Blue

I recently realized the 50th Anniversary of one of my favorite albums (i.e., vinyls for those under 30) is upon us – Blue by Joni Mitchell.

While that fact has little to do with this blog, hearing the song did get me thinking that the time had come to write a piece that offered a reminder about the potential importance of color selection in building a brand . . . and also reminded me that I have spent a disproportionate amount of several decades staring at various shades of the color blue while at work!

To quote information cited by Jill Morton at the Colorcam website in an article entitled Why Color Matters:

1. Research conducted by the secretariat of the Seoul International Color Expo documents the following relationships between color and marketing:

92.6 percent said that they put most importance on visual factors when purchasing products. Only 5.6 percent said that the physical feel via the sense of touch was most important. Hearing and smell each drew 0.9 percent.

When asked to approximate the importance of color when buying products, 84.7 percent of the total respondents think that color accounts for more than half among the various factors important for choosing products.

Source: Secretariat of the Seoul International Color Expo 2004

2. Research reveals people make a subconscious judgment about a person, environment, or product within 90 seconds of initial viewing and that between 62% and 90% of that assessment is based on color alone.

Source: CCICOLOR – Institute for Color Research

3. Research by the Henley Centre suggests 73% of purchasing decisions are now made in-store. Consequently, catching the shopper’s eye and conveying information effectively are critical to successful sales.

Pick Wisely for Many Reasons

During my decades of working in the field of communications, over 90% of my time was spent with the corporate color of blue – most recently PMS 301/C-100 M-43 Y-0 K-18/R-0 G-109 B-168 . . . but more about those cryptic codes later.  Admittedly, the exact hue and tone have changed three times, but blue has paid a particularly large role in my professional life.  Frankly, my only non-blue moments came from work done for a variety of business partners, subsidiaries, or off-shoots of my main employers.  When I would finally get to do green for a bank or a burgundy red for a data encryption company – the new sense of freedom was an enormous guilty pleasure!!

So . . . How Was Blue Chosen?

The initial selection was far enough back in time that branding had yet to become a separate phenomenon and discipline.  As a result, I’m inclined to think the choice was mostly a matter of good instincts or dumb luck or perhaps a bit of both on the part of my employers at that time.  You see, the company was involved in insurance and financial services – an industry that now seems to disproportionately and not coincidentally favor blue as a corporate color.

Why?

Much has been written on the characteristics and impact of various colors, so I won’t reinvent that wheel but will quote from one such example while letting you know that countless others are available with the similarities far outweighing the differences in message. 

At the Canva website in an article entitled Understand What Colors Mean, the following overview is provided:

 “A lot of research has gone into color theory. You can definitely get lost down the rabbit hole finding the story behind each color, however, here’s a quick summary to give you an idea:

Red is associated with danger, excitement, and energy. It’s also known for being the color of love and passion.

Pink is feminine, it’s sentimental and romantic. Different shades, like hot pink, can be youthful and bold.

Orange, like it’s namesake, is fresh and full of vitality. It’s also creative, adventurous, and associated with being cost-effective.

Yellow is optimistic. It’s a color associated with being playful and happy.

Green is natural, often used to demonstrate sustainability. But it can also align with prestige and wealth.

Blue is trustworthy and reliable. It’s calming or often associated with depression.

Purple is royalty and majesty. It can be spiritual and mysterious.

Brown is down-to-earth and honest, often used for organic wholesome products.

White is pure. It conveys simplicity and innocence, often with a minimalistic feel.

Black is both sophisticated and elegant. It can be formal and luxurious, but also sorrowful.

Multicolor is united or open to anything. It’s great for capturing the spirit of diversity.

Of course, within this spectrum, there is a raft of additional colors. Different hues, such as baby blue or navy, also contribute to the color story.

Also, I suggest you look at an article entitled The Business of Color by vistaprint, which associates specific industries with particular colors and includes a useful graphic for quick reference.

More About Color

While I have been describing color in terms of broad generalities such as “BLUE” – be aware that an almost infinite number of tones, hues, and variations exist . . . and every time you use or reference the color you have chosen for your brand, you must be sure to reproduce the exact same variation regardless of the media, which can be challenging!!  Fortunately, a number of color systems (i.e., palettes) exist that allow you to successfully match exact colors AND communicate with potential vendors (like web site designers, printers, novelty manufacturers).  Furthermore, becoming familiar with these industry-standard systems of identification at the time of selection can prevent some later headaches.  For example, I was once involved in choosing a color, and we based our selection exclusively upon look . . . only to find that we had picked a specific tone with no 100% match under two of the most common matching systems!

