Don’t Be So Negative – Leveraging White Space

Leveraging White Space While I was attending the Digital Summit Detroit last week, the topic of white space came up in a few presentations. Meanwhile in some projects at the agency we had some discussions with clients who wanted to fill every available square inch.

Early in my career, I was taught that white space wasn’t what was left over after all the visual elements were used – it was a design element just like type or photos. Every day I see examples that illustrate the “cover every square inch” mantra. Like trade show booths with copy down at foot level. Or billboards with 20-word headlines, four URLs, and social media icons for every channel. Sometimes, quite simply:

Less is more.

See how I did that? You read that line because it was all on its own. It had impact, power, and simplicity. Three simple words. With space around them. A few other key benefits of white space:

  • It helps the reader prioritize – when the entire space is filled, the brain can’t process what to pay attention to first. So, your primary benefit could get overlooked entirely.
  • It improves readability – by making elements stand out, they are easily and quickly read and grasped.
  •  It separates and groups elements – keeping copy associated with the relevant visual is a key benefit of leaving some white space.
  • It creates balance – the reader’s eye likes order and balance, thus attracting greater readership.
  • It invokes imagination – by leaving some white space, the readers mind becomes freed to process what you’re saying and engages them to explore the possibilities.

An additional thought – “white space” doesn’t have to be white. When the term is used, it’s simply negative space. The color doesn’t matter, what does is the fact that it’s not filled by other elements.

So the next time you’re tempted to cram in just one more graphic to occupy that “empty” space, consider this:

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

-Sean-

Get Your Story Straight

PWB is in the midst of creating several storytelling videos, and we’re finding some common themes and issues emerging. Here are a few recommendations for crafting a successful storytelling video.

  1. Get your story straight – if you haven’t really figured out the messaging for your product, service, or company, you can spend a lot of wasted time wandering in the wilderness.
  2. Understand how it will be used – storytelling videos are an excellent asset in an integrated demand generation program. Taking a step back to see where your video(s) will fit in the buyer’s journey is always helpful. This helps you stay on-message and focused on the viewers felt needs.
  3. Keep it simple – the goal here is simple; to help people quickly “get it” – emphasis on “quickly”. A good storytelling video should be less than two minutes long. Stay focused on that goal.
  4. Bite-sized chunks – two minutes is a surprisingly short amount of time. More complex stories may need more than one video. One of the projects we’re working on is a three-part series. This really enables us to tell the story in meaningful increments. It also gives our client more assets for their demand generation program.
  5. Picture = 1,000 words – use both the visual and narration elements to say more than you could by using just the narration. Some concepts are easier to see than talk about.

At PWB, these are all key elements in our process as we craft your story. Have a complex concept that you want to quickly, simply, and effectively communicate to key audiences? Let’s talk!

-Sean-

When Branding Strategy and Product Don’t Align

Branding StrategyBeing interested in both food and marketing, I’ve recently been fascinated by the emerging story that that Mast Brothers Chocolate out of Brooklyn is not truly the bean-to-bar manufacturer they’ve claimed to be.

Helmed by a photogenic pair of bearded brothers, Mast Brothers serves up an inspiring origin story of an apartment-based start-up making it big. The company sheaths its bars – which retail in the $10 range – in gorgeous, high-end paper designed by an in-house creative director. Articles and interviews with the brothers are peppered with words like “authenticity” and “artisanal” and “transparency” – and almost every media mention references the beards and/or the packaging. The Mast empire has expanded to include several factories and storefronts, a best-selling cookbook, and a presence in dozens of high-end retail shops and restaurants.

The problem? There’s speculation that the bean-to-bar concept on which the brothers built their branding strategy; that originally the brothers used re-melted commercial chocolate. The equipment they claimed to have used was called into question. Suspicion over the source further escalated when countries of origin and ingredient lists disappeared from the bars’ packaging – a strange omission for a company that preaches transparency.

Beyond all that, the chocolate that they are making now is considered by experts to be, well, not very good.

What began as a whisper on the fringe of the chocolate/foodie communities has become a full-on mainstream roar. The New York Times even covered the controversy in their Sunday edition. The Masts have gone on the defensive, posting a rebuttal and Q&A on the press page of their website.

