Creating Ads that Communicate Your Brand

With the rarest of exceptions, advertising does not sell your product/service.  While you can strike gold every once a millennium (think – Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” campaign) and actually author an ad that creates a need and desire to make a particular purchase, the typical role of advertising is much more mundane (and less satisfying) –communicating the availability of your product/service to the right targeted audience via a well-chosen media vehicle at the right time (i.e., buying time).

That said, everyone who has ever created an ad dreams of producing the perfect one that entertains, sells, evokes a brand identity, and remains memorable years after the campaign is done.

As these remarks imply, good advertising involves a combination of contributions (especially at large companies) ranging from those who correctly identify an audience to those who understand the media outlets that best serve that audience to those that finalize the right cost-effective media buys that balance the often conflicting demands of size, frequency, cost, and placement.  Of course, the final contributor to the process is the person or teams of people producing “the creative.”

As the typical small business owner, you will often be the party wearing all of those hats!  Therefore, you may be comforted to know that most ad designs encompass a handful of typical elements, which – when known – will be helpful in creating your ad copy and deciding upon the ways in which these elements interact . . . and perhaps even enable you to determine the ones that must be eliminated on a specific occasion for a particular reason.

How does brand factor into this equation?

Well, advertising is one of the many ways in which you can promote your brand.  Conversely, your brand generally provides the vast majority of the content to be included in your ad copy while also defining the visual elements that get incorporated into the design.

The basic parts of an ad include:

  • Headline
  • Illustration
  • Caption (and/or Sub-Head)
  • Body Copy (including the Sales Pitch)
  • Contact Information, Logo, and Call to Action

That said, understand that the only real rule is that the art of creating a successful ad has no real rules, only exceptions.  While 90% of the ads I created probably involve most or all of the elements mentioned above, my favorite one broke all of those rules.  Specifically, I created a half page black-and-white ad done in reverse (white text on a black background) that basically included a single, huge, lowercase word (i.e., because) as a well as a logo and contact information.  While I could write volumes about the reasons I like that ad, I’ll simply explain that lots was communicated very simply in a manner that captured the attention of a person leafing through the publication.  While the piece did rely upon some prior brand presence to automatically communicate certain details to the reader upon seeing the company name, I also believe the ad helped define our style and attitude . . .  and, therefore, became part of the brand.

 The ad was (as I already mentioned) very much an exception.  The vast majority included the various traditional structural elements that I will now briefly describe.

Sample ad for our blog that highlights the basic elements. (I used CorelDraw to create this ad for reasons previously discussed in other articles; however, many other graphic arts programs will work equally well!!)

Headline

With the competition for attention very intense across all media, the first job of your ad is to be seen (not passed over), and your headline and illustration are probably the elements best suited to the job.  Three quarters of all my ad designs have started with a headline I thought was capable of grabbing our share of the readers’ attention.  (Yes, I’m tempted to list the top 10 headlines I’ve created that succeeded . . . but decided to spare you that exercise and move on to the next key element.)

Illustration

The photo or drawing included in your ad is obviously key to grabbing attention.  Some people – particularly graphic designers – would argue that the illustration is the most important factor. That said, the artwork can be essentially descriptive and show an attractive image of your product or service in action, OR the graphic can grab attention by being clever or arrestingly different in some way – perhaps even relying upon humor  (i.e., “Where’s the beef?”).

If you personally have artistic skills, this element of the ad can be great fun.  If, on the other hand, you are more of a writer or pure businessperson, you can still create a successful ad on your own – using photos or artwork available from some of those free sources already discussed in earlier blog articles.  (See FREE Pictures Are Also Worth a 1,000 Words (and Can Help Promote Your Brand)!

If you are going this route, be prepared to spend lots of time paging through stock images until you’ve found just the right one to make your point.  (Also, don’t forget that most phones now include cameras able to produce sufficiently high-res images that can be the key to capturing your product/service in action;  if you have the eye, the equipment is already in your pocket.)

