You should know that I never, ever drink and work. It’s a no-no. Although I could make an argument that a great glass of wine improves my vocabulary.
I’m noting this now because I’m writing this post into my second glass of wine. Cheap wine. Really cheap airline wine.
I’m in-flight on my way back from Chicago. I just attended the HOW Design Live Conference for the first time. I was a newbie to this show so I really took advantage of this time to meet new people and put myself out there. Anyway, that’s not important (it’s the wine speaking… Or rambling).
The point of this post is to let my clients and fans know that I just had my creative world rocked. Really rocked. The conference of 2,500 creative professionals in one place for three days really made me flip my point of view and want to reevaluate what I’m doing creatively for you, my clients.
While I sort out my thoughts, I want to share with you my excitement. I have a ton of new people to collaborate and work with – bounce ideas and pass work. I also have a new found inspiration for pushing myself and taking on your projects with zest and, well, umph.
I love what I do. That’s no secret. I tell everyone. I do. And what I’m passionate about is branding – obviously. I re-evaluated my business about a year ago and swore that I would only take on projects that made me feel good and that tackled branding, and I’ve done that. And I’m going to continue that.
But I’m also going to start taking time to explore some new completely creative ways to get the long-dormant ideas out of my head. This includes starting some networking, begin painting again and re-decorating the walls in my office with cool shit (I apologize for the language but I learned this weekend that real people – especially the cool ones – curse in their blog posts).
I’m starting with a creative to-do list. I encourage others to start this with me. Every time we have a new idea, let’s add it to a list we keep and do it. Now, if you’re one of my clients, you are probably saying to yourself, “Jessica, we hire YOU to do our creative.” But the truth is that each time I work with a client, it’s a team effort and I depend on you to make a final product and I pull out some of your ideas – your creativity and passion about your business.
I’m going to start challenging my clients to be creative with me. Let’s think about how we can take your branding to a new level – together. All ideas on the table. Let ‘er loose.
I’m inspired. Be inspired with me.
Ching Ching (“cheers”)
P.S. Special shout out to my new design friends. Toronto, Boston, Chicago, Green Bay, Arizona, etc… You all know who you are.
One of the things I hear most from my clients is, “I think I want to start a blog.”
I respond every time with, “Are you ready to make the commitment?”
While there are several benefits to having a blog – sharing knowledge, legitimizing a brand, refreshing content – the challenges of a blog can bite back, hard. At the very top of that list is time. Do you have enough time?
If you’re the kind of person who likes to say, “I’m sorry I haven’t returned your call, I’ve just been so busy.” Odds are you shouldn’t have a blog.
And if you’re saying to yourself, “Wait a minute, I’ve heard Jessica say that to me before.” Yes, I’m calling myself black. I committed to blog-dom, but then my month-long vacation to Europe happened and catching up (mentally) has been a struggle – life happens. For this reason, I should have taken my own advice. I would have prepped and scheduled several posts to distribute while I was gone.
But hindsight is 20/20 and this isn’t the point of today’s post. As my dad unfortunately used to say, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I’m not proud that I’m suggesting this, as typically I like to lead by example, but in this case, learn from my mistake – or mistakes.
The Blog Post Process
A successful blog takes serious, quality time. It’s not a matter of simply writing and posting an article while enjoying your morning coffee. Blogs take patience, care and maintenance. Here is what a typical blog prep looks like:
- List. Make a list of article topics. Select a good one for the week that is relevant and interesting.
- Research. Make sure that you know what you’re talking about. Look up any general statistics, information you need clarified and supporting information or references.
- Write. If you’ve written something worth reading before, you know that you can’t just write any time about any thing (unless you’re magical). I can’t write detailed instructions when I’m unfocused. I can’t be funny if I’m upset (insert joke here). Be in the right mood and well prepared.
** Read at bottom for a side note related to this item.
- Reread. I’ve sometimes written an entire article and then reread it the next day and nearly changed the whole piece. Rereading helps us see if we make any sense.
- Draft. This is when you post your text into the blog management system and preview the text and reread again making sure that paragraphs aren’t too long and that hyperlinks and styles are correct.
- Images. Pictures make everything prettier. Images that match your content are helpful and you usually have to do a bit of work to find a right fit.
- Proof. This last step before going live includes previewing your post and reading it one last time to ensure you haven’t missed anything. If all is good, publish!
- Responding. If people comment, you must respond. It’s courteous, expected and appreciated. People want to know that you are listening.
So if you are considering setting up a blog, think about the above steps. I have some other friend bloggers who would probably argue that they spend more time than they anticipated.
