Author Archives: Jacqueline Spicer

Protecting Your Brand: The Uphill Battle Of Keeping Your Eyes On Your Fries

There are all kinds of ways to tread on someone else’s brand–knowingly or not. From ‘borrowing’ to parody to outright trademark infringement, between tight budgets and new media, it’s becoming an increasingly big problem.

One of the things that one learns very quickly in the creative and communications business is that there is relatively little in the way of innovative thinking. You hear the expression ‘that’s been done to death’ a lot, usually in the same speech as you hear the words, “Make it feel like Apple,” or Telus, or Nike or Pepsi–or that other law firm. “We want to look like (read ‘be’) them.”

When branding and communications experts hear this, we cringe. Because everybody knows that the easiest way to work your way out of a problem (as an employee with a boss or two to deal with, or a consultant with too many people making decisions) is to do exactly what you are told.

So what happens is that a lot of advertisers, designers, web people, “branders” and small business start-ups invariably end up ‘borrowing’ a look, style, idea or an approach from something famous (or competitive), twisting it around a bit and making it their own. The really desperate and unscrupulous types (and we have all known a few) will actually just lift the idea and put their client’s logo on it.

They call it homage or free commerce. But basically it’s just taking a great idea that someone else carefully thought through, invested in and sweated over–and repurposing it, because they don’t have one of their own. Or because it’s faster, easier, or cheaper to produce. But it’s also a form of stealing, albeit one that has historically been difficult to enforce, mainly because of the ‘grey area” in which transgressions like this reside. And, in point of fact, people with similar strategies to deal with will sometimes use a similar process to come up with ideas that are very much alike.

Good Parody v. Bad v. Questionable

Parody–borrowing inspiration from an existing brand or idea to make a point–is a whole other ballgame. True parody (authentically spoofing a brand, film, person or campaign) is a good thing and is often used to great effect to get into the heads of consumers. Great brands are iconic. Equally great parodies of them can help them gain customer-driven insight, awareness and market share and bring otherwise overlooked societal and cultural issues important positive attention.

Unfortunately, a lot of great and funny ideas for parodies are not so great. There are a lot of important things to take into account before posting or printing or broadcasting something based on someone else’s brand. What is a great idea is to make sure that you and the people you hire have a handle on them.

One of the most ‘ripped off’ advertising campaigns recently is the famous Dos Equis “The Most Interesting Man In The World” campaign. The style has been parodied and mimicked in dozens of different ways and for several completely different products or services. Intellectual property infringement, or homage? Tough call. https://www.youtube.com/user/dosequisbeer

To compound the problem, parody is no longer just the realm of professionals. Anyone with a (subjective) sense of humour can jump on the parody bandwagon and play it forward. Let’s face it: if we think something’s funny, we pass it on–and the Internet does what it does well. But the concept of going ‘viral’ is a double-edged sword. Bad parody, laziness, ill-intent or do companies just not care or not notice? A lot comes down to intent. When parody starts to have a negative impact on a brand, it ceases to be funny and starts to become bad for business.

Plain old infringement

There was a time when once a brand or organization name was trademarked, the owners of the trademark could feel relatively secure that their intellectual property was not going to be hijacked or otherwise used, or misused, without their permission.

But times have changed. And the very equity that these brands have worked so hard to build over the years can easily be diluted by companies and individuals who take the easy way out, and/or who (knowingly or unknowingly) abuse the brand using what’s often the anonymous veil of the Internet.

This hits close to home. We have encountered companies stomping all over our own registered trademarks, with Ink Tank® trademark challenges from businesses ranging from a local design firm (who pride themselves on their due diligence), to a worldwide manufacturer, an American cartoonist and now a new cloud-computing firm in the U.S.  They all thought Ink Tank was a great name. So it is–it’s why we’ve used it for 29 years.

This brings us to a whole other issue of due diligence when creating a name, corporate identity or concept for a product, process or organization. It also says a great deal about the sad state of affairs out in the business world where respect for brands as intellectual property seems to be eroding at an alarming pace.