Caption (and/or Sub-Head)

Your caption obviously relates to the illustration you’ve chosen and generally provides a key opportunity to introduce brand qualities most likely to result in a sale.  That said, you will no doubt find times when the caption is eliminated either because the artwork is self-explanatory or does not offer the opportunity to highlight your brand. If people are shown, the caption may be the best chance to provide identification and further humanize the brand while giving a face a name that might be memorable to all or a portion of your audience.

The ability to include sub-heads is obviously dependent to a large degree upon the size of the ad.  For a half page or less, chances are you will skip this element.  For larger sizes, your sub-head provides an extra opportunity to grab attention.  Or, perhaps the sub-head just gives you a chance to continue your major headline further down the page – pulling the reader into your content.

Body Copy (Including the Sale Pitch)

You use your body copy to describe your product or service to the audience, being sure to employ language that highlights those qualities that define your brand.  Frankly, repetition of that information in circumstances like advertising is one of the ways in which brand identity is created.  In selecting the words to include, you want the most sales worthy qualities of your brand and repeat them in every ad you create.  Also, be sure to use this space to highlight and explain any special promotions that might be happening at the time.

How many words should you use?  Frankly, long copy vs. short is one of the age-old debates in advertising among designers, business owners, experts, and amateurs.  You’ll find everyone has a firmly held opinion . . . and the jury is still split even among the luminaries in the field – all of whom are recognized as the best and most reliable source of information.

Frankly, I’m a word person . . . so I tend to think “more” has a better chance of being effective than “less.”  In support of this position, I’ll turn to David Ogilvy – one of the founding fathers of advertising – who was an advocate of long copy, especially for more complicated, technical, and expensive products.  He stated:  “All of my experiences say that for a great many products, long copy sells more than short.  I have failed only twice with long copy.”  (David Ogilvy – Ogilvy on Advertising.)

 My preference/bias duly noted, I’ll offer the following to balance my prejudices:

  • My favorite ad that I’ve created has (as already mentioned) basically one word (without further explanation) as the focus.
  • My blogging partner probably has a belief that (at least in comparison to me) less is more when talking about ad copy.
  • More of my ads probably ended up having less copy than I preferred because my bosses generally believed that more words than could be counted on 10 fingers were probably suffering from “wordiness.”

In the end, my advice is to include just the amount of language that seems right for a particular ad.  I believe each will be a bit different, and you will inevitably have a sense of the right quantity to make your point and pitch your product or service because – in the end — sales and reinforcing brand identity are the point of this exercise.

Contact Information, Logo, and Call to Action

The final elements of your ad are very basic ones that should never be forgotten.  Include your logo, address, phone, fax (WHAT’S THAT??!!??), e-mail, and/or web site.  (Exception:  If you are channeling all responses in a certain way, all other contact information can be excluded.)

You should also make some sort of statement that clearly tells your audience what to do next.  For example:

  • For more information, contact us at ____________________.
  • For more information, visit our web site at _______________________ and be sure to submit a customer service request form.
  • To order today, please __________________.
  • To speak with a live representative, ________________________.
  • Etc.

You get the idea.  Worth mentioning is that the nature of responding to any advertising and promotion should be determined in advance and used in all situations.  Perhaps, that process will involve setting up a special phone extension, a post-office box, or web landing page used exclusively for that purpose.  The advantage in taking such a systematic approach is better collection and assessment of data resulting from your efforts and immediate recognition of an inquiry coming from a sales lead that, therefore, enables a high level of customer service to help close a potential sale.

Branding and Your Overall Design

The elements discussed above are the ones at your disposal to mix and match in creating your ad.  When employing them, you must be absolutely certain to remain consistent with the rules described in your Style Guide, which will outline the fonts, colors, and perhaps even available types of illustration as well as highlighting key boilerplate language to be included.   Your ad must always conform to these rules while expressing the brand qualities you want to highlight as memorable and sales worthy. 

While much of the discussion in this article is applicable to both print and electronic advertising (especially electronic ads that basically mirror print equivalents), be aware that e-banner ads have typical very small sizes that create their own special challenge . . .  and call for a separate future article to discuss some of the techniques to be employed and pitfalls to be remembered.

Meanwhile, good luck and have fun.  Ads provide you with a great opportunity to explore your creativity and to benefit from customer responses/sales leads!

