Opening the Gates on Investment

We designed the latest edition of the Ohio Venture Report. We were able to elevate the design and introduce an overarching narrative to the story of Ohio's entrepreneurial ecosystem. The report featuring data from 2014 was published at the end of 2015. Many thanks to our friends at Venture Ohio!

Our Patented Process is Always WRITE, Right?

Many agencies tout a special process or formula for building and defining brands. Many of these secret sauce recipes are valid approaches for the simple fact that they provide a roadmap for the process. For years I personally advocated a process I called "W.R.I.T.E." (See what I did there? Novella? Write? Genius.) a clever acronym which stood for the following:

WHITEBOARD - We listen, we concept, we collaborate and identify clear objectives.
RESEARCH - We investigate your industry and learn how to speak authentically to your defined target audience.
INITIATE - We begin written and visual explorations designed to establish the unified brand narrative including your value proposition and positioning.
TACTICS - Based on the goals and brand narrative we determine the best ways to reach your audience where they are. We also set benchmarks to evaluate the effectiveness of each tactic. 
EXPRESSION - The combination of project deliverables enables YOU to tell your brand’s story in a consistent and compelling manner.

Sounds familiar if not pretty good, right? Most do. The decision to invest in a branding project is not one to be taken lightly. Any branding process you consider should do these five things: 
• Engage key stakeholders in your organization for insight and collaboration
• Identify obtainable and specific goals
• Unify your messaging into a consistent voice
• Target your audience and choose appropriate tactics
• Provide a means for evaluating the effectiveness of your narrative

A complete storytelling approach matches strategy with creative to promote a brand relationship experience that resonates with your audience and inspires them to become advocates. 

Your audience. Your brand. Your story. 

Feed Your Filter and Stay Curious

I teach Graphic Design at the Columbus College of Art and Design. As an alumnus of CCAD, it is a privilege to return and offer insight and guidance to the next generation of artists and storytellers. In my sophomore class we recently completed a project that required students to work in teams to design a board game from conception to prototype as well as execute tactics of a launch strategy for the product. The class consists of majors in the areas of fashion, illustration, visual development and medical illustration.

"So what does this have to do with my major?" is a question I'm often asked.
"How will graphic design make me a better concept artist or fashion designer?" 
I remember feeling that way about math. The truth is, good or bad, design is design.

I remind my students to keep their eyes on the big picture. Design relates to every component of being a visual communicator. From hierarchy of information to the balance of elements on a page, design is the underlying structure that holds it all together. There is no separation of majors in telling a story visually. Fashion designers tell stories through their choice of fabrics, color and silhouette just as much as a concept artist defines the worlds characters will inhabit with brush strokes. And who among them doesn't need to be able to organize their work into a cohesive whole for promotion or presentation? Art folks gotta' eat!

Design is all around us and I encourage my students to be curious. Inspiration can come from nature, retail, gaming, other artist's work or even a good book. Remember books, the original portable entertainment? 

Each person has a unique viewpoint and way of interpreting a subject or solving a problem. I call it their filter. The filter must be fed. It's fed through observation, experience, research and study. As visual storytellers we never stop learning and refining our craft as long as we stay curious.

So stay curious, my friends.

The Guy On The Radio Says I Can Get A Logo For $49

Can you find someone willing to produce a piece of graphic design for you for $49?
Yes, but you won't have a brand. 

There are many talented graphic designers who are capable of providing a nice looking piece of design. The problem is said piece of design does nothing to position your organization or product to claim space in the minds of your audience. Nor does it visually represent a compelling and meaningful brand story.

Branding is not your logo or the name on the box. It isn’t what's in the box, either. A brand is all the feelings, ideas, images, history, and possibilities existing in the marketplace about your organization. Your brand is the singular idea or concept you own inside the mind of your audience.

Simply put, it’s what people think of when they think of you.

Your logo is but one component of your overall brand. Branding provides a narrative platform for you to describe what makes your product, organization, or service unique and what you offer that no one else has. In the globalized network of today’s world, every product or service has to compete for its share of consumers. Entities with the strongest brands find their consumers easier.  

A solid brand story unifies messaging to create a singular impression in the minds of your consumers. This is then reinforced through each touchpoint from your logo, marketing collateral, website, social media interactions, and more. 

There are a host of clichés that can be used here:
"Buy cheap, buy twice."
"You get what you pay for."
If we're "comparing apples to apples," I often tell my clients that my rates are more expensive than a graphic designer or your nephew, but I do bring a focused and experienced approach to discovering (or rediscovering) your brand story. I also come equipped with big agency knowledge, capabilities, and resources without the huge costs and associated trials. I may not take you out for drinks at expensive restaurants, but I will devote my time, talent, and passion to delivering a world-class brand for your organization.

