Author Archives: John

the power of graphic design

Eiffel tower peace sign

How Visuals Convey Meaning

Jean Jullien is a French graphic designer and illustrator. Following the murderous November 13th attacks on Paris civilians, he did what he does best – illustrate.

The simple graphic that emerged from his brush and ink rendering was instantly adopted by social media as the world’s rallying symbol against the horror unleashed by lunatics intent on carnage. Recognizable, emotional, symbolic, evocative. Follow your heart.

how logo design affects brand

Aligning Your Look With Your Mission

When it comihop logoes to promoting a business, particularly a restaurant, nothing is more critical than the brand logotype. Getting it right goes a long, long way towards making an impression on a distracted public that sees thousands of visuals on a daily basis.

To be successful, a corporate mark requires design integrity, repetition in the marketplace, and a connection to the goods or services it represents. Whether abstract or literal, the Nikes, Apples, and Coca-Colas of the business world rely on a recognizable visual that connotes quality and trust.

Emoticon, Meet Emoji

Looking at the before and after (above left) of IHOP’s haircut and a shave, it’s difficult to imagine how the approval process resulted in what struck one reviewer as a “sinister” smile beneath the word mark.

It’s arguably more legible, but only slightly, and that’s about where it starts and ends.

The IHOP acronym, in case some may have forgotten, stands for International House of Pancakes. But that’s not what I see when I try to decipher the new and improved visual. Emoticon, meet emoji.

HOW Design recently interviewed Siegel+Gale, a New York based branding agency known for their standout work, on the recent spate of chain restaurant logo overhauls. For anyone who follows corporate design, the candid remarks by the agency’s designers are for the most part an indictment of the perils of lackluster graphics.

A couple of things stand out in this collection of shareholder dependent corporate eateries. First, it’s more than okay to overhaul the corporate brand on an as needed basis. Nothing says stay away like an aged, dated, and most importantly irrelevant logotype. Second, once having decided on a freshening, make sure you’re just not slipping sideways.

Design updates should – probably – include references to historical looks that over time successfully represented a company to its public. But don’t let fear of letting go put up unnecessary barriers to a truly fresh, inspired interpretation that acknowledges the past while extending the future. Bon appétit!

what’s flickr done lately? plenty!

Flickr Fills Social Media Marketing’s SMM Bill

Flickr’s had an on-again, off-again relationship with photographers over the years. What started as a stand-alone cloud service that debuted in 2004 and catered to the professional market with a paid option, was pushed to the background after being acquired by Yahoo in 2005 right before the dot-com bubble popped.

When Yahoo hired Marissa Mayer as CEO to shake up the troubled social-news-entertainment-search URL, she moved quickly to revamp the languishing asset, turning it into what it is today – a fully functional resource for all photographers that offers 1TB of free storage to every Flickr member.

No Shortage of Cloud Storage Destinations

While there’s no shortage of free storage silos – from Apple to Google to Dropbox and more – Flickr’s got a lot more going for it than just online access.

The latest round of upgrades features a fresh textual filter that allows selective image recognition filtering even if the image isn’t tagged with matching text. Your search term “red tomato” is recognized even if the red tomato isn’t tagged. Green wheelbarrow? Covered. And the returns are quick, no waiting in line.

Earlier this year they debuted Camera Roll, a feature that automatically displays a user’s images chronologically that also packs a powerful search punch, while automatic grouping of images on upload is another tweak aimed at promoting greater utilization and engagement.

Fresh mobile apps are also coming out, making the continued transformation from what began as a storage solution into a fully implemented social channel a reality that while it doesn’t pose a threat to Facebook operates perfectly within its own sphere of devotees.

Social Media Marketing Metadata Options

When a user takes the time and has the insight to implement the powerful metadata opportunities offered by the service, Flickr becomes a social media marketing superhero. By taking advantage of albums for event grouping, headline, location, description, and various other available tags, users turn visual content into easily searchable content that can stand alone as unique content or be cross-referenced to bolster online content elsewhere.

