Author Archive

Sample Social Media Responsibility Hierarchy

July 13, 2010

We often get asked by our clients how they should go about delegating time, manpower and resources to managing a site using new media / social media. This sample chart illustrates how an organization can designate responsibility and the time that each resource should spend maintaining. Keep in mind this chart is an example of a specific organization. Each organization should create their own flowchart for accountability based on their available resources. One thing is for sure though, time and responsibility must be delegated.

PDF Download: Sample Social Media Management protocol

Better Signage – A sign of your times

July 6, 2010


Signage is one of the oldest and, often, most underrated forms of advertising. Having street exposure to your brand can a very effective way to get your name in front of the potential clients or customers. However, for some reason, it’s sometimes one of the last marketing tools that businesses think about.

Think about it…if you’re on a busy street, thousands of cars drive by your brand every single day and get a certain impression based on what they see. After the signs are paid for, this advertising is basically free. Compared to other media, your sign is one of the most undervalued forms of marketing.

In Oneonta, our own street gets us 10,000 exposures per day. We have landed several clients by people driving by and even a couple of corporate out-of-town joggers have become clients. In Binghamton, the traffic is even higher.

Beyond letting people know you exist. signage also lets people know you are legitimate and, if done correctly, gives potential customers a flavor for what caliber of business you have. I often make the analogy of a local travel agent that has a crusty old sign from 1973. The sign is so old and out of date that I automatically assume the same about the experience I will have inside. For $500, they could get a new sign and positively impact sales.

There are also ways to abuse signage. For instance, walk down any big city street or check out any auto shop. You’ll find signs for every brand, product and service – with the name of the business itself buried amongst it all. This actually has the opposite effect: Too much info is no info at all.

People are scared of the unknown. Your sign and how your location looks lets them know if your business is the kind of place they want to be.  


Branding: A “How To” Guide and Some Notes On Our Experience

June 30, 2010

Now that we’re a few months past our own rebranding, here’s a recap on how it went down and some ideas for yours.

First off, we confidentially started working on alternative names a full year before we actually changed our company name. We rejected about 100 names during a six month review process.

We chose Vibrant because we felt it was what we truly brought to our clients and community, and it also fit our company culture.

We based our name selection on these seven criteria:

BREVITY

APPROPRIATENESS

EASY SPELLING/PRONUNCIATION

LIKABILITY

EXTENDABILITY

PROTECTABILITY

DISTINCTIVENESS

While our former name, GrafiQa, met many of these criteria, we were stronger on some more than others (which is common). From the above list, two minor issues with our new name are possibly protectibility and distinctiveness because there are other companies in the national market whose names use some form of the word “vibrant”

Another tangible challenge we faced was our inability to secure the domain name “www.VibrantCreative.com”, which would have been much better than what we settled for (www.VibrantCompany.com). This was probably the biggeset drawback to our selection. However, in this day and age, the domain you want is often not available.

It’s important to recognize these concessions to illustrate that a new name will probably not be 100% perfect and that’s okay; just try to be 90%.

A great logo for our new name.
Once the name was selected, we wanted a great logo, obviously. We went through several versions which were rejected and then I became inspired by my daughter’s toy fiberoptic light.

I took this picture, did this sketch, sent it to one of our designers, and told him my concept. Below is the first round of logos.

We continued to work on these for weeks. The original designs had faded edges and some other features that looked good but would have been difficult to reproduce.

Our final logo has 15 acceptable variations including black and white, greyscale, one color, no burst, etc. We developed our brand book which lays out specific rules for the logo for anyone’s use.


Now that the creative and identity parts were over, we needed to move on to deployment of the brand. We’ve implemented this process for many clients. But each organization deploys in a very customized way.

Deployment
1. Choose a date to launch and make sure EVERYTHING changes on that day. Organizations run into trouble when they try to deploy a brand over a year or a month. Pick a day and stick to it. (This isn’t to say you can’t have some overlap, like “The company formerly known as GrafiQa” in small font at the bottom of a letterhead or on your website. It just means don’t use the old letterhead for two months until it’s gone because you’ll confuse people. See point 8 below for more clarification.)

2. Keep it a secret. Secrets are fun and build anticipation. But keeping your secret will also protect your new brand from scrutiny until the launch. We only shared it with top employees and staff prior to the launch day. We didn’t tell clients. We didn’t tell friends. Beware of uninformed opinions. Your name/brand are not open to uninformed opinion. For those you do share the secret with, instead of asking them what they think of a name or logo, ask them “what does this make you think of?” or what type of organization do you think this name belongs to?”. These answers will be much more useful and help you make decisions rather than vague open-ended questions.

