graphic design toronto, graphic design, graphic strategy

How Graphic Design Plays a Role in Your Branding

When entrepreneurs first start out in business, they often envision having a company image that sets them apart from everyone else. Successfully defining that unique image requires a multi-faceted approach that involves everything from product and service offerings, company story, and unique value proposition.

However, few things can compare to graphic design when you want to create an instant and lasting impression on your customers.

Graphic design is an integral part of your brand image. It’s everywhere – from your website to social media and in all of your marketing materials. Whether you’re just starting out or going through a refresh, graphic design should always play a major role in your marketing plans.

“Developing professional graphics should be considered as an investment rather than a cost, as they’re crucial to building and defining your company’s image,” says Dennis Foot, Creative Director at Amplified Communications. “They also play a large role in creating relationships and building trust with your customers.”

Create a Design that Reflects Your Brand’s Uniqueness

It’s important to create a lasting first impression when customers initially connect with your brand. Much of developing relationships with your audience has to do with they how they respond to your design. You could have the most incredible content on your website, but if your layout, colours, and fonts aren’t doing it justice, your efforts might be wasted.

That’s why it’s so important to get your brand personality right the first time with an effective design strategy that can visually establish the brand image you want.

“Innovative, trustworthy, fun, approachable, strong, traditional, modern – these and more are traits that can be successfully conveyed in branding materials,” Dennis says. “Of course, we can’t convey every trait – as much as we’d like to – so it’s best to focus in on just a few to create the most succinct branding imagery possible.”

Creating customized brand designs is essential for any business, but it’s especially crucial for start-ups who are starting from scratch to establish their image, personality, and voice.

“In many cases,” Dennis says. “Start-ups aren’t sure what they want. They might have a concept, but have trouble choosing the best font and colours to bring it to life. In this case, I usually make branding recommendations based on client-provided reference points, such as what kind of logos they like or which colours and layouts appeal to them, as well as what kind of image they want to build in the eyes of their customers.”

Dennis notes that although established companies also tend to need a helping hand when developing new graphics, they benefit from having existing branding materials on which they can build.

“Established companies generally know what they want from their existing colour and font schemes, but it also helps to see what kind of graphics worked for them in the past in order to come up with most effective, brand-centric designs for their rebrand or new product launches.”

Using colour psychology to create personality

When it comes to choosing the right colours, it’s important to understand the subtle psychology behind colour use to ensure that you’re sending the right message to your audience. For example, orange tends to be a cheerful colour, while blue suggests confidence and strength.

Combining different colours can give you virtually unlimited options to build the exact brand personality you want to reflect. They can also be used to encourage action, such as pressing a button or opening a web page, and can be used in combination with images to sharpen the brand messaging.

“Images are often used to set moods,” Dennis says. “A suit and tie image will suggest confidence and dependability, but not warmth. A lion represents strength and competitiveness, but not creativity. Professional designers can help you design the perfect custom image, using the colours you need to create the right image that elicits the proper response.”

Also, use stock images or shapes in your branding images judiciously. They might work well with your web pages and blog articles, but your logo should be completely unique to your brand. After all, the last thing you want is branding material that someone else – especially your competition – might try to use.

How important is font design?

When we think of design, colours and images often jump to mind first. However, proper font choice also plays a role in creating the best designs possible for your brand, whether it’s on your logo or across your website. Thinking of using Arial or Times New Roman? Consider first the vast amount of more exciting font choices that will really make your messaging pop.

“Font use is very important,” Dennis says. “You can communicate a lot with your font choice, which is why it’s crucial to pick a font that matches your brand. Personally, I prefer clean, legible, simple fonts that can be used in any industry, but I will use custom or unusual fonts if there is really a need for them. I use bolder, more impactful fonts for events or anywhere you need to stand out. Companies just need to be careful not to use strong fonts all the time, as doing so lessens their impact and makes your messaging too ‘noisy’.”

Once you’ve chosen your colours, images, and fonts, be sure to keep them consistent across all of your marketing materials. It helps cement your logo into people’s minds, and also makes every piece of your communications strategy instantly recognizable.

Should you hire a graphic design professional?

Hiring a design professional might seem like an unnecessary extravagance at first, especially if you or a colleague has some sort of design talent. However, before you set them up with a Canva account, be aware that to successfully create the graphics you need, you need to work with a “view from the outside” approach.

That’s because your customers are outsiders, know nothing about your company, and are counting on your design to effectively communicate your brand values. As an insider, your “inside perspective” might prevent you from knowing what your customer needs in order to form the right relationship with your company. Hiring a design professional will give you that important 3rd-party perspective, along with the designer’s eye that will successfully bring your brand image to life.

Plus, you’re assured of quality work. Someone in-house might have some design skills, but not at the level you need to maximize your growth potential. So if you don’t have budget for professional designer at the outset, be sure to invest in one as you start to generate revenue.

It’s just one of the many reasons why unique graphic design is paramount to creating a recognizable brand that sets your business apart from your competitors.

email marketing

Email Marketing: Building and Marketing to your Database

Email Marketing is still the King of Marketing…if you do it right.

Remember when email first became available to the public? It wasn’t that long ago, and I barely can picture the world without it.

As fast as the public started using email, it seemed that businesses identified it as a great marketing tool. Without the costs of printing, inserting, and mailing, targeted email marketing became an efficient and cost-effective method of reaching thousands of people at once. Finally, we’d found the King of Marketing!

