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Archive for September 2010

signs . Hwy 31S No.1

Alliteration and barber pole marketing in Lena, Mississippi.

Does Your Logo Need Re-Working? 5 Questions

Over the years, I’ve found that one of the key marketing elements many businesses struggle with is their logo. It’s one of the most basic components of a good branding and marketing strategy, and yet, it’s also something that often creates the most headache and confusion. Developing a single image that adequately conveys your company’s offerings is a daunting task. And, you don’t just want it to “adequately convey.” You want it to ATTRACT customers to your products and services. Add to that the personal stake most entrepreneurs and small business owners have in the way their life’s work and passion is portrayed, and the logo development process can produce trepidation in even the most seasoned client.

I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about logos lately with a few Small Pond clients who are in the thick of the logo development process. In addition, I’ve had several colleagues and friends approach me to help them evaluate their business logos to try and gauge effectiveness. Whether it’s a completely new concept or an image you’ve been using for years, how do you know if your logo design could use a tune-up? How can you make this key piece of your marketing plan work to your best benefit? It’s true that when used consistently, almost any image you’ve chosen can come to be associated with your business over time. But, is what you’re using really matching the achievement and potential of your ideas, your products and your services? In my conversations, I’ve been stressing a few questions to consider when judging whether a logo is really working for you.

Is it FLEXIBLE? Is your logo readable in both large and small applications (billboards to business cards, jumbotron to iphones)? Can it be used in both horizontal and vertical formats? Does it convey your image just as well in one color as in full color? Flexibility is the key to consistency. And consistency will make or break your logo’s effectiveness. Make sure the logo design you adopt has the flexibility to serve the breadth of your marketing needs.

Does it have LONGEVITY? Does it strike a balance between timely and timeless? Does it give your image a “look” that is independent of trends? Will it represent your business appropriately 10 years from now? The worst marketing investment you can make is in a logo design that will be dated in a year, or even two. When your logo is too trendy, your customers’ confidence level can take a hit. An outdated logo creates the impression that your products, services and abilities are outdated as well. On the other hand, a logo that maintains a timeless image has the added benefit of upping the professionalism-quotient of your business.

Is it APPEALING? Does it create positive impressions of your business among your specific customer base AND the general marketplace? Does it cause your business to stand out in the crowd? Does it encourage the audience to take a longer look? Your company logo is never going to appeal to everyone. That’s just an unrealistic goal, but consider your specific target audience when determining the imagery and typefaces used in your logo. You want potential customers to make favorable associations with your choices. In addition, you want your choices to produce interest and curiosity in the broader audience.

Is it APPROPRIATE? Does it reflect the reality of what you do? Does it communicate what you have to offer and your business style? Does it interpret your company goals and services for the public? Does it create the image you want your business to be known for? Part of developing an effective logo is helping your customers draw a line between your company’s image and what you actually offer, how you actually deal with customers and your actual approach to business. One should reinforce the other. An appropriate logo helps the audience recognize the “tone” of what you have to offer and how you’ll relate to them in a real-life encounter.

Are you using it CONSISTENTLY? As I mentioned earlier, consistency will make or break your logo’s effectiveness. Even the most well-designed, timeless, appealing, appropriate and flexible logo won’t be effective if it is not used consistently in your marketing efforts. Don’t compromise when it comes to presenting your business to the public. Include your logo on every piece of information about your business that your customers will see. Invest in licenses for the typefaces used in your logo so that they can be applied to other items like proposal headings or even invoices. Be watchful with vendors and advertising outlets to ensure that your logo is being used correctly on promotional items. This consistency will help your audience begin to automatically associate the logo with your business, products and services.

favorite things . Ferns

I’m always so intrigued by the ways designers derive inspiration from nature. The natural world provides a wealth of examples for pattern, texture and color combinations. These examples are often immediately pleasing to our eyes, and we can easily recognize them as “well-designed” because we see them “naturally” in the environment all around us.