While on the outset this may seem similar to the Shinola issue, which Sean previously posted about, in my mind it’s pretty different. In Shinola’s case, while the branding came under attack – is it really “Made in Detroit” if pieces used in the assembly are manufactured abroad? – the product/quality of the product itself never came into question. Additionally, customers rallied around the brand.

 

In the case of Mast, we have a brilliantly branding strategy that doesn’t align with its product, and a customer base that feels deceived and even foolish.

Like Shinola, the Masts continue to defend their brand publicly. It will be interesting to watch how it all shakes out. In the meantime, I think this provides some food for thought (pun intended) to anyone in the process of branding or rebranding a product or service. A strong branding strategy and great marketing can take you pretty far – but it can crumble quickly when it’s not built on the foundation of a strong product.

Stand by Your Brand

pwb_standbyyourbrandI’m a big fan of Detroit. I love its gritty, get-it-done, Midwestern style. The tremendous legacy of manufacturing. And just spending time in the City. I’ve never shied away from telling people I’m from the Detroit area when I travel. Even though I didn’t grow up in this area, my family has strong roots here. I’m good with Detroit – well, except possibly for the Lions. I tried. That didn’t work out.

So when the Shinola watch brand hit the marketplace, I became a big fan immediately. They proclaimed a strong tie to building their distinctive products in Detroit and the U.S. where feasible. Shinola has particularly applied the “Built in Detroit” brand to their watches. As a fan of both watches and Detroit, this really connected with me. And I’m shocked at the number of people I see with these watches who normally wouldn’t spend over a hundred dollars on ANY watch. The corporate branding has gained traction and its tie to Detroit is a big part of its “cool” factor. And I think the simple, impactful marketing has helped build a solid brand.

Enter the Federal Government. The FTC, already aggressively pursuing Kansas City watchmaker Niall for its “Made in America” claims, recently turned their attention to Shinola. While Shinola’s watches are assembled in Detroit – hence the “Built in Detroit” messaging – many of the movement components are made in Switzerland, and the crystals and hands come from China. An FTC spokeswoman recently termed this “potentially misleading”.

As a marketer I find this interesting. Shinola is doing EXACTLY what the Detroit automakers are doing – sourcing as many elements as is economically and logistically feasible in the U.S. and assembling watches in Detroit. Have you looked at the foreign parts content on a “domestic” car recently? Yet no one threatened Chrysler with its “Imported from Detroit” campaign.

Shinola has said publicly that it won’t back down from its “Built in Detroit” brand mantra. And I – someone who thinks about brands a lot – think this says a great deal about the brand’s integrity. It demonstrates commitment to both their brand position and their support of the Detroit region. Most importantly, it shows they’re living the “we’re tough and we’re not afraid of adversity” spirit of this area. I’m proud Shinola’s building watches not far from where my father was born and that they chose the heritage of Detroit to center their brand upon.

The lesson for marketers is simple – stand by your brand. It will serve you in good times and in bad. By flip-flopping around, impacted by every whim, you only weaken it. If you believe in your brand, be prepared to fight for it because as some point, for some reason, you’ll probably have to do so.

-Sean-

Blogging – Be Your Brand

successful bloggingSuccessful blogging seems to be one of the biggest challenges we see for many marketers. But in my opinion blogging is one of the most valuable activities an organization can do. It’s a chance to dig deeper than you would on your web site, or in other social media channels. You can establish real domain expertise, add depth to your brand, and even accomplish silly objectives like increasing search engine traffic and user time spent on your site.

That’s why when I see a good brand with a great blog, I feel compelled to share it. Recently, I’ve run into November Bicycles – a company dedicated to making great wheels at a great price. They’d received numerous kudos in some online forums I frequent, so I checked out November’s web site to learn more. The web site itself is solid, but simple. Much like their products, the brand was all about high-value without compromising performance and quality.

But even more impressive is their blog. In straight, no bullshit language, these guys mix discussions of the issues they address in wheel design and construction, opinions on the industry, and current promotions in a way that’s engaging, compelling and provides a successful blogging experience! I want to come back and check the blog regularly. It’s interesting and I learn something on every visit. With topics ranging from selecting the right spoke, to the importance of execution for corporate success, there’s something that adds brand richness, and makes me see them as knowledgeable, trustworthy experts.

blogging

Oh, and I bought a set of their Alloy Nimbus T11 wheels for my cyclocross bike. If I like them as much as I think I will, there’s a good chance come Spring I’ll sell my road bike wheels and order some Rail 52’s. I’d call that engaging a prospect. From consideration, to purchase, to repeat purchase. The true “Yahtzee!” of marketing…

-Sean-

Image Sizes for Social Media Branding [Infographic]

A week ago when I logged in to a clients YouTube channel to upload some video, I noticed a prompt that made me grown. I was notified that the channel layout was about to change. Again.

youtube changes

“Upgrades” or changes often mean the creative needs to be edited when branding a social media site like YouTube.

