Our Blog

Nov 03
The dangers of letting rogue design in

The Urban Dictionary defines 'bastard' as: "something that is of irregular, inferior, or dubious origin."

I can't think of a better word to describe the recent product of an internal campaign for a large corporation.

The team I was working with wanted to bastardize the corporate logo. Think inappropriate color choices, ridiculous add-on design elements, and other “enhancements” that would conjure images of a cosmetic surgery gone very, very wrong. They could not fathom why I would find fault with such brilliance, despite my best efforts to lure this team back from the dark side.

I'm going to guess you may have a few bastard logos running amok within your corporate house, too. The danger in letting these guys roam free is multifold:

  • It demonstrates to employees that deviations in brand and identity are acceptable, implicitly condoning further modifications and inconsistencies.
  • It demonstrates a lack of professionalism, and shows that dilution of the brand is not a concern.
  • It renders irrelevant the significant resources that went into developing and nurturing the brand in the first place.
  • And, worst of all, there's a very real possibility that these bastard logos will be leaked outside for the world to see.

Companies of the caliber I referenced in my example do have brand standards, but many don't have a resource or internal person to ensure compliance with the standards and protection of the brand. And really, it's not enough to know the rules—it's about understanding the brand in its entirety.

Consistent and correct application of your brand on the inside of your corporate house will not only inspire your employees in their usage of the brand, but will help build a positive overall experience of living your brand as well. And that will invariably project to the outside world.

Every employee should have access to resources that help them learn and understand the brand, and they should be inspired to use it successfully and creatively. Brand training seminars, an internal microsite with standards and examples, and a brand liaison to respond to questions are just a few tactics that go a long way toward ensuring your identity and brand remain true (and we can help with all of that!).

At Cleveland, we work with companies like yours to establish, nurture and extend corporate brands. With custom tools and programs developed for your specific needs, we give you the resources, knowledge and power to maintain your brand, increase its equity, and preserve its value.

If you suspect there may be a few rogue elements of corporate identity running loose inside your company, get in touch with us. We'll take care of those little bastards.

Topics: Business Management, Marketing Tags: branding, corporate identity
Sep 18
by Jonathan Cleveland
Douglas Spencer

This month we welcome guest blogger Douglas Spencer of Spencer Brenneman on the topic of “Marrying your customers till death do you part.”

Jonnelle Marte of the Washington Post wrote this great piece called "A guide to breaking up with your bank," which I read in the Boston Globe.

Leaving a big bank is not easy. The stickiness factor that banks and many companies engineer to keep their customers is nothing new, nor is there anything inherently wrong with it. However, many companies only pay attention to that side of the coin. The other side is creating a strong brand that makes customers feel good about the stickiness, that makes them not want to leave in the first place.

Taking a cue from Marte's point by point guide to leaving your big bank, here is one for big banks or any company which doesn't want their customers to feel stuck. Let's call it, "A guide to marrying your customers till death do you part."

Know what they want.

Obviously, right? Not necessarily. Most companies understand what their customers want from a functional perspective but many would be hard pressed to articulate what they want from an emotional one. Do they want to feel safe? Cutting edge? Exclusive? Those are all different and quite powerful motivators that will help you keep customers.

Help them understand.

Whatever you do that could possibly annoy, frustrate or anger customers, proactively explain the why behind the issue. As humans we will create our own explanations to situations we don't understand, almost always incorrectly. Help them understand and feel good about why you do what you do.

Give them opportunities to share the love.

People love to feel good about the decisions they make and helping them show off to others how smart they are through referrals is a great way to do that. Plus, it helps you get new customers.

Tell their stories.

Once you understand what the bulk of your clients want emotionally, highlight those who genuinely feel it. Hearing the stories of others often helps us put our own into better perspective.

Make it about others too.

If your customers tend to be, say, environmentally conscious, make certain that your corporate responsibility strategy reflects that. The local, smaller brands with which you may be competing simply cannot have the same caliber of impact.

Thank them but do so genuinely.

This point too may seem obvious but it evidently is not because so many brands fail here. It's easy to tell the difference between a cable customer support person who reads "Thank you for your business" from even a personalized email that references the number of years your customer has been loyal. In this age of texts and posts, sometimes an actual printed thank you note can go a long, long way for some brands and customers (though not for all).

When thinking about "stickiness," remember the other conjugation of the word which is "stuck." Who wants that? No one and sooner or later most will not stand for it anymore.

Spencer Brenneman helps bring brands to life everywhere it matters. And it matters everywhere. From product design and company mission to web site content and employee communications, your brand has to have relevance, excitement and longevity.

