Tag : church

112: Asking the Wrong Branding Question

Right before a recent seminar, my buddy Andy asked me a question. He thought the answer to it would make a great blog post. I’ll let you decide that, but his question does create a worthwhile discussion.

The two-part question: “If you have an established print design template, how do you incorporate that into your web site? Or should you try to get your print template to match your website?”

In the waning minutes before my presentation, I blurted an impromptu answer.

“Neither. You’re asking the wrong questions.”

I’ve had months now to ponder my answer, and I keep returning to that extemporaneous instinct. As much as I authentically preach templates, especially print templates, those templates can’t be the genesis of a branding strategy. In one of my seminars, I recommend that the first media to create in the branding process is a website; but for most businesses, the brand shouldn’t start with the .com, either.

It’s not even a “chicken or the egg?” enigma, because brochures and websites are both eggs. The chicken is your brand. Every way that your brand is expressed hatches from the hen that gives it her DNA—its appearance, its personality, its intrinsic qualities.

Another way to think of it is as a wheel. Any medium we use for company or auction promotion is just one spoke on the branding wheel. The structure, direction, and shape of the wheel is determined by the hub. The consistency between the spokes on that hub greatly determines how efficiently and smoothly the wheel travels. For the spokes to be the most consistent with each other, they must be formed together. Brand Wheel Spokes While new, small, or growing companies may not have the resources to produce all of their brand’s expressions at once, they can lay the foundation for future expressions from an early stage. The easiest way to codify the underpinnings of future media is to create a brand guide. The brand guide is a reference document that can be emailed to any vendor, subcontractor, or employee to explain how your brand will be expressed. Most major corporations use these, but I’ve seen small businesses put together good guides, too. (One of my clients in 2013 now uses the best one I’ve seen on any level, let alone in the auction industry.)

The two overarching areas your brand guide should include are a personality profile and a style sheet.

The personality profile briefly explains the heart of the organization—how you want the public to understand you, which niches or audiences you want to attract, and how you expect verbal interactions to occur. Even better would be to summarize those three paragraphs or less to three to five words that you want to encapsulate your brand.

The style sheet transcribes your company Pantone numbers & 3M colors, fonts & text styles, design requirements (like margins, spacing, text hierarchy, etc.), logo variations, and more. Some companies that allow their agents or franchisees to coordinate their own media also include samples of specific media templates; some even create various digital templates, formatted by their respective media-creation programs, for vendors to use to build respective media.

The more specific the brand guide, the more consistent a company’s media will be. The more consistent the company’s advertising is, the faster it will build brand recognition and retention—especially if narrowly niched. Recognized brands get more consideration and then more customers and then more evangelists.

If you want to grow your business, focus on the chicken. She’ll take care of the eggs.

Religion likes its creeds and catechisms—its traditional branding. The American church likes its What Would Jesus Do bracelets and Not of This World stickers—its cultural branding. Some of these can be constructive for those who adopt them as filters by which to sift their lives. I’ve heard a lot of great examples of personal worldview statements along those lines, and I’ve unsuccessfully tried to adopt some over the years. Sadly, I have a bad memory and a minuscule attention span.

The one measuring tool (or personal brand guide) that has stuck with me since high school, though, is Luke 2:52. “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man.”

For me to follow Jesus’ example, I must be constantly
(1) learning and evaluating the world around me—growing my ability to discern
(2) exercising and taking care of my bodily shell—growing my physical capabilities
(3) ingratiating myself with people, both those I love and those with whom I rub lives—growing my relational influence
(4) falling more in love with Jesus and his gospel—growing my kingdom impact

Mind, body, heart, soul.

Those four words take turns convicting and congratulating me in my introspective moments.

How ‘bout you? What credo defines your goals and journey?

[footer]Stock photo purchased from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

110: Rebranding Strategies from Super Bowl Commercials

Two of my favorite commercial’s from the 2014 Super Bowl had something in common.

One commercial used self-deprecating humor with 1980’s icons.
The other hired a movie director to shoot an abbreviated action movie scene.

Radio Shack made an established one-liner come to life. “The 80’s called. They wanted their [insert item] back.”

