Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Effortless: Three Tips to Boost the "Cool" Factor of Your Designs

Fashionable. Admirable. Timeless.


If you were to define cool, what words would you use?


Cool is just . . . cool.


In some sense, even describing what makes something cool can diminish its appeal. But in print and design, nothing is more appealing than cool.


What Makes a Brand Cool?


How do you add this edge to set your products apart?


To find out, marketing scholars Caleb Warren and Margaret C. Campbell carried out six experiments comparing consumer products, coolness ratings, and participant reactions.


In their research, Warren and Campbell discovered a relationship between the qualities of coolness and autonomy, finding designs perceived as cool were those that radiated autonomy in a socially acceptable way. Cool things tend to go a step beyond "stylish" things, so cool designs often push the boundaries of style. Think normative styles like jeans – but add excessive grunge rips. Or ordinary 1950s T-shirts – but add packs of cigarettes rolled into the sleeve.


Coolness is not an inherent quality, but rather a social construct. If coolness comes from stretching limits, one of the keys to cool designs is knowing your niche and understanding what customers perceive to be unconventional. As Warren & Campbell conclude: "objects and people are cool only to the extent that others consider them cool."


Bringing Coolness to Life


Looking to push the boundaries in a way that's meaningful to your customers? Here are three ways to set your designs apart:


1. Define the Gap in Your Market.


Look beyond your design to the people you are designing for.


What brands, social values, or fashion cues motivate them? Look at products your customers typically buy and find the "gap" between current designs and those that are too intense or extreme.


To design in the gap, add a bold twist to the colors, fonts, or ideas that might typically interest them. Wrapping paper company Gift Couture saw a gap in the market for wrapping paper "sets," so they created a series of themed papers that coordinated together, like the Cheeseburger set (bun, meat, lettuce, and tomato wrapping papers) the steak set (raw meat and cutting board style designs), and the pizza set (pizza paper with a coordinating pizza box).


2. Bring Magic to the Mundane.


Cool people or concepts have a flow, grace, or character all their own.


Cool things often appear effortless (though they rarely are), so how do you add this sense of simplicity to your work?


Seek authenticity that focuses more on a core concept or idea than on the perfected final outcome. For a photographer, this might mean focusing on the moment, not the shot. For an advertiser, this might mean expressing character irrespective of the norms, beliefs, or expectations of others. For a designer, this might mean using minimalist designs, stark angles, or unfiltered photos one might generally reject.  


3. Re-purpose the Old.


Sometimes the best designs are a twist on history.


Awaken inspiration for what WILL be cool by looking to what HAS been cool! From refinished wood to vintage art deco backdrops, sometimes the coolest things to come around are those that have been around.


Designs nodding to the past evoke nostalgia and spark a profound emotional response. And cool designs don't just reproduce old styles; they recreate them in arresting new ways.


Find the Sweet Spot


Cool designs understand their consumers' tastes and hit the sweet spot between the ordinary and the unconventional.


From the unique to the unexpected, when you appear effortless, incorporate the past, and design one step beyond the norm, it will give you an edge an set your products apart.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Savvy Tips for the Best Stock Photo Selection

Image is everything.


Statistically speaking, compelling images average 94 percent more views, are three times more likely to be shared online, and significantly increase your likelihood of capturing new leads. Professional photos are a fantastic way to boost the impact of your brochure, booklet, or mailing. But if you're planning to use a stock image, here's some interesting info to consider.


A few years ago, the Marketing Experiments tested the performance of stock versus custom photos. They found that, when swapping a generic stock image of a woman with a photo of the ACTUAL founder (and a caption naming him), they saw a 35% increase in conversions. Later, the Nielsen Norman Group eye-tracking studies found that, when photos of "real" people were compared with stock photos, the stock photos were largely ignored. The conclusion? When it comes to design perception, humans seem to have a sixth sense for authenticity.


Unfortunately, most small businesses don't have time to arrange for custom photos, and stock photos are the most convenient and cost-effective option.


How can you make stock photos more personal or effective in your publications? With the right eye and a few helpful tips, you can select stock photos that look more natural, professional and unique.


