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!

How design can improve the effectiveness of internal communications

Have you ever worked for a company (or perhaps you are at the moment) where internal communications, such as notes and memos etc. sent around the offices looked…well…a bit dull really? Were they printed on plain white paper, with standard fonts, and perhaps not a logo or a hint of colour in sight? If yes, how did it make you or your colleagues feel?

A little reflection time may be needed for that last question.

The type of thoughts that may spring to mind could be along the lines of: ‘Doesn’t give the company a professional image’…’Feels unimportant’…’Makes the staff feel unimportant’…’No cohesion’…’People say they are too busy to bother…’It doesn’t feel like we all belong to the same company’…’Feels like nobody cares enough’.

It doesn’t matter whether it was a few years ago, or today, as humans we all want to feel part of the ‘team’, and that the team we are in is the best. It motivates and inspires us to work hard and do well.

Knowing our company’s mission, values and ethos helps us to feel included in the bigger picture and goals of the company. We all want to be on the same boat, all rowing in the right direction.

So, we can make a start by ensuring all of our communications, external and internal, exude professionalism.

Develop a consistent design, tone and focus across all your internal communications, whether they are paper-based, or on your internal intranet. Embed your brand identity so that it is seen everywhere, everyday, in your workplace. Also, don’t forget to include this consistent design across the interior landscaping of your buildings, such as wall displays and signage.

When onboarding new employees, educate them in your branding message; this is a great way to make them feel connected to the company straightaway, and it is a discipline that will stay with them, and they will pass it on to others.

It’s worth asking a professional for advice when it comes to help with your branding identity, rather than trying to save money by doing it yourself, as it may well turn out to be false economy in the end.

It’s like anything really – if you want a professional ‘look’, you need a professional to do it.

Ensure everyone in your company feels inspired; give them a sense of belonging and pride.

My predictions and hopes for 2018

Ok, I know you really don’t want to hear anything else about Brexit, but hopefully I can approach it from a different angle than the things you hear on the news. I’m replacing ‘Brussels’ with ‘Branding’; ‘May’ with ‘Messages’; ‘Conservatives’ with ‘Consistency’.

Brexit has left the public feeling a general sense of uncertainty and confusion about what the future holds. The more ‘savvy’ businesses have noticed that people want to be reassured that actually everything they hold dear is actually fine. Everything will be ok. If our politicians can’t always make us feel secure, many businesses know that the solidity of their brand identity, and the clear and consistent messages they bring, help people on a deeper, human level.

I guess, along these lines, some of my predictions for 2018 have already started, as can be seen in some of our TV adverts. For instance, one high street bank shows everyday ‘poets’ talking about topics such as daily life, love, comfort and, security – expressing on a subliminal level: ‘It’s ok, we understand you. You can trust us.’

I want to see companies maintaining their brand identities in their uncertain Brexit future, guarding them closely as they are their consistent message to the world that their business is secure and solid in the face of change.

On a different note, I’m totally loving colour in design at the moment. Eye-catching, vibrant colours that quite literally ‘speak’ your identity. On a very basic level, colour touches every one of us in different ways and we all have our favourite shades, or our ‘go to’ colours – take a look in your wardrobe to see what I mean. Colour encourages the visual learners of the world to remember us, colours that define our brand identity and embed it in the publics’ psyche.

I love the use of white space…allowing a really good design to ‘breathe’ can be so effective.

Colours have their symbolic ‘meanings’, too. For instance, we all know that red can mean ‘danger’, and green is used for ‘nature’. White can mean ‘purity, simplicity, cleanliness, light’. But did you know, that if your name is in red in China, it means you are dead? Use of colour and understanding of it’s meaning is very important.

To finish, I just need to touch on the importance of good typography. Ignore it at your peril. You need to consider your target audience – the correct choice of colour, font and text size is vital to attract them and to keep them interested so they return to you time and time again. Just like colour, or the shape of your logo, people will remember the font, too. It will become an integral part of your public brand recognition.

Brand identity doesn’t need to be complicated; keep your message clear and consistent in 2018.

Christmas promotion

“Oh god”, I hear you cry, “not Christmas again.” Well, bah humbug to you!!

Think of it this way: Christmas, oh how wonderful, a chance to catch up with my clients.

Now that sounds better, doesn’t it?

Of course, ‘Christmas catching up’ doesn’t have to be one big round of drinks and merriment, making sure your liver is hanging on for dear life as you enter 2018.

Oh no, it doesn’t! (panto practice)

How about setting aside a couple of hours, picking up a pen (yes, a PEN – I like a Berol Fineline myself) and writing some kind words to your clients in your personalised Christmas cards.

