As we prepare for upcoming conferences, creating booth displays and print material has been on my plate for the past few weeks. I’ve selected what I think is a pretty cool image surrounding the idea of “Is Your Website Listening?” that will span most of our booth display. As our creative team was developing the files, Nathan (web and creative designer) commented that he liked the look and feel we are going for with the booth creative… and perhaps we should create a more consistent brand that reflected this image throughout our marketing materials. That comment really stopped me in my tracks. As someone who has worked for a few companies with a very strong brands and has had the notion of consistent branding hammered into her head, my heart sunk. Among all the hustle to produce content, develop a web strategy, launch campaigns, and prospect for new customers, I’ve overlooked the fundamentals of building a strong and consistent brand.
Now, I realize that I might be the only dummy who forgets this from time to time, but I don’t think revisiting branding basics from Marketing 101 is a bad idea. So, the following are my fundamental “to-dos” when building a brand.
- Select a solid name. This is one of the most difficult steps you must take when building a brand because your name should be descriptive and indicative of what the company, product, or service entails without being overly complicated. The name must be generic enough that if your company or product changes focus it will still be applicable. Our company is named Net-Results, which indicates we are an internet technology company (which we expect to always be). Our product was also named Net-Results which we felt caused some confusion. We went round and round about trying to find a name for our product, finally settling on Net-Results Marketing Automation. We feel that name encompasses what the product does without being overly descriptive – it is simple enough that we hope it will last throughout the life cycle of the product as we add new features and updates.
- Create a logo… and protect it. For me, the first thing I do when launching a new product (or helping to build a company) is facilitate the creation of an appropriate logo – one that encompasses the image and font you want to be associated with (strong, powerful, technological, fun, creative, etc.), colors that not only fit your company/product image but also ones you like (because you will have to live with them), and enough detail that the overall look is cool but not overly complicated. When creating a logo you must always consider how it will look when printed on a pen, embossed in a notebook, or embroidered on a shirt. Odd size logos are difficult to use in web media and on promotional products, so don’t get too crazy with the dimensions. Once you have your logo, insert an SM (service mark) in the upper right corner – you may even want to go through the steps to register it for your protection. The other way to protect your logo is to not let anyone skew it in any way. I worked with a creative genius (hollaback Maxi!) I considered a brand Nazi – a true keeper of the logo and overall brand – and he taught me never to let anyone mess with the dimensions of your logo. Nothing makes me more angry when someone puts our logo into a word document or on a website and then stretches to make it fit… don’t even get me started on this! If you find that someone has used your logo in a skewed manner, take every step necessary to fix the problem and make sure they know never to do it again. It makes your company look unprofessional and unpolished, and that can never help your brand.
- Consistent Messaging. This sounds easy enough, but the problem generally arises when messaging is not formalized or distributed throughout the organization. One marketing or sales person may write a certain way and use certain terms to describe the company, product, or service, while another employee may have a totally different idea. Of course you need to tailor your messaging depending on who you are talking to, but the fundamental terms and underlying descriptions need to be consistent. Managers within a company need to meet and formalize company/product messaging such as taglines, standard terms, functionality, storytelling, etc. This also includes the history of the company, how products were formed, what technology they use, and the overall corporate culture. Once this has been decided, it needs to be documented and distributed throughout the company to everyone… not just sales and marketing. You never know when your finance person will be in an elevator with a potential customer and strike up a conversation. EVERY employee should be considered an evangelist for your company, so make sure they know what to say face-to-face, on the phone, or in an email. Of course all written materials including your website, brochures, and even social media comments, notes, and blogs should reflect this. Style guides for copywriters are also extremely helpful, particularly when you always italicize a product name or write a word in all caps.
- Uniform Look and Feel. This is where I’ve fallen short lately. Sure, all the color schemes on our marketing materials are the same, the tagline is regularly used, and the copy is generally consistent, but the overall feel you get from our materials varies. I created the trade show booth concept around the idea of your website listening and found a great image that looks like one of those old coffee posters from the 60′s – the idea being that listening to your customers and tailoring your messaging is an old-school concept and that’s what Net-Results can teach your website to do. Attendees at our booth will see this when they talk to us at the show – they will even get a special offer postcard to take away this image. But, as my creative team mentioned, they won’t see this imagery when they get to our website – which creates an inconsistent brand. Our website has a cleaner technology look and feel to it… which means I need to come up with a way to tie the conference images to the website. I’m considering a unique landing page for the special offer promotion that will look familiar to visitors from the shows, but it is all a work in progress… what are your thoughts?