In marketing and image development, natural forms like plants or leaves can be used even in unrelated industries and business types to provide a more organic presence for disciplines that might otherwise be less people-friendly. Using imagery, patterns and textures from nature often provides immediate positive associations for the audience when used in promotional or marketing pieces.

The repeating patterns of leaves have always been a great source of design inspiration for me. And, I’m not alone. This week, I’m inspired by FERNS, in particular, and by these great designers who’ve used them to produce some outstanding and well-designed products.

Palace Papers: You may have already read of my love of the Palace Papers line of wallpaper and fabric patterns. I think “herringbone” is my favorite pattern of all time. I love menswear styles anyway, and the added serendipity of seeing the fern fronds forming the texture just knocked my socks off from the moment I saw it.

Flock Home: I love this shop filled with hand-printed linens including pillows, cocktail napkins, cloth napkins and this fabulous fern-inspired tea towel. The simplicity of Gina’s custom designs showcase the very essence of the flora and fauna inspiring her.

Honeybee: Amy Moore describes her jewelry line as “wearable sculpture inspired by the natural world,” and it’s an apt phrase. Her sterling silver creations are simply outstanding. Just look at how delicate the fern fronds in this ring design are! The textures she’s created in her designs are subtle, but stunning.

Appetite: The bags, wallets and scarfs created by Erin Albin are made with her custom-designed and hand silk-screened materials. Screen printing is near and dear to my heart, so I love products that are well-designed and use this time-honored technique. The gentle curl of this hobo bag fern pattern give it a nice delicacy that contrasts with the canvas fabric.

[Pond Notes: Etsy.com is one of my favorite places to find inspiring design work. Sometimes I type in a random word or object in the search feature to start the process of discovery. Give it try! You are sure to be inspired as well.]

living . When Staying the Same Isn’t an Option

When Staying the Same Isn’t an Option

Thank God in Heaven above; 3-year-old Bug has put his tee-tee AND his doo-doo in the potty for the last three weeks. Plus, he wore his big boy Elmo underwear every day AND night. And was excited about it.

For weeks (maybe even months) I had been attempting to get him to try the underwear. “Look! There’s Elmo. And cookie monster.” I sang and danced in my best Elmo impersonation. “Potty time, potty time…” I cajoled in an attempt at positive peer pressure. “Big boys wear these.” Bug was totally unconvinced. He was WAY too smart (and independent minded) for that argument. I mean, this is a boy who is three, but insists he’s “pretending I’m four.” Alas, the typical Mommy-tactics were useless. So, I took comfort in the words of the Queen, my friend, mentor and mother of two fully potty-trained adults–“Nobody ever walked down the aisle in diapers”–and decided to wait it out. As with all things Bug, he usually has to make up his own mind before any efforts at convincing have a snowball’s chance of succeeding.

Then, it happened. Three weeks ago, the stars aligned with my overworked brain and dang if I didn’t forget to put 2T pull-ups on the grocery list. Yep, my oversight did not become apparent until AFTER bath time when we would normally pull on the pull-up. I searched the house and every conceivable traveling or school bag to no avail. There were no more pull-ups. Rather than letting Bug stand there in his shimmies while I scooted the minivan to the grocery store at 9:00pm, I thought we could just use one of the old diapers for the night. “Why don’t we just put this on tonight and Mommy can get you some tomorrow.” Yeah right.

The moment of truth. The tipping point. The straw that broke the pull-up’s Buzz Lightyear-clad back. Whatever you want to call it; for Bug, it was a literal defining moment. And I quote… “Babies wear diapers.”

I’m not sure at what point in his doo-doo journey he came to that conclusion, but clearly on this night he had arrived and there was no turning back. Where only a mere 12 hours before he had been content to be a “big boy” wearing pull-ups, before my eyes “big boy” took on a whole new meaning. The diaper differentiation was made and “big boy” was redefined. At one time being a “big boy” meant wearing pull-ups emblazoned with Buzz, or if you were really cool, Lightning McQueen. With pull-ups out of the equation, suddenly the parameters shifted. As they so often do.

