Tag : creativity

68: Is The Business Card Obsolete?

I walked out to my car one afternoon and found several business cards on my fronts seats. They had been dropped through my MINI‘s open sun roof by a buddy of mine. Now, I already had Aaron’s contact information in my phone [and my Nano] and on my Facebook friends list—even in an Excel® spreadsheet that gets passed around our church‘s parking team group emails. He and I have hiked and prayed together, even shared a (spacious) tent during a lightning storm on a two-day canoe trip.

But his cards have been sitting on my desk for weeks—despite the fact that I will probably never need the services of a civil engineer, even one from a well-branded firm.

Wiley Wilson Sample

In contrast, I took three $25 restaurant gift cards to the 2010 National Auctioneers Association‘s annual conference & show to use in drawings during my two seminars. They worked in that I returned to my office with over 80 different business cards from auction marketers—biplane productions‘ target market. After keying the data from the cards into my email contact database, I stacked them in my stationery cabinet then later threw the vast majority of them in the trash.


Well, I didn’t need them; and nothing made me want them.

I’m not alone. In a culture where our mobile devices carry all of our contacts plus the Internet in our pocket, just about all of the people we need to reach are no further than our pocket or purse. How many times have you asked someone, “Hey, what’s your number? I’ll put you in my phone”? The vast majority of business cards just add to the clutter in our wallets, desks, and cars; and they’re far less portable than the address icon on our iPhones, Droids, Blackberries, etc.

Old School

Our increasingly-electronic world, though, doesn’t make business cards obsolete. They still transfer contact information and marketing messages to their recipients. Business cards can be an indelible medium for introducing and reinforcing your brand to prospects and peers—even if trashed after being loaded into an electronic address book. They can influence that all-important first impression.

So, what makes a good business card?

Not all information is created equal. As a rule (that has some creative exceptions), your information should read from top toward bottom and left toward right—in the order of importance. What’s important will be different for different people; so, contemplate what your prospects should see first. Also, the use of color and bolding should be leveraged in a way that lets a reader immediately see the most important information first. If nothing is emphasized, you’re making the recipient work for what they need. If everything is emphasized, nothing is.

Order demonstrates organizational prowess; margin illustrates self-control; and white space communicates luxury. Rambling lines and text abutted near the edge of a business card connote, “No, wait. I . . . I want to tell you one more thing.” Big shots don’t have to prove they’re big shots; they’ve found that less actually is more. So, transcribe only the absolute necessary, and leave the rest for your Web site, LinkedIn profile, and company Facebook page.

We can all tell when you ordered your cards from an online printer or your local Staples® copy center—or worse yet, when you printed them at home. We know when your “logo” came from a clip art disc or stationery catalog. Conversely, we can tell when you work for a Fortune 500 company. The margins and paper (or other medium) choice, print and trim quality, effects and font choices all tell people how professional your brand is. People hire experts. Do your business cards give the impression that you’re an expert?

You may not need to be as outside the box as some of these business cards, but non-standard concepts will make your brand memorable. Ubiquity will only get your information into a “contacts” app. That said, avoid creativity for creativity’s sake; illustrate an obvious purpose for coloring outside the lines.

I’ve heard from multiple agents of larger firms, who are trying to find a way out from the umbrella company’s shadow. That can be tough. But if your parent entity has a template for all employees, stick to that; or lobby them for a systemic change. You benefit from the branding work in which they’ve invested over the years. For the entrepreneur, make sure that your business cards connect by more than logo with your other media. Fonts, colors, proportions, and feel should strictly match across all your collateral.

The business card as a medium isn’t dead, but yours has to come alive to survive the digital age. If you overlook the value of your business card, so will your prospects.

Business cards aren’t the only tangible, human interaction being replaced by electronic media. This summer I read a great book, “The Church of Facebook.” It discusses the way our definition of community is changing with the influence of online social environments, and it gives multiple tips for adapting to and confronting the tendency toward more instant but more superficial connections with our digitized relationships.

