Thursday, October 18, 2012

Branded: The Halcyon


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I'm such a sucker for a well-designed brand. And when the site, Brand New, featured the designs for The Halcyon—a London retail development—I fell in love.

Unfortunately, they posted all the design elements as separate images. I much prefer to save these kinds of things as one image, so I can see the brand design as a whole. I took it upon myself to solve this problem and threw them together into a single, long image. (Perfect for sharing on Pinterest, eh?)


(BTW, if you love brand design, you MUST follow Brand New. They cover a wide range of new and redesigned brand projects, both good and bad. It's a fantastic source of inspiration.)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Content Writing Principles


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This post about 9 Glorious Truths About Creating Great Content (from WordOfMouth.org) is a fantastic starting point for thinking through the content you generate in your marketing communications.

My personal favorite, deals with complexity and honesty:
8. Complex is bad. For some reason, brands think that for something to be serious, it needs to look and sound complex. I’m not sure why that is, but the best content is not complex, it’s honest. And, if you think about it, honesty comes through best when it’s kept simple.
I highly recommend checking out the whole article.

Monday, July 09, 2012

A Logo Whoops


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Not sure who designed first. And I don't really care either. In this case, I'd say these two are bit too close for comfort. Someone should have raised a red flag and suggested a redirection in the design of the mark (for whichever was second).

Any time you design a logo (or hire someone to do so) make sure you ask (and also answer): Who else out there has a similar logo?


The answer doesn't necessarily need to be, "No one." Similar logo marks are bound to occur. There aren't too many new ideas under the sun. Perhaps none at all.


The decision to change the direction of your logo design requires answering a few other questions first, such as:
  • How close is the other logo design(s) to yours?
  • In what industry is the other brand? Is their industry the same or close to yours?
  • How long has their brand identity been in existence?
  • Do you expect your audience to have regular or even sporadic exposure to this other brand?
This is one time you can't blame your dog when you don't do your homework.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Saul Colt on Word of Mouth


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This presentation by Saul Colt (the self-proclaimed smartest man in the world) is both entertaining and full of great advice and examples.

Checkity check it.

How to Create Offline Word of Mouth -- presented by Saul Colt from SocialMedia.org on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Future of User Interfaces: Touchless


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I ran across this post about the future of interfaces and just couldn't pass up re-posting the videos.

Forget your jetpack. This is the future.




Friday, May 11, 2012

A Few Business, Marketing, and Design Blogs to Keep Your Mind Fat and Happy


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One of my co-workers at Cardinal Path recently asked me what blogs I follow...probably because I'm such a 'know-it-all.'

Anyways, so I rounded up a few, emailed them over, and they actually found them useful. And I thought 'Why not turn that list into a blog post?' 

Yeah, I couldn't think of a reason either.

So here's some of the top blogs that I follow:


General Business News:

  • Inc.com - an online version of the business-oriented magazine. I get their daily emails which gives you 5-6 quick news stories in business. They tend to focus on tech and startups.
  • American Express's OPEN Forum - one of my favorite business and marketing news sites. Lots of great stuff here though they do be more focused on small businesses (which is a primary focus of American Express, as a business).
  • A VC - the personal blog of Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist in NYC, with Union Square Ventures. Fred and USV have their hands in a ton of tech startups (including Twitter, SoundCloud, Tumblr, Zynga, Turntable.fm, KickStarter, Etsy, and others).


Advertising and Marketing:

  • The BeanCast - Not a blog, per se, but one of my favorite podcasts ever. It's a weekly roundtable discussion of recent marketing and advertising news. They usually come from the perspective of small-to-med-sized agencies and companies (rather than the stuck-in-the-mud giant, corporate guys that populate much of the AdWeek news cycle).
  • Seth. Godin. Is. Brilliant. Every post he writes is pure gold...or at least pretty shiny.
  • Convince and Convert is Jay Baer's blog and personal consulting platform. This guy is one of the foremost thinkers in the burgeoning social media marketing world.
  • Dan Zarrella. If Jay Baer is the Socrates of social media, Dan is the Sir Isaac Newton—a full-blooded scientist. He measures anything and everything about social media and also pulls some pretty amazing insights.