1. Use all your senses to evaluate photos.


What has a more powerful impact on you – a steaming plate of stir fry or a generic picture of a grocery aisle?


Texture and sensory cues in photos can whet appetites, evoke emotions, or awaken desire in your clients. When designing an event flyer or business brochure, look for photos with strong visual cues: a cuddly bathrobe, a sun-drenched field, a sinful piece of chocolate, or a brilliant vase of fresh flowers, for example. Sidestep photos that seem generic, dated, or bland to the senses.  


2. Avoid clichés.


Since the eye tends to ignore stock photos, search for images that are more personal and specific in focus. Some of the most over-used symbolic clichés include piggy banks (savings), plain light bulbs (ideas), crossroads (decisions), high fives (teamwork), or handshakes (business partnerships). Instead choose photos that show real action, stark color contrasts, facial close-ups, stunning landscapes, playful pets, or generational diversity.


3. Add extra search filters.


When searching for images, enter multiple keywords to narrow your focus.


The more personal your photo is, the more effective it will be, so make search tags as specific as possible. This can include anything from image orientation and aspect ratio to the number or people pictured and the activity they're involved in. When setting search filters, try geographical landscapes, types of food, sports activities, board game names, alphabet letters, times of day, emotions, temperatures, and more. Long-tailed searches with multiple keywords can help you find images that scream authenticity.


4. Finish well.


Always choose the highest resolution available on the stock photos you purchase.


This will give you many options for zooming in or altering an image. Sometimes a single image can be cropped in unique ways to give you multiple photos while maintaining a cohesive theme for your layout. Resolutions higher than 300 PPI are essential for professional printings, though large-scale printings may vary. If you have questions on a specific question, just give us a call!


Images work best when they don't look like stock photos, so work hard to avoid clichés, to arouse the senses, and to personalize your selections. Keep it creative and keep it real, and your designs are sure to stick!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

How Emotions Win Customers

Cassell's Hamburgers is something of a Cinderella story.


Founder Al Cassell launched the iconic lunch counter in Los Angeles in 1948. Famous for grinding beef daily, Al's passion for great burgers and homemade mayonnaise lived for years. But by 2012, struggling owners decided to sell off Cassell's rights, recipes, and equipment. It seems there was no magic touch that could save this beauty.


Jingbo Lou had other ideas.


As a Chinese exchange student, Lou came to the U.S. to study at the University of Southern California and developed a passion for architectural restoration that grew out curiosity for American culture:


"As an immigrant to this country, my very big task is to learn the culture," Lou says. "I really fell in love with the history."


J Lou put this love to work bringing Cassell's back to life in a salvaged, crumbling 1920s inn called the Hotel Normandie. J Lou recognized a hotel/restaurant combo was a chance to cater to the nostalgia of many Californians.


And he was spot on.


Since Cassell's reopening in 2014, the business has topped many "best of" lists and expanded into Downtown LA and a LAX location in Terminal 1.


Why such phenomenal success? Because emotions sell.


Emotions Win Customers


Brands build loyalty because emotions win customers!


While you may believe your decisions are rational, most choices are actually controlled by your intuitive (emotional) mind. Studies show that people rely on the heart, rather than on logic, to make decisions. Douglass Van Praet, author of Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing, says this:


"The most startling truth is we don't even think our way to logical solutions. We feel our way to reason. Emotions are the substrate, the base layer of neural circuitry underpinning even rational deliberation. Emotions don't hinder decisions. They constitute the foundation on which they're made!"


Brands put emotional marketing in play by focusing more on the needs and passions of customers instead of on the unique product benefits their products bring.


For example, Pampers exalts healthy, well-rested infants instead of dry baby bottoms. Nike inspires people to overcome limitations instead of highlighting superior shoe quality. Harley sells people freedom without limits rather than offering a mode of transportation. And Cassell's Hamburgers offers people a return to simpler days, including original chairs, tables, signage, and original menus hanging on the wall.


