Trust: Earned and Unearned

trust-fall1The brilliant Seth Godin (how many times have I typed that phrase?) explored the issue of trust in one of his blog posts about a year ago, and he raised a fascinating point.

All the ways that we think we — individuals or companies — need to act in order to build trust might be wrong.

They’re not wrong in the sense of creating mistrust. But they might not be very effective compared to the shorthand heuristics we actually use as consumers, voters or friends to decide whom to trust.

Why do we trust brands like Apple or Google or Evernote? Have they been so transparent, so altruistic, so consistent, so authentic that we should hand over our most sensitive data to them? Do we know enough about them in order to truly trust them? And would we even be willing to take the time to find out?

No, probably not. Our lives are just too complex, too fast-moving, and there’s too much information to evaluate. Instead we trust online reviews, Consumer Reports, MSNBC or Fox (your call), or even Seth Godin himself, to tell us the truth and help us make decisions. The world is so large and we are so small and fallible, there’s no way we can know the future or predict the kind of complex behavior of which humans and their companies are capable. So we jump off the cliff in good faith, using our best guess, and hoping we’re right.

What are the clues we use? For people, it’s body language, choice of words, a look in the eyes, a sense of the familiar. For brands, it’s product design, packaging, graphics, warranties, a voice, a website. And for both it’s referrals. Other people’s experiences are the biggest touchstones. Making sure their experiences are good ones— keeping your promises, correcting your missteps, treating people with respect — all are indicators that trust is a safe choice.

Unfortunately, charlatans know how to play us. We trust our gut instincts and sometimes those instincts are wrong. But mostly, I think humans have evolved to have pretty good bullshit detection systems. We can be suckered to a point. But if we trust our antennae, we usually head down the right path. Eventually.

Want to read more? Check out Seth’s blog.

 

Giant Sealy stretches —and wakes up the industry

For the past year, we’ve been working on a complicated, many-faceted brand refresh for Sealy — part of the world’s largest mattress manufacturer, Tempur Sealy International.

It involved a major rethinking and overhaul of the entire structure of their product line, brand architecture and marketing presentation.

On January 20, at the enormous Las Vegas Market trade show, the company announced the update and revealed the new line to stellar industry reaction. The brand was re-energized — and so were Sealy’s own sales staff and their national retail customers. The excited response was universally positive. We’re relieved (whew!) and delighted!

FreeAssociates was involved from the earliest stages, meeting with the brand experience team and brand managers, sales execs, product designers, ad agency and strategists to help define the brand, clarify its position, and craft its messaging.

Dozens of concepts were floated and vetted, tested and refined, through a grueling but thorough process that left no stone unturned. Over many months the design vocabulary was established and tweaked, until a powerful, unified evolution of the brand emerged.

Under the watchful eyes and thoughtful leadership of Director of Brand Experience Karl Myers and his Senior Manager Jonah Nelson, we crafted a comprehensive new branding system.

FreeAssociates has developed a refined version of the logo, color palette, the master brand style guide, point of sale displays and materials, product labeling, a feature icon system, sales guide, product guide, trade show campaign graphics and all the displays and information graphics for Sealy’s 14,000 s.f. permanent showroom at Las Vegas Market (interior designed by Jhipo Hong).

We’re truly grateful to be working with this talented Sealy team and to have an opportunity to help affect the course of their venerable 130-year-old brand.

For the full story, take a look at this article in Furniture World.

FreeAssociates wins Silver from Graphis Design Annual

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Graphis magazine is one of the most prestigious publications in our industry. And being accepted into their 2017 Design Annual is truly an honor.

Our re-branding of the COPi Companies as Legistics recently won a Silver award in the very competitive Branding category. We’re proud of the award, but prouder still of the work we did. We’ve helped Legistics move into a new mode, leaving behind their 1980’s copy-centric identity and creating a brand that speaks to the broader, deeper collaborative relationships these Professionals at Practice Support bring to their large law firm customers.

rainy-porsche Our work included renaming the company, developing the logo, and redesigning everything from a new website (which has won awards itself) to forms, signage, document boxes (their most visible form of “advertising”), uniforms, delivery trucks and even the race car that won the IMSA Continental Tire Championship this season.

