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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Talking About Branding…See Me At Scottsdale Society of Women Writers April 28

Recently when I was asked to speak to a group of aspiring writers about branding and marketing for a local conference, I wanted to find a unique metaphor to convey my message. Because I believe every person, being and situation can teach us something about ourselves, I usually find inspiration in everyday, ordinary encounters.  In fact, it was my observations of our Airedale Terrier rescue, Max, that led me to write my own book, Life to the MAX: Maxims for a Great Life by a Dog named Max. In the story, Max is also a metaphor for the attitude and experience that teaches us to live a full life.

So as I was reflecting on my presentation, I realized I again had an opportunity to use my experience as a marketing professional and my experience with my dogs to demonstrate how to market books and that’s when I was inspired to create Marketing to the MAX: What My Dogs Taught Me About Marketing My Book. While my audience was to be authors this time, the same marketing principles apply whether you’re marketing a business, product or service and the first step begins with branding.

In my presentation, I draw parallels between breeding a dog and branding a product. To be a champion pedigree, your show dog has to conform to certain physical traits—the height at the shoulder, the space between the eyes, the curl of the tail and so on. To be an effective brand, you also need to conform to certain traits—your graphic look, your key messages and the way you conduct your business are all part of your brand. The more a consumer has a consistent and quality experience with your brand, the more the consumer will value it. Of course, you are still lovable and can be successful even if you are a bit of a mutt, but it will take more work and more money because consumers can be easily confused in today’s environment of information overload.  Are you really an Airedale Terrier or could you be part Kerry Blue? Are you really the mystery author or could you be the guy who writes how-to books? Are you the company with the round hamburgers or the square ones?

I talk a lot about developing your position and core messages in my presentation and I also discuss how to use the plethora of tools that are available to us—everything from direct mail to Twitter. In the long run though, the tools don’t matter as much as your brand foundation, which is based on what really matters to your consumer.That’s when I think of my dogs.Their needs are simple:  they want to be fed, they want to be with you and they want to be loved.  It’s the same with your brand—feed it with consistency, engage your audience in a memorable way and they will love you.

If you are a new or seasoned author, I hope you will join me for my next presentation of Marketing to the MAX at the Scottsdale Society of Women Writers monthly meeting on April 28, 2010 at 5:30 pm at the Scottsdale Marriott Suites Old Town, 7325 East 3rd Avenue, Scottsdale. Admission is free with dinner on your own. Please RSVP now to Patricia Brooks at 480-250-5556 or patricia@plbrooks.com.

I promise to give you something to chew on and I won’t even bite!

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posted by Head Noodler @ 4:07 PM
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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A NICE Alternative to Replacing Marketing Staff

With the recent economic downturn, many companies like yours may have been forced to lay off some of your personnel. If some of these employees were part of your in-house marketing staff, that’s where NICE Creative can help. NICE is primarily comprised of a two-person creative team with the ability to develop traditional and new media marketing strategy, design everything from logos to websites, write collateral copy, press releases, blogs and tweets and also to produce videos, publish books and create events. Between the two of us, we have more years of experience than we care to admit and we have never stopped learning and creating new ways to help our clients.

Now you might be thinking that you can’t afford such an experienced team, but we have worked with a variety of large and small clients over the years and we can usually find a financial solution that works for both of us. In fact, what many of our clients have found is that they get a higher level of thinking, greater consistency and better work product than they could from paying just one employee.

To prove this last point, we did some research on www.salary.com and found that the median annual salary for a graphic designer in this market is $56,000. However, when you add in the benefits—vacations, disability, Social Security, etc., the actual cost of the employee is more than $80,000. In addition, this does not account for the set-up and maintenance of a graphics workstation—that can add another $5,000 to $7,500 for the specialized software and equipment a designer needs to do her work. What’s more, graphic designers usually have one purpose: to make things look better. They won’t create a marketing plan or analyze the market. They won’t write press releases or ad copy. Now it sounds like I’m picking on graphic designers, but I’m not at all. The point is whether you hire an in-house marketing director, graphic designer, public relations specialist or copywriter, one person typically does not do it all and if s/he does, the cost of that employee is going to be significantly higher.

But at NICE Creative, we have the experience, talent and follow-through to deliver a thoughtful, cohesive and creative marketing program that can help you grow your business for as little as $3,000/month. Maybe in this economy you CAN hire someone for $36,000/year, but you won’t get an experienced team who can offer so much for so little. In a down economy, the last thing you should be doing is cutting back on your marketing, but if you’ve had to lay off staff, this could be a NICE alternative.

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posted by Head Noodler @ 2:46 PM
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Reality Check: Understanding What to Expect from Marketing

Even though it’s happened to me many times over the years, I am always surprised what clients expect from marketing. Although they have been told of marketing’s key importance, they usually have invested most of their money in developing their product or service. Now they think they can get us to throw together a few ads, create a couple press releases and presto! they’ll be raking in the money in no time.

If only it were that easy!