Other Resources

Photo by Anthony Shkraba from Pexels

A seemingly infinite number of resources exist on branding, and a similarly large number of small business resources exist. Once you narrow in your search on resources for small business branding (and of course eliminate those who want to offer you that service in exchange for a fee), a much, much smaller pool exists. Well, we scoured the Internet for some of the most valuable of these resources for fellow small business brand builders and compiled the best of the best for you below . . . .

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Pexels – “The world’s first inclusive free stock photo & video library”

While you need to attribute credit to the photographer (as you can see in the example pictured above), you get access to a really impressive selection of *free* high-resolution stock photography. The images can be used on your web site, in advertisements, flyers, etc. Pexels is absolutely a must-have in your bookmarks.

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GoDaddy Garage > Guide to Building a Brand – “Your brand is a high-speed emotional shortcut to the promise you make to the world.”

This blog is right up our alley! The articles discuss branding from the perspective of small businesses and even provide DIY tips in some areas. If you view the “Articles by Topic,” you’ll see they’re conveniently categorized into the following sections: “Find Your Niche,” “Dream It,” “Create It,” “Grow It,” and “Manage It.”

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Google Fonts – “Making the web more beautiful, fast, and open through great typography.”

About a thousand *free* fonts are available, and they’re presented in a wonderfully searchable format (it is google after all).  You’re able to type in your sample text, select the size you want to preview, and choose your desired font characteristic(s), and your search results will populate accordingly. According to google, “You can use [the fonts] freely in your products & projects – print or digital, commercial or otherwise.”

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Inkspace – “Draw Freely.”

We use the vector and graphics editor, CorelDraw.  While the suite is powerful and much cheaper than your standard graphics package, the cost is still pretty steep in the $500 ballpark.  I read a few articles on free vector-editing programs, found Inkscape (https://inkscape.org/) to be highly recommended, and gave it a go.  The free program seems to have all the features needed to get the job done.  (And, they make a number of tutorials available, including one on the basic tools:  https://inkscape.org/en/doc/tutorials/basic/tutorial-basic.html.)

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AmEx Blog > Branding – “Hone your presence, online and off. Carve out a niche that customers and clients respond to, and help build a seamless brand, from the color of your logo to the personality of your social posts.”

AmEx has a vastly extensive blog for small businesses. While Branding is only one section within, the quantity of information could easily qualify as a blog of its own. While the section could benefit from some organization, dozens upon dozens of articles as well as videos offer valuable branding insights for small businesses.

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Microsoft Word Templates

While Microsoft dedicates the prime real estate of this page to promoting their “premium” content, hundreds of free options are available. If you browse by category, you’ll see brochures, business cards, flyers, invoices, newsletters, and more. While you’ll certainly want to customize any template with your business’s brand elements, these “off-the-shelf” options often make a great starting point and save you a lot of time and effort.

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The Noun Project – “Over 2 Million curated icons, created by a global community”

Ever wondered where to go for icons that could be used as part of your brand identity or marketing materials for a very minimal cost?  A number of options exist, but I like https://thenounproject.com/.  They have a large selection and charge nominal, one-time fees per icon.  (We obtained the hammer for our logo from this source for $2.99.)

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DIY Marketers – “An Online Magazine for Overwhelmed Small Business Owners on a Budget”

The author of the blog shares her origin story:

Back in 2008 I got a call from MSNBC asking me to be a part of a pilot program they were doing for entrepreneurs. The idea was to bring a TV crew to “our offices” and see how we were able to create all this amazing content and to teach another small business owner how they can market themselves on a budget. I was sorry to tell them that the Ivana Taylor empire ran from my living room with my 3-person staff of Me, Myself and I. The first thing they asked me was how I was able to do so much on a budget — and that’s when DIYMarketers was born.

For me, this story exemplifies all we can accomplish in the world of DIY, investing money from our businesses in growth instead of hiring others to execute the tasks we can accomplish ourselves. And the blog itself doesn’t disappoint. While the design is a little overwhelming, you’ll find oodles of insight and “how-to’s.”

