Tag: Small business marketing strategy

The Biggest Problem in Branding


Part 3- Becoming the Real Deal

A few years back, my daughter worked in visual merchandising at a big box department store in Chicago. I will leave the store unnamed, although I am quite sure you have been there or at one of its affiliates. I asked her one day, out of curiosity, how a big company goes about communicating its mission internally to its employees. “Quite unsuccessfully in our case,” she answered. “Our mission statement glows from every computer screen, but the employees just make fun of it.” Despite the continual glowing of the visual reminder, the mission failed to glow from the hearts of anyone whose task it was to make it come true.

And there you have it.

The biggest problem in branding is not the cost, although it does cost something. It is not the time, although it requires much thinking. It is not the internal management required to make the brand images consistent, as important as consistency is.

The biggest problem in branding is making Brand happen.

It is obvious that it is just as hard for the large company to carry out its intentions as it is for the small firm. Wherever the mission and vision of a company meets or exceeds the expectation of the customer, you create magic. But wherever mission and vision depart from the actual customer experience, you have the antithesis to business at best, and potential toxicity at worst.

Entrepreneurs start off with good intentions. Many understand the power of brand, and craft a well-defined mission, vision, culture, and story. But as they grow they tend to pay more attention to sales quotas than they do the customer. In doing so, they bypass the heart of marketing, and the pulse weakens.

What is this like? Let’s imagine a man named Jim takes on one of those reality show challenges to win a large sum of money. All he has to do is find a romantic muse, get married, and inspire his partner to say that he is the perfect husband at the end of one year. If he is successful, he will win a million dollars. But, if she does not claim he is the best husband ever? He will have to pay back every expense plus finance charges. If he takes the goal seriously, Jim will work hard to keep his muse amused. He will go out of his way to be everything she needs him to be, albeit with dollar signs in his eyes. He would study the behavior of good husbands. He would study his partner’s behavior, and make long lists of her likes and dislikes. He would check his calendar to determine all the right dates to send flowers. He would plan breakfasts in bed. He would plan to say the all the right things, and do all the right things, at all the right times.

But, six months in, his partner begins to feel as if something is up. She may not know anything about the contract, but senses something is off-kilter. Jim is a little too perfect. He has no sparkle in his eye, and no spontaneity–his words are a bit too scripted. She can’t quite put her finger on it, but the relationship feels a bit, well . . . . cheesy. Of course. It is cheese. It is not a relationship. It is all about Jim.

This story may seem a far-fetched example, yet many businesses do marketing in the exact same way. In the reality show of business, this exact scenario has played itself out so many times that consumers are now suspect of anything that smacks of an advertising overture. When a company only seeks a sales quota, and sees its customers only as a package of behaviors–as someone to convince to ‘click here’–it will not be long before that customer describes the relationship as plastic. Customers want real passion. They would rather experience serendipity than scripts. They can better endure anything–even a screw up–than a fake company.

There are a thousand ways to build real relationships with your customers. Knowing what your customers need and want. Staying true to your core values. Providing real value that you know is your best work. Setting up systems so you can deliver with consistency. Doing what you say you are going to do. Making it easy to do business with you. Respecting the customer as intelligent and worthy of your time. Being genuinely excited about helping them achieve their goals. By ensuring your customer has experienced your company in the way you planned for them to experience it. And these are just a skim from the top. 

A wise entrepreneur will craft their customer’s experience from start to finish. But business is not theater. It cannot be an illusion of real relationship to obtain a sale. It must be the real deal.

Are you looking to create real relationships with your customers? You cannot fake it. Truth will prevail. Experience is hard to argue with.  How do you help your customers best?

Put your customer first, and you will become the Real Deal.


Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about your business strategies?  Because no matter how beautiful we make your visuals, your graphics will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your target, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection you will create with your visual graphics. We want to help you become the best you can be. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer. 

Which Comes First? The Company or the Brand?

becoming the real deal part 2

Part 2- Stepping Up

Does a brand make a company valuable? Or does a valuable company make a brand? If you take a look at Forbes List of the Most Valuable Brands, it is obvious that 100% of these entities have made a major investment in design. Each entity is a carefully coiffed company–with a look designed to turn heads and to create an experience.

“Of course,” you may say. “They are large enough to have the money to invest in their branding in a major way.”

But how did they get the money to invest in the company in a major way? Did design increase trust to impact their bottom line? Or was the company trustworthy from the start? It is certainly a chicken and egg question. But whether design is causation or simple correlation, I challenge anyone to make it to the top of such a list without it. If Coca-Cola needs design to get to the top, then it would be quite presumptuous to push the design budget to the back burner for any size company.

