Your client’s brand identity sucks. What do you say?

You love your new client, but you hate their existing brand identity. Here’s how to approach it.

bad brand name

In the past week alone, 4 different people – designers, web developers, content writers – have all called me and said the same thing:  “I’ve got this great new client, who have this really interesting product, but their brand identity is terrible.  It’s so bad that I’m worried that whatever I do for them will end up being terrible too, and they’ll either be mad at me or I’ll be embarrassed to tell anyone I did it.  What do I do?”

This is what I say:

1. Is it really as bad as you think?

If you’re ‘in the business’, you probably have some very decided ideas about the way marketing materials should look and feel. I myself can’t stand inconsistent fonts and colour palettes – they stick out like sore thumbs to me, they make me think that everyone involved with the company is unprofessional and highly un-detail-oriented, and I want to give the people responsible a stern talking-to.  

But many times when I mention it to the client, it turns out that neither they, nor their stakeholders, have ever really noticed that there are 3 different fonts on their homepage.  Their business is percolating along, with no noticeable gap in sales, and they’ve got bigger fish to fry at the moment.  And so I have to step back and realize that I am not the target, I am more critical than the average person, and what I see as a ‘disaster’ isn’t, really.

2.  Is it actually having a negative impact on the client’s business?

I think this website is terrible.  The colours are totally 1990s, the site is loud and far too ‘sales-ish’, and I end up feeling that the guy behind it is far more interested in selling me stuff than in ‘helping’ me.  But here’s the thing:  This guy makes a lot of money (he famously retired at 35); lots of people love him; and I understand that his website does a fantastic job of sales conversion for him.  In other words, the site is working – so it doesn’t really matter if I don’t like it, or respond to the story he’s telling. 

The whole point of marketing is to drive the business goals. Unless you can demonstrate that your client’s brand identity is actively getting in the way of doing this, you may just have to accept that your client may in fact know what they’re doing.

3.  Is there a good story underpinning a bad look and feel?

For years I worked with a company called Head2Head, and everyone hated their logo, which looked like this:

head2head old logo

I inherited this logo – I didn’t create it.  In fact, it was created by the founder, who famously drew it on a napkin (and painted it) in the very early days of the company.  Initially, I hated it, too – but then I realized that (a) it had a nice backstory; and (b) it became a sort of interesting talking point.  

Plus, it’s relatively easy to contain a difficult logo with good design:

head2head timeline

See how nice and polished that looks?  In fact, we often got compliments on our materials, and it didn’t matter if those compliments were followed by “…but I still hate that logo.” 

(To celebrate their 10th anniversary, Head2Head renovated their brand identity, and it looks great – but now it has a different kind of backstory.)

4. What does the target audience think?

You may hate the look and feel of this website, for all kinds of reasons.  But they “manufacture and supply researchers in the biomedical fields with specialized complex organic small molecules”, and I’m pretty sure their target audience doesn’t really give two hoots about how sexy their brand identity is – their brand equity and credibility is going to reside largely in word of mouth via scientists and whoever else cares about complex organic small molecules.  

On the other hand, if you’re about to spend a huge amount of money on a custom-designed house, are you going to trust a guy whose sense of aesthetics resulted in this site?  Not so much.  

Before you start worrying about the brand identity, it’s important to remove yourself from the equation and insert the target market instead.

5. Is the current brand identity going to cause problems in the longer term?

One day last year, I got into a bit of a fracas with some woman on Twitter who took issue with my assertion that logos should never be black and white and brand identities should always include 4 colours in the official colour palette.  She seemed to think that black-and-white logos and single-colour brand identities were just fine. 

She was wrong, and here’s why:  Successful businesses will eventually need all kinds of materials, from websites to infosheets to business cards to product line extensions and patented processes.  All of these things require graphics, imagery, and a brand identity that retains consistency even when fresh ideas are added.  If you don’t plan ahead, you’ll run into trouble later on – it’s almost impossible to shoehorn a new colour into a black-and-deep-red brand identity, for example.  What’s more, without a broader palette and a couple of fonts, you run the risk of a monochromatic site that doesn’t give you anywhere to go, design-wise.


TOMORROW:  How to guide a client to a better brand identity, even when they like the one they’ve got.

Are you overlooking your brand advocates?

