BoyDog Design
Design and more…

One thing we can all count on is change. It is inevitable. It is vital. Many of you have already experienced a significant change in your business practices due to the current economic conditions in your area. Some of you were already feeling the pinch of a falling bottomline before any of the latest conditions developed.

I have lived through two corporate financial calamities. Things got very tense and survival seemed tenuous at times. Through it all we fought to promote sales and to protect our brand’s stature. I’d like to offer a marketing approach that we used when it became obvious that we needed to redo the marketing plan mid-year. The numbers were not good. We weren’t hitting the monthly projections. I’d grown accustomed to the first cut which always seemed to come down on advertising. Like clockwork my budget decreased to a painful sum.

So how do you continue on for the rest of the fiscal year? In my case, it wasn’t a matter of going bigger – we went smaller. I’ll explain. The major venue for advertising for one company was newspapers. Like most retail stores we had weekly ads and a circular. When times were right we placed ads for the total circulation of the paper. That’s a lot of papers. I’d guess the majority of readers were not qualified leads, only hopefuls. At the time it was just “something we do”. I came into the department where the advertising history told me what was expected. That’s when I initiated this rule – Never let history dictate what you will do in the present. It’s not written in stone. I reviewed the demographics for the newspaper. I consulted with the buyers and managers and we came to an agreement on a minimal territory to cover. It was a time consuming process but well worth the effort. By zoning our ad placement we could cover our immediate geographic customer base. A customer more inclined to actually come to the store. We saved a substantial amount of money in the process. This change didn’t get us out of our predicament. It did leave money in the bank which we used to make some necessary changes to other areas of operation. It was a part of a total review of our business practices.

Company number two had a global presence. Once again I inherited an advertising history. While I benefited by having an advertising past to review, it wasn’t long before I had to mark a trail of my own. Changing economic conditions, changing management, now that I think of it, just about everything was changing and it made it critical to review our entire marketing plan. I started from scratch. Everything was open for discussion. Nothing was sacred. Once again the budget became an issue and the dollars that were once available were no longer there. Time for a change.

This time I focused on specific markets that had proven results in the past. Now was not the time to throw money at an unknown customer base. The sales department narrowed down the most profitable markets. From that information we proceeded to target our advertising to specific markets based on projected need to purchase our products. This evolved into a more focused plan to develop a dialogue with a more qualified potential market. Ads were placed in trade magazines for specific markets that reached specific geographic areas. The trade shows that were attended were chosen with more defined requirements as far as their potential to generate leads and sales.

I can’t say this change in strategy sat well with everyone. Some long running relationships came to an end as far as where we placed our ads. Trade shows that once were routine were no longer necessary. In the end we saved money by capitalizing on more refined advertising placement and by cutting out expenses that upon inspection weren’t giving us a good return on investment. We chose to market to a smaller audience in order to increase the potential for a sale. We developed a deeper relationship with this market. They in turn came to understand the value in purchasing our products. We increased interest and opened a dialogue that lead to sales.

I wouldn’t presume that this approach is for everyone. Businesses function with different needs and demands. Your initial inclination might be to zoom out on your target market. The logic being that the broader the coverage the better the odds to initiate a sale. I’m advocating the opposite. Zoom in on a smaller, more qualified market. Expand your relationship with this group to help them fully develop an understanding of your brand’s capabilities. Encourage an interaction between your company and this base in order to gleen every aspect of need and then become what your market demands. During this process you may be surprised to find new markets that you didn’t know existed. Now that they are in your radar you can start thinking into the future.

Don’t fear change. Embrace it. Learn ways that allow your company to be fluid in its marketing plan. As long as you keep focused on current conditions and your intended outcome you can always tweak your plan to meet your needs. Being open to flexibility is a mindset that improves your chances of meeting your year end goals.

To state the obvious – we are in a recession – it isn’t much fun – many are spending cautiously if at all – jobs are barely hanging in there, going, or gone. I know it, you know it – we all know it. That said, why is there such a predominant tone to advertising these day? First they tell you just how bad it is. Then they tell you they feel your pain.  Only to hit you with a sales pitch that is supposed to make the blues go away or give you permission to buy. As far as I can tell, all this does is 1) reinforce in someone’s head the fact that they are hurting, and 2) try to convince them that it’s o.k. to spend money on something they just might not need or want. Don’t get me wrong, I know that’s the job of advertisers. I know the drill.

As a consumer and a business owner I know both sides of the scenario. Right now things are tough. I’d love to have the luxury to spend the way I did when things were hopping and I’d also love to have the flow of projects coming my way that I experienced in the past. But I’m also a realist – it isn’t going to happen, at least not right now. 

So what I’m proposing is a bit of a moratorium on the hard sell. I realize you have to keep selling your product or service. Duh… that’s part of business. What I’d like to see is a more heartfelt approach to the consumer. Stop nagging everyone to buy and maybe use this as an opportunity to build your brand and a relationship with your market.

