Buy it cheap, buy it twice

This wise old adage may seem redundant in today’s throwaway society but we think it still offers some valuable lessons in the design and marketing world.

As marketing budgets continue to shrink, the temptation to scour the market for a cheap solution is inevitable, but we believe that when it comes to design, working closely with good designers and careful planning, are better ways to maximise your budget…

Know where you’re going
You need to have the internal focus right before you can brief an external supplier. All branding and marketing should be steering an organisation towards its long-term vision rather than just meeting short-term needs. This helps to give branding and marketing communications a longer shelf life and make them more effective. Quick fix solutions are tempting but are rarely the best way to communicate the bigger picture.

Learn from past mistakes
Plan carefully to ensure that communications tell the right message, to the right people, at the right time. Regularly audit marketing materials and all manifestations of the brand to assess the effectiveness and value for money. What works and what doesn’t? Don’t just produce things out of habit. Sometimes one communication can replace three. If you really need three, can they be printed up together to save on print costs. A few well thought out, engaging, relevant and well designed pieces will be more effective than lots of unfocussed, poorly produced ones that end up in the recycling bin.

Get your designers problem solving
Develop a dialogue with your designers. Tell them what you want to achieve and invite their input on format and content, as well as on layout and design. Ask them to suggest smart solutions to save money in production and distribution. Don’t be over prescriptive or limit their creativity at the outset. Tell them what information you need to communicate, and who to, and let them propose solutions. Consider different technologies and distribution methods? Does it really need an envelope for mailing or can it be designed to negate that? Sometimes a powerful single colour piece can have more impact than a  full colour one? Be open to new ideas.

Pick our brains 
Draw on your designer’s industry knowledge. As designers we really understand print and production – from presses to paper sizes and how jobs are planned up. We can help plan jobs economically to minimise waste. Some papers bulk up more than others so they appear thicker but are lighter in weight – useful to know when considering mailing costs without compromising on quality. A few millimetres trimmed off an edge could save a lot on distribution costs.

And finally, the ultimate false economy…
Free-pitching may seem a good idea – after all, who doesn’t like something for nothing? Putting a job out to many companies as a free pitch may at first appear to yield lots of exciting glossy options, but will they really reflect your organisation and future vision? Did they spend hours of unpaid time researching your organisation, your marketplace and your target audiences – probably not. The fact is that a free job will always be at the bottom of the pile behind the fee paying jobs in any design studio, so even if you get something you think is OK just imagine how good it could have been if you’d paid them to give it real time and effort. Find a designer or design group you respect and trust enough to pay them for their time and you’ll get the right design solution without the wasted time – after all, time is money.

Compass School brand and marketing development case study

Compass School is a free school in Southwark, South East London, which opened in September 2013. Pupils are aged 11-16 and come from a diverse range of social and cultural backgrounds.

The school is temporarily housed in an old college building while a new housing development and school are being built on the site. As a result the school is in a constant state of flux, regularly moving from one area of the site to another, so signage and environmental branding has to be portable.

We started working with the school on their marketing and communications materials in June 2014 in preparation for the 2014-15 school year.

The first step before any design began was to visit the school and explore the surrounding community to get an understanding of the culture, personality and environment. This was followed by a face to face briefing with the Principal. It’s essential to visit any organisation and meet key members of staff before you can create anything that accurately reflects the school and it’s unique characteristics.

The school already has a badge which is used across the uniforms so we didn’t want to change that dramatically and consequently create a need for parents to have to unnecessarily have to buy anything new. We slightly tweaked the badge to refine it and make it a little more graphic and unique, but nothing that would create any continuity issues with existing materials.

In terms of the branding we developed basic design guidelines including a colour palette and typefaces to ensure consistency of brand implementation across all materials.

Basic design guidelines

We presented three concept options for the website and prospectus in response to the brief. Following the presentation they chose their preferred design direction with some tweaks and a bit of ‘cross fertilisation’ between the different concepts. Following our development and sign off we sourced and managed the prospectus printing through to delivery, and the website build and programming. The website is built around a standard WordPress content managed site so that it can easily be updated by the school staff and they are not tied to one website developer in the future.

Compass School 2014-15 prospectus
Compass Prospectus

In addition we produced some portable and temporary signage for the reception area and banner stands for use at open days and events. We focussed all materials on the school’s vision statement – “Everyone in the Compass School Community will confidently reach the destination to which they aspire”.