Jaguar leveraged a subtle movie trope and used a white car in a dark ad.

What one point were both the Radio Shack and Jaguar commercials—two very different brands with very different ads—trying to make?

“We’re not who you think we are.”

Both had the same goal: change their respective brand’s engrained perceptions. Radio Shack had been wearing a pocket protector long before Best Buy took its lunch money, broke its soldering gun, and stuffed it in a locker. Jaguar had been showing people it’s yearbooks from the 1960’s, while yelling at Audi to get off its lawn.

Both now wanted you to know that they aren’t old, that they aren’t has beens. Both brands needed to tell you that they aren’t just evolving; they are going in a new direction.

Together, these two strategies encompass the most common ways that brands reinvent themselves. Radios Shack courageously showed you their past in order to contrast and give context to their future. In contrast, Jaguar grabbed a dramatic car from its garage and hoped its raspy exhaust note and some movie villains would wipe your memory of Jaguar’s recent AARP street cred.

Entrepreneurs ask me about how to “phase in our new look,” usually after a logo change, merger, or other important mile marker event. My answer to that question is twofold:

  1. Make the transition period no longer than six months—hopefully shorter.”
  2. Develop as many of the new media templates as you can before launching the new look, so that as many matching media pieces as possible can launch simultaneously. (This requires patience and self-control. If you’re like me, the secret proves a tough one to keep.)

For an auction company, it might be easier to transition a brand than it is for most other businesses, because—in addition to company promotion—auction marketers generate a lot of media to promote their sale merchandise. So, it’s relatively easy to distribute a large quantity of quick impressions for a new company image in a compressed period of time. Also, every once in a while, an auction company will get a premium asset to sell that will make a high-visibility campaign on which to start a new brand look—for that clean break.

Consumers who buy at auction are primarily shopping for specific items. Their search for that item draws them to photos and online mentions of that asset category, specific items, or distinctive attributes. As long as those assets remain the primary emphasis in auction campaign advertising, the brand image should be happening in the periphery, anyway. So, a style makeover—while seemingly abrupt to the advertiser—will not be jarring for the consumer.

Whether you’re showing a new era for an established company or just wowing people with new capabilities to replace old perceptions, don’t linger in the limbo between brands. Go boldly toward your new image.

When my pastor and his wife told their country church that they were changing the brand, 75% of people (including family members) left the congregation. Becoming a church that made unchurched folks feel welcomed meant making some church attenders feel uncomfortable. Candidly, every once in a while, I still get uncomfortable when my spiritual mentors challenge me to extend grace like God does—even when there are lots of positive peer pressure at what is now a megachurch.

Changing the dress code or the music style or the Bible translation from those of a traditional church can make you a contemporary church. Moving away from programs and dogmas and denominational jingoism can make you a culturally-relevant church. But I’m thankful that my spiritual mentors didn’t stop there—where form can still trump function.

Successful church happens when Christians don’t hold ownership of their local assembly—when it’s bigger than a brand, when we’re evangelists instead of multi-level marketers. When outsiders feel at home while still challenged by Scripture, growth can’t help but happen. Where there’s growth, there’s life. Often, life requires the death of an old thing for a new thing to sprout. Old things like the way church used to be.

90: 6 Weird Intruders in Your Mail Box

IntrudersI love snail mail.

So, I register for mailing lists all the time.  I like to see what corporate America is producing in their metropolitan ad agencies and what auctioneers create with their brochure mills or local print shops.  I don’t see “junk mail.”  I see lessons in how to capture attention and how not to get trashed in the first pass through the stack.  I’ve got a storage bin filled with competition-worthy samples, and I’ve developed a list of the ways auctioneers ignore the purpose of advertising.

Advertising should do three things:
(1) capture attention
(2) inform
(3) call to action

In other words, your media needs to make a good first impression, hold that attention, and then leverage its impact to evoke a specific response.  The first step and the transition to the second step are typically where I see auctioneers stumble.  They assume that the recipient is as interested in what they’re selling as they are and that the recipient will interact with an advertisement as though they already know the content will interest them.

