Brand Strategy

Why Google just made its biggest mistake

By | Brand Design, Brand Identity, Brand Strategy, digital media
Google's original logo

Google’s original logo

When I was about 10 years old my step dad shaved off his beard.

The entire time I’d known him – since I was 3 – he’d had a huge, wiry brown beard. It had occasionally been trimmed, or left to grow ‘Ned Kelly style’, but the beard was him.

My memory is not clear on why he decided to shave it off after all that time, but suffice to say, in my mind, he’d made a huge mistake.

I actually ran from the room in terror at seeing this ‘strange man’ with a clean face. He was NOT the same person. He was no longer warm and cuddly and entirely trustworthy. He was a clean-shaven stranger masquerading as a trusted figure in our family home.

It sounds ridiculous, but it took me a long time to get over that. I stared and stared at his clean-shaven face for days, unable to process the change that had occurred.

The point was, for me, his identity was inextricably tied to his beard. I trusted that guy with the big beard. Without the beard, how was I to know he could be trusted?

When Google changed its logo recently, it also, shaved off its beard.

As a young, rule-breaking start-up, we grew to love our new friend Google the search engine. It seemed honest, transparent – a start-up for the people. It made things easier, made more things possible.

It kept ‘the big guys’ on their toes – dictating web content priority based on its own magic, secret algorithm, which changed suddenly and without much warning.

But yet, it stayed humble.

For nearly 20 years Google has led the digital transformation – literally stamped out a path for how the internet should function; what people should be able find, on what devices.

And was it even selling anything? Not that we noticed.

Obviously, Google was making a ton of money, but in our eyes, it made it off the backs of rich companies that could afford to advertise. And it even declared the listings that were paid for (See! Still on our ‘side’).

And did it have an ego-maniac at the helm, claiming he was a visionary genius? No, just two PhD students wanting “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.

Democratising information – how could you not love that?

As Google grew, the organisation itself seemed like an oasis – Googleplex was the Disneyland of workplaces – interns tripped over themselves to work there. It became the stuff of career mythology.

We grew to love and trust Google so much, we couldn’t help incorporating it into our everyday language – brands don’t turn into verbs overnight!

And with that trust came an assurance that we knew every inch of that humble serif logo. It looked like a semi-broke start-up that a couple of uni students started in a friend’s garage.

It looked like it remembered where it came from.

In contrast, the new logo, to me immediately said ‘multinational faceless corporate brand’ and with that, the trust factor plummeted.

Google's new logo

Google’s new logo

How can a font make that much difference, I hear you ask? Surely it’s just a logo.

As illogical as it might seem, as consumers, we connect with brands emotionally – just like family members – so an unexpected change in appearance can trigger all sorts of seemingly irrational responses.

In the case of Google, nothing about their business model or company history had changed, but the moment they ‘modernised’ their brand mark, I felt they’d forgotten me – forgotten the humble little human who helped Google them to the top of the world.

Why word of mouth is still best

By | advertising, Brand Strategy, trends

Since the dawn of time, word of mouth has been, and continues to be, the best form of advertising.

It may come as a surprise, but despite all our advances in technology and communication, word of mouth is still the best way to get your message out. How come? A few simple reasons:

  • It’s pre-filtered: Usually your social circle is made up of people who are like-minded, with similar values. This means that when they think something is good, you don’t need to question the basis on which they have decided that – you already know they have similar standards and expectations.
    Your friends will also tend to mention things that relate to you and your circumstances. So unless they miss all the social cues, they won’t recommend an amazing place to buy a diamond ring if you’ve just lost your job.
  • It’s free: Aside from the obvious costs of creating a great customer experience in the first place, getting those happy customers to tell their friends comes at no additional cost to you, the business.
  • It’s interactive: Unlike a one-way advertisement, whether in print or digital, hearing about some great new product from your mates is a two-way conversation. You can clarify when, where and how much. You can ask for details they might not have volunteered in the first instance.
  • It has no expiry date: Once people have a really good (or really bad!) experience, they tend to keep talking about it whenever the subject arises. Know the best place for cinnamon donuts? “Yeah I went to this place 6 months ago but I’m sure it’s still amazing…”
  • It’s a trusted source: Your friends won’t usually try and trick you into trying something new (unless you’ve done something to deserve it!) so there’s no chance that when they say “these are the best runners I’ve ever owned” that they really meant “these runners fell apart after 3 weeks”.

So if you focus on creating great products and great experiences, people will talk. And talking is what you want them to do. Yes, you still need an integrated marketing strategy, a strong digital presence and a frequent review of your objectives; but when it comes down to it, how much you impress customers will remain a great baseline measure of success.



Print merchandise – So much to print, so little time…

By | Brand Identity, Brand Strategy, Event Branding, print media, trends

In the midst of the digital tidal wave, the right printed merchandise can be extremely effective in terms of enforcing your brand message. A targeted product for the right audience can be a great conversation starter and do wonders for top-of-mind awareness.

