Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Going through some reading this morning, I came across a story, on the blog of business nerd Jeff Gardner, that I heard long time ago while I was studying branding and its fundamentals; perceived value. This story as simple as it is, is probably to branding what "Who Moved My Cheese?" is to adapting to change.

I once heard about a wedding photographer (who charged average prices) that wanted to work less. So, she figured that if she just began raising her prices there would simply be less interest from clients. First she bumped up to $3,000 a weekend, then $4,000, then $5,000. To her astonishment, she actually began receiving more requests from clients. The clients figured that if she was charging such a high sum, she must be really good. Truth being told, she hadn’t gotten any better, she’d always been a good photographer – but the higher price led her potential clients to believe this and, in the end, they were never disappointed. Finally this photographer raised her prices to $20,000 per weekend, essentially pricing herself above what almost anyone could afford. Her potential clients then began offering to fly her to remote locations around the world just for the chance to have her shoot their exotic weddings.

I think you get my point. The old economic adage that higher price correlates to lower demand doesn’t always hold true, and this is especially true of luxury goods. Design is a premium service. A luxury good. It is certainly not necessary to run a business (just take a look at all the used car dealers of the world for confirmation), but results in a definite advantage to the businesses who value good design. Don’t be surprised to find that design and the pricing of design follows a slightly paradoxical pricing relationship.

This little story also illustrates how important market positioning is to luxury goods. Positioning, positioning, positioning, positioning, positioning, and positioning... In a recession, work on attracting quality clients. Life will be much more enjoyable. Get the idea?

The Fight of the Decade

This morning, I can’t keep myself from smiling and finally give an honest two thumbs up to GM as they finally had the courage to look at their issue from a global stand point, and finally reposition of their brands.

They have a lot on their plate, as this is probably their most ambitious enterprise in years. However, as Larry Light, author of "Six Rules for Brand Revitalization" and global CMO of McDonald's from 2002 to 2005 said: "McDonald's Did It, and You Can Too".

This morning in an article published in Advertising Age, General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz says that: “…one of the first things he plans to do as the new head of marketing is make "drastic" changes in the "tone and content" of all of GM's advertising” (I just hope they will not lose sight of the need for change for the car itself to stick with their new tagline “The Rebirth of the American Car”).

See, beyond perception there’s the product itself. As Columnist Collis Ta'eed writes on his blog, “Changing features on a product is the most obvious way to take on a competitor. And out of all the features that businesses try to use as a hook, price is probably the most common. What is important to remember though is that you need a substantial difference in features for this to work. If you say take 10% off the price, add one or two “oh that’s neat” features, chances are your product won’t be different enough to really win away many users.

A while back I was surveying project management web apps for a blog post. The first couple I looked at stuck in my head, but by the time I’d gotten to about 10, they’d all kinda blurred into one. Sure some of them were cheaper, some had an extra feature or two, but really the only ones that I’d remember were the first couple. Now a small change in features or price may win some users, and you can even build a healthy business out of it.

But you will never be able to really challenge the competition with a 10% upgrade.

If you want to go this route, you need to turn things on their head. If price is the feature, then it needs to be like 90% cheaper. If it’s a feature it has to be a feature that makes people go “wow this changes everything”. These sorts of game busting differences effectively create new markets, ones which can then be dominated.

A great example of a company that turned pricing on its head is iStockPhoto. Before they came along, traditional stock houses would charge hundreds of dollars per photo. iStock initially charged just 50 cents. Sure the product was the same - a photo is a photo (and believe me the quality sometimes is pretty indistinguishable between cheap and expensive stock) - but with that price difference they’d created an entirely new market. iStock went on to dominate so well that their original behemoth competitor Getty not only acquired them, but then made iStock a large part of the core strategy of the company.

Two examples of companies that have delivered huge non-pricing feature changes spring to mind, Dell and Amazon. In the first case, Dell introduced the ‘configure to order’ model of PC manufacturing, which along with its innovations in delivery changed a lot about how people bought PCs. In the latter case, Amazon took bookselling online effectively using online ordering and delivery as a massive feature change to a traditional business.

Of course a dramatic feature change doesn’t need to be quite as industry changing as these examples to be an effective strategy, but they do illustrate how the bigger the change, the better the play. It’s hard to imagine any other way unknown companies could have broken into the top echelons of industries like personal computers and book sales!”

In this morning’s article, “Mr. Lutz says his first priority will be to create the public relations and advertising messages that will "not only break through but actually leave consumers with an enhanced view of each of our brands."

"Easier said than done," he said, "but we must do it."

Mr. Lutz claims that can happen as GM works to increasingly differentiate its vehicles through improved design.

For example, he said, the new Chevrolet Equinox small SUV and the soon-to-be launched GMC Terrain small SUV "don't even look like they were made by the same manufacturer."

Lutz gave some other indications as to how he thinks GM can better define its brands.

"The new Buick design direction, coupled with a soft and luxurious driving experience, is radically different from the more angular and sporty Cadillac design direction," Mr. Lutz wrote.

"Marketing also needs to respect brand differences in how we advertise the various brands and to whom."

With that in mind, Mr. Lutz said, he intends to have Cadillac rival German luxury and performance brands such as BMW, while Buick's task is to take on Lexus.”

I give a round an honest round of applaud to the initiative am still concerned about the quality of the product itself and its ability to compete with the other guys on that angle. He sounds exactly like a hard core disciple of Thomas Watson of IBM who famously said, "Good design is good business." This isn’t a bad thing but we’ll see if design only will be sufficient to give BMW a run for their money. Nevertheless, it will be an interesting battle of creativity to reestablish GM’s rights to hang out with the rich royal families of Europe. I remember Mr. Ta'eed referring to a book called The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, “…in which the authors discuss what they call the Law of Duality. The idea is that in the long run every market becomes a two horse race. So think Coca Cola and Pepsi, McDonalds and Burger King, Crest and Colgate. The authors state that there is only really room for two brands in a consumers head - the leader and the other guy.

