Kristine Neil

Strategy

Your Personal Aesthetics Don’t Matter in Web Design

Strategy, UX, Web DesignKristine NeilComment

We may primarily work in web design these days but our roots are in brand design and building cohesive identities for small to medium businesses still lies at the core of what we do. The best part is that a website offers so many ways to expand and really have fun with a brand; underscoring our belief that a brand, like a website, should never be a static thing. It needs to grow and evolve as your business does. The problem that we find most small business owners having when it comes to this concept is wanting to infuse too much of their personal aesthetics into their branding, and therefore their websites. But here’s the thing - your branding isn’t about you. It’s about what you can do for your target demographic, or what your products and services will do for your client and it’s about how to compel them to take action and connect with you.

What does this look like IRL? Let’s take a look!

DESIGN ELEMENTS

Our job as designers is not just to make pretty things but to make functional (pretty) things. We know that design has the power to appeal to the emotions, desires, and psychology of your potential buyer and we select design elements like colors, fonts, and photos with intention because they can all convey very different emotions. If a client tells us that they want to look sophisticated and upscale, we’ll most likely want to stick to things like muted tones, classic serifed fonts & very refined photos in a complementary palette. Pragmatic business owners know to put their personal aesthetics aside and go with what the experts say works, even if their own preferences would be to go with bold, primary colors, crazy script fonts, and bouncing illustrations. Nothing says sophisticated like a carnival!

UX/UI 

We all have preferences when it comes to how we interact with our technology. Some people love hamburger menus (those three little stacked lines indicating a menu is available to pop out on mobile), and some people despise them. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter how you feel about these elements because what we know is that they work. You may not like a button in a specific place or how a form has been positioned on a page, but the way you feel about it (sorry for the tough love here) doesn’t matter. You are not your client. When considering how to position items on a page, designers think about things like where the user's eye will be drawn to first and what motions and actions are most likely to get visitors to convert. 

MESSAGING

Any designer will tell you that they are notoriously their own worst client; even the best graphic designers out there often have a colleague take over working on their personal branding for them. It’s because sometimes we’re just too close to the work to be able to see things objectively. We know that the jargon, insider information and technical knowledge we have is likely to negatively affect our ability to see our own work the way a potential client would. The same is true for pretty much anyone in any industry. It’s like how sometimes having a sympathetic friend to talk to when you’re having a tough day is just what you need; they are able to see your situation separated from the emotions you’re feeling. As web designers, we’re that sympathetic friend. Our job is ultimately to make sure that you feel heard and that all of your best ideas are communicated in the most effective way possible to your target demographic - separated from the emotion of the day-to-day involvement in the business. 

This isn’t to say that your personal aesthetics can’t creatively be weaved into the design solutions we provide. They may be more subtle or gentle than you would have done if left to your own devices but let’s just say that with the additional revenue generated by appealing to your client’s desires instead of your own, you’ll be able to afford to have us design you your very own carnival-themed personal website. 

https://markonbrands.com/blog/personal-aesthetics-dont-matter

What Successful Websites Will Look Like in 2019

Web Design, Strategy, DesignKristine NeilComment

Here at Markon, we love this time of year because it’s time to forecast what trends we think will define the shifts in branding, web design and marketing in the year to come. In 2019, we are expecting subtle, yet significant, changes in web design. The new year is a time when many businesses are thinking about new goals, so if updating your website is on your list here are some trends to keep an eye on.

First, a note on why it’s important to pay attention to trends – even if your business has a more traditional aesthetic and you don’t plan on implementing anything too crazy or boundary pushing. We don’t need to remind anyone with internet access that things move fast in the digital world and some of the trends we see are actually indicative of more profound, fundamental shifts in how customers are changing the ways they react and engage with online content. Right now, there’s a real push and pull between all of the tools that are becoming increasingly available to personalize experiences, for example, and also helping people feel that their information is secure and their privacy respected.

Other trends are rooted in just how much time we all spend staring at our screens and understanding just how overwhelmed consumers are by the massive amount of new content that’s published online every hour of every day. The reality is that consumers take just a few seconds to determine if the website they are visiting will be of value to them. That’s an eternity, and barely a blink all at once, and in that timeframe consumers are scanning for keywords and calls-to-action to help them decide whether to stay or go. They just have too much to look at.

With those things in mind, here are four simple aesthetic and structural trends that we believe will improve the design and function of websites in 2019:

Simplified Content & Navigation Structures

In 2019, we’ll see content concentrated on as few pages as possible, each designed to be easily skimmable so that consumers can get to what they need quickly. In the past, we often saw content spread thinly across numerous pages (and clicks!) to make a site appear “meatier” than it was. The truth is that this is not only cumbersome for the consumer but potentially damaging for overall site performance.

Concentrating content onto highly targeted landing pages with clear CTAs (calls-to-action) helps send a clear message to visitors that the real magic happens once a personal connection is made. This simplification will also affect top-level and secondary navigation in a big way. Large, multi-tiered navigation structures (i.e., drop-down menus that have drop-down menus) just expend more of the consumer’s time and eat up space at the top of every page. We’re not sure why this navigation style was ever popular but are looking forward to seeing sites with simplified content organization and plain language to improve user experience.