If you’re a start-up, or a small business with a plan to crank up your marketing presence, you may be wondering what on earth you should invest your money in.

I’m guessing you don’t want to be left with 3,000 novelty bottle openers that are quietly rusting in the corner of your garage…?!

You’re thinking, what will best represent my brand in print? What’s the latest thing?… A frisbee? A fridge magnet? A t-shirt? A yoyo? A coffee cup?

Firstly, forget about what the latest thing is. Be selective and look for a quality product that suits your style.

Here’s a few pointers you should consider before deciding on your printed promotional merchandise…

Does it say something about who you are?

Regardless of what the object is, it should add to the story of you as a company. If there’s no tangible point to it, then it’s not worth doing.

A cost effective place to start is the most basic of printed items – the Business Card.

moo cards hub heart cards





OMG I hear you say – this girl has rocks in her head – business cards are soooo 1998!!


If you haven’t got a business card because you don’t think you need one, then let me ‘splain my reasoning (rocks aside)… Doing business – last time I checked – still involves people. And what you want is for them to leave your first meeting with a little piece of ‘you’ in their pocket.

A business card presents the perfect opportunity to solidify their first impression and pique their interest in your story. Obviously it needs to be interesting and engaging …. And If they say absolutely nothing when you hand it over, you know you have room for improvement.

A great card will deliver a positive response and ideally start a whole new conversation about what you can do for them. It’s the ultimate in personal branding.

If I’m impressed by the business card, I always keep it… even if I didn’t like the person!

xtra-space     steve     gabefercover5Business-Cards-3153-Best-Business-Card-Design-Inspiration20alexandrabusiness-cards-2014-17cfed29255211f71bf5a893b0dfe81ac12-LAVA_BusCard_560px_4-580x435C_2_fotogallery_1004542__ImageGallery__imageGalleryItem_0_image












Will it last?

Rather than printing thousands of flyers that will only add to landfill, why not go for something with a bit of stamina?

Ideally if you’re going to spend anything more than about $3 per unit, you want something that has a shelf life of 6-12 months.

So look for durable products with a supplier who will ideally send you out some samples. That way, you and your friends can test it out for a few weeks and see if it makes the grade.

Is it useful?

bottlePractical items are ideal and very worth spending money on. Obviously, these are perfect for event branding as well.

Some of my favourites in this category include:



1. Canvas shopping bags:

canvas bageataly canvas bagcanvas bag red print


Coffee canvas bag






2. Eco coffee cups: (check out Ideal Cup from NZ)

ideal cup






3. Lip balm or sunscreen:

3 sun screen malibu-rum-lip-balm sunscreen






4. Bandaids:






Remember that if it is a quality product and the branding is stylish people will enjoy using it more because it was free! In terms of printing, obviously if you can get away with one colour print then the price will come down, and it’s always economies of scale with these products too – the more, the merrier!

Items that might not be as practical as they seem…

Satchels: I always find conference satchels a bit naff. They are cheaply made, the handles are stiff and starchy and the logos have been slapped on in a tacky fashion. I’m happy to be proven wrong on this, but so far I’ve only ever been the recipient of the dud ones!

USBs: Also a word of warning about cute USB sticks… they can be awesome if you have the right product or service, but PLEASE test the design first. So many I have found either won’t fit into some ports because the design obstructs them sitting flush, or the pin is so thin it snaps off after two uses, or they only have 2MB of storage on them :/

promo usb plane usb green truck usb






iPhone Covers: Again, these can be awesome if you get a good quality product… and if Apple would stop changing the size of their phones every six months :/

iphone covers





Remember – it needs to be actually useful, not just pretend to be!

Is it unique?

What you don’t want is to be a walking brand cliché. For example, every pharmaceutical company on the planet has produced a golf umbrella and a stress ball in the shape of one of their drugs. These ideas are not new.

Something sooooo unique that they want to show their friends immediately should be your aim. Easier said than done, I know!


Next up – Is my website ‘mobile friendly’ and does it need to be?

Print is not dead, Part 1 – Worth Holding in Your Hands

By | Brand Strategy, digital media, print media, trends

As per every major shift in media technology before it, the ‘arrival’ of digital media spawned a glut of public assertions that would see print media in the grave before sunset.

“The newspaper is dead”

“No one will ever read a magazine again”

“There will only be eBooks” (this may yet happen if we run out of trees!)

magazine stack

They were partly right – traditional news consumption has undergone a seismic shift.

Free content is delivered immediately online, there’s no need to wait for the morning paper; citizen journalism has created a ‘democracy of information’ but simultaneously, a huge grey cloud over the credibility of news; international tabloid news gathering tactics have made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Before newspapers even had the chance to respond to the ‘digital attack’ – or in some cases, even believe it was happening – sales certainly plummeted.