What does this mean to me? It means that I will be busy for the next little while adding new creative to each client channel PWB manages. In this case it was alright though, since the client’s (Uniloy) YouTube channel needed new artwork anyway. What I discovered though is that as part of the process, you are “encouraged” to edit your Google+ page.For my personal reference, that is why I had one of our art directors create a new Social Media branding Infographic.

The changes to cover art sizing are frequent enough, and none of the channels – Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, Google+, YouTube – have the same size images. Heck, they don’t even have image sizes that can be easily scaled when branding your social media pages!

So please feel free to use this infographic for your reference when adding branding to any of the popular social media sites! The infographic will help you create the correct size images for your LinkedIn or Facebook cover photos, Google+ channel art or Twitter and YouTube header!

social media branding infographic

When editing social media sites, it is important to remember what size images are for creative branding! Use this infographic as a reference to understand what size images you will need for your LinkedIn or Facebook cover photo, Google+ channel art or YouTube and Twitter header image.

One word of caution. Although my art director created the exact size image for Google+, we needed to trick the system by adding a couple of pixels to the height and width. Otherwise the image would not load to the site!

Some Basic Branding “Don’ts”

Recent social media traffic has me feeling like some basic reminders are in order for companies who are using these channels.

Be your brand. Not something you saw on TMZ.

Don’t #1: Trendy Stuff
By the time you became aware of the Harlem Shake, it was already passé. That’s really swell that your CFO wanted to wear a gorilla suit. But you look like the most interesting thing you could find to say was to copy someone. Be your brand. Not something you saw on TMZ.

Don’t #2: Commenting Excessively on Social Topics
Your personal opinions are just that – yours and personal. Unless same sex marriage impacts your business in some way (for example, you’re a health care insurer and you have some cogent thoughts on the economic impacts of partner benefits) then leave it alone. While we appreciate socially aware companies, this needs to be part of a larger, well thought-out strategy. If you need guidance, watch Patagonia or Target. They both do it well. In fact, go read Yvon Chouinard’s excellent book Let My People Go Surfing if you want to build a socially conscious company. And, no, I won’t loan you my copy. It might be the best business book ever.

Don’t #3: Noise
Don’t have anything valuable to say? Then shut up. Your clients and followers are busy people – they follow you because you deliver value. When you don’t deliver value … well, you get the picture.

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Rebranding is ticklish business. There are a myriad of issues and questions to address to achieve success. Do I just update what I have? Do I throw it all out and start over? Is there significant equity in my current brand mark? Do I rename at the same time? All of these (and more) are among the reasons we believe that working with a solid outside partner is practically mandatory.

I ran across an interesting example from the outdoor industry this weekend. With consolidation, a fair number of the major brands in fly fishing are being rolled up into families. The group that owns Sage fly rods also owns Rio fly lines – and more. Scientific Anglers has been under 3M ownership for a number of years. Last year’s acquisition of Ross Reels by 3M was a significant development.

Ross Reels Almost immediately, Ross was rebranded. Personally, I liked the old logo better – it had a lot of equity and was visually unique. But I see now that they’re trying to get the Ross and Scientific Anglers brands in alignment, so as a marketer I get where they’re coming from.

Sage fly rods, Rio fly linesSo now Sage feels compelled to get into the game by rebranding Rio. The old Rio logo looked like an escapee from the 80’s, so it was definitely time to freshen things up.

Here’s where I think it gets weird. The new Rio logo has been in-market for a few months. Something about it has been vaguely bugging me since I first saw it. This weekend I figured out what it was. What do you think?It sure seems to me to look just a bit too much like the new Ross logo. Yeah, I get it, I see the fish. But the basic letterform sure does have a lot of similarities to the Ross logo. And, it gives up one of the strengths of the old Rio logo – the fly line built into the image.