This idea implies that one way to take on an established competitor is to be … the other guy!” Let’s see how GM will set themselves up as the yin to their yang.

At the end of the day, it’s all about differentiation again, and I am eager to see the fight. For me, it will be as exciting as the Stanley Cup finals.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Six Rules for Brand Revitalization

In a recent post on AdvertisingAge, Larry Light, author of "Six Rules for Brand Revitalization: Learn How Companies Like McDonald's Can Re-Energize Their Brands" and global CMO of McDonald's from 2002 to 2005, teaches us about how McDonald was able to revitalize their brand following 6 simple rules. His catchy phrase confirms what I've been preaching for the past few years; small and mid-sized players have a tremendous advantage in size over bigger entities by their ability to reposition themselves fast. To quote his own words: "McDonald's Did It, and You Can Too".

Rule 1: Refocus the organization
"Refocusing the organization begins with redefining the brand and business purpose and goals. The brand purpose should be aspirational. At McDonald's, where I held the post of global CMO, we defined the long-term ambition "to be our customer's favorite place and way to eat and drink." For the first three years, the primary focus was on becoming the "favorite place and way to eat." As Jim Cantalupo, McDonald's CEO, liked to say, we would "be bigger by being better." How would we accomplish that?"

Rule 2: Restore brand relevance
"The brand promise is an articulation of the relevant and differentiating experience that the brand will deliver to every customer, every time. Brand revitalization means defining where you want the brand to be and then deciding how to get there.

Over the years, the essence of the McDonald's brand was the perception that it was an affordable, convenient brand for families with kids. There were those who said that equity could not and should not be changed. But McDonald's set out to change people's perceptions and go from appealing to the child in your heart to appealing to those with a young-adult spirit at heart."

Rule 3: Reinvent the brand experience
"To revitalize a brand, we need to bring the redefined brand promise to life. This is what the five action P's are all about. The five action P's are people, product, place, price and promotion.

People come first. Building employee commitment to the new direction, employee confidence, and organizational and employee capabilities are critical factors that influence future success.

And it's imperative to inspire those in the organization to believe that the new brand future will happen and that they can help. At McDonald's a new on-boarding communication was created called "Learnin' it. Livin' it. Lovin' it."

Product is the next P. Products and services are the tangible evidence of the truth of the promise. When we redefine the promise, product and service renovation and innovation are imperative.

A disciplined approach to brand extension can revitalize and strengthen a brand. McDonald's extended its product range to include products such as salads, yogurt parfaits and coffee. The Crest revitalizations included extensions beyond cavity prevention to include tartar control, whitening, breath freshening, dental floss, mouthwash, tooth whiteners and toothbrushes.

The place is the face of the brand. Whether a store, a website, a retail display, a kiosk or wherever the "place" may be, the experience must be consistent with the intended brand direction. For example, McDonald's embarked on a very ambitious retail reimaging program. It also updated the brand website.

Price comes next. The launch of the McDonald's Dollar Menu created an everyday-low-price list of items and enabled the brand to significantly reduce marketing emphasis on on-and-off discounting. Overemphasis on deals and discounts builds deal loyalty rather real loyalty.

Promotion comes next. In September 2003, a new global campaign was launched in 119 countries. The common signature theme was "I'm lovin' it," supported by a distinctive set of five musical notes. The character of the communications was designed to reflect the new young-adult spirit of the brand. The following year, McDonald's adopted its first global packaging approach. It's the longest-running theme in the history of the brand.

Whether advertising, special events, public relations, online, cause marketing, sponsorships, Olympics, World Cup or other forms of communication, the goal was to be consistent with the new McDonald's brand promise. Disconnected, monthly promotional messages and tactics destroy brands."

Rule 4: Reinforce a results culture
"Measuring and managing performance is the eighth P. The McDonald's Plan to Win included three-year, measurable milestones.

Creating a results culture means it is important to produce the right results the right way. A balanced brand-business scorecard should include measurable elements such as brand familiarity, brand reputation, employee pride, customer-perceived value, brand loyalty, sales, share and profit."

Rule 5: Rebuild brand trust

"In this skeptical, demanding, uncertain world, trust is a must. As part of revitalizing a brand, rebuilding trust is critical. Investment in rebuilding trust is an important, challenging marketing imperative. There is demand for more openness, more social responsibility and more integrity. Over the years McDonald's invested in building trust -- Ronald McDonald House, environmental responsibility, commitment to employee diversity, local community activities. As the concern with healthful living has grown, so has McDonald's commitment to providing appropriate choices -- for example, salads, apple slices, yogurt parfait, water, juices and milk."

Rule 6: Realize global alignment
"The power of alignment is awesome. During brand revitalization, we often talk about the need to get everyone on the same page. But we rarely, if ever, define the page we want everyone to be on. That's the purpose of the one-page Plan to Win, the one-page document that summarizes the eight P's and the desired outcomes."

Despite of all the controversy and bad publicity about unhealthy eating habits, McDonald's today success is the living proof that "Brands do not die natural deaths. However, brands can be murdered through mismanagement" as he quotes. "Brand revitalization needs the courage and perspective of strong leaders", ...and can be achieved.