Optimal Resolution for Optimal Output

You’ve been inspired.  You produced a magnificent design accompanied by meaningful words . . . so you expect to be able to create an epiphanic moment for your audience, right?

Unfortunately, all too often the answer is “wrong” because something went awry in the final stages of production – a bad print job, a poorly executed poster, a botched banner on the day of the trade show, etc. 

An old cliché says that the path to a successful project is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration (including the required follow through).  In my experience, that saying has a lot of truth.

One of the most common causes of a job to get really screwed up in the very last stages is the incorrect handling of images – specifically, providing images that have an incorrect resolution to reproduce properly or maybe (as in the case above) a disproportionately sized image.

I’m pretty sure everyone has encountered requests from a vendor for either “high res” or “low res” photos.  Unfortunately, such requests are seldom accompanied by an explanation of what that means.

Resolution

For the sake of this article, the images being discussed are all “bitmap” files such as jpg’s, png’s, gif’s etc.  All of these have a similar construction and are the most common file types used.  We’ll save a discussion of vectors (the other common method of construction) for another day . . . and will eventually devote an entire article to eps (encapsulated postscript) files.

That said, I’ve sat debating the amount of time and space to devote to trying to explain the concept of resolution . . . and have decided to keep explanation to a minimum.  Much has already been written by sources far more technically expert than me (feel free to google the term and check out the first 25 pages of highly technical search results)!

Instead, my focus will be to discuss the right resolution for various types of output.  However, you DO need to know that image size (as measured in terms like inches or pixels) and resolution are related, mutually dependent concepts.  Meaning – you can’t just increase the physical dimension without the resolution (ability to reproduce detail) also being affected.   If you try to make a picture bigger, the resolution will get lower and – go low enough – and the image will be blurry because of the extent of the detail lost – messing up your masterpiece!

Resampling (Fancy Word for Resizing) – Basic Rule of Thumb

Note:  While the example mentioned below will be expressed in terms of Corel Draw, all graphic arts packages will have similar features.  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.  Currently, I am using Corel Draw 16. As long as you have a version in that same vicinity, your view should look pretty similar.

Start by setting the size (the width and length) to the required dimension, being sure to keep boxes checked for “maintain original size” and “maintain aspect ratio.”

If you have those boxes checked, set the larger dimension you need (could be either width or length) to the desired amount . . . and changes will occur.

The dimension you did NOT alter will change to reflect the adjustment made to the larger one, and you may find that secondary measure is either longer or shorter than the amount required.  If longer, you can generally crop the image to the amount needed.  If shorter, you may have to find a different image (or go through a complicated process of adding more material to the picture.  For example, you might be able to successfully add some sky on a fairly cloud-free day to make the height of an image big enough.  However, chances are you should just keep looking for an alternative picture.

Next, you need to look at your resolution.  When you checked the box to “maintain size,” that meant any adjustment made to the width or length would increase or decrease your resolution. 

Often, jobs and, therefore, output devices have different resolution requirements.  Below are some of the common ones you might encounter.  (All are based on having the correct physical dimension of length and width.) 

Download a pdf of the chart above.

If you’ve set the length and width to the physical size needed and resolution dips below those amounts cited above for the job you are completing, you have a problem.  The image may ultimately appear distorted (even when the on-screen version looks fine).  If the resolution ends up being greater than required, the extra image data will simply be ignored, but the performance of the equipment will suffer.  You can either leave as is or “down sample” – uncheck the “maintain size” box and adjust the resolution downward to the amount required, leaving the physical dimensions the same.  (Note:  When down sampling, you sometimes might want to slightly sharpen your image.)

“Up sampling” involves increasing a resolution to a desired amount by just unchecking the maintain size box and entering the number.  This process isn’t typically recommended (though at some point you will probably try and will see for yourself the very mixed, dissatisfying results).

All professional graphic arts applications will have tools such as those described above that will allow you to correctly adjust the size and resolution to the needs of the situation.  If you are using an app that lacks these tools, you might be looking for trouble and should consider switching to a different program to complete this task.

Remember . . .

