Monday, November 14, 2011

Once again, Google is keeping us on our toes

Google announced last week that they are designing an alternative to their AdWords program, called Dynamic Search Ads. The concept is quite simple: instead of using a keyword and matching it to a relevant page, Google is taking a page and matching it to a relevant keyword. Ads are generated straight from your website.

So, what does this mean for your brand? As of now, Dynamic Search Ads can really be an asset to your business. You no longer need to churn out hundreds of keywords, you have more control over what you target, and you'll probably also see an increased number of clicks, giving you a greater ROI.

But there is a downside: although the user is seeing exactly what they want, this limits how sneaky you can be when it comes to Search Engine Optimization. Because search results are based on your website content, you can't advertise alongside similar products (for example, you can no longer use your competitors name or product as a keyword) which cuts down on potential click-throughs.

However, this new method places high importance on one thing: good website design and content management. If an advertiser wants to fully optimize the new Google AdWords, they need to be sure their website is up-to-date and has the appropriate content. Otherwise, their AdWord campaign may not be as successful as they hoped.

All of this begs the question, does your website say what you want it to say? What products do you most want to highlight? Is there any outdated information listed? There are numerous considerations to keep in mind when designing a great website, and I think now more people will realize how vital great website design is to their business.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Designed for Success

While I was writing this blog, we received the sad news that Steve Jobs had passed away. What a wonderfully creative legacy he leaves behind, and I can't help but wonder what amazing "inventions" we'll miss.

Vrginia Business magazine had a great article in its September issue, which argues the impact that design can have on business. In the wake of Steve Jobs' untimely passing, I find it even more appropriate that President and Publisher Bernie Niemeier chose to use Apple as evidence of how the two can successfully intertwine. He even goes so far as to re-bal it a "design"company rather than its original title of "hardware" or "software" company.

In my opinion, it's indisputable evidence of the ability for design to "separate winners from losers in business," as Niemeier asserts. And for me, this confirms the very essence of what we've done for years. The foundation of a company is of course the talent, ideas, products and expertise; but growth depends on successful brand development and marketing. As consumers, we subconsciously identify successful brands with malleable attributes like design or company culture.

We recently helped Stacey Sparkman Hall, D.D.S. launch her new dental practice, Williamsburg Center for Dental Health.

Our first step was to get to know Stacey, and in the process identify her brand. We then found ways to funnel these ideals, images and colors into a brand platform, which extends from her logo and tagline ("Personalized Solutions You Can Smile About") to the laid-back "Nantucket"-inspired decor of her office and teal-accented promotional launch campaign. As with the oft-discussed Apple Stores, we focused on the consumer experience and brand connectivity of her firm, moving beyond the service itself.

And in the process of doing so, everything from her office paint colors to her website now has a sense of unity that "is" uniquely Stacey.

I always say our job is to speak for our clients before they meet their customers, and the leave the door cracked afterwards. Helping them build and sustain a successful brand does just that. And what's even better - we think it's fun!

The original article in Virginia Business magazine can be found here.

Friday, August 26, 2011

What's Good Writing Got to Do With It?

Way back when, my late father, who was managing partner in a large accounting firm, complained that many of the young people coming on board didn't know how to write properly. While these college graduates displayed sufficient talent for performing accounting tasks, the reports they were required to prepare contained writing flaws of all sorts: incomplete sentences, grammar gaffes and, of course, horrendous spelling errors.

So there were already numerous minefields out there in the writing world when along came the Web, email, Twitter and texting. And before long we were knee-deep in shorthand, because 1) we were all so busy, and 2) it was all so hip.

As an English major, I cringe when I open an email message that is not only rendered with indecipherable brevity but in all lowercase letters as well. A complete sentence might be hidden in there somewhere, but it's tough to find. And I resent even having to try.

Back in the day, good writing was essential to good business. Oddly enough, it still is. Writing, after all, is a communication skill. It is a critical component of effective marketing. It provokes thought, makes a salient point, drives clarity. Simply put, good writing packs a lot more power than even the most clever cyber shorthand.

There are so many places you can go to brush up on English usage and writing essentials, but two of my favorites -- because they are invariably useful, straightforward and entertaining -- are The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White and The Chicago Manual of Style Online.

Dad would have loved them both.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Brand Protection "Situation"

Protecting brands has risen to a new level...or maybe I should say fallen.

Abercrombie & Fitch is paying Michael "The Situation" of Jersey Shore to NOT wear their branded clothes.

Is it real outrage - or just PR? We used to say that all PR was good PR, but sometimes doesn't it just seem like trash is trash? What'cha think?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Social Politics

In a society where it's commonplace to see a "tweet" on the nightly news, it should come as no surprise that social media is quickly becoming a legitimate and mainstream tool for news and media.

Most recently, with the conclusion of the U.S. debt-ceiling crisis, we see the power of social media manifested in previously unheard of numbers. The day after President Obama's national address in favor of raising the debt ceiling, a local web server was overwhelmed with traffic, eventually crashing several sites. The web host, Fireside21, is a Washington D.C.-based firm aimed at lawmakers. It houses websites of several "celebrity" Republicans, such as Speaker John Boehner and presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, as well as the sites of many prominent Democrats. An overwhelming desire to voice an opinion left most staring at "site unavailable" messages for the day.