Want to enhance the emotional message your brand brings? Brand marketers suggest starting with steps like these:


  • Treat prospects as people rather than buyers

  • Give people multiple chances or channels to try or become familiar with your products

  • Use ads with identity messages that motivate or move people

  • Create a shared community among purchasers

  • Inspire users to have dreams

  • Offer messages that give people an experience, not just information

Create stories that allow your company to be part of people's lives and appeal to every aspect of your customers' personalities: their ego, needs, dreams, or general emotional state.


These connections can happen through music, artworks, logos, signage, slogans, sport, or anything that really 'speaks to your customers.


Above all, emotional branding seeks to build lifelong partnerships between a business and its customers. Once someone is emotionally captured by a brand, they are more likely to stay loyal for decades.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Four Exercises to Fuel Your Design Innovation

Even the most brilliant creators need new fuel from time to time.


If you're feeling stifled or uninspired (or you just want to have fun!) consider some of these creative "sparks" from designer Jim Krause to ignite fresh perspective in your monthly routine.


Exercise: Make a puddle of ink. Blow the ink around using a straw. Consider layering different colors of ink and using different kinds of paper. To mix things up, repeat this exercise but start the puddle of ink on an existing picture—a landscape, a silhouette, a cultural icon.


Takeaway: Creating things that create themselves reminds us that art is fun and beauty can arise from unexpected places.


Exercise: Choose a subject and create 25 thumbnail icons that depict its message and its meaning. If that's too easy, try 50 or 100. Start with basic sketches and transition into graphic design or photos. Consider different line weights, shaded and filled areas, or combinations of geometric shapes.


Takeaway: Forcing yourself to sketch the same thing in different ways can build and broaden your artistic muscle. The next time you work on a concept, fill a full page with icon sketch versions of it before you settle on your design of choice.


Exercise: When was the last time you took out a paintbrush? Still-life portraits are a tangible way to sharpen your skills, especially when you combine objects of various shapes and textures in interesting arrangements (think eggs in a bowl surrounded by glass spice bottles on a bustled cloth napkin).


Takeaway: Still-life paintings are like eating your carrots: they're good for you and increase your appreciation of texture. Painting helps you learn to see forms and colors, which makes you a more effective artist in any field.


Exercise: Begin with a blank piece of paper. Make a mark using the media of your choice (India ink, acrylic paint, and toothbrush, sketching pencils, chalk). The next mark you make will be a reaction to the first mark. This can be a new mark, a line, shading, fillers, or finishes. The goal here is not to "plan" what you're going to draw but to practice progressive art by following one element to another (like a group of people taking turns adding sentences to a narrative). Your goal is not to create a thing of beauty, but simply to flow. If the results are pleasing, that's fine. If not, that' s ok too.  


Takeaway: This exercise teaches the artist to rely on instinct: to react or flow rather than to plan and control. The best art can be born out of spontaneity.


Tend Your Roots


Creating is like breathing: it brings energy and life! If you only create what you're "told" to do, you will stagnate. Tend your roots by cultivating the passions and interests that nourish your artistic core. As you pursue creative expressions outside your job or career, originality will flow in your profession as well.


Now that your designs are really singing, find high impact print options that won't shock your budget. Want to talk cost-effective wow factors like thermography, high shine coatings, or alternative bleed options? Give us a call!


 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Team Collaboration Transforms Customer Service

T-Mobile touts itself as "America's Fastest Unlimited Network."


In a fiercely competitive market, T-Mobile knows one of its most crucial responsibilities is to bring pleasurable customer support to the millions who call their helpline each month. While traditionally its call service center resembled a factory floor (cubicles brimming with reps donning headsets), T-Mobile has dedicated the past decade to reinventing its service sector.


Today when you enter a T-Mobile contact center, you'll find reps sitting together in shared pods as they collaborate to solve customer issues as a "Team of Experts," or TEX. TEX teams include cross-functional groups of 47 people who serve named customer accounts in a specific market. Each team has a point leader, four coaches, and eight technology specialists. Customers no longer wade through a "call tree" but have immediate access to a dedicated, reliable team. Teams are so connected to their service region that they follow the daily news in this area and decorate their pods accordingly (like a Lego replica of the Golden Gate bridge).


