Why You Need To Conduct A Design Audit

Why You Need To Conduct A Design Audit

Effective branding relies on the consistency of all the touchpoints your audience has with your company. Design heavily influences the customer experience and ensures that your customers (and potential customers) receive the same message at any given touchpoint.

It’s confusing to receive mixed signals from a company, and challenging to understand the messages they are sending. Inconsistencies won’t make anyone trust you or like you. Design audits help ensure everything is consistent and on point.

What is a Design Audit?

A design audit is essentially a visual brand checkup. It’s performed to make sure that the company is visually expressing itself consistently across all channels. This means their website and TV ads but also their social media, presentations, and sales collateral too! During an audit, a designer will gather and review all branded materials. That’s why it’s vital to look at everything, not just the website.

A full brand audit will also make sure that the messages and verbal or written communication is consistent too. Brand audits include all aspects of the brand not just the visual stuff. So, it’s not only that the everything has a consistent look, but also a consistent tone, voice, and message too.

Why Should You do a design (or brand) audit?

It’s a good sign when a client requests an audit because it means a company is growing and expanding. It also says the branding and company image is important to them.

You’d request an audit when you’re noticing a lot going on and teams starting to veer off into their own, slightly different directions causing inconsistencies. It could be little things at first; that’s a great time to catch one. Because over time, when unchecked, it could get gnarly. Simply put, companies grow. You want to keep your branding on point because a professional, consistent look builds trust and recognition.

An audit will allow your company to realize what’s being messed up and correct it.

How to Conduct a Design Audit

First things first, you must gather everything. Every single peice of branding collateral a company is creating. Yup, that’s going to be a lot of stuff for larger corporations, however, for smaller companies, a single designer should be able to handle it all.

I am also serious when I mean everything:

  • Style guides and the design system
  • Website pages
  • Logo in all formats
  • Facebook ads, banner ads, all the web ads
  • Radio, Tv or print ads
  • Flyers, business cards, stationery, email signatures
  • Landing pages, marketing campaigns, and their collateral
  • Vehicles
  • Promotional products
  • Uniforms and other garments
  • Classes, workshops, presentations, promotional speaking engagements
  • Posts from the media including stories
  • Original design files vs. what’s live right now

Additionally, include both things that are already scheduled to be released and works in progress to get a more accurate look.

Once you have everything gathered, take a step back and have a look at look at all the assets as a whole. It will give a better perspective as you’re getting started.

Looking For What’s Out Of Place.

An audit can be as simple as looking for inconsistencies, flaws or just outright improper designs in use against the brand direction. Let’s consider a website as an example.

Look through the whole website, big or small. Consider the following questions:

  • Is the navigation always the same?
  • Is the same logo file always used across assets?
  • Are the background patterns consistent? The background styles?
  • How is the mobile design? Is it accessible and usable? Does it too follow branding guidelines?
  • Are the icons all from the same set?
  • Do similar sections adhere to the same design conventions and styles?
  • Is the typography the same throughout?
  • Are the popups and hello bars in alignment with the branding?
  • How do the landing pages stack to the main website? Do they adhere to branding guidelines? Do they use the correct logo and colors?

Do this until you cover every design aspect of the website. For a more in-depth brand audit, you would include a review of voice, tone, and message!

Analyzing Your Marketing

Similar to the website, you’ll also want to look at your print and social marketing because both are such an essential extension of your brand.

Some questions to ask include:

  • Are the messages expressed in social media aligned?
  • Is the wording consistent across platforms with brand guidelines?
  • Are the images portraying our message?
  • Are you creating content that is an extension of your brand’s values?

Design Audit Results.

After completing an audit, your designer(s) will provide a detailed report. In it, will be an assessment of what is “on brand” (being done right) and what is “off brand” (what is being done wrong) and how to make adjustments and corrections.

It can be eye-opening for business owners to see how inconsistent the branding is. You want to give yourself as much time and as many resources as possible to go ahead and fix the issues.

Cleaning Up

After reviewing the audit, let the number of inconsistencies dictate the best course of action. If it happens to be just a few things here and there – great – address them right away. Improve your style guide and instruct your teams where these inconsistencies occur on how to prevent this from happening again.

A Style (Guide) Upgrade

If the mess is substantial in size, it would be best for your designer to update the off-brand pieces within their design system. If your brand style guide is out-of-date, then you should take this time to update it as needed.

If you don’t have a style guide at all, then you must create one so that branding can be consistent moving forward and assets and requirements readily available to every team and every employee. Make sure everyone understands the different brand assets, from logo usage to the right kind of wording and adheres to it from now on.

Go the extra mile and put a system in place by regularly adding to the design system/style guide so that as new needs arise, they can be easily managed.

A Whole New Branding System

Lastly, if the inconsistencies are massive, it might be a good idea to consider a rebrand and a redesign. This way the company can get on the same page about its messages and visuals. If there are significant variations in designs, a redesign might be the fresh start that is desperately needed. It’s an excellent opportunity to redefine or refine company values and positioning. It’s also an opportunity to create a new design system for every team to use from now on as well.


