Do It Yourself?? Not So Much!

I just finished my taxes.  I appreciate once again the fact that, while there is software out there that would let me do it myself, I am much better off using an accountant who really knows the tax code.

The same holds true in my area of expertise: graphic design and website design.  Sure, there are software programs and website templates out there that would lead you to believe you can do it yourself, saving money in the process.

Great in theory.  Many of our clients who have tried the DIY approach have learned some painful lessons.  Here are some of the reasons they have told me that they decided to hire a professional designer.

Talent .  You have six seconds to make an impact on the web or in print, if that much. Having design software on your computer or access to website templates does not mean you have the talent or knowledge to create something fabulous.

Originality.  If you use a website template, there are many sites out there that will look just like yours. Do you want to look like everyone else, or have something that is uniquely yours?

Brand consistency.  You want your brand identity, including look and positioning, to be consistent across all online and offline channels.

Nutrition Wow logo and branding
This is one example of a logo design that transforms into the business card, email design and website, reiterating the brand on every level in a fun and professional way that reflects the client’s vision.

Website navigation.  Nothing is more important for a website than ease of navigation.  Designers are experienced in creating sites that are easy to navigate.

Objectivity.  Chances are you are way to close too your business to think objectively.  Professionals provide a crucial layer of objectivity.

Time. If you are not familiar with the tools, it can take you an incredibly long time. That is time away from what you do best – serving existing clients and getting new ones.  So consider the opportunity cost, as well as the quality trade off.

Money.  Professionals have relationships with the right printers, developers, web hosting companies, etc.  This will save you money…maybe even more than the designer’s fees.

Time and Money.  Many of our clients come to us to redo a website or brochure that doesn’t communicate who they are or what they do. Avoid the frustration and have it done right the first time.

Image. It all adds up to the image you want to project.  You’re not an amateur, so you don’t want to look like one. A good designer can help you project whatever image you want for your business.

The bottom line?  Let’s leverage each others’ strengths and trust the professional…no matter what field.

B Inspired,


PS.  My accountant does not do graphic design.

New Year’s Resolutions

I know it’s already the 25th of January…BUT…it’s still January. My main resolution for 2014 is to write a blog at least monthly (as I said…it’s still January).  I have been lax, something I counsel my clients to never do. If the Blog is on your menu bar, write the blog regularly (whatever that means to you). Mine has been empty since March of 2013. But…it’s a new year. I really had no excuse for not writing this blog. Most of it comes from my colleague and friend, Les Stern. What follows are great ideas to rev up your marketing in 2014. I have edited Les’ post. Go here if you want the longer version.

1. Use data. Spend a little money on data, be it as simple as Google Analyticsgoogle_analytics to monitor your Website behavior to purchasing outside data and conducting qualitative and quantitative research to identify market opportunities and positioning. Spending a little money on data (big data or little data) ensures that when you spend a lot of money on implementation, you are doing it right.

2. Think print. Most people think print is so 20th century. But great print can create a dramatic impression on your prospects, and can greatly enhance your sales efforts. This annual report for Evanston Public Library created excitement in the community and showcased the library’s 2012 programming and improvements.

3. Proofread. You spend a fortune on great online and offline marketing, and it is proofreadall ruined because of typos, grammatical errors, etc. We’ve all seen it. And here is what people think: “if they cannot even get that right, why should I trust them with my business.”  If you are a poor speller or do not have a grasp on proper grammar, find someone who can do the job for you.

4. Think “social” responsibly. Effectively using social media is not just posting something every now FB-TWand then. If you are going to commit to marketing via social media, do it. Social media only work well when you have a well crafted plan, and stick to it. If you have the ability to do it fine. Otherwise, hire somebody.

5. Find your voice. If you are outsourcing sociword-balloonal media or blogging or anything else for that matter, it still needs to be your voice. There are certainly people out there who are experts at communicating what you want to say. But what you want to say has to come from you.

6. Differentiate yourself. Why do people buy from you? What needs do you fill, and why do customeb-outstanding-smrs buy from you instead of your competition? You need to figure that out and communicate it. And don’t compete on price alone. Someone will always find a cheaper option.


7. Add video. Video is becoming more important for Search Engine Optimization. But it is video embedded on your site, not just a link to YouTube. We still recommend hosting on YouTube, and embedding the player in your website. Why? Three reasons:video2

    • YouTube is the second most widely used search engine, so it’s extra exposure.
    • Google owns YouTube, so videos help your search ranking in Google.
    • It’s easy to embed from YouTube and it works on everyone’s device.


8. Mobilize. More and more Web visits are generated through mobile devices. This trend will only increase. So make sure your site is mobile friendly both in look and functionality.


9. Focus on your target market. Even though you want to get as much business as you can, you cannottarget2 be all things to all people. Focus on who you want to target (the audience best suited for your product or service), and don’t expend energy going after prospects outside your target market. If you do, chances are you will not get that business anyway.


10. Make money, have fun.  I have been lucky in my professional life to love what I do, so it’s fun mostfun of the time. Of course, it is easier to have fun when you are making money. But making money if you aren’t having fun is, well, not fun. So resolve to have fun while you have your most profitable year ever.

The Four Questions of Positioning

Today I am sharing a blog post from my friend and associate, Les Stern of L. Stern & Associates. It is a look at four questions for business. I hope you enjoy reading and wish everyone a Happy Passover and Happy Easter.

This week is Passover.  Jews around the world will gather for the Seder to tell the story of Passover.  A central part of the Seder is the asking of “The Four Questions.”  Traditionally asked by the youngest participant at the Seder, the questions ask “why is this night different from all other nights?”

Questions-[Converted]While conducting research for a client, I made the connection that creating positioning for any entity also revolves around four questions.  They are:

  • Why do our prospects want/need the types of products/services we offer?
  • What are the important purchase decision drivers?
  • How do we as an organization rate on those drivers?
  • Where do our prospects get the information they need to make decisions?

Let’s look at each question in more detail.

Question 1:  Why do our prospects want/need the types of products/services we offer?
For some types of companies, the answer is easy:

  • Airlines: To get to my destination quickly
  • Hospitals: To maintain or improve my health
  • Plumbers: To fix a leaky faucet

For other types of companies, the answers might not be as simple, because the primary motivation might be different.  For example, if you are a golfer, your primary motivation might be exercise; it might be to spend time with friends.  It might be because you are driven to be a better golfer.

Or ask yourself why you are on Facebook.  Is it to connect with friends and family?  Is it to learn about products and services?  It is because you know you can get great deals?  Different motivation requires different positioning and messaging.

Question 2: What are the important purchase decision drivers?
To understand the purchase process, quantitative research (telephone interviews, online surveys, more sophisticated methodologies such as discrete choice, etc.) should be conducted to determine how important specific attributes are.  Attributes can include:

  • Reputation
  • Professional or personal referral
  • Price
  • Location
  • Have specific features I am looking for
  • Size of company
  • Past experience

But also use qualitative research to ask open-ended questions.  For example, ask: how do you decide which airline you are going to use?  Or how do you select a construction company to do your home improvement?  While this qualitative research will not produce quantifiable results, the actual words you hear can provide meaningful input for the language you will use to create positioning and messaging.

Question 3:  How do we as an organization rate on those drivers?
Using the same attributes, identify how prospects perceive your organization, and your competitors.  These are natural follow-up questions to be asked right after you have answered Question 2. Some hints:

  • Ask about your organization and competitors
  • Distinguish between customers and prospects
  • Keep the research anonymous.  You will get more honest answers that way

Answering these three questions should help you determine positioning and messaging.  What you are looking for are those attributes that are both important to your target market, and for which you rate high.  Those are the attributes to emphasize.