That’s a challenge for friendships, churches, and movements, because humans were designed and built for intimacy. Spiritually, relationally, physically—we are most whole and empowered when we are vulnerable to and then authentically encouraged by others. (Personally, I think those three realms are connected to each other.)

When I find myself getting shallow in my platonic friendships, I often find myself struggling more with anger and apathy. When Crystal and I aren’t connecting physically, stress and insecurity bubble larger within my chest. When my frequency and quality of interactions with God drop, I notice my gratitude and stewardship wane.

We all have “dummy lights” on the dash that are trying to tell us to fill up on true community in our Twitterific world. Do you know what yours are? What do you do when they flash?

[footer]Stock photo used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010.
Business card used by permission of Wiley Wilson.[/footer]

56: Survival of the Fittest Marketers

Business EvolutionLast Saturday, I had the privilege of reviewing senior portfolios at Liberty University, the largest of the four major colleges in the greater Lynchburg area. Of the 39 portfolios to be judged, I was assigned eleven.

Sequestered in a small conference room, one at a time with each student, I had them give me a tour of their work—what they were proud to show and why, what they felt needed to be reworked. I’ve got to tell you, a couple or three of these “kids” had work as good or better than mine (and I’ve got a 10-year head start on them). I wish I could show you their work. I left there (1) impressed by the next decade of talent to be unleashed on businesses who need branding help and (2) thankful I left college when I did in the job market I did.

For the past four days, I’ve been reflecting on my own senior portfolio and my journey since then, literally 2,000 different project folders/campaigns—mostly in the auction industry. I’m embarrassed to look through my D-ring binders full of the direct mail pieces of the last decade of my career, especially the first half of the collection. I would even shy from showing my designer peers some of the pieces for which I’ve won national awards.

Tonight I pulled out my senior college portfolio and thumbed through its pages. The nostalgia of that belongs on a different blog, but let me say that my time in the auction industry has honed the core principles of how I design.

So, since this article is about us (not just me), what can we all learn from my 5.5 hours in a conference room?

Don’t stop evolving.

In the peripheral, we know that culture and technology are in permanent flux. Progress—the constant movement—has become normative. It’s hard to remember life before the Internet. I don’t know what I did before my iPhone. Email and facebook are built into the rhythm of my daily life; texting and tweeting have lost their new car smell. The various media I help clients coordinate per auction is a longer list than it was five years ago—even two years ago.

That trajectory won’t change.

In an industry where the average age literally qualifies for an AARP card, it’s easy to make habitual the successful tactics of the past. But the audience has changed. The media they use to find things to buy has diversified and multiplied. The competition for auctioneers now includes self-helpers and retailers. The buyer base required to achieve market value often requires bidders from foreign markets.

The question is not, “Am I adapting?” It’s, “Am I adapting at the same speed as the market?”

It’s not a question of whether you should have a Facebook account but how you immerse yourself in it. It’s not whether you have online bidding but how you broaden the buyer base that’s on the other end of it. It’s not whether you have color brochures but how precisely you can target to whom it mails. It’s not whether you get designations and continuing education but how much you absorb and implement.

It’s not about the brand image the locals trust. It’s about updating and expanding that brand to include a new generation, a wider buyer base. And it’s not about whether you have a logo; it’s about what that logo communicates. It’s not about having an email list but whether your emails interest those who receive them. It’s not about the auction anymore. It’s about what you’re selling. It’s not good enough to measure yourself against the industry; we must measure ourself against the marketplace.

So, can you chart the changes in your service? Can you articulate why your strategies have changed. Are they changing?

The balance of consistency vs. creativity has dramatically changed since I entered both the design and auction industries The filter through which I look at branding has evolved even in the 7.5 years biplane productions has had a hangar. The tasks I include in my service packages have increased, while my focus has narrowed. The way I organize my workflow, finances, and thoughts looks different now than it did a few years ago. (I could be specific, if we had more time here.)