Remember my earlier cryptic reference to:   PMS 301/C-100 M-43 Y-0 K-18/R-0 G-109 B-168?  Well, PMS refers to a color matching system produced by Pantone and universally recognized as one industry standard.  CMYK is a system based on mixing Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black to produce essentially any color imaginable and is the method most commonly used by commercial printers and imprinters.  Similarly, RGB is a Red-Green-Blue based system most frequently used to identify colors for onscreen use like websites, a/v presentations, etc.  And yet, still other variations such as HEX exist, each with strengths and weaknesses for specific applications.  Ideally, you want to select a color that produces a specific matching value under each of the most common systems.  (In that instance I mentioned earlier, the fact that the color we had chosen did not have an RGB and CMYK value that represented the exact same color – a fairly rare circumstance –resulted in continual headaches that could have been easily avoided. )

As you have opportunities to use these systems in specific applications, you will begin to appreciate that color matching is as much as art as a science . . . but we’ll save further exploration of that topic for a future article.

Where Will You Use Your Corporate Color?

Everywhere.  That repetition is the essence of good branding – building quick, positive, and familiar recognition.

Specifically, your chosen color will become part of your logo, web site, advertisements/ad campaigns, novelty items, store decor, product displays, clothing/uniforms etc. 

Color does matter.  Frankly, I can’t imagine Joni Mitchell’s classic album Blue would have lasted 50 years had another color – such as red – been chosen!

Landing Pages and Sales Campaigns (i.e., Make Them Land on Your Brand)

Whenever you are conducting a sales campaign, you are certain to have a “pitch” about the differentiating qualities of your product or service that results in a call to action such as a request to buy from you.  In our experience, a simple, well-executed, Internet landing page can be the most effective vehicle for accomplishing that task . . . and your landing page can provide an important opportunity to reinforce (and capitalize upon) your brand.

What Is a Landing Page?

According to “Unbounce” (a developer in the field):

“In digital marketing, a landing page is a standalone web page, created specifically for a marketing or advertising campaign. It’s where a visitor ‘lands’ after they click on a link in an email, or ads from Google, Bing, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or similar places on the web.” (https://unbounce.com/landing-page-articles/what-is-a-landing-page/)

Getting Started

That said, landing pages are of course web pages . . . but unlike home pages or other content pages on your site, these have a very dedicated function and are constructed differently.  Whereas home pages – for instance – are created to communicate lots of information and encourage exploration, landing pages basically:

  • Reinforce your sales pitch as concisely as possible.
  • Offer supporting evidence (such as testimonials or research data) to help clinch the sale.
  • Provide a simple form to complete the transaction.
  • Include a logo that links to your home page (but just that) for those who need more information to finalize the sale.
  • Reflect the branding of the company to take advantage of past efforts to establish a readily recognizable identity that adds value to the product and/or service being sold.  (IMPORTANT:   Be sure your web site/homepage, sales vehicles, and landing pages all reflect the branding elements decided upon in your Style Guide to gain maximum value from each of them.)

Whether you are building your landing page from scratch . . . or are simply customizing one of the many templates now available, we have found a few key points worth remembering during your development:

  • Your goal is to be as simple, direct, and concise as possible.
  • Your headline and any body copy should reflect your sales pitch (i.e., differentiating sales qualities) being used at that time in ads, direct mail pieces, social media, mass e-mails, etc.  (Remember:  Landing pages are for TRANSACTIONS so keep copy and content short.  If a bullet point or two will suffice, use them.  Save your long, persuasively written copy for your web site and sales tools.)
  • Include art/graphic elements but limit the quantity to one or two mirroring the images of your sales pieces and consistent with the elements of your branding Style Guide.
  • Typically, a form will be used to complete the sale or other transaction.  Keep your requests as lean as possible with the absolute minimum number of fields required to accomplish your mission.  For example:  If your ultimate goal is to collect e-mail addresses to build a data base, just get that piece of information and use that at a later date to gather other details.  Your goal is to enable the interested party to complete the transaction as quickly and easily as possible, guarding against losing them along the way.
  • As part of incorporating your brand, plan (as previously mentioned) to include a copy of your logo that links back to your home page.  However, other navigation that does not fulfill the call to action should be excluded.  (Why risk the distraction?)
  • Sales campaigns usually use multiple media such as ads, direct mail, social media, etc.  Employing the same landing page for each of them can facilitate tracking efforts . . . but you want to be sure you can identify the source that generated the lead.  While a number of alternative strategies exist, one way to accomplish this objective is to use multiple copies of the same page with an identification such as “1” for ads, “2” for mass e-mails, “3” for snail mail, etc.  With all of your results arriving via your landing page, you get a very clear picture of your most successful sales vehicles AND have a bit more control over the closing of the sale, including any necessary follow up of now qualified leads that might be required.   Since so much time, effort, and expense is invested in developing a warm lead, you can’t afford to have any fall between the cracks.  (In my past life, we felt so strongly about this issue that our landing page was the only contact information provided on our sales vehicles; we did not include a phone number because we wanted to make sure all telephone contact was as timely and structured as possible.)