3. Make a list of everything with the old brand. On launch day everything that had your old name/logo is officially garbage. You and your employees should not use it any longer for any reason. Switch over your voicemail, website, checks, e-Newsletter, letterhead, invoices, and email addresses. Everything needs to change over. We made a long list of these types of items three months in advance so we could have everything ready and in-hand by our launch date. See the below pic for all our old branded stuff now that went in the garbage or became kindling. This stuff was probably worth $5K. It was painful but necessary.

5. Budget for this; a rebrand is not cheap. You need to factor in reprinting things like stationary, brochures and signs, as well as running ads, having an event, etc. Depending on your organization size, the cost will vary. But even a small organization should expect to pay at least $10-20K to do it correctly. A larger organization or business can spend significantly more.

5. Develop a mail campaign to make your constituency aware of your rebranding. I recommend a teaser card letting them know change is coming, followed by a launch day event invitation, and finally a post launch announcement. Pick dates for these to go out before and after launch and have them all printed and brought to a mailhouse ahead of time.

6. Party down. On your selected change day, it’s a good idea to have some sort of event for staff, vendors, clients, politicians, or other constituent groups. It’s also worth pushing on PR for a a media blitz. We hosted two events: one in Binghamton and one in Oneonta. We invited clients, politicians, employees and friends (basically anyone that would come). We had about 50 people show up to each event and had a lot of fun. We also got media coverage throughout our region.

7. Use some paid media to get the word out – even media you may think your constituency does not use. We advertised our brand change on radio, in four newspapers and with signage.

8. After launch day, it’s good to mention your old brand for a year as a sub line (just look above at the header of this blog). This is for anyone that missed your announcement because, despite your best efforts, some people on the fringe will not know your changed your name. Also, make sure to feature some type of video or written announcement talking about why you changed your name.  You don’t want people inferring you were sold or went out of businesses.

9. Make sure to include your staff on the entire process. These valuable people will be your first line in executing the new brand and should not be overlooked. Give your staff instructions on how to answer the phone after the launch, not too wear or use old branded items, and to take down or look for things you might have missed.

10. Don’t rush it. The process takes at least 3-6 months. It’s great that you have a 50th anniversary party coming up in 30 days but you can’t rebrand your whole organization that fast if you want to do a good job. Push the celebration out three months or have another celebration in a year. If you rush the process, you will miss things and items wont be converted in time, which will dilute your new brand and get it off to a poor start.

Results
I’m very happy with the amount of people that were aware of the change. As a bonus, we also got several clients and projects from the process, which made it pay for itself several times over.

When you do it right, a rebrand is a fantastic excuse to communicate with the world. Rebranding is one of the most fantastic excuses to get eyeballs on your brand and make a fresh impression.

To get help with your rebranding or renaming, contact me at chris@vibrantcompany.com.

Blast from the Past – Steve Jobs on Working with Paul Rand

June 24, 2010

I was meeting with Mayor Miller of Oneonta, NY and he mentioned having known Paul Rand from a previous career which had me do a fresh search on this famous designer and I stumbled on this Video which I found extremely interesting and relevant. It has me re-thinking about how we do things around here and how we communicate with clients.

Hiring the right firm for your new website (an only partially biased article)

March 17, 2010

Most of the problems that we see when it comes to how people hire website companies comes from a lack of clarity from the person doing the hiring regarding what they want out of their website.

There are three primary types of website companies.

1. The IT company.
2. The Design Company.
3. The Marketing/Advertising company.

There is nothing wrong with any of the three; they each have a specific niche.

The real problem is that all three say they are fully capable on any front when they aren’t. The issue is compounded when a client doesn’t know the difference or doesn’t know what to look for when hiring the firm.

The IT guys.
There are many levels of Information Technology (IT), web development starting from the company whose main work is fixing your computers all the way up to the enterprise level company that solves large technical problems. You can easily spot an IT firm at presentations because they focus on the technology first and the marketing communications second. These providers can be the right solution for the smaller level companies without large budgets. However, in many instances, organization assume that all websites are technical tools which should automatically go to an IT firm when modern websites are usually marketing tools that an IT firm isn’t best suited to build.

The Design Shop
You can spot the design firm presentation because they will focus heavily on their past designs or showing you designs of what your new website might look like if you hire them. Assuming it’s a good shop, a design firm can help your web image look fantastic. There are many mid-level design firms that can get you on the web at an affordable price. Often times design focused firms will hire out freelancers to actually do the technical work on the site while they focus on making you look pretty.