How ’bout you? What’s your metric for relevance? Do you measure success or growth? There’s a difference. If you don’t see the difference, please move out of the HOV lane. Your faster competitors hate using the right lane to pass.

I cringe when I look back at some of the things I used to think about God and say on his behalf. I was jacked—straight up. I had a personal relationship with my Creator, but it was shadowed by philosophies and tradition, insecurities and ignorance.

But rather than focus on the regret over waisted spiritual interactions and who I may have pushed farther from God, I choose to look at the mile markers of progress from that place. The way I express gratitude to and feel affection from God has expanded. The way I approach heaven in prayer has been profoundly rethought. I’ve substituted new filters through which to view the church, culture, and my own introspection.

Our relationship with Christ is often compared to marriage. I’m a few months from my tenth anniversary. The way Crystal and I relate and the depth of our knowledge of each other has evolved greatly since the days I carried her backpack to class. It’s a constant adjustment, a gradual education. We’re better at marriage and better people for it.

Much of organized, Western religion is set up to get to a place, a set of parameters—walls in which to build and conserve a faith. But if you look at Jesus’ personal ministry, you’ll see a constant walking, a journey beside people. That personal evolution with our eternal love still works the same way. If our faith looks the same as it did a year ago, we’re dying. If we aren’t seeing new aspects of our love (not just new facts from the Bible), we’re losing touch with our lover. If we define our spiritual life solely by correct theology or a list of accomplishments—instead of what the Holy Spirit has recently whispered into our souls—we are in atrophy and of less and less value as salt and light in a lost world.

[footer]Image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010[/footer]

30: 4-part Direct Mail Harmony

Singing StatueEmbarrassing confession: I used to be a choir boy.

As early as the fourth grade, I used to compete in ensemble competitions. During my freshman year of college, I successfully sneaked into one of my alma mater’s televised choirs to meet chicks—even learned a few bass lines over a semester and a half of practices.

Now, I can barely carry a tune. I have 3 Doors Down and David Crowder—not choir music—on my iPod; but during the Christmas season, like so many of you, I pause when Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” or Leontovych’s “Carol of the Bells” is in ear shot. The complexity of pieces, when executed professionally, creates a whole greater than their parts. The four-part harmony enriches and multiplies the effect of a melody.

So, it is with direct mail. If you get one part of the deal out of whack, it takes away from the maximum impact of your advertising and may even bring negative reaction to your well-intentioned work. Your core message may be good, important—even needful; but you need all four aspects (below) to keep your marketing humming.

A picture is not worth a thousand words, especially when shot from your car. You can have a Madison Avenue designer and waiting millionaires who want your product or service; but if your photos look like they came from a booth in the arcade or a dollar-store disposable camera, you are hamstringing your efforts. Nothing limits your designer’s creativity more than crappy, low resolution photos—not even low budgets. If photography doesn’t come naturally to you, hire a professional. If that’s not feasible:

  • Make sure your camera is 7 megapixel or larger.
  • Take pictures at the highest quality setting possible.
  • Use a tripod in low light situations (and illumine all lights possible).
  • Take more shots than you need.
  • Take closeup shots of details and far away shots with sky or “white” space.

You can have great images but not make the connection with your audience. (How many times have you seen a Super Bowl commercial and not known what it was advertising?) You can have gorgeous printing and the perfect prospect list, but if the design and writing detract from your mission, you’re wasting your images and print budget. Good design should be almost invisible—drawing attention to your product more than itself. All colors, fonts, and design elements should accentuate your images. Successful copy should:

  • Use no more words than necessary.
  • Avoid clichés [“Money doesn’t grow on trees.”] and hyperbole [“once in a lifetime opportunity”].
  • Be humble, honest, and chopped into small chunks.
  • Pass spell check.

