Book Review: The Truth About Creating Brands People Love

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book Review: The Truth About Creating Brand People LoveCreating brands people love seems so easy, and yet creating brands people love requires more than simply love of a product and spectacularly creative advertising - it requires intelligent, strategic, and coordinated decisions in many areas of marketing. This is my review of The Truth About Creating Brands People Love by Brian Till and Donna Heckler.

Book Review: The Truth About Creating Brand People Love
"Creating brands people love seems so easy. Just look around at all the wonderful brands that we experience every day. Yet, creating brands people love requires more than simply love of a product and spectacularly creative advertising - it requires intelligent, strategic, and coordinated decisions in many areas of marketing. Packaging, promotion, advertising, positioning, distribution, and pricing are just some of the important functions that, when successfully managed, lead to profitable brands that matter to consumers."

Effective brand building is built on a foundation of principles and guidelines that run counter to our natural way of thinking. For example, building an effective brand requires not only understanding what a brand stands for, but what it doesn't stand for. Similarly, it means understanding not only who the brand is for, but who it isn't for. Such thinking is not natural as most companies want to believe that their brand appeals to everyone when in truth this is not the case. Grasping this very concept is the first step to building a successful brand that people will love.

In their book The Truth About Creating Brands People Love, authors Brian Till and Donna Heckler provide both practical and applicable branding advice, and do so while evaluating many of today's top companies across a wide range of industries. They offer concrete marketing strategies necessary for creating a sustainable brand.

Till and Heckler are leaders in brand marketing. Till is a Professor of Marketing at Saint Louis University and Heckler is the Lead Brand Strategist for Monsanto. Together, they make the perfect team. I first learned about their book through Amazon. I am continually researching and buying design and marketing related books and this happened to be one that Amazon recommended. Normally, I'm hesitant towards Amazon's recommendations, but upon further review I decided to give it a shot. I'm glad I did.

Book Review

Learning about and implementing brand strategies are among my absolute favorite tasks as a website design and marketing professional. Branding is a topic that has always captivated me. It's the simple idea of a company's perceived value being, at times, greater than its actual value that interests me. Or, that reputation can have more influencing power than price. Or, that consumers can become so passionate about a brand that they'll happily defend it at the drop of a hat.

The Truth About Creating Brands People Love is a decent read with respect to brand marketing. The book acts as toolbox for ideas, strategies, and techniques that can be used to transform a great product or company into a profitable brand people will love. Till and Heckler provide real life examples of how today's big brands have benefited from these very concepts, and even go on to mention how some brands have even been hurt by not doing so.

The very purpose of this book is to illustrate universal truths about brand management. These truths transcend context and provide highly important insights to any and all industries. In other words, the lessons learned in this book are as relevant to a marketing manager for a steel producer as for a cereal maker; as meaningful to a brand manager for coffee machines as for a ski resort; as useful to someone running an art gallery as to someone managing a high-end hotel.

My only complaint, if you want to call it that, is that a few of the later strategies/chapters get somewhat repetitive with those of earlier ones. In fact, I'd say that the book could have been trimmed down to maybe 45 chapters or so, instead of 51. However, this my opinion, and you might not agree.

Overall, at 224 pages, it's a fairly short read, and held my attention which can't be said for many other books in this category. The Truth About Creating Brands People Love is full of proven strategies that that brand managers and even small businesses can use to create a product or company brand that is worth loving. I'd certainly recommend this book to anyone tasked with creating strong brands and/or managing them effectively over the long-run.

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Experiment: 32 Logos in 30-Minutes

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Tuesday, June 04, 2013

8 Website Navigation Tips Your Users Will LoveEXCERPT: Logos bombard us. Think clothing, cereal isles, TV commercials, and Internet ads. From the moment we wake to the moment we sleep, they're an ever-present part of our daily routine. As a person who designs company logos and brand identities, I'm okay with this. I know the importance of a good logo and understand the role it plays in our world.