One thing is certainly true: a company’s design reflects its management and vice versa. Herein lies the trouble. It is common for startups to begin business by investing in everything but design and branding. This leaves a fabulous product without representation. Those who pull back little realize the peril of poor design. A business that is sending the wrong message–or worse yet, no message at all–is no business at all.

Why do entrepreneurs withhold the branding budget? Many misconceptions exist:

My company does not need design–we are too small. This belief is common among entrepreneurs. Planning your identity and business design is like laying the philosophical cornerstone of your business. It is like breathing life into a body, and giving it a soul. Before putting pencil to paper and beginning any design, an experienced graphic designer will ask many questions. They will want to know what you want to do, who you want to do it for, and why you need to do it. Clear answers to these questions are the bedrock of your marketing plan. Serious marketing research backs any good design. It only looks simple. Without clearly identifying these answers, you have no base from which to launch your efforts, and no hoop to confirm success.  No business is ever too small to invest in this kind of thinking.

Professional design is too costly. What if you have a fabulous product, but your design says ho-hum? Think how costly such misrepresentation could be! Count up the sales lost to miscommunication and misunderstanding! Next, think of how costly it will be to print several campaigns only to find out they connect with no one. It would be easier to roll down your window on the way home from work, and just throw your money out. Doing so would save you a lot of time too. There is nothing more costly than poor design–or no design at all.

Design will make me look bigger than I am. To clearly identify your market and speak to that market is to increase your chance of success. Too many sales can be a problem, yes, but one ripe with choices. You can always say no to a sale. You can raise your prices. Who would not like to work less and make more? You could also ramp up your game. George Lois once created a campaign for Tommy Hilfiger, early in his career. It is hard to believe he was once unknown. One week after launching the ads, Tommy was on the Johnny Carson show. His competitors asked, “Who does he think he is?”  Tommy did not yet know the answer. But he stepped up to meet his destiny:

“. . . it also drove me into such embarrassment.  I rolled up my sleeves and worked harder than I ever thought I’d work.  I knew there would be only one way to prove the naysayers wrong, and that would be to come out with amazing clothes, so I literally rolled up my sleeves and worked like an animal making sure that every button, every zipper, every button hole, every color, every fit, every fabric was to perfection.  George turbo-charged my success, and then it just took off.

Did the branding make the man? Or did the man make the brand? Perhaps we will never know. But one thing I do know. The branding and the commitment to that branding brought out the best in Tommy. It challenged him to become all he could be.

Good design is a result of good thinking. It is always an investment–in your company and in yourself. I will continue to make the bold claim that design will supply a good ROI. “Of course,” you may say again. “You have a vested interest to say so. You are in design.”

My answer? Invest, test, and prove the return! Will the real Brand please step up to the plate? Step up to the work of creating a product that will knock the ball out of the park, and then create a brand that will reflect all your company is, and all that you are–one that tells the real story of all your product can do.

See the results for yourself.

Have you ever conferred upon your business the mission and vision it deserves? A business without a brand is like a body without a soul. Are your graphics simply a placeholder until you find more money or a better opportunity? You may never have that opportunity. Even a ship captain invests in a bottle of fine champagne to christen his vessel with a name before its maiden voyage. Your business is also a vessel, carrying its identity and its messages to a specific destination. What message is your business carrying? Is it intuitive where you are going?

 Say what is real. Yes, it is scary to launch and scary to commit to the journey. It does not mean you will never miss the mark.

 It means you have the audacity to become The Real Deal.


Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about your business strategies?  Because no matter how beautiful we make your visuals, your graphics will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your target, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection you will create with your visual graphics. We want to help you become the best you can be. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer. 


It’s All In How You Package It

rethinking the gift

Part IV- Rethink the Wrapping

Anticipation, n. The feeling of excitement, as if something is just about to happen.   

Used in a sentence:The business went under because there was no plan to build anticipation around the product.  Note- It happens all the time.

It is common for start-ups to put all initial investment into infrastructure, and end up with leftovers for Branding. There. I said it. Note- It happens all the time. We frequently hear, “I only have $X amount left–is there anything that I can do with that?”

Building anticipation for your product is called Branding. Budding Entrepreneurs come in to buy advertising, when they have yet to divine their Branding. It is impossible to create effective advertising without Branding. Oh, you can try. But it is easier to roll down the window and throw your money out.