Anybody can write about anything. Don’t be one of those people. If you have something to say, or something to offer (that interests more than one person), maybe a blog is for you.
If you are ready to do the above steps at least once a week (if not more), then you really are ready.
Ok, ok - Here Are More Tips
If you take the plunge, use these tips to help you be a good blogger:
- Be unique. Nobody needs another mommy blog. Movie review blogs – done. If you’re going to write something, be unique and write about something no one else has written about.
- Be specific. Pick a topic for your blog and don’t be vague – be clear and specific. You’ll get more attention by identifying your target market than trying to satisfy everyone. I write this blog for my current and potential clients – no one else. I am glad that others read it, but I always keep my target reader in mind when writing and only care that it speaks to them.
- Be concise. Remember that writing for a blog is the same as writing for the web. You don’t want long paragraphs and sentences or complicated sequences. Be short, smart and entertaining.
- Use hyperlinks. Include links to anything that you want your readers to learn more about. Sharing free information makes you generous and shows that you know what you’re talking about.
- CMS. The content management system (CMS) you pick to manage your blog should be made for blogs and needs to make commenting, posting and archiving easy. Everyone loves WordPress (wordpress.org is the free version, but you must install on your own host). You can also look at Blogger or Blog. There are many others – these are just the common ones.
- Fact check. There’s nothing more embarrassing than putting your name (and brand) on information that is wrong. Once it’s on the web, it can haunt you later. In college, somebody wrote a story about me on a blog and I am not surprised that it still surfaces in a Google search. Content on the web lives forever – so be sure you don’t sound stupid.
- Post frequently. If there’s one thing I hope you take away from these tips is that time is the critical component to successful blogging. At least post weekly. Whatever your schedule – be consistent and regular.
- Guest bloggers. It’s always good to invite others to write on your blog. Don’t be territorial.
- Read other blogs. You’ll learn quickly the differences between good and bad blogs if you spend some time to read around. Search for blogs that share your topics on Technorati. See what others are saying and, more importantly, what they aren’t.
All of these tips are basic knowledge for starting a blog. Next, you need to successfully maintain the blog, use it for marketing and feed your brand through writing. But that’s another post for another time…
To Blog, Or Not To Blog. Is That Your Question?
I tell my clients to really contemplate their decision to start a blog. Don’t take the step until you have a list of topics ready so you can see if you have enough information to share. It could be that you simply need a news section on your website. Or you can guest blog to get your feet wet.
But, when the time is right and if all goes well, your blog will become a valuable tool to feed your brand – a reflection of your business. Your blog should complement your services or products and offer your clients incentive to stay in contact with you.
That’s all I’ve got for you today. I realize it’s a longer post, but it will help those of you trying to make this decision.
If you just read this post and realize that you don’t really know what a blog is, read about it on Wikipedia – it’s pretty clear. But you can also post your questions below.
**I wrote the first draft of this post while waiting in the Toyota lobby as my car was being serviced. The man next to me was a loud talker which wouldn’t be bad if he weren’t on the phone and having a conversation about his “mad cool” restaurant for over an hour – I’m not kidding. This was a definite distraction. This guy deserves to have his picture secretly taken and posted for all 20 of my followers to see.
Do you ever Google yourself?
Of course you do! And if you don’t, you should! You would be surprised what kind of data and information flood the big bad world wide web. I always find something new when I Google my business (or my name).
I’m going to let you, my clients and friends, into a not-so-secret magic trick that I’m always surprised how few people know about… Google Alerts. These little magic emails can save you time and keep you updated of anything posted about you on the web – good or bad.
Google Alerts work like this: every week (or a frequency of your choosing) you receive an email with a list of new search results that mention your selected keywords.
Setup your keywords or names and you can get several keyword results in one email. I have “JG originals”, “Jessica Accamando”, “graphic design Los Angeles” and a few more (I’m not sharing all of my stalker techniques).
Many businesses find Google Alerts helpful when trying to stay on top of the competition. Are you directly competing against another business? Setup their business name. Are you wondering what your long-lost family is doing across the world? Add their family names (if the name is unique, obviously). I just received an alert last month about a distant cousin who was in the news for a local incident with her daughter and I got to see a picture of them!
The alerts are fun, true, but mostly useful. They keep you on top of your game. If you don’t have them setup, do it now. Right now. Visit Google Alerts and sign up for a Gmail account (if you don’t have one already). Modify your alert settings each week until you are getting the quality results you are looking for.