"We're constantly talking about what's happening there," said a senior rep whose team serves San Diego. "I've never been to San Diego, but I know what's going on in the local news, where the best place is for fish tacos, and what the surf report looks like for the next few days."


Now a team in Chattanooga is responsible for 120,000 customers in Detroit, and a Charleston team responds to suburban Philadelphia. This collaboration allows each service team to operate like a small business, with members laboring together to increase performance. As a result, employee turnover has decreased by 48%. T-Mobile now boasts its lowest "cost to serve" ratio in company history (down 13% since 2016) and has been ranked the number one wireless company for service by Nielsen for the past 24 months.


Together Everyone Achieves More


Team collaboration fuels innovation and provides consistent service for your customers.


Does your team have a sense of enthusiasm or shared DNA that brings measurable results? T-Mobile started with four questions:



  • Are our customers happier?

  • Are they staying with us longer?

  • Are we deepening our relationship with them?

  • Are we making their service experience low-effort? 

Embracing a team-service focus brings your clients more effective answers. Reps develop more authentic relationships with clients, which means they can improve their everyday service functions. And this ultimately enhances the product or service you offer. A superior output prompts higher customer loyalty, increased sales, and better word-of-mouth for your business.


Here are three tips to help you improve customer service teamwork:


Clearly State the Team Objectives


Teams can't move fluidly until everyone knows what the "win" is.


Highlight Team Performance


Regularly communicate achievements, challenges, and specific goals. As progress is celebrated, motivation and unity increases.


Create a Sense of Belonging


While T-Mobile's traditional customer-service managers only measured individual performance, today compensation is variably weighted according to both individual and team performance.


Teams use collaboration software to resolve calls and alert each other of escalating issues (like regional power outages). From this ownership mindset to a wholesale transformation of the factory floor, customer care vice president Callie Field says team unity has empowered everyone to do more:


"If all you ask people to do is bring down their handle time, they can do that. But if you empower them to do more—to think like a small-business owner who is focused on the customer's happiness and the strategic management of their P&L—they can do that too. And they'll do it really well if you give them the tools and get out of their way."

Monday, February 4, 2019

Etiquette Training for a New Generation

Johnny Oleksinski of the New York Post has a bone to pick with millennials and their bad manners. Consider one technology-related example:


"Last week I watched in horror as a 20-something girl carefully snapped a photo of a basket of onions," said Oleksinski. "But we weren't at a serene farm or the Marché d'Aligre in Paris — we were crammed into the Columbus Circle Whole Foods. Thousands of customers were streaming through the aisle trying to grab some garlic for their dinners, and Little Miss Annie Leibovitz was blocking traffic to get some artsy snaps of nightshades. Will she print out these photos? Nope. A pile of white spheres under fluorescent light is even too dull for Instagram. Next time, Annie, take a breath and think about where you are . . . Pay for your brie wrap and vamoose."


Etiquette is Part of Your Brand


Oleksinski isn't alone. Modern professionals are finding a suffocating relationship with technology has left them oblivious to social basics their elders took for granted.


Presentation, both personal and professional, is a key to showing who you are. And etiquette training of all kinds is making a resurgence for millennials.


"Etiquette is so much a part of your brand," said Rachel Isgar, a Phoenix-based etiquette coach and author. "Just a few improvements can help your career."  


People respond to people, and poor manners may mean a hindered partnership, a missed promotion, or a collapsed deal. Companies like Beaumont Etiquette, which runs a marquee "finishing program" in the Plaza Hotel of Manhattan, have recognized a unique need for social training in the modern generation.


For $125, a participant can take part in a two-hour group session that teaches courtesy gestures, personal hygiene, and a range of soft skills conducive to successful socializing.


"Even if it was not something you were taught as a child, anyone can learn to have good etiquette, and it's up to you to teach yourself," founder Myka Meiers said. "I think, sadly, people become very self-involved . . . and forget about others. What I wish these people could learn is that by spending just a little time each day making someone else happy and spreading kindness, even the smallest gesture, their lives could be so much more fulfilled."


Meiers says honoring others includes everything from table manners to Twitter posts. Just as we once taught people to "think before you speak," how much more crucial should it be to "think before you post?"