A Word About Testing

Like other sales materials, landing pages can be constructed in a number of different ways.  In our experience, running a controlled test of multiple versions before a limited audience should reveal which elements work best and which version should ultimately become part of your sales campaign.

Land on Your Brand!

Just for emphasis, we will close this article by repeating the importance of making your landing page reflect both the branding elements and the design and pitches used in the corresponding campaign.  Since your landing pages are designed to “seal the deal,” failure to fully reflect your branding wastes the time, effort, and resources spent shaping your identity and misses the last opportunity to have a positive impact upon the sales process.

Note:  To further develop this theme, a future article will be devoted to creating a landing page for our blog that further illustrates these principles in action.  For now, those interested in learning more can check out the writings of Neil Patel:  https://neilpatel.com/blog/beginners-guide-to-landing-pages/.

♫ These are a few of my favorite fonts. . . . ♫

Pardon the singing. Fonts make me happy. Beautiful fonts that are free for COMMERCIAL USE (and can therefore be used for branding purposes!) make me very happy. They are unicorns among an Internet of font horses. So with no further ado, here are links to my top ten favorites (in no particular order) . . . .

1. Audrey

2. Learning Curve

3. Inflatable Flamingo

4. Abuget

5. Daybreak

6. Sugar Script

7. Quicksand

8. Priscilla Script

9. Playfair Display

10. Silhouetto Script

Happy downloading! Questions or comments? Just post in the Leave a Reply section down below.

The One that Got Away . . . !

During the course of your career, you will more than likely have a few opportunities to brand or rebrand a business from scratch.  While very exciting, recognize that such moments occur sparingly . . . so be sure to approach the task with appropriate enthusiasm and seriousness of purpose.  Also, be forewarned that – once you become personally invested in the process – some serious disappointment can follow.

Failure is just part of a normal learning curve!

Many years ago, I had one such chance very early in my career – in this case, to brand a bank.  My employer at the time had just purchased a very small, rather archaic financial institution and was planning to broaden and modernize the level of services provided under a new national charter . . . while hopefully maintaining the modest, existing customer base within the immediate community.

Clearly, this circumstance called for some advertising and publicity to let customers know about present and future plans (trying to generate some enthusiasm for the changes) while reassuring them that the key qualities they already liked would not be lost.

An interesting . . .and difficult challenge!

To get started, we looked at the bank’s name and byline.  Since we hoped to build a bridge between the past and future, we retained part of the original name . . . but with some tweaking.  We were also looking to build upon the existing community identity but signal that enhancements in size, scope, and capability were coming, so we adopted the byline “Your Neighborhood National Bank,” which seemed to capture the idea (and benefits) of big and small in few words. With those two decisions and a few more about logo, color, and font already behind us, we were off and running to the next phase of our rebranding.

Working with a graphic artist, the two of us developed a proposal for an extensive branding campaign.  Since funds were available but somewhat limited, we knew such an initiative would have to unfold over time.

Deciding to give life to our new corporate byline (“Your Neighborhood National Bank”), we created a line drawing/cartoon of a typical community, showing the various elements – both commercial and residential – that would be touched by the bank throughout the course of the year.  For each structure portrayed, we saw a story being featured.  For example, the houses would be used to tell the tale of a family’s first mortgage with another involving the tale of a home improvement loan to add a new bedroom for the addition of a child.  A contractor’s truck in front of the latter provided a vehicle for illustrating small business loans . . . while a tale of college tuition being made available could be triggered by the photo of a teenager in a cap and gown getting a family picture taken up the street.  We would even try to highlight our bank’s growth into areas like new car auto loans by showing a billboard featuring the product.  Basically, we believed this flexible theme could be used to highlight every possible product while a consistent neighborhood brand got promoted that emphasized the very real human stories that got affected every day by the actions of our community bank.

Over time, we figured the regularly reused neighborhood artwork would become very familiar and well-known . . . and people would eventually understand, identify with, and care about the stories being told. Furthermore, the slice of the community shown could be enlarged as needed to accommodate new products and services featured by the bank . . . AND the overall approach worked well across multiple media – from print ads and brochures to TV and radio spots as well as billboards and novelty items.

In other words, we had a very broad vision for developing a brand that could support years of repetition while retaining sufficient flexibility to change and grow as needed to reflect reality in a fresh way and ever-evolving goals.  In our minds, we already saw the customers of the bank getting sufficiently attached to this neighborhood to do whatever was necessary to get the latest Christmas Club toy bank giveaway item for their homes.   Obviously, we had a vision for this brand and had allowed ourselves to get very excited by the possibilities.

