tired and hungry, Andy exclaimed, “Enough! We’ve been here for 10 hours today and we’re still behind. Clients keep calling and no one is happy. I want to build an engineering firm based on pro-active client communication – I’ll call them before they call me. Let’s use customer service to overthrow our competitors because we both know that communication is next to godliness.” And that was how Zeus Engineering was founded. Two nascent engineers determined to rewrite the process for client experience.

    Game over. The architect poked around on the Zeus site some more, reading client testimonials and watching aerial videos of their projects, but he was already sold. Their brand was confident and measurable. The focused messaging and unique website design demonstrated the signs of a company who works hard to get it right. Zeus is accountable and yet personable. A branding story well told.

    How you can learn from Zeus Engineering

    Your brand doesn’t have to be cute to get the job done. But it does need to speak clearly to the prospects you seek to convert into paying clients. To nail down your brand strategy, think about the following things.  

    People don’t buy things, they buy brands. A strong brand commands premium prices. Think about Harley Davidson and their household name. The company is, perhaps, the most well-known motorcycle manufacturer in the world, and that’s come from years of marketing that positions them as an industry leader for their consumer. They have a recognizable name that lets you know what to expect shelling out top dollar for one of their luxury motorcycles. The Harley Davidson name is more than just a product. It is a culture. It is an icon.

    Your story is built into your brand identity. Building your story into your brand is all about producing a cohesive message and identity that speaks volumes about your company. Colors, taglines, and typefaces evoke different feelings and contribute to how customers experience your brand before, during, and after the sale. As such, your brand lowers the hurdles to closing a sale. It keeps your clients bound to you, thereby making future sales easier. It positions you as the best in the industry – or the cheapest, or the oldest, or the most experienced, etc. Whatever your unique value, your brand will convey that message so you don’t have to do it yourself.

    Branding minimizes chaotic messaging, thus saving time and money on marketing. A defined brand will lead to marketing campaigns that are relevant to your customers. Instead of trying a mixed-bag approach until something sticks, your brand strategy ensures that all messaging reinforces your unique value proposition, and prevents any contradictory efforts. An example of a company with a strong brand focus is Whole Foods. They’ve narrowed down their target market to focus on customers who care about health, want to buy quality food and don’t mind spending a little more on groceries. Their messaging speaks to this audience and strengthens a brand promise of quality, not necessarily affordability. Whole Foods also uses social media and email marketing, because they know that their audience is more likely to research online, versus reading newspapers or clipping paper coupons.

    Brand strategy is an investment that should not be taken lightly or with a haphazard approach. Your brand is your first chance to tell your story and make an impression on future customers. Do it well and you’ll establish your firm as an industry leader. We’ve helped services companies, tech companies and more, and we’ve learned that the most profitable companies, no matter their size, have a single thing in common – a strong brand.

     

     

     

     

  • 6 Steps To An Effective Brand

    Think of the most successful brands you know. Coca-Cola. Disney. FedEx. Shell.

    They make an impact on you. They survive cultural shifts and changes in the market. They consistently tell a story that resonates with customers. The time and work that went into developing these long-lasting brands cannot be underestimated.

    It’s well understood that customers embrace brands that connect with them on a deeper level. They also turn away from brands that appear flat, stagnant, or disorganized. In a competitive market, you can’t risk being overlooked by a customer who chooses your competitor’s brand instead of yours.

    Bottom line considerations and quick turnarounds are top of mind concerns for every client. We strongly advise you reconsider the urge to rush the branding process or (even worse) use any service that claims to give you “high quality logos” for a fraction of the cost. Even if your company engages in quick transactions of low price widgets, your company’s brand is not a commodity. So don’t cheapen it. The long-term risk of getting it wrong will always exceed the upfront investment of doing it right.

    The best process for branding involves a series of steps that fully defines your company. It is a discovery for a strategy to build brand equity. In subsequent blog posts we’ll dig deeper into the topics of messaging, positioning, and strategy. But with some exception, the process for designing a powerful brand follows these six steps.

    1. Why, How, What & Who

    In 2009 Simon Sinek challenged the business community to rethink the way they inspire their customers and companies to take action. His book Start With Why flipped the conventional approach to defining a company’s purpose. Instead of leading with the obvious exercise of what a company does, Sinek proposed that it’s more important to tell people why you do what you do.

