It is a great time for business owners to evaluate the successes and challenges of the previous year, and make a plan to change things for the better. Advertising is essential, and a company's brand (how others perceive them) is continually developing, good or bad. The act of "branding" is an attempt to differentiate a business and increase its presence in a potential client's mind. This is done through the use of a creative name, logo, tagline and cohesive marketing materials. What follows is a cautionary tale of a business owner who fell into what we like to call the Template Trap, let's say his name is "Bob the landscaper".
Bob, inspired by New Year vigor, did a quick inventory of his marketing materials: ink jet printed business cards on perforated paper, nonexistent website, and reflective mailbox letter stickers spelling out his business name on his truck, slightly crooked. Bob is determined to improve his company image! So, where does he start?
He spilled a little bit of coffee on his stack of business cards, and the ink is running a bit, so that seems the logical choice. This little piece of marketing seems easy enough, it's small and unassuming, he should be able to tackle it... right? Bob goes to a "Big Box" online printer who is practically giving away business cards! He picks a floral design, plugs in his info and BINGO, Bob's done! He's crossed the first item off his list and is feeling great!
Bob's cards arrive about a week later, and they look just like he expected. He thinks "Man, I got a lot of cards, time to pass some out." He joined the Chamber of Commerce last year (good move Bob), although he hasn't gone to any of the events yet (not so good, Bob)… So this time, he is determined to go! The following week Bob attends his first event, things are going great, everyone is really friendly and he is making a TON of great connections. Until he meets the florist.
The florist was nice enough, shook his hand, handed him her card... "WAIT A MINUTE!" Bob cries, she has the exact same business card design! Oh well, Bob thinks, she just has good taste, that's all! Feeling a little deflated, Bob goes home and thinks, "It's ok, I'll just make a great website". He signs up for a do-it-yourself website service. The problem is, none of the website templates match his business card... "No problem!" Bob thinks "I'll just call that online printer place and see if I can get a copy of the floral design I like so much." I'll let you guess how well that went.
So Bob's honeymoon phase with his business card is over, his website is up, but it really doesn't match his card all that well, but Bob is undeterred. "The web is really not that important, right?", he thinks "what I REALLY need is a brochure". So he grudgingly goes back to the only place he can... The online printer who is holding "his" artwork hostage. "HOLY MOLY! The brochure prices are crazy!" Bob figures he's still doing ok though, after all, the business cards were only 10 Bucks!
Bob's story is fictional, but based on stories I've heard time and time again. The Template Trap occurs when someone uses a popular online template design, thereby not distinguishing their business as unique. These templates may look nice (they were professionally designed after all), but the problem is the thousands of other people using the exact same "Big Box" designs. This practice locks businesses into purchasing all their marketing materials from the same vendor. It is a branding disaster waiting to happen, often causing confusion with other businesses using the same design.
So what did Bob do? You didn't think I'd leave you hanging did you?
Bob made an investment in his business by hiring a professional designer to put together a logo, business card, website, vehicle magnet and brochure. They all had a modern, professional design that was as unique as Bob, and it was a lot more affordable than he thought.
The (happy) End.
Josh Weybright is owner of Graphic Sky Printing in Santa Fe New Mexico. When he's not making things look awesome on paper, he enjoys horseback riding with his family.