Experiment: 32 Logos in 30-Minutes

Logos bombard us. Think clothing, cereal isles, TV commercials, and Internet ads. From the moment we wake to the moment we sleep, they're an ever-present part of our daily routine. As a person who designs company logos and brand identities, I'm okay with this. I know the importance of a good logo and understand the role it plays in our world.

According to Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., in his book Brain Longevity (1999), the average American sees 16,000 advertisements, logos, and labels in a day. Consider for a moment that this was nearly 15 years ago; can you imagine how much more we're subjected to today? With the adoption of the Internet and mobile devices, I would imagine that the number of brand marks we see daily has doubled if not tripled.

This had got me thinking. Assuming that the number of advertisements, logos, and labels Americans see in a day has grown significantly, does anyone even notice? I'll ask you. Are you aware that you're seeing 16,000+ brand marks each and every day? I wasn't.

I decided to run a quick and simple test that would further illustrate the constant presence of logos in my daily life. I spent the first 30-minutes of a normal working day (starting with the alarm clock) documenting the brand marks on the products I interact with, and this is what I found:

32 Logos in 30-Minutes


Experiment: 32 Logos in 30-Minutes
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Experiment: 32 Logos in 30-Minutes

Many of you are no doubt thinking "32 logos... is that all. Big deal." In all actuality, it is a huge deal.

First off, all things even (which we know they are not) 32 logos per half-hour equates to 1,536 logos per day. Second, consider for a moment that I only documented the brand marks of those products I used and not those that I had seen but ignored - other foods, toiletries, books, TV shows, and clothing. When you factor in these missed opportunities, the overall number grows immensely, and all before even leaving my house.

Try it yourself. Maybe not as soon as you wake up, but what about right at this moment? Look around. How many logos can you see? How many will you remember seeing? What are your feelings towards those brands?

Conclusion

For many companies, a logo is the most recognizable element of their brand, and therefore it not only needs to be memorable, but be able to standout against the tens of thousands of other logos that consumers see daily. One perfect example of this is McDonalds. In fact, as you read this I'm betting that most of you will begin to picture golden arches. The same could be said of "Microsoft", "Apple", "FedEx", and "Target". Can you visualize their respective logos? I'm sure most can.

Now, granted, these are large companies with the necessary resources and budgets to continually push their brand in front us each and every day. But, that aside, they are also excellent examples of brands with simple, well-designed logos. And that's more of my point really.

I encourage every reader to review their company's logo (personal brands too) and determine if it, in itself, is unique enough, recognizable enough, and memorable enough to stand out in a crowd of all the other logos that cross our paths daily. If not, now might be good time to seek a logo redesign, or at least consult with a designer.

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Is Facebook's Graph Search a Google Killer?

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Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Is Facebook's Graph Search a Google Killer?Thanks to an audience of more than 1 billion monthly active members, Facebook doesn't just have big data, but rather access to an enormous amount of data. Better yet, the world's largest social network is finally ready to put that data to good use with the release of Graph Search. This has search and social marketers asking... are we witnessing the beginnings of a "Google killer?"

Is Facebook's Graph Search a Google Killer?

Thanks to an audience of more than 1 billion monthly active members, Facebook doesn't just have big data, but rather access to an enormous amount of data. Better yet, the world's largest social network is finally ready to put that data to good use with the release of Graph Search. While its certain that Facebook's Graph Search promises to be a game changer for search and social marketers alike, is it possible that we're witnessing the beginnings of a "Google killer?" Let's review.

What is Facebook's Graph Search?

Facebook's current search offering is only capable of turning up results for people, pages, groups, or apps before directing users on to Bing for a more comprehensive web-based search experience. Graph Search, however, aims to solve this problem by allowing users to conduct phrase-based queries and discover alternative information. This information is based on data that Facebook has collected from its members over time.

Graph Search is in beta and only available to a limited number of Facebook members. The feature focuses on four main areas: people, photos, places, and interests. With that, Facebook members will have the ability to place personalized searches for a variety of information that ranges from casual questions like "movies my friends like" to direct ones like "restaurants nearby."

For example, if I happened to be in the market for a new book and wanted to read something in which my friends have already read, I could place a search on Facebook for "books my friends like" and Graph Search will provide a personalized list of books that my friends have liked. In addition, search results will feature other data, including the names of friends who had liked a certain book and how many total likes each book has on Facebook.