Compass School reception signage

All materials are designed to feel inclusive and reflect the community with the inclusion of quotes from parents rather than feeling too institutional and cold. The structure and functionality of the website is straightforward and accessible to encourage use by parents. The website and prospectus both work on two levels with key information and statistics pulled out to give an at-a-glance overview with the text providing more in-depth information and details. The website is structured to allow users to easily access the information they are looking for quickly and easily.

website

We will soon be starting work with Compass School on the next phase of their brand development and their new marketing materials for 2015-16.

Further tips and advice on marketing and branding for schools and colleges can be seen here.

Is bigger always better?

Since setting up Howdy in 1999 we have worked for a wide variety of clients of all types and sizes, from global multi nationals through to lone entrepreneurs. During that time we have never had more than six staff at any one time, yet we have met many crazy deadlines, developed global brand strategies and identities, and produced suites of literature, exhibitions and signage programmes. We have delivered each job within the timescales and budgets agreed at the outset.

We previously worked at some large global branding companies, where we worked in equally small teams. It often appeared to the clients that the entire design department were working on their job, therefore justifying high fees from seemingly endless hours of work having been spent their jobs. Sadly, that often didn’t accurately reflect the reality.

Before client meetings and presentations we would spend an hour updating an extended team of people on the project’s progress since the last meeting so that they could all turn up and appear to have been fully engaged and a productive part of the process throughout. We would then negotiate a tricky path throughout those meetings as the peripheral team agreed to unrealistic deadlines and unachievable deliverables, while we tried to rein in expectations and agree appropriate and realistic goals while still meeting key client deadlines and budgets.

We left that world to set up Howdy, knowing that we would be able to build honest and transparent relationships with our clients, without hidden fees or an illusion of extended teams of people behind the scenes.

Careful planning and preparation, in partnership with our clients, ensure that clear, achievable deadlines and fees are agreed and managed by the people directly involved in the projects. Maintaining a dialogue directly between the client and the designers throughout ensures that there are no chinese whispers, and reduces the risk of things getting missed or overlooked.

We do the work and discuss issues and suggestions directly with the clients, giving them the benefit of our design experience and training. We’re not ‘yes’ men. We explain why we’ve done things a certain way, say when we don’t think something will work, and then discuss the options to reach a mutually agreeable solution. We believe that this direct dialogue between clients and designers makes the process more efficient, less frustrating for both sides and ultimately more cost effective.

Branding and Marketing tips for Schools and Colleges

The branding and marketing of schools and colleges is yet another thing that’s been added to an ever increasing list of things that Headteachers and Principals now have to manage. Chances are that it is not a specialist area for most people in these roles, so where do you start?

Howdy work with organisations, including schools and educational establishments, to create and build strong, distinctive brands and effective marketing materials. We realise that most schools don’t have in-house communications specialists so we help with all aspects of the marketing and communications planning through to the execution and delivery.

We’ve put together some simple tips below to help guide you through the process.

Compass Schools website designed by Howdy

Compass Schools website designed by Howdy

1. Why?
It’s important to think carefully about the reason behind the decision to review the branding or marketing materials.Do you need a new brand, maybe to shift perceptions following a change in the organisation, or is it simply that your existing communications are looking tired and in need of a refresh? It may sound obvious but this initial goal is often forgotten in the process resulting in the project drifting away from the original aim. This should dictate the nature and scope of the project.

2. Identify the scope of the project
Look at what you already have, if anything, and how much needs to change. Do you need a revolution or an evolution of your branding and marketing communications? A rebrand doesn’t have to mean throwing everything that you have in place away and starting from scratch. What are the positives and the negatives of your current materials? An audit of existing materials and their effectiveness is an important starting point.

3. Identify your objectives
What are the outcomes that you need to achieve? Decide on the key messages you need to communicate and who with? This may need to be segmented into slightly different messages for different audiences. What is the purpose of your communications? These will form the core of your design and marketing brief to ensure that you end up with an appropriate communications plan and deliverables. See our five tips for writing a design brief for more help and advice.

4. Identify the challenges and issues
The diverse audience you need to communicate with is a challenge in itself. Engaging parents, students, trustees, governors and sponsors, each with their own priorities, is difficult. Throw in other issues, like social challenges – maybe literacy levels or language barriers – and you have a challenging brief that will need to be taken into consideration and addressed in the design.

Compass School reception signage

Compass School reception signage

5. Get feedback
The best way to find out what people do and don’t like is to ask them. Why try and second guess how parents would prefer to receive information when you can ask them? A small amount of basic research before the project begins can save a lot of wasted time and money developing something that people won’t use. This could be a few questions on your website or an email survey, or simply asking people in the playground face to face.