    People don’t buy what you do or even how you do it. In a crowded marketplace where competitors quickly adopt all of your company’s unique features and benefits, your Why inspires greater loyalty from everyone that comes in contact with your brand. The process of building an effective brand begins with a discovery process that starts with Why.

    The team you enlist to help define your brand will continue to dig into questions about process (How), products and services (What), and the clients your serve (Who). Research into these critical components will give you a solid foundation to develop your positioning, messaging, brand identity, and business strategies.

    To use a straightforward analogy, your company won’t successfully attract others until it has a strong understanding of self.

    2. Survey the Terrain

    Every client is unique. Every brand is distinct. But the market in which you do business is a cohesive tapestry of competing brands, messages, and standards that cumulatively define your industry. Customers have expectations, and so do your vendors and suppliers. In this case, even your own employees have a voice in what passes as “acceptable”. [nbsp_tc]

    Whether or not your brand seeks to stand out as an incomparable innovator, it’s still important to understand the space in which it will perform. Your brand strategy team must get to know your company and how it relates to the rest of the market. They should take time to decipher where your company fits into the overall business ecosystem.

    On a more granular level, this part of the process questions the finer details. For example:

    How does our color palette and shapes affect our customers?

    If everyone is using blue, why are we using red?

    How does our mission statement inspire the employees of the company to deliver the service our customers deserve?

    If the branding process is analogous to a journey, this step is the Exploration Phase.

    3. Where Will The Brand Be On Display?

    As we dive further into the process of developing a brand, questions arise about how to consolidate the company vision across the various channels. Specifically, where will consumers witness the brand in action? As a logo on a shoe? On a can? On a piece of heavy machinery? Furthermore, how does it translate to your promotional products? Can it be easily embroidered?

    Your advertising and marketing collateral are also important considerations at this juncture. Since each industry – and even each business – operates differently across traditional and digital mediums, it is strategically important to have an understanding of these display opportunities. If your product requires packaging, will the brand perform as well on plastic wrappers as it does in online imagery?

    The design team takes into account not only static representation of the brand but also how the brand performs in motion. Whether it’s an animated trade show display or graphics in commercials, the team will consider the strategies for branding the company as they dig into the hard work of imagining your new mark and messaging.

    4. Take Time For Concepting

    In the show Mad Men the world witnessed a glamorized view of the creative process. We watched the protagonist, Don Draper, seek inspiration in the arms of women and countless bottles of booze while juggling the stresses of a dispiriting suburban existence. Was it an accurate representation of the design process? Not exactly. But it effectively conveyed the truth that “Creativity is an art form, not a science”.

    One memorable and heavily discussed quote from Draper states:

    “Just think about it, deeply, and then forget it. An idea will…jump up in your face.”

    Clients have deadlines and demands. Companies are eager to make sales. Even the operations team wants to turn the wheels of production and push forward to meet demand. Everyone is excited to use the new brand to get back to work. Unfortunately, creativity doesn’t work like that. Big ideas are not simply created by mixing together all of the elements of the creative brief.[nbsp_tc] All too often it requires time to explore… and yes, sometimes that exploration doesn’t look like work.

    This is the point when everyone involved needs to calibrate their expectations. The time and effort that goes into developing a powerful brand cannot be underestimated.

    5. Present & Iterate

    Everyone loves it when they hit a homerun on the first bat, but games are won in innings. Your design team may prefer to skip the revision process and give you a final product (what we call “The One”). Other teams are more collaborative and prefer to iterate towards a final conclusion. Whatever the model, the presentation process is a serious affair.

    Everyone is busy, and synching up the schedules of multiple decision makers is difficult. However, we urge you to make time to meet (in person or via video) to review each presentation from your branding team. They are the storytellers that narrate the tale of your brand. Without the opportunity to share their perception of your brand, you may come away feeling disconnected and unsatisfied. Additionally, you will lose the opportunity to provide real time feedback.

    But wait; shouldn’t the mark be able to stand on its own? Absolutely. And it will. Your customers experience the brand differently than you do. No one is quite as critical and no one will overthink the final product quite like the people that oversee the company on a daily basis. You as the business owner are too close to the brand to witness it objectively. It’s best to work closely with your branding team at every step so that a concordant vision can be achieved.