The Marketing Guys
The Marketing or Ad Firm can be the best or worst decision among the group. Usually, they are most expensive due to high overhead (i.e. employees, buildings, offices, etc.). You can spot the Marketing Agency because they will talk about results first with design and tech as simply parts of the solution. The trick is being able to separate the good firms from the poor, as well as managing expectations. A good firm can deliver impactful change for your organization on the web. A weak firm may leave your wallet empty and you wondering what happened.

Here are some steps to help decide and make your new website experience more fruitful.

First, start at the end.
Define what it is you want from this website: What do you want it to do? More sales? Better image? More awareness? Provide a service? Once you know what you want to provide on the web, the type of firm you should hire will become much more clear.

Ask about Time, Project Management and Process.
A website is a multi-part process that can vary in production time due to a multitude of factors. The agency you hire should be able to clearly demonstrate how they will mange the project, as well as give you time estimations based on your particular variables. This point goes for every type of firm. Ask questions. At what stage of the project will we see what? Will they just disappear and show up with a “finished” site three months later? What work are they outsourcing? What happens with maintenance and support after the website goes live? Many firms will not show a design until the site is built. While for some this is okay, most organization like to see an illustration or sketch of what the end product before hundreds of hours are spent building it.

Define Deliverables
Because some clients are uncomfortable when talking about the web, they fail to ask for specific deliverables from their agency. Not defining deliverables or having them defined for you can lead to an open ended relationship where the web people are delivering what they think you want or the minimum they think they can get away with. But building a website is like building a building or any other product. You need to know what to expect. So, at the start of the project, outline specific functions of the website (i.e. timelines, content, etc.). If you can’t define these deliverables, ask them to define them so there is no inconsistency in expectations.

Where’s the beef? (Content)
Content is overlooked consistently but it’s what fills up your website, it’s what visitors will be looking at, and it’s what Google uses to rank you in searches. Is your content going to be text, pictures, video, some combination, or something else? Does the firm develop the content for you? Do you want them to? The IT Firm typically doesn’t develop content. The Design Firm usually subcontracts it out. And the Marketing Company does it at a premium.

Education
Do you want to be educated on the possibilities of the website and have a relationship with the firm so they always keep you on the cutting edge? It’s a good idea to look for a firm that talks about the present and the future.

How much money you got?
Figure out what your budget is going to be for this website because that will determine the level of service that you will receive. Spending more does not necessarily mean you will get more. But, like your father said, you get what you pay for in life. You don’t necessarily need to share your specific budget with the firm, but try to determine the amount you could conceivably budget on the project keeping in mind your goals (if you want a site to make you millions, you probably should spend more than $500). Different agencies charge a really wide variety of prices based on factors like expertise, location, staff size, and more. Websites can range from $1,000 to $200,000 and its a good idea to know what priority you give your site.

Check the References.
This gets overlooked more often than we like to think about. Ask and check references because it can save you time, money and sanity. If you call ten references and eight had amazing experiences, it’s much better than if none or one did. Think of it like you’re hiring an employee or accepting a tenant. You wouldn’t hire or let someone live in your house without checking their backgrounds. Why should hiring a web contractor be any different?

One other thing to keep in mind if you’re really small or have a super tiny budget: There are services out there that make building your own website (within templates and without any custom functionality) fairly easily. Companies like SquareSpace.com and Moonfruit.com are resources for this type of project.

And, finally, no questions are bad questions. So ask your firms the most basic of questions because, once your site is complete, it will always be more about you than it will be about them.

Is social media a fad?

March 4, 2010

Why should you take social media seriously? – Why should you take it more seriously then your traditional marketing? – How do we know social media not a fad?

The below video sums it up.

Where to Start with Social Media Policy

February 11, 2010

It’s a given. Almost every business and organization should add social media to their marketing strategy.  Perhaps you even have a marketing strategy that involves social media, but you just haven’t taken the plunge yet. This is the case for many businesses and organizations as getting into social media is a step that tends to raise a lot of questions.  In reality, both the beauty of and reason companies and organizations might shy away from social media is that it gives the public the opportunity to share their thoughts in a very public forum.

Social Media Policy is a way for businesses and organizations to protect themselves in the world of social media.

