Monday, August 27, 2012

9 Things Every Small Business Owner Should Know About Marketing

By Danielle Avenoso / Senior Brand Strategist & Account ManagerNJ Marketing Agency Graphic D-Signs, Inc.

Are you a small business owner trying to accelerate company growth? If so, here are nine principles you should know about marketing to ensure greater success and drive ROI.   

1. Empower yourself with knowledge. While it takes time out of your schedule, it’s important to conduct research on your industry, market, direct competitors and consumers. You can never know too much—and you can certainly know too little. Just as athletes prepare for the big game, marketing success requires countless hours of practice.  
2. Know your budget. Identify the investment you want to allocate to your marketing. A good estimate is roughly five percent of your sales. It is critical to establish a budget, because this will allow you to properly and effectively plan your marketing.
3. Create an identity. As a company, your brand is one of your greatest assets. It communicates and connects with audiences, and creates passion for your business. Think of your brand as a spokesperson for your company: highlighting your promises and propositions to the consumer.
4. Formulate a plan of attack. Too many times, small business owners react instead of thinking about business implications, competitors and consumers. It is more fruitful to formulate a plan of attack, first. What media channels will you leverage to connect with your consumer? If you plan, your strategy will be more effective and your budget will remain efficiently intact.
5. Strategy is king. What is the message you want to convey in all marketing components? What service or value do you provide that sets you apart from the competition? This single-minded idea should live throughout all advertising deliverables for an in-sync marketing message.
6. Execute your strategy. How will you put your strategy to work? Print? Website? Online banners? Coupons and promotions? Radio? TV? Identify your deliverables and tools of attack. 
7. Create campaign consistency. Present one face to the market and your consumer. This strengthens your brand awareness and drives brand recall. Ensure that allcomponents of your advertising are consistent and cohesive so a story can be told.
8. Track. Measure. Record. Accountability is key, so remember to monitor and gauge the effectiveness of your budget and advertising campaign. By tracking leads via different media channels, you can identify those channels that give you the best ROI versus channels that need to be further optimized.
9. Improvise! By utilizing what you’ve learned from data tracking, you can change-as-you-go. Proper measurement helps you discover how to better spend your budget, which channels to remove from the media plan, and which channels to try in the future.

Danielle Avenoso is the Senior Brand Strategist & Account Manager of Graphic D-Signs, Inc, a NJ marketing agency specializing in small business advertising, marketing, and brand development.

Monday, August 20, 2012

6 Signs You Need To Refresh Your HVAC Logo & Brand

Don’t let nostalgia, “nephew art,” and no standards hold your HVAC business back.

By Dan Antonelli / President & Creative Director, NJ Advertising Advertising Agency Graphic D-Signs, Inc. Portions originally published for HVACR Magazine.

Logo design for duct cleaning business.
Having worked with several hundred small businesses on their brand development, I’ve seen my share of branding problems. While we attempt to correct the problems, the challenge with trying to “fix” these brands is that we can’t salvage enough of the current brand to move the company forward. Often, a complete refresh is needed.

It’s understandable why many HVACR brands need help. Fledgling businesses often exhaust their financial resources paying for fleets, equipment, and everything else they need to get up and running. Brand becomes an afterthought — when the budget is stretched thin. So, maybe the sign company that does the truck lettering does a quick attempt at a logo. Or maybe it’s the silkscreen company that is making up your uniforms, the local printer that is printing your business cards — or your nephew who “likes to draw.”

Then the “design” becomes the foundation of your brand. You didn’t necessarily plan it that way; it just kind of evolved into what it is today. But as you’re trying to grow your business and take it to the next level, your brand could be holding you back. How do you know when it’s time to step up your image, and take a fresh look at your brand and what it says about your company? Here are six signs that it’s time:

1. You have a homegrown, outdated brand.  Homegrown brands are good for nostalgia, but bad for business. Many small businesses have built their brands around logos that they or family members created. With the advent of desktop publishing years ago, and the prevalence of instant access to clip art on the web, this has become a common and rather unfortunate characteristic of many small business logos.

In the design world, we call this “nephew art” — because most designers have heard clients say things like, “My [nephew/niece, guy I know] is really good at art, and he designed our logo,” when asked about their brand origins. I’m sure there are some nephews and nieces who are in fact really good at art — and simultaneously — really good at branding. But the vast majority of them, well-meaning as they may be, are not actually qualified to be trusted with your most important asset: your brand.

Logo design for heating and cooling contractor in Salt Lake Valley, UT.
2. Your brand is obvious. Many HVACR contractors use the most common, generic elements in their brand. Common clip-art elements, such as the ever-popular “blue and red arrows in a circle,” or the “sun and snowflake” icons are overused. They have no chance of being unique. For a small business, good branding should never fit in; it should stand out and be unique. If your logo can be mistaken for a dozen other similar brands, how will your target audience remember it amid the clutter? A great HVACR brand should be unique, bold, and memorable.

Keep in mind that if your logo includes clip art, your logo cannot be trademarked. That means any other company can use the same design.