Improved Calls-To-Action

Speaking of CTAs, favorite page layouts of the past often meant that they got lost in the shuffle, despite often being the most crucial element on the page! To increase the usefulness of websites, we’ll see a renewed effort to intuitively place calls-to-action where they make the most sense from both a design and a user experience perspective. Web design experts are combining their understanding of attributes such as color, typography, and even animation, with studies that show us where visitors are most prone to move their eyes on a page, meaning that a great CTA really is part art and part science. This trend is heavily impacted by that idea that people are feeling very fatigued and overwhelmed by information online. Improving CTAs on your site is the first step in helping visitors feel like your job is to make their life easier, not harder!

Personalized Everything

Advances in machine learning and AI mean that incorporating personalized functions, like a chatbot, more accessible than ever. What that means for business owners is that some of the initial interactions with leads on your site (or social media accounts) can become automated, allowing you to focus on other things while potential customers consider your services. Customers are coming to expect instant personalization whether that’s that your bot knows their name or is able to look up their order history or understand their shopping preferences. The trend here is that consumers will continue to expect more and more of these interactions and businesses that fail to implement systems to manage experiences will quickly feel outdated. In the long run, we also see the creation of highly personalized on-page content that caters, if not specifically to a person, to at least a specific buyer persona to make them feel like your site exists to speak only to them. We’re expecting to see a focus on micro-interactions like these to help sites feel even more engaging and less static.

Bold, Monochromatic Design

Will this be the year that soft, subtle Millennial Pink finally dies? Maybe! We see some hints that the internet’s new favorite colors will be much bolder in 2019. What takes bright colors and bold typography from shocking to amazing is that this aesthetic will be paired with a considerable simplification in the amount of content and other design elements on the page (see trend one!). Creating evocative experiences through the use of color and type is not a trend, of course; but we’re expecting to see designs that feel fresh by focusing on monochromatic palettes that make minimalism feel luxe. Crisp, bright colors won’t feel overwhelming when balanced with plenty of white space, simple shapes and subtle animations.

Even if you’re not looking to make any significant shifts with your web presence in the coming year, it’s always smart to understand what updates and changes are fueling the trends so that you aren’t caught off guard by what you see in your analytics panel. These trends are indicative of a modern need to build simple interfaces with gentle user experiences, allowing consumers to learn more about businesses and find the things they need in environments that are pleasing to the eye and straightforward in their organization. You may not see your business as a trendsetter or follower, but adopting the trends described here are what will make your website successful in 2019.

https://www.vbjusa.com/opinion/columns/marketing-strategic-communication-column/what-successful-websites-will-look-like-in-2019/

Business Owners Need a Holiday Break, Too. Here's How to Take One.

Business, StrategyKristine NeilComment

For business owners, taking time off during the holiday season can be challenging. For one thing, you risk losing income if you’re not working. Second, it can be hard to find someone else to manage operations during this busy time of year.

The good news? Most of your customers will probably be taking a break, too. So with a little planning and a lot of communication, you can actually relax and enjoy the holidays yourself. Here are tips to giving yourself some rest and relaxation over the holiday season:

Communicate

Your holiday planning should start weeks—if not months—before your scheduled time off. Give your customers, clients and staff as much heads-up as possible, and then remind them of your plans at every opportunity. When Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of marketing firm Mavens & Moguls, took a month off to travel to Italy recently, she made sure colleagues and clients had months to prepare for her absence. “I told them about my plans, reiterated the dates as we discussed timelines for projects, and put it in emails, proposals, invoices and pay stubs,” she says. The best part: By creating that sense of urgency, clients pulled the trigger on some projects that had been lingering so they could launch before she left town.

Delegate

If you have staff who can cover for you while you’re away, have more than one person trained to handle key tasks, advises Jamie Cunningham, with SalesUp! Business Coaching. Also document all of your critical systems. “There are usually only a handful of mission-critical systems in a business that, if failed, would cause irrevocable damage,” he says. “These are the ones to focus on.”

Automate

Technology and IoT (Internet of things) have made it easier than ever to be out of the office without being out-of-pocket when clients need you. Kristine Neil, owner and creative director of Markon Brands, lets automation take care of routine tasks when she’s not in the office. She creates workflows in Dubsado, her customer relationship management (CRM) platform, to automatically respond to leads, follow up on proposals or even track down anyone who may have missed a scheduled payment while she’s out of the office. Ruby Receptionists will route calls to her cell so she can answer them from anywhere in the world. “If I’m truly trying to disconnect, they can answer basic questions or route callers to helpful resources until I’m back in the office,” she says.

Outsource

The rise of virtual assistants has been a game-changer for many entrepreneurs. As their name implies, virtual assistants are contract or freelance workers who perform basic executive assistant tasks while working from home. They can answer your phone, respond to emails, manage projects or maintain your social media presence while you’re away. They can be hired by the hour, by the project or by the week or month, depending on your needs.

Check In

The reality is that you may not be able to completely sever the line between work and home during your days off. So if you do need to check in, set boundaries around your availability. Let your staff and clients know that you’ll be checking messages or emails once or twice a day, and leave an emergency contact number on your voicemail. Also set your email to out-of-office mode and leave a message letting them know you’re on break and how to reach your business if necessary.

