Small businesses must communicate a clear, concise message

By Sara Nelson for TCAJOB

Sara Nelson, Sara Nelson Design

Sara Nelson,
Sara Nelson Design

The more the Tri-Cities grows, the more competitive the market becomes. The larger the market, the more money moves around the local economy, but the greater the competition is for a piece of that pie.

For a small business, that’s a challenge. Bigger businesses have bigger budgets. If a marketing battle comes down to ‘how much’ — how many ads, how many media channels, how much verbiage — bigger will win most of the time. The only way for a small business to defend its share — let alone make gains — is to shift focus from quantity to quality and effectiveness. There’s no margin for waste. Everything has to count.

Small businesses can’t afford to send mixed or confusing signals. They need to be clear about who they are, what they do and what they care about.

Initial impressions are expensive to change, so development of the right image and imagery from the start is incredibly important. Visibility, clarity and consistency are key to developing and maintaining the best possible start.

First consideration: Visibility.

In my world — graphic design and marketing — that means a simple, easy-to-intuitively-grasp logo. If it takes time to decipher, people won’t bother. If a logo is an inside joke that outsiders don’t quickly and easily comprehend, it’s not clever — it’s annoying.

Visibility extends to the execution of your image. When you put that logo on a sign or website or package, is there enough contrast to ensure that it’s readable? Two colors may be on very different parts of the color wheel, but try this: Have someone with the right software bring up a logo or picture of some packaging and convert it to gray scale. If it’s hard to read that way, many people will find it very hard to make out, even in color.

A winery owner contacted me after performing a simple but disturbing experiment. She stood in front of a retail store wine display and looked for her bottles. This was HER label. She loved the illustration that dominated it. She had used that label for several years. She knew exactly what it looked like. And it took her forty-five minutes to find it — right there in front of her.

You must be visible.

Second consideration: Clarity. There is a very definite psychology of color. Shape, form and texture carry a message. Where alphanumeric characters are a part of a logo, the font conveys meaning. All that — and more — goes into creating an image that conveys value and values that a business needs to communicate.

Each element should be chosen for a reason, not just for attractiveness’ sake.

Many business owners choose a visual representation that simply appeals to them. That doesn’t always serve them well.

Not every color, shape or name stands out from an ever-growing crowd of competitors equally well. It’s not that one is better or worse than another; it’s that they communicate different things.

A company’s visual image has a job to perform. Far more of the market will see its logo, sign, packaging, website and marketing than will get to know the company. If its visual images don’t clearly, intentionally communicate, it will likely not get a second chance to correct that misimpression.

We once presented a client — a truck repair company — a co-promotion with its new neighbor, which was a fast food restaurant. The burger joint created a burger named after the truck fix-it place. Everyone loved it — it was clever — it sold a LOT of burgers.

But far more people came to associate the garage’s name with burgers than with truck repair, so…tasty, but not good.

You must be clear.

Third Consideration: Consistency. A great logo on a sloppy or slow-to-death-loading website or a beautiful product in cheap, flimsy, garish packaging sends mixed messages about the quality of a company’s work and the value of its products.

Everyone sees hundreds to thousands of visual messages every day. A drive down almost any commercial area will take you past dozens of coffee carts, kiosks and shops — but you know Starbucks long before your eyes parse the letters “S-t-a-r-b-u-c-k-s” because everyone knows the green sign.

Most major brands have created visual hallmarks: Nike’s swoosh. Tiffany’s light blue box. Apple’s apple. These have been consistent for so long that the images send a message deeper than words about what’s in the box before it’s opened. Those expectations add very real value to those products.

The same principle can apply to small businesses. Its visual imagery should help create a consistent expectation of whatever that business trades on, whether the promise of high quality, great value, superior customer service or something else.

Just remember — like any other promise, it only has to be broken once to become valueless.

You must be consistent.

Marketing is only one part of running a business, but it’s important. It is incredibly expensive to do badly. Throwing money at it without knowing who you are and who you want to be is guaranteed waste. But careful thought and wise guidance can make a company’s visual image one of its strongest, most valuable assets.

[panel title=”About Sara Nelson” style=”info”]
Sara Nelson is the owner and Creative Director of Sara Nelson Design — a Kennewick-based graphic design firm that serves clients primarily in the Wine and Spirits, Agriculture and Healthcare industries across the U.S. For nearly 20 years, the company has consistently won regional and national awards for logo, packaging and marketing material design.

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