While I’ve offered a highly simplified explanation of one way to accomplish common sizing/resolution tasks, you should be able to use this approach to assure the desired quality output without having to delve deeply into all of the underlying theories and permutations.  If someone should say, I know a different way, that person probably does know a perfectly acceptable alternative . . . so don’t go betting a quarter that he or she is wrong.

Resizing the Old-Fashioned Way (For those who like equations . . . )

If you have an image that you want to resize to a specific dimension, you can – while maintaining the original size – (1) change inches (i.e., 1.7) to pixels (i.e., 1000) and (2) divide that number by the desired dimension (i.e. 4 inches).  The result (3) is the amount you should enter as your resolution (i.e., 250). 

As previously discussed, you then have to determine whether that value is sufficient to produce the desire product.

Branding and Marketing, Promotion, or Advertising Campaign (Re)Launches

Whether you are in the early stages of marketing, promoting, and advertising a new business or are about to reintroduce yourself to the world (a necessity that could be created by a variety of circumstances ranging from a great new product or service to a need to come back in a somewhat altered form from a national pandemic), a typical group of activities are usually considered:

  • Advertising via online and/or print publications
  • Press releases announcing your presence and/or highlighting a change
  • Direct mail/e-mail to existing and/or prospective customers
  • Social media postings to highlight important details and communicate news
  • Special events

To reach out to the largest possible audience in a coordinated way with a consistent message and visual component, basic branding practices are key.  As you embark upon your campaign, we suggest you read the following blog entries . . . and keep checking back as we post new material on topics such as:  building your own ads; properly preparing artwork for various print and online media outlets; understanding the role and use of paid search and ad words as an advertising tool;  etc.

When read together, the articles shown below provide a branding tutorial relevant to marketing campaigns. (By the way, we are always interested in hearing from you and will carefully consider special requests to cover specific topics; either use the form at the bottom of this page to deliver your message or send us an e-mail at brandbuildingforsmallbusiness@gmail.com.)

General –

Important Branding Background

The Role of a Brand Style Guide

BEFORE YOU BEGIN YOUR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING EFFORTS, take the time to create/review a style guide that puts into writing the most basic rules that must be observed to properly build the visual elements of your new campaign.

  Note:  Helpful downloadable tools/templates are included.

Create a Branding Activity Calendar (Template Included)

Your marketing/advertising campaign is almost certainly going to involve a variety of multi-media components – many of which are already included on our sample Branding Activity Calendar that could also be used to coordinate the various elements you’ve incorporated into your promotional campaign.  (The template we’ve provided allows you to add the specific activities associated with your effort.)

In Search of the Holy Grail (of Branding)

Why does branding matter when your current focus is to launch your new sales campaign?  Why get distracted by the time, effort, and resources needed to make sure your advertising and marketing efforts reflect your chosen branding?  This article (as well as the one below) answers that question!

Free (and Needed) Tools

Design Resources

These articles provide tips on finding some of the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) tools needed to build your own ads and other marketing and promotional materials.

FREE Pictures Are Also Worth a 1,000 Words (and Can Help Promote Your Brand)!

Finding the Right Font: A Review of the Best Available Font Viewers

Overview of
Marketing and Promotional Activities

Direct Mail/Email

These pieces discuss the content and crafting of your direct mail message (including the document to be mailed/emailed) as well as the mechanics of obtaining your list and building your database of recipients.

Press Releases

These blog entries discuss the topics, voice, audience, format, and outlets to utilize in incorporating press releases into your marketing activities.  Samples are provided.

Social Media

The following articles cover various aspects of building a social media presence – from creating profiles on platforms such as Facebook and Pinterest to strategies used to identify appropriate content.  As an added bonus, we provide tools helpful in promoting your social media accounts, including templates.  (Last but not least, we address tools for requesting customer reviews so you won’t forget the importance of that aspect of social media.)

Worth Another Look at this Time

Branding involves far more than just creating a few recognizable visual elements.  Customer Service is always at the heart of your brand.  Taking a close look at this time helps identify those branding qualities that will resonate with your audience and are, therefore, worth promoting.  Then, be sure to take all of the necessary steps to ensure that your customer service systems are properly tuned to support the front end of your sales efforts.  Once you are successful, remember the value of repeat customers by immediately thanking them for their business.

