Identity crisis?

posted on March 25, 2016 in Branding,Design

If someone mentions the words “corporate identity” to you, it might convey corporations such as British Airways and other huge players, with marketing budgets running into the squillions.

And if your company is not quite in the BA league, you might easily think that this is not something you need to worry about.

But that’s not true.

Every company has an identity: formed from the perceptions of your customers, potential customers, suppliers and employees. It might be good, bad or downright ugly; but it exists.

If your identity isn’t quite what you would like it to be, there are ways to improve it – without paying an arm and a leg to one of those corporate identity specialists that make top law firms look like good value for money.

The first and most important thing is to make sure your corporate identity is coherent. In other words, you’re conveying the same message wherever you’re seen.

You should also position yourself as different from your competitors. What do you do that’s better than they do? Can you solve clients’ problems more effectively, more cheaply, or in a more innovative way?

The values of your company should also be clear to everyone who deals with it – and everyone who represents it. This extends to such things as how the phone is answered, the way leads are followed up, and the overall quality of service. If you can offer excellent personal service, clients will tend to come back for more.

Then there’s the design element. Everything from your stationery, brochures and your website to your vehicles (if you have any) should reflect the same strong values.

Obviously, that’s something that we can help you with. If you have a strong and powerful corporate identity, visible on your website and your sales and marketing material, you’re instantly streets ahead of rivals with nondescript or boring ones. And you won’t have to remortgage your house to get the benefit of our experience.

We’ll look at this whole subject more deeply in another blog. In the meantime, if you’re struggling with your corporate identity, talk to us.

Print is dead: long live print

posted on January 23, 2016 in Design

The evidence and opinions continue to mount: not only is the Internet the best thing since sliced bread, it’s rapidly driving all other media to the wall. Only today for instance, I saw an article about a survey of Americans, most of whom believed that we would no longer send letters by the year 2050.

It might be good to get a little perspective here, though. No one would deny that the Internet has many things going for it. With a website, for example, you can market your company to the whole world (or at least the Internet-connected part of it) at very low cost: a valuable asset.

But does that mean that print is simply yesterday’s technology, ready to be consigned to the shelf with quill pens, overhead projectors and the cassette deck?

I think not.

It’s not just a question of saying that online technology is more advanced and therefore better, end of story. Print and the web do different things.

Take online books. Even though I can now read many titles online, I would far rather read them in book form. All that technology actually gets in the way of my imagination. And I know I’m not alone there.

But what about using print for marketing and corporate communication? Is there still a future for that?

I would say yes, definitely. And again it comes down to the differences.

For example, although your website and corporate brochure should speak the same sort of language and reinforce your brand, they are not the same thing (as companies that merely put their brochure text onto their web pages discover to their cost).

Website copy should be punchier, more direct, more big-picture. With a brochure, you have more time and more space. You can develop arguments, present more evidence. Readers are more likely to go back to pages previously read and embrace the brochure as a whole.

People’s attention spans are shorter online, partly because there are so many other websites just a click away. The same thing isn’t true of a brochure or other printed matter.

Printed media are a good way to target a particular geographic area: through newsletters or newspapers, flyers or leaflets. You can also hand out printed matter at exhibitions and in other places where you have a passing audience.

They appeal more to older people (baby boomers and earlier), who like the sensation of holding and touching a printed item.

Then again, business owners read more print media, in the form of newsletters and magazines, than the general public; they’re always looking for informed comment. A well-produced print item can meet that need more effectively than its electronic equivalent.

At Mortimer, we’re very aware that a well designed, beautifully crafted piece of print can be a potent weapon in your armoury. Of course, it can’t do lots of things that online media can do; but the reverse is also true.

Why not give us a call – and let us show you why we think the death of print has been greatly exaggerated.

