The importance of Graphic Design

Graphic design is a language for living. There needs to be a reason for everything and people take for granted that they are affected by graphic design hundreds if not thousands of times per day.


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The Brand Equation

I just read this wonderful post in America Express Open Forum by Denise Lee Yohn called The Brand Equation. I think that this article makes the complex concept of branding much easier to understand. Also, any article that uses Debbie Millman as a reference is a must read!

Attempts to define a brand make me think of the elephant parable in which different blind men describe an elephant based on what different body parts feel like.

Case in point: A collection of interviews, called Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits by Debbie Millman, that includes the world’s leading brand thinkers offering their explanations of what a brand is. Here’s a quick summary of what some of them said.

  • “Something you have an unexplained, emotional connection to”
  • “A promise of a certain kind of consistency and continuity over time”
  • “A product with a compelling story”
  • “A profound manifestation of the human condition”

With definitions like these, it’s no wonder successful brand-building remains as elusive as graceful elephant-riding.

But my work on some of the world’s greatest brands and my study of many others has taught me that a brand isn’t a thing; it’s an equation:

Brand = Culture + Customer Experience + Communication

Moreover, I’ve learned the way to create a brand isn’t through “branding.”  Typical branding activities like creating an image to serve as the face of a company, refreshing a logo or tagline in an attempt to reinvigorate the business and developing advertising campaigns to get your name out there are pointless.  Instead, strong brands are built through an extraordinary culture, remarkable customer experiences and compelling communication.

Culture. A brand starts with an extraordinary company culture, because you can’t deliver greatness to your customers if you’re not developing greatness among your employees.  A vital culture cultivates the values and norms that guide the way a company operates.

Delivering “WOW” through service and creating “a little weirdness” are the renowned cornerstones of culture at Zappos.  That company credits its culture for creating a unique service experience for customers and fueling its growth from $0 to $1 billion in less than 10 years.  Jack In the Box, the 2,200-unit fast-food chain, creates competitive advantage through its fun culture.  Because its employees and franchisees are “bold, make others laugh and celebrate good times,” the company benefits from greater engagement in training and development, product launches and new strategic initiatives.

Culture is what sustains growth over time.  Products and services may come and go, but a strong culture ensures the consistency in brand experience that customers come to trust and value.

Customer Experience. Remarkable customer experiences are the second element of the brand equation.

All companies strive to deliver products or services that are valued by its customers, but the ones with the strongest brands differentiate and delight throughout the entire customer experience.  In fact, every aspect of operations is designed with the brand in mind.

Singapore Airlines embraces innovation, technology, genuine quality and customer service as its primary brand values and attributes.  So the company pioneered many in-flight experiential and entertainment innovations, including being the first to introduce hot meals, personal entertainment systems and video-on-demand.  “Singapore Girls,” the airline’s flight attendants, are world-renowned for offering extraordinary customer service with distinctive Asian hospitality.  It also runs one of the most comprehensive and rigorous training programs in the industry for its crew to make sure the brand experience is fully and consistently delivered.

Communication. When a company has a great culture and customer experience, compelling communication complete the brand-building effort.

Communicating with your target customers educates them and allows them to know, understand and appreciate the unique value your company creates.  Communication engages the target in dialogues that enhance and extend their relationship with your company.

Ralph Lauren fuses art, fashion and technology in its dramatic brand communications.  Just as its stores are designed to create context and develop desire for its products, the company uses communication to tell stories and convey the brand’s uniqueness.  Whether it’s a website that allows customers to make their own virtual rugby shirts and beam them to store windows, or a 4-D (sight, sound, space and smell) show with London’s tony Bond Street as the backdrop, the company uses “merchantainment” (merchandising and entertainment) to create brand-building communications.

A brand really is an equation. The way a company inspires and engages its employees should be inextricably linked to how it inspires and engages its customers.  Together, culture and customer experience produce an exceptional employee base that produces exceptional results.

And only when a company has a great culture and customer experience can communication truly build the brand.  If customer experience and communication don’t add up, communication becomes nothing more than old-fashioned branding that consumers see right through.

The brand equation makes it clear that a brand is internal and external; it’s what you do and what you say.  And strong culture, customer experience and communication add up to a strong brand and a strong business.