A design audit can be invaluable in keeping a brand on track. It’s there to help make sure the company’s communication is what it needs to be, at all times. It’s there to help you ensure your branding is as strong as possible.

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Choosing The Right Logo For Your Business

Choosing The Right Logo For Your Business

A logo is a powerful visual representation of your company. It forms an impression that should be memorable, unique and positive. An effective logo is the start of a successful corporate identity. Your company can be as up to date in its services and products as you like, but if your logo looks like 1983 your company’s image – and profits – will suffer. While you can’t completely control your corporate image, you can influence it to a large degree.

Every successful logo design project begins when senior management sees the logo not as a decoration, but rather as an important component of their brand. Before working with a professional to design your identity, it helps to know a little more about logos. Some might suit your business more than others.

What you should look for in an identity design

Simplicity: Simplicity can make the difference between good and bad design, between a “look” that’s strongly memorable and one that’s instantly forgettable.

Shapes: Our brains are hardwired to recognize smooth, closed, regular shapes. This tendency is especially strong under conditions of short exposure, competitive surroundings, or low attention level. If your “message” is too complicated, people simply won’t remember it.

Memory and Recognition: Memory and recognition depend partly on the strength of the initial impact and partly on subsequent reinforcement. Simple designs can be made bolder than complicated ones and, therefore, make a stronger initial impact. There is less to remember about a simple design, so subsequent reinforcement is easier. In disorderly surroundings, simple design always stands out.

Appropriateness: When looking at any design, consider the function of the item. Consider the following: What is its intended use? Where will it be used? How long will it be used?

Different kinds of logos

Typographic Logo: Also known as a logotype, this logo consists of your name only, in an appropriate typeface. Typographic logos are the most common marks since they can be easily assembled and are the most straightforward way of defining a company. Usually, they are used as a starting point and can be adapted to incorporate a graphic or symbolic elements within the typography. When a graphic or symbol is added, the typographic element becomes known as the signature. Example: Coca-Cola, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and Ford.

Graphic Logo: This logo uses a graphic that clearly illustrates what your business does. Also known as a descriptive logo, it has a direct correlation between its visual message and its owner’s products or services. The mark can represent a product, demonstrate an area of expertise, or define the cause or mission of the organization. It can also be a graphic representation of the company’s initials. Example: IBM, Apple Computer, GE, and Merrill Lynch.

Symbol Logo: This logo uses an abstract symbol, or mark, to reflect your business. A symbolic logo will usually incorporate a figurative element into the overall design. These symbols facilitate an intangible or abstract element within the company or organization’s overall business or purpose. Example: AT&T’s globe, Chase Bank’s Hexagon, and Nike’s Swoosh.

Elements of a logo

A logo is composed of the following graphic elements.

Graphic or Symbolic Mark: A mark, or trademark, should have the qualities that are basic to its usage: individuality, memorability, and legibility. It must convey its message in quick and simple terms.

Logotype or Signature: The corporate signature is the standard form of writing a name, with or without a symbol.

Color: Although color alone is not enough to identify a corporation, it can be used effectively to support a graphic program.

Tagline: Your tagline is the short phrase that summarizes what your company is about. It quickly and clearly explains your product or service. It’s a tiny but key piece of identity and brand recognizability. If it’s clever, it can enhance and add personality to your brand. If it’s clear, it tells someone what your company can do for them.

Selecting an effective mark

Too often designers make serious mistakes when developing marks for clients, particularly small businesses. A good checkpoint is to evaluate the company budget and determine the money available for marketing and promotion. If a budget is large, then a highly abstract mark is a possibility. More money buys more exposure to the mark, which translates directly into market recognition. When a budget is small, few exposures can be purchased, magnifying the need for quick recognition and low abstraction. A high level of abstraction is a luxury only companies with large marketing budgets can afford. Low abstraction marks are quicker, more effective visual tools.

The six universal attributes of a great mark

If we weren’t in the room when the decisions were made – if we don’t know what the CEO’s intentions were – how can we say one logo is “better” than another?

As in ice skating, technical merit can be judged independently of communications content, and we can all see the skater fall. The first five things that distinguish great marks from ordinary ones are technical; the last one addresses content. Great marks are always:

Distinctive. The design idea doesn’t need to be the most unique in the world, just distinctive enough so you can “own” it in your particular marketplace.

Practical. The design can be printed small, in ink or pixels; works in black on white as well as in colors; works in reverse too, white on black. (Faces, human or animal, usually flunk this last test; the eyes turn white.)

Graphic. The design communicates purely in visual terms, to the right brain hemisphere; it doesn’t depend on verbal, intellectual interpretation. If it’s a wordmark, it can be recognized by form alone (you don’t have to “read” Coca-Cola’s logo more than once or twice).

Simple in form. The design contains only one graphic idea, one gimmick, one dingbat. Thus if there’s a symbol, the accompanying name is plain and unadorned. And if it is a wordmark, one idea or device makes it special–like IBM’s stripes. (The more unique the name, the simpler the graphics can be.)