But now, something of a retroversion seems to be happening – last month’s statistics show that some titles may have ridden the wave successfully – at least for the moment.

“News Corp Australia has bucked the trend of declining newspaper print readership to post a 2 per cent increase across its national, metropolitan and regional titles over the past year, well above the 4 per cent decline across all major newspaper print mastheads.”

Now this is news in itself. That it even was possible to buck this trend seems unthinkable. News Corp’s diversified holdings surely must account for some of this – but ultimately, their content strategy must be spot on.

“The Sydney Morning Herald retained the No 1 spot across print and digital…

The West Australian was the only major paper to post a significant drop in total audience, down 8.3 per cent to 1.863 million”. (source)

So SMH has successfully balanced the books by combining up-to-the-minute digital content and relevant print news… but The West Australian is obviously doing something wrong… despite having the most captive audience in the nation, they seem to be slipping behind in a two-horse race.

And glossy magazines too – despite their enormous production price tag – have failed to fall off the map. Clever cross promotion on tv, digital and retail platforms (helped by cross media ownership I’m sure) seems to be the key to holding market share.

According to News Life Media’s website, their collective digital and print assets reach an audience of 7.7 million – representing 45% of Australians aged over 14. (source)

This is an incredible statistic – but not surprising when you consider the content reach – and clever commercial partnering – on some of their titles:

  • Australian Good Taste (with Woolworths)
  • Australian Parents (with Woolworths)
  • Country Style
  • delicious. (with the ABC)
  • donna hay
  • Gardening Australia (with the ABC)
  • GQ Australia
  • Inside Out
  • MasterChef Magazine
  • Vogue Australia

Australians are firmly on the foodie wagon – even when you might think we’ve reached saturation point – nope, we’re just swallowing the entrée.

Masterchef 2014

Masterchef 2014

The contrived scenes of tension created using reasonable people with excellent culinary skills must ring true with a huge whack of domesticated adults.

Either that or they’re just hungry.

Following it up with a magazine purchase to recreate the very emotional food experience they’ve just bought into is clearly a no-brainer. And lets face it… it’s way harder to follow a recipe when the screen keeps going to sleep every 60 seconds.

Being eaten up with the same amount of ravenous enthusiasm is the topic of home renovations. People can’t get enough of watching other people pull down rooms and redecorate them.

Preferably with the occasional hot-couple-argument thrown in for good measure.

The Block participants 2014

The Block participants 2014

So it makes sense that some hard copy ‘inspiration’ should feed those creative decorating demons.

By why not just surf Pinterest til the cows come home?

That’s definitely happening, but that’s not where it ends.

Pinterest and other image-heavy platforms are great for the immediate binge. But maybe they don’t hold fast for the long, slow ponder. Maybe a magazine is less invasive with its lack of flashing gifs and targeted banner ads; more timeless and durable, within its natural habitat of the private or public coffee table; and therefore more suited to a contemplative decision-making mood.

So for hot-headed impulsive purchases, the click-bait has it covered. But for a larger or more involved purchase – one that might require having to – gasp – ‘discuss’ the decision, then it makes sense that a magazine provides a solid selection of concepts in print.

So its good news that print is not dead. Keeping the quality of journalism high while adding in-depth, thought-provoking analysis to current issues is worth holding in your hands.

Adaptability is a wonderful thing.

Flow magazine cover

The latest indi craft magazine to hit Australia

And you would think a person crazy if they told you they were about to launch a magazine, right? But, niche magazines – new titles! – have sprung up all over the place, like Flow Magazine from the Netherlands.

Take Frankie and add a layer of uber-cool Dutch aesthetic; an extra dollop of designer-maker-look-its-another-doily-but-cooler; and a limited run of only 4 editions annually and all of a sudden you have a top quality printed mag in high demand by 20 and 30-something craft-obsessed neo hipsters.

Of course, Flow comes with its own neat little app, bringing you 365 Days of Flow… cute illustrations combined with pick-me-up quotes and homemaker tips deliver a daily brand reminder. So obvious I can’t bare to call it clever, yet it works a treat.

Even local marketing agencies have reverted to print to make their point.

George magazine

Promoting George Street, East Fremantle, WA.


Out for dinner during the week at the tasty Wine Store & Kitchen in East Fremantle, I spotted a stack of stylish looking newspapers. Simply titled ‘George’ the 24 page paper beautifully promotes selected businesses on George Street, with high quality photos and carefully written copy. I notice in the fine print it has distribution of 16,000 to a handful of high-end suburbs.

Targeted, tangible and perfectly placed.