"If you don't want your grandmother or your boss to read it, don't post it," Meiers said. "Once it's on the web, it's out there for good." 


Want to curb your own bad behavior? Consider ten smartphone tips for starters:  



  1. Never ignore those you're with to make a call or text.

  2. Apologize to your guest if you need to respond to an important message.

  3. Never leave your ringer on in quiet places.  

  4. Never use offensive language while using your phone in public.

  5. Don't post work-related complaints on social media.

  6. Don't photograph everything.

  7. Never post on social media while you're under the influence.

  8. Don't place your phone on the table during meetings.

  9. Don't text people about work outside of normal office hours.

  10. Don't dehumanize cashiers by using your phone while someone serves you.


Daniel Post-Senning, co-author of the 19th edition of "Emily Post's Etiquette: Manners for Today," says ultimately good manners are about putting others first, whether that's online or at a dinner party. While social customs change, manners are timeless:


"Manners are really reflections of core principles," Daniel says. "Consideration, respect and honesty."

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Build Momentum with Contests that Make Your Customers Smile

Boston was overjoyed again as their darling RedSox capped off a 5-1 series victory over the Dodgers to take the 2018 World Series title.


The championship was well deserved, as Boston won a record 119 games, more victories than any World Series champion except the 1998 Yankees. "Now we deserve to be known as the greatest Red Sox team of all time," said infielder Brock Holt.


If the RedSox are not the greatest, they are certainly the most loved. According to numbers crunched by Bundle, Boston fans are "America's most obsessed baseball fans." Bundle's stats include money spent on tickets, food, and merchandise, including neighborhood restaurants and bars. From May of 2003 to April 2013, the Red Sox sold out every home-game seat – a total of 820 games for a major professional sports record!


The "Perfect Game" Promotion


One Boston retailer recognized this passion and tapped into the momentum.


In 2013, Jordan's Furniture held a "Perfect Game" promotion with one simple premise: any fan buying furniture or merchandise before May 5 would receive the furniture for free if a Red Sox pitcher threw a perfect game between July 17 and October 1. While that perfect game never materialized, the contest was certainly a home run. In 2014, Jordan's offered a new promotion: if the Sox could repeat their 2013 World Series victory, everyone who bought furniture between before May 18, 2014, would get a full rebate on their purchase!


Jordan's grabbed local excitement and used it as fuel for sales. And why not? A wonderful way to build brand loyalty is by making your customers smile. Like a "kiss a pig" contest generates giving, you can grow marketing engagement with an entertaining contest of your own. Here are three examples to get your creative juices flowing:


1. Get Them Snapping. 


People love to snap and share photos, especially of themselves.


Capitalize on that obsession with personalized photo contests! Any photo contest can begin with these words: "Show us your _____." Contestants then take photos that demonstrate their best, their worst, their ugliest, their cutest, etc.


Perhaps the winner of the ugliest couch gets a free upgrade from your showroom. Maybe the cutest baby picture nets a year of free diapers. The craziest bedhead gets a free cut and style from your salon. Get them sharing and enjoy the results!


2. Get Them to Go Wild. 


In this scenario, customers capture shots of themselves using your product "in the wild."


This contest could include video or traditional photo categories and might also be used as a monthly or bi-annual promotion. Winners receive a prize, a service credit, or a gift card.


When you publicize the contest, include questions that might draw fun testimonials as well. Feature results in your newsletters, social media posts, or in hilarious product reviews!


3. Get Them Celebrating


What food do you adore? Do others love it too?


Get their taste buds tingling by building contests around minor secular observances like national doughnut day, coffee day, s'more day, etc. (Run a quick internet search of "national food days" for inspiration!)


Seasonal contests allow you to foster anticipation every year, especially during your off seasons. Ask people to vote on their favorite pie flavor then serve samples. Ask contestants to guess the number of Ghiradelli chocolates in your vase on National Chocolate Day. Ask for sweetest first date stories and give away a Valentine's Day package at a local restaurant or hotel.


 Make customers smile and keep your name front and center all year!