This uncanny ability to share, repost, and retweet news as it is currently happening gives new meaning to the term "eye witness" news. When a Pakistani man inadvertently documented the Osama Bin Ladin raid in real-time via Twitter, he was immediately thrust into the limelight and contacted by several major news sources.

Politicians and celebrities alike are coming to understand the power of having a presence in social media. If you're not "there" -- you're losing out on a valuable point of connection with your audience. Communication is no longer relegated to newspaper, television, radio or even the telephone. Integration is quickly outmoding "slower" formers of communication, forcing them to keep up with the "instant"-ness of the internet.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Moustache Monday?

Recently, I stumbled across an article in the Wall Street Journal that described a start-up company in San Francisco with a busier social calendar than Kim Kardashian. “Moustache” Mondays? “Yoga” Tuesdays? I was intrigued. The company, Airbnb Inc., decided to pump up company perks to entice (and keep) dedicated employees. Competition is fierce in the Silicon Valley for tech talent, forcing employers to get creative.

As I read on about their two-story indoor tree house and “zen” room, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was idealism gone wrong. After all – how productive would you be, sprawled out in a tree house with a fake moustache on? But as I read on about late work nights and serious tech results, I wondered if maybe they were onto something. Maybe their “brand” was so developed and unique that it easily allowed intermixing of work and play, and in fact encouraged long, productive days and evenings. In an ever-growing tech market, where startups go as quickly as they come, perhaps the key to attracting talent lies in utilizing corporate culture as a tool – a point of differentiation. (And if there’s wine and cheese involved, that never hurts either.)

While I don’t see many East coast companies rushing to order their own indoor tree houses – maybe we could all learn a little something about developing our own brand identity in an endless sea of competitors. And really, it begs the question – who’s in for Moustache Monday?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

An idea that stuck to the bottom of her shoe.

So you’ve got gum stuck on your shoe. Or perhaps it was a leaf, paper, or just mud you can’t wait to get off.

All of us at some point have run into this situation and our instant reaction is to get rid of whatever it is that’s stuck to the bottom of our shoes as quickly as possible.

Recently I came across an article about Tara Haughton, a 16-year-old who started her own company after someone at the wedding she attended thought the red confetti on the bottom of her shoes made them look like Christian Louboutin shoes.

A simple Google translation of “red soles” into Italian –Rosso Solini– plus some 3M red stickers, and a company was born.

By definitely thinking outside the box, the teen CEO gave her dad a job and made Christian Louboutin shoes available for 25 bucks.

As of now, a very ho-hum website and Facebook are their main means of sales/media. Perhaps in the near future when they plan on expanding and selling more red soles to the U.S. they can give Howell Creative Group a call.

Friday, May 13, 2011

William and Kate

The universal coverage of The Royal Wedding is truly incredible. Images are continuing to emerge weeks after the once in a lifetime event. One particular image was brought to my attention via Facebook earlier today and, without a doubt, the playful image was followed by countless comments and “likes.”

It’s remarkable how we the viewer, instantly recognize the monumental event of William and Kate and immediately directly compare it to the story of Cinderella. Clearly Disney’s image has been altered in order to better show the comparison. More obviously, William is Prince Charming and Kate is Cinderella, and the two that resemble Cinderella’s evil stepsisters are princesses of the royal family.

With the endless media attention, from their engagement to the big day, William and Kate have made completely made a name for themselves: Formerly Price William and Kate Middleton, together are now William and Kate. Fortunately, it didn’t get a far as Brangelina, but let’s be serious, they had to stay classy considering William is second in line to the throne.

This all makes me wonder…can “William and Kate” now be considered a brand?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How tarnished is Donald's golden crown?

Surfing channels this weekend, I ran into the Seth Meyers White House Correspondents' Associate dinner speech and was drawn in to the event. What an example of the basic communication lesson that body language can "trump" words anytime!

Most folks nervously giggled at the mini-roasting of themselves or their associates. And it was clear that our President was quite comfortable getting ribbed...not a lot of squirming there.

But, what really caught my eye was Mr. Trump's reaction. Or a better description was lack of reaction. He sat so amazingly stone-faced that he looked like a statue. In contrast to the rest of the crowd, he appeared eerily unreal - no feelings - no emotion. Except perhaps anger attempting to be disguised as uncaring.

Trump has spent decades and countless dollars building and honing his brand. He would be well served by seeking some PR help - pros who would undoubtably advise him to stop taking himself so seriously.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Apps & Burger Branding

Branding, as described in the dictionary, is “a type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name.” This very loose definition leaves out all of the intricacies that “brand” can include (i.e. an environment, service, corporate mantra, etc.). Maintaining this brand across all media is extremely important. Five Guys Burgers and Fries does exactly that – on a nation-wide scale.

Five Guys is known for its delicious burgers, quality ingredients and played-down esthetic. It’s all about the food! Recently, we were tasked with the challenge of applying this understated esthetic to their new Android phone app.

The developers of the app, Solertium, created a very simple and easy-to-use interface that finds the nearest Five Guys franchises and allows the user to place an order for pickup. Our role was to help make this app look and feel like a small, interactive version of the Five Guys restaurant.

We created custom buttons, food illustrations, page layouts and chose fonts that would help create a familiar environment for the user. While this was a project that required design restraint more than over-the-top creative, the result is a user experience worth sinking your teeth into.

Android users can see for themselves at:

And check out this great app review: