Jonathan Schwartz's Blog: What Brand Means + Additional Nugrant

The saying goes, "a brand is a promise." On a personal level, I've always felt that statement was incomplete. A promise is the lowest common denominator of a brand - it's what people expect. Think of your favorite brand, whether search engine or sneaker or coffee shop or free software, and you'll know what I mean - a brand is an expectation. If you experience anything less, you're disappointed. A promise seems like table stakes.

But a brand must go beyond a promise. To me, a brand is a cause - a guiding light. For fulfilling expectations, certainly, as well as dealing with the ill-defined and unexpected. It's what tells your employees how to act when circumstances (and customers) go awry, or well beyond a training course. My first real experience with that was a personal one.

Starting on a new Corporate Identity and Branding project today. I'll be writing the entire guide, as well as doing the design stuffs. It's not something that's new to me, I've done a couple of guides over the years, and to be honest, I find it all to be rather relaxing fun.

I can whack out a full guide, (layout, copy, content, design) in about 2 weeks (not counting amendments). But it's not the form of the guide that's the most important. It's the content.

I've read a crapton of CI and branding guides over the years, and the only one I've ever read that's stood out for me, that's made me say, THAT is what I want my brand guide to be... is (was) Sun Microsystem's Branding and CI guide. Not only was it amazingly and inspiringly written, it was written TO inspire. I wish I still had copies. None of the other guides I've ever read cared a whit if the reader was inspired by the contents of the guide or not.

Sun Microsystems' guide made evangelists of designers. Or of at least one designer. Naturally, it's not a magic brainwashing pill. If your branding guide is written to inspire, but your company does anything but - it will fail, and fail miserably. But Sun was one of the clients - the only client, really - that I fell in love with after working with their consistently competent staff and also consistently referring to their brand guide for projects large and small.

Also important is the client's willingness to trust you. Especially when it comes to writing - more so than design - the client's trust is... everything, when it comes to creating good content. The best copy, both content-rich and otherwise, that I've written in my professional life, I've written for Sun. Because as a client, they trusted us to go ahead and just WRITE. They trusted us to know how to talk to their target audience.

And, last but not least, they had a strong, charismatic, articulate and literate CEO. A CEO whose eloquent writing and evangelism made it simple to know where to go with the brand; made it possible to KNOW when the tone of the copy was just right; made complex techy stuff comprehensible, thereby in turn making it possible to write it comprehensibly to non-tech folk.

Yes. I was a Sun fangurl. A brand is a cause. Marketing folk, see that rant above... and remember - that's how you want people to talk about your brand.

Keyword Stuffing, Keyword Stuffing, Keyword Stuffing | Ranked Hard

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Public Groupon Editorial Manual - Some of the Best Guidance on Writing Humourous Marketing Copy You'll Find on the Intarwebz (and Arguably, Anywhere Else)

Groupon's writing style is very similar to Thinkgeek's - absurd, witty, and engaging without ever sacrificing clarity of information, and the hard-sell call to action.

I was going to write that it 'may not be appropriate for all markets and clients', and then I realisd that while it definitely may not be appropriate for all instances - what is? It's appropriate for many, many instances.

It's just that clients are often afraid.

And when clients are afraid, they fall back on corporatese.

That's one of the tragedies of copywriting. Corporatese. I can write it. I do write it. But it makes the craftsperson in me who wants to deliver a fine product sad every time.

Grooveshark's Down for Maintenance, with Added Sad Panda Charm

Brilliantly designed maintenance page. Charming and funny copy reassures users that the service will be back soon, and gives them stuff to do in the meantime. Twitter updates let OCD types check back every now and then for a (perhaps illusory) fix of progress and control. Blog updates do the same. And - very importantly - they don't lock users out of their account details and other such important things during maintenance.

And of course, it just looks all clean, cuddly and wonderful. Shineh!

ThinkGeek :: Canned Unicorn Meat

Unfortunately, due to restrictions on the importation of mythical processed meatstuff, we are unable to bring you Canned Unicorn Meat in the way the Sisters of Radiant Farms intended. When you open your can, you will find one tiny unicorn which has been appropriately sliced into its main cuts of meat. Simply use your Growth Ray to re-embiggen the unicorn before skinning it and processing its flesh. Or if you're lazy, just bring it to your local Mad Scientist-Butcher. He'll know what to do.

ThinkGeek has some of the best marketing copywriting around. Of course, the target audience also helps, but it does make me wish that over half my clients weren't in love with Corporatese.

Corporatese, pointlessly boring to read, and even more boringly pointless to write.

Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audience’s Attention - Smashing Magazine

Cool-stuff in Billboard Web Design: How to Win Your Audiences Attention


Our shiny new corporate site, for which I did 80% of the design/conceptualisation, all of the illustration, and all of the copywriting, was featured on Smashing Magazine!

(80% of the design because I extensively reworked someone else's original 'base' design.)

Maybe I Should Design T-Shirts For a Living

One of the proposals for Sun's APAC user base profile updates. Yes, yes, t-shirts are nothing new. But then there's nothing new under the sun (ahem).

What I was aiming for with this, was to make it, if not brand spanking new, then at least... uniquely not-new. ;)

And so, the personalised t-shirt gift was born. Once users fully updated their profiles, they'd get to pick a shirt from one of the designs shown here, and their names would be personalised onto the shirts themselves.

Since Sun's target audience is a bit geeky, and if there's any target audience I know, it's geeks (I started poking at computers when I was 6)... I went a little bit crazy with the silliness factor of the shirts.

Sadly, there were too many logistical problems with shipping t-shirts all over APAC, so it didn't happen.

But I still love these shirts. Especially the Shakespearean sheep. One of these days, I might just make myself one of those.

(Images are stock, sourced by me.)

Save the Snowpeople Petition!

A quirkier way to present e-mail address collection requests to our client base, and hopefully get them to forward stuff along because it was cute. Plus, they'd get karma for the festive season good deed of saving the snowpeople. >.> Honest.

An accompanying 'petition wall' website was planned, with names (but no email addresses) of the kind, snowman-loving petitioners being shown.

Didn't get off the ground though. :( Was deemed too frivolous.

Illustration was done by yours truly, in Bill Watterson's style (Calvin & Hobbes author). I always did love Calvin's dysfunctional snowpeople.