So, Was this Campaign and Brand Strategy Successful?

Given the buildup I’ve already presented and the clear sense of the faith we had in our plan, the logical question that comes to mind is – WAS THE CAMPAIGN SUCCESSFUL?

Unfortunately, we will never know because this proposal is the one that got away!

At that time, funds were somewhat limited because the bank had just been purchased and lots of systems modernized with newer technology – all of which represented a significant investment AND expense.  While a certain amount of money had been allocated for advertising and publicity, some of the senior sales staff was proposing the available funds be used instead for a shorter-term promotion aimed at encouraging growth of a passbook savings product (a once very popular form of saving account that had already become a bit passe).  While we pitched our use of the funds for our longer-term branding plan, the head of sales was all for publicizing a 6% return on passbook savings with the focus of all publicity being a BIG  6 – including a full-sized Formica sculpture to sit outside the bank as well as in huge ads in the local newspaper.  Convinced this approach would do some immediate, short-term good, the sales team backed this pitch with full enthusiasm and argued that a branding proposal would not address our immediate need for growth.

In the end, the “BIG 6” campaign carried the day and was launched shortly thereafter.

Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda

In my mind, our extensive and elaborate branding plan woulda/shoulda/coulda worked to build a loyal and solid base of customers – a foundation for long-term growth.  Instead, the prototype artwork for the neighborhood sat in my desk for many, many years gathering dust.

Decades have now passed since this missed opportunity first occurred . . . but I still look back with disappointment and wonder whether the plan would have been successful. However, I’ll never know because this pitch is the one that got away.

On the other hand, the promotion that was implemented (with my help and participation I might add) was moderately successful and basically accomplished the more modest, very specific intended goal of savings account growth.  Furthermore, the bank increased in size and scope over time before eventually being sold to a much larger bank that was eventually swallowed up by an even larger bank.

So, was the decision to go with the Big 6 campaign the wrong one?  I’m quite certain that I’m the only one who was left with a sense of unanswered questions about this choice . . . and a few regrets.

The Moral of this Story

 I guess this particular story and experience come with several “morals”:

  • When developing a new brand, think BIG.  Come up with a plan that’s broad enough to encompass many initiatives in many different media over time . . . while still promoting the same basic, simple brand message.
  • Branding is a long-term effort that will often (if not always) end up competing with short-term needs for the use of the same funds (i.e., promotions).  Therefore, select branding that can support both long- and short-term strategies . . . if at all possible.
  • Learn to be resilient in dealing with failures – those magnificent pitches that lose out to “lesser” plans.  As an entrepreneur, you understand that loses are just part of the learning curve to success and that nine ideas out of ten will “crash and burn” . . . but you only need that one to make progress.   In other words, learn to “live to fight another day” and give yourself time and opportunity to find your one victory among the defeats. 

Overtime, the key role of branding has become more widely recognized and appreciated . . . but is still a “hard sell” very often because the benefits are not always either immediate or easy to quantify.  I kind of suspect that anyone involved in product branding long enough will have their own sad story about a plan that would woulda/shoulda/coulda transformed the company to a billion-dollar enterprise – in other words, their own versions of the one that got away.

Press Release Generator – Identifying Your Content

So . . . you’ve sat down to write your press release . . . and you’re stuck getting started.

In an earlier article, we discussed Press Releases as Another Opportunity for Branding.  Specifically, we addressed some of the basic criteria needed to produce a successful PR piece, including discussions about:  Topics, Voice, Audience, Outlets, Format, Quotes and Photos, and Post-Submission Follow-up.  In a second article, we wrote a Press Release to Introduce Ourselves as Part of National Small Business Week (in 2020).

Nevertheless, we realize that many of you may still be sitting staring at a blank page after having crumpled up a dozen failed efforts.

In this article, I’m hoping to help you get started writing by encouraging you to identify and assemble the content you need to include to attract the attention of the media and (ultimately) your audience . . . while successfully communicating your message about your brand.

First, ask yourself whether your proposed topic is of general interest to the public and not simply a self-serving grab for attention.  If you are convinced you have the right kind of subject (i.e., a message that’s unique and has a potential impact upon others), then you need to gather up the specific details to include.

The 5 W’s (Who, What, When, Where, and Why . . . PLUS How)

Answer each of these questions in terms of your press release.

Who

Identify those individuals and/or organizations who are involved . . . as well as people likely to be affected by the outcome.  As you perform this step, consider possible prospects to provide you with a quote.  (In the case of a groundbreaking or Grand Opening, the “who” might be the founder of the business.   Or, perhaps the “who” is the individual behind a new product or key enhancement . . . as well as the consumers likely to benefit.  In the case of an employee being featured to acknowledge an award?, the “who” would be the recipient and maybe the judges (assuming they are well-known public figures).

