Tuesday, December 16, 2008

For Christmas, I wish to be creative

Believe it or not, if you know somebody around you that wishes to receive the gift of creativity for Christmas, it will only cost you $6.95.

Creativity is a learnable skill. Ideas are no more than new combinations of elements and a creative person is someone with the ability to find relationships between elements (algorithm, paradigm, phrase etc.), using what we call in advertising rhetoric processes such as metaphor and metonymy.

There are of course several ways stimulate creativity and shortcuts are available to stimulate the human mind such as brainstorming. As one of my friend says: “Nothing happens in a monologue, you get to create in a conversation” (And by the way, this is not a coincidence that most ad agencies work with creative units which are assigned teams of two or three creative people) but that will be for another post.

So yes, there is ways to structure and stimulate creativity and I was surprised to discover that the greatest "creativity 101" course is found in a book that has been written in 1939 (and surprisingly still up to date). It’s shocking how some things never change and appears to be universal laws; no matter how you say it, 2+2 still equals 4 as far as I can remember.

The book was written by the greatest copywriters ever employed by J. Walter Thompson and was known in the industry, to have lived and breathed advertising. The 48 pages book should find its place in every young designer’s Christmas stockings. You will first learn about the techniques and mechanisms the mind uses to generate ideas which according to him can be as efficient as an assembly line. By the way speaking of old stuff, did you know that you can still buy the cookbook of the first noun great chef Marcus Gavius Apicius, who lived in ancient Rome sometime in the 1st century AD on Amazon.com?

Everything take place within 5 stages:

  1. The Gathering (For the mind to gather its raw material. This process is meant to develop an intimate knowledge of the client. In advertising, a creative will seek to gain specific knowledge about the product and general knowledge about life and events that will help him come up with his idea which will be from a new combination of elements.)

  2. The Mastication (It is the process of masticating these materials, Now that you have gathered and felt bits of information, you are seeking for the relationship, coming up with partial ideas, a synthesis where everything come together like a puzzle, as Young says.)

  3. The Digestion (That's the cool part where you let everything sit on the back burner for a while. You just drop everything and your sub-conscious mind does all the work for you, as your digestive system does when you just finished your plate.)

  4. The Revelation (Where as you constantly think about it and finally the idea shows up out of nowhere.)

  5. The Polishing (This is as Young describes "the cold gray morning after", as you have to test your idea in the real world, and usually as you receive criticism, you find that your original idea might not be as marvelous as you thought it would be. But don't give up, as you do your post-mortem on the prototype's first trial, you soon discover that it has self-expanding qualities and you can still build on it to develop something of practical usefulness as Young calls it.)

My point:
Everybody can learn about how to generate ideas and it works. Take it from a guy that's been using that very recipe for the past 8 years, and cool thing is that learning the process doesn’t take longer than a taxi ride.

David Morin B.A.V.
Brand Artist

Sunday, December 7, 2008

WTH is a good logo? Show me!

There’s plenty of blogs out there to speak about the technical aspects of a logo so I chose to set apart speaking about its relevant content.

There are lots of ideas and magic story about what makes a good logo and what doesn’t. One thing for sure, your brand isn’t your logo but your logo is part of your brand….. WTH??? The logo is part of your brand because it is the symbolic embodiment of all the values associated to your company, service or product. A good logo makes a big part of your brand image, and even if your brand image won’t make you sell, it will certainly help you breaking in the market you want to conquer.

A logo isn’t meant to be fine art.

A logo is meant to be representative of who you are, what you do and why I should care (Unique Selling proposition), not an open expression of the mind of Van Gogh or its author.

A good logo is meant to cost more than lunch money.

As said earlier, a logo is the symbolic embodiment of YOUR brand, of who YOU are, of what YOU do and what differentiates YOU. Since the sole purpose of branding is to make you different among your competitors and not designing something just for the sake of it, if you are a small business owner and you are in a mission of finding THE cheapest deal around, be mindful of a one things; there’s a reason why a logo is meant to cost more than lunch money.

A good logo requires substantial effort: research, competitive analysis, creative brainstorming, sketches, and finalization based on the client’s and their customers’ feedback. With a $49 budget, however, it's likely the designer will produce something generic, and even resort to non-proprietary clip art that could easily appear in other logos.

