In 1980, my first girlfriend lent me her copy of ‘Hunky Dory’ and I’ve been a Bowie fanatic ever since. I spent countless hours as teenager avidly immersed in his music: from that very first album bought in Woolies (a personal copy of ‘Hunky Dory’ naturally), I moved on to ‘Ziggy Stardust’, ‘Heroes’ and ’Scary Monsters’, and from there to so many others. He became my hero, and as a result his music is never far from reach.
Today social media is more powerful than ever before. In fact, it’s growing uncontrollably and it’s becoming harder for businesses to keep up with this continuous form of digital communication. Social media creates a conversation. It gets your customers engaged. It sparks inspiration.
This post will tell you how to find your place within social media and just how important preparation is for success.
A 404 page is a curious quirk of web design, being the content you create but hope nobody will ever see. It’s the page that crops up when all else fails, appearing if you come across a broken link, make a spelling mistake in the web address, or happen to pop in during a website’s maintenance. Even though they shouldn’t ideally be viewed, we’ve all been faced with a 404 page at some point.
I’m really not much of a fan of blog posts that claim to provide the top three, five or even ten things you can do to help build a successful brand. But despite that, I felt it might be beneficial to provide an insight into how we help our clients ensure their organisations resonate with customers and add value to their brands. I hope you’ll find it useful.
I should perhaps begin by reaffirming our long-held belief that your brand is not your logo, product or service; it’s what people say about you when you leave the room. So think about the promises you make to your various audiences, and consider how good you are at keeping them. What would your customers say about you? If you don’t know, perhaps you should find out.
1. Build trust
Would you choose to spend time with someone you don’t trust? Well, it’s the same with brands – whether you operate a luxury hotel or a small local garage. When you say you’re going to do something, do it to the very best of your ability. Trust is the key to all great relationships and if your customers can rely on you, they’ll never go elsewhere and they’ll also tell their friends.
2. Be consistent
You know that sad feeling when you visit a favourite restaurant or café, only to realise it isn’t quite as great as the last time you ate there? Consistency doesn’t just apply to the hospitality sector. In order to build trust in your brand you need to perform exceptionally well, every time.
3. Never assume anything
This is the motto that Sir Paul Smith lives by; and if it’s good enough for him, then in my view we can all benefit. Essentially, if you’ve gone to the trouble to plan something, take the trouble to check it. You’ll save yourself all the pain and hassle of it all going wrong – hopefully!
4. Know your customer
This may sound simplistic; and it is really. If you want to win your customers’ hearts and minds, you need to know the colour of their eyes, as well as their likes, dislikes and habits. With this knowledge you can build a brand experience that they’ll respond to. It’s simple really: no customers = no business.
5. Ask for feedback, warts and all
True leaders rarely listen to sycophants; they prefer to hear how they could improve their performance and become better at whatever they’re doing. If you ask your happy clients about the one thing you could do better, they’ll tell you – what’s more, they’ll stay happy clients for the long term.
6. Be different!
So, this blog post is called the top five tips – and do you see what I’ve done here? You can stand out simply by being distinctive. Why emulate every other Tom, Dick or Harriet when you can differentiate yourself and gain competitive advantage? We’re all bombarded with similar products and services, so ask yourself what makes your brand unique. Once you’ve found out, tell the world.
The phrase ‘UX’ is one that’s bandied about quite a bit nowadays in relation to websites. Far from being just a buzzword, UX really does matter and is definitely something you should be thinking about. Here, we’ll offer a run-down of the key things you can do to improve your website using the principles of UX.
Firstly, what is it? As readers of our last blog post will know, UX stands for ‘User Experience’. It relates to how visitors to a website – your customers, or potential customers – use the site, and how their experience of it affects their behaviour and view of you. This is crucial, because if you have a fantastic product but a website that makes it hard for customers to buy it, you’ll feel the results on your bottom line.
There are certain key things that anyone, regardless of technical ability, can do to improve the user experience of their website.
Anyone that works in a technical industry like web design and development can fall into the trap of talking in acronyms and niche phrases without thinking about it. In the Nixon office, this works well because we understand each other, but many a client or new employee has had to quietly confess that they don’t really know what we’re talking about.
