Character is action – Using what your brand does to define what your brand is

There is a truism that is often quoted in screenwriting: “character is action, not dialogue”.

For example, if you want to reveal that a junkie is addicted to drugs you don’t have him say “I’m so desperate for drugs I’ll do anything”, you put the drugs at the bottom of a blocked toilet, have him fish them out and swallow them.

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You know you’re a junkie if…

Character is action is also true in real life. When an on-hold message says “your call is important to us” but you’re still on hold 20 minutes later, that not only shows your call isn’t important, it also shows the people on the other end of the line are either happy to lie to you or delude themselves into thinking that no one will care about their lack of service.

This is why one of the first things any organisation should do when they’re thinking about brand development is audit how they act internally and externally, and how those actions appear to the people who see them. These actions do more to define how the organisation is perceived and what a brand currently stands for than any strategic business plan with overarching values and goals.

At Shabbadu, we like to start every brand development project with a Communications Audit and a set of workshops with our client’s front line staff. It allows us to capture and define every significant action taken on behalf of a brand. Are they positive or negative? Desperate or confident? Caring or selfish?

By capturing a snapshot of what an organisation does and how it does it, we give our clients a strong understanding of what their brand really stands for and what they might need to do differently to live up to the promise of their brand. It also gives us a great foundation to develop brand assets that make sense of the way their organisation acts.

This means you should end up with a brand that strengthens what it stands for in a natural, self-sustaining way, no matter what twists and turns the script takes.

Emojis: Linguistic evolution? Or stupid, bastardised Internet glitter?

Every generation bastardizes the language. It’s happened since forever. So really it should come as no surprise that the emerging rebellious youth, armed to the teeth with unlimited data caps and early-onset thumb arthritis, are helping to steer the vernacular into wondrously new, if head-scratchingly confounding, places with ‘emojis’ (winking smiley face).

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The ‘Call an ambulance I’m having a stroke’ emoji.

The evolution of language is a natural, beautiful thing. It helps shape a generation’s identity and date stamps the zeitgeist, and hopefully, as a result, we progress as a society. Cultivating new ways to communicate helps us form bonds with our peers and gives the ‘cool kids’ a sort of shorthand to help them decipher who’s in and who’s out. But above all, it’s supposed to make communication easier.

Yet, I can’t see ‘emojis’ helping ‘us’ achieve any of these things.

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I don’t know either TBH.

They distract, confuse, obfuscate, but most mischievously of all, potentially purport to dumb us down. Try finding the ‘emoji’ equivalent of distract, confuse and obfuscate, for instance. “Um, ok, well I’ve got a woman shrugging her shoulders…will that do?” No.

‘Emojis’ are the linguistic equivalent of glitter: nice in theory and can clearly serve a purpose, but once unleashed now inhabits every crevice of our existence and is seemingly impossible to get rid of. I can’t seem to shake this nagging feeling that they’re some big, dumb ‘so bad it’s good’ joke that people began using ironically. Only it’s been going on for so long now that everyone seems to have forgotten the punch line, walked the chicken back across the road and are now happily drinking in a bar with a horse, a tiny man with a piano, and various men of cloth.

maxresdefaultDon’t get me wrong; ‘emojis’ have their place as hieroglyphic hashtags to be used after the main event to highlight your point (ok signing hand) or provide a witty rejoinder (poo with eyes (hilarious)). However, plonk them in the middle of a sentence in place of an actual word and leave the reader to decipher your message at your own peril.

So are ‘emojis’ here to stay, or will they be banished to the cultural wilderness like Hammer Pants, tamagotchis and wine cooler?

I guess only (clock face) will (person whispering into their hand).

Shabbadu’s Chris Taylor forced to hire his own sister.

It is with great regret that Shabbadu’s Chris Taylor announces the hire of a new Digital Strategist: his sister, Kate Crawshaw.

“I can’t believe I’m having to say this out loud in public, but I have a talented sister who knows more about the important field of Digital Strategy than I do.” says Taylor through gritted teeth.