Here is an example of Facebook's Graph Search in action:

Is Facebook's Graph Search a Google Killer?

It is well known that Facebook's mission is to make the world more open and connected, and Graph Search promises to play a major role in this idea by providing users with a new way to explore their connections. Graph Search is able to map out each user's relationships with people and the things they care about. This information, referred to as the graph, is big and constantly expanding with new people, content, and connections. Naturally, though, comes the next question... how will Graph Search impact businesses?

Graph Search and Local Searching

Consider for a moment that more than 600 million users visit Facebook on a daily basis. With the addition of Graph Search, isn't it likely that these users will have fewer reasons to use other location-based search services, like Yelp, Foursquare, and Google Maps, if they get better and more personalized results on Facebook? Why yes it is, and that is what makes Graph Search worth paying attention to.

Moreover, Graph Search compiles its results in a visually appealing way and provides users with key personalized information that is unavailable elsewhere, such as the names of friends who have liked or check into a business and when. In fact, knowing which of my friends liked what and when is far more important to me than a third-party review from some random person... especially, if we're talking restaurants and eateries.

That being said, if Graph Search truly does become the search feature that Facebook wants it to be, businesses with Facebook Pages will want to optimize their social strategies to ensure that their brand is among the top results when a search is conducted. However, appearing first in the search results may be easier said than done.

Optimizing for Graph Search

Although little is known about Graph Search, there are a few social best practices that Page managers should leverage now.

The most important thing to know about Graph Search is that likes will likely matter... a lot. Search results are based on Facebook's understanding of a brand's follower counts, which means that businesses with large fan bases will be more likely to turn up in the results for various searches. Additionally, likes will not be the only factor to help determine where businesses end up in Facebook's Graph Search results. Expect other interaction types, such as check-ins to be influential, as well. I can definitely see how the number and frequency of check-ins may help brands appear high on search results.

So, what are brands and page managers to do? Well, if it isn't yet obvious, businesses will need to focus on creating engagement with and between their fans. This can be done through a combination of publishing great content as well as offering incentives for those fans that take specific actions. One example is to offer discounts on in-store purchases when a customer checks in through Facebook.

Aside from encouraging engagement with fans, I suggest that brands also continue to invest in their profile and make sure it is complete and updated. Page managers should verify that the name, category, vanity URL and information within their Page's ‘About' section is correct.

Is Graph Search a Google Killer?

In closing I will say this... while there have been many theories floating around regarding the implications of Graph Search, I for one don't believe it to be a ‘Google Killer', at least not right out of the gate. Graph Search will undoubtedly affect location-based platforms, as previously mentioned, but in my opinion Facebook is quite far from contending with Google in terms of complex web searching.

With that said, I do believe that Graph Search could indirectly create a few issues for Google in terms of Bing and market share. Consider this... if Facebook can't find results for a member's query, it directs users to Bing for web-based results (as it did previously). The difference is, however, that Graph Search is much more robust than Facebook's previous search offering, and if members start using this feature on a regular basis, those users could end up on Bing more often than not, at which point it is up to Bing to keep them coming back. While it is far too soon to call this new search functionality a Google killer, it does have the potential to improve Bing's market share. And that, we know, could be deadly in its own right.

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10 Benefits to Hiring a Yahoo! Store Designer

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Thursday, April 04, 2013

10 Benefits to Hiring a Yahoo! Store DesignerYou might be asking yourself, do I really need to hire a Yahoo! Store designer or can I just create my own website using my team and the tools and resources that are available to us? The short answer is no. One does not need to hire a designer to develop their new website. However, the longer answer might surprise you. Consider these 10 benefits.

10 Benefits to Hiring a Yahoo! Store Designer

Today's post is one that I originally wrote back in March of 2012 for the Yahoo! Store blog. The topic of why to hire a professional website designer versus taking your design needs in-house is still one that is highly relevant, and very much debated today. Here are my thoughts on subject.