As a starter, here’s a run-down of some of the main phrases you might hear us saying.
We were recently in the unique and flattering position of being a sponsor for the ‘installation’ of Dawn French as the first Chancellor of Falmouth University. (A process, by the way, that she likened to the installation of a fridge.) For us, this was a massively special occasion as it represents an embracing of the arts in Cornwall that we completely support.
On 26 March, we joined the actor and writer as she walked up the aisle of the Church of King Charles the Martyr in Falmouth, where she vowed to become a “warrior” for Cornwall’s university.
I won’t deny this is an unashamedly fun and frivolous post, but it does have a serious point. The way your brand talks to audiences gives a distinct impression of who you are and what you stand for. Sometimes these communications are spot-on. If one of your core values is energy and you write in a clear, fast-paced way, you’ve nailed it. Although it might not be a conscious thing, you'll naturally remember and feel more positive about brands with a truly unique, consistent personality and tone of voice. Like people, every brand should look and sound different; not be a carbon copy of others.
We always say that the essence of your brand is what people say about you when you’ve left the room. In life, we can all try our best to make a good impression at a social event: we have a certain amount of control over how we appear. But when it comes to your brand, you’ll never meet most of your audiences face to face, and they may never know what you stand for. Instead, we all have a mental image of companies based entirely on how they ‘speak’ to us (through text, images, products and customer service.) In our heads, we build up a personality for them.
Which leads me to the fun point that demonstrates this perfectly. If brands were people, who would they be?
I’ve always loved making stuff. As a kid, I wasn’t satisfied with just experiencing the things I enjoyed, I wanted to make my own. I turned my bedroom into Splash Mountain after falling in love with the ride at Disney World, and created my own cardboard CCTV cameras to keep villains out when James Bond became my hero. Creativity was my way of engaging with the things I loved and was a constantly joyful and self-absorbed process. That’s the way it usually is when you’re a kid. Creativity is a natural, uncompromising thing without a hint of agenda.
Part of being in a professional environment, though, is getting to grips with that transition from pure, egocentric creativity to structured, brief-orientated output. The things we produce aren’t just a response to inspiration, they’re client deliverables that come with deadlines, budgets and expectations. That’s a lot of responsibility; we’re expected to find inspiration on the clock and harness that into a product that fits our clients and converts into measurable profit. Without the safety net of inspiration, the possibility of becoming detached from what you’re producing becomes a real danger.
It’s a danger because emotional attachment is vital to design. It lets us communicate with sincerity and connect with people in brave and engaging ways. Without that compulsion that we felt as kids, our practice becomes stagnant, irrelevant and hollow, as we draw on the skills we already have and the solutions we’ve already explored.
So, how can we nurture that joy for creativity that’s so central to our industry? For me, a big part of it takes place outside of the studio, where a lack of accountability means a lot of freedom. The freedom to make mistakes, for example, and create in a directionless and selfish way.
One of those ways is music. I played the piano as a kid but never to any remarkable level. Being a firm amateur, though, was one of the things that inspired me to start a band with my partner Jo. We set ourselves the challenge of writing an electro-pop album, complete with custom artwork and fully-realised band personas. Don’t get me wrong, the tracks are at best pretentious noise and at worst disgracefully incompetent, but that was the excitement. We wanted to make something that was just for us. Something messy and unwanted and playful.
I think that’s a huge part of creativity: the joy of playfulness and the excitement of finding new ways to communicate. It’s something that illustrator Keri Smith champions in her book Destroy This Journal, which urges readers to make mistakes and glorify in the outcomes. You’re instructed to stamp on, stain, bury and dig up the pages of the book in an effort to remove the expectations of a finished product and admonish the fear of doing something wrong. It takes you back to that childish state of creativity where making a mess and being brave are at the heart of what you produce. You’re fully engaged in the creative process.
That’s the real point I want to make. Without passion, courage and interest in what we’re doing, we lose relevance and so will our work. I’d urge every creative professional to find the joy in creativity. Join a band, write a play, start a revolution, make mistakes and love what you do. Your experiences will be richer, your work will be braver, and your solutions will come quicker.
Ps. We’re playing our first live show this summer and fully intend to enjoy every achingly, off-key minute of it.
Tone of voice is something that I talk about a lot. In a nutshell, it’s how your company speaks – whether that’s in person, through images, or in text. A strong, relevant tone of voice is a key part of branding. Imagine meeting Grace Kelly, only to find her swearing and shouting.
Let’s take a look at five companies that communicate really, really well, and consider why.
I recently spent some time at Trewirgie Junior School in Redruth during Maths Week. I was there to encourage students to embrace all things numerical by showing them how much fun coding is, while teaching them that it is actually all about maths.
There are a few things that have inspired me to talk about design and risk, but the more recent catalyst was the unveiling of a new logo and brand identity and the way it was received by designers and audiences. It made the news and both the Guardian and the BBC had initially skeptical views on the logo design and some of the connotations that could be read into it.
To be perfectly honest, the first time I’d heard the debate around the logo was one morning while listening to the radio. The views of the presenters were overall quite negative, but also very instinctive and immediate. Having not yet seen the logo for myself theirs was the only opinion I had to go on and it was invariably one-sided. It felt slightly unusual as a designer to hear about a design without having the chance to see it. So it got me thinking.
You hear about this sort of situation a lot – a design that hasn’t been received well, deemed ‘wrong’. Although of course, you’re more likely to hear about something that’s gone wrong than something that quietly works. An obvious example would be the hysteria caused by the London 2012 Olympics logo, where the branding industry was suddenly thrust into mainstream media and those responsible were hounded outside their homes by the paparazzi like a celebrity without make up. But regardless of opinions on the logo, it was still used and will certainly be remembered.
So what happens when something new is created, with the best intentions and a seemingly watertight rationale, but when unveiled is met with almost immediate and instinctive rejection? There’s usually an element of risk that has to be taken: the risk that something won’t look right and will ultimately fail its user in creating, generating or maintaining interest. When a risk doesn’t pay off, it’s a nightmare scenario for designers and clients.
Why am I talking about this? Well, it seems like an elephant in the room. We all want to feel reassured when we’re investing time and money into something, that there will be some kind of return, and rightly so. Equally, everyone wants to make sure when they create something that they get it ‘right’. But how can we determine what’s right and wrong in design, can it be measured, and how certainly can it be planned for?
Unpacking the first point, many things in this world can be divisive: art, design, tastes, politics, ethics, opinions – not least those of this article. And it’s hard, if not impossible, to always please everyone. With design comes a certain level of subjectivity, but it’s not art. It has a more direct and tangible purpose and so retains a certain amount of objectivity. Design falls halfway: it needs to be distinct enough to allow its message to be seen and heard by the right people, but open enough to not be exclusive.
An obvious measure of success is increased numbers of customers and ultimately, to put it bluntly, financial gain. Another familiar measurement of success is award schemes. These happen in many industries and come in all shapes and sizes. But they’re often presided over, and judged by, our peers or predecessors.
Of course, it’s important to remember that design isn’t created in a vacuum and is subject to factors such as brief, budget and tastes. As marketing consultants we always strive to create something that adheres to a client’s needs. So in that sense, success is measured by how well it answers a brief and meets the end goal of the client. As designers we arm ourselves with knowledge, experience and principles, to give ourselves the best chance of doing a good job.
Finally, can we plan to get it right? Short of stopping people in the street and asking for their opinions, can success be guaranteed? Short answer: yes, kind of, it depends. Long answer: no, not always. Even if we go through market research there’s a risk that something homogenous and boring will be created, which can be a failure in a different sense. This sort of ‘wrong’ hides in the shadows of subjectivity and behind market research reports.
I should have mentioned earlier that I’m not trying to solve any issues with this post. Sorry about that. Like lots of things, opinions on the balance between risk and safety are subjective and dependent on many factors. But it’s a debate worth bearing in mind at the unveiling of each new concept.