Feed your brand (there’s my plug) by being sure that YOUR brand isn’t being abused on the web. Part of controlling your reputation is knowing what it is. In this case, ignorance isn’t bliss. And stay on top of what others are doing – you can always afford to improve your brand by knowing what the competition is doing.
I hope this was a helpful quick tip!
If you are already using Google Alerts – tell us what you think? Comment below and share your experience and any more tips you might have to fine tune the results. I know a specific few of you who love Google Alerts – so here’s a platform to share your knowledge.
For those who don’t know, I was at The Oprah Winfrey Show* last week. By freak chance I got tickets and so a few friends and I took a last-minute trip to Chicago.
These kinds of events (for those of us without children) are highlights in life and we drop everything to enjoy them. Unfortunately, enjoying life usually means coming back to a million emails, 40 incomplete tasks and 2 days to do it in.
To add to the pain, a few weeks ago I decided to stay on top of my game with news. I subscribed to my favorite blogs and websites via RSS feeds, brought them into my favorite iPad application and stood committed to reading them daily. I am determined to read and learn the latest and greatest tips, gadgets and tools for my trade.
Unfortunately, I came back to 1001 unread RSS feeds.
For me, this was the tipping point. I was officially overwhelmed.
I wish I could tell you that I had a sudden epiphany and realized that I couldn’t do it all. But if you know me, you know that didn’t happen. I beat myself up for several days – trying to figure out how to catch up and get everything done. I avoided my new favorite iPad application like the plague. It wasn’t until after a glass of wine this weekend that I said “screw it.”
Drum roll please… “I am not perfect.” Ahh, it even feels better just typing it.
I’m not perfect and I’m not going to catch up as fast as I want. I will sometimes miss a blog post. I’ll forget to return a call. I’ll be late on a project. None of these are part of my brand and they are rare, but they are part of me, because I’m not perfect.
So my advice to myself (and to relate this to feeding a brand) is to not freak out when I fall behind. Avoid being overwhelmed by reading this post over and over again. Certainly my failures can remind me (and any other small business) that as well as we plan, life is going to happen and I’m not sure I would forfeit fun for perfection.
Huh. I’m surprised I just wrote that.
I’m not going to forfeit fun for perfection. I’ll do my best to feed my brand, business and reputation, but some part of me wants to believe that people will respect me knowing I’m only human. I’m not a miserable person in a basement pumping out projects. I’m a happy person with a life.
If you’re behind on something, catch up at your own pace. If you’re getting emails from me wondering when you are going to submit that content for your website or return edits for a project, relax.
The point of building a good brand is to build a good reputation. I want the reputation of a timely, smart and talented business. I also want my clients to know that I’m human, real and honest. If I fall behind, I’ll tell you that I’m late. If I make a mistake, I’ll do my best to correct it. But I certainly don’t want my clients to think I’m perfect – because all that does is cause me to be overwhelmed (and drink more wine).
With all of the advice that I give for marketing your business and building your brand, don’t be overwhelmed when you cannot do it all. Don’t panic when you make a mistake. Certainly don’t avoid all people and emails for several days – like I did.
AM I ALONE?
I’m going to take a leap of faith and assume that I’m not alone. If you have been overwhelmed lately, tell me about it. Share with us. Comment below. Let’s all lay it out on the table and provide group support (or at least support to me).
NOTE: I’d like to say that my new friend Paula Rizzo (the List Producer) will likely say that making a list would probably help some of the anxiety I cause myself. It’s true! I am a list freak and I make them all of the time. In this particular circumstance, I think my to-do lists are the only thing saving me from taking a personal vacation from reality.
*The Oprah show I was privy to attend airs tomorrow, Wednesday, April 20. Tivo it. It’s about a famous director who gave up everything in pursuit of the meaning of life. His film is called “I Am” and it’s very interesting and inspiring. Follow the film on Twitter, check out their website or watch the show tomorrow. If they show the audience behind Oprah, I’m the one with the blue hair.
I was sitting in a meeting last week with some of my more “seasoned” friends and co-workers and somehow the conversation came up about typewriting “back in the day.” Typewriters – manual ones – no power. They were talking about how when you made a mistake, you would white-out, cross out or worse, start over!
It was this conversation that reminded me to appreciate technology. My precious delicate keyboard with a backspace and spellcheck. Oh how I love thee.
But despite advances in our writing tools, the ever dreaded “typo” still plagues us. Why? How is it that I didn’t see the error of my ways when I typed, “It has been a pleasure doing business wit you.”? Ugh, it’s the tiny mistakes that make me crazy.