“While I’m not a fan of a business owner being on call during their holidays, it can give both you and your team peace of mind knowing that if an absolute disaster happens, there is a way to connect with you,” Cunningham says. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, these disasters never come to pass, but the fear they will often prevents business owners taking the length of holiday they really should.”

https://spectrumbusinessinsights.com/technology/business-owners-need-a-holiday-break-too-heres-how-to-take-one/

Data is Lying to You

Business, Marketing, StrategyKristine NeilComment

A quick Google search on “key metrics to track for your website” yields a plethora of resources on everything from bounce rate to conversion rates by traffic source and from authors as diverse as the well-respected Hubspot to some random guy online who decided he was an expert on this topic.  

Metrics are important because in many ways having a website is like opening a retail store on Main Street, leaving the front door unlocked and walking away. Without them, you don’t really know who’s coming in, who’s interested in what inventory or who’s getting frustrated and leaving before making a purchase. You’d never leave your shop unstaffed, and website analytics are the online equivalent of watching what customers do to figure out how to give them more of what they want and (hopefully) get them to eventually become your customer. 

I’m definitely in favor of making well-informed decisions backed by data and tracking and analyzing all these metrics can absolutely help you understand some of what’s going on when people visit your site, but the real truth is that the metrics never tell the whole story. The data, unfortunately, is lying to you. 

Not intentionally, of course. But at best, it’s at least not telling you the whole truth. As much as the left-brained people in the room would love for us to be able to chart and graph our way to understanding what motivates people as they explore and discover our content online, there are just some things that are nearly impossible to map. Here are five things to consider when looking at your metrics that might help you understand the rest of the story. 

Understanding Behavioral Economics & Buyer Psychology 

I believe that any good post on metrics or analytics has to start with at least acknowledging that there’s an entire field of study devoted to understanding why people make irrational purchasing decisions that routinely defy economic theory. The long and short of this when it comes to thinking about how users experience your website is that sometimes we, as humans, simply do not act in our own best interests. We’re dumb like that. Your site may logically outline the benefits of your product or service, provide social proof in the way of user reviews and testimonials, ethically appeal to the emotional triggers that motivate a purchase… all the things. And users still may not buy. Well, what does this do to that neat little traffic funnel you’re analyzing? Right - it makes it look like for some reason you have control over why this person has opted out.

The truth is that while traditional economics would have us believe that we all always fairly weigh all options presented to us and make rational purchasing decisions based on facts that this is just not the case. People may be distracted, they might have other personal things going on, they might have had a few too many glasses of wine at happy hour, they may have some deep, psychological block that is preventing them from seeing the value in your work.

I find this especially true for service-based businesses (like Markon and so many of our clients are!). We know we could help people improve their web presence, better showcase their brand, get noticed for how amazing they are and… they just may not be ready for that. They aren’t not purchasing from us because they don’t recognize the value we offer, they’re not purchasing because they don’t feel that they are worth it. Maybe they’re suffering from impostor syndrome. Maybe they lack confidence in their ability to succeed in business. Whatever it is, it’s not your fault, and the metrics aren’t going to fill in these blanks. The nuances of purchasing behavior aren’t something inherently graph-able. You’re not a psychiatrist, and your website isn’t a failure because someone else just isn’t ready yet. 

The Art of Perfect Timing

At a conference in Boston last year, I had the pleasure of listening to Daniel Pink speak. He gave a wonderfully informative presentation about timing, based on the findings he outlines in his book. It was all brilliant, scientific, rational stuff. But, as we said, we don’t all always perform rationally, and a lot of our success in business comes down not only to what but when. I’m not talking about timing when it comes to when to get into a particular business or industry; I’m assuming that as a smart business person that you’ve researched and studied the trends relevant to your field and are getting into the market at a time that makes sense for profitability. I’m talking about timing when it comes to interacting with the right potential clients at the right time for them

Metrics assume that all visitors are at the same place on their journey and that they are all in a position to buy right now. But unless you’re doing some sort of exit polling as people click away from your website (and wouldn’t that be annoying?!) you have no idea why people aren’t doing what you want on your site right when you want them to. Say you offer a service only for businesses that have been open for three years or more, but a visitor saw you on social media, loves your work and is aspiring to be your client one day. If they are just starting out, it may take years for them to convert. They may visit your site periodically because it helps motivate them towards what they are working for. You may see their visits in your analytics panel as another lead lost, but they’re just waiting for when they’ll be qualified enough to work with you. The perfect time

Asking the Right Questions

Metrics are great at providing answers but are you sure you’re asking the right questions? Because so much of looking at analytics is us both trying to make sense of past data without full context and trying to guess at what future user actions might be without being mind readers, there’s a ton about the numbers you look at every month that is 100%, completely and entirely arbitrary. That can be a bit unsettling if you use those numbers to make significant business decisions regarding staffing levels, pay raises, inventory holdings, budgeting, etc. Setting targets is great but what if you pick the wrong target? Your numbers will either look really great or super crappy as a result of your lousy target picking. Maybe you didn’t under- or over-perform; perhaps you did just fine, and you’re just really bad at picking targets. The whole thing is a crapshoot if you look at data within a vacuum and fail to make sure you know what you’re asking the numbers to tell you. Vanity metrics are like vanity sizing; at the end of the day, the only person you’re fooling is yourself.  