Branded Holiday Cards

2012 is upon us and before you throw away all those holiday cards, take a minute to learn what to do and not to do for next season. The cards that made a more memorable impression were the ones that showed more of the business’ personality, rather than the generic ones, right? The holiday season is a perfect time to send out well-wishes and thank yous, but there is no need to shy away from branded materials when sending out cards. Below,we showcase great examples of digital and printed holiday cards that we created for the 2011 season.
This year’s Arizona Technology Council holiday card featured design elements based on their new logo. The “nodes” in the logo transform into festive ornaments and announce the celebration of the 10 years the Technology Council has existed. The email blast replicates the printed piece in design, but is formatted to be digitally appealing.
This holiday card’s purpose was two-fold. The printed piece was created specifically for Miss Details Design’s clients to announce the two businesses (Miss Details Design and Tempo Creative) coming together in 2012. The front is an ornament composed of winter celebratory words, branded with Miss Details Design colors. The card opens to reveal the Time’s Square ball filled with New Year’s themed words and phrases branded with the colors of Tempo Creative. This piece not only brings warm greetings, it also helps introduce the new direction for 2012. The email blast focuses less on the merger of two companies, but contains similar visual elements to the printed card. Since the companies will be working under the newly re-banded Tempo Creative name, there was no need to confuse current Tempo relationships with the Miss Details brand message.
Carat Smart’s tagline, “Simply Brilliant,” is truly brought to life through their 2011 holiday card. The simple, yet majestic look of Carat Smart’s brand was incorporated into the holiday cards with bokeh photography and sparkling diamonds.
Eagle Luxury Properties builds exquisite homes and then provides concierge services for property owners. One of the many services they provide is holiday decorating, and is featured in their holiday email blast.


Top 11 blog posts from 2011

5 social media guidelines for restaurants


Getting a bigger slice of the feedback pie [INFOGRAPHIC]


3 tips to establish a brand voice


Why Digital Marketing and Branding Go Hand-in-Hand


Sensory Branding Video

Table tent uses

In honor of National Beer Drinking Day…

Establish consistency with a brand handbook

Going green? Font matters

Wine Tasting- A sensory experience

Creative QR codes

3 reasons why a tablet ordering system will ruin your restaurant

Introducing a tablet ordering system in a restaurant may seem like a perfect option – it could eliminate communication errors between the guest and the kitchen, reduce time to pay at the end of meals, and give guests the opportunity to learn more about the food and history of the establishment. But nothing is ever as perfect as it seems. Below we have outlined 3 reasons why a tablet ordering system will ruin your restaurant.

1. Cost. There are 3 major costs associated with tablet ordering systems. First, the cost of labor will increase because server tips will decrease. Restaurant operators are responsible for paying employees minimum wage if they are not making the required amount through tips. Second, the initial cost of the tablet computers – training, insurance, and the devices themselves. Third, there must be a reserve of cash for lost, stolen or damaged property. Most restaurants are a haphazard environment, with plates getting dropped, glasses being broken, and salt shakers mysteriously disappearing. Tablets will break, get stolen, or be otherwise damaged and it is important to prepare in advance.

2. Damaging the Brand Experience. When a restaurant uses a tablet for ordering, they are no longer known for the unique cuisine, exceptional staff, or tasty drinks. Articles and reputation surrounding the restaurant focus on one thing – the tablet. The tablet is something a restaurant operator cannot control (will it break?, what happens if it gets a virus?, what do we do if the internet connection fails?, etc.). A restaurant operator can control the staff that is hired and the quality of food and drinks. The brand experience can also be harmed at the individual level. For example, if an entire table is forced to share one tablet to complete the order, it can make the ordering process longer and irritating, especially if one of the guests cannot make up their mind.

3. Unpredictability. Guests have no way of knowing how busy the kitchen is, and on a busy Friday or Saturday night, multiple orders coming into the kitchen at the same time could bog down the kitchen for the entire night and ruin many guest’s meals. The tablet also cannot answer every question a guest has, and cannot predict the needs of the guest like an experienced server. Assuming the tablet ordering system is accompanied by a smaller staff making less in tips, the experienced servers will be much more difficult to attract.