Most auction brochures and postcards I receive make me shake my head—more times than not because of the mailer panel.  The mailer panel is the first impression panel for the vast majority of the people on your mailing list.  Don’t make your first impression like these guys I’ve met at my mailbox:

The Shady Lawyer
If you get on enough auctioneer mailing lists or peruse enough advertising competition entries, you’ll find a mailer panel that shows the auction company name and logos and their contact information—and nothing else but the auction terms.  Before you ever know what they’re selling, you’re given all the indemnifying conditions of what you can and can’t do in regards to something being sold—something not shown nor described.

If you walked into a retailer, they wouldn’t stop you at the door to read the fine print from your pending receipt.  Why would a retailer—or an auctioneer—start their advertising that way?  They tell me it’s because that’s the only place left to put the terms.  These auctioneers believe the mailer panel is the leftover space, despite it being maybe the most important space of the entire piece.

The Conspiracy Theorist
I also get pieces whose mailer panels hold not much more than a small (often illegally reproduced) map on them, sometimes with directions.  Like the shady lawyers, these auctioneers assume the space next to your address is the junk drawer of the advertising kitchen.  If there were more than one Area 51, you could make the case that maybe these auctioneers might be selling restricted real estate.  We’re told there’s an important place; we just don’t know what’s going on there.  Think about it: why would anyone be interested in a map that comes with no reason to use it?  And who keeps a map to a place they don’t know if they want to visit?

The Polygamist
Every time postage rises, more auctioneers consolidate their mailings, sometimes by designing more than one auction into a piece but more often by stapling and/or tabbing multiple brochures together and mailing them as a combo pack.  This can be a smart strategy, if the auctions are for similar assets that would have been mailed to the same list anyway.

The problem comes when only one of the auctions is mentioned on the mailer panel of the outside piece.  If I were the seller of one of the auctions shown in the interior pieces, I’d feel second rate.  I also regularly receive pieces that just have a calendar showing highlighted dates and a couple headlines.  Rather than treat one seller with unequal attention, all sellers get the impersonal treatment.

Typically, the auctioneer is combining an entire month’s worth of mailings at one shot.  In most cases, it would seem to me that somebody’s auction is getting advertised later than optimal timing.

The Mime
These pieces don’t say anything; they just indicate that there’s something not being said.  I’ve seen auction mailers with nothing but the recipient’s address and a stamp on them—sometimes also a stamped return address and logo on it.  Blank on the other side, too.  Why?  Because the auctioneer only paid for one-sided printing.  Usually, they are mailing a poster they had printed to hang in stores around town.  They are banking on the fact that curiosity will typically trump attention span and the hope that they won’t be seen as cheap.

I understand the intrigue strategy, but there are better and more professional ways to generate curiosity.  You’re paying to mail both sides of the brochure.  Why not use both?

The Narcissist
One auctioneer told me he that didn’t like me putting pictures on the outside of a brochure and that he wanted just his name and enlarged logo on the outside of the piece.  “When people see my name, they will want to open it.”  Even as a direct mail junkie, I don’t open all of my mail, even pieces from known entities.  From what I’ve heard, I’m not alone in that reality.  So, I wouldn’t trust the name recognition approach, especially when mailing to a new geographic or asset market.

The Acrobat
Usually this dude comes in postcard format.  He expects you to flip the piece over to see the most appealing images and information.  Online print shops only exasperate the problem by calling the side of the postcard opposite the address the “front.”  They assume guests will come to your back door first, I guess.  They overlook that the vast majority of Americans open their mail address side up—because that’s how mail deliverers put it in mailboxes.

Don’t make the people on your mailing list guess what’s for sale and why it’s important they know about it.  Capture their attention and inform them right from the first impression—the mailer panel.

In advertising, you should judge a book by its cover, because that’s what its audience does.

Spiritually and relationally, though, it’s not a safe practice.  God says that he’s the only one who sees the inside through the outside.  Sadly, though, the church has built millennia of precedence of creating a sliding scale of holiness, based on mostly-arbitrary exterior criteria.  I struggle with this, too, especially when I feel insecure about my spiritual state.