UX and Design

  • Viget (UX agency out of D.C.) has a great series of blogs for anyone in UX, UI, and/or web development.
  • UX Magazine is great for general user experience news and articles.
  • Co.Design is Fast Company's design-centric online magazine. They've usually got some insightful and inspiring posts.
There's a whole slew of other blogs I follow for design inspiration but these here are more informational and high-level.

Definitely let me know what blogs you find helpful in your business. You can share below in the comments.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Slides from Today's Pinterest Presentation


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For any that missed the Pinterest presenation Niki Blaker and I gave today at Gangplank, I've got the slides ready as a downloadable PDF.

Feel free to download them and share.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Pinning & Winning: Creative Uses of Pinterest Discussion at Gangplank


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Tomorrow, Niki Blaker and I will be holding court over at Gangplank HQ for the weekly Brown Bag event.

We'll be discussing the new social networking site, Pinterest, looking at how we use the site, as well as how others are using it to be inspired, build connections, and market their brand.

If you can make it, hopefully you'll find it helpful in your own creative process (as well as networking and your social media marketing).

You can find all the event details and RSVP on Facebook.

Hope to see you then!


P.S. You can check out our own Pinterest inspiration boards here:

Niki Blaker on Pinterest

Mike Jones on Pinterest


P.S.S. Get even more design inspiration from these two Pinterest board round-ups that we were recently featured in!

On DesignShack.net: 200+ Pinterest Boards for Designers to Follow

On Tripwire Magazine's site: 40+ Interesting Pinterest Boards for Designers


Saturday, April 07, 2012

Art as Language


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Luke - Prodigal God
We, today, have a language to celebrate waywardness, but we do not have a language, a cultural language, to bring people back home.  
—Makoto Fujimura (from Makoto Fujimura - The Art of "The Four Holy Gospels" video
(Makoto is one of my favorite painters right now. He strives to express his faith in Jesus through his art while holding firm to his commitment for artistic beauty. I think he is one of the few in our world today that truly understands how art and faith can be unified.)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Simplicity, Complexity and Completeness: telling the whole story, succinctly


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I have a reputation amongst my business partners and friends for writing long emails. And they like to let me know about it, usually through some fun jesting over Twitter.

Recently, a topic came up on Twitter about simplicity being a trend in design. And I agreed that complexity leads to confusion and failure.

But my friend was quick to point out my penchant for long emails, essentially equating length with complexity. I responded that my emails are not necessarily complex, but complete.

This got me thinking: Are length and complexity the same?

Maybe. But maybe not.

I love simplicity. Just look at the logo designs I find inspiring. But simplicity at the cost of completeness is dangerous.

Let's hear what Albert Einstein has to say on simplicity:
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
I remember having my high school physics teacher explain to us Einstein's theory of general relativity. The concepts involved in this theory are not simple. Otherwise it wouldn't have taken 2 weeks for us to work through the explanation and exercises. But the theory is as simple as it can be.

Einstein understood that complexity is dangerous to communication and understanding. But neither should one sacrifice a complete theory to the idol of simplicity.

Simplicity does not have to mean incomplete.

Now for a more business-minded example:
Imagine your client writes you a lengthy email on how you messed up their order. How would you respond: A simplistic, "Don't worry, we're on it," or maybe a 1500 word essay on how you're not at fault?

Do either of these options satisfy your client?

Probably not. Sure, they want the situation remedied—they want action. And while the simplistic answer might feel good for a moment, it's incomplete—eventually they want more details. When? How? What exactly are you going to do? But they certainly don't need a 14 point essay either.

So what's the right answer?

Be as succinct (simple) as possible to tell a complete story.

Give details...when necessary. But certainly don't add superfluous ones either. Get to the point—but make sure you make the whole point.




Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What do retro video games and branding have in common?


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Image by betacontinua
Great retro games thrive on simplistic features. So do great brands.

Think about it: Pong, Super Mario Brothers, Asteroid, Galaga, Street Fighter, Donkey Kong...what makes them great? Their designers chose a limited feature set and ran with it as far as they could.