3 Airlines that branded the industry

There are few industries where the decisions of one company greatly affect every other company within the industry. Bank of America charging the $5/month debit card fee is a current example of one company changing an industry. After the announcement, some banks publicly said they would like to do the same; others refused to engage in fees for debit cards. The auto industry is another industry that is affected by decisions of one company – competing for better gas mileage, lower emissions, and higher class with every new model year.

One industry in particular that we want to focus on is the airline industry. Time and time again, the industry as a whole shifts as one company makes a decision. This has impacted the brands of individual companies and the airline industry as a whole. We’ve outlined three major events in airline history that illustrate these impacts:

1. Southwest Airlines is founded in 1971. Flights are only within the state of Texas, and can therefore bypass federal regulations regarding air travel – including regulated pricing.

Before: If you wanted to fly, there was no “shopping around,” the price was set. Because airlines couldn’t compete on price they used the in-flight experience as a selling point. Free cocktails, good food, and great service were differentiating factors. Just the uniform of the flight attendant could heavily influence an airlines brand.

After: The deregulation of airlines occurred (1978) and airlines could begin to compete on price. Southwest quickly expanded outside of Texas and dominates the low cost market.

2. American Airlines
announces they will charge for the first checked bag in May of 2008. While Spirit and Allegiant had this policy before American, American was the first major airline to instate the first checked bag fee. Within months, most major airlines followed suit. Now only JetBlue and Southwest offer your first bag free.

Before: Checking a bag is normal, airlines still offer in-flight amenities like snacks, pillows, and non-alcoholic beverages.

After: More people use carry-on bags. Consumers feel airlines are nickel and diming them. Purchasing based on ticket price becomes more popular, as brand loyalty to specific airlines decreases. Airlines start charging for more things that used to be free – meals, headphones, and blankets. Spirit even started charging for carry-on bags!

3. JetBlue becomes a social media rock star.

Before: Long hours of customer service phone calls, and long lines at the gates. Airlines connected with travelers primarily through face-to-face interactions, and because most people don’t fly everyday, their perception of one airline could be determined by one interaction.

After: More airlines develop and improve their customer service efforts through social media. Delta created @DeltaAssist to help customers using Twitter. JetBlue is still the clear leader in airline social media, but more airlines continue to adopt social media and engage in real-time conversations with travelers.

6 Trending stories for branding + business

5 ways to include your customers when changing the brand:

6 steps to providing social media support for executives:

Why it’s so important to keep ahead of trends – the Kodak story:

Absinthe Case Study – structure and graphic design to embody the brand.

How to elevate your senses – from the Dr. Oz show:

Customer experience leads to happy customers!

Getting a bigger slice of the feedback pie [INFOGRAPHIC]

If you’ve been in the restaurant industry for an extended period of time, you’ve likely heard of the “secret” or “mystery” shopper. The shopper or shoppers come in and grade a restaurant on everything – from the host’s friendliness, to whether a manager stops by the table, to whether the server is knowledgeable and tells them their name. After their dining experience, the shoppers turn in a form relaying their experiences to the hiring company. The company then processes the information, and sends it to the restaurant, which in turn  reviews the form (which itself can be a long process  down the chain of command from corporate to district managers, to store managers to shift managers) and then contacts the staff member that served the shoppers. This process is drawn out to unnecessary lengths.

A few questions to ponder: Is this timeline acceptable? Is a secret shopper program even worth it, when the majority of experienced servers can pick out a secret shopper within the first 5 minutes of interaction? By the time the feedback returns, does the employee in question even work at the restaurant anymore?

Enter in 4G mobile phone networks, high speed internet, and social media, and the timeline for customer feedback is much shorter. A guest can write a review from the table on Yelp from their phone, or they can be tweeting or updating their Facebook status about everything that is happening. The best part  is that  restaurant managers and staff have an opportunity to correct a potential problem as it occurs, and establish a personal relationship with guests by monitoring these forms of media.

The key is to utilize the instant feedback available, and stand out from the crowd in your social media responses. Don’t just type a response – when someone checks in on Foursquare, find them in the restaurant and thank them for dining with you! Monitoring the correct channels also enables managers to address issues with staff (positive or negative) immediately or at the end of the shift in which they occurred. Events are still fresh in everyone’s mind, and ways to correct or compliment are relevant.

