Posts filed under DIY

You The Brand – 101

The point of this and upcoming post will be to design, create, evaluate and ideally optimize your own personal brand. What does that mean – personal brand? For many, it means being an expert within a category; for others, a platform by which one can convey their options, services and products. And some see this brand as the extension of energy and credibility that people should come to expect from you in what you do and say. Yes, of course you've guessed it -- it's all of these things and much more.

We see it all the time. Our friends, family and peers losing their jobs or deciding that it's time to look at something else. For many people, it's recreating who they are: their image, their direction and creating a brand out of themselves. Big "human brands" are easy to spot, especially in America where we thrive on utilizing status as a marketing directive. I'm going to assume you have not amassed a fortune in whatever you do, nor do you have your own PR team(s) and agents making sure that you're positioning yourself for maximum celebrity effectiveness. And therefore you looking to me – King Nobody of the Universe for expert tutelage. LOL, w00t.

Examples of various people (off the top of my head and in no particular order) that are, indeed, brands:

Now, not all of the individuals in that list will subscribe to my advice. More than likely, they have a posse of peeps that do most of this work for them. The point of citing them was to show that people can have a pure brand essence exclusive to a product, service or corporation. But let's start at the beginning before we build your personal empire of status and influence.

Understanding Personal Brand:
Wikipedia says: "A brand is a distinguishing name and/or symbol intended to identify a product or producer. Some people distinguish the psychological aspect of a brand from the experiential aspect. The experiential aspect consists of the sum of all points of contact with the brand and is known as the brand experience. The psychological aspect, sometimes referred to as the brand image, is a symbolic construct created within the minds of people and consists of all the information and expectations associated with a product or service." It goes on further to say, "People engaged in branding seek to develop or align the expectations behind the brand experience, creating the impression that a brand associated with a product or service has certain qualities or characteristics that make it special or unique."

This is a critical seed that you need to identify first – What is the brand impression that you want to bring to people and have the same people take away? While you, 'the brand,' don't [have] to be who you are in the real world, it certainly helps, because the bigger your personal brand becomes, the more people that will anticipate authenticity that you convey to be real and factual. Defrauding this perception is counter-productive and will often lead to facing 'brand protection' issues -- much like Tiger Woods, Jesse James and others letting their personal life/actions overtake their public-facing brand. The more that you are true to what you intend to preach, the easier it will be to manage your self-branding.

One of my former clients wanted to brand himself and his style as that of a hard-nosed, street-savvy business expert. Well, part of that is image, part of that is message and part of this is magic. The magic is the true brand of you. What you can bring to the table that substantiates such claims. Your voice, attitude (or as I say, "raditude") and your engagement are essential keys to delivering that brand. And lastly, if you hate 'playing the game and making nice' with people, then creating a brand for yourself may not be the best path for you.

Uniform:
Image is a part of any brand. On my Twitter account and some posts that show me photographically, you see some dork in a suit. I think it's typical but it's professionally digestible, nonetheless. My real life is cargo shorts, t-shirts and sneakers, but it's important to dress the part; that doesn't, however, always mean a suit. If you're an urban poet, be just that. The expectation of what your audience, client, or vendor is anticipating must be paid off. If the President of the United States made an address in overalls, you'd naturally think something is a miss.

Voice & Messaging:
Simply put, just like your uniform, speak on behalf of what makes you special. Are you a loud personality? Funny? Succinct? Do you speak in bursts or in long sober tones? Watch comedians, musicians, radio personalities and political figureheads. They all carry a unique cadence, personality and flavor to their direction, and thus their self-brand. Remember, it's most importantly it's what you say – be authentic, be trusting and speak with the confidence that you find in any leader or one of expertise.

Expertise:
Here's the core of your brand – your expertise. Even if you choose something as saturated as, say, the music industry, you can have a unique voice, uniform and, ideally, definitive knowledge of the category. Just like corporate brands, you're going to be challenged by your industry. Whether it's a point you're making, the credibility you accrue or the success you create, there will be those that wish to appear better, smarter and therefore a better brand to follow. "People brands" (which I should trademark) are no different than business. Look at authors -- could you see yourself starting to write the next world-renowned sci-fi epic? You certainly can if you're prepared and knowledgeable.

Research You, Project You:
It's incredibly important that you stay current to your industry and expertise. This is done in every conceivable way: magazines, blogs, newsletters, RSS feeds, television, radio, podcasts, seminars, conferences, trade publications, news alerts, Twitter, Facebook and any industry-specific medium that is important to your success. Devour this material on an ongoing basis. To be a brand you must know what, when and how to tell information that is relevant and topical in order to increase your "brand currency" value. It's also incredibly important not to simply regurgitate what you hear from these assorted mediums. You need to take a reasonable amount of time to figure out how things interrelate and, therefore, best work for your audience base.

Social Media and Branding ("Don't Set It & Forget It"):
Now that I've beaten in your head how all the elements of branding need to be consistent and within the same voice, you need to follow through. Once you've become conversation extending your personal brand you must continue to do so. With that said, don't come out of the gate with a constant funnel of topics and then run out of things to say in three months and then not go out and speak for six! MAKE OPPORTUNITIES to extend your position and viewpoint while staying humble and open-minded. In short, tweet, blog, Facebook, YouTube with consistency. Don't let internet traffic discourage you. Remember, it's more important to reach out to the few that ARE following you than to WISH you had more following you.

Networking, Extensions & Support:
Linkedin groups, blogs, professional associations and general networking is becoming increasingly important to make. Beyond simply utilizing them for meeting and creating relationship, your involvement also increases your credibility, or what I like to call "Brand Currency" – I so need to ™ that.