Recently, a conversation with a mentor of mine challenged my resistance to a former convict participating in certain church environments.  We talked about how scandalous God’s grace and mercy are, and he dropped this on me:  “I don’t want to have a finer filter than God does.”  In other words, if God forgave someone and allowed them to approach him, why shouldn’t we?

Then he hit me with the knockout punch: “All of us have some pretty dark places in our hearts—all of us.”  It’s easy to see the darkness in others instead of our own waywardness.  It’s a challenge, though, to extend to someone else the benefit of a doubt that we give ourselves.

[footer]Stock image used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com.[/footer]

83: The Ads of Summer

Baseball on the US FlagRadio is such an efficient way to follow sports.  You can actually accomplish something constructive while being a fan.

In high school, I spent many nights listening to John Miller and Joe Angel call Orioles games on WBAL, while I worked on my shoebox portfolio of car drawings.  I’ve had a bit of a flashback during the past several weeks, listening to the NBA playoffs on ESPN.com while cranking out auction ads and brochures.

Jumping back into radio listening has made me aware of a common temptation to advertisers: wrapping advertising in cliches.  Whether it’s “Hit a home run with your clients,” or “Score big every time you purchase,” or whatever sports cliche is used, somewhere an advertiser got off track.  How?  By getting off message, by forcing their advertising text around something other than their core value proposition.

With few exceptions, if your advertising message is different during a sports season than outside of it, your message is diluted.  People don’t buy cliches; they buy what you’re selling.  And when they’re in need of your product or service—no matter the sports schedule—they’ll be swayed more by your value proposition than your fancy syntax work.  And if they don’t want or need your wares, they’re not going to buy from you because your copy writer knows sports terminology.

This time of year, you also need to be careful about wrapping your advertising message in the American flag.  It’s tricky, but there’s a line between celebrating our unique heritage and taking advantage of it.  I’m not talking about whether you fly an U.S. flag at your office or have a float in the Fourth of July parade—or whatever way you support and celebrate our culture, freedom, and history.  I’m talking about pushing the text or graphics of your advertising—or even your sales proposition—to fit into a patriotic motif.

I’m not alone in feeling icky when American troops, like my brother in the Air Force, are used against their will.  Here are some tweets from Memorial Day:

“Yes businesses of America, our brave men & women of the armed forces who have fallen in battle want to be remembered with a 3 Day Only Sale”

“Why do retail stores honor our fallen soldiers by putting items on sale? It should be about the people that have fought for our freedom….”

“Memorial day is NOT for retail sales & new car deals. It’s to REMEMBER our fallen military personnel who gave their lives for our country”

As a policy, I think sales are a bit disingenuous.  [Aren’t they really telling the consumer, “We get the significantly-better end of this deal the rest of the year”?]  And auction marketers don’t really have mark-down sales.  But any of us can use something bigger than ourselves to sell our wares.

If you’re like me, you see a difference between the Miller “Give a Veteran a Piece of the High Life!” promotion and the Anheuser Busch “Here’s to the Heroes!” campaign.  And so does much of your audience.

Does that mean we avoid having auctions on holidays?  No.  Many auctioneers have created annual events, where people enjoy spending their vacation days bidding on interesting items.  Does that mean we shy from showing our gratitude to those who risked or lost their lives for our freedoms?  Definitely not.  We just need to ask ourselves if we’re using our advertising to advance their cause or their bravery to advance our branding.

You’ve got a summer of sports to sponsor—whether on Little League jerseys or on your nearest stadium’s JumboTron.  Independence Day and Veteran’s Day are still left on the 2011 calendar, and soldiers are wearing camouflage or dress blues every minute from now until the ball drops.  Show your support of these American institutions, pastimes, and heroes as you feel led.  Just make sure your message is not diluted and your respect is not in question.

If you’re like me, the primary challenge of your prayer life and spiritual journey is correctly answering the question, “Am I asking God to help me build my kingdom or offering to help further his?”  One answer to this question is idolatry; the other is true worship.