Topics: Campaigns, Marketing Tags: branding
Jul 01
What happens when your project doesn’t fit inside the brand box?

We often receive rather interesting requests to develop something out of the ordinary, though, and no matter how unusual or extreme the project, the client's first concern is typically to ensure that we stay on brand.

  • Can an ice sculpture be on brand?
  • How about an exhibit booth constructed of shipping containers?
  • Or an event backdrop covered in moss and birch branches?

We think it's certainly possible, though it requires a delicate balance of creativity and brand strategy.

Smart companies around the world invest a great deal in developing and supporting their brands, and companies like ours go to great lengths coaching clients to be true to them. But sometimes brand standards can be taken so literally that special opportunities to engage, entertain and impress your audience go unrecognized in favor of what is safe, and—(all too often) expected. Sigh.

Stretching a brand (without breaking it) is OK.

We've done quite a few interesting projects that would certainly qualify as "outside the brand box." In each case, by creatively interpreting and applying the brand attributes, we were able to deliver a fun, engaging, and memorable brand experience.

So the question becomes, "How can you have fun stretching your brand without going completely out of bounds?"

The answer, ironically, can be found in your brand standards document. Go back to your guide and review your brand's attributes—the core values that reflect the essence of your brand. These attributes identify the brand's physical, character and personality traits, and serve as a barometer against which to test your ideas.

If your brand attributes define the brand as "conservative, established, and trusted," you'll know your audience may not respond to a project that screams, "humorous, irreverent, and unpredictable." But the "stretch" project—the one that remains true to the brand while delivering something slightly unexpected—might conjure slightly different descriptors, like "witty, savvy and respected."

The key is to be creative enough to deliver something unexpected, without being so foreign in nature that the audience doesn't relate to the brand experience at all. It's a gray area, but that's where you'll find your biggest opportunities for greatness.

From the inside, it can sometimes be challenging to see—and seize—opportunities to go beyond the realm of the expected. An outside team like Cleveland can help you uncover your ideas—the ones your inner critic may be silencing—and collaborate with you to identify additional opportunities. We work with companies on all aspects of brand development and delivery, including the well crafted "brand stretch." It's a great way to invigorate and engage your audience, and bring one more aspect of your brand's personality to life.

Want to find out more on how we can help you shine? Get in touch. We'd be happy to share more with you.

Topics: Campaigns, Marketing Tags: branding
May 23
HOW Design Live 2014 Boston

Every now and then, it’s good to get out and about to experience what’s happening in the wider world to educate ourselves and to help educate others. This past May was an eventful month as the Cleveland team did just that.

Jenny Daughters donned an elegant evening dress and attended the exclusive White House Correspondence Dinner Party. Her mission: to rub elbows with celebrities, experience the festivities and find inspiration to create new ideas for the theme and décor for the 2015 party on behalf of client Thomson Reuters, an event sponsor. The experience was a weekend not to be forgotten and Jenny is full of great ideas that will make a successful party for next year.

Diana Kmiotek and Adamo Maisano both hosted roundtable discussions at the HOW Design Live conference in Boston. The largest annual gathering of creative professionals, HOW Design Live attracts thousands of attendees seeking the latest and greatest information and updates in the design industry. Diana hosted discussions on “Time Management,” and Adamo shared his expertise in “Drupal for Designers.” Jonathan Cleveland also participated, providing private coaching to design firms on the subject of “When and How to Hire your First Employee.”

We are proud that your team of designers at Cleveland is lending their expertise to these events and developing thought leadership in the industry. Much of what we do comes down to problem solving and education for our clients, with the goal of helping them achieve a successful outcome in their marketing strategies.

If you have any questions about marketing, or have a project that needs a solution, feel free to contact us. We're always happy to help—and to share what we’ve learned.

Topics: Business Management, Marketing, News Tags: howdesign, conference
Apr 08
2014 Best of Brand Competition

A corporate acquisition results in a client with a new name, brand, visual identity, and employees all over the globe to bring onboard. How do you keep such a brand alive?

In recent posts, we've written about the merits of internal branding—that is, tapping your closest and most accessible resource, your employees, and making them better ambassadors of your brand.

That alone can be a job in itself, depending on the size of your organization. So you can imagine how complicated the effort can become in the situation of a merger or acquisition involving two (or more) companies, thousands of employees, and two (or more) brands that formerly had minds of their own.

Keeping the Brand Alive

How do you keep a brand alive in that environment—not just on life support, but flourishing? And if a new brand emerges, how do you foster adoption among employees coming from two different camps?