Take a look at some of the program elements on the Graphis website. Many, many thanks to CEO Phil Frengs and Legistics for giving us the opportunity to create such a bold, exciting design solution.

My favorite books on branding (so far)

My friend and leadership group buddy Cheryl asked a bunch of us for our favorite books on branding. I sent her these, and thought I’d post them here for all of you, too.  I’d love it if you shared your favorites in the comments.

Brand is Four Letter Word:
Positioning and the Real Art of Marketing
by Austin McGhie
This is a smart, opinionated overview from the president of Sterling Brands’ Strategy Group with deep experience on the both the client side and the agency side of things. There’s a good interview with him on the Design Matters podcast that will give you a taste of the book. He hates the word “branding”. He contends that a brand is simply a relationship, and that you can’t “brand” anything, you can only position it.

World Famous:
How to Give Your Business a Kick-Ass Brand Identity
by David Tyreman
This is a workbook on defining your brand. I’ve used it as a rough guide in leading two companies through a deep evaluation and redefinition of their brand strategy and found it very helpful. Tyreman worked with Polo Ralph Lauren, Nike, Banana Republic and many other companies and has a kind of enthusiastic upbeat approach that works. I find him a little relentlessly self-promotional, but the core stuff is great.

Start With Why:
How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
by Simon Sinek
Probably my favorite thinker about clarifying who you are and what your purpose is, and letting that drive what you create — as a company and as a person. First got turned onto him by a friend at an agency who was using his concepts in everything they were doing for their clients and themselves. I have drunk the kool-aid.

The Brand Gap:
How to Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design
by Marty Neumeier
Practical and highly visual, Neumeier presents his ideas in an entertaining and very valuable way. Easy to read. Fun to look it. Awesome cover design. “Fresh” and “relevant” to quote some of the blurbs. Many clear and simple ideas, but not “light” ones. The guy has thought through his subject and distilled it well.

Purple Cow — or practically any of his other books
by Seth Godin
This guy is the big thinker about positioning and marketing businesses. Huge influence, unafraid and committed to getting people out of the fear-driven culture and finding their art as business people. Purple Cow is about being different and remarkable — the essence of a good brand. I have to admit I didn’t like it at first; it seemed a little contrived and precious. But as I’ve delved deeper into Godin’s world through blog posts, interviews and other books, the principles just make more and more sense.

Your turn.

An abstract approach to brand identity

Green Hasson Janks folder with reflections

Varnished surfaces add surprise to this corporate presentation piece.

We recently finished a presentation kit for the Los Angeles-based accountants and business advisors Green Hasson Janks. Ordinarily a folder isn’t something I’d crow about. But this one’s really special.

Designed as a container for new business presentations, it features an unexpected twist on the firm’s key graphic element — a bold ampersand with an upward arrow known in the firm as the Uppersand. It’s their symbol of collaboration and is featured prominently in all their marketing materials and advertising. (More on that next week.)

We deconstructed the symbol, overlaying copies of it to create beautiful abstract shapes where the solid portions overlap. As you open the folder, these shapes resolve into the actual ampersand which is fully revealed on the three-panel interior.

GHJ Folder animationThe effect is enhanced by the overall velvety matte aqueous coating which plays against the mirror-gloss finish of spot UV varnish. That high shine reveals the full ampersand as the abstract graphic elements merge. This coming together to create a powerful whole is, of course, the whole point. It’s a message that’s subtly alluded to by our visuals, and strongly stated in the text.

Kudos to our senior designer Kevin Consales for this beautiful concept, to ColorNet Press for the meticulous execution, and to Green Hasson Janks for the courage to try something powerfully different as an expression of their brand identity.

