Who are you designing for”¦ you or your customers?

I called this entry “œWho are you designing for”¦you or your customers”, because most business owners can’t see that what they are asking a designer, marketing firm or neighbor down the street to do is create the image of how people who have different tastes and interests will perceive their over all brand. They say that first impressions are very hard to change, but triple that when someone picks up your business card, brochure, sees your ad in the paper or looks at your website before they even talk to you. Unless you’ve invested the time in your Brand Identity to ensure that it is reflective, and supported, in all of your marketing materials.

Let’s understand the difference between Brand Identity and Brand Image before we go any further. Your Brand Identity is how you want people outside of your company perceive your company. Your Brand Image is how people outside of your company are currently viewing your company. The two are separate, but the same. Your Brand Image should constantly be reinforced and supported by your Brand Identity. One can weaken the other.

Let’s face it, when it comes to how effective your marketing materials are”¦the initial perception people get is reality to them. You could be the best schmoozer in the world, but hand someone something that looks like you put very little effort into the presentation and all your schmoozing is for nothing. Convincing, begging and bribing may not drive the message home that your first round of marketing materials were done to be “œcost effective”, but instead they may came out making you, and your company, look less than stellar.

First and foremost your marketing materials should be created with your customers, current and future, in mind. When you sit down to have someone create your marketing materials, the building blocks of your Brand Identity, my best advice is to remove yourself from process as much as possible.

I don’t mean that you should not be involved, but you should remember”¦you aren’t trying to use these marketing materials to get you to invest into your company, product or what have you. Sometimes that means you need to leave the confines of your office, ask your best customer some good questions on how they perceive your business and start looking at your company, product or widget from the customers side of the fence.

Your design is an impression not a true test to your companies’ capabilities, but like I said before sometimes all you get is a first impression. Make it the best one you can.

How accurately do you think your companies marketing materials reflect the over all view of your company as a whole?  Do your marketing materials work with or against the way your want your company to be perceived? How strongly do your marketing materials communicate the personality and ethics of your company?

Driving Customers to Your Site

Ultimately as a graphic/web designer, it’s my job to create designs that, hopefully, will attract the attention of people that view the sites we design for our clients.Through a combination of strong design and stronger content, the website should be a great resource that people not only want to come back to, but want to tell other people about.Yet, no matter how good the design, alone, of any website is, it’s getting people to visit the site that is the most important thing.

While search engines are a common way to find what you need on the web there are thousands of businesses competing for top ranking in each industry.There is no sure fire equation to guarantee that you will always get, and have, top billing in the search engines.There are tricks and techniques that you can do to cheat some of the search engines, but you run the high risk of getting your site banned.

Whether you’re creating a new site or revising what you have, there are things you can do to help the search engines that won’t get you flagged.Creating keywords (any word or phrase that has particular significance to the content of your website) used consistently in your meta-tags, the content of your site and when needed in the alt tags (alternative text embedded in the HTML code for graphic files) helps the search engines track your site down. The best way to create key phrases is to define what it is your business does and find the key verbs, nouns and adjectives that repeatedly pop up when you describe your business.Another way to help search engines out is to vary your meta-tags, keywords and page titles for each page so they relate to the content on that page. You know, it seems like keywords would make a whole entry.

So, outside of search engines, how do you get people to visit your site?

How do you make people aware that you have a site?

What can you do that is cost effective?

Funny you should ask.

Placing your web address on all your marketing material from your business card and flyers to your radio and television commercials is an excellent way.It sounds like a common sense suggestion, but you’d be surprised just how many people leave off a website, phone number or mailing address. Most occasions, people won’t just stop to look at the directions or just look at the contact section.They will take time to learn about your company through the content that’s on your site and any marketing materials you have.They will get an immediate impression of the person, or company, that they are looking to do business with.They will remember to check back at later times to catch up on what your company is doing or is offering.And, lately, a website address seems easier to remember than a phone number.