It is such a common experience in the startup world to run out of cash right before the branding phase, that our company is launching an all-out guerilla war to stop entrepreneurs in their tracks and help them to reverse-engineer their game plan. My job is to help them think like a marketer. See the chart below? Advertising is the little red triangle at the top of the pyramid. Branding is everything else. Branding supports the advertising–not the other way around.


brand pyramid

Branding is not a nicety. It is not an extra thing you do after you start a business and once you get to a certain size. Branding is your entire relationship with the very person who keeps your lights on. Nice. Lights are really nice.

If only entrepreneurs put as much time into creating customer anticipation as they spend crunching numbers! If only they stopped long enough to think about what their customer truly wants. They would not have to be just another pretty face in marketing land. They might find out that no one wants the product as they have planned to make it. They might find out–and in advance of production– that people would like the product much better if they tweaked this one little thing. They could avert the lethal blah blah blah marketing drone. They could spare the whole marketing department the suicidal thoughts that accompany the plastic world of stock photography.

Alas, despite the alarming demise of small business, the great majority of entrepreneurs decide to work on Branding later. They end up looking like a cardboard box.

Diamond Ring in a cardboard box

If diamonds are a girl’s best friend, this is not the way you should present one. The whole experience is totally devoid of anticipation. Anything could be inside a cardboard box. If someone gave you this box, you might even decide to delay opening the package until after work. Even if you told me there was something valuable inside this box, I might not believe you. Because the verbal message is contradictory to the visual message. The packaging totally degrades the contents. I am not engaged. 

My opinion?  Cardboard wrappers surround many languishing businesses. Their branding does not do justice to their product. I once worked with a business with a completely wonderful product. Despite my urging to revamp their marketing, they decided to stay on their old path. Their old school delivery only resonated with an old school audience. That old school audience died off. Literally. The company sold out, and their original investment lost much of its potential and future opportunity for another entrepreneur. Sad.

Everything you do in business is branding. Every customer interaction expresses your brand. Many entrepreneurs market in pajamas. You would never go to a sales call in pajamas because no one would take you seriously. So why do your marketing in your pajamas?

The great news is that you can craft the exact expectation you want your customer to have. How can you build the right anticipation?You can do it by design. It is not marketing mumbo jumbo. It is finding a way to tell a story, and to tell that story in an engaging way about your product and service.

Last week we were thinking out loud about your product–thinking about it as if it were a gift. What if you were to upgrade the outside appearance of your business to match all that it really is inside the box?

Does the wrapping fit the gift?

With the help of a professional designer, you can figure out how to support the right message with the right visuals. Your marketing can create a sense of place, a sense of person, and plan for the customer’s anticipations.  Your marketing department can empower the sales department, making their work ten times easier. Your marketing can return ten times higher yield, all because you have planned to engage the customer!!!!

Engage. v., To occupy the attention or efforts of a person, to attract, to promise, or please.

Used in a sentence: When every competitor is shouting for the customers attention, Branding is the only way to engage your customer.

Branding creates the right wrapping for the right gift.

Big box or little box, rethink the wrapping. Craft the customer’s anticipation and watch the value of your product climb higher and higher. After all, they keep the lights on for you.

Like this article?

Read Part 1- Rethinking the Gift Economy

Read Part II- What Were You Born to Do?

Read Part III- Rethinking Your Product As If You Are Giving A Gift


Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about your business strategies?  Because no matter how beautiful we make your visuals, your graphics will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your target, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection you will create with your visual graphics. We want to help you become the best you can be. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace.

Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer. 

Rethinking Your Gift- What Were You Born To Do?

rethinking the gift

Rethinking Your Gift: What Were You Born To Do?

Part 2- Finding your Gift

When I began writing this post, I was unaware I would be supplied with a living breathing illustration. Nor did I know that it would be someone near and dear to me providing the illustration. My message was blasted right back at me, and perhaps a bit too loud and clear, so timely that it is obvious that I need it as much as anyone.

For this reason, I am going to post the clincher right at the beginning of my article, (and you can read the rest if you like):

What were you born to do? Do it. Do it now.

I was getting ready to go outside for a bit of exercise last evening after work before the sunset had stolen away all remaining traces of light. My phone rang. My husband had been working diligently on our new old house. He was stressed and out of breath. He had been diligently framing a wall and had just shot a 16D nail through his hand with a nail gun. In my past, such news has rendered me a complete hindrance––as in, someone please shove me out of the way. So I knew I had achieved new heights when rational questions came out of my mouth, rather than screaming violently into the phone. “Are you alone?” “Are you bleeding?” “Do you need an ambulance?” I asked these questions without shouting. I amazed myself. After clarifying the answers of yes, no, and no, it was determined that I was the best ride to the ER.