What does the typo have to do with branding? Answer (as usual): everything!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it a million more times… your brand is made up of all of the interactions your customers have with your business (and you) – big or small. Typos included.
If you have a habit of sending emails with minor typos, believe it or not, your clients are going to remember. Even worse – typos on brochures or printed materials! At first, they may not judge you. But if you make a habit of sending out materials that some people have to read twice to make sense of, you’re going to earn a reputation of being sloppy or inconsistent. That’s not the brand you want.
Have you ever read an eblast from a company and found a typo and thought to yourself, “Huh. They missed that. Sloppy. They forgot to edit.” Then you made a mental note about the error and forgot what the eblast was even about? I have! I do it all time. Mistakes are more memorable than everything around the mistake.
Lesson: Don’t ever send, print or distribute anything with typos. Ha! Easier said than done.
Mistakes happen. The truth is that none of us is ever going to be typo-free. I have made some embarrassing mistakes over the years – usually because I haven’t taken the time to re-read what I wrote. You should make a habit to review your writing so that you minimize your errors and make mistakes a rarity and not common place.
Read your copy out loud. Read every single word. Ask yourself if what you wrote makes sense. Will people who do not know what you do understand what you’re saying? Who is your audience? Can you ask a friend to edit your brochure before you send to print? Take the time to feed your brand typo-free communication.
// Note: For the sake of avoiding long, complex sentences in this article, I grouped all typos, grammatical errors and other writing missteps into one term, “typo.” Clearly there are all kinds of mistakes you can make in your writing beyond the common, misspelled word – but hopefully you get the idea. If you don’t, I just typo’d.
//UPDATE: As I clicked “publish” on this post, my lovely WordPress grammar-checker pointed out that I had typos in this post. I disagree. First, “eblast” is a term that is gaining more and more popularity. People used to hyphenate the term, but when we stopped hyphenating “email,” I too stopped hyphenating “eblast” and “enewsletter” – two terms which I use a lot. Second, “typo’d.” I like to use the “‘d” to animate my language. If I meant to typo, I didn’t typo.
I use the term “user experience” a lot. It occurred to me that many of you may not know what this really means.
First, lets get technical. Here’s the definition in Wikipedia:
User experience (UX) is about how a person feels about using a system. User experience highlights the experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership, but it also includes a person’s perceptions of the practical aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency of the system. User experience is subjective in nature, because it is about an individual’s feelings and thoughts about the system. User experience is dynamic, because it changes over time as the circumstances change.
Wow. That’s a mouthful.
It’s really more simple. User experience is exactly how it sounds – it’s the experience that a user (customer/client) has when interacting with your business, website, applications, products, forms/letters, etc. That experience is directly related to your brand – in fact, it is your brand. A customer doesn’t care what your logo looks like if your website is hard to use. Or think about all of the bad “smart” phones out there that are hard to use – bad user experience design.
“User experience design” (UX design) is the practice of designing elements or interfaces for your business that encourage a positive user experience. Let’s use website design for example. It can look fantastic, but can the user find what he/she is looking for? Is the overall visual easy to navigate? Do you have too much going on?
So how does this relate to you? Think about the user experience when you are putting together marketing for your business. Make sure content on your website isn’t hard to find and that you test out the number of clicks it takes a client to find a particular topic. Be sure that you think about what your client expects to see in your brochures and printed materials. Is your phone number or website hard to find?
Speaking specifically about websites, there’s a lot of technical thought that goes into designing a website and it’s the reason I do navigation layouts and wireframes before giving a design to a client. I have to first consider what your ideal client is going to be doing on your website and then design a layout that makes it as easy as possible for them to get that information. At all costs – avoid user confusion.
In print design, I focus my UX design on providing focal points and color schemes that are appeasing to the eye. Nothing drives me more crazy than a busy flyer that has too much information on it. I can’t tell you how many marketing postcards I get in the mail that I throw away instantly. I also can’t believe how many companies still have terrible customer service hotlines – talk about bad user experience!
What is the user experience you are having now reading this blog? Is it easy to read and follow? Was this post easy to find either via email or RSS feed? Was the update a timely post? Was your experience an efficient use of your time? I think about my customers’ user experience everyday – so should you.
Feed your brand by making sure that you’re taking the time to think about what kind of experience you are feeding your clients.
For those of you that know me well, you know that I have a favorite coffee spot. Neighborhood Grinds in Redondo Beach is my second office during the week. They make the best non-fat decaf lattes and dark chocolate mochas.