People who are enthusiastic about your brand in real time are more powerful than a standard testimonial

Ah, case studies and testimonials.  So often discussed (in strategy meetings, marketing meetings, website meetings, biz dev meetings); so rarely done properly.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve sat in a meeting where everyone agreed that we really should do something about developing a library of case studies and testimonials, I would definitely be driving that Karmann Ghia I’ve so often dreamt of.  On the other hand, if I’d had to pay someone a nickel for every time those case studies and testimonials have dropped completely off the strategic radar about 5 minutes after the meeting ended, I’d be sitting in some sort of Dickensian debtors’ prison.

Case studies and testimonials can be good internal exercises:  They force the organization to codify successes (and, by extension, failures), interview clients and collect feedback.  Done regularly and well, they can provide all kinds of great insight into what products/services are easiest to sell and deliver, which ones aren’t delivering a sufficient ROI or client satisfaction, and where there are gaps to be filled by additional products or better customer service.  They can be helpful sales tools, and they’re handy for RFPs, which usually have some kind of case study or testimonial component.

So why, when scarce sales and marketing resources are being allocated, do they so often fall off the radar?  Because unless they’re done systematically as part of a broader CRM strategy, they really aren’t that useful.  I’ve rarely seen a first-rate salesperson use case studies or testimonials to close a deal (it’s more likely that the salesperson will say, “Hey, call Bob at Acme – we installed their system last year and I know they’ve seen a 23% uptick in revenue” than pull out a library of case studies).  What’s more, these days most clients won’t give you permission to use their name in a case study or testimonial, which means all you can really show is disguised data or anonymous quotes – neither of which does much to instill confidence in potential clients, who know how easy it is to just make that stuff up.

I think we should think about it differently.

A written testimonial just sits there, inert until someone does something with it.  A real live person, on the other hand, is in a position to spontaneously offer case studies and testimonials to everyone s/he meets – and those testimonials have far more influencing power, anyway.

With that, I offer you this Field Guide to Brand Advocates.  This week, instead of talking about how someone should assign an intern to tracking down info for case studies, why not talk about how you can turn a few of your clients/customers into Brand Advocates?  Who knows – you may not have to worry about gathering coaxed testimonials ever again.

brand advocates

Digital Advertising by the Numbers [infographic]

Online advertising facts, in an easy-to-read diagram

I don’t know what’s happened to me, but in the past few months I’ve become fascinated with infographics. I’m tempted to blame it on the sentience-sucking phenomenon known as ‘Staying at Home With a Toddler’, but I think that’s only part of the problem.  The truth is that these days I spend an awful lot of time writing content for other people/brands, and when you’ve spent the day writing 2500 words on bedbugs plus another 1500 on syndicate mortgages, pictures just seem a lot more appealing than prose.

(I’ve also been doing more blogging on LinkedIn.  Click here to browse what I’ve been posting there.)

So today I give you another infographic that I found appealing:  ‘Digital Advertising by the Numbers’, by SayDaily.  I don’t have a lot to say about it – I think it speaks for itself. Though I do encourage you to look at the $3.6 billion spent on video ads.  Everyone thinks that no one watches them, but in fact if you can get your message across in the first 5 seconds, they’re more powerful than you realize.


digital advertising by the numbers sarah welstead

Total perspective vortex: One second of social media

It’s no wonder you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by social media

I came across this infographic today, outlining just how much information is uploaded, shared or transacted on social (and social-related) media every single second, and the first thing that came to mind was the Total Perspective Vortex from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

In the words of Wikipedia:  

“The machine produces a virtual reality model of the entire universe by means of the axiom that any piece of matter is affected by all other matter. The Vortex reconstructs the universe through computer processing of a high-resolution scan (“extrapolated matter analysis”) of a piece of fairy cake. When you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little mark, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says, ‘You are here.'”

And when you are forced, suddenly, to grasp the impossible hugeness of the universe and your own, infinitesimally small part within it, your mind explodes.

It is “…allegedly the most horrible torture device to which a sentient being can be subjected.”

In other words, I know it can be difficult to think about just how much stuff (information, photos, opinions, websites, likes, transactions, pingbacks, videos, songs – etc.) is being uploaded to Teh Interwebs every second of every minute of day, but sometimes we just have to look it in the face and decide that it’s going to make us try harder to be relevant.

And that is my motivational advice for the day.

information data uploaded to the internet every second

I found this great infographic here.