One message. Great designs try to express no more than one attribute (such as stature or speed or dynamism) and support a single aspect of positioning.

Appropriate. In the end, of course, the content’s got to be right. An otherwise-great mark fails if the reputation, positioning, and personality expressed are at odds with management intentions.

Your logo is not your brand.

Your logo sends a message about your company, and it represents your brand visually. “Branding” communicates four key properties of an organization: message, values, benefits, and relevant attributes. Design has an important role in communicating your brand’s message visually, but your logo can’t do it alone.

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Not the same: Brand Positioning and Brand Purpose

Not the same: Brand Positioning and Brand Purpose

There was a period between about 2016-2017 where many brands seemed to combine purpose and positioning. During these two years, it appeared society had an awakening that manifested in multiple, intersectional ways: A significant refugee crisis was happening in Europe; Britain decided to leave the EU; Donald Trump was elected, and #metoo and #timesup forced sweeping change across a myriad of public and private organizations.

But the reaction to these phenomena in the culture was often polarizing, with online social platforms only multiplying the effect as algorithms optimized to create “filter bubbles” of impassioned points of view and moral posturing. Because brands reflect what’s happening in the culture, there were more than a few brand managers who decided to introduce storylines they imagined would appeal to customers’ sense of virtue.

Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman sums it up succinctly when he says, “Do you, as a company, have certain values? That’s great. Support them with money and actions but, please, leave me out of your self-regard. Do it because it’s the right thing to do, not to impress me with your nobility. Virtue-hustling is just one example of the old school psycho-babble trope of ‘laddering-up’ of consumer benefits. Often to the point at which they have no relationship to the product at hand.”

And that’s just the problem with anchoring a brand’s market position around a purpose that considered as virtuous. Diageo’s CMO Syl Saller says, “Everyone is using purpose differently and not defining it. And a lot of people are defining it as just things that are worthy and good for society. Our definition is straightforward; it’s why a brand exists.”

For many, the word purpose connotates something admirable and worthy which is the mistake.

And Diageo (with a brand portfolio of spirits and beer) has made their fair share of mistakes. Back in 2011, a campaign for Baileys Irish Cream Liqueur called “Make Women Shine” used lines such as ‘Be a woman for life, not for applause,’ They wanted to play the role of empowerment in female consumers’ lives, but lacked the insight to suggest that’s what customers wanted.

Diageo Europe’s innovation director Ed Pilkington recounts, “Baileys is a brand that skews female, but we suddenly pushed it too far and wanted to become a movement for females. And then we thought, let’s take a step back and think, what is the role that Baileys plays? About 100 million people in Europe claim to love Baileys and why do they enjoy it? Because it’s a lovely treat. So what does the Baileys stand for? It’s all about providing an indulgent, lovely treat.”

Heineken’s ‘Open Your World’ campaign was received favorably by consumers, but Mark Ritson castigated the purpose-driven ad, not for the values it expresses, but because it seemed the brand was an afterthought of the marketing. And marketing is not a public service agency, but rather a function that exists to sell. “Step back from the powerful four-minute Heineken ad for just 30 seconds and ask yourself why Heineken is the featured brand? Couldn’t any other brand pull this off with equal legitimacy? Surely this ad would work just as well with Guinness, Becks, Strongbow, Stella Artois or a host of other beverages,” he says.

And he’s right.

When purpose gets confused for a position, (how consumers perceive the brand in the context of competitive alternatives) brands lose their ability to differentiate and compete. A brand’s culture, organization, and strategy are what reveal its purpose, not the other way around. As Ritson says, “Somewhere between the commodifying monochrome of physical and mental availability and the achingly cool, belief-based world of ‘inspiring communities to be great’ is a middle path. A path we can call differentiated brand image.”

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How Much Does Branding Cost?

How Much Does Branding Cost?

If you ask around for quotes on branding projects, you will get fees ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000 and even higher, and this often is just for design work. You might find a freelance designer online who says they can do it for less than $500, and you can even get a logo for as low as $5 on fiver.com. There are a few websites where you can crowdsource the design of your logo, receiving lots of options for several designers before choosing one and then paying for it. So you might be wondering, Do you really get better work if you pay more? How do these services differ? How much should you invest in your business? Well, it depends on what different freelancers and agencies mean by “branding,” and what your business goal is with your branding project.

As I say to everyone I meet, your logo is not your brand. Branding is three different things used together, consistently. First, there is the positioning (aka brand strategy) of your brand, the one thing that makes you unique in the market (your “It factor) and how it blends into your marketing plan and you’re your business structure. Then there is the messaging (aka strategic communications) that communicates what you do and why you’re different, which includes all of the copy and your tagline. Finally, there is the visual brand (aka Brand Identity) that aesthetically represents what you’re all about (optimally it is aligned with your positioning and messaging): the design of your logo, website, and marketing materials.

When someone offers “branding” though, they may be referring to only one or two of those three elements mentioned above. You have to take into account where you are in the evolution of your business, assess your current challenges and goals, and determine the best partner to address them to decide which one your business needs.