Or you can buy that logo for $49.



DeviantArt Misses Its Mark?

Recently online artist community, DeviantArt unveiled their new branding along with plans for greater integration and the launch of their own app. The response from their 32 million registered members has been mixed. The comments range from the usual accusations of "corporatization" to plagiarism. has a summary of the initial reactions here.

What I think is most telling about these responses is that the community feels they missed the mark. It's much deeper than the logo or graphics – the story doesn't resonate with the audience.

This perfectly highlights the potential dangers of focusing on surface rather than the core of branding, which is a good story. The new DeviantArt messaging is not striking many of the artists as authentic. It doesn't represent the place they know and love, or look like somewhere they want to go. Often times organizations can operate in a marketing bubble and fall prey to how they see themselves versus how they are seen by their audience.

"Isn't branding supposed to control that?"

A good brand story doesn't just control perceptions, it informs your audience with details and authenticity to allow them to build their own connections. Your story must represent your values, your capabilities, and your truth. It should be simple and not require mental or verbal gymnastics to convey. Your audience is way too savvy and will spot phoney-baloney sloganeering a mile away. 

Engaging key stakeholders is a vital component of the branding process. Thoughtful research and meaningful levels of audience interaction enable you to listen to thoughts and opinions so you can identify where your brand currently resides. Combined with well-defined goals for growth we determine where you want to go and how you want to be perceived. Establishing that fixed point of aspiration provides a roadmap for defining positioning and telling your story.

Know who you are and tell everyone about it.

Storytelling Works.

Storytelling has been called "the major business lesson of 2014" by Entrepreneur magazine.

We'll file this one under the validation column. A friend shared this article from the New York Times that sites this little gem as well as many others.

Brands make connections through a common narrative platform we all instinctively relate to: STORIES. Your story should be authentic, consistent and most of all, natural. 

What's your story?

Welcome Back

After a prolonged development period, the new website is finally up and running! I have more great brand stories to share along with the usual insights and curiosities. You'll notice a few gaps in the blog. There were a few bumps in the road to getting the site live and one of them was importing the blog archive.

So, for those of you following along, we've lost a few things (years!) here and there including the great contributions by content marketing guru and frequent Novella Creative contributor, Devin Meister.

I'll continue to try to resurrect some of the old content while focusing on the new. Someone asked me recently if I was still in the game or if I'd reached a point in my career where I'm looking to be the "duck floating on the surface." Let's see, I just completed design builds on three websites, launched two brand projects and I'm working to roll-out a large municipal brand while engaging in a proposal to do another one.

I'd say at this point, I'm just getting started. Welcome back? I never left.

Content Marketing, Brand Stories and Coca-Cola

At the beginning of this year, Coca-Cola announced that content marketing would be central to their marketing communications going forward. Fortunately, Joe Pulizzi, reposted this great piece on Coke 2020, because I missed it the first time. Liquid content and becoming less :30 second-centric signals several things in my mind.

First, it's shows acceptance that even world's largest and most powerful marketer can't continue to build market share by marketing force and dollars alone. As the consumer assumes control of the messages they receive, you'll have to engage, listen and include the audience to be part of it.

Second, brand stories aren't going away. But how you develop and tell them will be collaborative with your audience going forward. Anything less than genuinely authentiic will fail.

Third, this content marketing stuff works. That's the best news for marketers that aren't goliath marketers like Coca-Cola. They're have to work to appear small. The rest of us just have to be ourselves.

Check out these videos of Coca-Cola Content 2020.

Part I - Brand Stories

Part II - More Liquid Content

Brands as Storytellers

With the recent rise of blogs, youtube and other social media, you might think that the idea of an extended narrative for brands as storytellers is a new thing. And you'd be wrong. It's been going on for hundreds of years. Actually the interruptive method of selling is the new kid on the block. Selling for thousands of years was a very personal, one on one interaction. Think town squares, trader's markets and festivals. That's how selling was done and it centered on stories. The merchant had to have a story that they could tell that would separate them from the merchant next door.

Joe Pulizzi has created a great article detailing how brands have become storytellers. Although brands have been storytellers since the dawn of time, the industrial revolution has created some changes.

Can Big Screen Story Telling Translate to Brands?

Great stories are more similar than not, regardless of the subject or setting. Throughout history listeners identify with these eternal steps and struggles on some level. For your brand story, these listeners are your customers.