Keeping the Wolves at Bay

There will always be issues with the ‘borrowers’, the lazy, the unscrupulous and the unprofessional creating challenges for your brand. And with new media they are more prevalent today than ever before. Staying on top of them is, in a lot of cases, the real uphill work. But it’s work that needs to be done if you are to maintain the integrity of your brand and not have it eroded by people would use your equity for their own gain.

So how do you protect yourself? Start early and start right. Early consultation with a great IP lawyer is a smart step. And a smart IP lawyer will advise you to hire

a firm that actually understands branding and corporate identity and the differences is a good start; one that really knows the meaning of due diligence and cares about it. One that gets that humour has boundaries. One that understands that there are distinct differences between patents, trademarks, registered trademarks and corporate registrations and the boundaries they work in. And one that can ensure your communications tools are not only building your brand, but protecting its integrity and trademark too.

Finding Good Value: Invest In People Not Processes

Like any investment in services, when you hire a strategic communications firm, the intrinsic value that will be realized has more to do with the relationship between the company you choose and your company. And this is really all about people, experience and chemistry. Certainly costs play a role here, because there are as many companies that charge very high rates as those who charge unbelievably low rates. And then, of course, there are those in between. We fall into this category – believing in value for service and measurable value for the client.

Clients who have the attitude that creative development and execution are nothing more than commodities, fall into the category of ‘price shoppers’. And while some are more enlightened in their approach than others, at the end of the day for them, it will always come down to price. And they will invariably, as was stated previously, get what they pay for.

But the clients who treat their communications services as investments in people and experience will do so on the basis of chemistry first. That’s because these clients understand that to get the very best out of their chosen suppliers, it’s important to establish a true working partnership based on mutual respect and trust, like any partnership in life.

Clients who work this way generally have a solid intuitive understanding of the creative process and why things cost what they do. They will understand:

A) That good creative people are thinking all the time and that  they are, more often than not, getting the benefit of many more  hours than those which are actually being billed.

B)  That good creative people always do their best work for clients they feel are appreciative of their efforts – regardless of  budget.

C) That like all professionals they like to see their skills and expertise achieve the best possible results. This can only happen  when there is mutual respect, teaming with the client and when everyone is able to do what they do best.

D)  That good strategic creative people are fanatical about making sure their clients’ businesses are healthy and growing .

Chemistry Vs Cost

The most important part of ‘getting what you pay for’ has to do with what your perception of what good value represents.

It also has to do with the understanding that, while technology has improved the way in which creative is developed, it has not really affected the processes of developing a good strategy and creating ideas that solidly support that strategy. These are people processes and they tend to form the basis of how we estimate costs for our work.

At The Ink Tank we pride ourselves on a number of things but highest among them is our ability to partner effectively and beneficially with our clients. Because nothing we know of has more of a positive impact on the cost issue than the success factor that great work and great relationships can generate.

Building A Web Site That Actually Builds Your Business – Starting at the Right Place.

Two of the things that most clients know the least about is the process and the costs involved with building a proper web site. The key word here is proper, because the Internet is flooded with people and companies who “make it easy to build your own web site”. Likewise a lot of companies have someone in the IT department who will tell you that building a site is a piece of cake and so they let him do it.

At the Ink Tank®, we have been collectively involved with the design, writing and implementation of hundreds of sites and can tell you three things about this process.

1. Most people start their web site project in the wrong place, i.e., a web site company.

2. Many people start their website at the wrong point in the communications process, i.e., before anything else. They hire a web company, PR or design firm to develop content and a site that may have their logo, but allows their brand to slip away undetected.

3. A surprising number of people start their website with no specific purpose in mind, i.e., no strategy. They just know they need one.

4. An inordinate number of people think they can write their own content. Most of them should not.

5. Anybody who does 1 and/or or 2 , 3 or 4 invariably ends up with a site that probably does not function correctly, is in constant need of repair or upgrading, confuses their visitors or does not communicate their message effectively.

At the end of the day, the costs involved with building, repairing, renovating, restructuring and often totally re-doing ineffective sites can add up out to be more than cost of doing it right in the first place.

Not A One Person Operation

The only place to start building a proper web site is by developing a web site strategy. Because a web site is really an online marketing program and you wouldn’t start one of those without a well thought-through strategy.