Even if Carolyn Davidson in 1971charged only $35 to design the famous Nike swoosh, it is important to acknowledge that she was a student and her hourly rate was $2 (meaning that it took her 17 hours to design something as simple as a Swoosh). The Swoosh as simple as it looks is very meaningful. It represents the wing in the famous statue of the Greek Goddess of victory, Nike and has become one of the most recognized symbols in the world today. Thanks to Carolyn’s research and sketching time.

Someone with a $49 budget shouldn't expect more than one hour from a professional design service, or will use a foreign service that unfortunately will know very little about the audience and the business. Yes, you might be on a tight budget, as most people starting a business are, but your image and brand should not be a place to cut corners and you should use somebody local with a solid portfolio who ideally can physically go on site to get a feel of your business. Don't jump too high when you see the price as you pay for what you get. Remember that there's a reason why Brad Pitt costs more than Chuck Norris (No offence to anyone).

Elements of a logo:

I will not spend too much time in detailing every elements of the logo but just know that all of the four main components are equally important and all play a crucial role in making the logo successful in being; A. Representative of the company, service or product, B. Appealing to the right audience and C. Being esthetically pleasing.

The Signature: The font style, size and kerning express specific values and characteristics we want to attribute to the logo.

The Icon/Avatar: The icon or avatar is meant to give the audience an extra clue of what the company does and what it stands for. Let’s pretend that all the sudden a petroleum company wishes to win over environmentally aware consumers and starts to invest in renewable energy. To show the company's commitment to the environment and solar power, they decide to green their brand image (which is a great idea). They have a gross budget of $200 millions to spend so they go to Ogilvy & Mather, one of the most prestigious branding guys around, and the creative team develop some kind of organic shape that clearly represent the company’s new purpose and activities by a mixing a flower and a sun with tones white, yellow and green.

The sub-liner: The sub-liner is meant to give little more information about the company’s activities such in the case of Apple. Even if the word Apple is very rich in analogies for Steve Jobs invention; tribute to Sir Isaac Newton, symbol of the forbidden knowledge in Christian theology (BTW, did you know that the Apple 1 was selling for $666… something to sip on), the name doesn’t give away a single clue on what the company is all about. To overcome this handicap, they attached the word “Computers” to the name (as a sub-liner) that ties everything together.

The tagline: The tag line is usually the starting point of the creative campaign. It is meant to highlight the main benefit that differentiates the company from the rest of the world. If we use the example of that illusive petroleum company again, Ogilvy & Mather’s writers might come up with something around the lines of “Beyond Petroleum” as a tagline (for those who didn’t get it yet, I was referring to BP petroleum).

A real life case of study:

Recently, I took over the creation of a logo for a newly formed company named Mistra. Mistra is a direct marketing company which uses a new technology called “Purl”. Purl can create personalized mail and email campaigns for each and every client stored in a company's data-base. The software analyses the company's database and finds a path from its clients buying habits.

Our client already picked the name Mistra. Mistra is a pretty name but also is a serious handicap to effectively communicate what the company is all about since (as for Apple), it doesn’t link to anything related to the nature of their business (as opposed to MicroSoft which is a built up name mixing the words microcomputers and software). In such a cases, the challenge resides in creating a strong storyline behind the name and its visual representation that will justify its use.

The creative equation:

Besides being a pretty word, Mistra is everything but meaningless. It is also a Greek fortified city founded in 1249 to protect Sparta during the crusades. The name then hides a possible creative direction, through its medieval heritage. The middle age has a rich iconography which offers us a vast playground with his kings, knights, castles etc.

Since medieval age is filled with heroic battles, we can easily find a common ground between marketing and middle age with the word “strategy” (as in "military strategy" and "marketing strategy"). Using chess as a theme, could effectively express the medieval roots of the name and the strategy.

Because of the noble nature of the theme, a font featuring serifs would probably best reinforce all the above.

As a sub-liner, to give an extra clue to the audience about the company’s activities and what makes them unique, I went with; “Analytic Data-Marketing” since analytic is what truly sets them apart from the rest of data-marketers.