Shaun Inman explains the simplicity of Super Mario Brothers in a recent interview on The Verge:
The best classic games feature a limited skill set that is thoroughly explored through level design. Abilities are gradually introduced in non-threatening environments, interplay between the various abilities is explored, and environmental safety is removed. 
Super Mario Bros. is all about jumping. Mario jumps over holes and onto pipes and platforms. He jumps over or onto enemies. He jumps to collect coins and break bricks. He jumps to reach the top of the flagpole. Mario's fireballs bounce, forcing him to jump for extra precision when aiming. The vast majority of gameplay possibility is designed to reinforce the core mechanic of jumping.
Great brand chase the same philosophy of simplicity.

Take In-and-Out Burger for example. What do they serve? Burgers.

Yeah, they have a few side-items that revolve around burgers (fries, drinks, shakes) but no other main menu item. And even their posted menu is simplistic: do you want a #1, a #2, or a #3...oh and all of them are pretty much the same burger.

What does Starbucks do? Coffee. And then they iterate the crap out of that core product: sizes, flavors, cold vs. hot, etc. Granted they do throw in some food items and other beverages...and time will tell if this is helpful for their brand (I suggest that it might hurt more).

And it's not just the brand's product that can be simplistic. Oftentimes it's the core purpose that should be lifted high and then explored every which way.

Nike is a great example of this. They started with one shoe but now have every kind of apparel item under the sun...not to mention the hottest iPhone app for runners and one of the slickest real-time basketball promotions.

But what is Nike all about? The spirit of personal victory through athletics.

Everything they do is centered on this core value: their ads, their products, even their name. And no matter what they make it is only ever done through the lens of this worldview.

Simplicity in branding doesn't just mean a single product. But it does mean having the guts to focus, to be an expert at your single purpose. Then you can find every means under the sun to accomplish that purpose and iterate to your heart's content.

So how simplistic is your brand? Maybe you've got a million products on your retail site or maybe just one service your provide your clients, but do you know that one purpose your brand is all about?


Thursday, March 01, 2012

How to Create Successful User Experiences


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Fast Company recently posted the first article in a series on the need for user experience design in brands' communications. I highly, highly recommend this article to anyone in marketing, design, social media, and communications. There are so many golden nuggets of UX wisdom in here, I can't stress it enough: read this article.

My main takeaway: In the hyper-technology age we live in, brands must begin valuing user experience over technology. Don't use it unless you plan to use it well.

Here's a few quote highlights from the article to whet your appetite and get your UX brain juices flowing:

For brands to compete for attention now takes something greater than mere presences in the right channels or support for the most popular devices...without thoughtful UX, consumers meander without direction, reward, or utility. And their attention, and ultimately loyalty, follows.
...businesses are designing for the sake of designing, without regard for how someone feels, thinks, or acts as a result.
The primary function of UX is the development of an architecture that creates a delightful, emotional, and sensory experience. 
Successful UX evokes engagement or purpose, affects sentiment, and influences behavior.
Engagement is not a campaign, it’s a continuum where technology is merely an enabler for a greater vision, mission, and purpose.
You can read the whole article here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Communication Illusion


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George Bernard Shaw once said: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Man, how often have I experienced this one! I certainly won't pretend I've never missed the communication boat with my wife—completely failing to read beneath the waters of her words.

We human beings sure do talk a lot (and few more than me) but we often leave our true thoughts just below the surface of our words, hoping our audience will read between the lines, pick up our non-verbal cues, and get what we 'really mean.'

And we do the same thing in marketing. We think we need to beat around the bush and shy away from directness. Throw out some catchy phrases and the ubiquitous 'offer' (and make sure to add an asterisk!).

But most-times being direct and up-front is exactly what our audience needs to take the next step. They want to know we're not pulling a fast one or throwing a curveball. And they certainly want to understand what  the heck we're yammering on about.

So give it to them straight. Don't hide behind fancy technical terms and industry mumbo-jumbo. Don't dig a moat around your business, filling it with legal fine-print.

Honestly, just be yourself. Your clients and customers will love you all the more for it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Put some soul into your brand


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People rarely buy because of WHAT we do—they invest in the WHY of what we do.

Yes, people will buy from WHY-less brands (just look at Walmart). But no one LOVES them either.