It made me think. When staying the same isn’t an option, what do we do?

I haven’t written about my 2010 theme word in a while–the pursuit of COURAGE, learning it and living it. This episode with my 3-year-old brought it back to the forefront of my mind–a mind that perhaps needed a clear reminder of the courage required for growth.

We all reach that point at times in our lives when we realize that going back really means going backwards. It’s a defining moment just like the pull-up fiasco was for Bug. At that moment, when it’s apparent that staying where we are–staying the same–is simply out of the realm of what our own hearts can accept, things get redefined and repositioned pretty quickly. When faced with the choice of going back or moving forward, we often see ourselves in a whole new light, by a whole new definition. Our concepts of what we’re able to do and who we want to be transform. And facing those realities takes courage. Acting on them and stepping out into that new definition of ourselves takes even more.

When it comes right down to realities, what part of life ISN’T a choice of moving forward or going back? Nature teaches that the process of growing only includes a finite time period of hybernation before it becomes stagnation. To be alive is to grow and change, or to become toxic and begin the process of NOT living. In those moments, defining and differentiating progress becomes one of the greatest acts of courage.

Bug decided that very night that Elmo underwear was an acceptable option. In fact, it was a preferable alternative to the babyhood of diapers. He put them on and had no accidents during the night. “Big boy”-ness, the expanded edition, had been achieved. Beyond that, it only took one experience of having doo-doo in those sesame street numbers to convince Bug that was no longer the way to go. Presto. Surprisingly, he’s only had a handful of accidents at preschool, at home or in bed since that night. In his process of growing toward more maturity and independence, it took removing just one thing from the option box (by accident), and the game completely changed. Actually, for Bug, game over. His mind was made up and potty training was done.

I so admire this little guy–his courage, his determination, his gusto, and yes, even his “my way or the highway” attitude. In one fell swoop his definition of being a “big boy” grew beyond his comfort zone, and he embraced it without blinking an eye. I’m so inspired by that sheer resolve NOT to go backwards. A good lesson.

signs . Lena, MS No.1

A recent stop in my observation of Small Pond, Mississippi was the town of Lena along Highway 31 South. You can read more of my thoughts on that particular winding road over at EyeJunkie, but as I noted recently, it facilitated me adding a few more photographs to my collection documenting hand-painted signs.

Downtown Lena, Mississippi didn’t have much of a Main Street to speak of, although you can see it wasn’t immune to the glossy red, white and blue political “yard sign”. Plus, you have to love the RCA dog and phonograph logo still in use. It takes me back. What made me pull over, however, was the City Hall slash Public Library building. I’ve seen countless mom-and-pop eateries and sale announcements boasting hand-crafted signs, lovingly created to communicate someone’s personal passion. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a hand-painted City Hall sign. Lena, Mississippi was a first.

Rather than the typical etched-in-stone serifs, this City Hall boasted hand-painted letters. And, while the overhang-free architecture and concrete grounds didn’t exactly speak “antebellum South” like many public buildings do around here, I was smitten by the pride of place I imagine produced this signage.

The designer definitely took the minimalist approach. And yes, the kerning is a little off. But, there is something inspiring about considering a group of people (maybe only a couple of hundred) who determine to be a township in such a tactile way. What may be lacking in typographic consistency is more than surpassed by the sheer singular voice: “We are Lena, Mississippi.”

Five Questions to Ask Yourself with Every Customer Encounter

I was talking recently with a new client–a business advisory service who hired me for brand development and start-up marketing–and he asked me some questions about why I decided to name my business Small Pond Graphics. The client had been to my website and wanted to discuss some of the ideas a little further. Some companies that are local occasionally use feather flags to get customers from sidewalk traffic. As it turns out, we had similar impressions of the value of our small town business experiences, and the conversation expanded into a discussion of how many of the typical small town attitudes and ways of conducting business translate into the wider marketplace.

