What Qualities Make for Effective Logos?


In this business, you see a little bit of everything. Not long ago we had a customer walk through our doors, wanting a new logo for his business. He brought us a photo of himself, at a zoo, holding a monkey. Bizarre? Just a little.

He had been granted a VIP pass for a tour of the zoo’s monkey house, in which he was given the honorable privilege of holding this sacred monkey.

“Please crop me out of this photo and use the monkey for my logo,” he said.

Now mind you, this was for an accounting firm. Apparently, his experience at the zoo had made quite an impression on him and he had gotten it into his head that this photo would somehow help him sell his accounting services. But this is an ineffective approach to logo design.

A good logo isn’t just about an image or color you like. It makes a statement about your business. So you can make a positive statement and build a great brand or you can communicate something terrible about yourself. No one wants to think about their accounting firm “monkeying” around with their finances. So keep these things in mind when designing a logo:

  1. Keep it simple. Consider the way Nike swoosh works for selling athletic products.
  1. Your logo is a reflection of your business. Don’t choose colors just because they are your favorite. For instance, if you want to present your business as a traditional, trustworthy corporate partner, then using neon colors isn’t going to be very effective, but there are a variety of more traditional hues that can convey that image effectively.
  1. Your logo doesn’t have to be literal. A burger joint may use an image of a hamburger in their logo, but it doesn’t distinguish them from other burger joints. When you see a picture of a hamburger you might think of several burger joints, but when you see an image of the “golden arches” you only think of McDonald’s.
  1. Logos should be versatile. Test the logo out on a variety of media: bus sides, letterhead, coffee mugs, business cards, etc. An effective logo will translate well across a variety of media.
  1. So maybe your business doesn’t have an image like the Nike swoosh or the golden arches. Maybe you have something a little more detailed in mind. When using a complex image, there has to be a central element that is easily recognizable even at a glance. Otherwise, the image won’t stick in the consumer’s memory.

A good logo can help you sell good products. It’s often the first impression your audience has of your business so make it a good one!

A Cost Efficient Way to Quickly Grow your Business

One of the strongest tools for marketing, dollar per dollar, are thank you cards. I harp about them way too much in meetings with clients but they really work.

Outside of higher profits and more sales, the world would just be a better place if we focused on sitting down once a week to write a few note cards to people that we connected with that week.

Remember, you might want to avoid the “ransom note” format. It can really give people the creeps. Especially when hand delivered to their residence after dark.

Here are a few tips.

  1. Hand write the envelope.
  2. Don’t use black ink on the envelope or on signatures.
  3. Hand write the message.

When to send:

  1. Thanks.
  2. Congratulations!
  3. Birthdays.
  4. When someone’s not feeling well.
  5. When you had a great conversation with someone.

How many emails have you received in the past month? Which ones were special?

One the other hand, how many hand written notes have you received in the past month? Which ones of those were special?

The 3 Questions that Could Make or Break your Marketing Plan


The Story:

I am in marketing and brand-building meetings every day. And when applicable, we engage in brainstorming sessions that sometimes take hours. At some point during that meeting I will pose these three questions.

  1. Who are you?
    This one is super easy. Most people think of how many employees they have, how many years they have been in business or how long they have been doing it.
  2. What do you do?
    This gets a little trickier. Some companies tell us the products or services that they provide. Oh yea, that “profit deal” fits in here too.
  3. Why do you do it?
    This is the one where the room goes quiet and we slam the brakes on meeting progress. It can’t be the “profit deal”. We already used that on #2. The answer here is the big one.

In my case, Todd Duff, here are my answers:

  1. Who are you?
    Entrepreneur, inventor, marketer and magician that leads a talented team of… ok it’s all right here. Let’s move on to the harder ones.
  2. What do you do?
    We grow other businesses with creative means. With that creativity being graphic design, marketing or problem solving. The result is growth of our business therefore growing all of our careers, ultimately adding to our quality of life.
  3. Why do you do it?
    The freedom to simply buy a business license and implement one’s ideas has made the United States the best place to live in the history of man. Small business accounts for over ½ of all employment and even more of new employment. These freedoms add to our entire team’s quality of life. It’s a blessing to be a small part of this whole.

