Want a Better Brand? Mind The Details.

Picture this: you walk into a house that’s for sale. On the left, you see a thoughtfully designed living room. Instantly, you start forming an idea about the people who live there. Then you glance to the right, and see an office in total disarray—dog toys strewn on the floor, papers everywhere, stacks of books. Yes, this could anyone’s home office, even mine…actually, it is mine. But I digress. What do those contrasting sights tell you, a prospective buyer, about the condition of the place? Does it hint that some parts of the house are well-cared for, while others are ignored? Are you left questioning if the place is truly for YOU?

So it goes with brands, too. The most solid logo and tagline won’t uphold your brand if your messaging isn’t just as strong. If the language in your ads, on your website, on social media and even your emails’ out-of-office message tell your story in a slightly different way, that’s bad. As in a long-horizontal-crack-in-your-home’s-foundation kind of bad.

And let’s not forget the people who who represent your brand. When asked to explain what your organization or product or city or whatever is all about, do they answer the same way, and on message? Or do they wing it and put their own spin on the story? If it’s the latter, they are undermining your brand every time they open their mouths. Ouch, your brand’s foundational crack just got wider.

The takeaway? Details shape — and sustain — your brand. And your messaging is the carrier of those details.

Just like that house making its debut on the market, your brand gets one chance to make a first impression. So get your brand story right and tight. Stick to the message, follow the brand guidelines. Make sure everyone on the team understands why it matters, and is willing and able share it in the very same way. Put your brand’s house in order, mind the details, and you’ll stand out … right from the get-go.

8 Years, 8 Lessons: What Every Entrepreneur Should Know (According to Me)

In September 2010, I started Lynchpin Ideas. My hope: do what I love, and don’t go broke. I had a business plan, but … it was not a good one. Let’s just say the first six months proved to be a failure — and lesson in humility. So I promptly hit “reset” and got busy networking, and quickly had an “aha” moment thanks to insight from someone unexpected. I changed my plan and got to work. Fast forward eight years, and we’re still growing strong. What lessons have I learned along the way? So many. But as this is a digital forum, and brevity is Queen, here are eight that might help you on your own journey into entrepreneurdom.

Set your intentions. Intentions are powerful things. When you define them, and tell even one person (for me, it was a close friend), they quickly become real. Mine were big picture, like working directly with “deciders,” doing work that would make a difference, and doing work that I love.

Define a business plan. Mine was vague, but clear enough that it enabled me to define the type of work I wanted to do, and for whom I wanted to do it.

Work your network. Your network is your ticket to referrals — the very best sources of new business. Have lunch. Do drinks. Often. Get your elevator speech down. You’ll need it.

Lean on your mentors. My mentors have been, and remain, my lifeline. I could not have launched or sustained my company (or my work/life balance) without them. I rely on them for advice about hiring, office space, business stuff in general, clients, haircuts, and more.

Be open to offering new services. Your clients are your lifeblood, so if they want you to provide something slightly outside your wheelhouse but well within something you are able to do, consider it. Could you do it well? Is it something you can market to another client down the road?

Be grateful, but selective. Tell your clients how much you appreciate them. Lift their burden when you can. But don’t forget there is only so much of you, or your team, to go around. It’s easy for large companies to scale up but harder fiscally for a small firm to do the same. So serve carefully, and only accept new projects or clients that align with what you do best.

Embrace growth when you’re ready. Growth is wonderful. And really, really scary. When you find yourself at the crossroads of Growth and Fear, head for growth. Proceed with confidence (you’re here for a reason, right?) and caution (do your forecasting, know your numbers, hire someone smarter than you) so you don’t lose sleep at night. OK, you’ll lose sleep for a while, but this too shall pass. Trust me.


Should I change my logo?

We know how it is: you’ve had the same logo for the last five years. It works. There’s nothing wrong with it. But, like your favorite t-shirt, you’re a little “over it” and find yourself asking: Is it time for a change?