Neighborhood Grinds also does an excellent job at branding. This local coffee hot spot has a well designed identity with decor, website and menus to match. They offer unique experiences like text message orders and a card-free customer loyalty program. And their service is friendly, casual and has been the same from day one. In all, they feed their brand very well – I’m always complimenting them.
However, there must be a point to this post, right? So, here’s my story…
I text messaged my order this morning to get my coffee curbside and when I pulled up, they brought me coffee with a black lid (versus the usual white lid). Not only did I instantly notice the change, but I wondered to myself if something was wrong. Did someone come and steal all of the white lids (darn local teenagers)? Did Fred and Philip mess up this month’s lid order? Did their supplier stop making white? Will they always use black lids? Black doesn’t match their identity color scheme…
Before I even pulled out of the parking lot, my brain was running away with thoughts about the black lid controversy. I text messaged Philip to let him know that I got a black lid – I was truly baffled.
I know, I know. You’re saying “what’s with all the drama about the black lid?” But the black lid is important. Not only has Neighborhood Grinds established an identity that doesn’t have any black in it, but their service and products have been so consistent to this point that such a small thing as a change of lid would throw me off.
The point of branding is to establish a consistent user experience and obtain customers/clients that depend on getting the same product/service from you every time. While this one black lid instance is certainly no reason for me to freak out or move my coffee-drinking business (or even think any less of the Neighborhood Grinds brand), it does go to show you how every detail matters.
Do you change the color of your lids often? Do you distribute company documents in various fonts without your logo? Do you send emails with a signature line that isn’t always the same? Do you sometimes return calls immediately and then other times forget? Do you always describe your business the same way with the same keywords?
All of you should hope that your business is as well-branded as Neighborhood Grinds. The black lid initiated an emotional response from me because their brand is strong – it was a mistake that reminded me how the details make the whole. If your customers notice when you make a small change, then you’re doing something right.
[side note] Thanks to Philip for giving me permission to make a huge stink about the black lid controversy. In all, I hope this post is a compliment to Neighborhood Grinds. I highly recommend drinking their coffee, eating their cupcakes and following them on Twitter (@ngrinds).
I was thinking about what to post this week and it occurred to me that I should probably take a minute to define exactly what a “brand” is. The term is used wildly and many people are confused or afraid to ask exactly what branding means. So here it is…
“BRAND” DEFINED (let’s get technical)
A brand is the personality that identifies a company and how it relates to its customers, staff, partners, investors, etc.
The “psychological aspect” of a brand includes associations like thoughts, feelings, perceptions, images, experiences, beliefs, attitudes, and so on, that become linked to the brand.
The “experiential aspect” of a brand consists of the sum of all points of contact with the brand and is known as the “brand experience.”
People engaged in branding seek to develop or align the expectations behind the brand experience, creating the impression that a brand associated with a company has certain qualities or characteristics that make it special or unique.
A brand is therefore one of the most valuable elements in a strategic marketing plan, as it demonstrates what the brand owner is able to offer in the marketplace.
Your brand consists of your identity (logos, colors, typefaces), your style (writing, design themes, mission characteristics) and the impression you leave on your clients with the combination of the above (your reputation). This is your customers’ brand experience.
You cannot control the brand experience, you can only influence and grow your brand by producing clear, consistent and effective marketing. Thus your marketing and branding are essentially one effort. Everything you do that is visible to your customers (and the public) affects your brand.
Therefore, always be aware of how your actions will affect your brand – from the simple flyer to the way you answer the phone.
SO WHAT THIS MEANS… (and how to do it)
This may all sound technical (it is), but in the end, you simply need to know that your brand is your reputation. In order for a business to look professional, develop an identity, get and keep clients, become memorable and succeed, it must have a well-developed and growing brand. It’s the only reason people buy in to a business. Would you hire a company that no one had ever heard of, that didn’t have a consistent look and that was inconsistent in its communication? Of course not!
As a business owner (or service provider) you must actually think about everything you put out into the world. Every piece of paper you distribute, every voicemail you return, every word you put on your website – it’s all part of your brand. If you want a good one, you have to develop good habits to maintain your brand and work to build a reputation that will grow your business.
Everyday… brand, brand, brand. Build and develop an identity (logos, etc). Use that identity to distribute a consistent message and reputable product or service. Then practice good marketing skills to keep everything in check. Feed your brand because your brand IS your business.
(time out – rest your brain for a second to let all of this information settle…)
Now, if someone asked you, “what is a brand?” Do you think you could respond? If you feel like the answer is yes or “kinda,” congratulations, you are now one of the few…