Leading with Heart

In business school, we spent some time debating whether leaders are born or whether they can be made. Is there an innate sense of what it takes to be a great leader within some people, and do other people just have to work really hard to train that sense? For me, the answer was always a mix of both. It takes a little bit of intuition and a whole lot of experience to be able to lead a company (even if you’re a company of one!). The trouble is that we tend to give a ton of credit to that which we can measure and objectify and downplay the ability to make decisions just because they feel like the right thing to do. These decisions may seem subjective and may go against everything the numbers tell us to do, but they are still the right decisions.

A great example of this can be seen when looking at online shoe retailer Zappos. The company is well known for going to extreme lengths to take care of customers. From spending hours on the phone,  to sending flowers to grieving clients, to taking back discontinued shoes - the company routinely makes decisions that fly in the face of “good metrics.” But they’re asking the right questions (see what I did there?), and they know that the things that truly matter (i.e., customer loyalty, brand devotion) may not be measurable in a traditional sense. And if you’re still on the fence about whether it’s worth it to pay a call center employee hourly to spend an inordinate amount of time being helpful to your customers, here’s a number that may work for you: $928 million.

Quality vs. Quality

I was chatting with one of our search partners the other day and not to get too Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on anyone but we ended up having a conversation about what quality really means. It was deep. Unlike traditional search which weighs potential matches and returns a ranked list, what we were looking at with this partner was a matching algorithm that instead was trying to provide the one best match to every searcher. This logic is similar to that used by your voice assistant (Alexa or Siri or whoever); in a world of virtually endless possibilities (quantity), voice assistants seek to return only what they deem to be the best match (quality).

What does this have to do with metrics? A lot, really. As we start to see a more significant number of users shift to search methods that are seeking quality over quantity, some of us may see a dip in related metrics. Without understanding why this may be happening, we may falsely attribute the apparent reduction in traffic or click thru rates to something we’re doing wrong (asking the wrong questions). What we should really be thinking about is whether it matters to us that we have a high volume of irrelevant traffic or if, just like the customer, we’re actually seeking out our one best match. Personally, I don’t care if one thousand people see our site if they aren’t the right people. I would rather have one person check us out and think This! This is exactly what I’m looking for! These are my people!

So what to do about this? 

I’m definitely not saying to abandon the analytics panel. Metrics have a strong role to play in business decision-making and can help guide us towards understanding some of what’s happening on our website or in our social feeds. We just need to be aware that the numbers and targets we’re looking at can only be as good as the context in which we frame them. Spending time trying to understand the motivations and challenges your target demographic may face can help you fill in the blanks when the charts seem mystifying and guide you towards the rest of the story. If you find yourself too bogged down by what look like dismal numbers on the surface, take a step back and think about what else may really be going on. If you’re playing the long game, you’ll care more about the 10,000-foot view than any one day’s worth of data anyways.

https://markonbrands.com/blog/data-is-lying-to-you

How to Promote Your Business

StrategyKristine NeilComment

Encourage User Generated Content

Brands that want to leverage social media and the power of word-of-mouth marketing should aspire to craft an ingenious way to encourage user-generated content. When you can get your audience to post content about your brand, you are turning each of those persons into micro-influencers for your brand. People within their own social networks will be exposed to content about your brand and may even generate their own (or at least visit your website). This is marketing that leverages the power of human networks facilitated by technology, and it’s really the best of both. Each post is another link living on the web about your brand, so encourage users to include a link back to your website and to tag your company, of course! People will never stop craving for good stories.

https://fitsmallbusiness.com/how-to-promote-your-business/

27 Social Media Pros Share Their Best Twitter Tips

StrategyKristine NeilComment

Know What Your Long Game Is

B2B businesses need to take a long game approach to their Twitter marketing strategies. The platform itself moves quickly and prioritizes brevity, but the decision-making process for a B2B customer tends to be drawn out and nuanced. In a B2B environment, the focus should be on providing value and building relationships and not on sales or conversion rates. Implementing a robust content calendar that exposes followers to consistent messaging over time is an essential first step as it will take repeated exposure to the same content to gain attention. Build relationships by sharing information or tips to potential clients by getting involved in organized Twitter chats or following trending hashtags relevant to your industry. It may take some time but done right, incorporating Twitter into your B2B marketing strategy will eventually pay off.

https://creativemindscape.com/27-social-media-pros-share-their-best-twitter-tips/

Augmented, virtual reality continue to grow in Clark County

StrategyKristine NeilComment

The average small business owner may not think the world of augmented reality is available to them but with technological advancements coming quickly, it’s not too soon to start thinking about how to integrate AR and VR into your marketing plans,” Neil said. “We’re especially excited for the level of cross-promotion it offers to those with brick and mortar stores. AR will turn in-person shopping into an interactive event, spurring repeat visits, while at the same time help online shoppers feel more intimately connected to the brands they love. It’s all about turning interactions with your brand, even virtual ones, into memorable experiences.

https://www.vbjusa.com/focus-sections/strategic-communication/augmented-virtual-reality-continue-to-grow-in-clark-county/

10 Entrepreneurs Explain How They See Networking Changing in the Next 5-10 Years

StrategyKristine NeilComment

Shift in the emphasis of interpersonal events

Networking will continue to be vital as social connection will always be a chief driver of activity in many areas of life and business. What will shift, however, is the emphasis on local, physical, interpersonal events. We are already seeing the rise of virtual networking opportunities, as well as national and global networking organizations. The shift to digital experiences will open networking up in a way that a conference or a professional organization hasn’t before: it will remove the typical local, or industry, filter that networking events and organizations organize around now. For service and creative businesses this will only continue to open up new business development opportunities through networking. Enterprising organizations will even dedicate some of their resources to facilitating this kind of global, open, digital networking.

https://rescue.ceoblognation.com/2018/04/22/entrepreneurs-explain-how-they-see-networking-changing-in-the-next-5-10-years/

Is your business falling behind? 5 technologies you should already be using in 2018

StrategyKristine NeilComment

Tools to automate manual processes

“Businesses that haven’t adopted even a modicum of automation or begun storing files, and collaborating via cloud-based services are falling by the wayside,” says Kristine Neil, Owner and Creative Director of Markon Brands. “Eventually, the clumsiness of their internal processes will show externally.”