Cleveland was approached a few years ago with precisely that situation. A corporate acquisition resulted in a client with a new name, a new brand, a new visual identity, and thousands of employees all over the globe to bring onboard. If there ever was a candidate for a crash course in accelerated brand ambassadorship, this was it.

The client, Thomson Reuters, pitched the idea of a global brand engagement initiative—the Best of Brand Awards. The idea was to leverage the company's intranet and connect employees to a new, web-based platform for a worldwide competitive display of creative, powerful and effective executions on the Thomson Reuters brand promise. Individuals, teams and departments within the company, as well as employees managing outside creative resources, were eligible to participate.

The unique aspect of the Best of Brand project is that the program was executed exclusively online—from competitive submissions, to judging, to announcing and showcasing the winning work.

The benefits were many:

  • The competition provided an engaging platform for educating employees about the brand, its identity, its voice and personality.
  • Employees were motivated to carefully consider strategy and outcomes in developing their work.
  • Camaraderie developed across departments and business units, and stronger collaborations came as a result.
  • A library of outstanding work has accumulated, and is an inspirational resource for exemplary brand execution.

Building the Best of Brands framework was a not for the faint of heart. Its viability depended on sophisticated site architecture and myriad logistical considerations that neither the client nor Cleveland had previously navigated exactly this way. Through months of collaboration, conversations and critical thinking, however, the idea came to fruition and paid off handsomely for the client.

The Result?

  • The inaugural Best of Brand Awards attracted over 100 submissions in a few short months.
  • The competition is now in its fifth year, and the framework was leveraged by Cleveland to deliver three additional spin-off programs?all for Thomson Reuters?within two years.
  • Each spin-off website received thousands of hits upon launch, followed by hundreds of competitive entries. And the real indicator of success?employee engagement?is beyond measure.

At Cleveland, we specialize in helping companies strengthen their brands from the inside out. We focus on programs that engage employees and promote better understanding and stewardship of the brand, while building teams, boosting morale, inspiring creativity, and leveraging the value of your brand promise.

Topics: Web Tags: branding, cms
Mar 06
Bridge the Marketing-Sales Gap

It’s rare to find a company whose marcomm department and sales department work together as effectively as they could. As with most relationships, there is plenty of blame to go around—thanks mostly to misunderstandings and an endless string of unmet needs. You’ve heard them all, no doubt:

Sales doesn’t understand the value of what we do. They don’t appreciate good design or compelling copy.


I don’t understand why it takes MarComm so long to make a simple brochure. I could have thrown something together in an hour.

Classic complaints, these are all too common. But leaving them unchecked equates to lost revenue that is immeasurable.

The sales team wants to make a sale—no matter what. This motivation is promoted (and often rewarded) by their pay structure. As a result, they have little time or interest for anything that is not directly related to bringing orders through the door.

What they’re missing is the value of the brand itself in attracting and retaining business over the long term.

And that brand value is compromised every time a presentation, do-it-yourself brochure, or even a business letter is off-brand. The marcomm team knows this, but the concept can be a hard sell to their commission-based cohorts down the hall.

A brand training program promotes unity across departments

A comprehensive, internal brand training program is the first step in bringing your marcomm and sales teams together. And it begins by fostering a company-wide understanding that branding is not just a missive of rules and regulations sent down by the marcomm department, but a basis for building value in the mind of the customer. That translates to more business over the long term, which should be important to everyone in the company, no matter what their department.

With a well-stocked toolbox and the training to support it, anyone in the sales department (or anywhere else in the company), can talk about, write about, and demonstrate the values of brand through all aspects of their work. It’s not just about using the right logo and the official colors, or banning all gratuitous animation effects. It’s about recognizing the values, the position, and the voice and tone of your company. What does that voice say? What does it look like? How does it behave?

At Cleveland, we use branding as a means to successfully bring departments together—resulting in increased effectiveness, more satisfying relationships, and better numbers at the bottom line. We’ve created tools that empower employees to support their brands in a way that promotes consistency and unity, no matter who designed the brochure, drafted the presentation, or wrote the website copy. They all tell the same story–in the same familiar way–and in the process build brand equity that equates to increased revenue now and in the future.

Watch for our next post outlining more examples of internal branding put into action. If you can’t wait, by all means get in touch. We’d be happy to share more with you.

Topics: Business Management, Marketing Tags: branding, sales
Jan 28
Don't check your brand at the door

Branding is often one of the few factors that can distinguish one product or service from another. Companies and organizations spend considerable resources to develop and nurture their brands, but in many cases, it's a face shown only to the outside world.