The reality is, however, that marketing is a continuous, evolving process that begins by knowing who you are. How are you different from the competition? Who are your target audiences? What experience will they have when they interact with you? Marketing can help you identify your strengths and opportunities; marketing cannot make you into something you are not.

When your identity, key messages, graphics and actions align, you have the basis for your brand. Once you understand your brand, you have the footing to develop a marketing plan. Too often clients are already focusing on typefaces or colors, developing a website or getting a TV interview before they have done the basic foundational work of developing a solid market plan. A marketing plan will give you focus; it will not guarantee that everything you do will be successful.

Marketing is as much an art as it is a science. There will be trial and error. Something that works one month may not work the next. With consistent ongoing efforts, marketing can produce slow growth; marketing will not guarantee you overnight success. Anyone who guarantees you certain results in a fixed timeframe is not being honest. The only thing that is guaranteed is that if you don’t market at all, your business will stagnate and eventually die. Use your marketing plan as a benchmark that can be tweaked and changed as you evaluate what works and what doesn’t. But don’t be too quick to throw the baby out with the bath water. What you THINK may have been futile may have laid the groundwork for your next success.

It used to be said that three exposures to your message were needed before your target would act. But with all the noise that exists among traditional media, social media and other alternative methods of communication these days, the number of exposures is now said to be 9. Marketing is about frequency; marketing is not about doing something once and forgetting about it. It is possible to have a spike in sales from one ad or article placement, but if you don’t continue to build on that success, you’ll be right back where you started.

Marketing can convey how your product or service can solve a problem for the consumer; marketing cannot make people buy things they don’t want or can’t afford. If you haven’t crafted the right message, targeted the right audience or priced your service or product competitively, even the most brilliant idea can fail. Focus on what your service or product can do for the consumer. Consumers buy benefits (“It will make my life easier!”) not features (“It has 27 programmable buttons!”) Think about it: do you want something that makes your life easier or do you want all the work of having to program a bunch of buttons!

Marketing should be an investment; marketing cannot be expendable line item. When times get tough, marketing is often the first thing to be cut. This is a mistake. Whether you do it yourself or you pay someone to do it, marketing needs to be a daily activity. This is even more true in an economic downturn. People who keep talking with their target audience will still be top of mind when the economy turns around. Those who disappear will be doing a lot of catch up at a much higher price.

If you are realistic about what marketing can and can’t do, your efforts will no doubt be rewarded. Yes, it’s a lot of work. Why do you think so many people hire us to do it?

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posted by Head Noodler @ 6:01 PM
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Monday, April 6, 2009

It's never too late to learn new tricks

Please allow me to introduce myself: I'm Terry Rohrs, NICE Creative's Main Squiggler, or in plain-speak, graphic design/production artist. I wanted to take a moment to say what an exciting time it is to be a graphic designer, and explain a little about what I mean, lest you think I've completely gone over to the dark side.

There was a time in my career when I thought I was at the top of my game. That was just before design for the web had taken off. A few of my customers were hinting that I'd better 'jump on this web thing,' but I was still reeling from having had to learn to perform my creative tasks with a computer. I enjoyed the sense of control I suddenly had: with my little Mac I now could edit my own photos, set my own type, finish my own layouts, and even output my own film for the printing press. WOW! Why start over again with webdesign? I had just become a digital print design expert!!

Well then, being an expert lasted about as long as a ladybug's picnic. The pervasive growth of the web has created a wave of change that feels as though it will never crest. Since joining Robin at NICE Creative, we have learned about all types of new ways to do our jobs: from ordering custom printed balloons online, to deploying personalized microsites and variably printed digital postcards. We are Blogging, Facebooking, Linking-In and Tweeting. Outdoor billboards now change every few seconds, school buses carry advertising, and the study of human psychology is teaching us new things about how customers make decisions every day.

One thing doesn't seem to have changed: the need for quality execution. As computers gave everyone who owned one the ability to create his or her own marketing message on paper, on the web, over the airwaves or on video, the world of design was turned upside down. Everyone was a designer or a writer or a photographer. There was quite a mess o' ideas out there. With all that noise, the need for a clear, concise, and well executed message has become ever more important. There are so many channels for media and messaging that, without a well thought out and consistent campaign, your message will be but a whimper in a huge crowd of loud-mouthed blowhards!

It all comes down to creating a solid foundation. No matter what tools you use to create your message, no matter what the vehicle you use to deliver it, it had better be worth hearing--whether you've got a small audience or a large one, the need to pull together expertise on many fronts never goes away. I may have had to learn lots of new tricks over the years, but the fallout has been that there is still a need for experienced, qualified professionals in all the areas of marketing. Computers and digital media can help us create--no doubt about it. And that's exciting! But they still don't have the intelligence needed to get my attention on an emotional level without input from a human--a human who can still learn a few tricks. To me, that's even more exciting!