Apple today announced the biggest quarterly profit ever posted by a public company; a staggering £11.8 billion. It now has £93 billion pounds in net cash reserves and can boast revenue 30% higher than the same period last year. The success story of this darling of the stock-market is due, in no small part, to the colossal sales of its hugely successful iPad and iPhone ranges, raising the question: are people ditching their desktops in favour of their pocket-friendly counterparts? The answer, it seems, is a resounding, “Yes”. Here in Cornwall, as well as elsewhere, having a responsive website could be the key to big business.
A recent comScore report attributed 65% of all online traffic to smartphones and tablets, up from 50% the year before, and it is estimated that by the year 2020 over half of the world’s population will use a mobile device to access the internet. Surely then, with such prevalence, all websites are now designed to cater for portable devices with their reduced screens and patchy connections. Well, at the time of writing only 1 in 8 companies in Cornwall have websites that are built to respond to the device on which they are displayed, meaning the rest suffer from slow load times, fiddly button presses and plenty of scrolling across reams of indecipherably small print.
The answer lies in a growing trend within the web design industry called ‘responsive design’. The principle is simply that that the design should adapt or ‘respond’ to the size of the screen and nature of the device it’s being displayed on. The result? A site that is equally as usable and just as beautiful on the smallest mobile as it is on the largest desktop. As the team behind such works as Tresco, St Aubyn Estates and Cornwall Mobility, we’ve been proponents of responsive design for years and ensure that all sites we produce are fully responsive.
Using a technique called ‘mobile first’, our designs begin life on the small screen, taking into account the constraints of reduced processing power, lower download speeds and decreased screen real estate. From there, they are progressively enhanced to take advantage of larger devices with fewer constraints. This approach not only works; it’s necessary. In a study of 5,388 people, just under half lamented the fact that some of their favourite sites were not optimised for smaller devices, claiming it made them ‘feel that that company didn’t care about their business’. A further 28% complained they would leave if the site didn’t load quickly enough.
In a world where well over half of all website traffic comes from phones and tablets, businesses simply cannot afford to get left behind. Making your website responsive is essentially a form of future-proofing. It’s something that can make a huge difference in terms of sales or brand engagement.
If you have concerns that your website is not optimised for mobile use or would like to discuss how responsive design can benefit your business further, contact us on 01736 758600 or email email@example.com
At Nixon, our New Year’s resolution is to get down on paper – or screen – some of the useful things we’ve learned about design, web development and copywriting. We’ll be running a series of articles, posted fortnightly, beginning here with a post relating to copywriting. Proof-reading might seem too simple a place to begin, but read on and you’ll see why it’s best to start with the basics.
We know how it is – you spend ages working on a document or a chunk of text, you’ve been at it all day, you’re fed up with it, and you just want it done. You should really sit and proof-read it, but… It’ll probably be fine. Won’t it?
That thought process could well be your downfall. Yes, proof-reading is dull. Yes, your document, which you’ve just spent hours looking over, probably doesn’t have any typos left in it that you haven’t already noticed. But, oh my, yes it’s essential. The document that you’ve worked so hard on, that makes your business sound amazing, can just as easily make you look like the biggest mug ever if there’s an unfortunate typo in it.
Most people will think that this advice is completely unnecessary, but even the best of us can fall foul of the English language. Just Google ‘terrible typos’ and you’ll see what I mean. My personal favourites are the American ‘School of Pubic Affairs’ (embarrassing for everyone), the ‘Valley Newss’ newspaper that misspelled its own name, and the revelation that school is ‘two easy for kids’, as reported on WNDU 16 News. If you had to read back over this paragraph to find out why any of those were wrong, you’ll see how easy it is for errors to slip through.
The trouble is, when you’ve been looking at something for a long period of time, it actually becomes harder to spot your mistakes. If we could offer a step-by-step guide relating to proof-reading, it’d probably go something like this:
1) Do it. Just do it.
2) Use a spell-checker. If you’re inputting text directly into a web page that doesn’t have one, copy and paste it into a Word document.
3) Take a break. You may not have lots of time, but a quick break from the text makes it easier to find mistakes. Make a cup of tea and come back to it.
4) Print it out. We like being green, but we also like being flawless (if we possibly can be). For some reason, it’s often easier to see errors on paper.
5) Ask someone else to read it. Unless you’re working on your own, this is a really valuable thing to do. You might think that you’re using ‘it’s’ and ‘its’ correctly, but another pair of eyes will root it out if you’re not.
As a starter for ten, let’s delve into some of the most common mistakes we see.
1) Its v. it’s: This is a weird one that can catch out anyone. If you’re shortening ‘it is’ or ‘it has’, the result is it’s. If someone owns something (a possessive), you use its: e.g. ‘the dog chased after its ball’ or ‘Cornwall is known for its beaches.’
2) Capitals v. lower case: Proper nouns (e.g. names) should always have a capital letter, whether it’s a person’s name, place name or a brand name, such as Coca Cola. However, if you’re referring to a thing more generally, like lemonade, it doesn’t.
3) They’re, their and there: Even if you know this, a momentary lapse in concentration can catch you out. Their is when a group owns something (possessive), e.g. ‘the group pooled their resources’. They’re is short for ‘they are’ and there is a place.
4) Double letters: words with a mix of single and double letters are among the most commonly misspelled. Do check a dictionary to be sure. The following are the correct spellings: accommodation, necessary, possession, disappoint, unforeseen.
5) Missing words: it’s easy to miss words out of a sentence altogether, as this is something that a spell-checker won’t pick up on. To avoid it happening, make sure you read what is actually written on the page, not what you expect to be there. The same applies to words that can be accidentally shortened, like ‘off’ and ‘of’.
Remember, if in doubt, we can proof-read for you. If you’re paying out on having 10,000 flyers printed out, you don’t want to end up in the same boat as the people who wrongly captioned Sesame Street’s the Count.
We’re delighted to say that our unique creative services now include copywriting and content strategy. Megan Oldcorn has joined the Nixon team to offer everything from the essentials such as proof-reading and editing to larger projects like creating tone of voice guidelines in line with branding.
With so much attention given over to how brands look and feel, maintaining a strong, consistent approach in text has never been so important. We know only too well how tricky it can be to work with a brand that is visually stunning but doesn’t quite deliver when it comes to content. Nobody wants to be accused of being ‘all style and no substance’.
In the past we’ve delivered both visually and in terms of content by working with expert wordsmiths such as Stranger Collective. Now, we’re happy to be in a position where we can combine our great relationships with others with the perks of having an in-house writer.
Generating compelling content can pose a variety of problems for the uninitiated. There are those who dedicate energy to web design but can’t find time to manage the demands of its blog page. Others have a large mailing list of current or potential customers, but email newsletters that fall flat. Often, it’s the people at the heart of a business, who understand and love it, that know best what they want to say. It’s just that finding the most impactful words can be more of a challenge.
That’s where we come in. We can offer help or advice across a variety of services, including:
• Tone of voice and style guidelines
• Website copy
• Email newsletter marketing
• Ghost blogging
• Proof-reading and sub-editing
• PR copywriting, such as press releases
• Advertisements, flyers and brochures
• Advertorial and features
• In-house magazines
If you’re not sure whether your text is working for you, we’ll gladly offer our opinion of where improvements could be made (nicely, of course!) If you do need help, or just want to outsource a job that isn’t your favourite, our copywriting and design services can work together to ensure that every word you put out there is on-brand and decidedly ‘you’.
We’re a pretty friendly bunch at Nixon, so if you’d like to find out more or have a chat about your business and current copy output, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01736 758600.
If you’d rather manage your writing in-house but would appreciate a few tips on making it stand out, stay tuned to our blog for upcoming articles offering advice on a range of ‘wordy’ topics.
From designing and building a website for a privately owned island to branding an independent cinema in a redundant fish factory – all in all, it’s been a very diverse and exciting 2014.
We’ve started working for new clients in some very dynamic sectors and one long standing client is coming back for an unprecedented fourth time in ten years for their latest website. We’ve art-directed, coded, illustrated, photographed, designed, artworked, project managed, strategised and deliberated over 465 individual projects spanning 65 clients. A pigeon even flew through our window to join in the fun. Here’s a snapshot of what we've been up to in 2014.