Like your shirt, it may be time for an update if:

  • it no longer fits (your mission)
  • no longer showcases your best assets
  • or hopelessly out of date-trendy (“I’m With Stupid,” anyone?)

If you read those bullets and said, yep, that sounds just like my company or City or program or product’s logo…then yes, it may be time for a change. Or at least a refresh. That might mean a new color update, because everyone is tired of blue and maroon is very 80’s. Or it may mean an updated font that works on your big sign or your small app icon (you thought about that, right?). Maybe it’s just time for a refresh because leadership changed, the mission has been refined, or something substantial shifted and you need to start a positive conversation about it.

A new or refreshed logo can do all of those things.

But what if you did NOT nod your head to any of those three bullets? Well then, don’t throw out the logo because you’re personally tired of it. Doing so always indicates that something has changed. And if it hasn’t, you’re sparking an unnecessary conversation. So if the T-shirt, e.g. logo still fits, reflects your mission well and wasn’t influenced by some long-gone design trend, then stick with it.

So while you may be over your logo, unless it’s just “wrong” for the reasons outlined here, chances are it should stick around, just like your favorite T. Otherwise, your clients may get confused … and become “over you” instead. Eeesh.

5 Bits of Wisdom for Young Creatives

What do I wish I knew when I started in my career that I do now? Plenty. But here are 5 things that might help you sidestep a bit of stress:

People who have no writing talent not only think they can write, they think they can do it better than you. Thanks,

People who have no design abilities will think they know how to make what you’ve created a little better.

Account people that think hard about strategy and give you what you need to creatively solve the client’s problem are few and far between. When you meet one, stay in touch. For life.

Your job is to seek out everything you need (e.g., strategy, background) so you can do the job. If the account person doesn’t give it to you, go find it yourself.

You’ll never be 100% satisfied with your work. If you are, you’re a narcissist and should transfer to PR. Kidding.

What is “Enough?”

The word “enough,” it’s been said, holds a different meaning for everyone. Enough food to eat. Enough money to pay your bills. Enough coats for the kids when it turns cold.

“Enough” applies to business too — and everyone has their own idea of what it is. Enough new business in the hopper. Enough referrals coming in. Enough attention. Enough attraction.

That got me to thinking about acquiring new clients. How many constitutes “enough?” Is it a magical number to attain a financial goal? To get it, would you keep a client whom you couldn’t serve well, and vise versa, just to keep them? Or would you let them go, trust the flow and open yourself up to more business from your best clients?

The way I look at it, tempting as it is to say “yes,” when business knocks at your door, if you free the clients you know in your heart are not the best fit, they’ll find their way to a company who is. And that in turn will open you up to getting more from your best clients, or perhaps to discovering a new “best” client. It may even free you up to help a nonprofit, or take a seat on the board of some organization that matters to you.

Either way, it opens the door to something more. A new “best.” And that’s enough for me.

The Conglomerization of Creativity (and Why it Scares Me).

I live in Kansas City, and we boast a wonderful marquee destination called The Country Club Plaza. It’s said to be the nation’s first outdoor shopping area, and so beautiful that it’s a favorite of locals and tourists alike. Thousands come to see it decked in festive lights at Christmastime, while in warmer months, its restaurants are brimming with diners and sidewalks jammed with shoppers. Sounds appealing, doesn’t it?

Well, yes. And no. To those of us who remember the Plaza as it used to be — before it was “conglomerized,” it’s lost some edge. Prior to that, our beloved Plaza was home to mostly local and regional shops, scores of incredible independent restaurants, and a prestige department store or two. But a sale by family ownership to an out of town management group took care of that. Today, it’s pretty much like Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, or even more sad, New York’s once Bohemian SoHo. Like these, our Plaza has become one of those generic “destinations.”