It was your typical ER experience. My husband’s pain had not yet set in, so persons in labor, bleeding children, and anxious adults, (as demanded by the Hippocratic Oath), were allowed to cut in line. We spent most of our evening watching the parade.

But if you are going to shoot yourself in the hand, hey––do it like my husband. The way that nail embedded itself up to the nail head in the muscle of his thumb could not have been positioned more perfect. X-rays revealed no broken bones. Movement was not hindered. The framing nail slid in parallel with the muscle to the wrist, with only a small puncture wound visible on the surface of the skin. From his smiling face–albeit pale, (and yes he was smiling), no one would ever guess he was injured at all. (However, we are fully aware that it will get worse before it gets better.)

I suggested next time he needed a day off of work, to just to let me know.

How does this illustrate my point? Some people know what they were born to do almost from the day they were born. My husband is one of those people. Though I was not there, I believe he was born with an Ebony pencil in his hand. He has been drawing since he was old enough to understand the concept. He was born to make art. I have often envied such people, who knew so clearly–and sometimes so early–what they were born to do. But struggling to find your sweet spot does not make it any less of a gift. For many, finding your sweet spot is a journey of many years, of marching forward to the next opportunity, and of working diligently to connect the dots to complete the picture.

The point is to find your gift.

Why did you go to work today? If your goal is to get money, you need a new goal. If your goal is to find out what you were born to do, the money will follow. It never works the other way around. To go to work for any other reason than to express your gift is to fall short of what you were put on earth to do. It is to short the whole of humanity of something we all need. You have something to give us, and without your gift, we will all be lacking.

I just had a wake-up call. Why I have to be such a fickle person, and almost lose something of value to value it, is beyond me. But today I am thankful my husband can still do what he was born to do. This accident has made it clear, that he needs to make hay while the sun shines. He needs to make more art.

As a marketer, I will never encourage you to go for the money. I will never ask you how you can make more money, get more followers, or get more likes. I will always ask you how you can make more art. Rethink your gift. What has God given you to do to benefit the rest of mankind? This is the right time to find it. 

Now is the time to make more art.

Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. Ecclesiastes 9:10


Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about your business strategies?  Because no matter how beautiful we make your visuals, your graphics will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your target, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection you will create with your visual graphics. We want to help you become the best you can be. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer. 


One Cannot NOT Communicate

one cannot NOT communicate

Your Message, Loud, and Clear- Part IV

Did you know that the level of clarity you have about your business internally is reflected externally? All this month we have been focusing on the Unique Value Proposition: finding something you can say about your business that no one else can say.

In Part 1, we encouraged you to find a different word other than quality to describe the way you do business. (Pretty please?)

In Part II, we encouraged you to just say no to the wrong sales- so you will have time to develop the right sales. 

In Part III, we encouraged you to get your eyes off the competition and focus on what you do best.

Doing the work to develop a Unique Value Proposition can help you find a whole new way of doing business. Once you are no longer using tired words, once you are no longer desperately seeking sales, and once you are no longer reacting to your competitors, you can be proactive instead. Once you know what you are not, you can decide who you are. You are then ready to clarify your own unique culture. You can create art. You can do business by design.

Running a small business is an art form, and the visual art of your business will always reflect the level of clarity you have about your mission and vision in the world. Sound preposterous? Hardly. It has always been true. Through the centuries, art has always reflected the culture in which it is found, sometimes more accurately than the writers and philosophers of that same culture. Artists portray the experiences and the values of their own culture, unaware that they are doing it. They are truly in the frame.

Your company graphics will also reflect your company culture. Yes, you are in the frame. Why not become aware? Why not make the picture reflect what you want to say? The design of your company includes your visual graphics, yes, but goes well beyond. Design is everything your business does and how it behaves. Your visual design reflects what your company believes and the way your company does business. It reflects the entire experience, from the inside out. It carries the story, provides context, and delivers meaning to your potential customer. The irony of it all is that it speaks the loudest, (and in a bad way), when the context is not there at all.