This article on storytelling and the video below make some great points. The author here disagrees with Chris Brogan that the "customer is the story." He argues that the brand is the hero that brings the customer along.

Personally, I'm still working it out in my mind. I can see it working and be compelling both ways. Watch the video and let me know what you think.

Branding First, Sales and Profits Second

Al Ries has an excellent article in Advertising Age on what it takes to sell products and services today. He states that marketing is the wrong word. It's too broad and just doesn't accurately apply to what needs to be done to sell goods and services. The better word is "branding."

We couldn't agree more. Telling your story accurately and convincingly is what gets your product on shelf. It's what gets people searching for your service. It's what people remember and makes a difference in the end. And it has to be first. Mr. Ries offers several real world examples that make this article worth a read.

If you'd like help telling your brand story, contact Jason Jourdan

The Story of a Tough Chicken

There's a great story in AdAge today by Mitzi Perdue, Frank Perdue's widow.

In the article Ms. Perdue states that "in the late 1960s, when chicken was viewed as a commodity, Frank decided to do what no chicken farmer had done before. He took a 10-week absence from running his company, went to New York and began a full-time study of the theory and practice of advertising."

The fact that he would take 10 weeks out to make an important decision says a lot about Frank Perdue and his business. Thoroughness pays off. There really isn't a replacement for knowledge and understanding to get the story right. Frank was the story. I don't think that every agency would take the time to fully understand that. In the end it was good decisions by Mr. Perdue and his agency, Scali, McCabe, Sloves.

A Dog of a Story with Animated GIFs

Everybody has seen the plethora of animated gifs. Although they've never been especially difficult to create, the combination of smartphones and apps seems have lead to a virtual explosion. Most of them are simple. Some of them are funny. But mostly they are just one-off things done seemingly on a whim. They don't have to be.

Here's what happens when you take it to the next level in storytelling. Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg teamed up with Dogfish Head Ale to create a series of gifs that tells the story of company's new Tweason'ale made with fresh strawberries, sorghum and honey.

Using a series of animated gifs they tell the complete story of making the unique brew. It's an elegant, interesting and engaging approach. By not using video, they stand apart. Yet the gif's still bring action to the story, much more than a standard photo shoot with even great photography. There's a lot to like about this story.

The story is still central, just enhanced by the execution. If you've seen other creative executions of simple stories we'd love to hear about them. If you have a great story that needs a creative execution we'd love to talk.

The Power of Mini-Stories - from MarketingProfs

The power of stories can't be over estimated.

Here is a great example of the why and how stories sell from MarketingProfs, How Mini-Stories Can Help Buyers Reject the Status Quo ... and Embrace You.

Interesting though that one of the comments to the article stated that the example given didn't read like a story. Agree or disagree?

Consistent Brand Story vs New Stories

"Stick to the script." You've no doubt heard the phrase over and over. You might have said it yourself. In the first initial conversation, it's true. You want to be consistent with your story to hit the right brand points that resonate. But what happens in the second contact?

Every body knows somebody that only has one story that they tell over and over. Every time the conversation turns toward the subject of their story, you know. Here it comes. It probably is a great story. It's just not interesting the tenth time you hear it. Sadly, this is often that persons only or last experience on the subject.

The same is true for your brand - you need to keep making new stories. That doesn't mean that you forget about your brand. On the contrary, you expand your brand and give it life by continuing to tell your story in new yet consistent ways that are true to your brand.

The video below is a perfect example of this in practice. The new lobby in the Cosmopolitan Hotel pushes what the experience should be. It is consistent and yet new at the same time.

Letting Readers Build Their (Your) Story vs. Puking on the Page

When it comes to communicating large amounts of information with customers there are two schools of thought. One is attractive. And the other is not. You can organize your information or products in a logical fashion for your customers. You can study patterns and lead customers to an objective that meets their needs and your goals. Think Target. It's very obvious that the store layout and product placement has been carefully considered. Things are where you expect to find them. Along the way are things that also might be of interest to you. Those aren't random acts. You're deciding your path, but Target is helping you along. Amazon has done the same thing and set the bar on the web.

Or you can just puke it all out and let the customer figure it out. When described this way, it seems that no one would knowingly do this. You rarely see any retail stores follow this path ... with a few exceptions. It's like a bad yard sale. But when it comes to websites it happens all of the time.

If you see a bad website (or have a bad website) pass it along. I'd love to see it and take a stab a restructuring it, hypothetically or for real.