3. Your brand makes no “promise.” Good branding should tell viewers something about the company before they actually interact with the company. It should leave them with a positive impression of the business. So it’s critical that those impressions say something about your HVACR business.

What does your brand communicate to the viewer? Does it communicate concepts such as reputability, professionalism, and trustworthiness? Or instead does it scream sloppy, cheap, homegrown, and maybe not in business next year? We have worked with dozens of HVACR companies that do fabulous work, but just don’t look like they do because their brands are amateurish. A consumer about to spend $15,000 on a new A/C system needs to have all of their fears alleviated. Then need to know that your company is professional and is going to be around in the future. You face an upward battle when the brand doesn’t instill that confidence up front.

4. Your logo uses photos. Brands based around photos are awkward, and generally represent an amateur approach. You don’t see large companies using photos in their logos, and with good reason. Such a logo can’t be replicated across mediums and generally does not make for a memorable image. Photos also tend to look dated very quickly. Icons and simple graphics work better as they’re able to be reproduced across multiple media, whether on a truck, t-shirt, or website.

Retro themed logo design for HVAC contractor in FL.
5. Your brand is inconsistently implemented across mediums. When you look across all of your marketing efforts, are they clearly consistent in presenting your brand? At a quick glance, do all of your materials have that “branded” look that makes people see the connection in your advertising? If your marketing materials don’t share a common denominator, it’s a good time to examine your brand architecture and think about rebranding from scratch.

Many growing small businesses have never been given any type of brand identity guidebook or standard to illustrate how their brand should be integrated across various media. Most larger ad agencies provide a lengthy brand style guide that illustrates all the various ways your brand can be used, and more importantly, how it cannot (or should not) be used.

But the reality is that most small businesses do not have such a document. Generally, they’ll have a few file formats of their logo, which they share with the various people who are working on their advertising media. The sign maker gets a copy of this logo file and makes signs. The print-ad artist gets a copy and makes ads. The web designer gets a copy and uploads it. What ultimately happens is that each of them interprets your brand implementation differently. Maybe the ad artist creates an ad with a different font than the web designer, and then decides to change the font for your tagline. Then one of your employees decides that the font for your company would look better another way. You get the picture.

Over a period of time, inconsistencies dilute your brand. If you have a single-source advertising agency that coordinates all of your marketing, this should never happen. The agency is essentially the gatekeeper of your brand. But for those who rely on various vendors, it’s almost impossible to achieve consistent applications of your brand —especially in the absence of a brand style guide.

6. Your branding doesn’t represent you. If your HVACR company is like most businesses, it has probably grown and evolved over the years. Maybe even your services or products have evolved and changed. So has your brand kept up with these changes?

Many businesses have outgrown their brand without realizing it. Maybe it was never good to begin with. But now the business is growing, they’re trying to attract better clients, and they just don’t quite look the part. For these businesses, brand identity is stopping them from achieving full potential.

Logo design for HVAC company in Tampa, FL.
And if the original branding was not done professionally, it often portrays the business as being a mere start-up. But as your company attempts to take market share away from competitors, an amateur brand can be like an anchor around your neck. I often see companies commit a critical error at this point: They decide to hang on to the old brand because they equate good business performance with using it. To these company owners I often say, “Success in spite of poor brand identity is not a valid reason to perpetuate it.”  Imagine how much more successful these companies might have been with a better brand.

When a brand ceases to represent you, or to speak to your target audience in a meaningful way, it’s time to give serious consideration to a fresh start.

Getting a Fresh Start
No matter how large or small the business is, any brand redesign causes pain, both financial and otherwise. It’s not a proposition that should be entered into lightly. It’s a big endeavor, and takes a lot of work to implement properly. Your designer or agency really needs to understand the implications and develop a plan for integration that includes a strategy for a brand rollout.

For most small businesses, it is nearly impossible to simply erase all uses of a previous brand and use the new branding all at once. Not only are the logistics challenging, but it’s not often financially prudent to do a clean-slate rollout of your new brand. Typically, too many things use your old brand, and removing them all at once isn’t always possible. We generally recommend that you roll out a new brand as things need to be updated or new equipment is purchased. Things like business cards, websites, and uniforms are easier to change and represent the more obvious touch-points for your consumers. Those things should be updated first.

Graphic D-Signs, Inc - The Small Business Advertising Agency is a New Jersey based advertising agency serving the marketing needs of small business with logo and branding creation, web design and online marketing, print design and collateral development and traditional advertising and consultation services for HVAC contractors and others.