Evaluating the creative work you receive

As promised, here it is. This is a quick checklist that allows you to evaluate creative work. Agencies usually use such system but very few freelancers do. This is a useful tool so use it, and don't be intimidated when it comes the time to re question somebody's work. Have Fun!


o Is central to creative concept.
o Is correctly shown/explained
o Its benefits/features (uniqueness) are properly emphasized
o The way it is shown reinforces established positioning and customer perception.
o Logos/trademarks/names/intellectual properties are treated correctly.
o Other product/services could not be easily substituted within this creative

Creative Approach:

o Is uniqueness/unusual to the product/service.
o Is attention getting
o Fits tone/style of the product/service
o Fits tone/style of the client/organization
o Complements other media.
o Addresses primary interests of reader/viewers.
o Has inherent interest or story appeal; is not merely decorative or explanatory.
o Directs readers/viewers attention to what’s most important about the product/service.
o Is memorable
o Is believable
o Is persuasive.
o Appears stylish and contemporary.
o Encourage further action by readers/viewers.
o Provides means for contacting/next step.
o Has staying power (is not quickly outdated)

Shop Standards

o Can be produced within time and budget constraints.
o Presentation materials are organized and professional.
o Presentation has been gone over/rehearsed.

Clear Objectives

• Primary objectives:
• Is addressed by:

Secondary objective:

• Is addressed by:
• Other Considerations


o Okay as is.
o Needs further Refinement:

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The things you should know about advertising agencies... even yours

In a recent post on Advertising Age named "Agencies Should Be Defined by What They Know, Not What They Make", Phil Johnson re-opens an old debate about the issues the advertising world is facing and the true value agencies can bring.

"At their best, advertising agencies grasp the magic of how people communicate with each other. At their best, agencies operate on the front lines of the communications world and harness the forces of culture and society to help their clients influence perceptions and behaviors. At their best, agencies lead their clients through changes in communications technologies, figuring out the most appropriate marketing strategies.

At their worst, agencies get fixated on creating stuff, whether it is an ad, a website or a Twitter feed.

When this happens, clients usually get copycat campaigns that don't connect with the most important communication innovations of the day. Besides turning advertising into a commodity with commodity pricing, this focus on the output also leads to a lot of artificial distinctions between traditional advertising, digital agencies and everything in between. Agencies become defined by what they make instead of by the truths they know. "

It's funny how it seems to be a consensus among the industry. I hate to admit it because I love the advertising world but even Paul Arden, probably among the most prolific creative director England ever came up with agrees. In one of his book, Arden writes: "Creative people in order to justify their salary, they need to be seen to have clever ideas. In their need to prove their worth, creative people often produce work which on the surface appear to be clever but with little substance. ...Never put cleverness in front of your communication.

I was always the one saying do not try to win awards. Like Charles Yves said, awards are no more than the badge of mediocrity. Awards are judges in committee, by consensus of what is in fashion. Most advertising people will tell you 90% of advertising inspiration comes from other advertising. You'll see the same books in every advertising agency... Too many times creative are just looking for something new to copy."

Even with that being said, there's light at the end of the tunnel. Johnson concludes his post by sharing his vision of what advertising should be which I couldn't agree more with, as a lot of my pals in the business: "My conviction is that advertising agencies should become a community full of intellectually curious people. The more social and intellectual and technical diversity we can cultivate the better. I think that agencies should reflect and act on the important events and trends of the day. Clients should feel compelled to work with a given agency because they hold the keys to the mysteries of how people communicate with each other. Agencies should be valued for their ability to open the door to the world in which our clients want to engage. Agencies that deliver on that promise will always be relevant."

In my next article, I will educate you on evaluating the creative work you get.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Recession: The Age of Change -Acknowledge and succeed!

We all have a reason good reason to panic during those though times. Even if we started year 2009 with encouraging news, the balloon just blew in our face with the recent drop in real estate market, but STOP. As dramatic as it is, a recession is simply a revolution. You may choose to go with the flow and choose to succeed, or be up against a tsunami. Those situations aren't new for mankind, just think about the fall of Rome. It's a time of profound changes and the first step is acknowledgement, so you can find ways to make it work for you.

While a recession can mean death for a resistant to change type of management, it is probably the greatest news for an entrepreneurial mind since the bid is open, and the old conventions are no longer.

According to Thomas Nagle, partner in the Cambridge, Mass., office of Monitor Group. in a recent article published in AdAge's CMO Strategy column "Times like these, when margins are down and the cost of raising new capital is high, are relatively unfavorable to new investments. Even fast-payback investments in trade shows or new ad campaigns look less promising when customers are buying less and expecting lower prices anyway. Still, some companies do mitigate sales declines with innovative marketing, often putting themselves in a stronger position for recovery as well. The key is to make the most out of capabilities the company already has to generate incremental revenue.

What makes recessions such good times to leverage existing advantages is that cash-strapped, or at least saving-motivated, customers are open to making changes they would not have made before. Millions of previously loyal Starbucks drinkers are now willing to forgo a custom-made beverage for a good-quality, standardized substitute at a lower price. Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's are using that newfound price sensitivity to offer cut-price lattes and cappuccinos, at what are probably very good margins for those chains. And the customers they attract may also discover that the bagels at Dunkin' and the salads at McDonald's are an equally good value.

The key to success is to be open to some inside-out marketing. Look at what you're already capable of doing, probably in excess because of the recession, and figure out how that capacity could enable you to offer a new service or enter a new segment quickly, with relatively minimal investment. At least you can generate incremental contribution during the recession, and at best you may capture some new customers for future growth."

Remember your customers are more open than ever to change; it's just a matter of being creative. Brand what makes you different and don't be afraid of revisit your business model and products offering. Opportunities are out there for creative minds... Remember how Steve Jobs saved a dying music industry from pirates with his iTune store.

David Morin B.V.A
Principal/Brand Artist

Branding isn't just about eye candies -4 low costs actions to strenghten your brand during slow season

One of the most accurate definition of branding I can remember doesn't come from branding legends such as David Ogilvy or Leo Burnett but from Howard Schultz, from Starbuck: "...Branding is the sum of the actions taken by a company". You may be asking yourself: "How the heck is that gonna help me increase my sales during slow season?" Well, in an article published in MarketingProfs, Kimberly Smith says: "When the slow season strikes... it's time to put some energy into pumping up your brand."