What a missed opportunity.

Internal branding–the practice of bringing your brand to life inside your organization–has proven transformational on many levels. Studies show that when internal branding is practiced and embraced by employees:

  • they feel more connected to the company
  • they are more loyal
  • their morale is higher
  • customers are happier

If the first three bullets weren't enough to make you give second thought to what your brand looks like on the inside, the fourth one should. Happier customers mean repeat business, positive word of mouth, and more sales.

Every employee–on the front line or in the back room–has the power to influence brand perception. Even if they are not directly engaging with customers, they are interacting with and influencing the attitudes of coworkers who are. The potential for each employee to affect a positive interaction with your brand is just too powerful to ignore.

At Cleveland we call this practice internal brand alignment, and it's something we help companies develop and nurture within their own organizations, making them stronger and ultimately more successful. It's not about lip service, motivational posters, or a once-a-year feel-good event. It's something to live and breathe every day, and believe in deeply. It provides the oft-missing connection between a product or service and the people who are behind them. It's authenticity in its highest form—and authenticity sells as much on the inside as it does on the outside.

All strong brands have employees who are emotionally invested—and that does not happen by accident. It happens when authentic and meaningful communications help the brand both inside and out."

– Douglas Spencer, Marketing & Branding Consultant

Watch for our next post outlining examples of internal branding put into action. If you can't wait, by all means get in touch. We'd be happy to share more with you.

Topics: Marketing Tags: branding
Dec 02
Nazaria Sarita Vasquez Vicente, 34, works near one of her beehives in Rancho Viejo village, Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

Nazaria Sarita Vasquez Vicente, 34, works near one of her beehives in Rancho Viejo village, Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

It’s that time of year again—the season where we become aware of all we have to be thankful for and what gifts of appreciation we can give to those who are important in our lives. All of us like to give a gift that will last and be remembered, but often the frenzy of the season refuses to let us see what is good and what will actually last. Taking a step back to reflect on how fortunate we are in many ways, and how much we sincerely appreciate the relationships we have built with our clients and friends over the years, we at Cleveland have decided to do away with the high calorie candies and cookies, and send a gift that is so much sweeter.

This year we have chosen to give the gift of opportunity to those in need by donating honey bees. In many third-world countries, a beehive can be the spark needed to transform small farms into thriving family businesses. Our gift in your honor will enable Heifer International to provide 15 families in third-world countries with the bees, hives and beekeeping training they need to stimulate crop pollination and create income through sales of honey, wax and pollen. Helping others achieve the prosperity we enjoy is our way of thanking you for your continued partnership as clients, friends and business partners.

We believe all people deserve dignity, opportunity, and a future free from hunger. We also believe by providing the the tools of transformation to bring about that opportunity, we can be a part of a sustainable change in the world. Our gift to you will help bring about this change.

As the season is already upon us, take a minute to know that all of us at Cleveland sincerely thank you for being a part of our lives and we cherish our relationships that have sustained us as a partner in your daily efforts. We wish you the very best this holiday season. Peace and Joy to you and your families.

Topics: News Tags: holiday, giving
Nov 05

We are sad to announce the passing of our sweet friend Bella. She graced our office every day for over 17 years. She never missed a production meeting or a chance to interact. Even without invitation, if she noticed a group gathering she had to be in the middle of it all, and she was a good lunch room monitor as well. She kept the delivery people hopping, deciding who she would welcome in and who should be kept at the threshold. She had an amazing talent of being sweet during a client or vendor meeting, quickly tricking the person into thinking they were actually there just to give her treats or play ball. Her antics, curiosity, craziness, calmness and love will be missed by all.

Oct 27
Interacting with LEAP device

Unleashing Brilliance

In order to generate excitement around Thomson Reuters' presence at the 2013 Grace Hopper Conference celebrating women technologists, we created a comprehensive campaign to reinforce their position as a leader in innovation. In addition to exhibit and marketing collateral, the campaign included development and implementation of a one-of-a-kind web-based game.

Play the game (Chrome browser required)

Click to watch the video

Featured in the video above, this unique interactive game recognizes and responds to mid-air hand gestures, presenting key points from the company’s mission in a trivia game format. The cutting-edge, motion-detection technology was a unique way for guests to immerse themselves in the Thomson Reuters culture—racking up both high game scores and brand awareness.

The "Unleash Your Brilliance" experience is just one example how Cleveland is working to bring you and your brand to the forefront using the latest technology and smart, strategic design.

Topics: Code, Web Tags: grace hopper, exhibit, CSS3, html5, game design