Branding Through Customer Service

How to Create a Branded Thank You Card for Your Business in Microsoft Word

ZOOM!!

During the pandemic, has anyone not heard the expression . . .

For work.

For family . . . to stay in touch with members during this time of enforced isolation.

For entertainment . . . as celebrities find new ways to reach out to their audiences.  (Everyone catch the cast of Hamilton performing a number with each member in a different remote location?)

What does ZOOMING have to do with brand building?  Well, the app is another tool (a particularly useful one right now) for communicating with employees and customers – either singly or in groups.  Much can be accomplished via video conferencing.

While the term and app ZOOM might be relatively new, various forms of desktop videoconferencing have existed for many years.

About a decade ago, I started supervising several employees who worked remotely from home – in fact, mostly from different states.  Daily meetings using this kind of technology enabled us to keep in touch in a very immediate way – going over current projects, brainstorming, and planning for future tasks.  The application we used (though not ZOOM) featured desktop screen sharing—allowing us to share files and make changes interactively, which eliminated one key obstacle that needed to be overcome for remote activity to be as effective as local.

Similarly, my daughter studied abroad back in the early 2000’s.  Weekly Skype video calls made this period much more tolerable for us.

ZOOM has already made a huge impact upon the off-premises workplace . . . so I suspect every business owner should become somewhat familiar with the powerful potential of this tool and be able to participate in meetings as well as initiate them.  By the way, getting started with ZOOM is free.

Note:  While ZOOM is the app I’ve heard most commonly mentioned during these days of isolation and mandatory business closures, be aware that other programs with similar features are available.  Skype, WebEx, GoToMeeting, and Microsoft Teams are just a few.

Getting Started

This brief article is not intended be an in depth ZOOM instructional guide . . . but is designed to provide just enough information to pique your curiosity and perhaps give you enough tips to approach your first experience without trepidation.

If you are being invited to participate in a scheduled ZOOM meeting, you will get an e-mail that includes a link to click to join the meeting.  Upon doing so, a page will be displayed that informs you that a download is about to begin.  When prompted, click “Run”; you will enter a meeting that has been assigned a several digit meeting name.

Note:  If you have already installed a free copy of ZOOM (as explained in the next section below), you will be able to bypass this download by launching ZOOM and “Joining” an existing meeting by entering the multi-digit name.

If you are initiating/scheduling a meeting, you will need to download and install a free copy of ZOOM, which you can do at:  https://zoom.us/support/download

Follow the installation instructions, creating a user name and password.  Once your free account has been created, you will be able to access the screen below.

From this point, you can “Join” a meeting by entering the name provided by the organizer, or you can “Schedule” a new session yourself.  The process is quick and easy and accomplished by completing this form:

If you have coordinated ZOOM with your calendar, you can generate invitations directly.  Otherwise, you can copy the meeting details (including the needed link) into the clipboard and paste the contents into an e-mail to send to the recipients.

When the meeting is due to begin, you’ll be prompted with a selection to start the meeting.  As everyone you invited tries to access the meeting, you will want to select the “Manage” option, which will allow you to admit the requestees into the session.

By the way, ZOOM traditionally limited free account holders to 40-minute meetings.  However, the creators have recognized the growing need for videoconferencing of all kinds during the pandemic and have generously waived the time limit.

BTW — Kudos to ZOOM on some nice branding efforts

And – Once Again – How Does ZOOM Relate to Your Branding Efforts?

During this time of business closures and regulated isolation (a process that seems likely to continue for some time as businesses are gradually allowed to reopen), videoconferencing plays a key role in maintaining lines of communication with your employees (assuming you have some), customers (to provide a means of face-to-face contact when such opportunities are scarce), and third-party business meetings.  As we have seen in recent weeks as whole music concerts and television shows have been orchestrated this way, the uses of ZOOM are limited only by our imaginations.

If you have any questions or comments on this topic, we’d love to hear from you.  Scroll down to the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Be safe.  Be well. 

Observe the guidelines implemented for our collective good!!