You might be asking yourself, do I really need to hire a Yahoo! Store designer or can I just create my own website using the tools and resources that are available to me? The short answer is no. One does not need to hire a designer to develop their new website. However, the longer answer might surprise you.

The Yahoo! Store platform is very versatile, as well as easy-to-use - that is to say that one doesn't need to be a programmer in order to create their own website. In fact, the simplicity of the Yahoo! Store platform is actually one of the reasons it is so popular. Mostly any one can use it. Yahoo! Stores are also favored because of their hosting capabilities and shopping cart security, but that's for another post.

While Yahoo! does make it easy to create a website, this doesn't necessarily mean Store owners should be the one creating it. Consider this; doing one's taxes is often as easy as copying information from one sheet, placing it into a box on another, adding and subtracting, and mailing the finished product to the IRS. Yet, many of us still hire a tax professional. Why is that? It's because overlooking something or making an error can be quite costly for us in the long run. Simply put, the risks associated with making a mistake outweigh the cost of hiring a professional. Well, the same can be said for website design.

It is for this reason, and those to follow, that I recommend hiring a professional Yahoo! Store developer.

Why Hire a Yahoo! Store Designer

Aside from being a sound, financial decision, hiring a Yahoo! Store designer to develop your new website does have its benefits. The following are 9 additional benefits to hiring a Yahoo! Store designer, versus taking the project in-house.

Designers Are Creative. Is Your Team?
By their very nature, designers are creative people. They have a deep understanding for what looks good, and what doesn't. For example, designers know which colors work great together, and which will clash. They understand that certain fonts work well online, and that others are simply difficult to read. Designers know which layout schemes create the very best browsing experience for users, and which will lead to confusion.

Furthermore, and probably more important, designers know what is appropriate when creating a website. Consider this; when a business hires a Yahoo! Store designer they are trusting them to conceptualize a design and layout that not only helps to meet their business needs, but one that is also appropriate for their target audience. Banks need websites to appear business-like, professional, and secure. Waterparks need websites to appear fun, colorful, and exciting. Knowing when it's ok to be playful and when to be professional is important. Is your in-house team capable of making those decisions? Can they design a website that meets your target audience's expectations?

Designers Are Experienced in Web Design. Is Your Team?
Designers design or they wouldn't be designers. While I will agree that not all designers are equal in the sense that some are undoubtedly going to be better than others, they will at least all have portfolios of the work they've done previously. Some will be good. Others will be better. The point I am trying to make is that by hiring a Yahoo! Store designer you are in fact hiring a professional with years of experience.

As in any profession, having experience means knowing how to complete specific tasks, troubleshooting specific problems, and not making simple, beginner mistakes. Also, having experience means being able to provide businesses with invaluable assistance in the design process. For example, a designer will be able to explain what will and won't work based on their previous experiences and know-how. How much experience in website development does your in-house team have? What assistance will they be able to offer?

Designers Can Customize and Modify. Can Your Team?
The Yahoo! Store platform is built on templates. Store templates can be customized, but only through extensive RTML programming and expert graphic design. In fact, designers can take what would otherwise be a standard ecommerce website, and modify it to meet the specific needs of their clients. Yahoo! Store modifications may include custom layouts, programming, graphics, and add-ons. Is your in-house team able to provide the level of customization necessary to make your website stand out among other Yahoo! Stores? Can they meet all your design needs?

Designers Are Accountable For Their Work. Is Your Team?
In the event an unfortunate, unforeseen problem should arise with your Yahoo! Store, having a designer to lean on can mean the difference between a cheap, quick solution and a costly, time-extensive fix. Allow me to explain.

If your business is like most, time literally means money. The longer your website is out of commission, the longer your business continues to lose money. In a scenario where a company designs their website in-house, that company would be solely responsible for correcting any and all shortcomings. This isn't the case when hiring a designer.

Yahoo! Store owners should be just as concerned with after-sale service, as they are with their initial design. Had the business employed the services of a designer, he or she would be accountable for creating an accurate and timely solution for any problem that might arise. Furthermore, most designers would jump at the chance to correct problems associated with their work. How accountable will your in-house team be when website problems arise? More importantly, how quickly will they be able to solve them?

