TMM's blog: The Werd

What’s our secret? Timing!

Yes, creative masters like (ahem) us have learned to juggle fine marketing initiatives of just about every size and scope as smoothly as a Formula 1 car driver shifts gears… but producing work that works doesn’t come at the push of a button—it takes time. Turn Time to be exact.
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What do we mean by turn time? It’s the end-to-end project span, defined by major milestones. The amount of time we recommend allowing for each stage of a project is based on what is needed to ensure we can give the appropriate thought, research, design, writing, coding and quality control to do the job right. It’s also the time needed to allow other clients’ work to flow through the agency.

The most common, but possibly least voiced, question clients have about our scheduling: if a step is going to take only 3 hours, why might it take several days to get it done?

Several reasons… here’s one: let’s say “concepting” is on the schedule for a new ad, and we’ve allowed five hours for this step. That will divide up into a few hours of research, doodling ideas, discussion, brainstorming, more drawing, reflection and team review. All of this provides the opportunity for strategy to meet creativity and spark an effective marketing approach. While it’s certainly possible to make it happen, a concept developed in a single five-hour sitting will typically not be as strong as one that percolates over a few days’ time.

Another factor is our need to schedule other clients’ ongoing work—while we do our best to meet every client request just as though we were in-house staff, the truth is that our team always has a full schedule providing similar services to dozens of clients. The only way to ensure we have the people available to handle your work (and have the possibility to pinch hit when an emergency come up—as they obviously do!), is to schedule projects over a controlled, measurable time.

Our passion at The Marketing Machine is delivering outstanding creative at fair prices, on time—and that requires us to be masters not only of marketing and design but also of project timing. To help prevent disappointment, or need-it-yesterday work, we invite you to involve us in your planning sessions whenever possible. And if there’s an occasional emergency, know that we’ll still do our very best to pull out all the stops!

The Story of Max

The Marketing Machine recently helped create a unique new superhero: “Max,” of CenterEdge Software. The client tasked us with developing this unique character as an outgrowth of a very successful B2B advertising campaign that we created for them in 2013; this ad series featured stock-art illustrations of superheroes that we implied were hard at work slaying entertainment centers’ worst challenges. Developing an all-new superhero is super cool, as you can imagine, so we thought you’d enjoy seeing how he evolved. Let’s set the storyline:

For years, an amazing superhero [Max] has been a largely invisible force at CenterEdge Software, working quietly behind the scenes in a tireless effort to aid small- to medium-sized entertainment centers, driving up their profitability by continually perfecting the secret weapon [a.k.a. powerful integrated facility management software] that helps owners and managers:

  • stop “profit stealers” in their tracks,
  • banish “labor pains” associated with the ongoing challenges of employee management and,
  • defeat obstacles thrown in their path by notorious operational “time eaters”—and much more.

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In 2013, Max secretly engaged these friends to be his public “stunt doubles” – giving tangible form to the impressive feats of bravery and skill at the heart of the CenterEdge team. Max assigned The Marketing Machine a critical mission: to capture their exploits and tell the world about them! [We chose to focus on cost-efficient, targeted, trade publication advertising.] Their efforts were noticed and word quickly spread, as did the client’s success, together driving CenterEdge Software to unprecedented growth. We all knew it was time for the invisible superhero to step forward…

Back in the real world, our clients asked us a really good question: “How will we make sure our one-of-a-kind superhero looks good without the cost going off the charts?” Our response: “We’ll guide you through the many development decisions with precision, ensuring the finished product captures just the right tone, and represents the brand well.”

  • Our first action was to agree to a clear vision for his “persona.”
  • The second (after choosing an illustrator with just the right style—in this case Rick Burnett), was creating development milestones when we could share progress with the client.

As we brainstormed, we realized that Max shouldn’t be a stereotypical bulked-up icon, he needed to be the animated embodiment of the guy-next-door-turned-superhero that we see hard at work across the CenterEdge Software organization day after day. Through these talented, dedicated people and their outstanding software, Max “accomplishes” all the amazing feats rolling out in the 2014 campaign. Here’s a short ‘n sweet version of Max’s birth (minus gory details):

Max-graphics-1Step 1: When you look Max in the eye, what sort of guy IS he?
There were endless possibilities, each communicating a somewhat different personality. Our first glimpse of Max’s head included a continuum from Greek God to Goofy Stoner, as you can see at left. We unanimously felt Max was closest to the upper left. Strong and commanding…and yet, we thought he should be more accessible; someone who could be your pal once the heavy-lifting was over.