Now is the time to set your brand apart from everyone else. Strive to imprint your product or service in your market’s conscience. How are you better, newer, friendlier, more economic, flexible, etc.? Maybe tell us what your company is doing to help those in need right now. Are you donating to an organization? Are you helping to train people who are currently unemployed? Have you made some adjustment to the way you sell your product or service to make it more accessible to your market right now? If your company is truly involved with your community, let us know.

There’s nothing like good public relations. It can elevate your brand in the minds of your market for many years to come. Instead of pounding home the message that we’re all struggling right now – instead of finding a new way to make people buy right now – you’d be amazed at the impact you can have if you step back from the “selling” message and focus on empowering your customer to see that there is indeed a positive future ahead. I realize your bottomline is your focus right now. You may think this “feel good” approach is of no value to your company. I’m not suggesting you take your focus off being in business. I only wish to emphasize the opportunity you may be wasting. Your market wants to know that you give a dam about them as people. If they’ve found your product or service to their liking, they’d love to support your company with sales. The reality of it all is that maybe they can’t right now. So let them know you understand. You get it – they are tapped out at the moment. You get it – we’ll be there for you when you need us. And by the way, we’re doing this, this, or that to try to help.

I guess what I’m really saying is don’t take your target market for granted. People are used to our tactics. They can tell if you genuinely give a dam. They know if all you’re interested in is making a buck. Now is not the time to tee off on your customer base. How about showing some empathy and a “find a way to win” mentality? Make your brand the first one they think of when times are better. Keep offering the best of what you have to give. Hope your market can continue to support you through sales. But if they just can’t right now, let them know that’s o.k. You get it. Let them know you’re trying to make it work for both of you. Bottomline – let them know you’re human too.

That’s exactly what I’m trying to figure out… Three weeks ago I took the plunge and it’s been very interesting. I will admit I’ve gotten caught up in finding out all the nuances of Twittering. I’ve noticed the different styles – almost no tweets, occassional tweets, incessant tweets. I’ve decided to follow a nice group and I have followers already. A surprise for me.

I’m still doing my research on all of this. I’ve compiled a list of URLs that have helped me out (I’m sure there’s a bunch more). If you’re interested, here they are:

  • www.tweetdeck.com – breaks down twitter feeds into columns
  • www.twitterfeed.com – feeds your blog to Twitter
  • Twidget – a widget for the Mac dashboard  
  • www.twitpic.com – lets you share photos on Twitter
  • Twitterrific – Mac app  
  • Twitoria.com – you can see if someone’s account has been inactive for a number of days
  • wefollow.com - a user-powered Twitter Directory
  • twitterholic.com - scans and ranks twitter accounts for stats for most popular users
  • retweetist.com – to track how many times a tweet has been retweeted
  • huitter.com – it will automatically unfollow everyone who isn’t following you
  • twollow.com – find and follow fellow twitterers with similar interests to you – automatically
  • splitweet.com – easy management of multiple Twitter accounts and brand monitor, for heavy & corporate users.
  • www.search.twitter.com
  • tweetlater.com – productivity tool, scheduling, tracking, automation, personal status, vet new followers, unlimited twitter accounts
  • tweetvisor.com – web-based interface, easily switch between multiple accounts
  • mrtweet.com - personal networking agent, get relevant followers, people relevant to your current needs, useful statistics
  • twaiter.com - client and scheduling platform
  • If you know of any others, please let me know.

Now that I know the nuts and bolts of using Twitter I need to figure out just how it fits into my business plan. No answers yet, but I’m working on it. Does anyone have any suggestions? I can’t say I hate Twitter, I can’t say I couldn’t live without it – I’m hoping it becomes part of my marketing mix.

If dust were an art form I’d be right up there with Picasso. I suppose for some of you that’s TMI, and I’m sorry for putting that picture in your head. It’s not a matter of cleanliness actually. I just prefer an old-fashioned broom to a stupid vacuum. Anyway… the time had come to remove some winter dust. Mostly the product of heating with a woodstove. So out the vacuum comes and low and behold – the minute I flicked the switch on the vacuum I instantaneously turned on my brain. 

I suppose you could call it getting in the zone. I’m more inclined to think of it as the result of a brain-numbing activity. Doesn’t matter though. My mind was whirring away with each movement. Once I realized what was happening I figured I’d allow myself to profit from this “state”. So I whipped out a notepad and every idea went down on paper. It was really incredible. 

I’m wondering what other people do that allows them to just think. Is it running? Is it riding in the car? Locking yourself in a room? Just what gets your creative juices flowing?

I had intended to only vacuum my living room. Let’s not go crazy here with the vacuum! My son actually put his hand on my head to make sure I was feeling o.k. But the more I vacuumed the more kicked into gear my head became. The short term result was a spotless house. But more importantly, my long term creative outlook is now filled with wonderful ideas for my blog and all sorts of things I want to try. 

I know I have ODD (Obsessive Design Disorder). I suspect this was a new symptom. But unlike the other times my design mind has taken over, I was safe in knowing that the only thing I was bothering was a little dirt. I suppose I can endure the burden of a perpetually clean house when in return I am the recipient of all the wonderful things it congers up. Note to self: Always have a notepad around when vacuuming.