She lists 4 actions to help you make the most of your dowtimes. As Howard suggests, branding goes above and beyond simple eye candies. Branding is much more about the companies culture in every facets of its daily operations to create an experience, while the visual aspect of it is just its graphic embodiement. In other words, the sum of your actions eventually shape the perceived value of your product, service or company, turning ordinary into extraordinary. As Marty Neumeier says in his book "The Branding Gap", "A brand isn't about what you say it is, it's about what they say it is".
The strategies suggested by Kimberly revolves around strenghthening the connection with your current customers. Since we all remember the old saying "It's far more expensive to attract more customer than keeping an old happy one". Not only that but Seth Godin also suggest that "...an old customer is far more likely to bring you new people via word of mouth than someone who isn't even a customer yet."

Kimberly highlights the achievements of one company that boosted sales by 12 percent and decreased client shrinkage by 75 percent with a program that included:
• Meeting one-on-one with clients with the sole purpose of discovering their needs and concerns.
• Making the executive team's contact information available to all clients.
• Producing competitive audits that detailed how clients might better engage their target markets.
• Incorporating thoughtful gestures into all client-facing activities.

Branding isn't just about eye candies. In downtimes as Kinberly says "It's time to catch up on all the little housekeeping, brand building tasks that have been put off due to time constraints. In addition to positioning yourself for future success, you'll likely find that exercises like these can help to keep yourself, and your staff, both busy and optimistic."

David Morin B.V.A.
Principal/Brand Artist

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New Identity -Groupe Immobilier Pettigrew

Groupe Immobilier Pettigrew is a small real estate company which only deals with high end commercial spaces.

The communication challenge that the nature of their business was bringing, was calling for something high-end enough to attract the right clientele. A big game of perception had to be won as it is a key element in the natural positioning of the company.

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).

Take Lexus as an 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 right off the bat you would say yeaaah duhhhh! But then, you would probably have a second thought: “Wait a minute, Mercedes cost at least $70,000 so how in the world am I gonna have an equal value for so cheap? On top of that, it wears the tag Toyota…Toyota makes great cars but it surely doesn’t compare with a Mercedes, at least the feel wouldn't be the same”. Now let’s say Toyota introduces a luxury line of vehicles called 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 (Guess how Korean cars were able to make it in North America)?

How does that relate with real estate? Well, the right positioning prequalifies your leads. It will look too expensive for the guy who’s looking to start a small convenience store in a bad neighborhood of Sin City and will be right on target for the attorney firm that wishes to expand in a new building.

The important thing to remember here is that you and the quality of what you offer need to be in line with your client’s expectations. Otherwise will end up creating disappointment and this is how you end up burning a name.

So, using principles and philosophy described in my post of December 7th, I chose to go with a modern look (which is almost a tribute to the Bauhaus School in Germany). Since they are dealing mostly with office spaces, I chose to shape the “P” as if it was an office building, only using lighting contrasts to shape the idea of the building and the 3 dimensional effect. The typography is classic and clean which supports the idea of high-end office buildings.

I very much enjoyed working on this project, and your thoughts on this identity work are more than welcome.

David Morin B.V.A.
Brand Artist

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

From Freelancing to Startups – Netsetting

As a startup myself, I think there’s nothing more exciting than when somebody comes to you saying: "I understand, I’ve been there, I’ve done that", and it is especially true in those tough economic times.

This morning, I was drinking my tea (I gave up coffee recently excepted for an occasional espresso) and reviewing my blog roll and a post called: "From Freelancing to Startups – Netsetting” caught my attention……

It describes in short the story of Collis Ta'eed, making the transition with his wife into the business world “...it kinda sucked doing client jobs all day, then working on the new business into the night - usually interspersed with even more client work. But it sure beat taking a loan from a bank and having repayments hanging over our new enterprise.”. So far, nothing new. We all have dealt with that situation at one point. Where it becomes interesting though is that they’ve been starting a new blog recently about their experiences in startups and web business. It’s called TheNetsetter. Their posts are very insightful, a great resource for any freelancer who have the desire in bridging to the business world full time.

Following, the first posts, make sure to check them out!

1. It Won’t Happen Overnight But It Will Happen!
2. Doing Things Yourself Will Only Get You So Far
3. Guerrilla Marketing for Startups
4. Strategy Games and How They Can Help Your Business

David Morin B.V.A.
Brand Artist

Thursday, March 5, 2009

New Upates: The Fifty Dollar Logo Experiment

This is where fun really kicks in; when you realize that things we see often have deeper roots just like the old adage saying "We only see the peak of the iceberg".

Here is the story. With the rise of a lot .com design services that somehow hurt the business of a lot of professionals, creative director Jim Walls at 160over90, a Philadelphia based branding agency, conducted what he calls an experiment with one of these offshore companies (50DollarLogo.com) to make a point. On February 17th, Jim finally posts his insights of doing business with such company. The next day, acclaimed designer David Airey picks up the story and posts it on his blog, Logo Design Love. The blog has 9516 readers so it didn't take very long to start an intense discussion and argument among industry professionals which eventually lead to exposing a genuine scam and copyright violation story.

Keep in mind that whenever an offshore company promises six logo designs, unlimited revisions and a 1-3 days turnaround time, just know that:

a) It is too good to be true.


b) They might be hiding a dark truth... just like that laundromat not far from where I used to live that have no washing machines but still in business after 10 years...

Apparently, according to a comment left by Brian on Logo Design Love, 50DollarLogo.com has been reported as an attack site by Firefox. For those who are unfamiliar with attack sites; they "...try to install programs that steal private information, use your computer to attack others, or damage your system... Some attack sites also intentionally distribute harmful software".