Max-graphics-2Step 2: We made a few suggestions that tweaked him to be more of a “regular guy” including a slightly less-chiseled face and chin shape; subtlety is huge here. BINGO! There’s Max: strong, confident, but a little friendlier than the original.


Max-graphics-1Step 3: Stepping further back, what about his body? Should he be an Olympic bodybuilder, or Hulk-sized giant, like this? A regular guy in tights? Somewhere in between?


Max-graphics-4Step 4: Yes! After some discussion, Max took shape as a regular guy with serious game… yup, he’s damned good at his sport; a sport that requires equal amounts courage, intelligence and creativity (helping entertainment centers run more profitably is not for the faint of heart)!


Max-graphics-1Step 5: Now that we were happy with the head, face, stance, proportion and muscle tone, it was time to dress him. Gloves? Boots? Cape? Bodysuit neckline? We also wanted to incorporate some branding elements—maybe including their circular logo as a belt buckle, and/or ring—so we would always know Max is the CenterEdge Software superhero, no one else’s…
There we are: Max!


Max-graphics-2Step 6: Of course, someone like Max is not built for shades of grey (well, maybe… but let’s not go there right now). Let’s skip ahead to the final, Technicolor Max. Handsome, isn’t he?


Max was approved in this iteration as a base design and style guide for the 2014 ad campaign. In each ad and/or usage, his pose and setting will change to best highlight the customer “pains” that he so easily defeats in real life, starting with this one, Profit Stealers.

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Look for him at a theatre (or at least, a trade show or publication) near you!

Branding Fundamentals

I have always been fascinated with branding, and how we, the consumers, establish relationships with companies and their products or services. I believe the stronger and more focused a brands execution is, the more it resonates with potential customers and the marketplace. You can easily see this with large companies like Coke, or Apple, but it’s just as important for every company to implement some of the fundamental aspects of branding. Of course this starts with a strong logo, but should also be conveyed at every “touch point” along the way including websites, collateral, sales materials, email signatures, trade shows, etc. But, it’s not just the visual elements that make a brand. A brand is also etched in the way a company does business, the way they answer the phone, or handle problems, or what charities they align themselves with. All working together, a perception is formed that defines a company’s personality or identity.

Branding and Momentum

The many facets of branding continually fascinate me, and how we, the consumers, are motivated to establish relationships with companies and their products or services. Many of these developments take place in our subconscious and happen over time. Another element of branding that can’t be planned or controlled is when a product or business hits its groove and begins to experience brand momentum in its marketplace. I am most intrigued by this phenomenon because momentum usually acts as a reward for a good marketing plan “taking on a life of its own”, where the results and overall return begin to exceed the efforts being put forth. If you can get your messaging, timing and frequency all in alignment, you may be able to sit back and watch the spark of this untraceable element called momentum.

Make the most of your advertising budget

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Once a client has established distinctive, consistent branding, and their marketing goals are defined, advertising is often the next question up. Even those with the most generous advertising budgets have to deal with a common challenge: finite budgets from which you need to squeeze max revenues.

We’re firm believers that the best way to increase your effectiveness is by multi-channel advertising, because we’ve seen time and time again that it works. Businesses with a strong referral flow still enjoy steadier growth when they have an effective, consistent campaign in place; out of sight, out of mind is more than just a truism—so if you’re in the retail business, remember you’re also in the advertising business!

A well-designed multi channel campaign:
• reaches your audience with increased frequency,
• engages with them in different ways—e.g., mobile, web, print
• provides them with various channels for responding, and
• often wraps up with a common—and memorable—call to action.

SRI Shoe Warehouse, a long-time client, uses multi-channel ad campaigns—very effectively—about twice a year, to align with their spring/fall sales cycle. A recent campaign designed to reach three markets ran for four weeks on nine websites, plus radio, newspaper, email and a targeted direct mail campaign. All advertising drove to landing pages and was linked to their social media efforts, in addition to being an awareness builder. The trackability of today’s online marketing campaign elements like banner ads, emails and mobile, helps us hone in on the most responsive audiences and select future media buys–making each campaign smarter than the next.