Brand and Logo Design Samples with Integration for HVAC & Heating & Air Conditioning Companies
“The most important thing Dan and his staff have done is breathe new life into our 20-year-old business. Walking into the office every morning is an entirely new experience since our brand has been created. It sets the tone for the organization and sets the expectation of the Timo’s experience with our clients. Our technicians get stopped on a daily basis and are asked for business cards simply because people see our vehicles on the road. People expect a higher level of service because of our brand — and we always lived up to that expectation — but now the image matches the reality. Everything from our uniforms, trucks, collateral, and web site are in perfect harmony and reinforce our unique brand messaging.” — Joseph Timo, President of Timo’s Air, Palm Springs, CA
Web site for Timo's Air - an HVAC contractor in Palm Springs, CA.
Billboard for Timo's Air. Note how the brand is consistently implemented.
Timo's award-winning truck wrap, showing a great brand integration.
Sales brochure for Timo's Air.
“The response has been phenomenal to our new brand. Thus far, we’ve only implemented it on stationery and our new Nissan service vehicles. But now, people go out of their way to compliment the trucks, and you can literally see people turning their heads as we drive by. I had trucks lettered for years with an old logo, and no one ever said much about them. So it’s been quite refreshing seeing how this new brand is resonating with people.” — Marcus Camfferman, President of Air Zero, Seminole, FL

Retro brand identity and truck wrap design for a Utah based heating and air conditioning contractor.
Web design for a heating and air conditioning company in Utah.
Vintage logo design for a plumbing, heating and air conditioning company.

A playful logo design for a serious heating and cooling company near Chicago. 
Allegiance Heating & Cooling web site design integrates their brand in a memorable way.
“I love how our new retro-themed brand identity is working with our clients. Our truck wraps with the new brand have made a huge splash in our market, and they stand out among the clutter of the many illegible wraps our industry can be known by. So when people see our simple, easy-to-read message, done with a fresh approach, that harkens back to a time when people believed service contractors were honest and trustworthy. It makes a positive impression of the business. Because people think we’re different from the other guys, and the truth is, we are. And now are branding, website, uniforms and trucks all reinforce that difference.” — Mack Odell, President of Clockwork Heating & Air, Athens, GA
Truck wrap for Clockwork Heating & Air shows a successful brand integration.
“There's been a huge shift in the perception of our company since we introduced our refreshed brand identity, and implemented it across the board. Sales have increased, and our image now matches the quality of our workmanship.” — Matt Mauzy, President of Mauzy Air, San Diego, CA 

 Truck wrap for a fleet of HVAC service trucks for a contractor in Union, NJ.
Vintage styled logo design for HVAC contractor in Bixby, OK.
Logo design for heating and air conditioning contracting in Union, NJ.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Consumer Demand Changes, So Should Your Marketing Strategy

By Danielle Avenoso / Senior Brand Strategist & Account ManagerNJ Marketing Agency Graphic D-Signs, Inc.

Rethinking the Way You Market Your Business

To say that consumer behavior has changed drastically in the last five years would be an understatement. There has been a clear shift in power. It now resides in the consumers' hands, as opposed to several years ago when companies had that power. Several elements have created this shift.
  • Global Financial Crisis in 2007. Economists considered this to be the worst financial catastrophe since the Great Depression, resulting in the fall of many businesses and the decline in consumer financial commodity. This inevitably created an economic recession that we are still trying to recover from today, as well as a consumer distrust with corporations/companies. And the result: wallets tightened and consumers got smart about how and where they spent their money. They did their due diligence and researched companies prior to committing to any business engagements or contracts, and they put a greater emphasis on value at the most affordable cost. 
  • Technology continues to evolve. With the advent of smart phones and tablets, consumers are able to stay connected on the go, now more than ever. So what does this really mean? Plain and simple, they spend more time connected to the digital world by gathering their research and data on companies, sending emails, staying up-to-the-minute with news, and connecting with friends. Consumers are plugged in, and will continue to be as technology advances. Technology has, in a sense, made the world smaller and has allowed everything to be at the consumer's fingertips.
So this really isn't "news" to anyone--unless you have been living under a rock--but what does this really mean for small businesses and their marketing plans? Quite simply put-- the most precious asset is your customer, so your strategies need to shift to focus on the consumer as the core of your integrated communications plan. But, how and why?
  • Consumers should be viewed as people and not dollar signs. In order to have a competitive edge and to satisfy increasing levels of customer desires, companies should view their customers as individuals, and not as a mass group with the same tastes, values and buying behaviors. There is a consumer demand for flexibility, customization and options; so naturally, companies need to delve further into their consumer demographics so that they may learn what consumers really want and need. The more you know about your consumers as individuals, the better you can target them and provide greater customization options so they feel connected with you--as a brand and a company. Customers are not a one-size-fits-all asset, so your marketing should reflect different service and product options.
  • Engagement & interactivity. Consumers don't want to feel that companies are "shouting" at them or "pushing" their advertising on them. Instead, consumers want to partake in the conversation and interact with the company and brand. They want to be part of the communication process, and they want a voice. Hence, the popularity of social media and websites. Companies need to create platforms where there is a two-way dialogue and conversation. Engage your customers in your business through every step of the consumer buying process: (1) Problem Recognition, (2) Information Search, (3) Evaluation of Alternatives, (4) Purchase Decision, (5) Purchase, (6) Post-Purchase Evaluation.
  • Listen. As your marketing shifts to be customer-centric, it is imperative to really listen to your customer and to create a business model that is committed to quality and to customer relationship. Listen to their honest comments, feedback and suggestions. You will be able to uncover your company's weaknesses as well as your strengths, so that you can better serve your customer demand.
  • Shift company's culture to be customer-centric. All members of the company need to live, eat and breathe a company culture that is customer-focused. Everyone needs to rally behind this philosophy in order for the company to be successful. One bad apple can wreak havoc on the company's image and bottom line. All employees and staff, from the top-level to the bottom-level, need to fully embrace the customer relationship philosophy.
  • Marketing tools need to reflect consumer demand. Local newspapers and magazines are being replaced by technology and becoming antiquated tools. As a small business, you need to connect with your users, where they spend their time. Don't be afraid of technology; leverage the power. Mobile devices, such as smartphones, laptops and tablets, allow companies to connect with the customer at less than one-hundredth of the cost of traditional print ads and direct mail, and the web allows companies to provide a 24/7 support system for customer service.  Check out this article for a greater understanding of where consumers spend their time and attention verse where companies are spending their advertising budgets. It shows a great untapped market opportunity.
  • Value and professionalism. Your marketing should highlight and communicate your value, professionalism and credibility in order to disspell consumer discomfort or lack of trust within your industry. Highlight attributes and benefits. How can product "x" solve the consumer's dilemma or challenge? How has product "x" benefited existing customers? Show case studies to highlight the positives. 
So, as consumer behavior changes, so should your mindset and approach to the company marketing plan. Otherwise, your business may not continue to survive in this economic downturn. If your marketing plan still reflects antiquated media tools, your business will surely become extinct. Rise to the occasion and meet the customer demands of tomorrow, not yesterday.