One of the biggest productivity killers across the business world stems from a lack of automation. Every day, employees at businesses across the globe waste precious time completing tasks that could (and should) be automated.

Why is this so important? When employees are stuck with manual processes, business agility suffers. As explained in this Forbes article, agility is more important than ever:

“In today’s market, not only is change happening quickly, it’s forcing businesses themselves to change quickly. It’s a constant flow of innovation, disruption — and sometimes chaos — that is moving us ahead, even faster than we ever imagined. Many say agility is the key to surviving in the age of technological hairpin turns. In fact, 68% of companies identify agility as one of their most important initiatives.”

What types of tasks can be automated? While it varies by company, here are a few questions to ask:

  • Does IT still handle end-user reporting?

  • Do you manually enter data into your system?

  • Are workflow processes still completed manually?

The list could go on, but it’s a topic covered in more detail in this article. Make sure you regularly analyze your processes and explore ways to automate manual tasks. While it requires time up front, this will let you accomplish more with your current resources.

https://www.mrc-productivity.com/blog/2018/01/business-falling-behind-5-technologies-already-using-part-1/

This is Why You Outsource

StrategyKristine NeilComment

Sometimes you have to let go and give in . . . to the expertise of other people. Doing so is not a rebuke of your own talents and abilities, but rather the successful admittance that you, alone, cannot do everything. We know it's hard. As a small agency, everyone here wears at least a few hats, and with those hats comes a bird's eye view of everything happening, and with that view comes authority. However, even we concede from time to time that managing everything at once is futile, exhausting, and ultimately a disservice to our clients. The same thing can be said for the small-to-midsize business owner who tries to be manager, accountant, receptionist, machinist, and designer, all at once. A successful brand manager and business owner must learn how to delegate responsibilities and tasks.

YOU CAN FOCUS ON WHAT YOU DO BEST

Our clients have a diverse range of expertise. Whether we work directly with the organization's owner, or an identified brand manager, 9.5 times out of 10, that person has a completely different role in that company than brand management, designer, or communicator. They know (and their company knows) that their ability as a project manager, or industrial designer, or architect, is much more valuable to the company, and their brand, than the haphazard idea of tasking them with managing (or creating) the company's brand identity.

Delegating design and brand management to actual brand managers is a positive investment in your business. It allows the talented people you employ to focus on whatever it is you hired them to do.

DELEGATION IS AN INFORMATION EXCHANGE

Whenever you assign someone a task, be it an employee, or a branding agency, there's an opportunity for each party to learn about each other and gain new technical knowledge. Branding is a collaborative process by nature. We can't create an identity for an organization we don't understand. That's why conversations with our clients have as much to do with the technical work that they do, and the markets they operate in,  as it does about their design preferences. Oftentimes the most receptive clients take the time to cross-interview us, and in turn, learn a bit about design and marketing. As brand managers, we're always interested in empowering our clients and to some extent, even encourage them to DIY some of their branding and marketing solutions - just as long as they understand that when they're in over their head, it makes sense to bring us back into the project, rather than let it collapse.

DELEGATION EXPANDS YOUR TEAM

Many of our clients go on to describe us as their "off-site marketing team," and call on us frequently as if we shared the same campus or had an office down the hall. They know they can rely on us for design, strategy, and print services, and so that's exactly what they do. The relationships that develop become so consistent and reliable that we become teammates. The same is often true for us. We form partnerships with some of our clients that go beyond even the best business-client relationship. Those partnerships become integral to the way we approach certain aspects of our business and our client's expertise allows us to operate smoothly and maintain an upward growth trajectory.

IT'S TRUST BUILDING

There is power in knowing when to bring other professionals onto your team, whether you're hiring them as part of your staff, or commissioning work from an agency. It speaks to an ability to recognize your limits and then overcome them by letting go enough to let someone else take on the task. Delegation inherently requires a no-ego, transparency, and collaborative nature, all of which are often part of the foundation of an excellent work environment and a strong brand. If you've been on the fence about delegating tasks out, be it your branding, accounting, or an aspect of production, considering doing a short internal review of the pros and cons. Odds are, the level of effort it takes to identify, build a rapport with, and hire another professional to fulfill a task or role, is less expensive and costly to both your business and brand than trying to add another thing to your plate.

https://markonbrands.com/blog/outsource-tasks

Interior Design: Your Secret Branding Tool

StrategyKristine NeilComment

3 Interior Details You Can't Afford to Miss

It's no coincidence that you can walk into a Starbucks in Tokyo or Berlin or Seattle and get the same kind of feels. Even when being respectful of different architectural elements or building styles, Starbucks understands that customer experience inside their stores is as important as the coffee itself. In fact, some would argue that's it's even more important; is there any other reason an otherwise average cup of milk and java would inspire such a following?