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And don’t forget the value of list building as a campaign goal. By adding a contest to a recent campaign, SRI generated over 2500 new email addresses to their already sizable list — all of whom are predisposed to listen to and welcome news about fresh shipments of new seasons’ styles as well as special offers that can help drive revenue during sluggish periods. If they’re not in your database, you’ll pay far more to try to reach them!

This is one example of an aggressive Multi-channel ad campaign in a highly competitive arena. But not all campaigns need to be so expansive, or so aggressive right out of the gate. Start with smaller tests, or more finite geography. Be scientific. Track sources. And most importantly, be consistent. Consistency is a critical! Once you start to build momentum, you’ll be able to get a rhythm going for when to employ higher and lower frequency, just don’t pull out altogether… or you’ll quickly find yourself out of mind once again!

How our flexible model delivers more creativity & agility for you

Entrepreneur.com reached out several months ago to learn more about how The Marketing Machine’s innovative hybrid structure helped the agency be more profitable—and respond better to clients’ needs.

We were stoked to see the resulting article that appeared in the “Run & Grow” category, especially because “Run” and “Grow” are what we and most of our clients are focused on!

The article does a great job of summarizing the before-during-after highlights; what didn’t get as much play was the way the hybrid structure helps us be more responsive and creative in our client deliverables. Combining a central core of “staff” with a team of talented, pre-vetted freelancers means we can:

  • hand-pick the right staffers for strategy, project management, creative and studio work to meet the demands of each client and project;
  • keep client fees competitively low by limiting overhead costs and minimizing downtime;
  • staff up quickly so we can handle more jobs at the same time, allowing us to better meet the fluctuating demands of new clients and/or seasonal campaigns, without reducing our responsiveness to ongoing client needs.

So, thank you to all our clients, who’ve helped us get to where we are today, and thank you Entrepreneur.com for highlighting our business model. Read the article.

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Will rebranding help your company stand out?

Rebranding can be an excellent strategy to help update your business’ image, help you stand out in a crowded market and/or capture the attention (and ideally, wallet share) of a new crop of buyers…but it’s not the only the strategy that can do the job.

But beware—if you’ve been in business for many years, you’re clearly known for something; you don’t want to lose hard-earned equity in your brand unless the upside you’re expecting to gain with the new brand is a reasonably sure bet. If there’s any type of disconnect between your branding and your business however—be it in style, vision, customers, or offerings—it’s probably time to rebrand.

Depending on your situation, here are a few options ranging from most-to-least drastic:

Rebrand your company when it has changed its products, services, market or mission.

Duke Energy’s new logo after its merger with Progress Energy, complete with a strategy for incorporating the subsidiary name within the design, is one example. Another, more radical, rebranding example is the 25-year old, North Carolina commercial furniture supplier Macthrift Office Furniture. Now under new ownership, the company recently launched a new approach with far greater emphasis on consultative service as well as style; all-new branding has helped make it clear that the new firm, delve interiors, has equal or better quality and design, but a new mission and method.

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If there’s nothing wrong with the current company or brand but you’ve identified new needs to fill that don’t fit tightly within your existing portfolio, you might consider a brand extension.

The women’s apparel chain Ann Taylor did this when it introduced LOFT several decades ago, to meet their executive-oriented customers’ needs for weekend and casual-Friday dressing. There’s an underlying consistency between the two, yet it remains easy to know which brand to turn to when you’re shopping; their website says it best: “Two distinct experiences united by a vision to make every woman look, feel and be her best.” Another example is local logistics and fulfillment firm Guardian that decided to form two separate, yet still related entities, Logistics and Guardian Fulfillment.

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Consider a Brand Refresh when you’ve determined that while your company’s products, services and mission serve your audience just fine, the look and feel of your logo, overall brand graphics and/or design aesthetic are a mismatch with your company’s current personality, style, size or customer segment.

Among the big kahunas, KFC and Walmart come to mind. Locally, well-known patent law firm Myers-Bigel decided that their branding had not kept pace with the sophistication of the firm’s staff and expertise, so updated their look accordingly. Scottie’s Building Services in Apex is refreshing their branding to better reflect their balance of experience and innovation, as well as exhibit a little friendly warmth along with their professionalism. This company also chose to tweak their name slightly, making it consistent with how their customers referred to them—another good reason to refresh your brand.