Visual Brand Designers

When a freelance designer says they’ll “design your brand” what they really mean is they will just design your logo, website, and marketing materials. It would be more accurate to say they are designing your visual brand or brand identity (we used to call this “corporate identity” back in the day). You will most likely need to provide your own messaging and copy, and they will entirely rely on you regarding positioning and strategy.

This person is who you use when you are first starting out if you don’t have a lot of money to invest in your business. It gives you something to get your business out there, to start selling your services in the market. Once you’ve had some experience with clients, a strategic branding firm can craft that into something that will take you to the next level.

If your messaging is generic and your business strategy is weak, a great logo alone is not going to help you much in the long run.

You can find people online who will do your entire brand identity for $1,000 to $3,000, but they may be less experienced (or capable) compared to other designers. This inexperience usually means a lot more of their time and yours is spent on the project. Also, they are not thinking about messaging and business strategy. They may design something that looks great, but if your messaging is generic and your business strategy is weak, a great logo alone is not going to help you much in the long run.

Brand Messaging & Design

Fortunately, many agencies integrate design with messaging. You tell them what you or your business is about and what you want to communicate, and they put it into words and design an identity to match. This approach is probably the most common to this type of branding, and if you’ve got a solid business strategy, a branding agency that does the messaging and the design is a great match.

This firm is who you hire if you have an explicit business model, own a reliable positioning in the market and are already profitable and looking to take your company to the next level. If you have a great foundation, a branding agency that has marketing and strategy savvy can enhance your brand’s existing positioning in the market.

A small agency that does both can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 and up.

This is quite a range, I know. It’s not an exact science, and if there were a definitive way to explain the difference in these numbers I would share it with you. Usually, the price is determined by the size of the agency, the experience of the principal, and the business savvy of the owners. The best thing to do is find an agency that you vibe with, and that seems to have enthusiasm for your company and its work.

Strategy Plus Messaging & Design

Finally, some (but not many) agencies do all three. This is who you hire when you have steady revenue—and therefore a budget—but not a lot of profit. They can help you strategize how to best position your business in the market to increase profit, and then build a brand message and design based on that positioning to catapult your business to market domination.

Few of these agencies exist because they need to understand business strategy, marketing and communications strategy, design strategy, and how to integrate it all together.

One of the reasons so many branding agencies don’t touch business strategy is that strategists are often the bearers of bad news, and typical creative agencies don’t want to take on that responsibility. Simply put, if your business is not profitable (meaning everyone is getting paid, but the owners are not taking home an additional profit share every quarter on top of their salary), a new brand may not be enough. You may also need a more robust sales and business strategy, as a foundation for the new messaging and design. In other words strategy, the shiny new brand may help you look nicer, but you’re not going to achieve the goal of having a highly profitable business without a good strategy.

Pricing for agencies that include business strategy range from $10,000 to $50,000, but could be even more. Some of the largest agencies start at $30,000 just for the strategy, and when you throw in research, messaging, and visual design, the projects can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Smaller agencies that offer all three services (like we do) is not usual, but they do exist. If you are seeking more profitability, I highly recommend you work with an agency that does positioning, messaging, and identity. Even if you only engage them for messaging and identity, you’ll benefit from their strategic acumen.

The real price of branding though is not doing anything consistently.

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3 Ways To Grow Small Brands On A Limited Budget

3 Ways To Grow Small Brands On A Limited Budget

Surrounded by world-renowned brands such as Amazon, Apple, Procter & Gamble, and Netflix, we tend to forget there are over 28 million small businesses in America that create two-thirds of all new jobs.

Publications, podcasts, and business schools love to analyze what makes these giants successful. Although these case studies are inspirational, it is very hard if not impossible to implement such strategies with little to no marketing budget.

I truly believe that ‘small’ brands and businesses are poised for growth in today’s crowded marketing environment. Below is some  – free –  advice on how to build a brand when you can’t afford the Super Bowl half-time, nor even a local TV spot. I intend to turn the tables here, by giving small brands some tips that large players could hardly if ever implement.

1. Offer A Product That Is Noticeably Different And Superior
A local brewery can’t compete with Budweiser’s marketing budget. But its product is locally-made, has a distinctive taste and comes across as authentic. Such craft beer should be marketed to connoisseurs that seek your craftsmanship as well as regular beer drinkers that will indulge with your product from time to time. Remember that you are not trying to dominate the lager segment: these same people likely drink Budweiser also and that’s ok. Your play is to secure a niche of loyal buyers and leverage the uniqueness and quality of your product to command a price premium.

This same strategy can be implemented for any artisan-made products, such as small-batch whiskey, scented candles, olive oil, barbeque sauce or marmalade. If your production is very small (for now), take the time to write labels, and thank you cards by hand. Yes, it takes ages and doesn’t scale up, but it costs pennies and handwriting is the hallmark of authenticity.
The smaller the budget, the more you will have to rely on your point of difference. Brands with small budgets should focus their resources on promoting their strengths, ideally the key point of difference. Often, being local can be your strongest link versus large competitors. Communicate your local origins, reflect the local culture and reposition the ‘strangers’ as your far away, disconnected rivals.