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posted by Terry R @ 1:04 PM
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Friday, March 27, 2009

Social Media: It's All A Matter of Balance

As you can see by my archives, I started this blog a couple of years ago and I just have not contributed to it on a regular basis. The truth is that since we published my book around the same time, we have been consumed with building and managing a new website and a new blog at www.lifetomax.com, as well as learning about a whole new business. Naively, at first we thought that since much of publishing involved activities like marketing and creative production, we wouldn't have much of a learning curve, but things are just different enough to sometimes make things quite challenging.

Of course as you all know, advertising and marketing are also changing at a lightning speed, so it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Still, when I look back over the last couple of years, I am very proud of all that we have learned and consequently, how much more we have to offer our clients in terms of expertise. Now we can share from our firsthand experiences what it can mean to your business to build your network through such social media venues as blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. We can also advise you that all of this new media can be an incredible suck of your valuable time and resources if not carefully managed. And despite the many opportunities new media offers, we firmly maintain that it still does not surpass the need for a sound strategy or good creative work.

Much of the transition to new media reminds me very much of how the introduction of computers for graphic design changed the advertising and design industry. There were those who resisted the change, preferring to cut rubyliths by hand and to sketch designs with markers. Others embraced the change to such a degree that it produced a bunch of over-designed, muddled imagery that had no concept or selling point. Neither approach survived for very long and the same will be true of social media. Just like life, we must find the balance to be truly effective and happy with the results. So those of you who are tweeting about having coffee or driving to work, quit wasting your time and ours. Use Twitter--and all social media for that matter--when you really have something to say or really want to get some feedback in a hurry. About the rest of the stuff, we don't care a Twit!

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posted by Head Noodler @ 3:48 PM
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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Life to the Max: Maxims for a Great Life by a Dog named Max" Now Published!

As some of you know, I have been working to bring the story of my family’s dog, Max, to publication ever since he passed five years ago. Max was a wild, wiry Airedale Terrier who my husband I rescued from the Humane Society as a companion for our first Airedale, Bernie. Max had an irrepressible spirit that left an indelible impression on the lives of my family. This story was a way for me to deal with my grief of letting him go and to celebrate the many gifts he brought to us.

I had shared this story with many of my pet-loving friends and family over the years and they continually urged me to publish this story. There were many fits and starts on my journey to publication, but when my NICE Creative design partner, Terry Rohrs, showed me a colorful, fun page design which married simple illustration with real-life photos, I knew we could finally make this project a reality. Together we researched all sorts of publishing options, culled through hundreds of pictures and designed the pages. Being the photo-retouching genius she is, Terry was able to take my amateur family snapshots and turn them into focused, well-balanced images that really capture the spirit of Max.

Along the way, we have learned a ton about self-publishing, the ins and outs of setting up e-commerce and how to make a dog’s ear look like it’s flapping in the wind even when you don’t have a picture like that. If you’re interested in learning more about this book or you’re interested in ordering, please visit our website www.lifetomax.com. Though we have reached this milestone, we know the journey will continue—just as Max taught us it would.

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posted by Head Noodler @ 1:55 PM
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Tuesday, March 6, 2007

When Branding Works Nicely

You may be wondering why we chose to brand our agency, NICE Creative. After all, don’t “nice guys finish last” or aren’t nice people just pushovers? But for us, it reflects all that we do and all that we are. Over the years, our award-winning work has often inspired comments like, “nice thinking!” “nice job!” and “Ooooh, that’s nice!” Moreover, our work has generated some very nice results for our clients—quadrupling traffic, doubling business and successfully launching new products and services. In addition, as a Midwestern native, I have often been admired for my tireless work ethic and “Minnesota nice.” So it just seemed appropriate to brand the agency, NICE.

Just to prove that you attract what you create, I have been joined in this endeavor by Terry Rohrs, our Main Squiggler. She is one of the nicest people I know who proves every day that niceness comes from a place of strength, not weakness. That’s because being nice means going the extra mile without being asked, partnering in work to reach the best solution, not to receive the most credit and respectfully challenging each other to think about things in a new way. To be nice is to be secure in the knowledge of who you are and confident in the work you do. Capturing the essence of who you are is what branding is all about. A brand is much more than just a name and logo. A brand is a set of values that embodies every aspect of your business--from communication messaging to your graphic look to your customer service to your employees’ actions. Ultimately, the success of a brand is largely determined by your customers’ perception and experience with your brand. The key to building your brand is in delivering an experience that is consistent on every level so that your customers place value on your product or service. If you know someone who needs branding, advertising or graphic design, we hope you’ll pass our name along. What makes us different is what makes us NICE—Experience. Creativity. Instinct. Niceness. Backwards and forwards, this is NICE.

Join our community, add any NICE thoughts and pass our link onto your friends or anyone you think might enjoy this site. We’ll be sharing some marketing and advertising insights, talking about books, movies, TV, teenagers, dogs and anything else that seems worthy of comment. Until we meet again, have a NICE day!

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posted by Head Noodler @ 9:50 AM
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