The Take Away:

  • Why do you do it?
  • What makes your feet hit the floor in the morning?
  • Whose life do you get to change when you go to work?

Drive or Get Out of the Car

The Story:

Our Innovations Branding House conference room needed an upgrade. We needed an interactive way to show clients our ideas for their branding.

Plasma TV’s are cheap. Not cheap as in they break easy, but cheap as in you can afford to buy them and just start hanging them around the office to show off work, run presentations and display video the way it was meant to be–HD style.

So when we upgraded the presentation monitor in the conference room we bought a 46” plasma TV for exactly that.

I rarely order electronics online. I am used to going over to the “used to be Circuit City” but now Best Buy at the mall, and receiving instant gratification. Within 30 minutes my very own Innovations Branding House conference room could be illuminated with the alluring, electric, 1080p glow of my newest…PowerPoint.

At the time, my everyday driver was a restored 1980 Stingray Corvette–pure muscle car. Apparently, some men have a medical condition called “Low–T”. That means that their testosterone is low and they get tired and don’t want to lift heavy things or something. Either way, the cure could very well be a daily dose of 260 horse power of torque to the office and back. The only drawback to such an eco-friendly transport is the storage space. The only items typically picked up on the way home from the grocery would be something like a lemon or a lime. Not both though. There’s just not enough room.

My vision of illuminated PowerPoint delight must have clouded my memory of what I was driving.

Fifteen minutes later, two guys from Best Buy wheeled out my purchase. Upon arriving car-side they just paused and laughed. “Chris” we will call him, was convinced that the box would not fit into the car and that I would have to come back. My disappointment was due to his lack of effort. He didn’t even try. The box just sat there on the cart. I soon demonstrated how illumination of my conference room would not be a fading vision.

The amount of pointing, honking and carrying on that resulted in the drive home was worth the purchase price.

The Take Away:

Jump right in and don’t overthink it. It doesn’t mean don’t plan. However, at times I see clients over think a decision, often referred to as analysis paralysis. As a creative group, we welcome creative feedback and critique. But it’s easy to get wrapped up in focusing on the things that don’t matter. You’re probably safe if you can afford to lose so it’s really about calculated risk.

What’s the worst case scenario if this idea fails? Sometimes trying something different can mean a chance of failure, but at what cost? For our team at Innovations Branding House, it can mean:

The Innovation: Try a website that’s so different that the client might not like it.
Worst Case: Client does not approve. Rebuild the website for free.

The Innovation: Buy a broken espresso machine and repair it for the office.
Worst Case: Can’t figure out how to repair. Now proud owner of expensive scrap metal.

The Innovation: Start your own business.
Worst Case: Fail and go get a job.

The Innovation: Keep pushing the plasma TV into the car 50 different ways, until it wants to ride home.
Worst Case:  Won’t fit, come back later. Falls out on ride home. TV ends up in the grass or in a ditch. Forget about it and pretend you spent the day at the beach.

On some of my worst days I try and ask myself this simple question. Will this have any impact on me or my clients in three years?

How to Not Die Going to Lunch


The Story:

It’s a weekly occurrence that the Innovations team heads out on Friday afternoon for a group lunch where we reflect on the week that was and begin thinking about winding down for the weekend ahead. It is a nice break from our hard work and gives us a great opportunity to fraternize, which is something we don’t get many chances to do otherwise.

Sounds pretty good, right? Well 98 percent of the time, it is. But there was one day where we should’ve exercised better judgment and I know there was not a soul at that table that would disagree.

Some of us had been keeping an eye on Beau Dodson’s radar (www.weatherobservatory.com – a fantastic resource for all of your atmospheric inquiries) since we have kids in schools and daycares and the local weather-folk had been pretty fervent in warning us to keep an eye (and ear) out for what the day could produce.