Creating a branded interior is something businesses and organizations of all kinds, not just international coffee chains, can benefit from. Interior design should be considered as an important extension of your brand. The same questions we ask of printed or digital branding (What values are you trying to communicate? Who is your target demographic?) apply to interior spaces as well. Your interior space is where your clients are allowed to personally interact with your brand and creating a positive in-person customer experience is crucial in creating a loyal client base.

We so often see interior spaces that send inconsistent messaging from the rest of a client's branding that we thought it was high time to shed some light on the fact that interior design is a secret branding tool you need to be paying more attention to. If you do nothing else, focus on these top three areas:

Ditch the Personal Clutter

Please, step into my office! Kidding!! I'm into Industrial Chic but I understand that our clients need to feel comfortable in our space so something this barren would never fly. But you know what you don't see in this space? Personal clutter. ;)

Please do not misinterpret this to mean you can't create a workspace that feels personal to you; after all, you likely spend as much time at the office as you do in your own living room. But your office shouldn't look like your living room. A few personal effects near your desk area are great (I keep some of my fave pics and inspirational little things on a pinboard by my desk) but the public areas of our office are clear of this type of clutter. These spaces need to focus on the client, their wants, their needs and their experience with our space. Real estate pros know that staging a home impeccably can increase the final selling price. Clients need to see themselves in the home, not the current owners. Similarly, if the public areas of your office or retail space are infused with too much of your personal items, you're taking away invaluable attention from what you're actually trying to sell: your products or services. Create a space that feels clean, uncluttered and focused on your client.

 Please, step into my office! Kidding!! I'm into Industrial Chic but I understand that our clients need to feel comfortable in our space so something this barren would never fly. But you know what you don't see in this space? Personal clutter. ;)

Tell the Same Story Inside as Out

Clients respond in a big way to mismatches in brand messaging (and it's not in the way you want them to respond). For example, if you're a dentist that's recently invested in a modern, fresh logo and crisp new outdoor signage to match - that's super-fantastic. But when I show up to my appointment and your waiting area features chairs from the 80s and a beat up old magazine rack, the impression you worked so hard to build on the outside just got majorly diluted. This doesn't mean you need to spend zillions of dollars on fancy new furniture but investing in something that feels more in line with the rest of your branding will go a long way in helping you build a consistent brand image. This investment will pay off in dividends every time a new client feels reassured by your consistent messaging. You can create consistency in smaller ways too: Are your walls painted in a palette consistent with your branding? Are pictures on the walls sending the same message? Is your interior signage or point-of-purchase display area branded the same as your exterior signage? It's all of these things together that build a strong brand.

Every Little Detail Matters

#teammeeting #brainstorming #coffeefuelsdesign @markonbrands

While big things like paint, signage, and furniture might seem like obvious ways to create brand consistency with your interior space, there are small things you can do that show your clients you're on your game as well. These things are so small that you might find them unnecessary but you couldn't be more wrong. Everything from the color pens in the cup on your front counter to the wattage of light bulbs matters. Seriously. These are the little details that clients will subconsciously pick up on and respond to. When all of the pens on your front desk are branded with your own logo, your customers are exposed to your brand over and over again. Maybe they pick one up and put it in their purse... now you're on their mind every time they use your pen and the pop of "your color" is with them everywhere in addition to acting as "decor" on your front counter. Think of other items in your space can you give similar treatment to. What about having some other promotional items on hand? Or beautifully coordinating printed marketing materials? WHAT COLOR ARE YOUR POST-IT NOTES?

It's no mistake that our front office meeting space looks like this. Everything from the material the table is made of to the color of the pot sitting on top of it sends a consistent message about our brand.

And, finally, what is this about light bulbs?? Well, light is a (super inexpensive) way to get customers to feel the way you want them to. A car dealership needs bright lights in their showroom to show off all the shiny cars. A quiet French restaurant may rely on candlelight to invoke a romantic mood. And back to our good friends at Starbucks? It's no mistake that the menu board, glass case of treats and retail display areas are given a little extra light thanks to well-placed track lighting. From space to space, all around the world, Starbucks manages to control the design of their interiors enough that even without their green mark on everything you'd know in an instant when you're inside one of their cafes.

https://markonbrands.com/blog/interior-design-secret-branding-tool

Branding Is Forward Motion

Strategy, DesignKristine NeilComment

Success = Investment + Refinement + Drive

Do not watch the clock. Do what it does. Keep going.
— Sam Levenson

I am often asked what is the single most important investment a company can make towards marketing and branding. People with limited resources, time constraints, budgets or otherwise want to know what is the minimum they can do to get by. And every single time I am left a little stymied. Because if you’re forced to choose just one thing to focus on, there’s a lot of pressure to make it perfect. And perfect is hard - because even if we did something great that worked right now, today... that same thing wouldn’t work in a month, or three months, or a year. Sometimes we try to skirt the harsh truth that there is no one thing with answers about the importance of a brand style guide or a nice little list like this one to help drive focus but I’m going to be honest with you: those are really cop outs.

Because the answer is there isn’t anything.

Or, more accurately, there isn’t any one thing. There simply isn’t.