Sites for sore eyes

posted on December 23, 2015 in Website design & marketing

Ten ideas for the Website Hall of Infamy

  1. Corporate camouflage. It’s no good having the best-looking website ever designed if no one can find it. In other words, you need to address your whole internet marketing strategy. Many potential clients never look beyond the first page of Google – not much good to you if your website is stuck on page 20.
  2. SEO SOS. Having said that, don’t stuff your website with search engine optimised text. Good SEO writing is more of an art than a science, and should be done by a good copywriter, not some technical geek. After all, what use is it getting your site to the top of Google only to find that people can’t read it because the copy is indigestible, boring and unengaging?
  3. Run with the herd. Many websites look alike, particularly in the same sector. But that’s precisely what you don’t want to do. You want to stand out from the crowd, be different, be arresting. You have only a few seconds before your reader decides to move on – so make sure that he’s impressed, intrigued and hooked in that short space of time.
  4. In the stocks. A good way to blend in with everyone else’s site is to use stock shots (see our earlier blog, “Stock horror.”) Some of those sites don’t just use the same sort of pictures, they use the exact same ones. Stock shots are yesterday’s answer – and increasingly look like you can’t be bothered. And if you can’t, why should your prospect?
  5. Me, myself, I. One of the cardinal sins of websites is to write puffed up with pride at your company, its achievements and its place in the world. You know the kind of thing: “We take pride in having achieved…” “We are acknowledged leaders in our field…” “We offer unique solutions, drawing on our years of experience…” As someone who knew once said, “Clients aren’t interested in your stuff: they’re only interested in what you can do for them.” Turning a website around to the client’s point of view can work wonders – and boost sales.
  6. Assume makes an ass of you and me. Don’t assume that the reader knows anything about your company or what it can do. He doesn’t. Tell him why he should use you – and make it convincing. If there’s really something unique or extra-special about your business, that’s your USP (or unique selling proposition in marketing-speak) – and it should be shouted from the rooftops.
  7. Just walk away. Websites are not like brochures, printed and then finished. They’re more like a work in progress. You should always be adding new stuff to yours: news items, blogs and other quick pieces are useful here. Regularly updated sites give readers reasons to keep coming back, and drive up your search engine rankings. Conversely, sites that never change are a turn-off. When you see something like “Last updated January 2007”, it’s like seeing “This is when we last had an idea about anything.”
  8. Lost at sea. Making it hard to navigate is as bad for a website as it is for a ship. It should be quick and easy for your visitor to find her way around your site. The only direction that complex navigation, involving huge drop-down menus and many clicks, is likely to take your visitor is away from your site – for good.
  9. Who needs a dictionary? Even one typo, misspelled word or grammatical error is one too many; and yet some sites are riddled with them. This blows a huge hole in your professionalism. Unfairly or not, clients believe that a company whose website is put together in a slipshod way must have the same casual approach to business. And perhaps it isn’t unfair; I remember seeing a design agency website that offered “Copywritting” as a service. If they couldn’t even spell the word, it didn’t fill me with confidence that they would be any good at it.
  10. Busy, busy. On a website, less is more. Don’t have 30 or 40-word sentences. Don’t have so much on a page that readers need to scroll down. And certainly don’t put everything there is to know about your company on your homepage. The ideal homepage is punchy, gets straight to the nub of the matter, and draws the reader in. We’ve all seen websites, sometimes from companies that definitely should know better, with homepages so crowded that you don’t know where to look. As Basil Fawlty might have said, it’s only an introduction, it’s not the Gettysburg Address!

Stock horror

posted on October 12, 2015 in Branding,Design

It’s funny. People want their websites to be unique, distinctive and fresh. Some pay many thousands of pounds for their website design and copywriting, but overlook one vital area – photography.

Yes, it’s the old problem of photo library shots, or stock shots as they’re also known.

Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of going down this route.

The disadvantages are many. First, stock shots are bland, tired and boring. They tend to sap the creativity out of your website even if it’s superbly designed and written.

Second, they’re overused. They’re like that Jack Vettriano painting of the couple dancing on the beach, or that photo of the jetty in the Lake District that you’re always seeing in people’s houses. Far from standing out, stock shots make websites disappear into the herd.