Next, an experienced creative team should plan, design, map the navigation and create the content for the site. Make sure they really understand brand, and that you do too, because content is both strategy and brand driven. In tandem with this, a decision needs to be made as to which platform would best suit the site and give the functionality it needs to be effective over time. And in today’s world the whole concept of mobile and tablet applications need to be factored in. Because, like it or not, this is where the market is headed.

Once this is all decided, the web developer is brought in. Our developers work on the basis of their ability to respect the design, content and navigation of the sites we want them to program. They are technical pros and effective developers, undiluted by design or strategic pretensions. They are not creative people, but have a great deal of respect for the fact that when strategic and creative people are writing and designing the site, their job is to focus on implementation and SEO.

Now You’ve Got A Site That Works and You Can Be Proud Of

We have oversimplified the process here. It generally goes through more stages than this, but you get the basic idea. If you go direct to a web site company, you are leaving out three very important, make-or-break parts of the process. So you might end up with a site that functions well, but is lacking in brand integrity, design quality and content persuasiveness, all of which are key elements you need in order to get people to respond to your site in the first place.

Something To Think About.

There are a number of studies that have been done in both the UK, here in Canada and in the US that point out that consumers in both B to B and B to C areas are judging businesses and actually making purchase decisions based on the quality of the company’s web site.

This is a scary thought when all you have to do is pick a search area and look at the sites you find there. A lot of otherwise sophisticated businesses are cookie cutter ‘template’ sites or really awful looking homemade sites. Relatively few are what you would call first class on every level. And be careful: even if they look good, are they doing their job?

But this is not just our opinion. It’s our experience. Of the hundreds of sites we have worked on, a good 40 to 50% of them involved restructuring sites that under-performed because the client misunderstood or didn’t go through the process just outlined.

If you’re starting a web project, thinking about revamping your existing site, or looking at your brand with a view to a more effective website, we should talk.

The True Value Of Relationships

Part of the reason we write these blogs is to give our existing clients and potential clients some insight and perhaps a bit deeper understanding into the processes which drive the way we do what we do.

Most times that has to do with the strategic & creative process. Sometimes it has to do with the administrative or trafficking processes. And at others time, like now, it has to do with a little of both.

One of the things that everyone in the communications industry has to deal with on a fairly regular basis is justifying costs to their clients. It’s generally safe to assume, at least from our experience, that most clients tend to feel they are paying too much for the services they are getting, even though the result of investing in these services is something that, more often that not, builds their business, enhances their corporate identity and provides an excellent ROI.

In like a lion and still roaring

2013 has come in like a lion! We’re talking to new clients and revamping our website. We’re continuing with a series of advertising and e-marketing campaigns for our clients, developing new collateral materials and busy working on a major event! Watch for news on that in April.

We’re also really excited to carry our clients’ branding efforts from last year into their corporate interiors for even greater impact and recognition! Keep an eye out for before and after photos of the new spaces and a look at our new “UP THE WALL™” custom wall murals in action.

We closed out 2012 with a flurry of activity! We created a new marketing direction, multiple sub-brands, annual report, a complete range of collateral materials and BIG Ideas for ORION, the world’s largest research and education network; created new branding, collateral and ad campaigns for the insurance industry; created great new materials for Junior Achievement and launched a revolutionary new international finance product. We spoke as branding experts and wrote articles for a new online newspaper. And, of course, we continued to support all of our clients with their creative, marketing and communication needs.

To celebrate our 27 years in business, we’re sharing 25 things we’ve learned to help you successfully create and market yours

Since 1984, 26 years and counting, !nk Tank has developed logos, built brands, launched new products and services, packaged, promoted, publicized and marketed in a multitude of media and across almost every industry sector. Along the way, we like to think that we’ve acquired some valuable knowledge along with our experience. Here are 25 things we’ve learned.