For the tagline, as being starting point for the creative campaign and highlight the company’s USP (Unique Selling Proposition), I went with “Play Smarter”. It ties very well with the logo’s theme and highlight the main benefit of their product; make a smarter use of your data-base.

The Result:

By keeping a strong emphasis on high relevance for each and every one of its aspects, as simple as is it, the result is effective and will serve the company’s purpose for the 5 to 10 upcoming years.

David Morin B.A.V.
Brand Artist

Monday, December 1, 2008

“There's a crisis".... should I Iower my prices?

Before even thinking of lowering your prices, take a few moments and educate yourself on the basics of positioning. Everybody heard about it, everybody has an idea about what it is but very few people actually know how crucial it is for the success of your business as a small business owner. Unfortunately for most small business owners, the whole concept of having a better product selling for cheaper isn't always the answer to attract good business. See, there's a big game of perception out there that you have to study and understand before putting a price tag on your service or product.

I remember a few years ago, my firm and I tried to help a client in the fitness equipment industry. He was ill by what I call the “SBOR, The small business owner reflex” or syndrome in some cases. He had an edge over its competition; he was more flexible, had less overhead and a better product he was selling for half price. In theory that should have done the trick right? WRONG!!!!! He was struggling.

See for every product, has a psychological price tag attached to it. This price tag will determine how we perceive a product and to what category it belongs to; entry level, intermediate or high end. When you introduce a product to the market, there’s a few thing you need to take into consideration.

Before anything if you didn’t do it yet, please do some research and know where you belong in the market. A price isn’t simply, “I have a product, it costs xyz to make, I can sell it for whatever so let’s do it and we’ll be rich!” Determining where you belong in the market is a price VS quality issue and has very little to do with your true cost (from a perception point of view). Here is a simple tool that will help you figuring where you belong. Use the chart above by positioning your competitors using price VS quality comparison and then yourself and sip on it for a moment.

In a lot of cases, that simple exercise was enough to pin point why some people had a hard time to penetrate a market. If your price is too low or too high considering the quality of your offer compared to the rest of the market, you will end up creating disappointment in the mind of your consumer because you won't be in line their expectations.

Use the simple but yet universal “Ketchup” analogy… it works every time. Study your own buying habits, everybody is human and we all shop the same way. Let’s say you need ketchup because you are having a barbecue for Sunday Night Football, you rush to the local grocery store, get to the condiment aisle and locate the bottle of ketchup Heinz. Tag price is $2.99, you grab it and then you are having a second thought because (you are on a budget). You browse around to see if there would be anything cheaper and find a low end brand selling for $0.99. The packaging looks awfully cheap, from a name brand you never heard of and you’re thinking: “There is no way that stuff can be the same as Ketchup because there is too much of a difference (and you are probably right). Disappointed, you browse some more and find the store’s home brand selling for $2.15. You grab it; compare bottles, label, ingredients, size and everything looks pretty much the same as ketchup (your reference for quality tomato sauce). In your mind, it makes sense to get an equally valuable product for $0.84 cheaper since you don’t have to pay for the brand name. The difference is significant enough for you to change your behavior and consider this alternative but not outrageous so your product gives the wrong perception and keep you from making the sale.

Still Skeptic?
Here's another example, let's pretend we are back in 1989 and Toyota is coming on the market with a car that is exactly the same as a Mercedes but costs only $35,000. Would you believe it? Maybe at the first glance, you might have say yeaaah duhhhh! But then, you would probably had a second thought telling yourself “wait a minute, Mercedes cost at least xyz so how in the world am I gonna have an equal valued product for so cheap… and plus it has the tag Toyota. Toyota makes great cars but it surly doesn’t compare to Mercedes, at least the feel wouldn't be the same”. Now let’s say Toyota introduces a luxury line of vehicles calles Lexus. It’s supposed to be as refined as Mercedes but since the line is less known, it sells for $10,000 less. Now it makes perfect sense right? The “Ketchup” analogy, works every time, guess how Korean cars were able to make it in North America.

My point
Belong at the right place. If you need to be cheaper, be it but maybe not that cheap. Find what will be significant without affecting your brand image. If you have to go higher, be also careful to stay in line with customers expectations.

David Morin
Brand Artist