How to Project a Spot-On Business Image

by Michelle Salater on September 1, 2010

It was our pleasure to interview Nora D. Richardson, owner of Spot-On Branding and author of The Branding Spot Blog, for our blog series, When Is It Time For a Business Makeover?, where we interview brand identity designers on tips for keeping a business image fresh.

In the below interview, Nora shares her expertise on how to choose the right brand identity designer and why investing in your brand image is crucial for business success.

1. You mentioned once that a prospective client came to you for logo design and decided to go with a graphic designer who was less expensive than a brand identity designer. What would you say to other business owners out there who take this same, inexpensive route?

Simple, you get what you pay for:

When hiring a graphic designer, you will get just a few questions like these from the designer. “What is your industry? Give examples of logos you like. Do you have any ideas for your logo? What colors do you like?” And then, the designer will go and design 3 – 4 concepts. The graphic designer only has a 50% chance of designing something you envisioned. And this is where the never ending revisions become frustrating to the designer and the client. When you are done, all you have is a logo, with no idea on how to use it.

When hiring an experienced brand identity designer, the designer is interested in you, your business, your immediate goals, and your future goals. The identity designer not only understands what industry you are in, but he or she also finds out your Unique Selling Perspective. The identity designer is interested in your target market and how to strategically tap into that market.

A brand identity designer has a 90% chance of designing a logo concept you like that encompasses your company and stands out from your competitors after the first proof. He or she helps you by not only creating a logo, but also by creating a consistent look and feel for your business as a whole—from business cards to product labels, in-house forms to apparel, and advertising to promotional gear. A brand identity designer becomes a partner and grows with you as your company grows.

2. What should business owners look for in a brand identity / graphic design company? What red flags do they need to be aware of?

*Find professionals who you can relate to and who you like. You are more likely to enjoy the process if you like the person(s) you are dealing with.

Flag: If you are a suit-and-tie kind of businessperson, then a designer who wears flip-flops and cargo shorts to        meetings may not have the same business foresight that you desire.

*Find professionals who understand you and your business goals and objectives. They could be the best designers in the world, but if they don’t get what you are trying to accomplish, they aren’t going to be able to translate the essence of what you are doing to your target market.

    Flag: You are looking for a designer who is more interested in talking about you and your business than about their award-winning company.

    * Will there be a team of designers working on your branding or only one designer? If there is a team, you need to initially meet with the whole team so they get what you are looking for, and so the designers don’t have to rely on the art director’s interpretation of what you are looking for.

    Flag: You need to meet and speak with the designer. Don’t trust a sales representative to accurately translate your vision to the designer.

    *Ask to see a portfolio and / or case studies. You are looking for designs that appeal to you. If you like clean, simple, modern-type logos and you see a designer who predominately creates intricate, frilly, baroque-type logos, then he or she may not be the designer for you. When you see designs you like in his or her portfolio, ask him or her how they arrived at that solution.

    Flag: Run if designers cannot provide a portfolio.

    * Find out how they think. Ask designers what they think about the direction you want the business brand to go, and see if they have any additional general thoughts. Some of the best work is a collaboration of client ideas and designer ideas.

    Flag: Watch out for designers who are just yes men. They bring nothing exceptional to the table and will expect you to direct them at every step.

      * Whom have they worked with? You should get names and phone numbers of current and past clients and actually talk with them about the value of the designer you are looking to hire. Testimonials are good, but a chin-wag really can be quite revealing. Every good designer should be able to come up with a few clients that have no problem singing their graces.

      Flag: Question a designer who isn’t able or willing to provide at least one client’s name and phone number.

          3. In your opinion, when is it time for a business to invest in a makeover? Specifically, how often should a company update the logo, marketing materials, and website?

          I get asked this question a lot. It depends. A good rule of thumb is, when your brand image gets in the way of growing your business, it’s probably time for a business makeover. A brand identity doesn’t come with a definite expiration date. But brand identities, brand messaging, and campaigns all expire over time.

          A logo change is a great opportunity to gain attention and renew enthusiasm about the brand as long as there has been a change within the company. Most companies evolve their brand every 7 – 10 years. This reiterates the overall perception to their audience that the company is evolving, changing, and growing. An evolutionary change to a company’s logo is subtle: changing colors, adding a shadow, or eliminating lines. Sometimes, a revolutionary change is needed. A revolutionary change is when something major happens inside the company and the company needs to reflect that major change to their audience (such as a merger).

          Marketing materials should be updated as often as the marketing / advertising campaigns last without getting stale. A business can appear to be up-to-date without having to totally re-create their materials every year by simply freshening up the language, replacing photos, and adding new examples.

          Website content should be updated more often depending on the industry. If you’re in the technology field, you know new technology comes out daily. As for a whole new website design, every two years you should do an overhaul to keep up with the latest trends.

          So when do you know to implement an evolutionary identity verses a revolutionary identity? Let’s use Tropicana Orange Juice as an example. Tropicana recently made a revolutionary change that turned into a revolutionary bomb for their new product packaging. Why did the Tropicana company feel as if they needed to change their packaging? Was it because it had been several years since they changed their packaging and they felt they needed a major change to compete? Did the company feel that internally they had changed so drastically that the packaging needed to change as well to reflect it? The audience didn’t see a drastic change in the company so the audience rejected the new look. Lesson to be learned, don’t just change to change. Have valid reasons to make a revolutionary change.

          4. On a scale from one to ten, ten being the most important, how important are marketing materials and a logo? Specifically, are these items important investments?

          It’s a ten.

          When you think of the sneaker company Nike, what image comes to mind?

          When you see Clydesdale horses, which brand of beer do you think of?

          What are AT&T’s logo colors? What are Verizon’s logo colors?

          Which brand do you think of when I say . . .

          • facial tissue?
          • computer?
          • bandage?
          • vacuum?
          • coffee shop?
          • burger joint?
          • automobile?

          Can you see their brand identity? Can you recognize their logo from their competitors?

          I bet you could think of an answer to each one of those questions. I bet visuals of each of these brands you thought of POPPED into your head. Why? Because a logo is the first impression a customer has of your company. A logo facilitates brand recognition and awareness. It defines the company’s position within an industry.

          A logo conveys a personal message to each one of us emotionally. If a logo interests us, we will be inclined to find out more about the company. If the layout and graphics of advertising grab us, we will go deeper. If the message is clear and concise and tells an interesting story, we will give the product or service a try. If what was promised was fulfilled, we will become repeat buyers.

          When your logo / brand identity screams “homemade, homemade, homemade,” it gives the impression that the products or services are of the same quality. People do judge a “book by its cover.” Your book’s cover is your company’s brand identity, and it’s important—very important.

          About Nora:

          As a branding expert, graphic designer, and owner of Spot-On Branding, Nora D. Richardson works with businesses to help them grow and create a strong brand image. She also works with them to have a strong brand presence and emotionally engaging marketing materials including online graphics, logos, and print collateral. Check out her blog, The Branding Spot.


          If you like this post, you might also like:

          1. How to Know When It’s Time to Redesign Your Marketing Materials
          2. Two of the Most Important Investments You Will Make in Your Business
          3. How One Excuse Can Stifle Your Business Success
          4. Why You Shouldn’t Brand Yourself
          5. How One Travel Company Enhanced Its Brand Image Online
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