Why We Sent a Perfectly Good Logo to the Great Style Guide in the Sky

For our four-year anniversary, we bought ourselves a new logo.

And yes, “bought” is the correct verb. We’re paying for this in both man hours and legal tender—so it is not an idle decision we made on the spur of our third flute of anniversary champagne.

Was there something seriously wrong with our old logo?

Heavens no! I’m surprised you even asked—although to be fair, it was me who asked, not you. At the launch of Red Letter, our logo possessed all the qualities we value in a corporate mark.

Take a gander. It’s still a beauty:

Why We Sent Perfectly Good Logo | Red Letter Marketing
That logo embodies the classic simplicity that stands the test of time. We strive to design logos that are beyond mere trendiness, and this one is the polar opposite of “flavor of the month.” The mark is elegant but maybe also impertinent, with that cheeky reversed “R.” We like the timeless perfection of the square, and the ease with which that part of the logo can be used by itself, without the logotype. Just the red mark in the upper left of a page declares itself quietly but confidently.

So why change it? Again with the questions. While there were no serious problems with our logo—which, by the way, looked great in frosting form on the cakes we give to new clients—there was one small thing that kept our esteemed president, Kelly Gomez, in a state of cognitive dissonance.

It was the absence of the letter “M.”

Among Kelly’s talents is a prodigious ability in the area of mathematics. She astutely noted that our name is composed of three words: 1) Red; 2) Letter; 3) Marketing. The mark had but two initials: 1) R; 2) L.

Kelly knows—better than most!—that 3 ≠ 2.

All of us—including Kelly—are aware that a logo design is not an SAT exam. The rules of arithmetic can be loosened in the service of art. Also, our love for the design overrode any numerical quibbles. And yet . . . .

A few wondered whether perception of the mark might be complicated by an uninvited association with Ralph Lauren.

Objections such as these arise during the design of any logo. If you ponder a design long enough, you will conceive possible objections. One of our most valuable services to clients is using our experience to clarify the distinction between valid concerns and the infinite number of micro-quibbles that should be filed away in the “overthink” folder.

On the other hand, if you’re still mulling your so-called micro-quibble four years later, maybe it’s time to upgrade it to macro.

Our lead designer, Olaf, took up the challenge of redesigning our mark. He retired to his design cave to sketch out some ideas. Here are a few he explored:

 

Why We Sent Perfectly Good Logo | Red Letter Marketing

 

While we all liked these logos, Olaf would not take yes for an answer. Before we could sit down to decide which we wanted to choose for further development, Olaf disappeared in a cloud of cartoon smoke. Back to the design cave!

 

When he emerged, he presented us with this:

 

Why We Sent Perfectly Good Logo | Red Letter Marketing

 

I think I’ve said enough. The logo itself is more eloquent.

Is Marketing Short-Sightedness Limiting Your Business?

Google “define marketing” and roughly 278,000,000 results pop up. The first definition is in this Google-provided display:

marketing

“the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.”

That definition covers a common, but short-sighted perception of the role of marketing. By this description, companies make a product or service and it’s the job of the marketing department to advertise and support sales efforts. But mine deeper and you’ll discover a larger, more powerful vision for the role of marketing.

True marketing is the discipline of discovering, creating, and delivering value.

Phillip Kotler is the S.C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. A formally trained economist, Kotler is internationally recognized as the world’s leading expert on marketing and marketing strategy. Here is how he defines marketing.

  • “Marketing is the science and art of exploring, creating, and delivering value to satisfy the needs of a target market at a profit.”
  • “Marketing is the art of creating genuine customer value. It is the art of helping your customers become better off. The marketer’s watchwords are quality, service, and value.”

In short, you understand customers’ needs, then ascertain the best way to deliver them value. Kotler believes marketing to be both science and art. Science, in the form of research, delivers the critical information necessary to shape marketing strategy. But information without insight is impotent. It must be translated into authentic connections that touch and resonate with people. That is the art of marketing.

Marketing is the discipline that drives all other functions of business.