2. Engage In Customer Intimacy
Jack Trout (a pioneer in positioning) once pointed out, being ‘mentally closer’ to what’s important to customers sparks an intimacy that is a core advantage for smaller brands. For example, cross-fit studios, spin-cycling studios and other small gyms charge 2-5 times more than large fitness chains. Yet they often offer a lot fewer amenities, in much smaller venues. Their success is found in customer intimacy. That is, to understand the goals of each and every member, develop custom fitness programs accordingly and track member’s progress. Keeping track of each member of a club that hosts 2,500, let alone remembering their name is next to impossible. For $40/month at a large chain, you buy access to a well-lit parking lot, a plethora of equipment and large changing rooms decked out with saunas and hot tubs. For $150/month at a local gym studio, you pay for personalized training and membership in a community. Of course, customer intimacy is not limited to the fitness industry. Consider how this strategy can be used by coaches, consultants, bespoke products, or local businesses to gain a loyal following.

3. Provide Useful And Meaningful Content
Meaningful content is one of the great business equalizers of our times, lifting profiles to that of much larger competitors. While this is widely known, today many small brands have yet to take advantage of the opportunity. Creating content (like this article) is hard work, but it’s cost-effective and pays off. People seek, and value, free ‘how-to’ content to help them deliver on their projects, and grow their business. To be impactful, your content must be informative and express innovative and actionable ideas that matter to your target customer while relating to the essence of your brand. The key to success is persistence and consistency: whether you maintain a blog, Instagram feed, LinkedIn profile or Youtube channel, it will take weeks, possibly months before you gain any real traction. Therefore, try to produce content that will be valuable to your audience in the long run. ‘5 tips to lose weight in the New Year’ might be newsworthy today, but becomes pretty irrelevant after January.

If you don’t want to educate your audience, you can simply showcase your craft: Mark’s Bake Shoppe in Staten Island produces outstanding videos and pictures that feature Mark’s artisan-made cakes and pastries. It’s no wonder his Instagram account boasts 1,300+ followers. And if you think 1,300 is small, check the following of your local grocery store (assuming it has any). Be sure to develop your content with customer intimacy in mind, this is key versus the larger players.

To sum up, most of these strategies require hard work and don’t scale well, but they’ll lay the foundation for a stronger brand on a small budget.

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Is Fear The Ultimate Brand Builder?

Is Fear The Ultimate Brand Builder?

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and has been since I was a kid. I grew up on the thrillers of the 1970’s and 80’s like John Carpenter’s Halloween and The Thing, Ridley Scott’s Alien, and William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (be thankful I didn’t choose the other image from that iconic movie). What I liked most about many of the thrillers from back then was that we often didn’t actually see the monster until late in the movie. So much of what scared us was the idea of the monster lurking in the dark.

Many companies have built their brands on promises based on addressing fears – the needs for protection, for reassurance, for status, for achievement, recognition and so on – in a world where so many of those things are portrayed as being at risk. But how successful is fear as an emotive driver today and should we still be using it as a motivation to get people to buy more?

The first thing to be aware of – fear works. While some marketers regard fear as an old-fashioned way of changing attitudes and behaviors, a study published by the American Psychological Association in 2015 and based on 50 years of research shows that fear-based appeals are still effective, particularly when they contain recommendations for one-time only behaviors. According to the article, including a fear element more than doubles the probability of change relative to not presenting a fear motive or including an appeal that has a low fear component.

Some of the reasons for this seem obvious. Fear gives people a reason to pay attention and therefore it instills an emotive reaction. Fear plays to our view of a changing world. And it seems we live in an age where fear is a significant component in the media. As someone remarked recently, the world is now presented to us as an ongoing sequence of dramas. So much is such a big deal that if your message lacks an element of primal response, there’s a risk some will feel that your brand could easily be lost in the noise. The temptation for brands to play up fear is also brought on by the observation that others seem to be using it successfully.

Keith Payne, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina, makes the point that the brain is a pattern-seeking machine. In the absence of patterns, we go looking for regularities to make our lives work, he says. Chaos and randomness stress us because they make us feel left out, left behind or out of control. Lack of pattern and predictability induce fear. Too much pattern and predictability, on the other hand, quickly incites boredom and rebellion. We all want to know where we stand. At the same time, we don’t ever want to feel stuck or being seen to be stuck. We fear that.

Social media has generated its own fears, particularly around failure. The article I read that quoted Keith Payne also pointed out that Facebook et al have exploited notions of what is normal. Perfection is now portrayed ubiquitously as achievable and expected. In a time where so much is streamed to us as picture perfect, the fear of missing out or of not keeping up is driving many of those who interact with their world digitally to be highly anxious and chronically over-aware of other people’s achievements and opinions.