Another comment left by Keith suggests that "...if you go to their web design portfolio you will see links to work that they clearly haven’t done” such as the Get London Reading Website. It has in fact been design by artist Kent Lyons... And I personally believe that the layout of the site is purposely built to be mistaken with successful Logo Works. It is clear that the company is ran by crooks with the intention to fool and screw you. Ask Doug in Florida that filled a complain on Rip-off Report.com :

"This company offers logo design packages starting at $50 for 6 logo concepts, you can also add other services to this for additional fees. They offer to present you with your concepts for revision in 1 to 3 days. I picked a package above the $50 one that offered 12 design concepts. I made payment after completeing my order and waited for my concept designs.

After 4 days I had heard nothing and decided to use there online help service as they claim to have 24/7/365 operaters to answer your questions. It seems I must have caught them on the leap year when no one was available. I left a message reguarding the status of my order only to recieve a mailer demon email saying it could not be delivered and the mail box was full. I then sent a somewhat threatning email to the email address on my order confirmation. I recieved a generic misspelled email in return stating my order was in progress and I would recieve my designs asap.

It is now day 9 and I have heard nothing and recieved nothing. So much for a 3 day turnaround. I will be requesting a refund and filing a dispute with my credit card company. The site appears to be a scheme to me. The online support is never online and the mailboxes are full. Seems to me I'm not the only dissatisfied customer. Just remember, you always get what you pay for.
I thought I had found the answer to my business logo need. It turns out I just created alot more hassle for myself and I'm currently out $70."

To all my entrepreneur friends, please beware.

David Morin B.V.A.
Brand Artist

The list of lists; 101 Tax deductions for bloggers and freelancers

Recently, as the tax season kicks in, I went across a re-tweet (thanks to AaronLock) about "101 Tax deductions for bloggers and freelancers ". It was such is such a great resource that as I was sharing it with everybody I knew, I got quickly overwhelmed forwarding the damn URL to all those who requested it... so I decided this morning to simply post the list of 101 tax deductions and the link to the original post.

Make sure to visit the original post by Paul Michael as he also gives some interesting tips for novices.

So here it is folks, have fun and as Paul says; "Stake your claim!":

1. Industry books & periodicals, including audio books
2. Other books and periodicals used for research
3. Library book charges
4. DVDs and CDs related to your blogging
5. Movie or theater tickets, if related to your blogging or freelancing
6. Music and TV show downloads
7. Magazine subscriptions
8. Research sites that require a subscription
9. Further education classes
10. Webinars
11. Business podcasts
12. Business-related websites (for me, that would be Adweek)
13. Memberships to professional clubs and affiliations
14. Internet access fees (at about $40 a month, that’s a biggie)
15. Public internet access fees (Internet café’s, airports etc)
16. Stock photo purchases for your blog
17. Search Engine Optimization services and fees
18. Paid site submissions
19. Website hosting fees
20. Website design and/or maintenance fees
21. Website/blog templates
22. Domain name cost(s) and renewals
23. Blog expenses (e.g. WordPress additions)
24. Film & Digital cameras
25. Web cameras
26. Handheld video recorders
27. Digital memory cards
28. Recordable CDs and DVDs
29. Zip drives
30. Photo printouts
31. Film & film processing
32. Printer ink and copier toner
33. Phone charging stations (e.g. at the airport)
34. Second phone line for your business/fax machine
35. Long distance charges related to business
36. Cost of phone/fax/scanner/copier equipment
37. Cell phone & PDA expenses (bills, equipment, accessories)
38. Personal voice recorders and memo machines
39. Business equipment rental
40. Computer equipment & peripherals
41. Computer upgrades (I had to upgrade my RAM twice last year)
42. Depreciation costs of computer equipment
43. Data storage (both online and external HDDs)
44. Any business related software (not games…unless you review them)
45. Software licensing fees
46. Anti-virus and anti-spam subscriptions
47. Unpaid invoices. If you do some work for someone, be it a simple blog article or a much bigger job, and you get stiffed on the bill, you can write off your loss.
48. Fees for other bloggers and freelancers. If you get overwhelmed and pay a friend or relative to help out, any money you pay that person for their assistance is a tax deduction.
49. Tax and accounting software
50. Tax preparation fees
51. Business incorporation costs
52. Costs for Trademarks or Copyrights.
53. Business logos and graphic design fees
54. Business cards, letterhead and other stationery (even stuff you print yourself)
55. Office supplies (everything from paper to paper clips)
56. Home office expenses. You can deduct the part of your home you use exclusively for blogging or freelancing as an expense, including a portion of the rent, water, heating bills and so on.
57. Percentage of your home insurance (for your home office)
58. Online self-promotion fees (that includes banners and Adwords costs)
59. Trade show fees
60. Advertising costs (newspapers, stickers, posters, postcards etc)
61. Photography fees (e.g. headshots, pack shots etc)
62. Photocopying/faxing fees
63. Transportation costs: car mileage; airline tickets; taxis; buses; trains.
64. Highway tolls
65. Parking fees
66. Hotel costs for business trips.
67. Cleaning & laundering services when traveling for business.
68. Costs of conferences, plus all related expenses (e.g. BlogHer)
69. Health insurance costs (if you’re self-employed)
70. Computer equipment insurance
71. Food and drink purchased on business trips
72. Client entertainment (be reasonable…not sure you’ll get away with Strip Club deductions)
73. Postage costs (Stamps.com is ideal for keeping track of postage, and the service itself is tax-deductible)
74. PayPal and Western Union fees
75. Post Office Box fees.
76. Safe Deposit Box fees.
77. Self-storage fees, especially useful if your files and records are spilling over into your garage and you need extra space.
78. Advice. Any professional advice you pay for that pertains to your business is a tax deduction, and that includes counseling or coaching.
79. Membership dues to labor unions (do bloggers have a union?)
80. Charity work or donations (this one’s tricky. It’s limited to your out-of-pocket costs, not the final cost of the product. In my case, I’ve done some writing for charity, which is not applicable because you can’t deduct time spent. But any materials used during your charity work can be deducted).
81. Prizes and giveaways. Here at Wise Bread, we give away some very nice things. Often, they are generously given to us as gifts to pass on to you, or readers. But when we go out and spend money on a prize to give away, that can be deducted, as well as the cost to mail it out to you.
82. Business furniture. If you use it exclusively for your blogging or freelancing, then anything from a chair or filing cabinet to the whole desk can be written off.
83. Business functions. If you hold a little get-together for clients, even just one or two, then everything from the rental of the room (or golf course…know what I mean?) to food and drink can be deducted.
84. Business lunches. You can't include your own meal, but if you pick up the tab at a power-lunch (or just a meeting with a potential client) you can write off their part of the check.
85. Props. I sometimes use props for photoshoots, and the cost of those props can be deducted.
86. Job search expenses. Any money you spend trying to get work, from postage to travel, is a deductible expense.
87. Alcohol and drug abuse treatment. If the pressure turns you into a Betty Ford patient, you can deduct the expenses of treatment. Let’s hope you never have to though.
88. Any losses due to theft. Away on business, your laptop gets stolen…write it off.
89. Moving expenses related to your blogging or freelancing.
90. You can deduct 50% of your self-employment tax
91. Home improvements. Turn the basement into a home office, those expenses are deductible.
92. Clothing and accessories. If you have to buy any clothing for a particular job (maybe you needed protective clothing & headwear to write an article about a building site) then those costs are also deductible. But don’t try and write off your new Gucci watch.
93. Business checking expenses. If you have anything more that free checking, it’s a deduction.
94. Business gifts. This is cool. If your mom watched the kids while you went off to do an interview or write an article, and you then bought her flowers or choccies, well, the gift is tax deductible. Very sweet.
95. Annual fees for business credit cards.
96. Physical therapy. Writing for eight hours a day can cause all sorts of problems, including the dreaded Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. I've been advised by many accountants that you can deduct the cost of that therapy. However, medical expenses are a complex beast, and usually need to be a percentage of your income. Check with your accountant for details.
97. Headache pills, eye drops and so on. If staring at the screen all day gives you a killer migraine, you can write off the cost of the meds to help you get through it and keep on working.
98. Wages. Say you pay your kid $20 a month to empty your office trash can, maybe as a way to earn an allowance. Well, you can deduct that expense.
99. Your dog. No kidding, if you can prove it's a guard dog and is protecting your equipment, you can write-off the doggie expenses.
100. Net operating loss. If your deductions outweigh your earnings, which often happens in your start-up year, you can use that loss to lower your taxes next year.

