Want to learn something during your internship? Add one employee handbook, five blog posts, one print check, two client meetings, and the launch of a start-up. That should do the trick.
Throughout my seven week internship with Insight Strategic Communications I had the opportunity to work on projects that ultimately gave me a better understanding of brands, employee ownership, and proofing with the audience in mind.
The word “brand” was not new to my vocabulary; however, throughout the course of my internship, I gained a better understanding of the definition. I had never realized how many factors went into creating and maintaining a brand and how many different types of rules and standards must be considered when developing products—things such as font, color, positioning, and tone. As a communications consulting firm, we have to be aware of a client’s brand as we write, proof, and create content for them.
I spent a bulk of my time writing and proofing content and materials for our new company Nest Egg Communications—a communications agency that provides communications toolkits for employee owned companies. At the start of my internship I had no idea what an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) was, let alone what it meant in terms of business. I now know that ESOPs give employees a way to share in the wealth they create, no matter what job they hold.
I had the opportunity to refine and practice my writing and proofing skills while also learning to consider the audience and how the message might be perceived. Before I started reading something I would ask “who is the audience?” This was new for me, I had always edited content by determining if it was perceived well by me; but, what I gained from my experience is that the writing is ineffective if the intended audience can’t understand the message.
With this internship being my first real-world job, I was both nervous and excited; I was eager to learn but also afraid I didn’t know enough going in. However, through lots of questions and experiences I now know that not only can I meet expectations and do the work, but with some more practice I can thrive in the communications field and create great work.
Almost a year ago, Major League Soccer announced its landmark decision that saw Atlanta, Ga., a city that hardly screams “soccer passion,” as the host of its next expansion franchise. With the new club starting from scratch, I wrote last year that this would be a case study for any business owner interested in brand building.
The club, led by Owner Arthur Blank and General Manager Darren Eagles (who has experience in the English Premier League), has enlisted the help of the city’s main soccer support group, Terminus Legion, to involve the fans in the club’s formative stage. It’s a wise move, which I’ll explain later, but first here’s some background on what’s happened.
Terminus Legion conducted a multi-stage poll that was open to the public for voting on the team name. The group posted regular updates, were quick to respond to voters with questions (I was one), and finally posted a comprehensive results summary. From the onset, Terminus Legion made it clear that their poll was not the end all be all, but would give the owners and club leaders a thorough insight into what the fans wanted or didn’t want. In short, the club created an open channel for dialogue with the public.
The fact that the club is not just open for fan input, but actively soliciting it is a great omen. They are engaging a market to which they will be selling a product. Getting the market involved with the vision and direction of the club will give the fans ownership and a vested interest. Fans that feel this way will do more than just buy tickets — they will actively market the club 24/7 talking with their friends and colleagues.
Engaging someone else, whether it’s a colleague, a business partner, or even your sales target empowers those people. It gives them a sense of purpose. It inspires them. It makes them proud. And in the end, from a business owner’s perspective, it increases profits. Colleagues that are engaged with their work are going to be more productive. Period.
The Atlanta MLS team continues to be a great case study for business owners. How this team — in essence, its own company — operates is more public than what we’d normally get to see. Not only that, but you’re seeing it run by one of the most successful businessman in recent years. Be ready to take notes along with me, because class is in session.
Last week, soccer fans in the Atlanta metro area received the long-awaited announcement from Major League Soccer that their city had finally been awarded an expansion team. Arthur Blank, the owner of the new Atlanta soccer franchise, will have some interesting decisions to make in the coming months and years that will mold the brand, and ultimately the success, of the team.
Brand management is one of Blank’s strong suits, as he has shown throughout his tenure as owner of both Home Depot and the Atlanta Falcons. Blank bought the Falcons in 2002 and transformed them into one of the NFL’s more successful franchises, despite naysayers claiming Atlantans were not capable of such support. However, those naysayers point to low attendance numbers from Atlanta sports franchises such as the Hawks (basketball), Braves (baseball), and the now-defunct Thrashers (hockey) — none of which Blank had or has any involvement. After buying the Falcons, Blank showed his commitment to rebranding the team by implementing new uniform designs, investing millions of dollars in renovations to the team’s stadium, and many other internal changes. It was an unqualified branding success.
So the question that looms now is how this team will look and feel when it takes the field for the first time in the Spring of 2017. As I write this, almost everything is up in the air. The only thing anyone knows for sure about the franchise is that they’ll play in Blank’s new stadium, and their color scheme will combine red, yellow and black.