My thoughts on the name Small Pond Graphics began germinating with the idea that I live in a small town in the rural South. It’s a fact that has colored much of my career over the years. Being in a smaller community sometimes means that companies have to be a little more ingenious in their marketing efforts. It means they may need to approach services and customer service with a little more flexibility, creativity and a personal touch. Whether a business is located in a small town or a large city, however, the reality in this digital, media-rich age is that all are part of the same small world–a small world that is getting even smaller by the minute. It was that thought that really resonated with me in trying to determine the focus and “culture” of my own company. Perhaps those flexible, creative and relationship-centered approaches aren’t confined to small ponds after all.

So, my client conversation got me thinking. How DO businesses approach customer encounters in a small town? What makes that process so appealing? What can I glean from it as I market my business on a daily basis? How can I market to every customer and prospect as if I’m marketing in the small pond?

It boils down to relationships. There’s no question about it. They are the hallmark of marketing with a small pond approach. People want to do business with folks they know. It’s a tried and true reality straight from small town USA. Embracing that reality means that every customer encounter is an opportunity to build a deeper relationship. That sometimes requires approaching the experience from a slightly different perspective than what marketing or sales trends might dictate. With that in mind, consider asking yourself these 5 questions with your next customer encounter.

1. HOW CAN I SAY “YES”?

Instead of immediately evaluating how a contact may fit into your “ideal customer” profile, figure out a way to say “yes” in some way. It’s really what customers want to hear. Put determining how a customer is positioned in your sales process or list of services on the back burner. The ability to say “yes” shows that a company is willing to step beyond a rigid business model in order to address a customer’s individual needs.

2. WHAT CAN I GIVE TO THIS SITUATION?

Rather than asking “what can I get out of this?”, make an investment. Relationships are built on investments–offerings of time, resources, effort, and self. The laws of farming say that you reap what you sow. Sowing is required FIRST before reaping the benefit of a good crop. Make a plan for what seeds you want to sow with each conversation or customer experience. Be willing to give before you expect to get.

3. HOW CAN I LISTEN MORE CAREFULLY?

Instead of trying to figure out how to squeeze in your elevator pitch, devote yourself to listening in your next customer encounter. Before a company can meet a client’s needs through products or services, it has to know what those needs are. That understanding doesn’t come through anticipating or completing the sentences, it comes through really listening.

4. HOW CAN I MAKE THE MOST OF THIS ONE-ON-ONE OPPORTUNITY?

Rather than asking “how can I make the most of this time?” in a hurried effort to multi-task, focus your attention on the person in front of you (virtually or otherwise). Lay aside the need to be available to everyone else at that moment and pay closer attention to this one-on-one opportunity to connect and build a lasting bond. Your entire relationship with a customer may rest on this one encounter. Make sure you’re all there.

5. WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT THIS CUSTOMER & HIS SITUATION?

Instead of asking yourself first”what products or services can I provide?”, let your customer take center stage. Listen for the unique qualities to emerge and respond to those. Focus on offering resources to resolve unique problems or highlight unique assets–whether your products and services apply or not.

At the end of the day, customers still value the same things they did when your grandparents were doing business. They still value the wave on the street, someone calling them by name, or the handshake at the grocery store so common in small towns. It’s just that some of the venues today are places like Facebook or GMail or Skype. The small town approach works. Are you on board?

inspired by . Work

Happy Labor Day! I am increasingly blessed these days with the opportunity simply to work–to continue serving my clients during this time when the infancy of Small Pond Graphics intersects with a challenging economy.

During the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted a program called the Works Progress Administration designed to put Americans to work during a time (like today) when employment opportunities were scarce. Practicing artists were one segment of the workforce that found jobs through the WPA. Many commercial artists (the precursor term for graphic designer), photographers, painters and other artists were put to work in public service projects across the country. These projects produced some of the most recognized photographs documenting the environment and history of our nation during that time period. In addition, if you look around your own small pond, you might find a mural or painting in a local post office or public building that was produced through the WPA. On this Labor Day, I’m inspired by examples of the extensive collection of public service posters that were created through the Works Progress Administration. Many showcase outstanding illustration and screen printing techniques, and some of my favorites include great uses of art deco-style typography and composition. Here are a few examples. To view an organically grown collection of WPA poster examples, visit Posters for the People.