    6. Deliverables

    We’ve added this component purely as a reminder of the things you should expect from this process. If you’ve invested in “just a logo”, then perhaps that’s all you’ll get. Brands are bigger than the icons that represent them. Mission statements, taglines, typeface, and colors are just a few of the other deliverables in which you should invest.

    A style guide is a worthwhile endeavor (and precious deliverable) to which you should devote money and time. It is a document that defines all the standards for communicating and displaying your brand. This file is easily transferred to anyone who seeks to use, share, or transmit your brand in any possible way. It also keeps everyone within your company in alignment. Anytime a question arises about how to properly market the brand, the style guide steps in to keep everyone focused.

    Shortcuts Are Not Always Easier

    The stages described above are only a snapshot of a potentially larger process. Some companies simply need a logo and a tagline. Others require a complete overhaul of their company’s direction, messaging, and identity. The more you define your brand the greater the likelihood it will be welcomed by your customers.

    Think big. There are very few rewards for cutting corners and taking shortcuts. To use backpacking parlance, bushwhacking across switchbacks in search of a shortcut is a guaranteed way to get scratched up, step on snakes, and fall backwards into the canyon. Don’t do it.

     

    Want to move your business forward? Let’s talk.

  • Branding Is More Than Just Pictures And Words

    If you own a business or have built a company from the ground up you’ve been told you need a logo and messaging. After that came a color palette, typeface, a slogan, a style guide, and more, and more, and more. It’s dizzying.

    You’ve been told that your brand should make an indelible mark in the minds of your customers and speak to them on an intimate level. Your brand is the personality, identity, and voice of your company. It conveys the values and perceived benefits of your products and services. When done correctly your brand will build a bond with a customer that produces long-term loyalty.

    Sounds really exciting, right? Maybe not. Unless you have a background in psychology and human behavior, which we do, this probably sounds like psychobabble.

    Most business owners are so intensely focused on operations, delivery, and customer service they have no time to dig into the “touchy feely” world of branding. They know they want a logo. They may even have an idea about company values. But for many business owners, brand identity and strategy seems like a difficult task without a clear, immediate ROI.

    Frankly, that’s true.

    Your Brand Is Everywhere

    An investment in branding doesn’t translate to revenue the way that, perhaps, two additional delivery trucks do. It doesn’t bring in new sales opportunities like an outside sales team or automated lead generation. It doesn’t process orders, it doesn’t make widgets, and it doesn’t answer customer service calls.

    Instead, branding is the first impression your business makes when a customer discovers your products or services. It’s also the second impression, the third impression, and the fourth, and so on in perpetuity. Every time your customer engages your product your brand makes an impact. Every phone call, every visit to your website, and every packaged good conveys your company’s value to the client.

    Branding builds the trust your client feels when they see your product on the shelf versus your competitors’.

    Branding is the difference between printed brochures that actually engage the customer versus ones that gets tossed in the trash.

    Instead of seeing a mysterious white van outside of a customer’s house, they see a professional service vehicle with your brand on it and suddenly feel at ease.

    The customer’s decision-making process begins with your brand. For companies that don’t invest wisely, it’s also your brand that pushes customers away.

    Branding Is Insurance

    In essence, branding is a tactical method to reach and retain customers. Think of it as a sophisticated net that keeps the customer engaged. Your company’s brand identity, messaging, and underlying strategy have as much of an effect on keeping customers as it does on why, when, and how they buy.

    Your brand also affects employees and company stakeholders on a deep emotional level. Your company’s mission and values should permeate throughout the organization as much as it radiates away from it. As executors of the company’s service, your brand must motivate and resonate with your employees. It is the glue that binds them together as well as to your company and to the customer. History is full of legendary companies whose brands lost their soul and in turn lost their employees. Equally, there are companies who changed the world by staying true to their brand.

    Our advice is to think beyond the logo and the slogan. Don’t get hung up on the cost. The cost of developing your brand is relative to the magnitude of the losses from getting it wrong. The risk of losing your customers to a swift competitor should be reason alone to invest wisely. If your brand could sink the ship why would you try to cut corners? It’s also your brand that keeps it afloat.

     

    Want to move your business forward?[nbsp_tc]Let’s talk.