As much as I want to be able to give you a simple answer to a question that I know you’re wanting to hear, I’m going to tell you what you need to hear: branding is a process that never stops. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not five years from now.

The moment you stop working on building and then refining, refining, refining your brand -- your business slowly starts to die.

Think of it this way: you’d never water a houseplant just once, put gas in your car just one time (we wish, right?) or cut your hair once and consider it good forever. Hello, shaggy mess.

The only real answer here is that the strongest brands never stop working on and refining their marketing message. They never stop refining and honing their branding, changing it up where appropriate to keep things fresh. That’s because no matter whatever business you think you’re in, you’re really in the business of building your brand. And because we know that the reason you got into business probably wasn’t for this reason, we’re here to swoop in as your marketing-department-in-shining-armor! So that you can get back to doing what you do best and leave the ongoing, never-ending, always moving forward motion of brand building to the pros.

https://markonbrands.com/blog/branding-forward-motion

This Is Why I'm Hot

Strategy, Public RelationsKristine NeilComment

In an era of LinkedIn endorsements and like buttons, it’s pretty easy to find yourself building content (or even a whole brand) based around boosting your social statistics. We’d all be lying if we didn’t admit that there’s a bit of joy in hearing the ding dong notification of someone sharing your image or liking your post. We cultivate the best of ourselves to share with the world. We find validation in the number of little hearts each of our heavily filtered Instagram pics receives. There’s a little hope out there for all of us that if our videos are just.crazy.enough. they’ll go viral and we can get our 15 minutes.

I’m not saying any of this is inherently bad. Social media matters - a lot. But there are things you trust to social media and things you don’t. Being popular doesn’t mean you’ll be profitable. So let’s talk about branding. And what it means to build a brand that confidently rises above social stats.

Branding (and business) mistake numero uno in my book is treating your business decisions as if they were contestants in a beauty pageant. Business is not a popularity contest. As a business owner, you’re cheating yourself out of long-term viability by giving up all your branding decisions to the general public. All too often, I see logo variations get posted to Facebook with captions like “hey friends help me decide which logo to pick for my business! vote A or B!!”. This is not what we mean when we say that market research to understand your target demographic is necessary!

Putting major branding decisions about design, naming, strategy, etc. up for a vote does nothing but undermine your ability to confidently run your own business. Do you poll people when you’re at the office supply store? “hey friends I’m really torn between black or blue pens! vote A or B!!” On a much larger scale, do you ask random strangers about paying your bills? “hey friends I can’t pick whether to pay the electric or the internet! vote A or B!!” Do you poll your social network when it comes time to pay your taxes? Your employees? Yourself? Do you ask them what they think when you’re trying to decide whether you can afford to expand or buy a piece of equipment? When you’re dreaming of the next product you’ll add to your line?

Don’t trust people without any skin in the game to make business decisions for you. They have nothing to lose. You do.

What I’m getting at here is that you’re the head honcho because you know what your business needs when it comes to all of those other things. You don’t trust the input of people without skin in the game - without the business acumen to do what you do - to make such decisions for you. So what is it about branding and design that you don’t value enough to do the same? After all, we’ve already talked about how great branding is a better predictor of success than almost anything else.

In business, and as business owners, we’ve got to play the long game. This means taking the things that matter the most to building a profitable business and holding them sacred. And this means not kowtowing to social stats. You’ve got to know why you’re hot and then go forth.

There’s a lot that goes into building the visual components of your brand and they matter just as much as the voice you use to communicate that brand to the world. I didn’t just show up one day and decide that it would be really fun to make super pretty things. I know that my passion lies in helping businesses communicate better with their stakeholders and customers. I love building businesses. And there’s rarely a decision that I make during my day that I feel necessary to post on social media about. And I make a lot of decisions.

The people I conference with on important business decisions (or even branding decisions of our own) are people that have experience and a proven track record to be able to provide such advice. As in, not my friend’s cousin’s first-grade teacher who happens to follow me on Twitter.

So while I will continue to post cute cat videos and airplane wing pics to social and find joy when everyone goes crazy over them, I won’t leave the future of my business to such a fate. When you’re training to play in the big leagues, you don’t bring in your tee ball coach. I’ll take profits over popularity any day of the week.

https://markonbrands.com/blog/this-is-why-im-hot

The Fall, Moving Forward & Turning The Page

Strategy, BusinessKristine NeilComment

The opportunities of forward-thinking

I’ve always been a forward thinker. By the time Fridays roll around, I’m already thinking about Monday. Near the end of a month, I have a hard time restraining my urge to flip the calendar ahead. There’s just something great about the start of a fresh day, a new week or the clean slate of the next month. It’s like dialing the score back to zero and starting from scratch. It’s like Groundhog Day… where even though Bill Murray was living the same day over and over he got a chance every time to build on what worked and toss what didn’t without anyone around him being any the wiser. It’s new beginnings.

Most people have similar feelings around the end of the calendar year. They spend the holiday season reminiscing, evaluating the year’s ups and downs, making plans to do better the second that ball drops in Times Square. Personally, that’s not my favorite time of year. Not even close. Perhaps it’s because there’s so much pressure to make promises you know won’t be kept (this is the year I bring my lunch to work every. single. day.) or perhaps because it’s psychologically hard to make change when what’s ahead feels so much like what’s behind in terms of seasons. This forward thinker needs something more visceral to motivate her. Something like pumpkin spice lattes and falling leaves.

