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.

Staying the course

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This full page ad ran on the cover of the List section.
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Sometimes one of the hardest things to do is to maintain a message and an idea. People inside your company often get bored long before your target audience even notices what’s going on.

True, we’ve done some campaigns that change completely each year. But usually those were for events and the goal was to create a sense of freshness each time. The Revlon Run/Walk for Women and the Mercedes-Benz Cup Tennis Tournament fell into that category.

But often, clients are antsy to abandon things too soon. It’s the longer view that creates relationships, not the anxious panic that sets in when you’ve been working with the same idea for a while and you think your audience is already bored just because you are.

Trust me. They have other stuff on their minds. You’re really not that important to them. With infrequent placement and a limited budget, they’re barely starting to notice you.

Okay, now the other side of the coin.

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This half-page ad ran inside the List section as a follow-on from the cover ad.
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If you have a solid theme, a powerful idea, you can milk it. Stick with it — but play with it, expand on it or extend it in ways that keep things fresh, entertaining and engaging.

Our Collaboration campaign for Green Hasson Janks seems to get more interesting the more we develop it. The stories (thanks to writer Emily Hutta) are fascinating and surprising. And the collection becomes even stronger as a series.

We’re in our second year and this concept just keeps going. The latest incarnation appears this morning (Monday, March 11) in the Los Angeles Business Journal in the List section on Top L.A. Law Firms. The QR code links readers to the Green Hasson Janks website for the full tale.

Take a look. Even you might be curious about how P.T. Barnum and Jenny Lind’s legal contract was so central to their success.

Further collaboration with Green Hasson Janks

GHJ King Tut Ad

Our campaign for Green Hasson Janks in the Los Angeles Business Journal continues this week with a new ad in the series featuring Howard Carter, the archaeologist who discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamen in 1922 and his backer and mentor, George Herbert, Fifth Earl of Carnarvon.

Their story has fascinated generations, and is another great example of collaboration, the theme of the ads and the guiding principle of Green Hasson Janks’s relationships with their clients.

The ad appears on the cover of this issue’s list of accounting firms, and is followed by a smaller one inside that adds more to the tale. A QR code directs readers to the company’s website where the complete story unfolds.

Check out the LABJ this week. And visit the Green Hasson Janks site to read all the examples of amazing historical collaborations.

(Here’s a link to the previous post about the campaign, too.)

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.


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.”

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.

Oooooh, baby! A new catalog for Lambs & Ivy.

This company lives and breathes babies. They’ve spent the last 30+ years crafting everything for the nursery — from bedding to accessories, from lamps to mobiles — and have earned a place as one of the most respected brands in their category.

We’ve worked with partners Cathy Ravdin and Barbara Laiken-Adams on special projects almost since they started the company, designing their brand identity, new lines of packaging, advertising and collateral material. We even created a couple of characters for their bedding lines along the way.

Each year, they do a thematic push for the ABC Kids Expo,including an ad campaign, trade booth graphics and a mini-catalog to show off all their latest goodies.

We produced their show ad campaign again this year, and a variant of it for their catalog. Soft and sweet, this charming cover image is designed to appeal to retail buyers and to closely identify the Lambs & Ivy brand with the gentle wonder of a newborn exploring her world.

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.