Power users like Josh Hallett’s hyku stream, with over 25,000 images online, illustrate how adept Flickr is at dealing with quantity.

The Commons project is Flickr’s collection of free public domain imagery from the Library of Congress and other sources. Flickr can also filter Creative Commons licenses, including free to use with various restrictions.

For me, Flickr is the perfect still companion to YouTube’s video dominance, and a solid addition to a well-rounded social media marketing strategy.

advertising meets recall, wins

Still Selling – Just Unsafe to Ride

When Dealernews published Polaris’ “DO NOT SELL – DO NOT RIDE” bulletin concerning the Slingshot’s steering mechanism (defective ball bearings) and roll bar assembly to dealers in late January, you’d be correct in thinking dealer print and online promos and ads would be pulled until the situation was resolved.

The first public inkling that something was amiss came when the company’s letter to dealers popped up on the brand’s product online forum. That was January 16, less than a year out from the 2014 official public launch and just a few months into production of the reverse sit-in trike designed to take on BRP’s sit-on Spyder.

slingshot parked for safety repairs

Considering the daily barrage at the time of global and constant publicity concerning GM’s failure to clearly and promptly address their otherwise miniscule ignition switch fatal defect, or the ongoing problems of Japan’s Takata Corporation, supplier of proven lethal airbags to the automotive industry, the approach taken by at least two powersport dealer website management firms to allow Polaris’ fledgling Slingshot to remain in their dealer client’s main banner rotator is puzzling to say the least.

Those dealership content management contractors are well paid on the their promise of providing vigilant oversight, facilitating manufacturer communications, and lightning quick content updates to franchisees usually ill-equipped to oversee the day-to-day front end needs of online marketing. Or not.

crisis management – crucial for credibility

Taken together with the lack of transparency by the manufacturer, Polaris, and it’s a perfect example of a communications misfire from the top down that’s disappointing at the very least, lending further credence to the industry’s ongoing need for professional communication managers with the knowledge, skill, and authority to manage the occasional crisis. Consumers deserve better for a three-wheeled product that tops out at nearly $30,000.

There’s been no further word on the progress of this remarkable dealer notification that affected nearly 2,000 already shipped units, so consumers might assume that repairs to the steering rack and rollbar that began in late January have apparently been completed.

when it snows it pours

pinellas-cty-tourism.png

Selfie Marketing Pitch Popular

Florida’s Pinellas County is the most densely populated county in the state. It’s also the smallest, but that has never affected its ability to draw tourists from around the globe, intent on visiting world-class beaches from Caladisi Island State Park on the northern end to Fort Desoto County Park guarding the entrance to Tampa Bay.

With gas prices at their lowest level in years, an economy that’s on the rebound for the first time in years, and a brutal winter that continues to lash the northeast, convincing northerners to turn their wanderlust into momentum and head south isn’t a heavy lift.

Will Winter Ever End?

Nonetheless, Pinellas County’s marketing arm, Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, came up with a rock solid bit of creative when they launched a campaign centered around a family of nomadic snowmen who began showing up in slush and dirty snow blanketed New York and Chicago.

The edgy “WinterBlows” campaign plants irresistible (and guaranteed to have lines forming for selfies) faux snowmen on the sidewalks displaying sandwich boards headlined “Sunshine or bust!” and the WinterBlows.com URL.

Is it working? I’d have to say yes, considering how congested the main two-lane north-south beach artery, Gulf Boulevard, has become in recent days. There’s nothing that can match a smart, well executed, marketing solution.

b-to-b needs softer approach

Improve B-to-B With Creative Storytelling

b-to-b gets a creative makeover

The January issue of Advertising Age takes a look at B-to-B marketing as brands continue to sort out what works and what doesn’t for industrial communications in the digitized age.