  1. Great looking creative is only great if it sells. Strategy counts.
  2. Everything has a brand, and people will form opinions about you and your business regardless of effort on your part. Effective branding is critical to your brand achieving its potential.
  3. Do your research. Know where your brand sits and decide your brand position. It will have a greater impact on the success of your efforts than anything else.
  4. Lead, don’t follow. It’s hard to stand out when you look like the rest of the pack.
  5. Just because it’s always been done that way, doesn’t mean it’s the best way. Think outside the box.
  6. If someone sees it, or reads it, it impacts your brand. Every ad, mailer, email, corporate or sales tool – in fact, anything that reaches out or invites in – should contribute to your brand image.
  7. Consistency is not the same as sameness. Massage your message for your audience.
  8. Build your brand inside and out. Everyone is a potential ambassador.
  9. Interact. Entice your audience, don’t bore them. Inbound or outbound, inside or out, most importantly, invite them to get involved.
  10. Offer clear benefits and back them up. Promise nothing and gain nothing. But no empty promises please.
  11. Mixed messages deliver mixed results. Pick one objective, benefit or message and drive it home. Same goes for colours and fonts – clutter creates confusion.
  12. A great strategy will live or die by its execution. Quality and creativity count.
  13. The better you look, the better they feel. If your image, marketing or communication tools are poor quality, poorly designed, dated or lackluster, that image will reflect back on your product, service and business.
  14. Go big and go simple. Your audience is inundated. They need to be knocked off their feet, take notice and take action.
  15. Do it well. Well-written, well-designed, well-placed and well-considered tools, consistently built, to find their mark.
  16. Testimonials are one of your greatest sales tools. Cultivate and appreciate them.
  17. Say it up front. The headline and visual are the sell. The rest is gravy.
  18. Marketing doesn’t work in a vacuum. Manage your mix.
  19. News is only news when it happens. It’s easier to grab attention ‘in the moment’. Seize the opportunity!
  20. Flash is too flashy for most businesses.
  21. Words to Web by. Populating your website is an art. The right words, in the right place, will make the difference between landing and losing interest. Keep it simple up front with easy access to more – if they want it.
  22. Incoming! Inbound marketing is just as important as outbound. And cheaper!
  23. Outward bound! Great creativity, copy and design make the difference between compelling and invisible.
  24. Word count counts. And it differs for different purposes.
  25. Less is usually more, but sometimes, “the more you tell, the more you sell.”

Is this all we know?

Of course not. Over the past 26 years, we’ve learned a lot more along the way and used it to help scores of clients succeed. Let us put our knowledge to work for your business.

Call us. It’s how great conversations begin.

‘Ink Tanks’ Coming Out of the Woodwork (Trademark Infringement, And How it’s Bad for Business)

We want to start, proudly but firmly, by setting the record straight (hey, Canon, are you listening): !nk Tank and The Ink Tank are registered trademarks of The Ink Tank Inc. We’ve been in business with this name since 1984. So why start a blog post like this? Trademark infringement is rampant, and it’s important for you to take a stand, especially if you’ve discovered what we have … that other businesses, who come along later, simply decide to use a name and a brand that you create—regardless of how long established, or obvious—that fact is.

Whatever happened to due diligence, or things like imagination or creativity? How do businesses that profess to be professional in their communications manage to overlook this in their so-called research and simply start using the name?

Our story could become your story; and you don’t want that to happen.

Recently, we had to take legal action against a Toronto-based design and communications firm. Amazing–this company is not only in our own city; it’s on the same main thoroughfare, albeit more west than east. The folks there “thought it was a great name” to use for their blog. Indeed it is. It’s a name we’ve built our business on for 26 years. Now we’re considering whether to expend the resources, and money, to call out both Canon (yes, ‘the’ Canon), and an illustrator—both U.S.-based—who are capitalizing on our name.

The most basic courtesies and business practices go down the tubes when people either don’t do any homework, don’t do enough homework, or worse; decide after doing their homework that they’ll use (is this the same as theft?) someone else’s hard earned brand and name.

Should we be so vocal, or so picky? In a word: yes. And so should you. Think of the original ideas, sweat equity, money, and hard work required not just to come up with a great business name, but to build that name and brand over the years. That is, after all, what branding is all about.

We’d love to hear your comments on this issue, and will respond to them in the same public forum and spirit in which we wrote this, our first official !nk tank blog post.

One very busy year…

!nk tank’s® eblasts continue to generate leads for Accord Financial
Spreading the news on AWSA’s agricultural warehousing standards
!nk tank® signage and sales tools are helping facilitators change the way employees view change management
French and more french – Annual reports, newsletters, e-marketing, advertising and communication tools