Who Needs Professionals in a Do-it-Yourself World?

by | Jan 17, 2014

Look out! Jami’s on her soapbox again! We’d love to hear your thoughts on this piece by Imaj president, Jami Ouellette, which was published in Volume 3, Issue 2 of Rhode Island Small Business Journal.

Ugh. How many articles have you read that start with the word, “ugh”? I honestly could not think of a better way to start this one. It’s the first thought that comes to my mind when faced with the “why do I need a professional when I can do it myself?” question. Anyone who knows me can envision “ugh” blurting out of my mouth before I gain the composure to censor my response.
We’ve all heard the analogies. Just because you can swing a hammer, doesn’t mean you can build a house. Just because you own a scalpel doesn’t mean you should perform brain surgery. …duh. You get the idea.

YET, I find myself answering the question often. In branding and marketing communications, scalpel wielders conducting brain surgery are rampant. Perhaps we are easy targets because much of what we do does not result in tangible, shiny things and mistakes are much less apparent than, say, the mahogany porch with a discernable slant because it wasn’t framed properly.

Let’s start with the one that makes the hair on my neck stand on end.

“I can write my own copy”After close to three decades in this business, and more than enough grey to show for it, I can tell you that effective writing is a rare talent. Furthermore, effective marketing communications writing is even more rare. The communications writer must not only know how to tell the story, but must also know how to write for the given medium, and how to reflect the brand’s voice for different audiences within their level of understanding and realm of experience – all while selling a concept, brand, service and/or product.

As for grammar and typos, research shows that poor grammar can have lasting negative impact on your audiences and simple typos can put “you’re” credibility at stake. Take that one to the bank when it comes to social networking too.

“I own the Adobe suite so I can design it myself.”

OK, my ears bleed when I hear that. Graphic design is indeed a field that requires extensive knowledge of the tools. However, more importantly, trained graphic designers have a deep understanding of design and communications theory, the nuances of typography, the emotional effects of colors, and the concept of building brand equity at every step.
For example, type alone requires a vast understanding of visual communications principles and the psychological impact of different typefaces.

In a 2012 experiment in The New York Times, Errol Morris presented readers with a “quiz.” He entitled it, “Are You an Optimist or a Pessimist?” After a short passage, he asked readers two yes-or-no questions regarding whether or not they agreed with what they just read. In actuality, Morris was not interested in what people thought about the topic at all. He was testing whether or not a typeface could influence how people perceived the presented information.

The 40,000 participants were all presented with the same passage, but in one of six different typefaces: Baskerville, Helvetica, Comic Sans, Computer Modern, Georgia, and Trebuchet. The results overwhelmingly showed that statements in Comic Sans inspired the highest amount of disagreement. Helvetica was not far behind. Both sans serif typefaces, they “failed to ignite the believability factor” with the readers. Meanwhile, people were most likely to agree with the statement when presented in Baskerville (a more traditional serif).

A simple typeface selection – as well as a simple type treatment – can help communicate your message or undermine its effectiveness. Here’s a simple example:

MasterCard signHere’s one that illustrates the importance of understanding typography and design, even for a simple ole’ sign.

The typeface, uppercase letters and harsh “quotes” look more like a “BEWARE OF DOG” or “WIPE YOUR FEET” message than a “caring” one. You can be sure VISA and MasterCard would not approve of their brands being associated with this sign either.

You may be thinking, c’mon, everyone knows that everything “needs white space.” But designers understand why there is a need for white space and where to put it. A blank screen or page with the simple words in the center:

got milk?

can be incredibly effective, when used as part of an overall consistent, strategic campaign.

Highly qualified graphic designers know how to use their creativity to communicate a concept effectively, to each audience. That takes talent, strategy and knowledge.

“I Just threw together a logo”

And I just threw a clot. There are so many considerations that should go into developing your logo. The design implications, as mentioned above, are just the beginning, since the logo is the “flag on the flagship” of the brand. (See my column that appeared in Feb, 2014 RISBJ, Understanding Branding in the Real World, to better appreciate the importance of branding as a whole.) But without even diving into the smoldering depths of the branding crater, the need for professional help in logo development can be evidenced even in the smallest parts of the process.

For instance, color selection alone is critical. Colors convey messages and elicit emotional responses. Your logo color might make people hungry (like some yellows and oranges) or it may suggest impotence (like some blues). That little example is usually enough in and of itself to stop people from creating their own logos.

Sounds like hyperbole, like overblown hogwash? When in doubt, look to the most successful companies in the world. They spend millions – even billions – on logos and branding. Finding the right team, with the right mix of strategy, experience, and creativity – and a commitment to thorough research – is an incredible challenge in the quest for branding success.

There are many great examples of blatant logo disasters. They are fun to look at, albeit painful. Here’s one do-it-yourselfer from the CATHOLIC CHURCH YOUTH COMMISSION that I like to share.

Yowza. OK, next up:

“I have a good camera. I’ll just take my own pictures.”

I added that for my partner, Jeffrey, whose pressure rises at the thought of it. Every type of photography takes a distinctive “eye.” Whether product photographers, event photographers, photojournalists or any of the many types of photographers, each entails distinctive talents, equipment and experience. For technical reasons the camera itself may matter, but remember, some of the most famous photos have been taken with cheap cameras.

A photo elicits an immediate emotional reaction. Photography and design go hand in hand – never separately. And trust me, if you have a product and are using a photo to illustrate it, taking a poor photo of a good product is a great way to lose customers.

“I know how to use a computer so I can design my own website.”

Please – put – the – scalpel – down. A website is a foundational part of your brand, a portal to and from your other marketing tactics, and often a customer’s (or potential customer’s) first impression of your company. The right professionals apply their communications and design, as well as technical skills, to find the ideal balance of form and function. Combined with planned social media and marketing integration, they will create a user experience that accurately reflects your brand, and at the same time, engages and serves up the information that your visitor seeks.

“I’ll just let my intern handle social media.”

While interns can be a great resource, they are not seasoned communications or brand managers. A social media plan will help guide how and when to use social media. And, if you are using an intern to implement, all updates and posts should be vetted by a manager before they go live. It’s important not to underestimate the power of social media. It is the number one way that many – millennials and beyond – get their information and has created two-way conversations that were once unheard of in marketing. Creating and managing your digital conversations can either make or break your business, so having a clear strategy that is integrated into your marketing communications planning is critical. How easily can it go wrong and what can of damage can it do? Just go to: www.imajassociates.com/the-kelloggs-lesson‎to find out.

There’s so much more I could discuss, including video, advertising, and the most important part of all – planning and integrating all of those. It comes down to this: often there is tremendous risk in not using the experts. In marketing communications fields they have unique, inherent gifts of understanding branding, markets and audiences; how to integrate strategies and select effective mediums; and how a given tactic affects emotional comprehension.

So What Can You Do?

In all these cases, there are many things you can do that will result in better outcomes and a more cost-effective process. Help your professional team learn as much as possible from you and your stakeholders so they have a thorough understanding of your brand, market, and the challenges you face. The more information they have, the better they can uncover opportunities and develop strong messages. Then provide input throughout the process in such a way that your project manager can work with his/her team to find the right solutions. Allow the creativity to flow and try not to box the professionals in. Let them do their jobs. Soon, I will be launching a series of short videos with specifics steps you can take for different types of projects that will ensure highly effective outcomes and will help you save money.

OK, off my soapbox, as I put down my scalpel before I hurt someone. Continue to visit us at imajassociates.com or on Facebook or Twitter for more. I’d love to hear your comments. And watch for our upcoming video series that will help you figure out what you CAN and SHOULD do yourself. Cheers!