The zeal for email marketing showed no signs of stopping until mass messaging (otherwise known as spamming) became an issue. Public reaction to unscrupulous use of their email address led to businesses taking a more selective approach to emailing their database and, more importantly, using emails for prospecting. CAN-SPAM in the US and CASL in Canada have put consumer comfort first, forcing marketers to take a more strategic approach to email marketing. The threat of stiff penalties for rule breakers also encourages compliance in not only messaging, but also how companies acquire, store, and maintain their database.

With the threat of penalty over their heads, as well as the growing sophistication of spam filters, marketers may be tempted to abort their email marketing plans. But if you follow some simple guidelines, you can still roll with the King.

How Often Should You Email?

How many times do you check your physical letterbox per day? Once, right?

Now, how many times do you check your email per day? If your answer is 150, according to Business Insider you’re only at the average.  My email program is open as I write this, and yours might be open as you’re reading. And now that I’ve mentioned it, chances are you’re tempted to check it.

Checking email is almost second nature to connected folks, especially on mobile. The reason is simple: it’s a fast, easy, and efficient way to keep in touch. And because of this, we can conclude that email is also the fastest, easiest, most efficient digital marketing method to directly reach a large number of people at one time.

But how often should you email? Finding that balance of keeping top of mind with your customers without spamming them is a concern for many marketers.

“Most companies should be looking at one email per month,” says Mark Brodsky, owner of Mark Brodsky Digital Communications. “There are certainly exceptions – Groupon sends out emails almost every day.  Shoppers Drug Mart also frequently emails, but they always have a special, limited time offer. Loblaws does the same thing with their PC Points emails. The key is setting up expectations and giving people a choice. If you want to send something more than once a month, set up two databases and give people the option of getting that email or the monthly email.”

Service providers such as real estate agents, mortgage brokers, or insurance agents who don’t do business with clients on a frequent basis can also apply this philosophy. But what kind of content would they send out?

“The key is knowing what kind of content your audience is interested in, and delivering that,” Mark says. “If you can keep your audience engaged in between the times that they need you, they will remember you when the time comes, and refer you to friends and family.”

Building Your Email List

Chances are, if you’re just starting out, you have an empty email list. There are many list purchase options available on the market, but many of them simply aren’t CASL compliant. It’s best to avoid any legal issues by building a CASL-compliant list organically.

“Include a signup link everywhere you are online,” Mark says. “Take the link your email system provides and put it on your website as prominently as possible. Add the link to LinkedIn, Facebook, your Twitter bio, and Instagram. Don’t forget to include the link in your email signature.”

Once on your landing page, your prospect will be able to fill out a signup form. Many businesses collect no more than the email address and first name at this point. Long forms tend to increase the abandon rate, and other information, such as last name, location, and interests, can be collected over time as you develop a better relationship with your customer.

“You can also offer an incentive for people to sign up,” Mark says. “Something like 15% off your next purchase can go a little further to get people to give up an email address.”

Once you’ve built your database up and are ready to send your emails out, Mark advises against using generic email programs such as Outlook, Hotmail, or Gmail.

“I strongly urge businesses to use a professional email marketing system.” he says. “A system like Constant Contact gives you the tools you need for tracking, reporting, and list maintenance.”

Mark also recommends to have your recipients help build your list by inviting them to forward your email to a friend. With every email you send out, include a request that the recipient forward to a friend they think may be interested. Make the button prominent. Also, include a link that allows people who have received the mail from a friend to sign up.

Concerns with CASL

When CASL first came into effect, I used to think of it in relatively simple terms: “Great for consumers, bad for marketers.”

I’ve changed my opinion since then. It’s really only bad for marketers who are more concerned with the quantity instead of the quality of their data. It also affects marketers not concerned with the content they send out, or disinterested in building strong relationships with their customers.

For businesses interested in data quality, relevant content, and building strong customer relationships, CASL only reaffirmed their email marketing practices. In short, it’s actually good for everyone.

But what should email marketers be primarily concerned with within CASL’s complex guidelines?

“CASL is a complicated subject,” Mark says, offering three strategies that will help ensure that companies don’t receive complaints:

  • Get consent to email: There are two kinds of consent: implied and express:
    • Implied consent:  Clients who have done business with you fall under implied consent. This means they can be emailed for two years without asking, after which marketers have to seek out express consent
    • Express consent: This covers people who have opted in to your mailing list, either online, in writing or verbally. Express consent never expires and is valid until the customer opts out
  • Include contact information: The sender is required to provide a physical business mailing address and a secondary way of contacting the sender, including a website or phone number, to the recipient with each email
  • Provide an opt-out opportunity: Business must give recipients the option to unsubscribe. Email systems process the request automatically, but if you are fulfilling requests manually they must be completed within 10 business days

“In short,” Mark says. “CASL just means the government is forcing companies to use email marketing best practices. Only email people who want to receive your email, and when they no longer want to be contacted, remove them from your list.”

The DIY Approach

Most of us can compose and send an email. Most of us can send a mass email too. But while the process of email marketing sounds simple, the strategic planning, content generation, and database maintenance can be complicated, time-consuming, and frustrating.

The answer? Hire a professional.

“One benefit in hiring a professional is that you know it will actually get done,” Mark says. “For small businesses, especially those with a sole proprietor, marketing often falls to the bottom of the to-do list. Work to be done for customers always takes precedence. Hiring an email marketing professional means that your email will get out so you can continue to generate more business. They will also be on top of the latest trends, ensure that your emails will look great across all platforms, and be able to understand and provide perspective on analytics within your industry.”