September

September is upon us. In Starkville, we are having cooler weather already–a little unusual for Mississippi. That transition is always nice after the heat and humidity of Summer. Those first few mornings when the breeze is actually cooler usually lift my spirits right away. I know I’ve shared that Autumn is my favorite time of year.

As I was deciding on a theme for this month’s desktop wallpaper calendar (click to download if you like), it occurred to me that often there is no other time when we more readily embrace transition than September. In fact, at this time of year we are sometimes even eager for the changes that come. As I mentioned, September brings the end of Summer’s heat and the first hints of more pleasant temperatures. It celebrates the beginning of a new school year for so many youngsters. It sets in motion the warming up of nature’s color palette as we begin to see subtle shifts in the blue of the sky and the fading of green on tree leaves. These transitions shake us out of the tired landscape where we’ve spent the summer.

In September, Summer’s luxuries of play and rest and taking breaks give way to renewed motivation to get back to the tasks at hand. We re-adjust our schedules with more focus. We outfit ourselves with new “necessities” that will spur us on to accomplish new things. We shake off the doldrums and attempt to get ourselves moving again.

I’ve written about the many changes that have been happening in my life over the last few months. Transition should be old hat to me by now. Yet, I find that the doldrums of complacency in my heart still need a little shaking free this month. So often, the heart moves at a different pace than the rest of us in making a transition. Sometimes it leads the charge. Sometimes it lags behind and needs a little coersion. Sometimes it just grows wayward in avoidance or denial. But, the realities of change and transition are just that. Realities. Just as surely as seasons come and go; the cycle of life changes can not be denied.

In thinking about the resistence I sometimes feel in my own heart when faced with transition, I was struck by one little line in the Wordsworth poem I included in my wallpaper design.

“Unfaded, yet prepared to fade”

That observation of September is so appropriate. Summer’s verdant colors still largely remain this month. The cooler temperatures reminiscent of Fall will be sporadic at best. Summer remains unfaded. Yet. [That’s a big word for only three letters.] YET, in September, Summer is “prepared” to fade. For in September, just as in any situation ripe for transition, you never know which season you’ll get moment by moment. At a breath’s notice, Summer and Autumn are just as likely to appear. Perhaps it’s nature’s way of coaxing us into the change.

It’s becoming more and more apparent that this particular season in my life is one of transition. I want my heart to be prepared. I want my heart to be ready to embrace it, to accept it, to shine through it. As chapters fade and new ones open, I want my heart on board. Completely.

favorite things . Design-Your-Own Stuff

Being a designer by trade and by obsession, I’m always inspired by products that let me customize or add my own creative touch. I found several great products recently that let you do just that. I posted them a few weeks ago at the Small Pond Facebook Page, but I thought I’d share them here as well. Be inspired to create your own designer stuff!

DESIGN YOUR OWN… Dinnerware at LAPLATES.COM
You can choose your pattern, color and monogramming style for these great melamine plates. A great hooray for the waning days of summer outdoor party fun!

DESIGN YOUR OWN… Pillows and Bedding at INMOD.COM
Wow is all I can say about the great patterns and options available with this great product. There is truly something for every style. For pillows you can choose your own pattern, fabric option, size and colors to fully customize your look.

DESIGN YOUR OWN… Boardshorts at SHORTOMATIC.COM
I love this product! These shorts make me want to head to Venice Beach in a convertible and sing Beach Boys songs. You can choose your style and colors right down to the custom text printed on the inside waistband. You make them your own by uploading your own artwork file and positioning it on the shorts. What do you think? Princely shorts?

DESIGN YOUR OWN… Notecards & eInvites at AGADABOUT.COM
This designer has some great illustration options that are available for monogramming or printing with your full name. One thing I really love is the iPhone app that lets you customize and send designer e-invitations straight from your phone. Very cool.

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