Despite the ominous clouds, colorful radars and quiet nay-saying, we agreed to keep our weekly tradition and head to Tribeca. Even worse, half of the group opted to walk since it wasn’t raining and “didn’t look bad” according to one or more parties.

The combination of the later-than-usual lunch and the general public’s common sense made for a quiet restaurant. The banter was minimal as we all slowly grew more transfixed with the radar on their TV screen while taking bites at a seemingly increased pace. Finally, we all finished and paid and began to consider our exit plan.

By now, the intense reds and purples of the radar had inched right to our locale. The wind was now whipping and large raindrops splattered on the road.  Of course, no one was walking back in that mess.  The only driver already ran out to grab his compact car to collect whoever was interested in piling in.  Ignoring the Tribeca staff’s suggestion to wait it out with food and beverage, we piled into the compact like Vienna Sausages in a Matchbox Car.

It was a very uncomfortable half mile that couldn’t have been more cinematic if we had scripted it out ourselves.  We had five minutes of panic (obvious), frustration (every red light), terror (winds strong enough to rock a fully packed clown car) and of course, drama (fighting with the wind to pull the office door closed while being pelted with nickel-sized hail) before cramming into an interior room and stinking it up like a wet dog within seconds.

We grew a little closer that day…

The Take Away:

We may not need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but sometimes we do need one to tell us when not to go outside.  The storm we experienced was not the worst of what the region saw that day, which was quite serious and could’ve ended up badly for us. Needless to say, we now keep a much closer watch on the Weather Observatory website and heed those warnings as they come. We strongly recommend that you do the same!

Finding Ways to Provide Value in Everyday Situations


The Story:

If you know anything at all about Innovations Branding House, you know that we are serious about coffee.  So serious, in fact, that we have our own in house coffee shop.

It is actually the first order of business for anyone starting new here that they go through barista training before addressing any other job responsibilities (Ok, not really, but it might as well be. It’s that important).  Before we get our noses to the grindstone, we fill our noses with the aroma of ground beans.  In fact, I’m sure that we can all agree that the sound of the coffee grinder is tucked away in the white noise sections of our brains just like the tip-tap sounds of keyboard typing and the millions of mouse clicks that occur daily.

Why do we go to so much trouble for one simple cup of coffee?  Well, we believe if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it right (as someone grinds a fresh cup as I type). Not to say it’s wrong to dip your scoops from your Folger’s tub into your old drip machine (I don’t know anyone who has an industrial espresso maker in their kitchen), but there is a difference in the quality of your product. A simple taste test by even the most novice of java junkie’s would immediately notice the difference between an “Americano” and your average “Diner Swill.”

Why does any of this matter?  Well the same principles apply to your business. For the same reason we don’t simply offer you hot plates, Styrofoam and swizzle sticks, we don’t offer you cookie cut designs or ideas. We take your order and prepare it fresh. No day-old bread or 24 hour blend, it’s made to order. We wouldn’t feel right about doing it any other way.

The Take Away:

Why does this matter to me, you ask?  Well it comes down to value. There’s a reason that the gas station burner brew is $.75 compared to the $3.55 Venti Café Mocha you order at Starbucks. With the extra time put in to make your drink from fresh ground beans and properly prepared ingredients, you drastically increase the value of your product.

And the results tend to speak for themselves. There’s a reason why the line is always long and the doors are always open.  If your product is a really good quality product, people won’t mind paying the extra price for the better option. It works with cars. It works with clothes and shoes. It works with wine and food. And it most certainly works in web design, logo design, photography, videography and, of course, marketing.

How to Take Better Photos with your iPhone Using HDR

The iPhone 5 is out now. If you’re like me and decided not to stand in line to get yours, there are still some cool things you can do with your iPhone 4. One of my favorite is the HDR option within the camera app.