Third, they’re anonymous. They say nothing about your company; nobody believes that smiling girl on the telephone actually works for you. (If she does, she must have an awful lot of jobs.) In fact, they suggest that your service might be as cosmetic as your photos.

Fourth, the people in them look like models (probably because they are models). They might be very good at dressing or immaculately shaking hands across an office desk, but they don’t give the impression they could solve clients’ problems. Again, this is a subliminal negative.

We could go on. But let’s look at the advantages.

First, they’re cheap.

And, er, that’s it.

In today’s digital world, you only have a few seconds to grab a potential client’s attention. Your rivals are only a click away. Is it really worth losing him or her just to save a few pounds?

We can create original photography for you that will make your website shine out like a beacon in the drab, uniform world of stock shot sites. And we can also offer a range of other design-led solutions that bypass the stock problem. Neither route need be expensive.

In fact, they’re far more cost-effective than the alternative.

A final thought. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words; but most websites stuffed with stock shots are worth only a few – and they’re not very polite.

Brief encounter

posted on May 27, 2015 in Branding,Design

In an earlier blog, we looked at the concept of corporate identity. Let’s now see how you would go about forming it (if you’re setting up a new company) or changing it (if you don’t much like your existing one).

In either case, the best way to start is with a brief. This could be for you, your fellow directors, and ultimately for your design agency. (We can recommend a really good one, if you’re struggling.)

Keep the brief simple; go for the big picture rather than the detail, which can be fleshed out later. Some people like to use a big sheet of paper to jot down words, phrases and thoughts and link them up to each other.

The first stage is all about your company’s personality. What should it be? What do you want to evoke in the minds of the public when they think of your business?

Obviously, if you have an existing identity, ask yourself at this stage how people perceive it – and why it might not be the right perception. We’ve worked with a number of companies which are dynamic, creative, problem-solving, friendly and go-ahead…but whose websites and other aspects of their identity are staid, pedestrian and dull. Improving their corporate identity has often transformed their profitability as customers and prospects come to realise what they’re really like to work with.

Stage two is the really fun part: brainstorming. Get together with a few colleagues and come up with some ideas that can reflect the personality of the company. The identity should be distinctive (and preferably unique), easy to reproduce across formats and sizes, flexible and appropriate.

One law firm we worked with insisted on using the same design on the cover of their corporate brochure as on their business cards. It worked on the cards but looked frankly out of place on the brochure.

The logo is an important part of the identity, of course. Probably you won’t want something like the London Olympics one – and definitely won’t want to pay the £400,000 its development allegedly cost.

What your logo should do is reflect your company’s personality, evoke positive and warm feelings, inspire, attract and set you apart from your rivals.

The name of a company is also vital. The best ones are short and memorable (so “Thereallynotbadatallcompany” is probably best left on the shelf), easy to pronounce, and ideally positive in tone. Avoid overused terms like “solutions” in your company name. Also make sure that it works across different languages; even if you’re not an international player now, you might be one day.

This reminds us of the story of when Coca-Cola first began selling its famous drink in China. The name Coca-Cola rendered phonetically in Mandarin Chinese sounds like “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax”, neither of which quite conveys the thirst-quenching and refreshing qualities the corporation wanted. It’s probably an urban myth that they ever marketed it as such. One true blunder, though, happened to KFC: trying to translate their “finger lickin’ good” slogan into Chinese, the phrase they ended up with actually read “eat your fingers off”. Ouch!

Stage three is to compile a checklist of all the items the new identity will be used on, from business cards and compliment slips to websites and van liveries.

Having produced all this, pass it over and talk it through with your friendly neighbourhood design agency, light the touch paper, stand well back – and wait for your stunning new corporate identity to be revealed to the world.

If it’s a good identity, the benefits will become increasingly apparent over time. These will include differentiating your company, making your message consistent, boosting your professionalism and raising your standards.

Not bad for something that started on a single sheet of paper.