Another reason why fear gets our attention is that we have conditioned ourselves to believe that we must not just solve the problems that we face, but do so in ways that vanquish them completely. One of the key reasons for that, according to Brene Brown is we live in a culture with a strong sense of scarcity. We’re told we’re not getting enough sleep. We worry that we’re not getting enough done. We’re concerned that we’re not perfect enough. And we feel an expectation to deal with those concerns comprehensively; to use the resources that we have available to us to make the problem go away once and for all. But Brown makes the point that the opposite of scarcity is not necessarily abundance or completeness. Sometimes, it’s the ability to do enough, just enough, and then stop.

That brings us back to the point in the research – that people are looking for answers that resolve what concerns them; answers that they understand and can act on.

If you believe as I do that brands are most effective when they address a need stated simply, clearly and distinctly, then the path to being competitive may not lie in simply adding to the burgeoning fear factor. If they want to avoid being caught up in this escalating volume of drama, outrage, and concern, brands may want to adopt a different approach. As Anne Bahr Thompson points out, millennials rely on their favorite brands to help them feel less anxious and more emotionally balanced and fulfilled in a world that is increasingly complex to navigate. And so brands could, perhaps should, be making better use of that reliance to help them achieve a balanced response to the demands of their social media peer group and to develop more valuable relationships in a range of ways. I think her ideas are potentially applicable to all sorts of brands:

1. Deliver Leadership – in a world where people are concerned about the quality of life, long-term security, and family, brands should be looking for ways to inject confidence about the future and the planet and to embed broader societal solutions into their ways of doing business.

2. Be Realistic – brands need to help people connect with what really matters to them in life. The most powerful way they can do is by example – by being genuine and sincere themselves in how they interact with customers and potential buyers.

3. Protect The Relationship – brands need to respect buyers as people and treat data as a relationship building tool rather than as a sales platform and a means to stalk shoppers. Inevitably that means addressing the irony of a desire for more personalized interaction with a willingness to set boundaries around intrusion.

4. Treat People Fairly, Starting With Your Own People – brands need to establish their credentials as good citizens by behaving fairly and openly, but they also need to build a deeper and broader sense of community by taking opportunities to involve more people in how they develop products and set and deliver policies.

5. Defend And Support Wellbeing – in much the same way as brands need to consider how they can offer solutions for the world, they should also look at how and where they can help people function more effectively and in a more fulfilled manner. That may well mean looking out beyond what they feel they are responsible for (via their products and services) to a broader consideration set of human factors that they could positively influence.

Increasingly, it’s not good enough for brands to simply focus on what they want to get out of their relationship with customers and to use whatever means necessary, including fear of failure, to achieve that. While the pressures to deliver profitability internally may be as strong, if not greater, than ever, and certainly more complex, the onus for brands now is to participate in a much more rounded and considered way with those who buy from them.

So if fear works as such a powerful motivator, how do we harness it without relying on it? As Martin Lindstrom wisely pointed out, what’s more important for brands is to use our fears as the starting point for helping people to better manage their lives:

  • Convert problems into assets – People always have problems. Rather than highlighting those, find answers to the underlying difficulties. For example, he says, no one knew they wanted an airbag, but everyone agreed they wanted safer cars.
  • Add a practical dimension to an irrational decision – if you want people to buy something that rewards them emotionally, find a way to include elements that seal the deal.
  • Don’t just play on the fear. Instead, look for ways to systematically remove it, so that people feel a sense of progress and personal achievement.

Here is my perspective on how to best think about fear when: “People’s deepest feelings generally fall into two buckets: (1) anxieties/fears and (2) desires/longings. People try to avoid that which they fear and seek that for which they long. I personally believe marketers should pay more attention to people’s desires and less attention to their anxieties. And, to Brene Brown’s point, brands need to do so in ways that are practical, finite and provide a sense of closure and resolution. Brands should inspire customers to achieve what they want, but also help them set limits on where a sense of fulfillment ends, and unhealthy obsession begins.

That conversation – the one about brands’ responsibilities for responsible consumption – is only just getting started, and there will be some who fear it’s a step too far because it’s not the role of brands to define when enough is enough. But as brands like Patagonia have shown, calling time on what counts as *enough* builds trust and reinforces authenticity.

My (professional) fear is that unless brands choose to see their behaviors in the wider context of social responsibility and check them accordingly, they will continue to play on powerful emotions like fear for the quick wins they can get now, at the expense of the brand’s deeper, long-term value and trustworthiness to customers.

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Where you work matters: 4 Ways To Increase Productivity

Where you work matters: 4 Ways To Increase Productivity

Being a business owner is challenging but it has some perks, like being able to work almost anywhere. Many of us work out of home offices, which in theory is great, until you realize the reason you’re working without pants is because you’ve gotten complacent with your work environment and pretty soon you realize you need another cup of coffee and some sunshine. So you grind up some that special Sumatra/Kona blend you picked up the other day, and dip your toes in the pool while thinking about the work you should be doing after you finish that 4th cup of the morning.

Thats just a metaphor for being unproductive of course, and not reflective of my day at all. Or maybe thats exactly how some mornings go for me.

