Before you hand out your first business card, before you set up the most bare-bones website, and before you minimally introduce a new venture to the market, you need to have a logo.
A graphic has the power to make a quick and indelible impression, and a good logo can give a start-up an early advantage. Just ask Nike. Just ask Apple. The same is true in reverse. A poorly conceived and poorly executed logo suggests to anyone who sees it that the company just isn’t ready for prime time.
So it was pretty early on when we realized that we needed a logo. As an early-stage start-up, we at Summit Data Communications wanted to look like a professional, confident and dependable company, not a handful of rattled guys taking the biggest risk of their careers. Yet while we knew enough to know that getting our first logo right was a big deal, we still managed to fail at it spectacularly. Here’s how it happened.
We got the first part of the process right: get a good designer. Through one of our partners, we engaged a designer with a good reputation and a portfolio of previous quality work. We then shared with him the collective and unfiltered thoughts of the seven of us, including our favorite colors, shapes and typefaces. Although not one of us had any design experience or training, we provided detailed feedback through multiple iterations. The result was our company’s first logo, which came to be known as “the river of blood,” is reproduced here for the first and last time. In the end, the designer in question refused any compensation for the logo, asking only that we never, ever associate his name and good reputation with it. This was entirely fair because the problem wasn’t him — it was us. We wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
We knew we had a serious problem and we set out to solve it. Conveniently enough, another partner knew another designer, one untainted by a previous relationship with us. He initially agreed to help us out in a few weeks. When he saw the logo, he realized that our young company was a critical case and our image was in imminent danger of irreparable damage. “I’m on it stat!” he said. Just two days later, we had a new logo, pictured here for comparison. This time, only two of the partners knew the project was going on, and the result was delivered not for comment but as a fait accompli.
Our company got far more from this process than just a respectable logo. I also gained a few valuable management lessons:
- It’s not enough to hire the right people. You have to let the right people do their jobs. If you hire a pilot or a brain surgeon, you tend to afford them a fair bit of autonomy. The same should be true for engineers, writers, and yes, designers.
- We all know that too many cooks spoil the broth and that the camel is a horse designed by committee. Still, it’s easy to forget this, particularly when you are on a new team and you are building confidence and relationships. Feedback is great, but acting on every opinion isn’t.
- Lastly, everyone makes mistakes. The difference is what you do in the aftermath. Successful organizations identify errors early, correct them quickly and learn as much as they can from them. You’re going to fail sometimes, so the key is to fail fast.
Ron Seide is the president of Summit Data Communications Inc., a wireless technology company headquartered in downtown Akron. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sue Horn and her brothers Michael and David Held knew for some time that their company’s logo had an old-fashioned look to it. But updating the logo for Old Trail Printing Co. brought up the question: If you design the logo, why not go for a total rebranding strategy, as well?
Founded in 1928 in Columbus when Main Street was also known as the Old Trail, the company was purchased by Horn’s father Bernie Held in 1964. He designed the logo to include a stagecoach as a symbol of the company’s early beginnings.
Old Trail Printing had become a $25 million commercial printer, and it was time to enter the 21st Century with a new look and new strategies.
Horn, co-owner and principal, and her brothers started the rebranding project with the familiar business planning method of a SWOT analysis: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
“One of our weaknesses was not enough exposure with our logo and our brand,” she says. “The logo was definitely a weakness, and we wanted people to see that we are a more forward-looking company than we were back in 1928.”
Horn felt it was important to take a fresh approach to how the company was being marketed to current and prospective customers. The company hired an experienced marketing director as an effective way to ensure the campaign got a good start.
“The first thing that our marketing director did when he came on board was to put together the strategy we were going to have to move forward, and part of that strategy was changing our logo,” Horn says.
While the 92-employee company was approached by customers who offered to redesign the logo, the marketing team that was assembled to shepherd the project chose to use internal talent to develop a modern logo better reflecting what printers do.
“We were fortunate to have some people in-house that were very creative,” Horn says. “But I don’t think every company in America has that talent in-house. That’s where they would want to reach out to an agency that specializes in branding.”
While doing the SWOT analysis, Horn incorporated the company’s strengths into the campaign. For example, in addition to promoting the company’s services, she promoted the fact that Old Trail Printing had the latest technology, used green manufacturing processes and was the largest woman-owned commercial printer in the Midwest.
Another aspect Horn felt was important to advance was the company’s commitment to continuous improvement.
“In today’s business environment, being successful is to be constantly looking for ways to be more efficient,” Horn says. “Sometimes it can be difficult to create an atmosphere to encourage employees to think outside the box, but through leadership, you’ve got to encourage them to find how they can do their job the most efficient way and to be continually thinking about that.”
Old Trail’s website got a facelift and an added bonus — a social network link with Twitter. The company hired an individual familiar with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to help it move forward. The new animated logo is prominently featured on the website home page and adorns promotional materials that help generate enthusiasm about the company.
“Make this an exciting time at your company,” Horn says. “Show your solid base of customers that you are committed to bringing more value to them.
“Listen carefully to what they are telling your and respond with a solution that exceeds their expectations.
“Exhibit your company at events like business expos as one more component of your marketing strategy,” Horn says. “You have a great story to tell while meeting new businesses and having a conversation about how you can contribute to their own success.”
How to reach: Old Trail Printing Co., (614) 433-4852 or www.oldtrailprinting.com
Networking for business
While a company’s new marketing initiatives often focus on ways account executives can generate more sales, the plans shouldn’t leave out the contributions other employees may be able to make.
“My line of thinking has always been that everyone in a company is a sales representative to a certain degree,” says Sue Horn, co-owner and principal of Old Trail Printing Co.
The company recently went through a rebranding effort that featured the first new logo in 47 years and new marketing efforts focused on creating brand awareness and generating solid leads for its sales team.
One initiative to involve more employees in the sales process is through an employee referral program for new business.
Basically, it involves a networking approach. Employees may have friends, relatives and other contacts who may be potential customers. They can use their connections to create a win-win situation for themselves and the company.
“If they bring us a new account opportunity and if we land that account, we actually pay the employee part of the salesman’s commission for the first year,” Horn says. “We’ve had employees step up and bring us some opportunities, which has been pretty exciting.”
Employees can also contribute to sales efforts in an indirect manner.
“Everybody’s a sales representative, and everybody needs to have a positive attitude because when customers visit and prospects tour the facility, they can tell whether you have a happy work force or not,” Horn says.
It is often said that you only get one chance to make a first impression, and if a potential customer sees contented workers, if often leave a favorable memory and creates a better chance to make a sale.
“We’ve had a number of people visit and comment about our plant, and I think it goes back to the pride that the employees have in this company,” Horn says.
How to reach: Old Trail Printing Co., (614) 433-4852 or www.oldtrailprinting.com