It’s a thought, isn’t it?

Take a look at my Xmas card offer here.

Then, I suggest you grab yourself a couple of hours (space it out, we don’t want RSI.), some cake, what the hell, get some pre-season mince pies, and a nice hot cup of something, and enjoy putting pen to paper.

Order before 24th November.

Fourteen years

Fourteen years!

I do sometimes have to pinch myself. In February 2003, I was made redundant. For a few months, I floated around, being a freelancer in-house, then getting a job in a print firm until the realisation, this was it. In the September I saw the chance to go it alone. Never again, hopefully, would I be given the opportunity to start my own business.

I have never wanted to employ anyone.  Something I know people can’t understand.

I love working in collaboration with other small marketing businesses to create teams for projects. It feels fresh every time, and I don’t have to get bogged down in office politics. I do NOT miss that!

I am working with a great team. I belong to a BNI networking group in Derby. In BNI we form “Powerteams”, which is true to name. Powerful.

With a web development company, marketing expert, video and animation team, copywriter we have a great foundation for most projects that come up. I have worked with some of these for years, others are new, but we fit because we have a say in who joins the group.

Why would anyone build a big firm when collaborating works this well?

We are so easy to refer to other businesses, so working together in this way means we get more business all time.

If you would like to see how we work in a BNI power team, then ask me for an invitation to visit our group on Tuesday 26th September in Derby, where the marketing power team will be demonstrating the POWER within BNI.

Oh, and we are looking for a photographer, social media expert, printer, signage company, events company or if you work in marketing or need help with your marketing we want to meet you!


Sales presentation design

February has been a very busy month for me. Lots of returning clients, and some fascinating new customers.

Lately, I have been working on quite a few sales presentations. These are usually punchy, and straight-talking documents which support a sales meeting delivered on iPads or similar devices.

My clients have had a lot of success with these too. Often small companies, who are selling into the defence or energy supply chain, they need to stand out in such a competitive market. We have had some great results, many of them securing new contracts with world-class organisations that they could have only dreamt of working with.

Obviously, I can’t take all the credit, they are brilliant businesses who have a fantastic team of advisors, but I help them get dressed for the occasion. Make them memorable.

If you need help with your sales presentations, either visually or with the content, let me help. I will also introduce you to the team behind them, who dig deep into your business and ensure you are heading for growth in your business.

So for a laugh, I paid a branding consultancy £12k…

Last night my husband brought to my attention the Steve Coogan audio book, Alan Partridge: Nomad.

In it, Alan describes the new logo he has designed with his branding agency.

It is quite frankly, the funniest thing I have heard in ages.

Well, they do say that there is nothing funnier than the truth, and although I haven’t had clients quite as prescriptive as Alan Partridge, I have had some that really should leave the designing to the designer and walk away.

Have a listen. Then imagine if you were being orchestrated by a client like that. Be kinder to designers.

Listen here:

Thank you Steve Coogan, you are amazing!!

New Year: a fresh perspective

I’m thinking of refreshing my logo. It’s been awhile, and with the change in my business, I think it is a good idea. Designing for myself, however, is a total nightmare. I’m a tricky customer to design for. It won’t happen anytime soon.

I often have clients come to me who are apologetic during the design stage of a logo. They hate to inconvenience me should a logo go through one or two rounds of development. It always makes me smile.

It is rare that a logo is created perfectly in the first draft*. Extremely rare. I often think the development phase is something we need, client and designer. The logo grows with us and, at the end, it should always be a something we both wanted.

This is why I HATE crowd designed logos, or ‘off the shelf’ logos. They sort of fill an initial hole but they will, like most cheap sugary things, leave you needing something more substantial.

So now comes the thorny question of cost. I recently had someone say that I was considered ‘too expensive’ because my designs were better than the ‘cheaper alternative’. I was never asked for a quote.

Wow, so I was too expensive because I was too good. I am, in fact, cheaper. I have no idea what the cheaper person was charging, but experience tells me that cheap means it will need doing again sooner. Lack of experience in design (cheap) can often lead to inconsistencies across a brand and a slap-dash approach.

A logo, in my opinion, shouldn’t be something that is redesigned every couple of years. How on earth can you gain any visual brand recognition if you do this?

So, if you are reading this and you have rejected a designer on looks alone as being too expensive, please please take the time to have a chat.

Don’t shop for design on price alone. You will just be wasting your money.


*This has happened to me. It was fabulous. I had a fantastic brief, and a great client team to work with. Kismet.