What

This description should address the unique and special nature of the topic being publicized.  For an employee feature, the “what” might be the winner of an “Employee of the Month” contest and a discussion of the habits and accomplishments being recognized.  In other cases, your “what” could be the description of a new product or service, announcement of a Grand Opening or Employee Recognition Day, or perhaps the explanation of an award won by you.

When

The date and time associated with your topic should always be included.  While this piece of information is very obvious in some cases such as a Grand Opening, others might be a bit more ambiguous such as the anticipated date a new product or service will be introduced.  Occasionally, your “when” could be a timeframe such as “income tax season” or “early this summer,” etc.

Where

“Where” identifies the location in which the topic under discussion is taking place.  In a press release, inclusion of an actual address might be appropriate, but a more general reference such as “at the corporate headquarters” or “in Washington” or “at the satellite location of the store” would suffice to provide the reader with adequate context.

Why

This piece of information in very important because you are highlighting “why” the press release matters.  In some cases, the “why” gives you the opportunity to outline the criteria for an award while explaining the reason you were chosen as winner – one of the rare opportunities to be totally self-congratulatory in an acceptable objective way.  “Why” might be your opportunity to explain the reason a new product or enhancement matters to consumers.  “Why” could be the reason an “Employee of the Year” plaque is given, which offers you an opportunity to expand upon your company’s brand while highlighting the ways in which the recognized person embodies those desired characteristics . . . while also calling attention to the ways in which the consumer benefits.

How

“How” (like “why”) often gives you a bit more opportunity to expand upon the branding of your business.  This information can range from “how” the winner of an award was determined to “how” a company has elected to participate in some national holiday such as Small Business Week.  In crafting this piece of information, remain very sensitive to opportunities to highlight the company’s brand characteristics and the way those qualities made the “how” possible.

So, You Have Your 5 W’s . . .

So, you’ve dutifully filled in the blanks for each of those categories.  (Please note that we have provided a Word template with each of these components laid out to help make that process easier.)  Next, actually write down the two or three quotes you plan to use.  At least one of those sources will typically be from a high-ranking company official and the other should be a person with some recognizable expertise in the subject.  Similarly, one of the quotes should be devoted to the main theme of the press release while the other can merely mention the topic while making remarks that reinforce the general branding of the company.  If you can get a consumer to make a statement, that content can be very effective.  Government officials can also be useful, especially for items like awards and Grand Openings.

Next, locate or create any needed photographic artwork, being sure to supply an appropriate caption and perhaps citation.  If you do not have the necessary images, you can take the pictures.

The final preliminary content to highlight in this collection of information is the “branding boilerplate” language you want to include.  For instance, we chose the following message for our blog:

“Produced by two experienced communication professionals, Brand Building for Small Business is a blog that aims to provide practical, do-it-yourself advice about creating a brand identity from the bottom up.  Expect, simple, straightforward tips that can be executed by a single person or a small group on a very tight budget.”

As a result, we try to incorporate at least the substance of this message (if not the exact words) into any press release, knowing such content is the most likely to get cut by an editor.

Finding Your Lead . . . and Shuffling Content in Order of Importance

Now that you have assembled all of your content, you must begin to incorporate the elements into a cohesive story.  The first step is to identify your lead.  Specifically, read through the 5 W’s you’ve collected and decide which one is the most important.

For instance, “what” and “who” would probably be the elements you introduce first for an employee press release with “when” and “where” being secondary.  For example . . .

“The ABC company recently named Mrs. Mary Smith (your “who”) the “Employee of the month” (your “what”).  She will receive her official reward on June 14th (your “when”) at the annual company meeting at the ABC corporate headquarters (your “where”).  She is being recognized for outstanding customer service (“why”), which reflects ABC’s philosophy of putting the customer first (using this portion of the “why” to tie back very directly to the company’s branding statement).

Once this lead is in place, I’d include a paragraph of biographical detail about Mary’s background and history with ABC.  I’d add a quote from Mary about being surprised and honored as well as another from her supervisor about the reasons Mary is worthy and reflects those qualities that are part of the ABC brand.  Information about past recipients might also be included.

Finally, I’d explain the process of selecting the Employee of the Month (the “how” in this case), which could create a further branding opportunity by indicating the choice was made by fellow employees or perhaps the company’s customers.

Then, I would insert a paragraph that describes ABC and highlights some of the company’s accomplishments.  Within this section, I’d include the quote from the high-ranking company official that is pretty much exclusively about the organization.  (The inclusion of this statement will probably increase the chances of the company information surviving the final cut.)  Very often, a paragraph such as this one would reflect your company’s boilerplate.  If not, I’d incorporate that as part of my closing.