The conclusion is that brands can’t rely any longer on a business marketing process that doesn’t address the issue of  “wonderful storytelling,” according to GE global creative director Andy Goldberg. In other words, the old way of sexing up a page from a parts catalog and hoping it flies are long gone.

Like every other area of corporate communications, from PR to advertising, the social in social media is the leading influencer effecting the creative upgrade.

finding new media outlets

For GE, that means taking advantage of previously untapped platforms like late night talk, boosting “Fallonventions” on the Jimmy Fallon Show to demonstrate the brand’s human side.

Others describe the new approach as moving from data to gut, and doing what connects emotionally. United States Gypsum (USG), hardly a warm and fuzzy candidate for storytelling, did just that in their “It’s Your World” ad series.

With user experience driving this new approach, the goal is to connect potential buyers using content that explains a brand’s product in an engaging and educational manner. How well that will work with traditional buyers used to making dollars and cents decisions based on bottom line performance will determine B-to-B creative in a way that could be hugely transformative.

And if its proven effective in the long run over traditional methods, the need for involving creative direction that’s familiar with social media will be paramount.

orlando (really) likes powersports

Ducati joins growing list of OEMs to display

photo ©2014 john siebenthaler

Powersports Market On Road To Recovery

It’s been nearly a decade since the economic meltdown of the mid-’00s dealt a way harsh wakeup call to a party the powersports community thought would never stop.

The Everest-like growth curve many believed/hoped/wished would go on forever collapsed like a 3-pack a day smoker on an Ironman swim-bike-run.

It’s against that backdrop that last week’s second annual AIMExpo powersports trade and consumer show in Orlando, in just its second year, seems to have planted their flag firmly atop the carcass of the once invincible Dealernews Dealer Expo, whose looming Chicago in December winter wonderland reincarnation of the event brand they once owned outright, seems now officially and forever dead in the court of public opinion. Continue reading

converting ms word glop to dreamweaver html

in Dreamweaver, edit>paste special

How-To: Copying Word Docs Into Dreamweaver HTML

Dreamweaver isn’t the worst environment for composing long copy, but it’s far from being the most comfortable. Text editing programs, including BBEdit, Text Wrangler, any plain vanilla text  or word processing application, OpenOffice, and the most user installed editing app, Microsoft Word, are usually better suited to the task.

While Word is my least favorite creative application, it’s the one I usually turn to when composing long copy for my web sites.

I’m not interested in Word’s clunky “styling” gimmicks or to-be-avoided-at-all costs so-called HTML coding. I’m just looking for a comfortable writing environment and for that Word works out okay. (I’ve recently made the jump to Scrivener, which if you can navigate the well documented learning curve is absolutely the best environment to work in for writers everywhere. When finished, it compiles your work into a Word doc.)

On the other hand, Word’s formatting and styling quirks are a major pain if you try the most direct route of copy and paste to transfer the content into Dreamweaver. One reason is all the overhead metric garbage that comes along for the ride in a typical copy and paste scenario. Here’s how Dreamweaver solves that problem. (Word to InDesign uses an entirely different workflow: copy/paste, drag/drop, place. Lynda.com has a good intro tutorial here.) Continue reading

need social visuals? hire a designer!

Effective Design Doesn’t Happen Without Talent

graphic design is fundamental for great visual contentI can say with full confidence that every list ever posted promising content tips for improving your social media message, including blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, will include a requirement for “great visuals”. This post is typical, recognizing the need without acknowledging the talent required to produce art that motivates.

It’s not a heavy lift to reach that fundamental conclusion. It’s the how that usually ends up badly, as simple lip-service from the aesthetically challenged on what constitutes professional graphic design begins from a standpoint of basic ignorance of the subject.

Real guidance on achieving that lofty goal gets murky real fast. There’s very seldom a follow-up discussion on how compelling art is actually created, or how to make the subjective design judgements that are the essential DNA of an art or creative director’s job description.