New FreeAssociates site

Come on down! We’ve launched our new and improved website today. And we’d love to share it with you.

We invite your comments and suggestions. Thanks for your interest, your support and your friendship. We can’t do this without you.

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Networking: Good? Bad? Ugly?

Our business has almost always come through referrals. I’ve done some direct selling, but usually designer/client relationships are built on something else: a seed of trust. When trust exists, people are willing to recommend you. We’ve been lucky to get recommended often.

Knowing that, it’s interesting that I discovered the concept of networking groups only recently. My brother’s wonderful girlfriend who’s an attorney suggested Provisors. Shortly afterward, a truly talented Santa Monica florist, Mark Herrier of Fleurs du Jour, called me up and invited me to Westside Referrals Network. They’re very different groups, but both are intriguing.

So I’d like to know what you think about networking groups — in general or specifically. If you can post a comment, I’d really love to hear about your experiences, get your advice about whether they work and find out which ones you might have tried. I’m sure others would be curious as well.

As John McWade says, “Let’s talk.”

Bands really should play in unison

The music program at Santa Monica High School (known affectionately as Samohi) is legendary. Last year, their Jazz Band swept the national high school competition at Berklee School of Music in Boston, blowing away some 300 other schools. Listening to them play is astonishing. All the various bands — jazz, marching and concert — are near-professional quality, and performances are always a treat.

Robb Brown, who tirelessly volunteers in support of the program, and whose son Eli is a stellar trumpet player, asked me to create a system of logos that would unify all three bands under the aegis of their parent program, yet still give each its own unique identity. The new visuals had to work on t-shirts and signs, as well as print materials and websites.

Here are the four new logos, each with its own sensibility, yet with elements — shapes and, especially, the school’s own blue and gold color scheme — that pull them together under one umbrella.

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Blumark brand identity launched

Blumark logoDynamic. Different. Distinctive. The new Detroit-based financial advisory group wanted to be perceived as anything but traditional. So they chose a name that would set them apart: Blumark. And they picked a marketing and public relations strategist who could help them find their voice: Sablan Communications. And Constance Sablan introduced them to FreeAssociates.

Our goal was to embody the youth, energy and vitality of the new start-up, but to temper it with a little warmth and and a lot of professionalism. In their words, “Traditional values. Innovative financial solutions.”

The crisp, clean typography says “We know what we’re doing.” The handmade brushstroke — the circular “mark” — speaks to the personal, human relationships that the partners forge with their clientele. And the single blue letter provides both focus and hook, letting the marketing team talk about how “U” are at the center of everything Blumark does.

Simple, bold and memorable, the new Blumark logo should drive the the Motor City firm’s branding efforts forward in high gear.

Target site crashes with style

Target "too much traffic" pageIf anyone ever doubts the value of design, just point them here. As usual, the amazing Target has done it again.

With the launch this morning of their Missoni collaboration, both the stores and the website were inundated. Everything sold out in a matter of hours. And this lovely splash screen was their way of dealing with all the traffic. Here’s what the first paragraph of light gray type says: “We are suddenly extremely popular. You may not be able to access our site momentarily due to unusually high traffic. Please stay here and we’ll try to get you in as soon as we can!”

Note those words “extremely popular”. Note that the only reference to the name of the company on the entire page is the dog’s name badge. Note that the tone is welcoming and friendly with a touch of self-humor. Note how everything about it is intended to delight the viewer. There is absolutely nothing about this page that is safe or expected from a mass market retailer. Note that this page could not exist on any other company’s website.

Now look at your own materials and see if they reflect whatever is unique about your company. Could someone else slap their name on your website or brochure and use it? If so, maybe it’s time to rethink how you’re branding your products and services. Maybe you need to be you, instead of being safe. As Seth Godin says, “You’re either remarkable or invisible. Make your choice.” Target did, and it’s paying off big time.