Time to Rebrand?

As Bob Dylan wrote, “The Times They Are A-Changin’ . . . ” and will likely never be the same.  Society cannot go through the kind of dislocations experienced during the current pandemic without being fundamentally altered, though in ways that may ultimately turn out to be good.  (For example:  During the global quarantine, scientific studies showed that the amount of pollution – especially in hotspots – decreased significantly.)

Hopefully, we have learned many positive lessons during this international “time-out” and developed a new openness to change.

Necessity may have changed your product or service . . . perhaps in a good way.

During this period of quarantine, perhaps (1) your business had to be closed; (2) you remained open but strictly as an Internet/Takeout-Delivery operation; or (3) you were designated as essential to survival and kept going as best you could under adverse circumstances.  Regardless of the category that applies to you, your business will have changed during this time.

Once the crisis has ended, business owners will be faced with deciding whether some of the changes should become permanent ones.  (For example, you learned that a segment of your operations could be conducted on-line.  Do you try to revert to old ways . . . OR do you capitalize on what you learned and maintain or grow your Internet activities – recognizing an opportunity for immediate profit as well as a hedge against a future need to run your business in a state of emergency?)

With changes of the kind we are discussing comes a need for you to consider whether you must also now REBRAND.

REBRANDING

Over the years, I’ve probably been involved in a half dozen or more different rebranding exercises.  Some were very necessary AND major, including top to bottom name, logo, byline, etc. adjustments while others were more minor and amounted to some after-the-fact tweaking of branding elements rather than new names and identities.

How do you know when the time has come?  You certainly know when:

  • Your product and/or service is no longer clearly or accurately represented by the brand. 
  • Your branding no longer resonates with your customers.  (You may learn of this need by asking via a formal survey or focus group . . . or you may recognize that a problem exists because your customers no longer remember or relate to your name, logo, or product.)
  • A change of ownership occurs.  (Perhaps your old name is no longer applicable or perhaps your new owner has a well-known name you want to promote.  For instance . . . when Berkshire Hathaway purchased my employer in 2012, we wanted to make the name of our parent part of our own name so their branding qualities also became ours.  While various permissions and legal ramifications must be addressed first, the results justify the effort.)
  • A new product or service has been added that you want to promote or a secondary activity has now become primary and dominant.
  • Sales suggest your current brand just is not working well enough.

So . . . how extensive a rebrand is required?  For instance:

  • Is a name change required?  If yes, do you want the new name to reflect the old name . . . or be entirely new.  (For example, many years ago, the company that employed me was known as “The GUARD Network.”  That name was chosen with the expectation of developing a diverse list of products that served many different industries.  When that did not happen and the organization dealt strictly with insurance, the name became a bit of a handicap because people couldn’t tell what the company did.  The decision was made to add the word insurance, but all parties believed the word GUARD communicated the right branding qualities of security and protection.  As a result, the company became GUARD Insurance Group.
  • Is a new or modified logo needed?  When a name changes in a significant way, a new logo is probably required.  However, a logo might be changed or tweaked independent of the name.  At that same prior employer, our logo was finetuned multiple times across a five-year period – always including a GUARD icon so the benefit of past branding could be maintained . . . but gradually simplifying that image, which became broader and a bit more abstract over time. For an interesting look at the evolution of some famous logos over time (as well as information on debranding), check out Debranding: The Future of Branding.
  • By-line?  A change of by-line is another way to communicate an important adjustment without necessarily scrapping the investment made over time to your logo.  (For Example, a restaurant that had started to feature delivery and take-out might start including that information as part of a new by-line – “Take out/eat in.”

Sometimes, the need for a rebrand is obvious . . . and I suspect that will often be the case post-pandemic.  If you are not sure about the necessity, take the time to do some research with current and potential customers.  In addition to evaluating the necessity, you might learn some useful tips about the correct measures needed to rebrand successfully.

Make No Mistake . . . Rebranding Comes at a Cost

Some of the expenses associated with a rebrand are obvious:

  • The cost of performing research (surveys, focus groups, etc.)
  • Cost of reprinting materials with the new logo
  • Signage changes to reflect the new name
  • Programming expense associated with changes to the branding elements in the computer system
  • Cost of promoting the new name via advertising, mailings, and promotional giveaways
  • Etc., etc., etc. (The list can keep going on and on.)