It is said you cannot judge a book by its cover. I have to question this old adage. It certainly does not apply in business. People make instant decisions about whether to do business with a company by the cover alone. Your graphics tell the outside world what they can expect inside. Therefore you should have a reason and a why for every font, photo, element, and image you choose. Your graphics should be carefully crafted to fit within the context of your business story and culture. It should never be left to chance–or to your mother-in-law–to define. Sure, your logo and graphics cannot express everything. They are symbolic. But those symbols should be intuitive. They should inform and engage and encourage us to find out more.

You may not buy into the idea that visual design is a necessity for running a small business. But if you want to grow, keep in mind, I know of no Fortune 500 companies that did not invest heavily in the design of the business itself, and the graphic design that represented it. Design is just how they do business. There exists a strong correlation between great design and success.

The unique value proposition is one of the most effective tools in your marketing tool box. Uniqueness adds value to any work of art and makes imitation more difficult. Is the UVP easy to define? No. But it costs you nothing but time. It is time well spent as an investment in your own success.

Your Brand is your culture. One cannot not communicate it–whatever it is. No communication is also communication. Take time to step outside the frame, and take a good look at what your Brand is saying, both with and without words.

Doing business by design will transform your business into a work of art.

One cannot not communicate” is a quote from Paul Watzlawick, a philosopher and communication theorist, 1921-2007. You can read about him here. 

Why Too Much Competition is the Best Problem Ever

iowa state fair snacks

For entrepreneurs, a good sense of marketing is prerequisite for survival, even if you do not know exactly how to do it. If you did not get that MBA before you began business, many of these kinds of skills are learn-as-you-go. After all, most entrepreneurs do not start business because they just can’t wait to get at the accounting. They start because they love to cook, or they love plants, or they love to cut hair–not because they want to learn the mechanics of business. If you are a chef, you just want to get your head down and create that culinary masterpiece on a plate. But even if you create it? Most entrepreneurs do not want to toot the horn, even if it is a masterpiece. They would rather other people to do it for them. We were taught not to brag, right?

Unfortunately, “if you build it, they will come” as a business philosophy is a pipe dream. Even if you have the best gourmet hamburger in town, no one is obligated to come. You must give them a reason. Your friends, family, and neighbors will eventually tire of your gourmet hamburgers, and you will need to bring in new customers. And if you have not noticed, the hamburger industry is a crowded place. Many industries are crowded.

Which brings me to my point: Competition is good for us.

Right now, the Iowa State Fair is in full swing with concession stands every 15’ ready to sell you anything that will stay long enough on a stick to be consumed. Whether frozen, fluffed, or fried–there is something to satisfy your every fetish and craving. No one is counting calories at the Fair. No one cares if that two-bite treat costs $6.50 plus tax. Everyone has money in their pockets waiting to fly out to purchase the newest confectionary adventure. And let me tell you, if there is an ice cream bar to die for? I’m signing up to die. And there are thousands behind me.

You should see all the competition! Here is why it is good for us:

Much competition means much demand! Demand is a prerequisite to selling anything!

Much competition draws more customers, because they find many choices in the same area. Someone is going to get the sale–might as well be you, right?

Much competition demands that I become a better business person. To attract customers away from my competitor, I must make my product better. I cannot just make claims about it–I have to prove those claims, or the customer will not come back. I must out-serve, out-perform, and out-do my competition in customer service. I must be better than I was yesterday, and find new things to sell tomorrow. To make a profit, I must make my business work like a finely-oiled machine. It makes me be a better me.

Much competition means the door is wide open for opportunity. All you need in such a case is better marketing. All this month we have been talking about the Unique Value Proposition. A Unique Value Proposition is something that you can say about your business that your competitor cannot say. Easy? Not on your life. Thinking about it can blow your mind. But thinking about it will also make your product blow my mind! It forces you to do market research–to find the gap in your competitor’s offerings, and to create your own niche. It forces you to do business in a whole new way.

More important that anything, much competition forces you to know your customer–the best marketing strategy ever.

“Haven’t small businesses failed because of too much competition?”, you might ask. Perhaps. But probably not. More businesses fail because they have not done the research to find out what the customer really wants.

Why not focus on what you do best, rather than turning around to see where your competitor is at in the race? Focusing on others in the race makes you trip. It makes you a follower, not a leader.

Get your head down, and work on making your customer happy. Focus on being the best business you can be, and you will find yourself in the lead.


etc!graphics exists to help your business develop its own Visual Voice. We help you design your Brand into a visual language. But what if you do not have a strong Brand? If you do not know what your brand stands for, it will be difficult to craft a clear visual language to match. We want to help. Stay tuned all this month for Parts IV of Your Message, Loud & Clear. You can read Part I here, Part II here.