Working at home isn’t a good option for everyone. It’s a slippery slope if you’re not careful. Luckily, with evolving technology like tablets, laptops, and more, we have the freedom to work virtually anywhere. If you’re finding yourself getting distracted at home, it’s time to take a look at your options for work environments

1. Revamp your home office

Clear off your desk, get rid of some clutter, and bring in some plants! Make an effort to make sure your office is somewhere you actually want to spend lots of time. You don’t have to spend lots of time on making your office perfect, but keeping everything neat and pleasant does wonders.

2. Get an office

If you’re coming out of a corporate gig, it’s easy to cringe at this one, but the fact is that we’re more productive if we have a place we can go that we associate with the act of being productive. Essentially, if you have a place where you know work happens, more of it is likely to happen.

3. Go to a coffee shop

Find a spot, stake it out, and let the manager know you’re setting up shop and just became a regular. They’ll love you for it, especially if it’s a smaller, local shop.

Bonus: This is a great way to find new clients, too.

4. Find co-working space

There’s something to be said about working around other people. Not necessarily working with them, but there’s a little magic that happens working around people who want their dream as badly as you want yours.

Getting out of your head and talking out ideas or a problem that’s had you in a bind is the best way to start making progress again. Great connections lead to great ideas, and knowing you have in-person support when you need it is relieving.

They say you’re the sum of the five people you spend the most time with. I think you can say the same for places. Where do you spend your time? And how’s that working out for you?

Find a new spot, and rejuvenate your creative process.

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5 Tips on Successful Small Business Branding

5 Tips on Successful Small Business Branding

We all understand how important brands can be. There are brands that are significant all over the world. Nike. Harley Davidson. Starbucks. These are companies that are more than just the products they sell. They’re lifestyles. They’re statements, both about the company and the consumers who choose them.

If you think bold, memorable branding is only available to big companies with massive marketing budgets, think again! No matter your industry, you can cultivate a unique brand that resonates with your clients. Want to know how to do it?

Small Business Branding Tips

1. Clarify Your Company’s Purpose. For a brand to be meaningful, it must connect to your company’s reason for being.  Why did you start your company?  How do you think you’re making the world a better place?  Without a firm grasp of your purpose, you’ll never be able to communicate what’s unique and important about your company.

2. Enlist Your Employees. Along with clarifying your purpose, you must also ensure that every single member of your staff understands that purpose and knows how and why to communicate that purpose with every customer. In a perfect world, your purpose isn’t something that’s pounded into your staff. It’s something you hire for. When you hire an employee who shares your values, then you’re on the right track. Effective branding isn’t an afterthought. It infuses everything you do!

3. Create a Rallying Cry. Your rallying cry lets you communicate your purpose and values quickly … to anyone and everyone. More than 30 years ago, Bruce Springsteen sang about a reason to believe, a hopeful song from the otherwise stark Nebraska album. There’s a reason this theme is a recurring one in music, literature and business. In relationships, as consumers and even as companies we need reasons to believe in the people and causes we stand behind, and for someone to believe in us. Companies spend a lot of time developing products and services, creating messaging and engagement, nurturing customers and prospects. Why? To create reasons to believe (which often lead to reasons to buy). A rallying cry builds loyalty and comfort, and creates advocates. A rallying cry gives a company its mojo. Its swagger. Its ethos. Its reason for being. That’s your brand. As Springsteen sang: “at the end of every hard-earned day, people find some reason to believe.”

4. Enlist Your Customers. You know your purpose. Your staff knows your purpose. But do your customers know your purpose?  Letting your clients know that they’re buying more than just your goods or services is key to enlisting them in your brand building efforts.  Consider the Life is Good brand.  When people don a t-shirt, they’re making a statement about a lifestyle, rather than just getting dressed. Folding in what makes you unique and worthwhile is a big part of successful branding.

5. Hire a Pro. Sometimes we think we should be able to do it all, but no matter how talented you are, you need help in the areas that aren’t your strength. If marketing isn’t your thing, consider hiring a consultant or agency to help you crystallize and evangelize your brand. Professionals can help you avoid spinning your wheels and wasting money on ineffective tactics.

Your brand is more than just your company name, logo, or slogan. It’s the expression of your values, your quality, and your unique vision.  Branding done right cements you in the minds of your customers. It makes it easy for people to understand who you are and what you do. Branding differentiates you from your competitors, and it speaks to your ideal customer, resonating with the people who will most appreciate your work.

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10 Ways To Be More Productive

10 Ways To Be More Productive

Like many self-employed people I get to enjoy the freedom of taking on diverse creative challenges and consulting work. And like so many others, I’m trying to juggle a pretty full plate. I’m an advisor for the HOW Design Live conference, write for HOW, teach at Columbia University, serve as president of the board at InSource, volunteer for a public art study in my town… oh and I’ve got a consulting business which means lots of clients, and lots of projects, and each of those projects have multiple tasks to get completed. And then there’s my home and family life on top of everything else.

One of my fellow board members at InSource and I spent some time together in Seattle for an InSource event. After talking about what we’re both up to outside of InSource she said “Andy, I don’t know how you do it all”… and that’s honestly not the first time I’ve heard that. The director of the program at Columbia asked the same thing, as have several other people.

