Blog

15 bloody years!

Another year and I still can’t believe how fortunate I am to work as a freelance design consultant.

The last two years have been fantastic, with 32 new clients, stretching right across Europe (France, Ireland, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Italy), and some exciting work coming in from the U.S. too. Working with: charities, manufacturing, estate agents, logistics, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and some public sector, have seen a rise in my business of 33% turnover. Not bad!

I have a great partner in the business who has introduced me to many of his clients via his Aerospace and Engineering clusters. Many of you may, or may not, know I am passionate about working with Engineering and Manufacturing clients. Another love is working with Healthcare businesses too, some of the work I am most proud of in the last year was in Healthcare. Lots and lots of lovely illustration work.

So much of what happened last year was via referrals, the absolute best way to grow a business, and full of surprises!

I have lots of plans for next year, if anyone wants to work with me or any of my partners, drop me a line (*pops champagne*).

Back to school

A couple of months ago, I was contacted by Forum Talent Potential (http://www.forum-talent-potential.org/) and asked if I would be interested in engaging with a group of students in Derbyshire. As the focus was Graphic Design, I was up for it.

The students in question were year 9 students at Pingle School, Swadlincote.

Having previously, briefly, taught design at a college, a very frustrating experience (another blog post), I was keen to see if all years were quite as lazy as the 19-21yr olds, or was there still a passion for design in the younger years.

The project made me reflect on how I got into design and what it meant to me at school. I was passionate about school, it was my haven from a difficult home life, and the design and technology teachers were fundamental to that level of care I received. They listened. They encouraged. Without them, I would not be doing what I am now.

To hear that design and technology are being phased out of schools makes my blood boil (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2017/03/10/design-technology-gcse-axed-nearly-half-schools-survey-finds/) it is a very short-sighted Government that can’t appreciate the way design helps create a rounded society. Only today I saw an article by Design Week on this very subject (https://www.designweek.co.uk/issues/16-22-july-2018/design-being-squeezed-out-of-state-schools-says-va-director-tristram-hunt/) which reminded me to write this post. It is not all about cash-rich brands employing advertising companies to design wacky adverts, without design exploration in their lives, there will be a whole generation of suppressed creatives with astounding mental health issues (http://www.artsandhealth.ie/perspectives/mental-health-recovery-and-the-role-of-the-creative-arts/). It is a ticking time-bomb.

So, I had to get involved.

I was asked to set a couple of briefs based on jobs I have completed within my business. These were mainly set around logo design and the application of the logo.

The students had these briefs woven into their curriculum. After discovering more about logos, branding and graphic design in general, they set to work.

The results were interesting. Some kids were not interested, but I could still see some passion coming through from others. I recognised a naivety that I had at that age, the use of clichés, but generally, I was encouraged. I picked out three of the most interesting submissions and awarded them with a book about design. If I can bring just one of these students into the field of design, I would be thrilled.

The great thing about being involved in this project is that I got to see the feedback:

Benefits for the Students

‘It was an experience because you got to learn how they thought throughout the process of making it – and it was kind of stressing at times … it was good to have a graphic designer comment on it because it’s what they do.’

‘It’s taught me that it’s not as easy as it looks. It takes a while to think up the logo.’ 

‘I never get complimented on work, because everyone else’s is better … I feel proud of myself because I didn’t think I could produce the work.’

‘It was a fun experience because it’s different from being given a task and doing it … Because it’s not the teacher that gives you the task; it’s someone who’s actually in the real world – someone who knows what it’s like.’ 

Benefits for the School

‘The students were motivated to undertake work to be presented to an external employer …. Students were excited that an external employer would be viewing their designs and asked on numerous occasions whether I thought the employer would like particular elements of their work, demonstrating to me that the extrinsic motivator was enhancing their learning.’ ‘I would definitely be interested in repeating the project either with the same or a different graphics designer.’ 

For me, getting involved in this project has made me ask a few questions about how I can help the design industry in the future. I am going to speak at more schools, particularly at Primary level. I started this last week at my son’s school in Burton (year 5). Here the kids were very open to finding out how to work creatively, they had no preconceived ideas about working in design and running a design business.

It was a relief to see this.

The need for brand identity consistency

I feel that I talk about this quite a lot (and I shall continue to shout it from the rooftops). It stems from my passion, to make sure all of my clients’ brand identities mirror their visions, values, and ethos…it’s really at the heart of what I aim to achieve as a designer.

As humans, we are hard-wired to make constant judgements about everything we see, hear, touch, smell and taste.

We quite literally cannot help doing this – you would need to be bereft of using your five senses if you didn’t. A few day-to-day examples: this can be anything from walking down the high street and deciding what café to eat gauging your choice from the wafting aromas in the air, to judging how people are looking at, or speaking to you, to which of your neighbours has the best-dressed windows or maintained gardens.

Well, imagine if people were making constant judgements about your business – how does it appear in their minds? What does your brand identity say to them? In fact, this is what your clients and potential clients are doing! So, you need to make sure that your vision, values and ethos are clearly signposted in your branding, the keyword being ‘consistency’.

Consistency in your branding gives your business a personality and identity to which people can relate. People will feel they can trust your brand; the consistency has helped to strengthen this, building your reputation as dependable and trustworthy.

Customers will be so pleased with your company, they; will return to you time and time again and feel confident to spread the word to others, too.