No one is wearing a their t-shirts proudly. No one is begging to work for them. No one is telling all their friends to buy that brand because 'they're the best. Period.' No one is excited to be mayor on Foursquare of their establishment (looking at you McDonalds). And certainly no one is coming back again and again and again, ever satisfied and excited by the experience.

People will just put up with these soul-less giants because they fulfill the need in the moment. But nothing more.

There's a reason why local, independent coffee houses are doing alright, despite (or maybe because of) the giant across the street (starbuckssssss). Here's why: there are coffee drinkers out there who want something more than a corporate sheen floating on top of their morning brew. They want intimacy, and passion, and creativity. They want soul. And they'll live and die with their local coffee house as long as they get at least a little of that every day.

[Sidenote: yes, Starbucks is the big bad wolf of coffee...but if you're looking at global brand building they're near the top of the game. There are a million other coffee drinkers who live and die by their Starbucks because they too provide some soul to the chaos of corporate suburbia. So don't discount absolutely everything they do.]

Look at any inspiring, influential, and iconic brand and I guarantee that behind it is a purposeful movement to communicate WHY (rather than WHAT) in every decision, both within the organization and to the outside world.

Now the question becomes: why are you doing what you do? Put some soul into it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Write for the reader first, then for the robot.


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This is some pretty insightful thoughts from web developer, Christopher Butler, on planning and writing website content:

"Only by clearly identifying your prospects can you go about creating content that is truly valuable. Oh, and despite the obvious importance of search engine optimization, please don't misidentify search engines as your prospects. Robots don't read, people do."
In retrospect, this is like, 'Duh. Of course content that is written directly for your audience will work.' If you're reading this post right now, I'd put money on you being a real person—not a Google crawler bot. And if your content is compelling—full of the passion you feel for your craft—it's sure to get some people interested.

This is exactly what Mr. Butler discovered when he took a look at the analytics on his company's website. While some visitors to his site that came from a search on Google or another search engine did convert into leads, it was the visitors who came as referrals from other sites that were a higher conversion number. And not only that, but converted at a much higher rate.

Once again, I smack my head and say 'Duh!'

When we make decisions we rarely do so in a vacuum. Do you remember the last time you made a big purchase? Did you just up and decide to buy based on some rhetorical logic in your head? Probably not. Like me, you probably asked around to your friends and family, browsed for information online, sought critical reviews from industry leaders, even asked your Facebook or Twitter network what they thought.

We are social creatures. We love to know what others think (maybe even too much) and our decisions usually come when we feel we've got the right people on our side telling us it's a good idea.

So when our favorite tech blogger posts a link and recommends a new product from this crazy start-up site, we usually jump on it. And we're much more likely to sign up for their newsletter, or their free trial, or even just go ahead and buy the product than if we had just Googled 'new techy do-hickey' and they popped up in the first couple results. We want to trust we're doing the right thing, and what better way to know that than to get there via a recommendation from someone else.

So I suggest taking Christopher's advice: figure out your audience and write for them. You can worry about the robots later.


Friday, February 03, 2012

Interview on the Don't Sell Me Bro Podcast


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I recently had the great pleasure of talking with Chris Conrey and Dave Cooke on their sales-coaching podcast, 'Don't Sell Me Bro.'

We had a great discussion about my blog post about how business-to-business is dead as well as  general thoughts on branding, marketing, and sales.

If you want to give the episode a listen, it's up on the 'Don't Sell Me Bro' site (and in the iTunes podcast library). It's pretty short—maybe 16 minutes—and I'd love to hear any thoughts you might have. Feel free to leave those in the comments section below.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

How not to design an HTML email


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This was an email I received from Inc.com—basically a standard newsletter they sound out every few days. Do you see the problem?

See that giant grey section at the top of the email? Yeah, that's the problem.

With marketing emails you've got barely any time at all to keep someone's attention after they open it (assuming you got them to open it in the first place).

With all that grey, I'm forced to scroll to see any of the relevant content. And for many readers that's too late. Better to ditch the header altogether (and even decrease the size of the honkin' logo).

Get straight to the point.

Some leader images, headlines, and content. That's what email is all about.

Keep it simple, stupid.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Poets don't go mad


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“Poets don’t go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. . . . The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”
—G.K. Chesterton