I could very easily feel overwhelmed if it wasn’t for my system for staying productive, and not just busy. I’d like to share some advice, tips, and tricks to help anyone who feels too busy and unproductive to gain more control over all the stuff and information we consultants have on our plates.

So lets start with 10 ways to be more productive.

1. Just start. Starting a task makes it easier to finish; our brains are wired to complete tasks

2. Work in short bursts. You can do more in less time, if you’re focused and energized.

3. Be unavailable during your peak performance hours,  so you can use your energy for big projects.

4. Quit whining.  You don’t have to ‘feel like’ doing something in order to do it.

5. Forget perfection. Get things done.  If you aim for perfection, most tasks will never be completed.

6. Take breaks. Increase productivity by 16% by taking 20-minute breaks in between 90-minute work sessions.

7. Take a vacation.  For every 10-hours of vacation, performance improves by 8%.

8. Work in bursts. The best performers across many disciplines work in 90-minute sessions, for no more than 4-hours a day.

9. Create a productive office space. Warmth and natural light make us happier and more productive.

10. Take a nap.  Recommended nap time varies from 10-minutes to 30-minutes. Pick a length that energizes you.

Bonus: Practice meditation. Studies prove mindfulness meditation improves concentration and strengthens memory.

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The Basics of Getting Things Done (GTD)

The Basics of Getting Things Done (GTD)

Getting Things Done, or GTD, is a system for getting organized and staying productive. It may seem complicated on the outside, but the end goal is to spend less time doing the things you have to do so you have more time for the things you want to do. Let’s break it down and see how you can apply a simplified version to your life.

What Is GTD (Getting Things Done?)

Getting Things Done (GTD) is actually two things: A productivity method, and a best-selling book by author and productivity consultant David Allen. It’s been around for a long time, and it’s a staple of productivity enthusiasts everywhere. Put simply, GTD is a method for organizing your to-dos, priorities, and your schedule in a way that makes them all manageable. One of GTD’s biggest benefits is that it makes it easy to see what you have on your plate and choose what to work on next. It also has a strong emphasis on getting your to-dos out of your head and into a system you can refer to. This clears your mind of any mental distractions that will keep you from working efficiently.

This sounds great, but some people thing GTD is too complicated. It doesn’t have to be, but part of the reason why it’s earned that reputation is because there’s no one, rigid, “right way” to practice it. There are lines to stay inside of, but there’s no “do this, then do that, and put these into that category” kind of rulebook. There’s no preferred app to use or journal to buy to make it work. Part of that vagueness makes it easy to personalize it to match your needs, but it also makes it difficult to approach. In this post, we’ll walk you through the basic tenets of GTD from a beginner’s perspective, and offer some tips to help you apply a simplified, more accessible form to your hectic schedule and overflowing to-do list.

The Five “Pillars” of GTD

GTD is an organizational system. It doesn’t put rules around how you actually do your work. Instead, it focuses on how you capture the work you need to do, organize it, and choose what needs your attention. At its core, GTD stands on five “pillars,” or steps to getting and staying organized:

1. Capture everything. Your to-dos, your ideas, your recurring tasks, everything. Put it in a pen-and-paper notebook, a to-do app, a planner, whatever you prefer to use to get organized. GTD doesn’t say to use a specific tool, but whatever you use has to fit into your normal flow. The barrier to using it should be so low that there’s never a reason for you to say “I’ll add it to my list later.” You want to capture everything as soon as it happens so you don’t have to think about it again until it’s time to do it.

2. Clarify the things you have to do. Don’t just write down “Plan vacation,” break it down into actionable steps so there’s no barrier to just doing the task. If there’s anything you can do right away and have time to do, get it done. If there’s anything you can delegate, delegate it.

3. Organize those actionable items by category and priority. Assign due dates where you can, and set reminders so you follow up on them. Pay special attention to each item’s priority, as well. You’re not actually doing any of the items on your list right now, you’re just making sure they’re in the right buckets for later, and your reminders are set. In short, this is quality time with your to-do list, inbox, and calendar.

4. Reflect on your to-do list. First, look over your to-dos to see what your next action should be. This is where the clarifying step pays off, because you should be able to pick something you have the time and the energy to do right away. If you see something that’s so vague that you know you won’t be able to just pick up and run with it, break it down. Second, give your to-do list an in-depth review periodically to see where you’re making progress, where you need to adjust your priorities, and determine how the system is working for you.

5. Engage and get to work. Choose your next action and get to it. Your system is, as this point, set up to make figuring that out easy. Your to-dos are organized by priority and placed in categories. You know what to work on, and when. They’re broken into manageable, bite-sized chunks that are easy to start. It’s time to get to work.

Those are the basic principles of GTD. At its core, GTD gives you a way to get everything you need to remember out of your head and into a system that can remember them for you, organize them, and break them down into pieces you can work with. That way the next time you look at your to-do list, there should be no confusion over what you have time to tackle, or what’s most important. You can spend less time thinking about what to do and how to work and more time actually working.

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