Tag Archives: communications

The True Value of Relationships

Young Women Travel Together Concept


My parents always taught me to value my relationships, to treat others as I would like to be treated, and to never burn my bridges – that great big world is actually pretty small when you get working in it for awhile.

I’ve been blessed by the results of that sound advice with close bonds with my kids and parents, incredible friendships and truly great clients – some of whom have remained with Ink Tank for more than 25 years – and many who, over a short or long time, have become friends as well. My parents’ advice is both a lesson for life and a lesson for business. It applies to both the clients and suppliers I choose to work with, and also to the advice I give my clients to help them think differently about their businesses and understand how to authentically present their brands.

In our approaches to our friends and family we are (hopefully) transparent, genuine and have their best interests at heart. Our good intentions and integrity are obvious, and they respond in kind. It seems to me to be simple logic that we treat our clients and staff in the same way to achieve similar outcomes.

Yet sadly it’s often not the case. We’re approached by clients because they’re feeling ‘stuck’. They may be losing market share, not growing as they think they should, or not getting the responses they expect. They blame it on the market, on the digital age, on rising competition, on fickle customers, on staff not doing their jobs, or on design that’s bad, ineffective or not ‘creative’ enough. As a result, they might wish to throw their entire ‘brand’ out the window and start over. Many designers, marketers and so-called branding experts will jump all over this as an opportunity for large billings and a chance to put their own stamp on the client. It’s usually a bad idea – more focused on the supplier’s than the client’s best interests.

All of this tells me that they don’t really understand what branding is to begin with. They don’t understand their own brand and certainly don’t understand the relationship their brand has with the marketplace. They’ve thrown the basic tenets of a good relationship out the window – not necessarily deliberately – but by trying to be someone they’re not, talking versus listening, and often in the wrong relationships to begin with.

Everyone wants to feel valued. They want to know that you care about what they care about, and care about them – genuinely. That communication is a two-way street. That you’re confident in who you are and don’t try to be something you’re not. That you listen as well as talk. No one wants to be around people (or businesses) that are all about themselves or that do things to appear caring, but in fact are not. They want the real deal.

While this seems simple, many companies are too close to what they do to see it and themselves clearly. For well-established firms, they’re often stuck in old ways of seeing themselves. In the case of start-ups, they may be carried away by their great idea, or be too money-conscious to get the proper help. In both cases they tend to completely misunderstand what branding is. They underestimate the need for, time involved and cost of researching, defining and positioning their company, product or service, building their brand and creating the right communications strategy. Same goes for developing the name and corporate identity that has available domains, avoids language faux pas and is unique enough to meet the requirements of a trademark. And finally, to effectively target their marketing so they can attract the right relationships in the first place, then sell them and maintain them in the second.

There’s an old adage that often comes up in some form or another: “If you build it, they will come.” The fact is, the notion is only true in this competitive, highly communicative economy if that truly applies to your relationships, not just to what you’re selling.

Ink Tank® is a full service boutique agency located in Toronto. We offer a wide range of business building communication services from strategy to concept to execution to production to evaluation, senior level only participation and highly competitive rates. We work in all on and off line media, and pride ourselves on being able to hit the ground running, and getting it right the first time.

Digital Marketers: Redefining Branding for Themselves

It seems that ever since digital marketing became a force in the universe, marketers who work in that realm have worked hard at redefining branding to suit their vested interests.

Many of these marketers have little experience in traditional branding and are reflective (in my opinion) of a pendulum swung disproportionately in one direction. A plethora of ‘online marketing experts’ are trying (and succeeding) in convincing businesses to invest significant time, money and intellectual capital in a broad capture that sweeps up just about anyone passing through, then justify the cost with their ‘engagement’ numbers.

The true meaning and power of branding has been lost in the chase. And, unless your content is developed by a someone who truly understands your brand, your brand and marketing strategies, and who can also write well, engage and resonate with your specific audiences (and know the differences), and understand which combination of communication tools are right for you business and how to effectively use them, you could very well waste your money, dilute your hard-earned efforts, and end up with a ‘hollow’ brand – one with little substance to support it – or a brand that does not reflect your business.

There’s obviously a place for engagement and content-based marketing – it’s a necessary part of the marketing mix. But it’s just that – a part – one of many tools in the communications toolbox, each with a specific job and a supporting role. (It goes along with the misguided thinking that a logo, a website and a brochure is branding versus an identity and communication tools – but that’s for another conversation). Placing the bulk of your marketing budget in a single ill-defined tool is not going to build and sustain your brand.