Graphic D-Signs specializes in small business marketing and small business advertising—and we can help you articulate and achieve your business goals. To schedule a consultation with our team, or to discuss pricing, contact us today!

Danielle Avenoso is the Senior Brand Strategist & Account Manager of Graphic D-Signs, Inc, a NJ marketing agency specializing in small business advertising, marketing, and brand development.

Friday, June 8, 2012

ADCNJ Honors NJ Advertising Agency Graphic D-Signs with Five Gold Accolades

By Dan Antonelli / President & Creative Director, NJ Advertising Agency Graphic D-Signs, Inc.

GDS was proud to be one of the top three award winners at the recent 49th annual Art Directors Club of New Jersey (ADCNJ) Awards, where our team took home nine total awards for web, logo and print design. Held at the Birchwood Manor in Whippany, NJ, the ADCNJ Awards recognize industry excellence in New Jersey advertising, marketing and creative strategy.

Sure - we’re proud of the awards, because they affirm our efforts to provide targeted branding and marketing solutions for small businesses. But we’re even more excited about the results we continue to achieve on behalf of our clients: for web design, print marketing, social media and turnkey advertising strategy. It’s your success that inspires us!

ADCNJ Awards Categories

Graphic D-Signs swept the Electronic or Interactive Design: Web Site Design (Consumer) category, taking a Gold Award for Duct Dudes, Silver for Maglio Electric, LLC, and Bronze for Watercraft Adventure Tours. Additional honors included:
  • Gold Award, Advertising: Consumer (Out-of-Home Advertising: Billboard, Transit, Posted or Painted Bulletin) for Duct Dudes, a New Jersey-based air duct cleaning company.
  • Silver Award, Advertising: Consumer (Out-of-Home Advertising: Billboard, Transit, Posted or Painted Bulletin) for Michigan-based electrician, The Neighborhood Electrician.
  • Gold Award, Design: Corporate & Promotional Design (Trademarks, Logos: Brand) for Duct Dudes.
  • Gold Award, Design: Corporate & Promotional Design (Trademarks, Logos: Brand) for The Neighborhood Electrician.
  • Gold Award, Design: Corporate & Promotional Design (Trademarks, Logos: Brand) for Miller Homes, a Jersey-Shore modular home builder.
  • Silver Award, Design: Corporate & Promotional Design (Trademarks, Logos: Brand) for the Women’s Center for Entrepreneurship Corporation (WCEC), a New Jersey-based non-profit offering entrepreneurial training for women. 
Images of Our Award-Winners

Graphic D-Signs Is Growing!

Did you know that Graphic D-Signs has nearly doubled in size over the past year? Our 12-member creative team consists of illustrators, designers, developers and copywriters whose work has been published in dozens of magazines, trade publications and graphic design books. Our specialized marketing services include: logo design, brand identity strategy, website design and development, print collateral, marketing materials and social media campaigns. In addition, we offer full-service retainer agreements designed to manage all of your advertising--soup to nuts--so you can get back to running your company.

If you’re already a Graphic D-Signs client, thank you! We value your business, and plan to continue wow-ing you with our award-winning creativity. If you’ve been thinking about partnering with us, now is the time! Make sure your logo, brand and website are garnering the attention they deserve: call today to discuss your small business advertising and marketing needs!

Dan Antonelli is the President and Creative Director of Graphic D-Signs, Inc, a NJ advertising agency specializing in small business advertising, marketing, and brand development.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

10 Things to Remember When Creating A Web Site

By Danielle Avenoso / Senior Brand Strategist & Account ManagerNJ Marketing Agency Graphic D-Signs, Inc.

What Makes a Web Site Successful? 