However, the less obvious costs must also be considered.  For example:

  • Lost labor.  Staff time associated with name change activities as opposed to normal duties is an expense.
  • Lost investment in the old branding.  If you succeed in cleverly linking the past and present, perhaps some of that investment will be salvaged.  If not – if a total break from the past seems advisable for some extreme reason – your effort in accumulated time and money will be totally lost.

Conclusion

Right now, we are still in the middle of a global health and financial crisis . . . so post-pandemic thoughts may seem somewhat premature.  Still, we wanted to introduce this kind of thinking now so you can subconsciously collect information as you go along that might prove useful in the future.   When that day comes, we have a number of blog postings that may be very helpful to you.  Be sure to revisit “Building Blocks: The Beginning.”  

The above illustration highlights just a few of the relevant topics worth reviewing.

Good luck. Stay safe.

If you have any questions or comments on this topic, we’d love to hear from you. Scroll down to the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Branding and the Pandemic

Today, my goal was to come up with a meaningful article about branding that offered some concrete tips useful in the midst of a pandemic.

Nothing was coming to me.    In search of inspiration, I went to google and typed “branding and the pandemic.”

In case you are wondering about the likelihood of those two terms together yielding any meaningful insight, I suggest you search the headline of this article yourself.  Ten full pages of results were returned.  (BTW—I stopped looking through the pages at that point because I grew tired of the exercise, not because the results stopped matching my request.)  The illustration below from page 1 shows some of the many different variations on the theme.

See the bottom of this page for our Special Offer.

Skimming through the headlines as well as a few of the articles, you’ll find that every imaginable subject has been addressed – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  While the amount of information is overwhelming, one fact becomes abundantly clear – branding is important during these difficult times and deserving of every bit of attention you can spare, even though no time and opportunity may seem to be available and the subject of branding may be the furthest from your mind and fairly low on your current list of priorities.

Many of these articles are good ones, and we suggest you use some of your many hours of isolation to acquaint yourselves with the range of insight and good advice being made available.

That said, let me ease your mind – we don’t plan to use this article to reinvent any of those wheels.  Instead, we will remind you to read our earlier pieces on Crisis Management and building some strategic plans for “Weathering the Storm” and identifying parts of your business that you might be able to re-engineer to function in a mostly online environment.

Assuming you’ve already acquainted yourselves with these bits of advice, today’s suggestion is one that might be deceptively difficult to execute:  spend some time on meaningful self-reflection.

  • Who do you think you are as a company?
  • What can you and your company do to ease the burden of the pandemic?  (ex:  make personal protective equipment; serve meals to first responders; deliver products to the elderly)
  • What impression do you want your customers to take away when linking your company name and the pandemic?  Will you be considered a valued member of the community contributing to the greater good?  Will you be thought of as being one of those organizations with so much talent and expertise that you were able to adapt your operations and offer a valuable product and/or service to others while existing under pandemic restrictions?

Once you arrive at an honest answer to these questions through this period of self-examination, what measures can you take to make that happen? Consider:

  • Who you have been (and whether that is who you want to be)
  • The steps you can take to be perceived in the desired way
  • The kinds of plans you can put into place to better equip yourself to deal with crises of this kind in the future.

Once you have a clear vision and understand your brand aspirations, we can help identify useful strategies to implement the results of your self-reflection.

Our Offer to You:

Feel like you need a little assist to make this self-reflection a meaningful and useful exercise?  If so, we’re happy to help other business owners identify opportunities to adapt their resources and skillset to aid their communities (just one of the ways we can do our part during these hard times).  We’ll also work with you on a plan for reinforcing your brand in a positive way while being of service to others.  Just let us know a little about your situation in the comments below . . . describe your business and expertise, and we’ll start brainstorming with you.

Be careful.  Be safe.  Embrace this opportunity to understand yourself and your brand better.  When the pandemic does finally end, you’ll be in a better position to resume more normal activities.