A great (and still relevant) giant in business management was Peter Drucker. He stated,

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

Marketing then, must lead and drive all other business activity. Here’s an example.

One of our clients is a century-old company that had enjoyed success with a traditional, push-driven manufacturing model. They made cabinets on a mass scale, then sent sales people out to sell them to builders. This was good work until imports drove basic builder products into a price point game, radically changing the marketplace. Rather than continue their manufacturing-driven business model—which would almost certainly result in the demise of the business—they took a courageous initiative to change, and adopted a marketing-driven business model.

They listened to their customers as never before. They studied the marketplace and identified ways to create value that would put them in a long-term, sustainable position for success. They redesigned the product planning and manufacturing processes in order to deliver on said value. They focused on using a marketing model to drive business planning and production. Now, as it goes into its 110th year, the company is bursting with renewed energy and stability. The future looks bright.

Use marketing strategy to position your business for success.

Companies that implement a marketing-driven business model can establish competitive advantages that build long term success. By constantly seeking new ways to deliver value, they are able to innovate and align their resources appropriately. Those who treat marketing as a tactical activity, simply to feed the sales pipeline, miss out on the long term power of marketing. When rapid changes occur in the marketplace, they struggle to adapt.

Remember the Drucker quote: “marketing and innovation.” Follow the true meanings of these words, and remain malleable to success.

Interested in learning more about marketing strategy and how it can drive greater success for your business? We love to talk!

Unreasonable Responses to Reasonable Requests

Why would a professional designer take a suggestion from a client who works in an entirely different field? It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Sometimes clients have good ideas and it is a designer’s responsibility to listen with an open mind.

Two examples of bad responses to client requests suggest the advantages of a respectful give-and-take between businesses and their marketing partners. The stories highlight two extremes on the spectrum of how creative companies deal with suggestions from their clients.

One example comes from the case files right here at Red Letter Marketing. In our first discovery meeting with a new client, one of the things we discovered was how badly the company had been treated by its previous web design vendor. As a new website had taken shape over a period of several months, the client had posed reasonable questions concerning some of the creative decisions made by designers at the web firm. Among them: Are you folks sure (our new client had asked) that the headline font you’re using (the H1 font, in HTML-speak) is the best choice?

The response from the design firm was to send the client a link to Google Fonts, with a suggestion that he find one he likes. In a bizarre exaggeration of accommodation to client wishes, the design firm had simply sloughed off its role as experienced guide through the subjective decision-making process of font choice. When we heard this story, we realized that our client had been so ill-advised that we couldn’t wait to show him what a real marketing partnership is like.

At the other extreme is the creative individual who will brook no suggestions at all from the company funding the project. My favorite example of this behavior occurs in Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, in which architect Howard Roark responds to changes made to his building design by, um…well, by blowing up the building.

Howard Roark might have had a legitimate beef. Maybe the design changes were bad ideas. But—dude. Dynamite? It’s a bit showy. Rand mimicked her character’s behavior when she learned that Roark’s speech to the jury had been trimmed in the screenplay of the movie starring Gary Cooper. In a fit of pique that lasted the rest of her life, she refused to sell the movie rights to Atlas Shrugged.

The vast majority of web designers avoid the use of explosives to make their point. And yet, a dismissive attitude to client requests is all too familiar. Ironically, the most unyielding creative people often attract a particular type of loyalty from clients who are reassured by their certainty.

Creative decisions are founded partly in reason and partly in a mysterious “gut feel” that arises from the interplay between a designer’s innate taste and the mix of current design trends. Designers call on their gut every day and each time they do, it gets stronger. So it’s more likely that a working designer will make, say, an appropriate font choice than would an accountant who may be looking at the bewildering variety of font choices for the first time.

But a designer who listens carefully to a client request is increasing the odds of creating something worthwhile. It doesn’t mean she must necessarily take the suggestion. But the willingness to consider its possible validity is a sign of openness that will serve both her and the client well. Legendary ad man Bill Bernbach made a shtick out of carrying around a card conveying the thought “Maybe he’s right.” While the card itself may have been a bit of show-biz, the sentiment strikes me as one that still rings true.