In today’s marketplace, it’s not just enough to have a web site, small business owners need to have a web site that makes a statement. It should be creatively and aesthetically appealing, as well as strategic and functional. Be sure to follow these guidelines when designing and developing your web site and it will be a greater success.

  1. Does your web site integrate and reinforce your branding? First impressions are everything. If your web site doesn’t infuse your brand identity strategically or creatively, it will look like a generic site.
  2. Is your web site user friendly and easy to navigate? You have 4-6 seconds to leave a good impression with a visitor before he leaves your site. If you are successful, he will stay on your site for a longer time which can translate to a new lead. 
  3. Does your web site have the right content? If your copy isn’t informative or doesn’t resonate with your target audience, they will leave as quickly as they came. 
  4. Does your web site encourage visitors to follow your company? Newsletters, Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, LinkedIn, Google+ and other social media platforms are great tools to build your credibility and clientele. Your web site should make it easy for visitors to follow you and stay up-to-date with your company to help build loyalty. 
  5. Does your web site initiate action? Your web site should help to cultivate a next step, whether it be making a purchase on the site or filling out a contact form to receive more information, a quote or schedule a service. A direct call-to-action is critical. 
  6. Is your web site search engine optimized? What good is a web site that can’t be found? The answer: It’s no good, actually. Your web site should include Google Analytics, META, keyword relevancy, page titling and backend HTML optimization, to name a few. 
  7. Is your web site built with the latest web techniques and standards? HTML5 and WordPress are some of the most recent and popular approaches to web development. Your web site is a direct correlation of your business in the eyes of the consumer so you don’t want to fall short with first impressions; and an outdated and obsolete web site will surely do that. 
  8. Is your web site compatible with all devices? It’s so important that your web site can be viewed on all devices, whether it be a mobile phone, laptop, desktop or tablet. Otherwise, it could be a missed opportunity to connect with a potential client. 
  9. Is your web site compliant with all browsers? It’s so important that your web site can be viewed on all browsers, whether it be (Mac & PC) on IE7+, Firefox 3+, Operat9 and Safari 4+. Otherwise, it could be a missed opportunity to connect with a potential client. 
  10. Do you own all the rights to the web site? It will greatly benefit you if you secure the rights to the web site as well as all files upon the completion of the development. Therefore, you will be able to update, manage and own your site.
Click here to view our web design portfolio

More often than not, I see so many small business owners not heed to these guidelines. As a result, their web site isn’t as successful as desired and doesn’t positively impact their ROI or profits. Do yourself a favor and make sure you integrate these best practices into your web site. 
Graphic D-Signs specializes in small business marketing and small business web site development—and we can help you articulate and achieve your web site goals. To schedule a consultation with our team, or discuss pricing for your new or refreshed web site, contact us today!

Danielle Avenoso is the Senior Brand Strategist & Account Manager of Graphic D-Signs, Inc, a NJ advertising agency specializing in small business advertising, marketing, and brand development.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Advertising Accountability: What is Smart Advertising?

By Danielle Avenoso / Senior Brand Strategist & Account ManagerNJ Marketing Agency Graphic D-Signs, Inc.

Plan First. React Second. Track Third.

More often than not, small business owners take a “more is better” approach to their advertising. The theory? The more money you spend or the bigger the ad, the more return you will see. Unfortunately, this usually doesn’t pan out. In fact, this is a counter-intuitive approach, and a sure way to lose money and see zero return. So how should a small business owner approach his advertising strategy and budget to ensure that it's smart advertising that will yield the best ROI?

DEFINE: Who is your ideal consumer? Don’t answer “everyone.” You will enjoy greater success if you can identify your core audience, learn what makes them tick, and determine what their interests are. The better you know your target, the better you can market to them.

DESCRIBE: How are you going to reach, connect and have an open dialogue with your target audience? Do they read the local newspapers/magazines; do they spend most of their time online; do they engage in community activities; do they attend seminars or speaking engagements? The more you know about where they spend their time, the better you can identify a plan of attack to target them. You will know which media forms provide the best opportunities, and you can devise an effective integrated marketing communications plan.

DECODE: How do you know if your campaign was successful? You must exercise due diligence to track and record where new client leads come from. How did they hear about you? After answering this question, you can identify and continue successful tactics--and weed out less fruitful approaches. This is the best way to ensure that your advertising dollars are wisely spent. Unfortunately, many business owners set a campaign loose--and never assess whether it worked.

Small business owners don’t have an unlimited advertising budget, so it is critical to be smart with your money and make it work harder for you. Next time you tell the salesmen that your advertising isn't working, and they respond that you “need a bigger ad,” think carefully about who you trust to manage your advertising dollars.

Graphic D-Signs specializes in small business marketing and small business advertising—and we can help you articulate and achieve your business goals. To schedule a consultation with our team, or to discuss pricing, contact us today!

Danielle Avenoso is the Senior Brand Strategist & Account Manager of Graphic D-Signs, Inc, a NJ marketing agency specializing in small business advertising, marketing, and brand development.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

8 Things to Know Before You Create a Company Web Site

By Danielle Avenoso / Senior Brand Strategist & Account ManagerNJ Marketing Agency Graphic D-Signs, Inc.