I came across this via Twitter… Give it a try. What did you score? I got a 15.

Online Color Challenge

Thank you to X-Rite!

Let’s take a quick review of White Space 101. First, you have a sheet of paper. Onto that sheet of paper you apply type in the form of your copy and art in the form of graphics, illustration, photos, etc. All of the areas that are covered are the positive space. All of the blank area around the copy and the art is known as the negative or white space. Recognizing the difference is important in design because it can mean the difference between balance and imbalance.

Too much positive space will look cramped and dark. It can be difficult to read. It will have a heavy appearance – type-heavy and/or graphic-heavy. Too much negative space will look unfinished, like there’s something missing. It will have an unpolished feel to it as though you didn’t follow through on the execution. There is an automatic response to both of imbalance. Teetering too much one way or the other.

Let’s consider ads created for newspapers. A balanced design allows the viewer to scan the ad comfortably. There will be pockets of white space for the eye to rest and allow the brain to process what has just been observed. Balance makes reading a pleasurable and cognitive experience. Reading flows at a natural pace so that your eye can move across the page with ease and your mind can decipher the message. In a world where we are bombarded with messages through many media outlets all at once, the balanced design will be the more successful design.

I’m mentioning this because I’ve recently noticed a pattern in a local newspaper. It is getting increasingly harder to actually read the paper. Each page has been disected into many pieces to allow for ads with a few articles slipped in. While this may be a sign of success for the newspaper’s sales team, it is putting a burden on the advertiser that I think should be acknowledged. It is becoming measurably more difficult to focus on individual ads. Instead I find my eye just washes over a page without stopping to rest in any particular spot. If I have no predetermined interest in any of the company’s ads I seem to glance past them without any retention at all. They all look the same. There is a denseness to the page that I can’t get through.

To explain the logic behind this fill-it-up policy, I want to backtrack a few years to when I was responsible for a weekly circular for a retail store. There were some people who felt that if they were paying a good price to place an ad it obligated them to fill up ever little nook and cranny on the page. Saturation meant a good return on investment. As I hope to explain, nothing could be farther from the truth.

The cost of advertising can be a burden to some. It’s a necessary part of being in business, and I can fully understand the financial sting you may feel each time you place an ad. I also acknowledge a potentially diminished confidence level when rating the success of your advertising. Keeping that tenous psyche in mind, let’s explore some options. It doesn’t matter whether you have trusted your account to someone else or are creating your ads in-house. All responsible parties should be mindful of how your puzzle piece will look when set into place with all the other pieces that become a full printed page.

First, there is always the option of color. Adding color to any ad will draw attention to it. But, keeping the currently shrinking budgets of many advertisers in mind, I will stick to good ‘ol black and white.

Next, let’s think about the size of your ad. Just how big does it have to be to be noticed? (I was going to say, effective, but on second thought – that’s another option all together.) Your ad can be as small as a business card to as large as a full page. Which size will work for you? I think that all depends on your message and what it will take to make your point. If success for you is to simply relay contact information, a small ad will do. If you need to engage your viewer to promote your product or service, that will require more space.

Keep your copy to an optimized size by eliminating non-essential information. Short and to the point always wins over verbose and meandering. OK, you’ve got your copy ready to go. Your logo is added to the mix. Now, decide whether or not you need to add an image. Will adding an image enhance the message? Will a specific image draw the eye to your ad? Will an image detract in any way? That’s for you to decide. If you are including an image, just how big does it need to be? Keep in mind the impact you want. Oh, and let’s not forget about borders. Darker and thicker is, well, just darker and thicker. Based on all of the individual parts you’re trying to put together decide on the size. It’s not a matter of will it all fit. It’s more a matter of effectiveness.

Right now we have copy, your logo, and possibly an image. You’ve put it all together into your ad. I hope you actually have a draft of it in front of you. So, what do you think? Is there a balance of positive and negative space? Do you find that your eye rests in the white space you’ve created?

Now, cut out some ads from your local paper. Put them all around your ad as if you were making up a full page. How does it look? Do you see what I’m talking about? Is your ad as effective as you thought it was going to be? Or does it blend in with the other ads melting into a blur of black and more black?

From this point on it’s up to you to decide on your course of action. Maybe you should eliminate some copy? Maybe the image is too big, too small, not necessary at all. Is the headline noticeable? Is the ad easy to read? Does the ad compell you to stop – and read it? Should you size the ad up?

For those of you who have hired a professional to put your ads together, please rely on their expertise. If it’s suggested that you need to make your ad bigger or change or lose some of its elements it’s for a reason. If you’ve decided to do it all yourself, please take your time and don’t be afraid to get the opinions of those around you. Hang the ad on the wall for a few days and see what kind of a reaction you get. You should always put your best work out there and you deserve the return you were hoping for. But should your ad fall short of your expectations use it as a learning experience that will enable you to develop your advertisements in the future to speak clearer and spark interest. The learning curve to successful advertising has no shortcuts.