Sunday, July 30, 2017

6 Things You Should Know about Millennials and Your Visual Branding

Millennials have turned the tables on traditional branding. Brands used to attract consumers like a gravitational pull based on affinity. By comparison, each millennial is their own brand, and they see it as their gravitational pull that attracts brands to them.

Millennials are too media savvy to be blitzed or brainwashed. They, instead, demand brands meet them on their own terms. They research everything first, trusting online recommendations from their social network "friends" and reviews from total strangers above all else. Then, after they've decided they're ready to interact with your brand and consider becoming your friend, they'll meet you "face to face."

In the recent Yahoo/DigitalLBi/Razorfish/Tumblr study, they determined the number one creative-related tactic for reaching millennials is to set the mood by capturing a mood moment.(1) Although the study was structured in terms of content marketing, the thought extends naturally to visual identity—the most expeditious means of delivering a brand's story.

Here are six things to keep in mind when dealing with millennials and your visual branding:

1. Good visual branding used to be a differentiator for many companies. With millennials, it is a cost of entry! 

The abstract expressionist Syd Solomon was once asked, "How do you tell the difference between a good painting and a bad painting," to which he replied, "...look at a million paintings, and then you can never be mistaken." Consider the amount of time in their lives that millennials have spent online looking at visuals, then compare that to the unconnected generations before them. Millennials have learned the difference between good and bad design through simple exposure, and they will judge your brand on its design merits.

2. You only have 8 seconds to effectively tell your brand's story to millennials. 

According to a 2015 report by the Consumers Insights Team of Microsoft, the attention span of the average person is now 8 seconds—that's 1 second less than a goldfish! Of the three basic types of communication (verbal, gestural, and graphic), the quickest is graphic. It has never been more imperative that to communicate efficaciously your brand has to do so quickly! While this is true of audiences in general, it is particularly trued of millennials who lean toward the shyer side of 8 seconds.

3. If your visual branding doesn't reinforce a millennial's personal beliefs and personal brand, then it risks contradicting them. 

With more and more being communicated visually, assumptions and beliefs about your company (though driven by the recommendation of friends and strangers) will be confirmed or contradicted by your company's visual branding. Here's the kind of question that might go through a millennial's head when they first interact with your online presence, "I've heard from others that this company is very environmentally friendly. Does it look environmentally friendly?" This kind of question works to confirm the millennial's ultimate affinity-related question, "Does this brand fit seamlessly with my personal brand?" Visual brand alignment helps to move millennials from consideration to conviction, while visual disalignment might push them altogether toward abandonment, or at least cause them to question continuing the path to purchase.

4. Millennials demand that your branding be consistent at all touchpoints and all platforms. 

Where the millennial interacts with your brand is irrelevant, regardless of the touchpoint: in-store, out-of-home, somewhere else offline, or somewhere online, regardless of device or platform. What they do expect, however, regardless of touchpoint, is a consistent brand experience!(3)

5. If your visual branding is becoming stale, then the perception is your brand, your company, its products, and its people are becoming stale too. 

While this is true of branding in general, it's particularly true for millennial audiences. The millennial's personal brand is fresh and of-the-moment, and they expect the very same thing of you. For a visually-outdated brand, there is an inherent risk that a millennial visually meeting your brand for the first time may feel like they've been catfished—metaphorically confronted with a pudgy 42-year-old male video gamer instead of the 21-year-old female goth they were expecting to see.

6. Millennials take pride and pleasure in sharing the brands they love with others. They want a brand they can wear on their sleeve as a badge of association.

If affinity is the thing that makes a brand "work," advocacy is the thing that makes a brand thrive. It's brand physics, plain and simple—fans of your brand will fuel your trajectory in a forward, positive direction. As Google/TSN/Ogilvy has so eloquently pointed out, the millennial's path to purchase is actually their "path to purpose"—they want to share your brand. In fact, three-in-four Generation C consumers (those people who care deeply about creation, curation, connection, and community) consistently share the brands they love.(4)

Is your visual branding millennial ready?

If your visual branding doesn't live up to the expectations of millennials, its not too late to do something about it. And if you get started now, you'll also be getting a jump on the centennials!

(1) Yahoo/DigitasLBi/Razorfish/Tumblr, "Content Marketing Best Practices Among Millienials," 2014

(2) Smart Insights, "Global Social Media Research Summary," 2017

(3) SDL, "Channels are Irrelevant," 2014

(4) Google/Ipsos MediaCT, YouTube Audience Study, August 2013

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Are you genuinely evaluating ideas? Or just judging them?

In the early nineties, I was working as an art director for a mid-sized agency with a quick-service restaurant client who, during creative presentations, was notorious for saying things like, "I don't like that typeface," or, "I don't like that color." Rarely, if ever, did he say, "I don't think that typeface works," or, "I don't think that color works." As a creative team, we were choosing our colors and typefaces to appeal to the young demographic at whom the designs were aimed (not the older demographic client). The client, however, would scrap those choices immediately, not because they didn't work, but because he just didn't like them.