Think First. React Second.

Before a small business owner embarks on the development of a company web site, it is crucial for the owner to identify the main web site objective. Are you trying to: 
  • Heighten awareness about a new product or service?
  • Generate online leads?
  • Leverage the platform for ecommerce?
  • Create space for existing clientele to interact and review their account or project information?
  • Increase sales?
In our experience, most business owners don’t take time to articulate their web site goals prior to beginning design. Instead, they simply react to the desire to have an online presence. 

Strategy is key! To develop an effective web site, it is essential to understand (1) why you need an online presence, and (2) what you need the web site to accomplish. When these two questions are answered, it is easier to design and implement a site that meets these needs—and exceeds your goals.

Did you just wake up one day and start your business? It’s unlikely. Instead, you spent months, or even years, developing a business plan. And, while it will not take years to develop your web site, it requires the same careful attention as your business plan. Proper planning helps you make efficient use of your budget, and ensure that your web site provides you with substantial ROI. After all, isn’t the goal to make money?  

If you’re considering a small business web site, or revamping your existing online presence, here are 8 things to think about before you begin. 
  1. Define your marketing objective. What is the purpose of the web site? Be specific about goals, which may include: achieving differentiation, educating your market, expanding your business, increasing client loyalty, etc. 
  2. Do you have strong branding? Your brand dictates the perception of your company, and differentiates it from competitors. Powerful and captivating brands create an instantly recognizable, unique, professional image that can help catapult your company to success. 
  3. Who is your target audience? Who are you talking to? What do they think today, and want tomorrow? Consider segmentation, demographics, perceptions and attributes. The better you know your audience, the better you can market to them. 
  4. Who are your competitors? To achieve success and differentiate your brand promise, you must understand your competitors. Your web site should capitalize on what makes you different from “the other guy.”   
  5. What is the market climate? What barriers, if any, do you face from a competitive or market perspective? Be specific. For example, is this a saturated product category—or relatively new? How is consumer awareness? Is there limited value perception or inadequate differentiation?
  6. What are your key success metrics? What do you consider success? Increased adoption rates? Elevated awareness? Category penetration? Driving online leads? 
  7. What do you want to market? Describe detailed features and aspects. What makes your product or service better than others?
  8. What technology is available to bring your web site to life? Technology is constantly changing, and new platforms, widgets and plugins are being developed every day. It is important to leverage available tools in order to capture your web site goals.
Click here to view our web design portfolio

Graphic D-Signs specializes in small business marketing and small business web site development—and we can help you articulate and achieve your web site goals. To schedule a consultation with our team, or discuss pricing for your new or refreshed web site, contact us today!

Danielle Avenoso is the Senior Brand Strategist & Account Manager of Graphic D-Signs, Inc, a NJ marketing agency specializing in small business advertising, marketing, and brand development.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Top 5 Rules for Effective Vehicle Wrap Design

By Dan Antonelli / President & Creative Director, NJ Advertising Agency Graphic D-Signs, Inc.

5 Rules for Effective Vehicle Wrap Design

If you examined most wraps on the road today, you’d think the concept of designing a simple, easy-to-read message was difficult to understand. It’s really not, once you understand the fundamentals of what it takes to build a good wrap.

The characteristics of good wrap design and vehicle advertising -- those which use proper branding, and easy-to-discern messaging -- are rarely employed on most vehicle wraps seen on the road today. This explains why many wraps are failures from an advertising standpoint, and sadly a wasted opportunity for the businesses deploying them. This can be primarily attributed to a lack of education and understanding about the actual medium. In years past, the prerequisites for billboard painters and truck lettering artists were years of study and apprenticeships. Mastering the craft is a bit easier today, since the primary barrier to entry is acquiring the cash to buy a large format digital printer. So, while the sign or wrap company may be brilliant at installing wraps, they may lack experience in the study of effective advertising in an outdoor realm.

The following rules can help you better understand the fundamentals for good wrap design and vehicle advertising. Whether you are a designer hoping to improve your layouts, or a small business owner trying to gain market share, these tips will help you get the maximum impact and return on investment for your outdoor vehicle advertising programs.

Rule #1: Start with A Great Brand
"The response has been phenomenal. People go out of their way to compliment
the trucks. You can see people turning their heads as we drive by," says
Marcus Camferrman, owner of Air Zero, who had their brand identity
and wrap designed by NJ advertising agency Graphic D-Signs, Inc.
One reason that so many wraps fail from a marketing perspective is because the business has a poor brand identity and logo. The brand should always be the primary message for a vehicle wrap, unless you have national brand recognition. For small businesses trying to make an impact in their community, the message is always about the brand. Starting with a poor brand means you’ve failed before you’ve begun: by wasting money on a wrap and missing a huge marketing opportunity.

We generally only do wrap design for clients whose brands we’ve created, because companies who come to us with an existing brand often have a terrible one. And if they won’t change it, we won’t design it. What is surprising is that we are usually the first ones to tell them that. I guess the other sign companies never mention that because they don’t want to lose the job. While I can understand that, a surprising number of clients really appreciate the candor and the fact that we only have their best interests in mind. It’s too much money to play with. I’m certainly not going to be responsible for wasting your money by trying to work with a brand that has no business being implemented on a wrap. The brand is the message, period.