For this particular story, I’d be sure to include a photo of Mary and/or the award ceremony as well as photos of other quoted parties and perhaps an image of the ABC corporate headquarters (assuming the place is closely associated with the company and perhaps a bit iconic).

As I hope this one example above suggests, each collection of details will have an intrinsic order of importance that hopefully makes the progression of the press release both obvious and easy to write.  For instance, “what,” “when,” and “where” would probably be the lead of a “Grand Opening” with “who” being used to mention the dignitaries expected to attend. “Why” would almost certainly incorporate some statement about customer convenience that would provide a point of entry into a recap about branding.  An image of the new location would be essential.

For a press release about a new product, “what” and “when” would probably provide the essence of your lead with “who” being secondary unless a specific individual was instrumental in developing the new product.  Once again, “why” would provide an opportunity to expound upon branding and the ways in which customer needs were being better served.  The “how” in this case could talk about the process of development and perhaps incorporate some discussion about the ways in which customer feedback came into play.

As you can see, the 5 W’s are pretty much a part of any press release you’d choose to create.  By using these elements to gather and organize your content, your narrative will be half written – you’ll just need to figure out the correct order for presenting the information for maximum effect.  Generally speaking, most press releases will be less than 500 words, so taking this approach should be very useful in getting you close to a finished product.

To make sure no information is overlooked, we’ve created a template listing all the important components from this post to help you put together your content.  You will ALWAYS have some details to plug into each section.  Once gathered, the ultimate order will most often become fairly obvious.

 Note:  In a future article, we plan to create examples of simple common press releases such as the kinds mentioned in this article (i.e., Grand Opening, New Product Rollout, Employee of the Month Award, etc.).

Attention Small Business Owners: Yes, You Need a Web Site!

These days, every small business needs to find a suitable spot to launch an Internet site on the web.  You may think you are exempt because you:

  • Are already well-known in your community.
  • Deal exclusively in walk-in sales.
  • Have a procedure in place for responding quickly and effectively to customer needs.
  • Are very satisfied with your amount of year-over-year growth.
  • Have established a very hands-on identity as a brand that emphasizes personal service.

If this description fits you, I can understand that you might feel the web is unnecessary, but you are wrong.

NOT!!
DIY Small Business Owners do not have to become expert programmers or web site designers (i.e., masters of the content shown in the books above). Lots of user-friendly WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) tools exist that can help you launch a simple site for your business.

Web Sites Come in a Variety of Sizes . . . and Can Be Complex or Simple

First, let me point out that contemporary web sites encompass a broad spectrum from the highly sophisticated ones that allow you to accomplish all aspects of a sale from presentation of the product/service to payment and follow-up  . . . to the simplest variations that exist primarily to establish an on-line presence.

Recently, the WordPress Newsletter published a story about “Building Single-Page Web Sites on WordPress.com.”  Frankly, seeing this article got me thinking that the time had come to post an entry on web sites for our blog because the development of your on-line presence creates an important vehicle for branding . . . while positioning you (should you someday choose) to consider taking advantage of Internet Sales.

As the pandemic of 2020 has taught us, small businesses must be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances, and on-line operations can provide a very useful alternative.  Assuming you are not ready to (or do not need to) take that plunge, having the beginnings of a web site can only help create that flexibility if and when the day arrives . . . and you’ll already be establishing some history that can be helpful at a later date.

Convinced . . . ?   Not Yet . . . ?

Frankly, most consumers fully expect every small business to have at least a basic Internet presence . . . and become suspicious about the solvency and reputation of a company that does not.  At a minimum, you can simply put together a small web site that could have your:

  • Name plus a photo of your operations.
  • A brief bio of you and your staff to attach a face to a name and a voice.
  • Contact information, including physical address (needed for people looking to ship items to you or customers looking to use a GPS); phone number; e-mail; and (preferably) an on-line form to submit questions/comments and collect e-mail addresses.
  • Directions to your physical location (ideally tying into existing mapping services).
  • Days and hours of operation.
  • A clear statement and reflection of your brand and those qualities you want associated with your business – being sure to stay within the parameters you established in your Style Guide.  (Click to access our article on that subject.) 

Remember, this first on-line impression will start to set the tone for your brand in people’s minds . . . so choose meaningful content indicative of whom you are!

How Do I Get Started?

WordPress can actually provide many tools for developing web sites of all kinds and degrees of complexity.  If you are just starting out, you really should check out that article mentioned earlier.  However, lots of alternatives exist.

Consider using an existing simple template.  Many web hosting services and software packages provide a wide variety of perfectly acceptable ones that are easy to use and appear fairly customized once your content and images have been added and fonts, colors, etc. have been adjusted to reflect those already chosen for your brand.  Also, those same sources frequently provide widgets (i.e., application programs that can be easily incorporated to handle basic tasks like forms or searches) that you might want to include on your simple site.