For more information like this, please visit our website at www.etcgraphics.com/thincblog

Strong Brand, Strong Stand

the shopping cart before the horse

Part V of V: The Shopping Cart Before the Horse

All this month we have been talking about how new Entrepreneurs can get the shopping cart before the horse. It is so easy to do. Entrepreneurs can booby-trap their own success, by:

In Part 1-Trying to increase revenue before providing more value.

In Part 2 Trying to sell your product before you believe in it yourself.

In Part 3 Investing in your business before investing in yourself.

In Part 4 Trying to succeed while ignoring essential tools.

In today’s final post we will tell the Tale of Two Startups:

Tom’s Story

Every time Tom had his friends over for dinner, he received glowing 5-star reviews. His friends said, “You know, you really should open a restaurant! This is fantastic!”. And Tom does love to cook. So on a wild hair day, he cashed out his savings and invested in equipment and real estate. A month before opening day, most of his start-up cash was gone. Because of this, he had no ability to decorate like he wanted or invest in an identity and advertising. But he was not worried. If his food were half as fantastic as his friends said it was, he would not have any problem getting people in the store. He was certain his classic menu would appeal to everyone. He would skip the logo and the website for now, and invest in those things later when he made some real profit.

The next week, a rush of people came in to check out the new restaurant in town. He was excited and encouraged. But after the first month, traffic slowed to less than adequate. Tom decided an inexpensive brochure from the local quick print shop would help, and hit the next chamber meeting. But six months later, he was still struggling to get people in the store. He tried a very different but a better-looking brochure. With only a little response, he had to lay off staff. Tom decided that advertising does not work and decided to stop advertising altogether. As a result, instead of providing a nice place to eat, the restaurant ate him up instead.

Dave’s Story

Dave also relished good friends and good food. His specialty was making people feel welcome. His friends also told him on a regular basis that he should open a restaurant. And on a wild hair day, Dave also cashed out his savings. But––Dave was determined to begin his restaurant in a different way than the way most restaurants start out.

He started by planning the ultimate experience. He knew that personality and ambiance would provide the ultimate brand. He researched other restaurants in town–not to copy, but to figure out how to be different and better. He invested in a graphic identity and brand style guide that communicated this personality and set the stage for expectation. It was as good as done.

After creating the style-guide, every decision was easy from there. From this Brand vantage-point, it was clear how to create an atmosphere where young professionals would want to bring their friends and hang out. Even choosing the decor was easy. It either matched the style or it did not. He knew a great location that was already swarming with young professionals. He researched the price point they would be willing to pay. He then structured his recipes with a balance of flair and profit, topped with a spark of lagniappe.

Opening day, the store fit the vision and the plan inside and out. Everything matched the perception he wanted to achieve. Friends told friends. The waiting line on Saturday night wound outside the door. Because he had invested in branding first, his Visual Voice was consistent across his print collateral, website, interior, and brochures. He looked credibleand his customers had confidence and expectations of a good meal before they came in the door. His performance answered their expectations. And when it came to a choice of where to go out to eat, people started to choose Dave’s place.

The Moral of the Story

When you Advertise before you Brand, you get the Shopping Cart before the Horse. Nothing you do builds on any prior effort, creating minimal if any return. Every advertisement is like starting over. This is why advertising does not work. If your advertising is yielding minimal return–“Stop. Do not pass Go! Do not collect $200.00.” Back up and start with your Brand. Branding builds upon your vision. It creates an experience. It answers your customer’s questions. It solves their problems. Branding helps your messages resonate with the right customer. Begin with everything that touches the customer. When you have a strong Brand, you have a strong stand. Your advertising builds momentum. The return increases exponentially because it is memorable and consistent.

Branding is not just a first impression or the logo above the door. Branding is the way you take the whole journey. Brand first, and prepare yourself to be pleasantly surprised.


Why do we, a graphic design / and advertising company, care about the way you run your business? Because no matter how beautiful your external graphics, they will never be stronger than your internal management. If your management is strong, so are your communications. Since entrepreneurs are famous for getting the cart before the horse, all this month, we have been discussing five of the most common ways that entrepreneurs are hitching their horses incorrectly. Since this is the new millennia, we have updated the idiom. The vehicle of commerce is now a shopping cart. Either way, wooden or metal, horses still do not know what to do when the cart is in front. Our desire is to help you, the small business owner, think like a marketer.