And one big final deduction you may want to think about:

101. Your TV cable or satellite bill. I can deduct it because I need it…I work in the movie business. It’s a very nice deduction, too. If you blog about soaps, movies, TV shows, or anything else in the entertainment field, this could be a nice write-off for you.

David Morin B.V.A.
Brand Artist

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The 50 Dollar Logo Experiment

Recently I came across a re-post by acclaimed designer David Airey called “The 50 Dollars Logo Experiment”. The post made a lot of noise as it initiated an incredibly intense discussion between design professionals, about cheap design online services.

Here what happened; with the rise of a lot .com design services that somehow hurt the business of a lot of professionals (I am one of them), a man named Jim Walls, creative director at 160over90, a Philadelphia based branding agency, conducted what he called an experiment with one of these online companies (50DollarLogo.com.) to make his point.

Of course, some of the people that felt threatened by these companies embraced the so called study, when others called it outrageous because (and they are right), you cannot compare a high-end culinary experience with Chef Ramsey in one of his million dollar restaurant with a Big Mac from McDonald. That being said, we should agree that the rise of those companies is just a natural consequence of the evolution of a market and it should be enough to invalidate the so called study. However, the experiment does have some value as it highlights some of the downsides of doing business with such companies, startups should be aware of. Believe it or not, yes there are still people out there expecting getting the next Facebook done for $1000.

As Jim writes in his post: “...there will always be good clients who recognize the value of what they’re getting when they pay experts. Likewise, there will always be the pizza shop owners and recent MBA grads launching their next Basecamp rip-off who get what they pay for when they go for the lowest common denominator.”

We all get with the fact that 50 to 80% of startups will fail within their first 18 months of existence. Starting a new business is a risky adventure and owners need to be very careful about their spending and sometimes, it is true that the risk factor is so high that it simply doesn’t worth a $2,000 to $5,000 investment. However, it is important to point out that creating a good logo requires substantial effort and should cost more than lunch money. It involves research, competitive analysis, creative brainstorming, sketches, and finalization based on the client’s and their customers’ feedback.

Even if some people will bring up the fact that 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.

Still skeptic? Check out this interview Steve Jobs gave about Paul Rand, who charged Steve $100,000 for his NEXT newborn company identity in 1993 http://www.paul-rand.com/video_stevejobs_interview.shtml. Remember that there's a reason why Brad Pitt costs more than Chuck Norris (No offense to anyone).

Bottom line is, when you see an online company based in Sri Lanka that promises six logo designs and unlimited revisions, just know that it is too good to be true. As Jim, the author of the experiment wrote: “…promising six logo designs, unlimited revisions, and a 1-3 day turnaround. Who needs messy things like research, insight, or even a modicum of information about my business, when I can have unlimited revisions? I quickly gave them my information, credit card number, social security number, and bank account routing number, and we were off to the races.” Even though the project was a decoy, one year later; the fake Cheeses Of Nazareth Company is still waiting for the right identity. I rest my case.