According to Taylor, he was left with little choice. “Recently, more and more of our clients have been wanting in-depth strategic thinking for their digital and social marketing campaigns. I tried everything I could to hire someone else, but – and it kills me to admit this – the fact is my sister is one of the best thinkers in the field. Her fifteen years experience and strong skill set in everything from board-level facilitation and creation of strategic plans to implementation and staff training is perfect for our clients and for us.”

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“As part of her hiring conditions I’m required to acknowledge that she is now, has been and always will be smarter than me and that Mum loves her more because she is clearly the better child.”

Crawshaw is clearly happy with her new role. “Now that the whole sibling rivalry thing’s been acknowledged as the no-contest it obviously was, I’m looking forward to teaching the little snail-eating bedwetter how the world really works. I’ll give my little brother his due, though. Shabbadu is a fascinating business with some great partnerships already in place. My role is to help nurture those relationships as well as strengthening internal processes as the business heads into an exciting growth stage.”

Taylor has no concerns about mixing family and business, though. “Look, if it doesn’t work out I’ll give her a hug, thank her for her help and tell her she was adopted.”

How to brief a creative person ~or~ Making sure you get what you deserve.

Briefs are like design books. Most creative people love receiving them, but they don’t read them much: they flick through them for vague inspiration before running off in the direction their heart/gut tells them to go.

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But don’t let that dissuade you from writing one, because they’re massively important. Not just to guide the creative process, but to also help solidify your own thinking beforehand. Plus, when push comes to shove, it will be the lighthouse everyone looks to when they’ve all (yourself included) lost their way.

There is no ‘one’ perfect way to brief. Every advertising agency has a different template. But there are a few signposts you need to lay down to ensure the end result is right.

First of all, and this is the hardest part of the process, get rid of any preconceived notion of what the end result will look/sound/feel like. Just forget it. It will cloud the way you brief and it will cloud the way you respond to the work.

Step 1: Define what you want to achieve: Are you looking to build awareness? Are you having a sale? Are you launching something new? Whether you’re fulfilling a function or aiming for double-digit growth, put it down on paper and share it.

Step 2: Define the parameters: Who is the target audience? When do you need it by? If you’ve already booked the media, what’s the schedule? What’s your production budget? All these things will be factors that will affect the outcome. If you have the information, it’s best shared with those that need to know from the very start.

Step 3: Set the tone. If you’ve got an established brand this will be a walk in the park. If you’re starting from scratch it’s a process that really needs to take place separately. If you don’t know how your brand speaks to its audience, you really shouldn’t be advertising until you do. Taking the time to create one not only helps focus your communications, but can increase your effectiveness exponentially.

Step 4: Define how you will measure success. Separate from Step 1, this is more about what you want the target audience to think/feel/do once they’ve seen this piece of communication. Is it even measurable? If so, it’s good to set a target for the creative to aim for.

No offence, but this isn’t what success looks like to normal people. 

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And despite all this required information, try to keep it short and sweet.

But what about the ‘Unique Selling Point’, or the ‘Single Minded Proposition’? These are ‘nice to haves’ but not essential. Besides, if you’ve got people writing those things for you, you don’t need to learn how to write a brief.

So there you have it. In short, know what you want to achieve, define the parameters, set the tone and define how you’ll measure success.

Start with these steps and an open mind, and your creative suppliers will thank you for it.

Ripping off the brand-aid ~or~ saying goodbye to an old friend.

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I buried an old friend today. Or, if you want me to turn down the melodrama a notch, I signed off a new logo for Shabbadu. While it was an absolutely necessary thing to do,  it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.  And here’s why.

1. I liked what we had. 

Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I didn’t actually hate what we had before. Mainly, because I created it. Sure, I have no design training or skill, but that didn’t stop me when I was all excited about my new business seven years ago. And it took me ages! Well, ok, it took about 20 minutes. Still, I thought it was unique and special, and it did the job.

2. It’s a big investment.

Rebranding costs a lot of money. And it’s not just designers fees, you change one thing you’ve got to change everything. And you’d better change it all at once too or else. Bah! Too hard. Can’t I just get away with my old tracky dacks, I mean logo, for another few years?