This brings up a key factor of rebranding – adjacency. You can’t just look at what your competitors are doing. What is needed is a holistic view of your segment. Both Rio and Ross are well-known and well-respected brands. I really believe that it would have been a good idea for Rio to consider what Ross had recently done before launching a visually similar brand.

Keep this in mind if you’re considering a rebranding. I think Rio made a major faux pas. One that could have easily been avoided.

But I will give Rio credit for one marketing win. It offered Facebook fans who visited their booth at the Midwest Fly Fishing Show a free hat just for stopping by and mentioning that they were FB fans. Solid way to tie social media to your trade show strategy – nice work, Rio!

What Marketers Can Learn From Charlie Sheen

Charlie Sheen seems to know a thing or two about marketing. Take a close look and you’ll see an odd brilliance to his wacky madness. Marketers can learn a few things from Charlie Sheen to help spruce up your marketing efforts.

  • Create a spectacle. Do you remember that one car commercial showing interior and exterior views of the car? Probably not. These bland commercials are a dime a dozen. Now, do you remember that car commercial showing Detroit and Eminem (and few shots of the car)? Yes, you do. To stand out and get noticed, you have to create a spectacle and be different. In a world of sameness, be different.
  • Drink tiger blood. Charlie Sheen described himself memorably as having “tiger blood and Adonis DNA.” Subsequently, Harcos Laboratories launched “Bi-Winning Tiger Blood‚” a $4 energy drink which is “made from 100% passion specifically to make your brain fire in a way that’s not from this particular terrestrial realm,” according to the Harcos website. Be like Harcos. Keep an eye out for market opportunities to launch new products.
  • Be your own drug. Charlie Sheen says, “I am on a drug. It’s called Charlie Sheen. It’s not available, because if you try it once, you will die and your children will weep over your exploded body.” Take some time to identify what makes your business stand out from your competition. Then create a compelling message that answers why you are the best choice. Why should people buy from you and not from your competitor? Charlie Sheen’s unique value proposition is his “drug called Charlie Sheen‚” and no one else has it. That’s unique.
  • Stay on-message. Whether he’s “dealing with fools and trolls”, “dealing with soft targets that are strafing runs in [his] underwear before [his] first cup of coffee”, or busy being “bound by the terrestrial descriptions of the term Goddess”, he is perplexingly persistent in getting his point across. Charlie Sheen isn’t allowing himself to get distracted from his purpose. Charlie has a consistent story wherever, whenever, whatever type of media you see him in. His tone, voice, and message are consistent. Is your marketing consistent? Are you using the same tone, voice, and message across mediums?
  • Be “#Winning”. In today’s era of social media, people want to connect with people, not faceless corporations. And don’t be just a pretty face. Give your brand a personality. Having a personality and a human face lets people more easily connect with your business. Research has shown that purchasing decisions are emotional and as a result people become attached to particular brands based on some personal connection. So, be sophisticated, or be whimsical, or be #winning.

Whether he’s out of his mind or out of this world, I think we all can learn a thing or two from him. What do you think?

Hocus Focus

I’ve run into three examples in as many days of companies with fundamental business (and marketing) problems tied to a lack of focus.

Unless you have a GIGANTIC marketing budget, you can’t be all things to all people all the time. I spoke at a local manufacturing symposium recently and this was one of my key messages. By trying to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one.

Ask yourself three questions:

1. What do we do that’s unique?

2. Why is it better than the way our competition does it, or than alternative methodologies?

3. Does our brand support this value proposition?

If you can’t answer these three questions VERY rapidly, and in a sentence or less ‚Äì you have a problem.

One of the example companies was a local gym (frequented by PWB’s own Keith Kopinski) that’s about to go out of business. This gym is a tremendous place for hardcore types –  bodybuilders, competitive athletes, and more – it’s not Bally’s. But the owners couldn’t see this and never built a brand to support it. Instead they chose to enter the fracas on general fitness clubs. Bad idea. You’ll NEVER outspend these folks. Why not build a brand, and a loyal customer base among your target market by branding it as not a place for the masses?

Another example was a healthcare services firm. They have a solid track record helping small hospitals compete and improve. Unfortunately, they’re doing a shotgun marketing approach that goes after ALL facets of healthcare with almost no focus. Again, bad idea. Why not exploit your advantage?

Are you better at something? Say it. Then make sure your brand owns that superiority.