Still a bit too hands-on for your taste and comfort zone (even though the camera on your cell phone can be used to generate all of the artwork needed)?

Consider hiring a local vendor or even a college student to give you a hand . . . but don’t allow yourself to accept any excuse for inaction!

In building a basic web site that incorporates the items mentioned earlier in this article, you:

  • Provide a service to your existing and potential customers who search for you on the web.  (You’d be surprised by the web traffic your brick-and-mortar operation will generate.)
  • Have created a valuable opportunity to further define and promote your brand.
  • Gain a potentially useful tool for sales prospecting.
  • Feature a new method of interacting with your clients.
  • Get access to a platform that can be used to experiment with expanding your operation to encompass on-line sales.  (In 2020, many small business – including restaurants — displayed impressive agility in shifting focus – of necessity – in this direction.  “Take-Out anyone?”)
  • Can help customers engage in self-service 24/7, which can increase their satisfaction . . . while reducing your expenses.

Don’t Be Intimidated!

I was involved in building my first web site over 30 years go.  The world wide web was a relatively new phenomenon, and the Internet was just graduating from the world of Archie and Gopher servers at colleges used to give users a way of communicating.

Frankly, I was too dumb and the process was too new to me to be as intimidated as I should have been though – over time – I learned better . . . and grew suitably threatened by the task of developing a good, highly visible web presence.  (Besides, getting intimidated is always much easier as demands and expectations grow more sophisticated.)

While our early efforts were just “brochureware” and were hardly an important source for sales or the delivery of services, we accomplished some very important goals that served us well over time.  We positioned our company as one of the first to embrace the Internet, helping to create a brand that incorporated technical sophistication as part of our calling card.  As more and more operations embraced technology, became involved in web-based sales, began featuring on-line processing and service, and adopted paperless operations, this branding was extremely useful in defining our company as an innovative leader across several decades.

Remember, all beginnings lack polish so don’t be intimidated.  Regardless, your early efforts are sure to embarrass you at a later date.  (Need proof?  Just take a trip via the Internet Archive “Wayback Machine” in about five or ten years to see some of your early versions and compare them to the current. 

So, take a chance and take a plunge into the web but be sure to always keep your eyes focused ahead when defining your brand.  Try to incorporate who you are now but also who you want and expect to be tomorrow.  Your dreams and aspirations are as much a part of whom you are today as any current limitations that you plan to overcome along the way.

Note:  We plan to address higher-end, more complicated web sites in future articles.

Branding Through Blogging

 If you haven’t considered starting your own company blog, you should, because that vehicle can be extremely useful in developing and promoting your brand.

Specifically, a blog:

  1. Creates a platform for defining who you are to existing and potential customers . . . as well as creating an additional regular need to further define yourself as you produce the ongoing content for your blog.
  2. Provides an opportunity to promote specific products and services while giving you the opportunity to highlight differentiating qualities – your sales advantage!
  3. Gives you a platform for telling your side of any story involving controversy or dispute.
  4. Can help humanize your company – associating a name and face with your operations.  (Toward that end, you might want to consider giving your key employees the chance to guest blog rather than assuming you need to produce all of the articles yourself, an approach that offers the added benefit of showcasing the depth and expertise of your organization.)
  5. Establishes a venue for starting a dialogue with your customers, especially highlighting the customer service philosophy you want associated with your brand.
  6. Provides a tool for generating new opt-in customer leads.  (Collecting e-mail addresses as part of your blog also develops a mailing list to push out notifications of new articles being available.)
  7. Adds valuable content to your website that can help boost your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) because substantial amounts of fresh content have a beneficial effect.
  8. Creates a platform for discussing your community involvements and charitable activities, which are elements of most company brands.
  9. Forces an ongoing process of self-examination crucial to staying on course with your branding strategy . . . while providing useful frequency in keeping the visual elements of your brand in front of your audience.
  10. Encourages the development of your online brand personality and social media presence as you repopulate content across those outlets.

Plus . . . you get to build new accompanying skills learned while managing your blog.

With so many potential benefits, what is the possible downside?

Full disclosure – the company that I worked for across many years never did start an official company blog during my tenure, though I was certainly a proponent and made the suggestion several times.  That said, I understood the reluctance – with the main obstacle being the potential drain on resources.  To be successful, a blog requires regular content;  you have to assume many hours of talent will be spent:

  • Writing the articles.
  • Building and maintaining the web site presence that houses the blog.
  • Updating/removing/archiving out of date content.
  • Responding to any feedback . . . and perhaps retooling operations to address this market intelligence.
  • Monitoring impact upon SEO and social media activities.

Furthermore . . .