19 Takeaways from “Brand your business like your favorite restaurant”

This past Wednesday, we partnered with the Arizona Technology Council to present a panel of branding experts to discuss building a brand experience like your favorite restaurant. Our panelists included Kate Unger, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Kahala, a franchising company (owners of Cold Stone Creamery and Blimpie brands, along with 12 others); Deborah Topcik, Director of Marketing for Z’Tejas, Inc. which owns and operates 11 restaurants in six markets; and John Banquil, Regional Manager for Ling and Louie’s Asian Bar and Grill. Below, we have have posted 19 takeaways to recap the event.

Cold Stone Creamery is launching with International Delight – ice cream flavored coffee creamer sounds amazing!

Take advantage of product placement opportunities like Cold Stone Creamery did with Ryan Seacrest. Ryan sent out this tweet: On the way to @kimkardashian’s wedding…traffic so bad on the 101 I had to stop at cold stone creamery…coffee lovers in my belly…I will quick change in the car…I always keep a suit in trunk!

“We’re comfortable with our food – we want to make sure our staff is doing the right thing for our brand every time” – John Banquil, Ling and Louie’s Asian Bar and Grill

On social media…

  • “Make it so people can see behind the curtain, give them sneak peeks to upcoming menu items.” – Deborah Topcik, Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill
  • “Social media doesn’t replace people. If a manager sees someone in 4 times in 2 weeks, do something for them! Don’t just rely on check-ins.” – John Banquil, Ling and Louie’s
  • “Someone sits at the bar tweeting, we can respond right away and make them laugh – that’s a personal experience.” – John Banquil, Ling and Louie’s
  • Talking to your staff about promoting via social media is a fine line – you never know what they’re going to say.

“Our Taco Time stores are individually branded towards their communities. It was difficult to do, but well worth it, and fit in with the original store.” – Kate Unger, Kahala

“The Ling and Louie brand is about relating everything back to Ling and Louie, including the servers we hire and the way we communicate.” – John Banquil, Ling and Louie’s

“Make sure there is added value to discounts. Your discounts should not be telling the discount story.” – Deborah Topcik, Z’Tejas

“Always stay ahead.” Kate Unger, Kahala on frozen yogurt in Cold Stone Creamery.

“You have to make sure what you want to do as a corporation is what makes sense for franchises in their markets.” – John Banquil, Ling and Louie’s

“When people feel informed, they feel better about decisions.” – Kate Unger, Kahala

“There is a holiday for everything, and it’s a fun way to establish your brand through marketing.” – Deborah Topcik, Z’Tejas

“We want to be out of the box, out of the ‘wok’ if you will.” – John Banquil, Ling and Louie’s

“Cold Stone Creamery started in Tempe, at an ice cream shop that made ice cream creations on a cold stone” – Kate Unger, Kahala

“Blimpies was the first sub shop in the country, that’s where the tagline ‘America’s sub shop’ comes from.” – Kate Unger, Kahala

“Lance Armstrong started Livestrong at Z’Tejas in Austin – the first location, we benefited from it, but it was all chance that the launch happened there!” – Deborah Topcik, Z’Tejas

“It’s all or nothing with discounts – we stick to ‘not boring holidays’ to go along with our brand” – John Banquil, Ling and Louie’s

Special thanks to the Arizona Technology Council for setting up this event!


Sensory Brand: The W Hotel

The W Hotel uses purple as a design element as a subtle gesture that adds to the guest experience. In a previous post, we mentioned that purple symbolizes a lifestyle of luxury, royalty, and class – all of which perfectly align with the W Hotel brand. When a guest stays at a W Hotel, they are treated like royalty – the staff anticipates guests’ needs, requests, and strives to achieve perfect guest satisfaction. The W uses purple and other exotic colors to ensure that design elements within every hotel communicate the service guests should expect when staying at the W.

The W prides itself on being an innovative, contemporary, design-led lifestyle brand. The hotels are “a world of sensory experiences,” and the W uses these experiences to create loyal guests and a recognized and established upscale brand. In addition to consistent color schemes, the W Hotel has created a brand language, and offers guests a guide to the terms it uses to describe seemingly ordinary things, like the pool (Wet), restrooms (WC), and elevator (lift). This use of insider language gives people the feeling that they are a   part of the exclusive club of W Hotel guests. Just by taking part in separating ordinary things from the general vocabulary of people, the W lets guests in, and forms a community.