Designers Are Resourceful. Is Your Team?
Similar to that of a carpenter, designers have a toolbox full of tools at their disposal for when specific tasks are at hand. When hiring a Yahoo! Store designer, there will be no need for businesses to purchase high-end programming software, design tools, or even reference guides. In fact, your designer will have everything needed to complete most design projects.

However, in the rare, off-chance designers do find themselves needing something extra, most are going to be resourceful. They will know what, how, and where to attain what they need. Does your in-house team have all the necessary tools of the design trade? Will they know how and where to acquire those they are missing?

Designers Are Well-Connected? Is Your Team?
I would consider one's being "well conected" as an extention of one's being "resourceful," but more to the point that designers can leverage their working relationships - friends, co-workers, and colleagues - when a specific project or problem presents itself. Possible connections will likely include other Store designers, programmers, artists, photographers, and marketers.

With that said, hiring a Yahoo! Store designer means having indirect access to an entire team of well-connected industry professionals. For example, should a client request a feature outside of my expertise, say a motion graphic or video, I can call upon my friend and motion graphic artist, Matthew Butler to assist. Through their designer, Store owners will likely find solutions to their current and future needs. How many industry professionals are included in your in-house team? Who will they turn to when a specialty project arises?

Designers Work Fast and Will Save Time. Can Your Team?
Hiring a Yahoo! Store designer will save time, especially when deadlines are at stake. As I've already established, designers are both experienced and resourceful. This means they can work fast. While I can't speak for every designer, in my neck of the woods clients can expect to have their custom Stores operational and accepting orders within 2-weeks time. Such a timeframe can mean a world of difference when launching a new website.

Furthermore, hiring a Store designer means being free to do what you and your team do best, manage the many aspects of your business. Does your in-house team even have the available time to develop your company's online presence? How long will it take them to get your site up and running?

Designers Can Increase Web Traffic. Can Your Team?
While it wasn't always the case, overtime, many Yahoo! Store designers had evolved their services to include website marketing. Through a deep understanding of how search engines work and what they look for, designers can create a company website that not only meets an owner's design goals, but one that is search engine friendly as well.

Search engine friendly websites are those that appeal to search engines. Key characteristics include informative meta-tags, keyword-focused headlines and page content, and clean, easy-to-parse source code. In addition, designers may specialize in other website marketing services, such as paid search advertising and social media marketing. Is your in-house team capable of generating relevant website traffic? Can they grow your business through search engine optimization and other marketing channels?

Designers Remain Updated on Industry Standards. Does Your Team?
Website designers understand that standards are always changing, both in website design as a whole and specifically with the Yahoo! Store platform. It is for this reason that designers work hard to remain fluent in the latest programming standards, browser standards, and design, layout, and usability standards. There is a lot to learn, and even more to keep up with.

Designers dedicate a large part of their week to continuing education via classes, books, magazines, articles, blogs, and other resources. With all that is involved with running a business - managing employees, paying bills, purchasing and tracking inventory, etc. - will your team be able to learn and remain updated on proper website design standards? Are they your best long term solution?

Where Does This Leave You

Hopefully, I have been able to instill in you a new appreciation for Yahoo! Store designers and the many benefits they provide. There is great value that can be leveraged when hiring a designer to build your company's website, and the decision to pass on professional assistance should not be taken lightly. For the very reasons I've outlined above, I hope to have at least inspired you and your team to consider professional design services, versus taking the project in-house.

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8 Website Navigation Tips Your Users Will Love

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

8 Website Navigation Tips Your Users Will LoveEXCERPT: Without a clear path to products and content and logical choices for narrowing searches, visitors will likely decide that shopping a site is not worth their time and energy. That or they may conclude that the site doesn't sell the product they're looking for and leave in search of one that does. In either case, this results in unnecessary website abandonment.

8 Website Navigation Tips Your Users Will Love

Poor navigation is without a doubt one of the leading causes of website abandonment. Without a clear path to products and content and logical choices for narrowing searches, visitors will likely decide that shopping a site is not worth their time and energy. That or they may conclude that the site doesn't sell the product they're looking for and leave in search of one that does. In either case, this results in unnecessary website abandonment.