Blame it on the perpetual student in me that can’t remember if it was 1990 or 1991 but can definitely tell you whether it was the 5th or 6th grade, but to me, the new year starts in September. I get so excited, that here at Markon HQ, our office calendar said goodbye to August a week ago. September brings with it the excitement of new beginnings that January can’t even compete with. In the Pacific Northwest, that means a fresh crispness in the air. The first hint at a rainy season to come. The first time you wear a scarf for function as much as fashion.

There’s something about sending kids back to school that makes even us adults think about what it was like to pick out new clothes, dream of what new friends we’d make and ready ourselves to tackle challenges that seemed way too overwhelming in the heat of summer. Summer is for being lazy and September is for getting back to work. And unlike January, there are no societal pressures to do it all and do it perfect. In September you have the liberty to make mistakes and not feel defeated by them; after all, the year is just getting started and finals are a long ways off. You’re not expected to know everything on the first day of class.

It’s in this spirit of forward thinking that I challenge you to think about what this year will mean for you and your business. Will this be the year you rise to the top of the class? Score the winning touchdown? Discover your passion? What will you do to make those dreams a reality? Will you stay after class for some tutoring? Run that extra mile after practice? Stay up late reading a book under the covers with a flashlight?

For me, I’d like to think that this is the year Markon finally gets to sit at the upperclassmen table. In the nearly four years that I’ve owned this fledgling little company, we’ve grown from geeky, unsure freshmen into pretty cool seniors. There’s still a lot of road ahead of us, but I just couldn’t be more proud of how we’ve come into our own and how we daily give shape to our vision as a growing design agency. This year we’ll help more businesses tackle branding and identity in ways we’ve never been able to before. We’ll take a few rookies under our wings and show them how they can achieve their goals with easier-than-you-think marketing strategies. We’ll be the funny kids with painted faces sitting in the front row at the homecoming game... just so damn excited that our team is back on the field that we don’t even care what the score is.

So, let’s work. I’d love to share a bit of my September excitement with you. Maybe we could get a PSL first? And then we’ll talk about how we can work together to make this the best.year.ever.

https://markonbrands.com/blog/fall-means-foward

The Secret Marketing Budget Number

StrategyKristine NeilComment

Why You Should Be Investing (x)% Of Your Budget on Marketing, Design & Success

DON’T LET THE OPERATIONAL COSTS OF STARTING A BUSINESS OVERWHELM YOU

We meet so many business owners who say things like: “I wish I had come to you sooner!” Or, “I wanted to do this when I started up, but I thought I should grow a little bit first.”

The truth is, your business identity begins the moment you file for your local business license. Your visual identity should too. That said, we understand the trepidation that prompts business owners to wait before making an investment in design services, branding strategy, and all things that tend to be thrown under the heading: marketing. We are a small business too. We have our own list of concerns. However, our list of solutions is longer.

Branding your business from the very beginning and committing to a branding/marketing/design budget will serve you well. Here’s why:

You need a brand identity you can grow into.

Starting off without a logo, a tagline, or any sense of cohesive/coherent style might save your wallet in the short term, but in the long term, it’ll cost you. A professionally developed brand identity, based on a relationship with the designers, a clear sense of purpose with defined goals, will give you an identity to grow into. It will also give your audience a visual queue to follow as they learn more about you; purchase your goods or services; and begin sharing online, and in person, about their experiences with you.

Standing apart from the masses is critical!

You’re not the only (insert profession here), who decided to incorporate his or herself and start selling your services, or goods! You have competitors, maybe more than you know. Your brand identity should stand apart from theirs and speak directly to what makes you unique. This will not only make you recognizable in a global marketplace but come in handy as your developing loyal customer base begins sharing information about you.

Consistency is a tenet in life, small business ownership and especially branding.

In an ever-expanding marketplace, businesses need visual cues to identify themselves from others - especially when they're starting out. Creating those cues is one of the benefits of branding that brings many entrepreneurs comfort. The visual identity you create for your brand should also give you a style guide by which to design the communications you send out into the world - be it a Facebook business page, your Google business listing, the sign outside of your storefront (the website banner on your digital store), or an email.

It’s Never Too Late To Start

Whether you've never made an investment in branding or your attempt at DIYing it isn’t working, we can turn that around. Branding is one-half design, one-half strategy. When you combine the two you can solve many problems. Even strong brands lead visual reboots, or shift directions as their identity, or field shifts with the times. Startups, small-to-mid-size businesses are not excluded from that opportunity. We can help you find your bearing and give you the toolkit you need to propel yourself forward.

THE NITTY GRITTY

We tend to agree with the advice of the U.S. Small Business Association when it comes to determining that (x) amount of your budget to invest in branding and marketing. 

While many businesses generally allocated 2-3 percent of their overall budget to branding and marketing, the SBA has different advice for businesses with less than $5 million in annual revenue:

"As a general rule, small businesses with revenues less than $5 million should allocate 7-8 percent of their revenues to marketing. This budget should be split between 1) brand development costs (which includes all the channels you use to promote your brand such as your website, blogs, sales collateral, etc.), and 2) the costs of promoting your business(campaigns, advertising, events, etc.)."

Businesses scale their branding and marketing budgets to their needs all the time. Just like in branding, however, consistency will pay off in the long run.

https://markonbrands.com/blog/x-to-invest