Question 4:  Where do your prospects get the information they need to make decisions
The final question helps you determine where to deliver the messages.  Quantitative research again is the best way to go.  Sources of information may include (and for each general category, be specific):

  • Friends/relatives
  • Mass media (newspapers, television, etc.)
  • Websites
  • Social media ( ask specifically about Facebook Twitter, Google+ Pinterest, etc.)
  • Other

Now that you have answered the four questions, you will be able to create your positioning and messaging, and know where to deliver it.  Of course, you may want to conduct further research to test the positioning, messaging and creative concepts.  But that is another story.

To learn more about L Stern & Associates, go to

Groundhog Day and Effective Marketing

groundhogday2Yesterday was Groundhog Day. For anyone who might not remember, it was immortalized in the movie of the same name. Bill Murray kept reliving February 2nd until he got the day right. I think most of us could think of at least one day we’d like to do over. But that’s a topic for another blog.

How does this relate to websites and digital media in general? “Do-Overs” and comparison testing are so easy in the digital age that they are no longer available only to big companies with deep pockets.

  • Resend that email…with a different subject line
    It costs next to nothing to send the same email several times. Segment your list. Try different subject lines. And compare the results.
  • Tweak your website
    Google Analytics gives you the information you need to know which pages people are landing on and staying on. Use this information to make the entire site more effective and keep the viewer on your site longer.
  • Refine the design
    Since I’m a designer, I’m particularly aware of how good design adds to engagement and readership. It’s easy enough to test the results of using different design or images.
  • Test different calls to action
    Again, this is easy to do in email by splitting your list. It’s also easy in any kind of online advertising, where you can easily test different demographics as well as calls to action.
  • Perfect printing.
    The digital world has made “do-overs” easier in print as well. It used to be that redoing a printed piece was incredibly expensive. Today, you can print a short run (even 1) of your brochure, postcard, flyer and make sure everything is perfect before committing to a larger print run.

While most of us don’t need as many “do-overs” as Bill Murray did in “Groundhog Day”, it’s nice to know that nothing is written in stone and it’s not that difficult to hone your message for success.

It’s all in the subject line

It's a!Everybody talks about the “open rate” of your email. And of course that is incredibly important. I sent out an email announcing my redesigned website and used the subject line “Birth Announcement”.

It was provocative enough to get close to 60% of the recipients to open it and about half of them to click through to my website. An average open rate is 12.5%. 25% is considered excellent. Now, the subject line was clearly gutsy, but it followed directly with an interesting visual that completed the thought, and some text sending people to the new and improved website. The message here is clearly make your subject line interesting enough for folks to pay attention. I am still surprised that I get any emails with the subject line “News From…” I don’t care what your news is…I want something that I know is of interest to me. So here are my tips for writing effective subject lines:

  • Make it interesting to the reader.
  • Give a benefit if you can.
  • Get the important information in the subject line
  • Don’t make it too long or you will lose your audience
  • If you are being purposefully vague, follow with an image or headline that finishes the thought.

Once you’ve gotten your audience to open, make sure to follow with concise, useful information. And, of course, make it as visually appealing as possible.


b. your best brand

b. creativeWelcome. It has taken me 18 months to finally redesign the iris b. website. I could have given birth…twice to little human babies…or once to an elephant! So I feel like this is a rebirth of iris b. branding & communications and how we present our brand to the world. What we do for clients is to help them develop their brand and communicate it out to the world. So…this blog will be a place to explore ideas that create brand identity, which starts with good design and writing.

It used to be that brand meant Proctor & Gamble …. Johnson & Johnson …. Kellogg’s….you get the picture. Large companies with large advertising budgets to put their brand in front of everyone and create a need to have it. Today, everyone has a brand. You can have a personal brand, a business brand or a combination of both. For most people in the arts and consultants, your brand is you and is reflected in how you personally communicate, how you dress, how you engage and how you treat others. If you are part of a larger company, there is a definite split between your personal brand and your company’s brand. The best company branding reflects the ideals of the people who run it. It’s extremely difficult to promote a brand you don’t believe in, as it is difficult to work for a company whose culture you don’t embrace. –