I recently attended a wedding where the best man read his speech from a Santa-list-long scroll of toilet paper. It was a good joke, but you wouldn’t want that laughter to hit your advertising. Engaging photographs and creative expressed on cheap paper will tell your clients you don’t put much stock in quality or value. Pretty printing delivered after the deadline is almost as embarrassing. If your printer is constantly making you sweat deadlines or not mailing inline, you’re falling behind your competition. If you’re not getting full US Postal Service bar code sorting and discounts, you’re taking money out of another deserving part of your advertising budget.

If you have an award-winning piece but send it to people who don’t need or want your service, you’ve yelled into the wind. Record and segment your current customers, and try to find common denominators. (Some companies offer this service for you and can even take those denominators and exert them into specific geographic areas.) Don’t rely solely on purchased lists. Take advantage of magazine, trade association, and chamber of commerce lists. Partner with established firms when entering new markets. If you’re as brave as catalog companies, rise the tide for all boats by confidentially sharing contacts with your competitor(s).

The bottom line: This is a package deal. A big screen TV is almost useless without digital service. A high end sports car is impotent without the right tires. Cheaper gas will only bring more cars into your station, if drivers see your prices before they pull up to the pumps across the street. And direct mail only works when great photography pairs with professional creative work and when well-produced pieces go to the right recipients.

[footer]Stock image(s) used with permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2008[/footer]

17: Exit Strategy

BillboardI recently heard one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received for my design. Paul Parks of international engineering firm, OmniTech USA, relayed the firm’s consensus on a new project concept, “We love how easily your sample reads!”

You read that right. I want my design to be valued as much for its readability as for its creativity.

I absorb the request for “out of the box” on a regular basis and try to oblige that as much as possible. Thankfully, the size of the box of expectations for most auction materials is pretty small by Madison Avenue standards; so, it doesn’t take much to push past those boundaries. (I still remember an auctioneer thinking I was shaking things up by putting pictures on an outside panel of his brochure and another for putting pictures at the top of his poster above the word “auction”).

I’m glad to have branded biplane as a resource auctioneers associate with award-winning work, but I’d prefer my personal impact on the auction industry to be more successful communication. The buying public appreciates aesthetically-crafted advertising, but they act on the readable.

A fancy billboard may grab a driver’s attention; but the shortest, simplest message gets the car onto the off ramp. The time a direct mail piece or newsprint ad has in front of a viewer’s eyes is even shorter, on average, than a billboard—a web ad even less. So, if your message has only five seconds or even (somehow) ten, you’ve got to work efficiently to successfully communicate.

To accomplish this, the most important part of the message (to the reader) has to be (1) brief and (2) primary. Everything else needs to fall away from that in the order it will be needed by the reader, not the advertiser. Text needs to be highly contrastive to its background(s). Pictures should be few and large. All elements need some “personal space” away from crowding, and details need to be relegated to the internet or brochure interiors.

Attractive, clear communication will sell my auctioneers’ wares more successfully than complicated designs. Successful sales generate capital for more marketing and more trust in your advertising infrastructure. So, I’m putting my money where my mouth is, trusting my clients’ success to translate into mine.

Lots of Christians I know are trying to find creative ways to reach their secular peers with the Gospel message. A new pithy bumper sticker or tee shirt is born every week, a new-format book or DVD seemingly more often than that. It’s like these TV sportsmen hocking their latest lures or calls, scents or weapons.

Don’t get me wrong: I love it that Christian apparel and media are more attractive and mainstream. I just don’t depend on it to make an eternal difference in the life of an unbeliever.

We need nothing more than to be forwarding the gift that Jesus gave us—that he offers to everyone. It’s the package of forgiveness and hope, love and acceptance, restoration and purpose. Jesus said he came to give us abundant life—away from our natural-bent junk and desperation.

If we’d simply communicate the eternal and present difference Christ makes in our hearts and lives, there’d be longer lines at our Christian merchandise stores. More importantly, there’d be fewer folks on the wrong side of eternity.

[footer]Stock image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2000[/footer]

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