Next week… Print is not dead, Part 2 – So much to print, so little time…

The importance of brand consistency across social media

The importance of brand consistency across social media

By | Brand Design, Brand Identity, Brand Strategy

So by now we should all know the importance for all businesses to have a strong presence across social media. If you are to look at the strongest brands that are the most successful across social media there is a common thread – they all deliver a consistent brand message.

Whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram they have the same look that identifies their brand immediately and the voice used in their content reflects their brands identity.

There are major benefits from creating a consistent brand presence across all social media including:

  • Increase engagement from followers, liker’s
  • Professionalism – nothing screams amateur like a mash up of design
  • Strengthens brand recall
  • Develop and maintain one brand personality
  • Eliminates confusion

Essentially creating a consistent brand across multiple social media platforms comes down to two elements – how you look and how you sound.


The impact of an impressive design can never be understated in any area of business, and social media is no different. Unlike your website, email or print design there are relatively strict limitations in regards to the space the designer has to work with. Some may say this is restrictive; I’d like to think it fosters creativity.

Facebook page managers can essentially only have brand imagery in two places, the cover photo and the profile picture (for the dimensions of these and other social media check out here). Twitter is more flexible, with background image, header, profile picture and also the ability to style the colour scheme. On the other hand Pinterest and Instagram are pretty much locked down with only a profile picture available to change.

The most important element amongst all these is the profile picture. This should be the same, or a variation of a theme, across all social media and be the main focal point to represent your brand. Make it bold and avoid too much text as it can become hard to read in when the image is displayed as a thumbnail.

For the other spaces use consistent imagery, colours and themes. If your business has a style guide then this a good time to refer to it and design for the respective networks according to your branding guidelines. If not then I recommend you look into developing one.


It can be argued that the voice of a brand on social media is more important than the design itself as it creates a level of humanity which drives the fan engagement more than any logo or graphic ever could. When I speak of a brands voice on social media I refer to the tone of the conversation, the content posted and the way that the brand responds to users.

A brands identity goes far beyond its visual aesthetic and is truly defined by a number of internal and external elements of the business. Certain businesses, like accountants, may want to exude ‘a more serious tone’ at all times, whereas there may be a much more ‘laid back tone’ around the amusement park industry.

The way in which you communicate this voice needs to be consistent across all social media. Be mindful of this when you are posting content and in particular engaging with followers of your brand. There’s no better advocate for a brand than a customer who has had a positive experience engaging with the business and is willing to tell others about it.

Maintaining consistency in both design and voice across all your social media is crucial in keeping up with the competition, engaging your customer base and developing new leads.

Why don’t you like me? How a brand makes friends

By | Brand Identity, Brand Strategy

More than ever before, the world is full of people wanting to be your friend. And I don’t mean on Facebook (although, that is also a problem…).

No, I mean brands that want to be your friend. From the simple bar of soap on your bathroom basin, to the friendly-looking cereal staring up at you from your breakfast bowl, to the shiny red jet that’s flying over your house right now.

They want you to like them and they’re not afraid to say so. Some are even willing to pay for the privilege!

Cast your mind back to the school playground. Making friends was probably one of the most difficult and tenuous things you could attempt to do.

There were the kids that made friends easily and naturally – seemingly without effort. They were friendly, they were confident, they had nothing to hide. They were never picked last for the tee ball team and they never sat by themselves at lunch.

Then there were the rich kids, who simply bought friends. Lunches, free tickets, sporting equipment from dad’s store. It was fleeting and shallow version of friendship, but it worked on some level.

And then there were always the kids that tried too hard to be friends. They got up in your face; gave you a list of reasons you should be friends; basically campaigned in every recess to try and hang out with you. But for some reason, they just didn’t seem convincing – their sales pitch never really caught on – something about them was just not quite believable.

They wanted your friendship too much. They seemed needy and neurotic. In the end, you just didn’t trust them.

Modern brands are just like these kids.

Some brands make friends effortlessly… they live in the hearts of people around the world (research suggests people are not addicted to their iPhones as first thought, but instead, they love their iPhones).

How do they do that? Well, firstly, they live their beliefs. They are who they say they are.

It’s exactly the same as when you meet a person who is sure of themselves – not arrogant – but appropriately confident and open. They speak genuinely and they know themselves; they are consistent in their views; they are warm and they listen to others; they are immediately likeable and seem infinitely reliable.

In essence, they are rock-solid in their own self-belief. They are the real deal.

Think of all the truly amazing brands of our time – their strength is in their self belief and how they communicate that to the world. The simplicity of their message and their innate ability to create a brand following – a loyalty that goes beyond rational consumer choice and rests firmly in the hearts of their customers – is the key to their success.

And this is true not just of consumer brands, but of all brands. The emotional attachment that is created when a brand does something powerfully good cannot be measured in ‘likes’, ‘shares’ or even sales. It becomes a trusted friend. And we all know that good friends – real friends – are priceless.

Halcyon Creative