If you elect to highlight the efforts and contributions of key employees and make them part of your brand, any loss of talent to other companies (for example, an employee leaves your business to work for the competition) is magnified and becomes even more potentially damaging to your success.

The Bottom Line:  To Blog or Not To Blog – That is the Question

While I understand the possible downside, I suspect the risk of committing to a blog might be greater for large established companies than small ones.  If you have the necessary patience and commitment . . . as well as the required communications skills, I believe a blog can be a very useful tool in building and maintaining your brand identity.  While you will certainly be devoting key resources, the content you create can provide many ancillary benefits, including support of your marketing, social media, and web development activities (among others).  Just know that, like every other worthwhile endeavor – any payback is in direct proportion to the time, effort, and talent invested!

How to Easily Create Letterhead for Your Business in Corel Draw (Template Included)

Disclaimer:  While we only recommend products we know and love, we want to note we use affiliate links and may earn a commission for purchases made through those links.

About Corel Draw: If you’re a graphic designer by trade, Corel Draw may not be your graphics editor of choice. If you’re a small business owner without a lot of graphic design experience choosing to do your branding in-house, Corel Draw is a great choice. You can pretty much address all your web and print graphics needs for a faction of the price of the typical designer preference, Adobe. Since you’ve landed on this page in your travels, you probably already know that. If, however, buying a copy has been on your to do list for a while, there’s no time like the present. You can buy yours here and support this blog in the process.

A Quick Note About Versions: I’m using Corel Draw 18. As long as you’re using a version in that same vicinity (i.e., 16, 17, 19, or 20), your view should look pretty similar to the screenshots included throughout these directions.

You can have yours ready to use in about ten minutes, assuming, of course, you’ve already made the hard decisions about your brand identity and:

  • already have a logo;
  • have your chosen fonts; and
  • have selected your color palette to use with your logo.

(If not, we encourage you to read Design Your Own Logo and The Role of a Brand Style Guide first.)

Now, on to the process . . . .

1. Launch Corel Draw and click the “New Document” button on the Welcome Screen.  Set the document to 8.5” wide by 11” high, CMYK color mode, and 300 dpi; click “OK.”

Then, you’ll want to prepare the document a bit.  First, click on the “Snap To” dropdown towards the top of the page; check Document Grid, Guidelines, Objects, and Page; then, click the “X” to close the dropdown. 

Next, add Guidelines to create your margins by clicking on the ruler (just above your workspace) and dragging the cursor from the ruler towards your page.  You’ll see a highlighted dotted line will appear and will continuously “snap” into certain placements while moving.  (The word “grid” will appear over the line at those snap points; since you chose to “snap to” the document grid, the guideline will snap at each quarter inch on the page.)  We want to set the guidelines to create a 1/2″ margin on the page, so let go of your guideline at the second snap on the page.  For the bottom, let go of the guideline two snaps from the bottom of the page.  Do the same for the left and right.  Add one more vertical guideline to the center of the page at 4 1/4″.

2. Then, insert your logo into the document.  From the File menu, choose “Import,” navigate to your logo, select the file, press “Import,” and click within your document to place the logo file. 

You’ll probably need to adjust the sizing of your logo.  If so, just click on a corner of the image and drag diagonally to increase or decrease the size as needed.  (If you drag other than diagonally, you’ll resize your logo disproportionately.)  

Next, move your logo so that the top of the image is aligned with your top guideline and the center of the image is aligned with the center guideline.

3. Next, you can add your footer.  At left, you’ll see an A, which is the text tool.  Click on that and create a square at the bottom of the page within the margins.

With the text box selected, set the font properties at the top of the page.  (I went with Calibri in size 11 Centered.)  At this point, zooming in on the text box is helpful.  Click the magnifying glass at left (which is your zoom tool) and click on the text box. 

In the footer, you can include your company name (or omit if you’d like since your company name is most likely already in your logo), your tag line (don’t waste any opportunities to educate people about your business), your web site address, email, address, phone number, etc. 

You can begin typing by simply clicking into your text box.  If you find you need to increase the size of your text box, click the top center handle and drag upwards as needed. 

I included our business name, tag line, and web address; I also added some dashes above the web address for visual separation. 

Next, zoom back out to the full page view by clicking on the magnifying glass and then selecting the “zoom to page” button at the top of the page.

Create another text box for your body copy.  Click the A text tool and draw your box in between your logo and footer and within your left and right margins.

Set the font properties.  (I went with Calibri Light in size 10). 

And you’re done!  You can now save your template future use.  Go to File > “Save;” then, navigate to your desired location, name your file something that will be clear to you in the future (like “letterhead”), and click “Save.”

Feel free to download and use our letterhead as a starting point.

If you have any questions about the process, just ask us below!