Sharp Points

thoughts on graphics and branding

Presenting at an unConference

Posted by stephaniesharp on June 4, 2009

I have a guest blog post over at BrainZooming. Mike saw me tweet about the Creative unConference and asked me to write about my experience presenting at an event without a pre-planned schedule.

You can check it out here:


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Rebranding the Swine Flu

Posted by stephaniesharp on May 24, 2009

Within days of the news being swamped with stories on the Swine Flu, we heard that they were wanting the media and the people to call it the N1H1 virus. The pork producers were concerned that some people seemed to think you could acquire the swine flu from eating pork products. Sales of pork products dropped quite a bit in those initial days.

After initially hearing the Swine Flu is the N1H1 virus, I paid special attention to the news stories on the news. My memory says there was only N1H1 mentioned once or twice. All of the media were still using the term Swine Flu.

Being in this business, I immediately thought “yes, this is a branding problem.” A company, or in this case the government, may want to change the terminology or perception of the public, but just because you release a press release announcing your intention for changes does not mean that the consumer will follow along. It points out that the company can try to control the conversation but it is up to the media and the people as to if they accept the change or not. 

In this particular case there are a couple of reasons why. First, swine flu is the initial term we all heard and associated with this flu. No one could start calling it N1H1 without also using the term swine flu. Otherwise the listeners/viewers wouldn’t get the connection.

I watched for several days and kept thinking the “rebranding” wasn’t working. I was always hearing swine flu and only rarely hearing N1H1. Over a few days there was a change. Then the reports were saying the swine flu/N1H1 and then it was N1H1/swine flu. Everywhere, TV, radio, newspaper, online most of the reporters were using the N1H1 term.

For most marketing companies you probably won’t see a brand image change happen this fast, but you probably won’t receive as much media coverage as this story did either.

It’s nice, and scary, that the government is using marketing and branding more frequently to communicate to the citizenry.

The media is using the term N1H1 with frequency now, but for the average person the term swine flu is what they are using. Will they catch on and start using N1H1 for the rebranding to be a success?

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Knowing Your Customers is More Than a Zip Code

Posted by stephaniesharp on April 30, 2009

Today’s blog is inspired from a mailer I received from Domino’s Pizza. There were a few things that caught my eye from a marketing standpoint. One in particular jumped out at me as a likely problem. Along with some coupons half of the one side of the mailer included the baseball schedule for the Philadelphia Phillies. This was the particular potential mistake that I immediately noticed. You may be asking why I view this as a mistake. Well, here in Hamilton, New Jersey we have Phillies fans and Yankees fans and Mets fans. And they are all fanatical about their team and pretty much can’t stand any of the others (to put it mildly). So with three major league teams enjoying large fan support, why did Domino’s decide to advertise the Phillies schedule?

I can only make an assumption. We are considered in the Philadelphia TV market even though our cable company carries all of the Philadelphia and New York stations. In fact we had quite the broohaha a few years ago because the cable company did not carry the YES network so the Yankee fans were up in arms.

Locally we have a minor league team, the Trenton Thunder. I think it may have been a smarter marketing move to put the Thunder schedule on their mailer instead of the Phillies. Why potentially upset some of your customers? How favorably will a Yankees fan view the mailer? A Mets fan?

If you are going to tie a promotion in with another franchise such as a sports team, I think you need to do more research on the demographics and not base it just on the zip code.

The other small mistake I saw — the schedule is printed in 5 or 6 point serif font. For the home games it is reversed out. A pretty basic rule for graphic design is to never use serif type reversed out at a small size. It makes it difficult to read. If I am a Phillies fan, don’t they want the schedule to be readable and useful? If it’s not readable, then it is not useful.

Your thoughts?

P.S. Domino’s, if you need any marketing or design help in the area, give me a call. 609-392-8724

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Philosophy for Logos:

Posted by stephaniesharp on April 17, 2009

To me, a good logo must withstand the test of time. I deplore graphic fads because it dates the mark and will require a reworking of the logo in a short amount of time. Which may be fine if you know the business will no longer be around in two to five years. For a fad product (remember pet rocks, mood rings or plastic shoes ) a logo employing a “graphic trend of the month” would work. But most companies exist and operate to survive decades. So why do some feel compelled to fall into the “me to”” trap by using swooshes or currently a 3-D bubble look?

The best logos are developed for companies whose executives embrace design and branding and fully live their brand. A designer has to get to know the company. Corporate exec’s who can verbalize their brand personality, vision and essence, even if they’re not familiar with those terms, help the designer to fully understand the company and be able to design a spot-on logo

A good logo should be able to survive decades. Small updates can be made to it periodically, but the basic logo stays the same. Look at the history of the Prudential rock for an example. Shakespeare has withstood the test of time. Kiss Me Kate is an update on The Taming of the Shrew. This is how I see logos, timeless.

I recently read an article about the rules of logo design. It got me to thinking that I should verbalize what rules I tend to follow, and maybe which I’ve heard others stand by that I feel are unnecessary.

1) It should work in black-and-white. This is a big one for me. One I will never break. I believe it is not a strong logo if it doesn’t work in black-and-white. Which is why when Sharp Designs presents the initial design comps for a logo we only show it in black-and-white. There are many reasons for this. The majority of companies still only have a black-and-white fax. And any e-mails or pdf’s sent to a client may be printed out on a black-and-white laser printer. You want them to be able to see and read the logo. You’re not communicating well if someone is comparing products ore vendors and then is confused as to which company that print out belongs to. (Which ties in to consistent and good branding practices, which is another blog entry to come.)

2) It should be scalable from covering the side of a semi-trailor to being recognizable printed on an advertising specialty such as a writing pen.

3) It should work in low-resolution such as on your website. And you can lump newspaper ads in here. Some newspapers experience quality problems at times, it is the nature of their printing process and the paper. You can’t get very fine detail to show up clearly in a newspaper ad. And don’t believe a newspaper salesman unless he can show you comparable samples.

4) It should be able to work using only 2 colors. This is a rule that may become extinct since full-color printing is becoming more the norm with the associated price dropping considerably in the last few years. But it’s always good to have a 2-color option for your logo even if all of your marketing materials are 4-color. What if you run an ad in a publication that only prints in 2 colors? And that second color is one of your corporate colors? Wouldn’t it be better, more impactful, more consistent with your branding to run a 2-olor ad than one that is just black-and-white?

It’s good to think through all the possibilities, all of the what ifs, before the design process is started.

5) It should represent the company, the brand values, personality  and attributes. You’re probably surprised I didn’t list this rule first. I didn’t because to me, it is just obvious. It’s an automatic. I guess I shouldn’t assume that everyone does this. So that’s why I decided to go ahead and list it as a rule here.

6) It should not be trendy. Unless it is for a product whose life-span is expected to only be a couple of years. This rule is another one that is part of Sharp Design’s DNA. To me, a trendy logo is not a successful logo, or a good one either. If everyone has a swoosh in their logo, how is having one in yours differentiating your company? Logos and the encompassing brand is not strong if the company has a “me too” logo.

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