While that’s a constant struggle on the personal level, in America it seems equally difficult on the macro level.  The evangelical church has tried to claim God’s blessing on specific political agendas.  We’ve structured church meetings after Roberts Rules of Order and patterned our assembly decision making after the U.S. Constitution instead of the New Testament.  We’ve tried to control the morality of our culture—not through the church and the life-changing power of the gospel but through government—while claiming God’s will and praying for his blessing along the way.

We’ve wrapped our plans with his name.

Just like consumers turned off by cliches and numbed to flag clip art, the secular world is looking at Christianity for something authentic and valuable amidst the jargon and agenda.  I’m pretty sure they are interested less in our denominations and political alignments than in finding the life for which they’ve hoped, a life we should be living.

The question for those of us who follow Christ is tough: “Are my words and actions pointing people to Jesus or to my agenda(s)?”


[footer] Stock photo used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

Why I Canned biplane’s Website

Canned WebsiteYou probably didn’t notice that biplane’s website looks radically different than it did a month ago.

It’s okay.  If I weren’t in the process of replacing it, I wouldn’t have known, either.  Hardly anybody visited my old website, and I’m part of that anybody.  Outside of putting blackout dates on biplane’s public calendar or adding names to the “Who we’ve worked for” page, I didn’t really interact with the site.  So, I didn’t expect anyone else to be interacting with my company there, either.

The artist formerly known as biplaneproductions.com exemplified what some experts call a “brochure site” or “web 1.0.”  It was good-looking with its stock photos and Flash animation; but, unlike the auction-filled sites of my clients, it didn’t have new and regular reasons to visit.  While it was more than a giant PDF, it wasn’t much more than a company brochure—a brochure that my clients don’t need and that my prospects don’t have on their radar.

Within the last week, a couple of my buddies and I finished upgrading my blog to a custom WordPress site.  As soon as that went live, I pulled the plug on biplaneproductions.com and pointed its URL to my blog.  There is some biplane information on the site, but the emphasis is on my articles (like this one).  Oh, and there’s an ad next to every article that points to biplane’s Facebook page.

See, that’s where I’m interacting most with the auction industry that I serve.  biplane isn’t alone in that.  Watch TV, and tell me how many ads point you to the advertiser’s website and how many point to their Facebook page.  Even President Obama held his live town hall meeting yesterday—not on the networks or CSPAN but on Facebook.

Facebook is where we live.  At the least, it’s the new water cooler around which we congregate.

My website strategy is not for every company—probably not even for my clients.  What is for everyone is determining who comes to your site and why—and determining how to cater to the answers to those two questions.  My potential visitors are busy, mobile entrepreneurs who want to pull from my knowledge base.  They access my company news and articles through my biweekly emails and their social media streams.  I take my web content to them, so that they don’t have to remember to retrieve it.

How about you and your online content?  What could you do to tailor it to your clientele, and how could you make it easier for them to access it?

Taking It Personally

One of the most challenging tasks of my spiritual journey is keeping tabs on newer believers.  My church—with scriptural precedence—asks every one of us to grab at least one hand belonging to someone ahead of us on the journey and at least one hand belonging to someone beside us or on the path behind us.  The underlying idea is that growing collectively (and individually) depends on us getting help and then giving help to others in the body.

From the feedback I hear, I do a satisfactory job of that on Sunday mornings and in other church environments.  I even land a few texts, emails, Facebook messages, and sometimes even written notes to my “little brothers” and “little sisters.”  I have healthy conversations with people who come to my house and those who hike with me.

What I need to do better as a “big brother” is to come alongside those with whom I have influence.  Coffee.  Lunch.  Double dates.  I need to take what I’ve been given—the Life I supposedly advertise—to people who could benefit from such.  I can’t wait for them to come to me.  That might not happen.

How about you?  Is there someone in your life you need to be more proactive in discipling or evangelizing?  What can you do this week to move toward that?

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

78: Take Your QR Codes to the Next Level

Microsoft Tag and the QR CodeYou know how it is.  After you buy a car, you see that make and model everywhere.

I’ve had the same thing happen with quick response (QR) codes.  After over a year of selling QR codes to my seminar and Facebook audiences, I now see them everywhere—on ads, signs, packages, and point of purchase displays—even on a car.