See the full yearlong experiment: http://www.160over90.com/blog/2009/02/17/the-50-dollar-logo-experiment/

David Morin B.V.A.
Brand Artist

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Ultimate reward

Whatever we are graphic or web designer, I fondly believe that nothing comes closer from heaven than when a client tells you that you did such a great job that he cannot decide on a design and he will test both skins you created for his web strategy. Well, that situation happened to me not too long ago as I was invited to submit UI designs with different look & Feel to revamp an online corporation.

The client, Companies Incorporated is a very successful and trusted provider of business filing, incorporating, LLC and corporation formation services, as they are the Corporation Company Rated #1 in Customer Satisfaction.

Companies Incorporated always believed in branding, but never invested the time or resources required, to develop a brand that matched their aspirations. As the competition was growing bigger stronger in their field though, Companies Incorporated eventually felt the need to visually revamp brand to visually reposition them back at the top, were it belong, and keep their ranking in the market.

I decided to test three different approaches, one needed to be dropped as it was too dark which, from a legal point of view send the wrong message as the new age of business is based on transparency.

Submitted Designs
The two other designs where built around the idea of transparency and simplicity. Therefore I used big images, featuring an obvious and warm human presence. The layout is built on a white background with iPhone's like icons to ease and improve user's experience. Some minor tweaks later, the two new skins were ready to be tested.

Approved Designs
David Morin B.V.A.
Brand Artist

Monday, February 9, 2009

Cash4Gold rocks! That advertising snobs like it or not.

All right, everybody has his favorites but wait. As stated in another post, I always end up fighting with friends on who’s the big winner and big looser because I always question the effectiveness first. Last weekend, during the equivalent of the Cannes’ Lions, we witnessed something unique which makes it probably the most interesting Super Bowl ever for advertising.

First of all, America is getting through one of the worst economic situation since the great depression (actually, we’re half way there with a real unemployment rate that is somewhere around 15%). Because of that situation NBC had hard time to sell all its spots (I remember 5 days before the event, I was reading on Adage.com that NBC still had good spots available… something never seen before), we already knew right there that they would be forced to accept some weak spots to fill the gaps. That extreme measure taken from NBC led to the biggest controversy the next day; “What the hell was Cash4Gold with freakin Ed McMahon doing in Super Bowl XLIII?”

While people are still arguing trying to figure out the winner of Super Bowl XLIII (‘cause apparently someone shouldn’t qualify), whatever they like it or not… the winner is Cash4Gold. Big time!

You know, that whole situation reminds me of summer 1999…. Ahhhhhhhh! Campus life, parties, girls AND probably the summer of the most anticipated blockbusters as The Matrix came out as well as Start Wars Phantom Menace, Austin Powers The Spy Who Shagged Me and of Course Blair Witch Project. I remember going back to class at the end of August and one of my teachers asked “What’s been to your opinion the biggest blockbuster of the summer?” I can still hear people yelling “Star Wars!”, “Matrix!”, “Austin!” and finally our teacher said it was “Blair Witch Project”. Yes, that nauseous filmed low-budget horror movie that fooled a few people with a narrative presented as a documentary piece.

Well, it appeared like he was right. The nauseous piece of crap as we liked to call it back then, only cost an initial investment by the three filmmakers of about $35,000, and is to this day (thanks to the marketing geniuses at Artisan, suggesting that the movie was real event) one of the most successful independent film ever shot with a gross $248 million.

In many ways, the story we just witness with Cash4Gold is very similar to the Blair Witch Project phenomenon. Cash4Gold’s long time agency partner Euro RSCG Edge designed a campaign using (by accident) a rhetoric figure called anomaly. You may find rhetoric figures in the content of the ad, in the elements in the image (such as example bellow), in the use of the canvas or in this situation an anomaly in the pool of announcers (just as the Blair Witch Project in the pool of blockbusters) and it became most probably this year’s highest ratio of ROI to production. It was on everybody’s lips on Monday morning.

My own palmares of favorites however are Monster.com and Hulu as grand winners, and if we take a look at direct response commercials (which I believe are the future of advertising in this economy) is by far Denny’s with his free breakfast offer which generated a landslide of follow-up publicity across the country and got millions of people coming by car, bus, light rail and on foot to sample their food. Denny's CEO Nelson Marchioli estimated the company gave away 2 million breakfasts but if the promotion helps the company lift its lagging sales, it could be $15 million well spent.

I know a lot of people in the industry such as advertising observer Bob Garfield which stated earlier this week: “The truly scary thing is that …with the financial structures of advertising in a state of collapse, if creativity is so beside-the-point, then what is the point?” see it as a disgrace and being threatening for the industry. But being one of its survivors, I have to say that advertising has a taste of snobbery and when I read things like this, it confirms that today’s creatives are too often more interested in their own gratification than the client’s interest. For me, that’s the scary part as I witnessed a few horror stories in my career to back it up and it’s the subject of my post of January 3rd. That controversy in the industry is a great reality check and a well deserved slap in the face.

David Morin B.V.A.
Brand Artist

Monday, January 26, 2009

How do I choose a domain name? Should I go with www.whrp-prp.com or www.what-the-heck.com?

It is important to realize that a domain name is more than just a piece of property on the World Wide Web. It can build equity just like a house and it can become a powerful marketing tool that will drive traffic to your site… just like a well enjoyed home cooked meal can drive traffic to your bed, you just have to know how. Like in a lot of thing and David Ogilvy, one of the most prominent advertiser of all time, would agree “Simplicity still holds the truth, like the truth of a simple kiss.”

A well chosen domain name will help you with your SEO

First of all, chose a domain for your company AND for your product and have them both pointing to your website.