Given what we know about Blank and how much work is yet to be done, this franchise will be an excellent case study to follow. Who exactly does Blank see as his fan base and how will he market this team to those people? How will he reach out to non-soccer fans in the area? How will the atmosphere of the games be in such a cavernous complex? Heck, what will he name the team? We can use this case as a guide as to how one of our modern titans of industry can leverage his product through the use of strategic marketing and brand management. I, for one, wouldn’t bet against him.
Social media is changing the way we communicate. We’re learning a new language with new phrases and symbols. Businesses are speaking directly, to larger audiences than ever before. With these new opportunities, you need to ask yourself a few questions. What should I share with my audience? What platforms should I use and how can I utilize those platforms? What should my social media strategy be?
When deciding what you want to share through social media, you must first establish a voice that is consistent with your company. What is the overall objective of your social media plan? Don’t blog, post or comment about legal matters at your company. Ensure that employee social media use complies with your company culture and ethics. Don’t use photos unless you have the rights to use them. It is very important that you trust the people who are in charge of controlling your social media because once something is posted into the public domain there is no turning back. If you’re not careful you could end up with a very public dilemma on your hands (e.g. US Airways this past week).
Facebook is the most used social media website in the world. Because of this, Facebook is a great place to start. Use Facebook to interact with your audience and share information. Encourage them to sign up for e-mail updates or contests. Ask your followers questions and track their feedback. Facebook can also be used as “home base” to promote your other social media platforms. One tip to consider when using Facebook is to keep posts short (80 characters or less), if your post is too long your audience will glance over it. A second tip is to consider the timing of your post. To get the most engagement from you post, post it between the hours of 8 pm-7 am and post on the weekends. At the time of this blog post, statistics show that posts made during these times will get the most engagement.
Twitter is another social media platform that you can use to your advantage. Again timing is a key factor when deciding when to post. Twitter “followers” are almost 20% more likely to engage with your tweets on weekends, yet only about 20% of brands tweet on weekends. Hashtags can be used like “campfires.” Users can search your hashtag to view what others users who have used your hashtag are saying.
A few companies that are excelling at social media include Zappos and Groupon. Both have found the value of using social media not only to sell, but to engage customers in conversation. They interact, collect feedback, and discover what their customers really want. Take some time to explore social media and find the right mix of platforms and tactic for your business.
Sometime in my late teens, I was forced to think critically for the first time about something I’ve seen every day of my life — typefaces. It happened when I showed up to my graphic design class in college and my professor showed us the brilliant film Helvetica. I distinctly remember looking around the classroom about 20 minutes after it had started, expecting to see numerous faces concentrating on the screen and beaming with intellectual passion. Instead, I mainly saw heads lying face down against desks, with only a few ambitious students finding some time to get ahead on some of their other assignments. I didn’t understand why they weren’t as enthused.
“Graphic Design is the communication framework through which these messages about what the world is now, and what we should aspire to — it’s the way they reach us. The designer has an enormous responsibility. Those are the people, you know, putting their wires into our heads.”
Rick Poynor, designer and author, Helvetica.
I’m not kidding. Typeface is the most important aspect of design, if for no other reason than because we are totally surrounded by it. But just because we take it for granted like the air we breathe doesn’t mean it isn’t having an effect on our opinions and choices.
Steve Jobs once said, “…focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
Keep that quote from Jobs in mind as we look at a case study of the famous “Cola War” between Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Pepsi has never been able to outsell Coke. Granted, Coke has at least one considerable advantage in that it was already selling a million gallons per year by the time Pepsi appeared on the market. But let’s examine what those companies looked like, literally, when Pepsi appeared in 1898.
Now think about Jobs’s quote again. Coca-Cola came up with a clear and simple design early on, and moved mountains with it. Pepsi’s logo, on the other hand, looks like it was designed by Tim Burton, and they’ve spent more than a century and nearly a dozen more logo designs trying to catch up.
Graphic design, and specifically the typography used therein, was a fundamental aspect in Coke’s stranglehold of the cola market. This is a lesson for any company out there, no matter its type or size. And don’t think it’s just down to logos either. Just about all communications a company has, either internal or external, can either reinforce or conflict with its brand.
What do you think? Share your insights and ideas with Joe: firstname.lastname@example.org