6. Identify the resources available
By this we mean both time and money. It’s important that you have an idea of how much time staff can realistically commit to updating a website, social media, writing copy for newsletters, etc. This will ensure that your communications plan is appropriate and achievable. Of course it’s important to have a ballpark budget in mind. You’ll need to get quotes from companies to help guide this figure but don’t get sucked in by unnecessary whistles and bells that blow your budget without adding real value and benefits. Having clearly identified the scope, objectives and challenges first, it will be easier to stick to clear parameters.

7. Identify the deliverables
Before anything, you need a clear mission/vision statement, agreed by all stakeholders. This, no doubt, exists in your’s, and your colleagues’, heads, and will have been voiced at many meetings, but it needs to be pared down to a succinct written statement against which every aspect of your brand is measured. The brand is the embodiment of your mission so, without a clear statement, any investment in branding and marketing will be wasted.

As well as the logo/badge, branding includes the colour palette, typefaces, tone of voice, style of photography, illustration, etc. which need to be consistently used across everything. Of course there are all the standard day to day applications such as stationery, signage, uniforms, etc. and, without exception, all schools and colleges need a website and prospectus which form your primary marketing materials. In addition, there is an almost infinite list of things that you can brand with your school badge or logo for marketing purposes, such as bags, pens, badges, etc. and it’s important to ensure that the things you choose, if any, are appropriate to your audience in terms of suitability, budget and effectiveness.

Compass School 2014-15 prospectus

Compass School 2014-15 prospectus

8. Find the right design/marketing company
It’s important that you work with someone that you feel is a good match for you and you’ll enjoy working with. There are many companies who design exclusively for the education sector who may feel like a safe pair of hands, but beware of template based design solutions. The whole point of design and branding is to differentiate and address your specific requirements and brief, rather than deliver a formulaic solution.

The image below, from one such company’s web portfolio, shows a selection of their ‘tailor-made’ designs for schools. No matter what your brief, I wouldn’t mind betting that at least one concept they present would contain a ribbon-like swoosh device on the prospectus cover and website. Having removed all the names from these there’s little to differentiate one from another. Of course there will be a number of commonalities across all school briefs, but the purpose of design is to make you stand out from, rather than merge into, the crowd.

Some 'specialists' offer formulaic, templated solutions offering little or no differentiation

Some specialists offer formulaic, templated solutions resulting in little or no differentiation

Our blog on choosing the right design partner offers more advice on this.

You might also be interested in our Compass School case study.

We hope you found this useful but if you need any further help or advice feel free to get in touch.

Design trends – how much should they influence branding decisions?

It’s the time of year when annual trend forecasts are published and magazines are full of news on what colours and shapes are ‘in’ and what will dictate 2016’s ‘style’.

This year Pantone have selected two ‘colours of the year’: Rose Quartz and Serenity. According to Pantone’s Executive Director, Leatrice Eiseman: “These colours demonstrate an inherent balance between a warmer embracing rose tone and the cooler tranquil blue, reflecting connection and wellness as well as a soothing sense of order and peace.”

What does this mean to us, as branding and communications specialists, in our day to day marketing and design decisions? Probably not a lot in all honesty. Identity and communication design needs to reflect, enhance and communicate a brand and its values on a longer term basis.

Fast changing trends are essential in fashion, an industry built around seasonal, short term collections fuelling our desire to update our wardrobes every few months, but it’s no accident that most fashion brands’ corporate identities are black and white or neutral, giving them the flexibility to work with and sit above each season’s changing trends. Brands like Chanel, Burberry, YSL, Gucci and Fred Perry, are iconic and have changed very little, if at all, in the past 20+ years, maintaining consistent, well managed and instantly recognisable brand identities.

A brand identity is not a short term investment and, as such, should not be subject to seasonal whims and fancies. Longer term trends do occur and brand identities can become tired and outdated and in need of a revamp, but this should be after years not months.

The key to a successful and long lasting corporate identity is to get the brief right and find a design partner you feel is right for you (see our blog ‘Choosing the right design partner’).

Ensure you end up with an identity that accurately reflects your brand values and personality. Be ambitious and look to the future. Think about where you want the organisation to be in five years and aim for an identity that reflects that vision. Don’t be swayed by this season’s style ‘must haves’. Don’t end up with a logo that’s ‘so last season’ in 12 months time.