Brand identity runs throughout everything you do, from the macro aspects of your business to the micro, such as email logos, documents, presentations, and printed marketing collateral such as flyers and brochures, so make sure you check and double-check every last detail. Make sure your staff aren’t using old branding – you could be sending out mixed signals. In turn, this could affect your ‘standing’ in a judgemental marketplace, especially if your competitors are more up-to-date than you.

Brand identity consistency is key across all your communication channels. Check your tone of voice is consistent across all your social media, your website and any packaging or signage you have. Do your vehicles carry the same identity as your website and premises signage, for instance (although we understand because of the expense, it can take time to update a fleet)? The use of your logo, brand colours and key messaging across all of your communication channels is essential and will help to strengthen your brand identity.

Pulling together all of the different aspects that make up your identity will define and solidify your branding.

Consistency in branding is the key that unlocks your identity in the eyes of others.

Clear messaging for stakeholders

The word ‘stakeholder’ is used a lot, but who makes up your key stakeholders?

Take some time out to reflect on this; it’ll be worth spending time doing this on your own, and also asking colleagues or employees the same question to get a general ‘feel’ for the breadth of who your stakeholders are. Other people may come up with ideas you hadn’t thought about, especially those with their ‘ear to the ground’ as markets constantly evolve, change, and adapt over time.

You may hear the terms strategic messaging and strategic communication used. They both mean the same thing, really – messages sent out to all stakeholders involved in your business. Whether you or your colleagues use business jargon, or just express ideas in your way, that’s fine! At the end of the day, as long as you are all clear about who your stakeholders are, you’ll be heading in the right direction.

As a starting point, though, let’s think about your employees as stakeholders – your employees need to be your brand advocates, driving your business forward in full knowledge of your company’s brand values, ethos and visions. In fact, an excellent employee won’t just be aware of these factors; they will ‘believe’ in them. After all, your brand and company’s reputation is always at stake in a highly competitive business world, so make sure your colleagues are entirely on board with your brand. If your employees don’t believe in your brand, why should anyone else?

Next, let’s think about your customers – take the time to consider what these stakeholders are looking for carefully. Develop your brand to meet these needs. Today, customers have an array of companies to choose from. It may be worth thinking about what makes existing, or prospective consumers, ‘tick’; take their emotions and feelings into consideration when sending brand messages to customers. Remember, customers don’t just buy a product, process or service, they buy your vision, ethos and values. Look after them, and they will look after you.

Are your competitors stakeholders? Yes, they are, so try to keep on top of what their strengths are, as well as their weaknesses. How does their brand identity match up to yours? Are they doing anything different? Are there any new start-up companies in your sector, who may become a more prolific competitor in the future?

Also, are your suppliers, or distribution channels, on board with your brand? Make sure you are giving them explicit brand messages about your identity. Your good reputation will, in turn, benefit their businesses, too. They are more likely to remain a long-term strategic partner if they believe and fully buy into your brand.

What about your community? They are stakeholders in that what you do, and how you make the locality ‘look’ directly affects them. It is essential to make sure your community is happy with what you are doing; consider how highly Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is regarded now.

Two key ideas to leave you to think about are these:
1. Effective branding and messaging is consistent and straightforward.
2. All businesses communicate, but not every company sends clear messages to their stakeholders.

1st impressions count…

Yes, they really do! It’s such an old cliché, but I just can’t ignore it, and neither should you.

Let’s consider a scenario. You’ve just walked into an exhibition centre filled with hundreds of stands. The businesses there will have spent varied amounts of money depending on the size of their budgets. Nevertheless, regardless of how much money a company has to spend, they can all achieve that magical first impression ‘spark’ with plenty of thought and planning into how they want their stand to look. You don’t need to spend thousands and thousands to attract your target audience, but what you do need is a clear and consistent brand identity.

In fact, some companies spend lots of money and still manage to ‘get it wrong’ by not having a clear, crisp brand identity across their stand and all of their marketing collateral, such as brochures and flyers.

So, think back to the idea at the start of walking into the exhibition centre: Which stands are people stopping to look at, but they move on? Which stands are being ignored as if they don’t exist? Which stands are attracting and retaining the most traffic? Now consider – why?

If stands have boards that are just too ‘word-heavy’, no one will want to stand and read through it all. Less is more when it comes to content. Just have enough text to attract your audience to your stand. Once you start to talk to people, then they can learn more about you, and take a brochure away to read at their leisure.

Consider your logo, typeface, colours – do they ‘speak’ the message of your brand identity? As I mentioned earlier, your brand identity should be clear and consistent across the whole of your stand. Do your staff know your visions, values, and ethos? Are they clear about the company identity? Everyone needs to be giving a consistent company message to the visitors to your stand.

The use of a video to engage your audience is really beneficial. As well as attracting them to your stand, it can keep them there for a few minutes longer. It’s also helpful if you’re busy talking to other visitors, as people watching a video are more likely to wait for you to finish rather than walk away, as they are being entertained and informed.

Check your brand identity is consistent across your internal communications. This seems obvious, but many companies spend thousands and just forget about this. At the stand you may tell a potential client that you will email them a piece of information they are looking for – it will look pretty awful if the ‘old logo’ is in the email!

Please do ‘sweat the small stuff’: you never know who you are going to meet on your stand.

It could be your biggest customer ever!