It wasn't long before, when doing layouts for this client, I started choosing "safe" colors and typefaces—things I believe were generally less interesting and potentially bland to the intended target audience—for the sake of not having the agency look like they didn't understand "what the client wanted." For the following two years, unbeknownst to our client (or even to my creative superiors at the agency), every color combination I picked mimicked one NFL team or another. These colors were familiar to the client, they were safe, but they would not have been my first choices for the intended audience. However, after I adopted this methodology, never again did my color choices get refused (or even questioned) by the client—ever!

Although the example I give above is specific to design and advertising creative, I'm sure everyone, regardless of industry, can relate. In my experience, those people who let their internal beliefs suppress their capacity to truly assess something's merits don't even realize they're doing it. There is a very fine line between evaluation and judgment, and while "evaluation" and "judgment" are technically synonyms for one another, in the world of decision-making they could not be more different.

4 Tips for Differentiating Between Evaluation and Judgment

  • Evaluation is a very empathetic process; it requires understanding—understanding of the goal, the strategy, and the suggested tactics. Judgment is detached; it requires no interaction with the facts, and it relies on nothing more than the internal dialogue of the fault-finder.
  • Evaluation is a positive process; it assumes one is searching for the best way to accomplish something. Judgment is a negative process; it relies on naysaying and abnegation to eliminate options.
  • Evaluation measures relative worth; it gauges each option on its individual virtues and ranks them on those merits. Judgment tends toward a "yes" or "no" approach; it discounts options regardless of individual merit.
  • Evaluation looks to the future; it considers all options in the context of "what could be." Judgment looks to the past; it regurgitates "what was."
In my color story above, I mentioned how I started choosing "safe" options for fear of having the agency look the fool to the client. I don't care if you're working with an outside agency or an internal team, if those idea-generators around you are having to change, limit, or adjust truly good, on-strategy ideas to grease the wheels or minimize fallout when dealing with you, you are doing yourself (and ultimately your company or brand) a disservice.

3 Ways to Make Sure You're Evaluating Rather Than Judging

  1. Ask, "Why?" Quite simply, if you are asking this question, then you are evaluating rather than judging. Asking "why" supports every one of the conditions listed above (it requires empathy, it keeps the process positive, it measures relative worth, it looks to the future).
  2. Be wary of expressing personal opinions. It doesn't mean your opinion should be discounted, but it should be considered in context. For example, if you can truthfully say you share the same experience with those for whom the idea is meant, then there is some validity to your opinion. Just be careful of opinions that are detached from the circumstances of the idea.
  3. Don't assume that "then" is "now." If you find yourself saying things like, "That's never worked for us before," or, "We've already tried something similar and it failed," ask yourself what conditions were different then, and for what reasons might a similar idea work now.

It really comes down to being aware of how you approach decision-making. Know the difference between evaluation and judgment and put these tips into practice—you'll be supporting a more fertile environment for idea generation.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Does your brand speak all the brand languages?

It used to be that visuals were enough. In the earliest days of corporate identity, individual designers were putting their personal visual stamp on a company's communications, giving that company a cohesive visual identity. That "look" alone was enough to be considered a corporate identity. After all, just having such an identity put a relative handful of companies above all others that had no such program to speak of.

The visual language of those brands consisted of consistent application of the mark, attention to proportions and position in layout, and attention to the details of typographic and color choices. And as the corporate and competitive landscapes evolved, so did the visual languages spoken by brands.
Strong verbal components followed suit—in the form of taglines, turns of phrase, etc. A brand's communications began to reflect its tone of voice.

Now we find ourselves here, a little over a century after Peter Behrens realized the first complex corporate identity for AEG, and just fifty or sixty years after the grandfathers of the discipline (Rand, Bass, Vignelli and the like) did their groundbreaking work in the field.

Today, we find ourselves fully engulfed by an age of media and technology. In addition to a visual language, brands must also speak in an audial language as well. From the earliest days of radio, through the golden era of the jingle, and continuing today, sound has been a vital component of advertising and marketing campaigns. But advertising and marketing campaigns are only temporary. (As a side note, the origin of the term "slogan" is from the Scottish-Gaelic word for "battle cry.")

As consumers interact with brands on a continuing basis, they are expecting sound, and those brands that provide it are at an advantage over those who don't. As new brand touchpoints are emerging, many are audio-enabled. Having a signature sound in addition to a signature color, typeface or phrase allows brands to reinforce their connections with consumers, creating more passionate brand advocates.

Finally, don't underestimate the power of touch and smell in the brand experience. During the Wilsons Leather re-branding, we understood the power of both the feel of quality leather and the smell of a retail interior infused with its smell. That smell alone was enough to get many shoppers in the door... so powerful, in fact, that there was talk of releasing it as a fragrance.

Being aware of these opportunities will aid you in seizing opportunities to exploit them when they become available to your brand.