3. I’m not the best judge of art direction/design.

I think the saying is ‘pearls before swine’. Despite my years of experience in advertising, I’ve always been a ‘I don’t know much about art but I know what I like’ kind of copywriter. Which is fine when you’ve got a talented, understanding art director by your side, but it’s a different kettle of fish when a) you’ve got to brief the thing in, and b) when you’ve got make a decision at the end of it all.

Basically, I found myself thrust into the role our clients find themselves in more often than not. Suddenly, I had to be making calls on stuff I really didn’t feel qualified to make calls on. At least not with any authority or accuracy. And, I wasn’t entirely convinced we needed to be changing anything in the first place. But I was lucky. I had a team around me that I trusted, and my designer provided enough evidence of industry and support to make me feel comfortable with their suggestions.

Emotions aside, the time was right for a new logo for Shabbadu. The business I began seven years ago is worlds away from the one we are today. One of the key differences is I’m saying we, instead of me. Suddenly, it’s not just about what I like. Breathe, Chris. Breathe.

We’ve all been guilty of being hard on clients for umming, ahhing, and rejecting perfectly good work for seemingly no reason. This experience will hopefully colour these situations for me in the future. I’ll be more understanding and appreciate that while we might just think of it as another chance to move the brand forward into a new and exciting future, for our clients it might represent the nadir of an existential crisis where they begin to question all manner of things about their life, past and present.

Still, onwards and upwards.

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Extremes and Modifiers ~ or ~ The writer of this post is a moron, according to some.

Politics is hard to follow. In Australia, it’s hard to follow without repeatedly slapping yourself on the forehead. It’s been noted that it’s regressed into a tribal sporting contest, where fans of each side follow their ‘team’ with blind fervor. But when the personalities and policies fail, and we’ve all tuned out to what the politicians say, there can at the very least be education and entertainment in following ‘how’ they say it.

This doesn’t refer Paul Keating tearing strips of the nearest boxhead, desiccated coconut and painted, perfumed gigolo, but more so the empty rhetoric, pre-prepared party lines and obfuscation we’ve become accustomed to.

The 24-hour news cycle and the need for short, sharp political point scoring at every opportunity has given rise to another linguistic art form: the extreme and modifier.

While the extreme and modifier sounds tough and rugged like a ‘thrust and parry’, it’s more like poking your tongue out at a caged bear. You might feel tough while you’re doing it, but ultimately, it’s pointless.

Let’s look at an easy one to begin with. This is a mild example from Bob Carr, speaking about the James Ashby/Peter Slipper affair. Now, you may recall that in the early days of this scandal, the government was doing its best to discredit James Ashby and tentatively stand behind the man they installed as speaker.

“This Ashby seems more rehearsed than a kabuki actor.”

Key word here is ‘seems’. If he had said ‘This Ashby is more rehearsed than a kabuki actor’ he’d clearly have been sued. After all, he seems to be quite the litigious type.

And to prove that neither side of politics is immune to the old E&M, here’s a no brainer from Tony Abbott. He memorably blessed us with this pearler:

“Work Choices, it’s dead, it’s buried, it’s cremated, now and forever…” (iron clad extreme) “…but obviously, I can’t give an absolute guarantee about every single aspect of workplace relations legislation.” (rolled gold modifier)

Julia Gillard is a master of pretty much all forms of political rhetoric. So it should come as no surprise that she’s a deft hand at the extreme and modifier. But this example is pure genius:

“A complete imbecile, an idiot, a stooge, a sexist pig, a liar, and his sister said he’s a crook and rotten to the core…”

This was her description of former AWU union official Ralph Blewitt. Pretty stern stuff. Plenty of slander going on there. Of course, until she added the all important “…according to people who know him.”

All great examples, yet some are subtler than others. But in the race to make a point when your sound bite needs to fit into a tweet, they’re becoming more and more prevalent in everyday poli-speak.