With telemarketers calling at all times during the day and spam emails overloading their websites, today’s consumer doesn’t want to feel hassled or feel like they are obligated to buy something if they want to learn more about your company.By having your domain name on all of your marketing material, and even your letter head, it allows people who receive that material to visit your site freely.It costs nothing more to add the website address than to leave it off, but it brings another way for people to learn more about your business.

The best way is to get out there and hype up your website.Think of a movie you saw based on a friends recommendation.A recording artist you may never have heard of without someone suggesting it.Even a restaurant that you tried because a family member, or coworker, gave it raving reviews.Websites act in the same way.Word of mouth drives people to websites, because they know that the information is there, people have used the site and it’s been brought to their attention that a site exists. The new term for Word of Mouth these days is Viral Marketing. One person passing an idea to another and so on and so on.

So, it isn’t just having a website that will get people to visit it and potentially buy into your company.It’s the effort you put behind creating strong content that will have people wanting to visit your site, the effort in advertising your website that will increase people’s awareness of your company and potentially increase your sales.So get out there, talk up your website to anyone, and everyone, and make sure it’s on all your marketing material. Take that advice and sit back and watch the hit counter grow.

What was the last website you were directed to that kept your attention?How do you learn about most websites or businesses you visit?

What a designer is and isn’t”¦seriously you need to know”¦

Before I begin, I want to thank Mari Adkins and Janice Thomason for taking the time to comment on the last entry.  I lacked on replying to your comments, but know that I agree with both of you and will be better responding in the future. Now on with the latest entry.

I’ve been doing this for a long time. Long enough where early on, to make a client happy, I neglected to mention that a graphic/web designer is not hired to be a professional writer/editor. Granted we work with your company’s content, but what we work with, mainly, is the space that the content needs to fit into.

Often enough, people seeking out a designer, regardless of the field, are looking for someone they can pass the buck of their project to.  What they fail to realize is someone taking on the full project management, content created, design and implementation will be”¦ wait for it”¦a firm or agency. What you really need, and I can hear the cries of your budget now, is team of people working on the whole of the project. You do not want the kid you just hired who learned HTML and some flash. You do not want the guy who has a start up doing design, print or web. These people are not, and I will repeat this often, not the people who should be carrying the full weight of the fact that you either can’t spell OR can’t clearly define in text what it is you want them to define visually.

A designer is just that”¦a designer. You wouldn’t ask your plumber to check your electrical wiring. You wouldn’t ask your electrician to align your spine. The cashier at your local fast food joint doesn’t make your burger.

The responsibility of making sure that the content of your web/print piece is yours.  That way, even though it may delay your deadline, helps you know that if the piece launches incorrectly”¦it’s their responsibility to fix it. If you’re whatever is launched with wrong content that is the result of a sign off that bares your signature”¦the responsibility for it being wrong ends up falling squarely in your lap. Sure you’re going to be pissed at the designer, but they will pull out your sign off, point out where you failed to review it fully and remind you that you signed off on it. You may never work with them again, but they aren’t out the money of paying for a mistake you allowed them to make. You will be out the money to get it redone by them or someone else, the new printing costs and the time for all of this, because you gave the responsibility of making sure your information is correct”¦to someone else.

So let’s review, a copy writer writes content, a project manager makes sure the project meets its projected milestones, a print graphic designer creates work on paper, a web designer creates work in digital and a business owner is responsible for hiring the people for the job. Can each of these people be capable of doing the other persons job? Yes, but will it be done effectively across the board? No one can know for sure.

There’s an old saying, “œit takes a village to raise a child”.  In that regard, it takes a team to fully realize a project you don’t have the time to work on yourself. Whether it’s an agency, a firm, a studio or a team of people your designer suggests; no project should every fully fall on the shoulders of just one industry worker.

Since I’ve gone, briefly, into what a designer doesn’t do; I’d love to hear what your expectations of a designer, print or web, has been in the past.  Do you view them as the guru of all things because their end result is something that, hopefully, brings you a ROI? Have you expected them to know the difference between a conjunction and participle? Or did you supply them the things they needed and get out of the way and let them design something?

