Sunday, September 28, 2008

Place branding: information as a government service

A municipality that does not have a relevant and content-rich web site that allows the administration to supply information is at a perceptual and economic disadvantage.

It's mystifying that the perspective is that a web site is inherently a technology platform only, and therefore in the realm of the IT department, still exists. In this context, a web site is a marketing and communications platform, and should be considered as part of the responsibility of a chief information officer. It doesn't take an IT department to create a web site.

What better way for a municipality to communicate with, disseminate information to, or manage information for citizens and the media?

A place especially needs differentiation and positioning to start to create a positive perception.

From the mundane (when is my garbage collected after a holiday?) to the functional (can I pay my water bill online?) to the strategic (why do we need to support a tax levy again?), a site should set vision, and generate good will for the municipality.

The perceptual disadvantage allows the local media, citizen pundits on local web-based forums, and the uniformed to create their own perceptions of what's really going on with the local government. Where there is no information, the people will make up their own opinions, informed or not.

The economic disadvantage allows other communities, who have relevant and compelling content about their municipalities, to inform prospective residents and businesses, current residents and business owners, and other interested parties, why the community is thriving and attractive. It's basic economic development: attraction, retention and expansion.

People will find information about a municipality online, good or bad. Of course this is the root of branding: It's not what an administration thinks about their municipality (or organization), but it's what they (constituents) think, that is important. And if a municipality has nothing relevant or meaningful upon which they can create informed perceptions, citizens will create their own perceptions, right or wrong.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I'm a PC. Of course, I sell fish.

Jerry and Dean were funny. Jerry and Bill? Sort of. The Shoe store schtick wasn't funny at all. The house guest schtick would have been funnier if it had been edited to say, one minute 30 seconds.

Why does Microsoft void mentioning Windows? "I'm a PC?" Why not just say, "I'm generic."

Steve Ballmer rightly said in an internal email, echoing our opinion (thanks to Apple Insider:)
"In the competition between PCs and Macs, we outsell Apple 30-to-1. But there is no doubt that Apple is thriving," Ballmer wrote in the email. "Why? Because they are good at providing an experience that is narrow but complete, while our commitment to choice often comes with some compromises to the end-to-end experience."
Gee, ya think? Let's see: computer, Mac OSX, iPod, iTunes. I'm good. What you got? Operating system, MP3 player (what was that called again...oh yeah, Zune), Xbox. What do you run that OS on again?

Today's lesson: the power of a word or name to evoke an experience is powerful. It connects the customer to the company. Perhaps it's time for a name change for Microsoft?

Has anybody seen my nail clippers?

9/25/08: Fast Company renders a summary of reactions and response to the ads. Successful? You decide!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I'm a Mac. How about you?

AppleInsider reports that Microsoft is going to spoof the Mac ads.

This is LOL funny, and a bit disturbing:
"Also beginning Thursday night, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant will invite visitors to the website to upload videos and photos that will demonstrate "how they, too, are PCs." Microsoft will reportedly select some of the photos to appear on electronic billboards in Times Square beginning the following day, while others will be used in advertisement banners."
Did I miss something? Do PCs really evoke the same sense of affinity with their users as do Macs? Microsoft is a software company (ok, not counting XBox and Zune, but that adds weight to my theory). What does it take for an individual to consider themselves part of the tribe of PC users? Where are the telltale earbuds, Windows XP/Vista stickers on cars, lines of people waiting when a store opens?

As a hardware & software company, Apple has engaged most of my senses and sensibilities. Sight, touch, hearing, usability. Even the name evokes taste. Not isolated, but at any time a combination of a minimum of two senses creates an experience.

Maybe Microsoft needs to start making computers?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Everybody's a critic

Recently, Sooy + Co. received an email with a blistering criticism about a branding project we completed for a public school system:
Message : How dare you call Lorain City Schools new clip art a logo. What did you do a Google search and find some stupid hand clip and then make up the color story. How dare you make Lorain the laughing stock of our County. We are smart enough to know good design, this isn't an example of it. Shame on you for not having the professional integrity to actually design something.
Did it offend us? No, we had a good laugh over it, and our staff discussed how to respond. With proper grammar, of course.

Perhaps some people would prefer the old logo that resembles paper dolls, sandwiched between an image of a light house and what appeared to be two-color toothpaste squeezed from a tube. Seriously. We think our solution is a new take on an old cliché.

Some possible responses we considered:
"Why yes, we were in a hurry and all we had time for was a quick Google search for stupid hand clip. Is that bad?"

"You're right. Our branding process is designed with the possible outcome of creating laughing stocks, but only when the creative brief calls for it. We must have missed the mark. Or do you mean la vache qui ri?"

"We all missed the professional integrity classes in college due to a quarter-to semester-change. Thank you for pointing out the flaw in our education, we are looking into a distance learning class in order to make it up."
With the democratization of design comes the democratization of drive-by design criticism.

Drive-by design criticism is defined as:
"Drive-by criticism is a reaction to an observation or experience, whereby the uninformed renders an opinion about something they know nothing about."
It can be rephrased as "I don't know what I like until I see it, and I know I don't like that."

On the other hand, design critique (or professional design criticism) is an exercise by students or design professionals to review and evaluate a design solution based on any number of criteria, such as form to function, the three core elements of visual design: contrast, balance and unity, appropriateness of solution to problem, and usability. Among other criteria, of course.

The individual sharing their criticism with us had no idea what the design brief called for, the client's objectives, or why we chose red, green and white to represent diversity instead of brown, beige and red.

Drive-by design criticism is a corollary to the General Theory of Design: "Design consists of creating things for clients who may not know what they want, until they see what you've done, then they know exactly what they want, but it's not what you did."

No, we don't use Google to search for clip art. We're professionals, with design degrees. We don't skeet shoot in the dark, nor do we allow our clients do so. We accept, as should any professional design firm, valid and well-informed design critique. But we really can't figure out what inspires a rant like we received.

To our drive-by critic: Thanks for writing. We're sorry that you were having a bad day, and hope that things are looking up for you.