What it does: It takes 3 pictures. One is over exposed, one under exposed, and another one in between. Then it finds the best detail in all the images and using more computing power than grandpa could have ever imagined, it makes one detailed picture.

To turn HDR on: Open the camera and hit the options button at the top of the screen. Options will open the switch that turns it on. While turned on the camera will save 2 images every time a picture is taken. 1 is with HDR and one is without. It’s pretty easy to run through the camera and delete the one you don’t want. Especially considering that these devices have replaced most point and shoot cameras. These are the photos that we will be looking at years later so I don’t mind choosing which pic came out best.

When to use HDR: When you want to capture detail. The image will be a little flatter, but the detail that overexposure kills will shine through. HDR takes pictures the way our eyes actually see things.

In this photo my cat decided to moon me and laugh about it.

This is a great example for using HDR. We can really zoom in and see her laughing at her own level of disrespect. Happy picture taking!


Businesses are Essentially Problem Solvers for their Clients


The Story:

A client that we are building a marketing campaign for sends an email to me and my director that says:


Please call me right away. The entire rebranding is way off track and every printed piece is different than what I had in mind!

Sorry for the bad news-
The Client
This kind of email kicks up the adrenaline, a little fight or flight. After 2 or 3 re-reads I start to wonder where things went so wrong. I thought we were doing great. How could I be so clueless to their feelings?

During the dreaded 7 digit dial, I quickly brainstormed what could have caused the meltdown. I had absolutely no clue.

It can’t be lack of their expectations. They had approved everything that we printed!

Did we hit their previous deadlines? They sent us emails complimenting us on our timeliness.

Were they happy with the artwork? They were telling others how great everything looked.

I covered all potential issues with the client and after a 20 minute conversation, it all came down to one problem.

Wrong paper.

That’s right. We printed on the wrong paper. Not on thin cheap paper when it was supposed to be thick expensive paper, but the wrong white. The client asked for ivory snow white paper and we printed on tusk snow white paper.

Now granted, the mistake seems small and the client’s email seems extreme. But that’s missing the point.

In the clients mind, all the printed pieces were “different than expected.” If they feel like they can’t use their new stationary then everything is “way off track.” I was just relieved it was an easy fix.

The Take Away:

If we own or work in a business, we are problem solvers. We might perform like artists, engineers, bricklayers, etc. But ultimately, if we consistently try to find our clients problems and solve them, everyone will succeed more. Often times the client won’t even be able to vocalize the true problem and it’s our job to drill down, figure it out, and then solve it.

  • No one wants a gallon of paint; they want a colorful room that feels good.
  • No one wants a motorcycle; they want memories of cool October air on a Saturday afternoon.
  • No one wants boards from the lumber store; they want to grill-out on the deck.
  • No one wants “ivory” white, they want a vision fulfilled.


The Magic Guy


The Story:

Most nerds have their systems and magicians are no exception. When I was 6 years old my parents bought me a magic kit for Christmas. Most kids throw their magic kits out when they grow up. Luckily, I have that genetic quirk that allowed me to keep mine through adulthood as I continued to practice and attempt to move toward proficiency.

As my wife, Laura Duff, will tell you, our procedure for leaving the house is atypical. When most couples leave for a night on the town the guy waits around, keys in hand, as the lady gets all dolled up and slathers on a round of foo-foo juice. Not at our house. Laura waits for me as I load my pockets.

When performing, I quickly learned that to prevent a two minute session of what appeared to be self-groping, I needed the ability to quickly find my playing cards, silver dollars, sharpie pen, etc. The only way to do this was to sit down and draw a plan for where everything goes. The beauty of this system is that I can now pay close attention to the psychology of the spectators, watch where eyes glance and enjoy connecting with others.

The Take Away:

Marketing is no different in that it needs to have a plan. Our clients have a much better ROI when they sit with us and nail out a plan for their marketing material. I see many businesses take a grab bag approach to spending their marketing dollar. The down side to this approach leads to a less consistent look and feel of the material, an out of control budget and a loss of the owners’ valuable time.