One good place to start is with an appreciation for the differences between an illustrator and a designer. These are not interchangeable, even though they often overlap, and expertise in one area is no guarantee that talent carries over to the other.

It’s as if those great visuals so easily referenced as the mother’s milk of social media marketing are created with the wave of an intern’s magic kittens and string GIF wand, or by HR invoking a binding PNG spell, aided and abetted by Word’s draw extension.

The reality? Effective art isn’t an off-the-shelf commodity. It’s specialized talent that knows there’s never, ever a time to use Comic Sans if the goal is to be taken seriously. Or that Bevel and Emboss with Texture, added to a logotype of sorts sourced from an obscure MS Office font, doesn’t so much sing gloriously about brand originality as it cries out in all to painfully obvious embarrassment to everyone about the creator’s shortcomings.

Invest in Original Graphic Design for Great Results

MS Word art

Your friends won’t tell you, but I will: ugly doesn’t improve with time.

Within the context of social media, visuals are usually derived from photographs, illustrations, or a combination of the two. They can be used as is or modified, combined, or sampled and combined with type elements and shapes. This series of PRSA event promos I designed illustrates the point.

Colors can be shifted, shapes and objects distorted. The best visuals are unique to their specific environment, not warmed over leftovers. From social cover art and profile badges to press release supplements and web site assets, creative visual is not only desirable, but essential.

The Difference? Superior Engagement Versus Abandonment

And where are the sources for that exceptional visual content everyone is looking for? Begin with a creative director for concepts and execution. Art directors turn an idea into a finished product using various visuals, distinctive styles, and element arrangements. Pick a copywriter for a well turned phrase or snappy tagline that can catapult a campaign. Graphic designers. Illustrators. Photographers. Typographers. All play a strategic role in creating effective content of value.

So while everyone pretty much understands the role of visual content and what it brings to a message, greatness is achieved through actual talent and training, not just by proclaiming the task done and hoping for the best.

online newsroom publicity perks

typewriter-72px.jpg

Small businesses can benefit from creating a unique online newsroom.

Invest In Online Assets For Longterm Dividends

As whats left of print media transitions into a hybrid that blends traditional content with digital distribution, private industry is likewise developing answers for inventing new channels of promotion and publicity. Read about how Coca-Cola is a leader in setting up and stocking unique content for both consumer and b2b consumption.

The need for effective strategies is best seen in the use of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) as essential marketing disciplines. Both focus on the power of search to direct audiences inbound to content, and those same procedures are being successfully refined and funneled in the establishment of online newsrooms.

Online News: Not The Same As Google News

Online newsrooms are a physical location unrelated to Google News’ rich snippet metatag aimed at specific categories and reserved for branded publications. Yet the preparation of materials for the online newsroom should include some of the same workflow that’s utilized in a Google News approach to pull marketing.

Online newsrooms are also a total departure from the commonly used and outdated drop down menu method of accessing company news and resources, which requires multiple steps before even reaching a starting point and focuses solely on archiving content, not repurposing.

Biggest Difference? An Adventure, Not An Archive

The contemporary onliine newsroom is designed as a visual destination separate from the main website. It’s a unique container offering an assortment of video, audio, text, visuals, and ready-to-wear social content – all delivered in an easy to use User Experience (UX) layout that puts a premium on interesting and engaging presentation to serve various forms of content that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Online Newsroom – Think Investment, Not Expense

Today’s news resource – and that includes all that PR brings to the mix – must deliver solid content quickly and easily to a wide audience with unique needs. Design, creative, IT, and marketing all have a part to play in the successful implentation of a modern online newsroom.

Design your online newsroom to make maximum use of visual breadcrumbs and cues to guide editors, researchers, writers, and curators in finding not just what they’re looking for, but what they need to accurately inform their audience about XYZ Company. Need help? Lets explore a solution custom tailered to fit your needs.