Darren Leet Incorporated has just settled into a new office location in Greenville, South Carolina. Special thanks to Mike Craig at Venue 4 Design for providing a excellent office environment and all-around great service. The office space is top-notch and I look forward to cranking out some excellent work from downtown Greenville.
If you visit the new space, you will not miss the dominant piece of office sculpture. It is red and about nine feet tall, it makes loud noises from time to time, an it has a lot of knobs. It has been given the title of "Creative Director" and will be responsible for generating most of the creative direction for DLINC accounts.
New retractable screen tradeshow booth back walls like the Aero feature multiple banner height options and a bunch of other configurations. This three panel booth design for Café Imports was done with several goals in mind:
- Be inviting: the warm wood and crafted look of the screens offsets the modern tubing and creates a friendly, safe feel. With all the bustle of normal tradeshows, a calm and friendly zone has an attraction that's hard to resist.
- Be simple: even though the Areo booth had multiple height settings and configurations it's a good chance that only one or two will be predominately used. Design for the obvious.
- Be iconic: even though there is a lot of content on these three panels, the sum effect is of a unified piece of art. While people may not bend down to read the harvest schedule, it's presence adds texture and movement.
PT's Coffee (a Darren Leet Inc. client) has seen impressive growth of their web site sales over the past several years. Their company and web site was recently featured on a video put out by www.kansasgetonline.com and Google Business:
An extremely butchered version of an old advertising yarn:
The creative director for a very famous agency had worked tirelessly on an automotive company's brand, nurturing it out of the gutter. Seeing much success, the auto company president looked at the continued cost for agency services and asked the adman, "So what am I paying you for now anyway?" The adman wryly responded, "To keep you from (screwing) it up."
Branding is not an event, it's a discipline. It's not a battle for the customer, it's a battle for a company's heart. Find your heart and you will find your customer.
Creating your brand is like creating your own language. There are many elements in this language to consider:
- Visual - graphic style.
- Message - what and how information is communicated.
- Products - the configuration of services and products greatly influences your brand identity.
- Interaction - how a person feels after interacting with your company.
Creating and managing a consistent visual and interaction language allows great message efficiency.
click image to enlarge
A sad story and a happy story
The sad story (in outline form):
- Company A never put much value in articulating a mission / vision / value statement.
- Company A "got a logo done by somebody" and used it for signage but not on emails or newsletters.
- Documented corporate standards were viewed as nit-picky.
- Advertising was done only when a good media deal was spotted and usually the publisher also produced the ad. The ad message depended on the business owner's current hot button.
- Company A put little effort into understanding why customers bought products from them or chose their services.
The sad story ends with Company A never seeing consistent returns on advertising, continually needing to explain to customers what they do, and only engaging on an emotional level through their sales people. When their sales people left the company, so did the customers. What a sad story.
Now a happy story:
- Company B realized that customers returned because of its service performance and ease of use.
- Tailored graphics supported this strength - logo, corporate ID and imagery.
- Ads repeatedly communicated this key message to create the service expectation.
- Business decisions supported the company's strength of service.
- Key copy blocks focused on customer service.
- Company B applied these points with consistency throughout its business practice
- Soon the simple display of the company's logo conjured a multitude of positive embedded meanings for viewers. It engaged emotions and created the right expectations whenever viewed.
The happy story is still being written by Company B with every brand-building decision they make.
The term "brand" has become a much overused buzzword and I'm of the opinion that the branding of the word "brand" has been ill-managed itself. Many businesses know they need it, talk about it, want to have it, but don't know how.
It really can be this uncomplicated:
- Find what is the heart and soul of your company.
- Create a visual and interactive language around that soul.
- Maintain consistency in using that language.
Branding is about creating a story - a narrative between you and your customer - and it can be a very happy one.
There are many flavors describing the web development process; most revolving around a discover / design / develop phase system. Any version of a development process is essential to follow. But it's entirely possible to successfully go through a web development process and miss the boat on the finished product.
How can that be? Business leaders need realize just how deep a web site development project can be, or should be. Really, every web site built has a stack similar to the below diagram, just some of the elements have been devalued or not considered.
Click illustration to enlarge
Stacking it up.
There are really only four main layers of a typical web site:
- Technology - The hardware/software configuration which powers everything. Linux/Apache/MySQL/Php or .NET - it's a choice that effects cost, speed and reliability.
- Business - How a web site promotes what your business offers it's clients for customers.
- Framework - The layer we interact with. Choosing the right framework can open infinite possibilities and save development dollars.
- Brand Messaging - The top layer of interaction, resulting in a transaction (product, information, service) between business and customer.
- Stopping the planning at Framework removes the value of the brand interaction.
- example - Just "getting a web site up" without thought to brand identity and messaging removes the possibility of meaningful interaction
- Exclusion of the business layer leaves the top-level brand with nothing to really promote.
- example - Without being matched to the base business purpose, a well-designed web site and solid framework is all dressed up with no where to go.
- Branding efforts are effected by the choice of framework.
- example - "Can we add a user comments area?" Some frameworks allow a quick change. Others do not.
Open for thoughts and comments.
The number of turnkey web site solutions for real estate agents are numerous; real estate is an industry of independent business owners (Realtors) who depend on the exposure the internet provides.