Self Starter – Learning Center:

Posted on April 21, 2010 and filed under Business, DIY, Process.

Designers Block & The Art Of The Whine

I've been designing steadily for over 20 years. In that time I've on more than one occasion fallen stumped to not knowing where to go with my designs. Be it a logo, storyboard, website, print piece or integrated concept we all fall short of knowing that the concept/visual is just not there.

Author James Webb Young wrote a little bible called "A Technique for Producing Ideas" (this is a must have for your library) and in this the fundamental principles of this 64 pages are:

  1. Aggregate as many mental ideas, thoughts, and related concepts as possible.
  2. Then collect as much specific information on the relevant client, topic or campaign. Now matter how unrelated try to put ideas together, mind-map and see where thing fit and where they don't.
  3. Then stuff more general thinking around it; like case studies, competitors and simply "smart thinking" within the landscape.
  4. The most important part of this process is 'the incubation phase' – Go to a movie, take a long lunch, let it simmer over a weekend, and or, work on an unrelated project that won't effect your brain putting process time against that ideation. Let the subconsciousmind work on the problem.
  5. Then the magic of the "Eureka" moment! The idea(s) come to you in whatever way they manifest.
  6. Reprioritize with your idea collective and work the idea to perfection. Test, refine and launch!

Well sure this sounds great but in a the dog-eat-dog pits of today's advertising/interactive agencies do you really have the time for this whole process? Maybe and maybe not dependant upon the insurmountable deadlines you may be facing at any given time.

You'll also here your creative staff give you a thousand reasons why they're stumped, why they need more time and why are you doing this to them! But fortunately we live in a time with technology that we can take Mr. Young's principle and condense it down to assist your squeaky wheels.

  1. First of the Mr. Webb's point of aggregation and collection are still flawless and essential. Whether it's a client fact-finding mission, or you simply look at the works that's been done to date. You must immerse yourself in your client.
  2. With the internet you can make some pretty educated assumptions with websites, case-studies and online tools that lead to the analysis of where your client needs to be. Weigh the work of your competition. What works? What doesn't? What techniques are they using? Social Media? Mobile Apps? UGC campaigns? Or have they choosen more traiditional drivers?
  3. Then get inspired! There's a link on my home page for my Delicious Links, their you can find links to thousands of designers, agencies and great thinking that you can pull from. A world of great ideas is nothing but a search term away. Look at your clients competitors agency as well and make sure you don't replicate old thinking.
  4. The "incubation" phase is what I find I have very little time for anymore. My staff and I do our best to initially design rough directions and try to give immediate feedback. Then (give that you have a few hours or a few days) readdress it showing everyone's refined collective thinking. This is were Mr. Young may not have had a room full of creative minds to pull from.
  5. Then no differently – Reprioritize with your ideas collectively and work the concept to perfection. Test, refine and launch!

Lastly, I find it increasingly important to up the ante on the speed of ideas. You have to keep yourself and your staff immersed while at work at all times. Concept 'morgues' on your servers, large libraries of design, photography and advertising periodicals. Giant white boards should be no further than an arms reach while you talk about the latest mobile application in the break room during a Wii contest. Industry and conceptual immersion must be constant. This way the subconscious works faster to process the myriad of ideas that are sadly backed by ever-shortening deadline.

Posted on March 4, 2010 and filed under DIY, Design, Process.

DIY Usability Testing – Part Two

I got a comment off of a review of a website service called 'Usabilla' on post I wrote regarding making money off of usability testing. Marcus (said commenter) having left NO email or reply but DID leave an Australian IP address, pointed out an Australian company called www.Loop11.com. And while it felt like he might be selling his own product I did check it out.

Much like Usabilla, Loop11 allows you to create your own tests, invite participants to interact with your materials and then you'll receive an assortment of returned data from the process. I'll say this, I'm glad to see that there are these services available to us and now you have some companies to compare.

A few more companies for your consideration set:

This is a must read:

And for your consideration here's 'A List Apart Article' on "The myth of Usability Testing." I'm just trying to stay objective here people.

Posted on January 7, 2010 and filed under DIY, Interactive, Technology.

Usability Testing You Can (Finally) Make Money On

Client – "Yes, and additionally I'd like to get some usability studies done prior to launch."

You – "Fuck." (I'd advise simply thinking this part)

Let's face it, if you've been designing websites, applications or prototyping interfaces for any length of time you always get the dreaded request for a third-party usability study. Normally this means a pass-through cost that you'll never see, and endless rounds of revisions. Well a new service "Usabilla" now allows for you to serve up your work for a test audience with relatively minimal expense. Yes, you're still stuck doing a 1k rounds of revisions based on the feedback. But you'll be able to stomach the revisions knowing at least you're being paid adequately for your efforts in taking the time to test it.

The premise is very basic. You create an account, and link your test pages (or screen shots respectively) to your account and then you assign questions against the work posted. The application itself has a number of 'pre-fab' questions you can add as well.

SIDE-NOTE: The fact that you can test static comps' and wire frames is [very] nice for designers and developers too as you don't have to the work through development (wasting hours, and often losing capital) to get some definitive third-party feedback. Start to think about creating large IA's and you'll start to see the nightmare that will be your life if you push it all up on a dev' server only to have the client something like "where's registration page?" Boo.

While I've not used the service I feel it would be a phenomenal asset given the results that you received. That will remain to be seen. I might participate with this application on both ends of the spectrum to see how it truly works – if so I'll report back.

Posted on December 30, 2009 and filed under Business, DIY, Interactive.