Rule #2: Don’t Use Photos
Retro-themed truck wrap example for carpet cleaning company in Orlando,
FL. Note how an effective brand implementation works better than a photo.
I’ve had this discussion often with other sign makers, and some disagree with me on this point. However, I believe that there are few effective wraps that use photos, and I’d argue that any wrap that uses a photo could have been more effectively done without one. The photo is not a brand identity; it doesn’t connect me with the business name. Maybe it connects me with what the company does, but so should a good brand

Take the usual examples, like the HVAC contractor with a picture of an air conditioner. Great. Now I know you do air conditioning, but who are you? I don’t know, because I only have 2.5 seconds to view the message. Or consider the contractor and the picture of a house. Great. A house. But are you a siding company, a roofing company, a window installer, powerwasher, a landscaper or an electrician? I have no idea, since the photo is the dominant element. After my 2.5 seconds are up, your message is lost amidst all the other things trying to grab my attention.

Perhaps on box trucks or trailers you can use a photo, but I’d still argue a more powerful brand integration would be more effective. National chains have an easier time using photography, because, once again, their brand is already known and the message need not be 100% focused on who or what the brand is. Small businesses don't have this luxury.

Rule #3: Limit Your Advertising Copy

It's especially important to keep simple messaging on smaller vehicles,
as this wrap design for a maid service in Texas illustrates.
There’s only 3 or 4 things a good wrap needs: strong brand implementation, and perhaps tagline messaging, a web address, and maybe a phone number. Bullet lists, which look more like shopping lists, have no place on a vehicle. This isn’t the yellow pages. Would you rather list 10 things and have none remembered, or convey one to two memorable takeaways? If this truck were a billboard, how much copy would be on it? Billboards have the exact same challenges as vehicle advertising. If you prioritize your copy, it will be more effective. In general, the hierarchy should always be: BRAND, TAGLINE, WEB and/or PHONE NUMBER.

This vehicle wrap for mechanical contractor (HVAC) in Florida is
unique due to a compelling brand that we integrated into the design.
Rule #4: Design to Stand Out, Not Fit In

This isn’t the part where many might say diamond plate, carbon fiber, tribal flames will make your truck wrap stand out. Quite the contrary. By eliminating all those fills, noisy backgrounds, photos, bevels, and glows, you’ll be on your way to designing a wrap which actually stands out. The wrap market is littered with visual noise. When we see something with impact -- something that we can actually read and remember -- it can't help but stand out among the visual clutter. That’s what is so ironic to me. People think our vehicle wrap designs are innovative simply because they are unlike what everyone else seems to be doing. So -- they stand out.

Brand, brand, brand. It's all about the brand for this wrap and
brand identity our NJ advertising agency created for this
Georgia-based HVAC contractor.
Rule #5: Simple and Obvious is Good
If the viewer needs to work too hard to figure out the primary brand messaging, it’s an opportunity lost. The medium isn’t the same as print design, where the viewer can stop, absorb the advertising and try and understand the message. Consider that one, primary takeaway you’re hoping to leave with the viewer. What is it? And does the wrap effectively communicate it? Is it lost in the imagery? Distance legibility is, of course, a primary concern. You have very limited time to capture the viewer’s attention and have your brand and message be understood and remembered.

best hvac truck wrap, heating and air truck wrap example.
Fleet wrap design for HVAC company in San Antonio, Texas.

Retro HVAC Truck Wrap
Retro themed HVAC truck wrap example.

Retro themed truck wrap example for plumbing, heating and air company near Chicago.

Truck wrap example showing effective brand integration for a heating and air contractor in Fayeteville.

One of our best truck examples, showing a cohesive brand integration and easy to read messaging. 

Another view of this vehicle wrap for a handyman company.

Click here for more examples of effective vehicle wraps.

Dan Antonelli is the President and Creative Director of Graphic D-Signs, Inc, a NJ advertising agency specializing in small business advertising, marketing, and brand development, including HVAC logo design and HVAC web design services.

Friday, March 16, 2012

How the Facebook Timeline is Evolutionizing Social Media...Again

By Dan Antonelli / President & Creative Director, NJ Advertising Agency Graphic D-Signs, Inc.

If you are reading this blog, chances are you landed here via Facebook. And if you landed here via Facebook, chances are that you, your business--or both--have a Facebook profile. In case you haven't noticed, the folks at Facebook like to keep us on our toes with changes to the virtual landscape. The latest and greatest "upgrade" is the Timeline. A once-optional user interface, Timeline will become a mandatory part of every individual and business profile on Mar. 31, 2012. So, what does this change mean for your company?