Choosing the right Realtor web marketing solution is a challenge and the factors are numerous:
- Cost to set up and maintain
- Speed to develop
- Quality of design and content
The approach DLINC takes to assisting Realtors in their marketing promotes each agent as an individual company and brand. Let's look at a web site we recently launched as an illustration:
This site promotes the agent - Rebecca Powell - as a distinct brand. It's a great showcase for property listings as well, maximizing the exposure of each listing. Other features:
- Branding is an extension of all literature and promotional material
- Administration area allows easy access to add or edit property listings with choices of which properties to display on home page, sold/pending designations
- Sold properties automatically filter into an additional portfolio page
- Targeted neighborhood pages with valuable SEO content
- Server independent - the site is totally self-contained (no monthly service fees to keep the site active)
- Individual metrics for each property listing
- Site metrics with Google Analytics
- Super SEO friendly
- Social networking links
- Smart features such as random testimonials on the home page, pop up windows which keep the viewer on the site, and web 2.0 footer design
- Other features, such as a blog, can be easily added in through our extremely flexible framework
Our approach to real estate web sites was built by real estate agents for real estate agents; the best in the business use their web site to generate interest and make sales daily. Contact us with questions or comments.
Darren Leet Incorporated recently launched the online presence for Sawdust LLC, a Boston, Massachusetts Architectural Millwork company. The new web site establishes Sawdust as a design-conscious contender in the remodeling industry.
There is nothing templated about Sawdust's services. DLINC's custom web site design upholds that artisan ethic. Showcasing great portfolio photos, the site was designed from the ground up to bring life the Sawdust brand.
Those who appreciate a solid structure will notice that Sawdust's site is built on the LAMP framework. In addition, DLINC's modular site build philosophy lends a high level of control.
- Quick change - want a blog or special application added? Choose from the best open source options and they can be seamlessly integrated.
- Fast load - hard-coded pages load only what is necessary for display.
- SEO rich - quality content devoured by search engines. The use of JQuery allows information to be kept as live copy while not loosing the animation and interaction that users have come to expect.
Sparkly new web sites are not the end of a development project. Unfortunately it's a fact that some companies put effort and money into the design and creation process, launch the site and then - Ta-da! - walk away.
If a web site falls in the internet and there's no one around, does it make a sound? This is not a paradox, the answer is "nope".
A web site, regardless of its role (brochure site, e-commerce, etc), is a company asset that needs promotion. Fortunately the steps to promote a web site are cost-effective, repeatable, and give almost immediate feedback. Here are a few of the big points:
- Make sure your site is SEO optimized. Serving up content to search engines on a silver platter helps speed up the time a web site is crawled and parsed for keywords. Make sure your pages are content-rich and synchronized with the keywords users are searching for.
- Launch your site with gusto. Email address books, Constant Contact databases, customer databases, Linked In, Facebook, Twitter. Any list of names accessible to a company should be farmed and used to announce a new web site. Make it fun, give your clients and customers a good reason to visit your brand new web site. People love to see new things.
- Get on the lists. Make sure your web site starts to gain links in. Get listed in qualified directories, in blogs, in associate web sites. Anything to gain a reference and thus increase rankings with search engines.
- Continually promote. A marketing budget, no matter what the size, represents the commitment to using a web site as part of a marketing program. Get your URL out there - print ads, pens, business cards, email signatures, AdWords campaigns. Promote your services or products though these means and promote your web site as the primary location to gain valuable information.
A new web site is an excellent time to contact your client base and gain new customers. New web sites invigorate a company internally and externally represent a companies' effort to continually evolve. Plus, everyone loves to see a successful launch.
Cotty Lowry's billboards on the corner of Hennepin and Franklin have a long and venerable history of getting vandalized. So the idea of anything permanent hanging from the Burch Pharmacy is a little optimistic. But this new billboard design is prepared for the inevitable - with a panel for easily replacing property photos. It even comes pre-vandalized with snapshot images of previous graffiti on Cotty's portrait.
So your company has a web site served up to the World Wide Web, everyone can access it, right? Not really. In keeping with the very strengths of the WWW, an amazing array of users and systems will be looking to get information from your site, and some might not get much out of it.
Think of the variables at play: operating systems, browsers, servers, and differing user capability. The reality is that the WWW doesn't really have true standards. And so enters the term "compliance". In the world of web development, the W3C standards are de facto, and within that, ADA compliance rules further detail out the type of user demands your web site will encounter. Developing for ADA compliance means most other compliance rules will fall into place too.
ADA compliance is met when all features and information on a site can be accessed by persons with disabilities.
The ability to navigate via a keyboard and use text-to-speech or screen reader programs greatly contribute to an ADA compliant site. General considerations for web site development:
- Provide image ALT tags for as many photos and graphics as necessary.
- High-contrast color scheme in areas of importance.
- Site navigable by keyboard directional arrows.
- Text-only or text size user controls (increases size of body copy via links on page).
- Do not rely on tables or restrictive page construction - page layouts must transform for user agents (screen readers for instance).
- Best practices
- Design for device independence.
- Basic W3C compliance testing.
- Build site to gracefully degrade with old browsers or Java Script disabled.
- Clear and simple document layout.
The secret benefit to maintaining W3C and ADA compliance is a site that will cost less to maintain and alter in the future. Changing the design will be easier, publishing your site to new user clients (think iBook) should be easier, and your site won't "break" when new browser technologies come onto the scene.
- New DLINC Digs AND Officing With Metal Things
- Going Oldschool With Modern Tradeshow Displays
- Client Site Featured on Google Business
- Brand Management - Create Your Own Language
- Web Development Process - A Unified Theory
- Your Brand Sells - Online Marketing Answers for Realtors
- Architectural Millwork Web Site Gets a Rebuild
- The Cardinal Sin of a Web Site Launch
- Minneapolis Meets New Billboard
- ADA Compliance - The Short Course