Before Facebook and Twitter, people would have to go through traditional media, such as television or newspapers, to get their voices heard.  Today, with social media, that middle-person has been taken out of the process and the limit to which people could share their thoughts has been dramatically reduced.  This, essentially, is the major point of hesitation for businesses and organizations as it takes away some of the control that many have become accustomed to with traditional marketing and advertising.  However, there may be a way to dive into social media while at the same time reducing the potential for vulnerability, and that is through a Social Media Policy.

With that, here are some social media policy examples that we both collected ourselves and borrowed from a post on the popular ‘123 Social Media’ blog.  They present policies that have been developed by major corporations around the world.  The goal of these policies is not censorship, but it is to raise awareness of company’s/organization’s expectations to avoid potential conflicts.  Our hope is that these examples will help you to develop your business’ or organizations’ own policy to help make it a little easier to jump into the world of social media.

SELECT SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY EXAMPLES:

About.com Blogging and Social Media Policy Sample

IBM Social Computing Guidelines

ESPN Social Media Guidelines for Employees

HP Blogging Code of Conduct

Harvard Law School Weblogs Policy

BBC Guidelines for Personal Use of Social Media

Could “Google Buzz” Be the Next Facebook?

February 10, 2010

Google recently released a new service called "Buzz" that puts it in direct competition with services offered by Facebook and Twitter.

This week Google announced “Buzz,” a new social media service that works in conjunction with Gmail.  This new service combines features similar to those provided by Twitter and Facebook all integared into the current Gmail service.

In this article, BBC News goes over some of the basic features of the new tool and asks important questions, including whether it will be able to capture a portion of the users from other social media services.

Who knows, maybe “Buzz” could be the next big thing to hit social media.  Looks like we will just have to wait and see…

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/2/hi/technology/8506148.stm

People Prefer Things That are Easy to Think About

February 8, 2010

We came across this Boston Globe article from January 31 that put into words a very simple, but powerful concept: “people prefer things that are easy to think about.”

In this article, Drake Bennett walks through the psychology involved when consumers make decisions and outlines how those brands with a simple message, clear name, and clean look might just have a competitive edge.

Enjoy.

http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/01/31/easy__true/?s_campaign=8315

The Business of Being Branded

December 30, 2009

 

I recently spoke to a group of franchise owners in New York. They had some interesting comments about the franchise business. Long story short, they did not make owning a single franchise sound too appealing.

The owners went into detail covering everything from fees, contracts, decorating to advertising and marketing.

This got me thinking: What is it you are buying when you invest in a franchise? I’m sure there are much more elaborate answers, however I believe you are getting four primary things.

1. Processes and Systems
2. Marketing and Advertising

3. Bulk Buying Power 

4. Branding

Most successful non-franchises have the first three covered  but branding seems to be what usually falls short with most non-franchise businesses.

Why is branding so important?
Because people buy what they are comfortable with. Think about it, the last time you went to a Subway sub shop was it because the food is so incredible or was it simply because you knew what to expect at a Subway? Did the awkward deli next door with the 400 meat posters in the window leave you a bit more cautious?

 

People are inherently afraid of the unknown; they stick with the familiar. Branding with good design builds a comfort level for consumers. Even if the brand is unknown, a professional logo, graphics and presentation create familiarity and give an idea of what your experience may be.

Philosophically, the concept is unfortunate because it removes new experiences from the life equation — and new experiences are what we remember the best. For example, you clearly remember that pizza place you went to on vacation four years ago but you cannot recall your 412th experience at Pizza Hut a week ago.

So, why does branding usually fall short?
Because owners have trouble understanding branding’s value. People consider the brand to be part of marketing and advertising, however this is incorrect. The brand is the organization, its definition, its heart and soul, the gut feeling someone has about Subway, McDonalds, Disney, GE and all the others. The marketing is what communicates the brand to the public.

Many business owners have trouble understanding brand because the ROI is not directly quantifiable. How much will I get back if I spend X on branding and there is no direct answer to this question, and clients don’t like that. Unfortunately here at GrafiQa, we often separate clients into the ones who understand brand and the ones who don’t because our experience shows that education on brand importance only works with some.

We believe the brand is even more important than the product or service itself because it truly is the product or service.  The organizations that have brand or are lucky enough to stumble upon a brand can have exponential success.

Franchise fees to start up a location can be hundreds of thousands of dollars, the agreements are ironclad and leave you very little room if things don’t work out like you planned.

But if you successfully put together the right combination of process, marketing and branding, a franchise may be unnecessary. It could even be more of a burden than anything else. If you can establish the processes, have a feel for marketing and can build a strong brand you may be better off on your own. And one day, you may be the franchiser instead of the franchisee.