Click here to view our timeline!
There are several key components of Timeline that are different than the current profile page. While you may not love them, they are the future of Facebook--so it's important to embrace these changes instead of fight them. Here are some of the new features:
  1. Administrator Access: The Timeline allows you to assign up to five different degrees of access for page administrators and gain access to real-time analytics surrounding popular activity metrics. 
  2. Cover Photo: Possibly the most noticeable change, the cover photo displays across the top of a page's timeline...and it is sizably larger than the current profile picture. Use this cover image to tell your brand's story, showcase photos or highlight the unique selling points of a product or service. Remember, the cover photo cannot be a "billboard" for your business; that means it cannot include prices, purchase information, calls to action or company contact information. It also cannot urge people to “Like” or “Share” your page. 
  3. Custom Tabs: These spaces will automatically display several items, like a brand’s photos and its number of “likes.” However, they can also be customized. You can have large icons linking to your custom tabs (i.e. Social Campaigns) at the top of your Timeline, giving them more visibility. If your business has apps or coupons, this is a prominent way to display them.
  4. Optional Message Button: A private messaging option allows fans and customers to communicate with your business in a one-on-one environment. This feature gives customers the power to voice complaints or negative feedback in private, and out of the public Facebook eye. Private messaging gives your business the opportunity to (1) identify weaknesses with your service or product, and (2) offer real-time solutions to defuse customer concerns. Customers want to be heard, and this provides them with that platform. 
  5. Pinning: By now, most of us have heard of Pinterest. In a similar fashion, the new Facebook pinning function allows companies to keep a particular promotion or offer at the forefront of their page for a full week. So, while you continue to populate your page with daily information and status updates, you can also keep timely messages "sticky" at the top, where they won't get lost. 
Ten years ago, the word Facebook was unheard of -- and now we can't imagine life without it. Concerned about the latest changes to the social media landscape? GDS social media strategists can help you make the most of Facebook's new functionality. To put Timeline to work for your business, or to inquire about monthly social media campaign plans, contact our NJ advertising team today. 

Dan Antonelli is the President and Creative Director of Graphic D-Signs, Inc, a NJ Advertising Agency specializing in small business advertising, marketing, and brand development in New Jersey and across the country.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

5 Tips for Choosing a Small Business Advertising Agency

By Dan Antonelli / President & Creative Director, NJ Advertising Agency Graphic D-Signs, Inc.

You’re a small business with a limited budget for marketing and advertising, but you need exposure. Large advertising agencies tend to work with big business and Fortune 500 companies, and their fees are often cost-prohibitive. So, how do you navigate the sea of choices when choosing how to spend your precious dollars?

The key to making strategic marketing decisions is aligning your company with an agency that specializes in small business advertising. Remember the following tips when deciding which small business advertising agency is the right one for you.

Here's a flowchart on how typical small business
ad agencies work. Click to view original images.
  1. Consider the agency’s current client base. Be sure to peruse the ad agency’s own website; it will serve as a good indication of the work they do for their clients. Any reputable ad agency should provide a list of their clients and showcase the work they have done for them. As a small business, you should select an advertising agency with clients who are similar in size and scope to yours. Ad agencies that work with small businesses and service industries take an approach that is unique to advertising on a local level. Make it your due diligence to find the best match for your goals.
  2. Inquire how the agency is structured. As a small business owner, you wear several hats in your business: CEO, marketing director, human resources manager. Your small business advertising agency partner should be able to guide you through the advertising and design process and take the place of an internal marketing department. In other words, the staff should fall somewhere between a one-man show and a five-level design committee. While it is wise to avoid a multi-layered approach, try to choose an advertising agency whose staff represents a mix of each advertising discipline: creative design, copywriting, web development and overall account management.
  3. Experience IS necessary. You are hiring an advertising agency for a job (hopefully, a long-term one) and industry credentials should support their experience. Question the staff’s competence in all media strategies and channels, both traditional and innovative. Effective agencies must keep up with today’s ever-changing landscape and technology in order to design successful strategies for their clients. Awards won by agencies are certainly important, but the specific credentials, accolades and industry recognition show expertise
  4. Does the agency support creative interaction? Yes, you are hiring an small business advertising agency for their creative and strategic expertise. But, sometimes egos can get in the way. Your opinion is invaluable in shaping your brand’s development. When interviewing ad agencies, consider the personalities there. Reinforce the importance of open communication and make sure the agency encourages client feedback.
  5. Does their work excite you? An advertising agency's portfolio is a good indication of the work you should expect to get from them. Make sure you are impressed with their body of creative work and their ability to create advertising design work which meet defined marketing goals. Viewing small business advertising case studies is one way to see a holistic approach to brand integration.

Your small business advertising agency should also be your strategic partner. It can be complex for small businesses to get a handle on their advertising plan. Not surprisingly, sometimes the only direction small businesses receive is from those who sell advertising space. Ad sales executives will likely advise small businesses to put their advertising dollars into the outlets they represent, even when it does not makes strategic sense. Select an agency that has your best interests in mind, reviewing your budget and helping you to invest your advertising dollars where they are most effective.

Selecting the right advertising agency is a critical decision for your small business. Take the time to do your homework and choose a partner that will strengthen your brand and grow your business.

Dan Antonelli is the President and Creative Director of Graphic D-Signs, Inc, a NJ Advertising Agency specializing in small business advertising, marketing, and brand development, including HVAC logo design, and HVAC web design services.