The spelling of your domain for your business should be as close as possible from your real company name. Don’t make the mistake of adding useless things to your domain such as “inc” or “ass” or else. Keep it pure, keep it simple. If your business is called “Joe the Plummer”, name it as such; http://www.joetheplummer.com. It will be much more memorable that way and please, PLEASE, stay away from acronyms that nobody can remember. Only concentrate on what’s memorable. Why? Just imagine the picture: you are in a networking event, you don’t have a business card on you nor a napkin and the guy in front of you is in a position to buy something from you. You can either tell him: “Please visit us online at http://www.dbblassoc.com”, just hoping that he’ll remember or you could say something like: “A great way to remember me is http://www.joetheplummer.com/.

Also, you should have another domain, named after your product that is pointing to your site. Be aware that a lot of people tend to remember the products before the company that makes it. Not convinced? Try to tell me right off the bat who’s the company behind Maxwell House Coffee… I rest my case.

If you are a small business owner, you should also buy your own name for the same reasons as those described above. A lot of entrepreneurs will push their name and reputations to sell a product.Having multiple domains pointing on the same website will help you with your ranking a bit but DON’T overdo it as it may produce the opposite effect and you may lose points on Google and Yahoo.

Make your domain a call to action

One of the most effective things you can do is making your domain name a call the action. Almost everybody that knows a bit about marketing knows what a call to action is and means. If you don’t, read bellow.

The whole idea behind a call to action is to get the potential customer to act. now! With traditional channels of communication such as TV, print Ads, billboard, Radio etc. a call to action would sound a little like: “Call Now. Toll Free. 24 Hours a Day. Mail this coupon today in the postage-paid envelope. Fax your response card.”

Just make sure to avoid passive phrases like: “You know how to reach us. Call when you're ready to order.”

Give your customers the perks of responding immediately. They'll be most likely to grab their wallets. If you take the same example as above where you attend a networking event and you are out of business cards. You'll be most likely to see that prospect converting into a client if you say something like: “A great way to remember me is: http://www.actnow.com/.”

Build your domain name out of popular searchesHuh….? Just know that most search engines will rank a site higher if it's named after what people are searching for. That’s cool SEO right there but wait a minute…. How do I do that?

There a very cool FREE keyword suggestion tool available through WordTracker. Go to http://freekeywords.wordtracker.com type a word or a combination of words related to your business such as “Flat Screen”. WordTracker will list the 100 most popular searches containing the words “Flat” and “Screen”. Today for instance, 538 people searched for “flat Screen tv”, 52 for “best flat screen tv” and 23 for “cheap flat screen tv”. You probably figured out that today, 23 POTENTIAL BUYERS!!! were looking for cheap flat screen TV and ironically http://www.cheapflatscreentv.com was still available this morning when I checked… I'm just saying. And if the search is too long, consider the use of dashes so it becomes easier to read.

My Point

Domain names are most probably among the most underestimated and cheapest marketing tools available that can truly make a difference in building your business. Make sure to choose the right one using the strategies above and if you already have a domain and didn’t think about that back then, consider a redirecting domains strategy.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Be careful what you wish for…

Every time I watch the Superbowl, I find myself (under the interrogative look of my friends) bitching about the effectiveness of "xyz" commercial that somehow succeeded in producing laughter among the audience. Then I start explaining that too often the joke becomes bigger than the brand and when it does, chances are you will most likely remember the punch line than the advertiser. If you just invested $2.6 million for a 30 sec. and everybody misses the point, it's a huge waste of money.

Unfortunately theses days, many advertising
professionals seems to put more emphasis on building their personal portfolio than on their client's interests. You must first ask yourself, do I want a great ROI or help somebody win an Oscar?

Back to Basic

After countless books written about how to get what you want in life and the common acceptance on the basics of the law of manifestations, we all seems to agree that the first thing for everything is clarity. Whatever you are aiming for, you must be clear on what you want to determine the purpose of our actions (as brilliantly explained by Jack Canfield in The Secret). Guess what? Those universal principles are not only true in your life but also in advertising.

If setting a goal and determining the purpose of an ad before designing it sounds obvious for some, it always amazes me when I see brilliant creatives from famous agencies prioritizing their personal glory instead of goal oriented results.

A Real Case Tragedy
This is the sad story of Meubles Napert. Meubles Napert was a very prosper family owned furniture store chain. When Kevin, the youngest son, took over the company and decided to invest massively in his positioning, he hired one of the most dynamic, provocative and successful young ad agency in the province called AMEN.

The agency advised Mr. Napert to go with a powerful and provocative generic campaign featuring real clients of the retailer having as last names, the name of their main competitors (Most of furniture stores in Canada are named after their founder). The above ad was saying “Leon is shopping at Napert” and was targeting the national giant, Leon’s http://www.leons.ca/.

The campaign was praised by the creative industry, as the agency found a brilliant and funny way to build a relationship between the advertiser and its competitors, and created a lot of controversy among Napert’s competition.

Praised by some, hated by others, the campaign was on everybody’s lips. It was a pure success but 7 months later, the company filed for chapter 11. What went wrong? Of course not everything was to blame on the campaign but nevertheless, the campaign failed to bring sales up because while everybody else were advertising queen size mattresses for $599, Napert was spending money advertising the fact that their advertising agency was more creative than those of the competition.

The agency failed in either listen to its client who’s been successfully selling furniture for years or in learning about how to successfully sell in this industry.

Bottom line
Before even thinking about doing ANY advertising attempt, always determine your purpose by asking yourself: What’s my objective? Why am I advertising? What results do I want to produce? If you want to sell more, advertise as such. It may look less sexy and you might not win a prize for creativity but at least you will bring more sales.

A great creative campaign can definitely make you but also destroy you if it fails to produce the anticipated results. Do a furniture retailer need an award winning creative campaign to take its business to the next level? This is something a client objectives driven agency should have ask themselves before taking Napert’s money. As we all know, an Oscar doesn’t necessarily translate in a blockbuster success and vice and versa. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of purpose that will lead every choice in any productions. Keep that in mind when you choose your agency or agree on a concept.

David Morin B.A.V.
Brand Artist