The difference between success and closing next year…

The silver bullet for marketing a successful business”¦doesn’t exist. Sorry to disappoint you. There’s a world of difference between closing in six months and seeing year two come and go. A lot of it is hard work, timing, patience and the ability to adapt. I’m going to say this over and over again over the course of these posts so let me get it out of the way. Your marketing/brand materials are only one aspect of your business. Depending on your industry they could be a very big thing or the thing that keeps you fresh in your prospects minds.

When it comes to the marketing and design aspect of a successful business it comes down to three simple things:

  • A clear message
  • A consistent brand identity/message
  • The ability to see beyond what you like and into what your prospective customers

You have to simultaneously predict the future, correct the problems of the past and be able to change on a dime if the marketing shifts.

You don’t have to throw all of your money into your marketing materials, and I highly suggest you spend what you can afford, but make sure that you put your best possible marketing foot forward with each piece you put your companies brand on. The major corporations that you see on a daily basis put the same kind of care and effort into each marketing piece. You need a plan of action, a budget, a visions for your message, a target audience and reasonable sense of what you expect to receive; you’re return on investment (ROI). These things are established in your marketing plan. Rather than go over what’s all ready been done on Technosailor, take some time and read Steven Fisher’s Marketing Plan Series.

Let me put something into perspective for you. Coca-Cola historically has put close to forty percent of their profits back into the marketing of their business. They have 400 brands in over 200 countries and they have advertisements in every possible avenue of marketing. You can practically go anywhere in the world and people will know the Coca-Cola name. They are in almost every store, office vending machine and are a house hold name to people who don’t even drink the stuff. But if they are that well known why spend the money?

Because they want to be the only cola you think of”¦even when you’re not thinking about it. Because they know their competitors are working just as hard to get your attention. Because without you, and everyone else who drinks their product or who will ever try it, their company and product simply wouldn’t exist.

Do you think of marketing your company in the same way? Do you keep your competitors in mind when you’re working on your website, advertisement, elevator speech or whatever aspect of marketing you’re working on? Do you put a dedicated effort into making sure every piece of marketing you pay for supports each other while simultaneously keeping awareness of your product? Is it more than just a business card, a brochure, or a website to you? They are to Coca-Cola. They are to your competitors. They are to your customers and prospects. Your marketing materials are just one of the several crucial pieces of the puzzle that makes the difference between success and closing next year.

It’s time to get Wicked”¦

After much arm twisting, pleading, begging and bribing of Aaron, Technosailor himself, and Steven Fisher, of VentureFiles fame, I bring you the content whose focus is to help you get into the mindset of the visual side of marketing your business, product or self. Each week, I’m going to go over topics from what to look for, and expect from, a designer, the things you should think about for your marketing materials and most things marketing/design related for the new, or current, business owners.

Really the decision to create a blog that is geared not to designers, but people either in their first year of business or are just wanting to think about the visual branding of their company, all started over a couple cups of coffee. There was no real arm twister, or the like, but a general idea that this type of blog series might be worth while.

My name is Michael Dougherty and I’m bringing my years of experience to help be the translator between the business owner and the designer. Being of the rare breed of designers who balance well between print and web (there’s a world of difference between the two) that designs with a focus on sales and marketing my clients, I spend a lot of time finding creative solutions to help business owners, marketing managers and start up companies effectively understand why a visual brand is an extremely effective tool for their business that not only needs to be created, but maintained and nurtured.

To get it out of the way, the tone of this blog series will not be stuffy, terminology laden, or over your head. I understand that things like bleed, font weight, appropriate resolution for the medium and a wide variety of industry related terms may turn you off or confuse you. So relax. If those do pop up from time to time I’m going to find easily understandable comparisons to put them in plain speak for you. This series should feel like a conversation with someone over a cup of coffee.

So grab a cup of your favorite beverage, of course mine being coffee, and join me each week for a rare glimpse into the mindset, expectations and opinions of a professional graphic/web designer. I also look forward to hearing your horror stories, successes and thoughts on each topic.