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Implement a new brand awareness campaign when you want your audience to take note of benefits and/or brand attributes that they’ll connect with, and that set you apart from the competition. This is also the right strategy when you need to re-establish relevance with the next generation—tricky, but not impossible. Look at Coca-Cola and Ford as two good examples.

As mentioned earlier, if your company has been in business a while, you’re clearly known for something; what is it? Quality products? Responsive service? Being an innovator? Or something aside from the core deliverables like your charitable works, a charismatic leader, or championing industry improvement? Any of these and many more could be your success lever if it builds a bridge to your customers’ needs and wants.

Standing out in your market is the first step to growing audience share. Look at your company; does your branding reflect what it really is? What you aspire to? If you don’t come up with a resounding “yes,” then it’s time to dig deep and develop a brand with the power to command your market!

Birth of a brand: delve interiors

Behind the screen at new delve interiors headquarters, president/owner Ed Boiar is being interviewed and discusses the rebranding process, and working with The Marketing Machine.

Branding principles: familiarity

It’s no surprise that I spent a good amount of time over the past 15 years or more thinking about principles of branding, about how we go from knowing nothing about a product or a company to loving it (or hating it). So I thought I’d share some of my weekend thought explorations with you. “Familiarity” is the first in the series; hopefully you’ll pick up some ideas that can help you strengthen your brand.

Familiarity is among the strongest facets you can build. But why is that? Why do we do things, look for things, that are familiar? One reason, I believe, is that people like to know what to expect… they like to be comfortable… they like peace of mind. (And, of course, sometimes we’re just lazy.)

Don’t be passive about this stuff though. Like I said in the video, start paying attention to how you make your choices, how you streamline your day. How could you help people feel that your brand is the most familiar? What would happen to your company if that were true?

If you want to brainstorm a bit on this, just give us a call. It’s what we love to do.

Avoid the “seven deadly sins” of marketing with good graphic design

As a graphic designer, I find myself cringing daily at an ad, a logo or even a website that has broken one of the many rules of design. The basis of this is usually just plain ole bad design, but the underlying problem is how the client/company ended up with that product and thought it was ok to run with it. A few years ago, we sent out one of my favorite emails: “The 7 deadly sins of marketing.” Once you’ve had a good chuckle or even a “doh, that’s what we did” reaction, I want to talk about how this can all be avoided with some good graphic design.

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Let’s dissect a couple of these:

#1- $99 Logo: In essence a cheap and cheerful route, but you get what you pay for. It might look nice, but will it last and does it present your brand in the best possible way for what your company does and who their target audience is? The $99 route doesn’t give you all the valuable behind-the-scenes research/analysis. Professional graphic design is not just a pretty picture; it’s a well-thought-out concept based on good design practices in conjunction with brand and company research.

#3-Free Online Printing: Your company’s business cards say so much more than you might think. A good designer not only makes the cards visually pleasing (organizing the information logically and effectively, choosing just the right colors and fonts), but also decides how it should be printed. You might think that getting a cheaply printed card is a savings, but in fact, poorly printed marketing pieces have the recipient focusing on the wrong thing. The proper paper for both budget and impact, printed and cut correctly, will allow your audience to focus on the information on the card AND maybe even keep the card in their purse or on their desk longer because “it’s just so cool!”

And finally, my favorite, #7-Trendy Fonts: A professional graphic designer has an arsenal of fonts (not just the ones that came with their computer)…and knows how to use them! There’s nothing technically wrong with Brush Script or Papyrus, except that they’re overused and abused. Using the appropriate fonts for each project is one of the most important parts of a good design. The rule of thumb is that no one piece should have more than three distinct fonts. The idea being that there should be a legible body copy font and a headline and/or accent font. No more than that is needed when something is well-designed. Altering the size, weight and distribution of fonts within a piece creates the necessary hierarchy of what is important and what is less so. Using a trendy font for an entire marketing piece is overkill, and just because that font looked great on something you saw doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for what you’re doing for your own design purposes. Trendy fonts, if used, should be used sparingly to add a touch of personality.

In conclusion, if you have committed any of these deadly sins, please stop. This affliction, sometimes referred to as “marketus defectus”, can be hazardous to the health of your organization. Call The Marketing Machine for immediate assistance.

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