Archive for December, 2008

Above the fray

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions.

But with so much anxiety swirling about us regarding what 2009 (and beyond) has in store, this holiday season does inspire a certain resolve to be more disciplined, more focused and more imaginative in how we approach our work and our careers.

One of my fave bloggers, Valeria Maltoni of Conversation Agent, positions the challenge in a fresh, optimistic light.

“How can we raise above the fray? How can we use our gifts and talents to lead instead of following?” Valeria writes. “How can we show respect to our customers (and each other – we are all different and bring something valuable to the table) so that we may be fully engaged and inspire engagement?”

“How can we work together to built a support grid for commerce and people to thrive?”

“How can we help create a better world? Not just sell one.”

Like wine, brands improve with age

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Ron Leland of Real Life Brand Architecture and I have enjoyed working with John and Kimberly Cabot since they started making wine several years ago. Since then, they’ve grown slowly and steadily, with the quality and diversity of their wine constantly improving.

For our part, we’ve helped their brand evolve and, with it, the primary point of contact with their customers — the label itself.

The initial label featured an image of the local salmon. It’s an iconic symbol for the Klamath River in Humboldt County, where Cabot Vineyards is located. And it started to support our brand image that relied heavily on this unique location. After all, the vineyard site, the appellation — or terroir — is very important to those who appreciate fine wine.

None of us, however, could anticipate the reception among wine-shop owners, who couldn’t get around the idea of a fish on a bottle of red wine.

So our follow-up label featured the elements of a topographic map of the region. We wanted to convey the rugged, steep terrain. And we wanted the Cabot name to be featured prominently as a wine buyer approached the bottle among many others on the shelf.

Design-wise, we believe it was a big improvement. Unfortunately, the execution of the printing itself was not on par with the high quality of the wine.

So with our third and latest pass, you’ll see that the label’s unique texture on an uncoated paper stock really does lend a sense of elegance and sophistication, while doing a much better job of conveying the feel of their remote location in the middle of dense, steep forests. Rub your fingertips across the label and you get a sense that this bottle of wine has a unique story behind it.

Directing a brand image is a constant challenge. You ask: How has the brand changed?  How is it being received?  What elements are working well?  And which can we improve upon?

Our work with Cabot Vineyards has served as a powerful reminder that brands are alive. They’re dynamic. And as brand architects, our job is to continually check in to ensure that the ever-changing brand is being expressed to its full capacity.

Work in progress (Part 1)

We all struggle with our own marketing and self-promotion. After all, we’re professional critics of design and message quality. So it seems our own work, when serving ourselves as the client, is never quite good enough for us to launch.

Yet I’ve been encouraged by creative coach RaShelle Roberts of inVision to do just that, and share my own experience with these challenges.

I feel strongly about supporting the design colleagues who invite me to collaborate on branding and marketing projects for their clients. This blog is something I’ve thought about for a very long time. And, even now, part of me says it’s far from “ready.” 

I still want to define my services better, polish the elevator pitch, add a client list, find more perfect visuals, tweak the type, add more widgets (or not), align a domain name and an email address, create a portfolio … and continue researching what everyone else does with their blogs.

I’ve also come to appreciate Voltaire’s observation that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”

This blog will change. It will improve, become more focused, useful and refined. It will reflect where I find myself in my collaborations with design professionals as we get better at what it is we do.

Like our careers, it always will be a work in progress. I’m getting comfortable with that idea.

Ready for takeoff?

With each passing week, it’s becoming tougher to ignore the doom-and-gloom reports on the economy. These are anxious times. And so it’s more important than ever to make efforts intentionally to combat these fears by taking action.

“Obsessively study something new. Take massive action. Throw away your TV. Find the partner who will put the last piece into place,” writes Sonia Simone in her Remarkable Communication blog. “Start a side business or a second job or a third, something that can break you out to a completely new place.”

Sonia suggests that even if you’ve been trying to launch a new venture and have not yet seen progress, it’s not spinning wheels you’re feeling, but preparation for take-off.

“In 10 years, look back at this as the time you faced disaster by reinventing yourself and creating something truly new,” she writes. “The winds are shifting. We’re rewriting all the rules. This is the time to be more curious than afraid.”

Headlines matter

I’m coming around to the belief that headlines are more important than I used to think. And we probably don’t use them as often as we should, or as effectively.

In his blog, Seth Godin says: “Headlines provoke and introduce. They cajole and they position. No headline, no communication.”

Seth reminds us that copywriter Joe Sugarman made sure that every ad carried a headline, as well as every paragraph. “If the paragraph didn’t warrant a headline, it didn’t go in the ad.”

So, Seth writes, ” you need to be sure your headline is compelling, accurate and a viable foundation to the message you’re ultimately trying to send.”

Hats off to Melissa Mahoney of Indigo Creative who pushes me to use sub-heads whenever the copy on a web page begins to get a bit long.  (This post probably could’ve used a couple.)

Build your clients’ dreams

The guys at the Men With Pens blog remind us that while we may be in business to make money, build a better life, or play by our own rules, we also should be mindful that we’re in business to help someone else achieve their dreams.

“Helping the dreams of others come true is a pretty big responsibility,” writes Harry McLeod. “Your clients trust you with their project, but they also trust you with something far more precious. They trust you to handle their vision with care and attention.”

“As a writer, a designer, a marketer, your job involves taking the time and having the patience to unravel the tangles of the client’s dream to bring focus to the project.”

Sometimes the work we do may not match the vision of our clients’ dream. McLeod reminds us to be prepared to try try again with an open mind.

But remember, you’re the expert. So help them along, guide them, explain the process, and help them find clarity so they can achieve their dreams.

What is it you do?

Explaining what it is you do can be tough. And this diagram is that much funnier because it’s true. With the new year approaching, it’s time to get back to work honing your elevator pitch. Thanks to Luke Mysse of Crossgrain for sharing this a while back.

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Robert Hyndman

can be reached at his Laguna Beach studio, 949.497.3179, or by using the form on the Contact Me page.
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