And it’s frequently not the most effective tool. Content writers are the puppy mills of the marketing world. They often know little about brand strategy, differentiation, or the competitive sphere of the client. In trying to maximize engagement with a broad reach, businesses are often not actually engaging in an authentic and sustainable way directly with either the audiences who purchase or influence the purchase of their products and services. The fact is, their results are not what they’re made out to be and the lead-time to achieve any ROI of value is long, arduous and hard to gain back.

Sales, marketing and branding are intrinsically entwined. Too often, however, businesses make the mistake of confusing the flow. Many companies, particularly B2B, get caught up in sales driving marketing, or confusing the two, and brand is misunderstood and thus overlooked. Many of them feel that sales got them where they are and so, “Why change?” Others, particularly start-ups and growing businesses opt to have marketing drive their brand. Such is the case with digital content. Brand needs to drive marketing, which in turn will drive sales. And ensuring that your brand isn’t lost in all of that requires ongoing central management. Without it, designers, content people, web developers, PR folks and everyone else – none of whom really understand brand – put their own stamp and spin on what they’re doing, or regurgitate the same information, and you’re left wondering how you could have invested so much for so little.

Branding is tricky business. It requires experience and expertise to define, build and manage. It needs substance and focus, and more than just a single communications tool. And the bottom line is that branding is all about your interests and those you care about. Redefining it to suit a business model only helps many digital marketers to help themselves.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

one new shoe and one worn out shoe

One day, not long ago, I was having coffee with a friend. He is an account manager of sorts and deals with a lot of larger companies, many of whom are serviced by big ad agencies, design and marketing firms. He had worked at pretty much every level of the marketing, advertising and production business and had accumulated a wide variety of skills and insight.

We talked about a lot of things, as we usually do, and at a certain point the conversation got around to the differences between large agencies and small agencies in today’s business world. His observations had pretty much convinced him that the future of marketing, with the exception of companines in the top 10% in terms of size, reach and value as a client, was trending towards smaller ’boutique’ style firms.

Having all come from the big agency business ourselves once upon a time, I was really quite interested in what he had to say. And how, of course, that would affect things here at Ink Tank.

Life in the Twenty-First Century – Marketing Wise

His opinion is that large agencies and creative firms will continue to exist and the best ones will thrive, however with the global business landscape becoming increasingly more entrepreneurial, the prospects for those large agencies with hefty fees, heavy skews toward strategic development, slow turnaround times and large markups for outsourced services will, or in fact, have already narrowed considerably. Conversely, the opportunities for small, affordable, nimble and highly experienced smaller firms will broaden significantly.

The simple reason for this, according to my friend, is all about value. An entrepreneurial client values his or her relationships to a much greater extent than a big corporation does. They like the accountability and transparency that relationships with smaller firms engender. And they know that smaller firms, especially those who have been around for awhile, tend to be made up of individuals with a) much higher levels of experience, b) the ability to strategize, conceptualize and execute in a much more fluid fasion, c) a proven outsource supplier base with the same kind of DNA as they have, and d) the willingness to embrace client opinions much more openly, as opposed to the ‘us v. them’ mentality that still exists in many large creative and marketing firms.

The conversation with my friend resonated with what I’ve felt was true for quite some time. The world is a much different place than it was even a decade ago. The Internet has created a mixed bag of new media, some of which have yet to be fully proven and not all of which are right for all businesses. It has also created a number of new challenges for clients and business planners alike, all revolving around basic strategic and creative issues.

Many large agencies, studios and marketing firms today are filled to the brim with people who have grown up with a distinct bias towards digital media – a natural tendency as digital has been the bulk of their life and business experience. And like all biases, they tend to see only their own value and ignore or de-value other ways of doing things. Sadly, these big firm creative and marketing people are disadvantaged to a great extent because they have had very little in the way of mentoring: the people who could have mentored them, by and large, didn’t stay around to do that. They went off with their knowledge and experience and grew along with the digital age.

Old School and New School

This is pretty much our story here at Ink Tank. We all held senior positions in the advertising and design business. But instead of hanging around and passing ourselves off as gurus of one kind or another, we decided to keep working – our way – and adding new skills and experience. Because that was where the joy for us is derived.

Having worked in the communications business both pre and post-digital age has equipped us with a level of insight into both how these things have changed and how they’ve stayed the same. And at the end of the day, the strategic insight and experience, the creative development process and the need for high calibre execution remain constant.

What’s changed are really only the tools. And of course, our own levels of knowledge, experience and expertise, which are constantly deepening and expanding.

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.