Keep an ear out for a few old favourites like these; “We could be forgiven for thinking…”, “Is behaving like a….”, and “Another example of the kind of reckless behavior this lot are famous for.”

With a good few months to go before the election, tune in whenever you hear a politician speak and see if you can catch them rolling one out. Question Time is rife with them if you can stomach it.

In the meantime, try slipping a few into everyday conversations. Instead of saying you’re tired, you’re ‘partially exhausted’. You’re not a bit light of funds, you’re ‘borderline insolvent’.

It’s fun for the whole working family, according to some.

How to make Google ‘like’ your website ~ or ~ Why good copywriters are a vital part of SEO.

Google cares about three things in a website:

Is this website relevant?

Is this website popular?

and

Is this website current and up-to-date?

SEO is really about convincing Google that your website is all three. If you do it successfully, you’ll end up on the front page of a Google search.

There are a few basic rules.

1. Convince Google your website is relevant.

Here’s an important insight into how the Internet works: the words that people type into search engines are not the same as the words people write on their websites.

You can use this disconnect to convince Google your website is relevant. It’s a three-step process.

  1. Find out which words and phrases people commonly type into search engines when they’re searching in your specialty area: the “keywords”.
  2. Go through these keywords and phrases and select the ones that describe what you do best that aren’t being used by other websites.
  3. Use these keywords on your website.

Then when people search for those words and phrases, because no one else is using them, it helps your website come closer to the top of the search results.

This leaves you with two challenges: find the right keywords and then weave them subtly into the copy of your website.

How do you find the right keywords?

The “commonly searched for” part is easy. Lots of places on the Internet will tell you that for free like Google’s Trends. The challenge is finding the words that no one else is using. There are freebie tools such as Adwords Keyword tool to help you with this, but they’re not designed specifically for website keywords.

So you’ll get no more than a “close approximation” of what words will work for you. They’re better than nothing but nowhere near as accurate as paying an SEO specialist to use their sophisticated software to provide you with the good stuff. 

How do you weave the keywords subtly into the copy of your website?

Hire a good copywriter.

2. Convince Google your website is popular.

Now your site has all the right keywords on it. So do twenty others. Or fifty. Or a thousand. How does Google decide which of these sites goes on the front page? They choose the site that’s most popular.

How do they determine if your site is the popular one? They look at how many other sites have linked to yours. The jargon term for this is “link juice” as in “wow, dude, your site’s really popular. It must have a lot of link juice.” If your site’s got the most link juice it becomes the site with the best search result.

I know. Link juice: it’s gross. This is what happens when you let engineers have access to the dictionary without proper supervision.

How do you get link juice?

There’s a good way and a bad way. The bad way to get link juice is you pay some guy in India or China who owns a link juice farm (I’m not making this up) who will provide you with as much link juice as you’re prepared to pay for. Google do not like this. This is not how they think the Internet should work. Someone is getting rich from search and it’s not them. If they catch you (and they will) you suddenly won’t be appearing on their search results anymore.

The good way to get link juice is to create a strong, informative website with interesting content that everybody likes to quote on their blog or post on Facebook and twitter. Google likes this.

How do you create a strong, informative website with interesting content that everyone likes to quote and create links to? Hire a good copywriter.

3. Convince Google your website is current.

Congratulations. You’ve got a site with all the right keywords and a lot of link juice. And so do thirty other sites. How does Google choose between you? Currency. They look to see who has got the most up-to-date content on their site.

This is why we’re all writing blogs now and Sally is hosting this one on her directory. Hi, Sally 😉

Of course, any new bit of content on your site adds to your currency, but this is where rules one and two come in again. Is this new content relevant and popular? Is the content full of keywords and phrases that are frequently searched for but are not frequently used on other sites? Is the content of sufficient quality that people will link to it from their highly regarded websites (think government or higher education), their blogs or post it on their Facebook or Twitter accounts?

How do you continue to produce new content that’s relevant and popular?

Hire a good copywriter who understands SEO.

Muchos gracias to Chris Talbot from The Reactor Digital for being a SEO Yoda and fact checking.