This formulated experience has been researched and relaunched to appeal to as many folks as possible. Young, old, hip, not, gay, straight, hey, there’s something for you. Now, no matter what city you visit, you can have pretty much the same shopping and dining experience in one city as another. Want to buy a piece of clothing that isn’t sold in 100 other shops across the country? Want to sample daily repast from a local restaurant? Happy hunting. Welcome to BlandLandia.

The same kind of conglomerization is happening in America’s advertising arena. What was once a creative sandbox of an industry where bright thinkers, imaginative creatives and aggressive sales people ruled has become the playground of the highest bidder.

Why should you care? Because conglomerization just may spell Blandlandia for your Brand. One thing that could happen once all the independents have been gobbled up by a few big firms is that all the originality that made them appealing in the first place could get lost in the chewing. Will the similar processes, similar philosophies and similar approaches yield similar solutions? One approach fits all?

Sounds about as appealing as dinner from a chain restaurant while wearing the same skinny jeans as everyone else. Me, I vote for the originals, the independents, the pioneers who dare to think for themselves and offer up fresh solutions, tailor made for each individual client.

Your brand deserves it. As does your stomach. And your backside.

Prime the Pump & Trust the Flow

As a small business owner, I know what it takes to keep the new business pump primed. It’s an ongoing process — you can’t afford to let up for even one day. Do it right, and chances are you’ll have enough work to keep you and your team busy, or at least working at an even pace.

So what happens when you find yourself in the enviable position of having a new business pipeline that’s overflowing? You could panic. Or rejoice. Or, like most entrepreneurs, a mix of both. Or, you could relax and execute your plan for peak season. It all boils down to that old Scouting credo: Be prepared. If you’re in the creative business, here are a few things to consider:

1. Work your resources. Whether it’s employees, part-time or freelance professionals, have your bench stocked with talent. Let employees know in advance that a busy few days (or weeks) are coming. Let them know you’re counting on them to help you meet the client’s needs, but …

2. Don’t work your staff to a frazzle. Asking them to work extra hard to meet an occasional tough deadline is one thing. Doing so on a regular basis is another — and bad — thing. Know what your staff can do, when they are likely to hit a wall, and be prepared to share the load with freelance or part-time talent. Fresh eyes and attitudes not only help the work get done, it motivates your team to do even more.

3. Dig in yourself and supervise the work. You can’t expect your staff to handle the heavy lifting and manage extra resources too. That’s your job. Make sure the work being done is to your high standards. Pitch in and do some of it yourself. After all, it’s your name on the door.

4. Praise your team for a job well done. A few words of gratitude go a very long way.

5. Accept that against all odds, deadlines will often just get met. I don’t know why this is, but somehow the work just seems to get done. A hot project suddenly isn’t, or the scope changes, or someone goes out of town and it buys you a few days. Whatever the situation, serendipity often takes a hand in making schedules work out. I don’t know how or why it works. I only know that it does.

So when the pump has been well primed and business is overflowing, don’t freak out. Just execute your plan, pull in your talent, and trust the flow. It’s a good thing.

Independence Day (for your brand)

“We want our voice to be like Apple’s.”
O. M. G.

Please, please whatever you do – if you’re working with a firm to reload your brand, do NOT tell them this.

Frankly … you cannot be Apple. There is already an Apple and they do really well at being Apple. In fact they are the masters of Planet Apple.

OK but … you admire them. Envy them. Would love to have some of that magic. But you can’t be Apple. But you can think like Apple.

Start by considering how they became Apple. They thought about the audience they wanted to attract – and only them. They focused on the kind of product they wanted to make. Then they told this audience about it, in a way they could relate to. Apple didn’t compromise their message to be safe or secure. And they sure didn’t “borrow” it from any other brand. They decided to declare their independence from the status quo and do their own thing.

So when it’s time to create or refine your brand voice, proclaim your independence from what other brands are doing. Be original. It’s the best possible way to declare your brand’s relevance.