It’s about time, really.  It was 17 years ago that Denso-Wave (a subsidiary of Toyota†) created its “QR code,” their licensed name for a two-dimensional bar code that has since been made generic like Kleenex has for tissue.  Only in the past five years—with the rapid adoption of smart phones—have QR codes grown into the consumer market and then into advertising.

Go to Biplane's Facebook PAgeIn 2007, the same year that Apple released the first generation iPhone, Microsoft divulged it had taken the two-dimensional bar code to a new level with its “Microsoft Tag.”  Like QR code, Tag is Microsoft’s licensed name for their version of a “high capacity color bar code” (HCCB).  Just as the iPhone pushed the envelope for telephony user interface, the Tag changed the ways in which quick response codes could be used.

Despite spotting the QR code a 13-year head start, the Tag has grown in popularity; and multinational corporations are now implementing them—in lieu of QR codes—into their advertising.  As shown in this inset, biplane clients have been using both smart phone shortcuts next to each other on their mailer panels and larger ads.

Biplane Client SamplesWhy should you consider adding Microsoft Tags to your advertising?

As with several QR code-generating sites, Microsoft enables its registered users to track how many times a particular Tag has been scanned.  It even charts it on a graph to show you which days during your marketing campaign were drawing the most use of the Tag (and supposedly even location of scans—haven’t tried that part yet).  Thus, the Tag provides just another way to track the effectiveness of your various media.

The Tag comes with programmable start and expiration dates.  You can set it to continue indefinitely or to end at a designated time after your event.  If you have special information that will be released at a specific time, you can set the code to work only after that time.  QR codes can do at least part of this, just not through all code-generating sites.  Unlike QR codes, the Tag will allow you to change your data source—the destination at the other end of the scan—during the campaign, conveniently allowing you to change your advertising message.

Colorful Presentation
While you can change the black portion of a QR code to any high-contrast color and even float it (without the white spaces) on solid-color backgrounds, it’s still a uniform color.  The Tag can be generated in four- or eight-color configurations, while still working in grayscale, too—for your newsprint advertising.  With some advanced tools, you can even give your Tag custom backgrounds (including logos and photos) and even custom scannable shapes.  It definitely will not be confused with other bar codes.

While most of your audience has probably yet to adopt either the QR code or the Tag, your use of them illustrates your position at the leading edge of marketing technology.  If you have room to use both, I’d recommend both.  Since the Tag requires Microsoft’s proprietary app, the two different codes won’t interfere with each other.  (The Tag requires some white margin around it; so, leave space in between it and your QR code.)

Scan me for a happy surprise!The QR code can currently be loaded with more kinds of information than a Tag—location services, social media connections, emails, Paypal “buy now” links, and even WiFi logins.  So, don’t replace your QR code with a Tag.  Instead, maybe have something different on the other end of each, using them to compliment each other.

The Microsoft Tag isn’t yet a must-have tool in your marketing toolbox, but it gives you another way to prove you’re a step ahead of your competition—or at least, that you’re more colorful.
For the past several years, my favorite Bible study environment has been TruthWorks.  Not a class, not a service, it’s just a bunch of people from multiple stages of our collective spiritual journey—all of us circling tables in groups of three to seven people.

Right now, we’re wading through the book of Acts at a pace of roughly a chapter per week.  I took an entire semester of the same 28 chapters in college and didn’t see but a fraction of what we’ve found over the past few months.

It’s not that we’re trying to find grayscale out of the Bible’s black and white by searching for nuances that create differences and debates.  Theologians have been doing that for centuries; and Christianity, especially in our nation, has splintered far from the unity that God asks of the New Testament church.

No, what we’ve found is the color in the Bible—where it comes to life, where it interacts with our immediate circumstances.

I’ve heard over 5,000 sermons and Bible lessons in my life—many of which I’ve watched through the equivalent of a portable black and white television.  In TruthWorks, though, I’m exploring the Bible on a 1080p HD 60-inch display.  I’d love to tell you how we do it.  So, don’t hesitate to ask.

[footer]† Source: Wikipedia.
Stock image of elevator buttons used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

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