Fortunately for website owners, there are many straightforward tactics that can be implemented to make site navigation better and prevent abandonment by those visitors who become lost. Consider the following design and navigation tips when creating a satisfying and productive shopping environment for your customers.

Allow Visitors to Navigate Your Site from Any Page

It's not unheard of for visitors to become stuck after they arrive on a site from search engines or from links displayed on other websites. In most cases, this happens when website owners focus more on improving landing page conversions than they do on addressing the navigation needs of their users. To correct this, I recommend that owners add their site's primary navigation scheme to every page, and, when possible, eliminate users from having to visit the homepage in order to find their way.

Only Show Refinements That Have Results

Arriving on a page with no product or content is one way website visitors can become frustrated. Typically, this problem occurs when a website first launches or when an owner is in the midst of adding new products, services, or information to the site. Owners will often create their new pages and navigation links ahead of time, and add content days or weeks later when it is received. While being prepared is certainly a good thing, upsetting visitors with broken links or pages without content is not.

Display Breadcrumb Trails


8 Website Navigation Tips Your Users Will Love

As visitors browse a site, they often need to know how they got to the page they're on, and how they can get back to an earlier starting point. I recommend that website owners show their visitors the refinements they've applied or page's they've previously visited in order to get to the page they are currently on. Doing so will make it easy for them to move up the navigational ladder without having to click the back button on their browser.

Offer Viewing Options for Browsing


8 Website Navigation Tips Your Users Will Love

No two website visitors are really alike. Different visitors will have different ideas as to how they want to see a site's content or products. For this reason, I recommend that website owners choose a default method such as a grid or list view for displaying information, but also provide visitors with an option to change it for one that works best for them. Grid views let people see more content above the fold with bigger images and fewer details, while list views show smaller images but contain more details. A hybrid view combines these benefits, offering larger images and more product details.

Offer Refinements on Ratings and Reviews


8 Website Navigation Tips Your Users Will Love

More and more website owners are embedding user ratings and reviews onto their sites and for good reason too. Traditionally, owners list their ratings and reviews in order as received, and not give any consideration to how site visitors will want to view them. This is a big mistake. Instead, I recommend owners provide refinement options that allow users to view reviews by pros, cons and best uses, and sort by newest, oldest, highest rated or most helpful. In doing so, owners will go a long way in reducing their visitor's research time, as well as the number of steps needed to make a purchase.

Show Color Refinements Using Color Palettes


8 Website Navigation Tips Your Users Will Love

In addition to helping visitors choose a color option, color palettes add visual appeal to a site's product navigation and take up less space on the page. This is a clear win-win scenario. Furthermore, visitors respond more quickly to a display of actual colors than the names of colors in text. For example, using with a color palette, website owners can remove any confusion that often arises from using "artistic" color names such "southwest sunset" - do they mean yellow, orange or something in between?

Use Banners to Enhance Category Pages


8 Website Navigation Tips Your Users Will Love

Banners help give website visitors a visual confirmation of their location on a website. For example, a banner with images of microwaves, toasters, and refrigerators will likely indicate to visitors that they're now shopping the "kitchen appliances" section and not "outdoor furniture". Additionally, banners also help highlight sales, special promotions and popular results relating to the section, as well as shipping specials and related product information.

Organize Product and Content Links in a Way That Makes Sense

While it might make sense for website owners to want to show their higher margin products first, visitors will likely have a different opinion as to how pages and navigation should be displayed. When in-differences such as this occur, website visitors may become annoyed or worse yet, assume the site is without what they're looking for and leave. Therefore, I recommend that owners spend an adequate amount of time learning the needs and expectations of their target audience, and then organize product and content accordingly.

In the end, a successful website experience is about being able to address the questions and concerns of each visitor, and to do so as easily and quickly as possible. By implementing the design and navigation changes I've outlined above, and by testing various options to see which ones work best, website owners can improve their site and lower their abandonment rating.

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