The branding world has been buzzing lately with commentary on the rollout of JCPenney’s new logo.
At Sametz Blackstone, we’ve been excited to see a brand employing the concept of synecdoche* in this new mark: using a part to represent the whole. It’s a design that is fresh, punchy, and a little edgy; a bold move that works effectively to turn around the retailer’s previously stodgy reputation.
My high school did something similar a few years ago. Miss Porter’s School is an all-girls boarding and day school in Farmington, CT. Aware of a misperception that it was still a 1950’s-style “finishing school,” MPS leveraged the concept of synecdoche and entirely dropped the “Miss” and the “School” from their mark. (Insider’s note: “Porter’s” is what alumnae of my era call Miss Porter’s, while “Farmington” is how older generations refer to the school.)
While the name is still formally “Miss Porter’s School”—and that phrase appears somewhere on all materials, both print and digital—the new mark is an effective, high impact vehicle for communicating the character of the school today, while still recognizing a strong sense of place and history.
One final example (though very recently rendered obsolete): the Toronto Blue Jays former logo. A new version was unveiled in 2011, which incorporates the team’s full name, but the last incarnation (the second below) was a fun and evocative mark for the “Jays.” While the new logo has been hailed as a design success, the old edition was perfectly—and pithily—on point… thanks to synecdoche.
*Synecdoche: a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (as fifty sail for fifty ships), the whole for a part (as society for high society), the species for the genus (as cutthroat for assassin), the genus for the species (as a creature for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (as boards for stage). -Merriam-Webster Dictionary
2011 was a tremendously busy year at Sametz Blackstone — and 2012 is shaping up to be another year of compelling projects, fantastic clients, and much time spent exploring opportunities and tackling challenges as a team. We’re thrilled to be embarking on some new collaborations, and to have some fresh projects ramping up with old friends.
This is a tremendously exciting time to be doing what we do: never before has there been such a diverse range of communication tools and venues available to help organizations tell their stories, and build a “mosaic brand.”
Blog posts around New Year’s often focus on reflections on the year behind us, or predictions for the year ahead. We’re going to land somewhere in the middle, and share a few favorite posts from our blog over the last 12 months. Technically, that’s reflective, I suppose — but some of them had predictions, too!
We’ll be sharing more of our thinking in the months ahead, and celebrating some great achievements by our friends and partners.
Stay tuned.. and the very happiest of New Year’s to you and yours.
Thanks for coming by today — and join us for more in 2012!
Subtle and spectacular: two words that describe the colors of the Arizona landscape. The daytime palette is dominated by blue skies and red earth, punctuated by the soft green of cacti and desert scrub and the mellow beige, gold, and brown of dry grass.
As evening approaches, the blues transition to lavender and purple; the reds shift to crimson and maroon. The once-saturated colors wash together to produce a gradient of extreme subtlety.
Somehow, Southwest Airlines has managed to capture that palette in their livery. The airline’s palette isn’t subtle or sophisticated, mind you. In fact, until I visited Arizona, I thought of Southwest’s as one of the uglier liveries on the nation’s runways.
But now I understand that it works. They’ve managed to evoke a palette that would be impossible to replicate on aluminum (and, indeed, is impossible to replicate photographically.)
Now, when I see their planes, I’m reminded of, and transported to the transcendent moments of extreme beauty we experienced driving and hiking through the Arizona landscape. Their brand uses color as a reference or reminder of something much more powerful than could ever be designed or distributed.
Southwest (their aircraft and their brand) becomes both the literal and metaphorical connection between customer and place.
Sametz Blackstone Associates is like nowhere I’ve ever worked before. With only 17 people (and two dogs) on staff, there’s really nowhere to hide the fact that you’re the new girl in Blackstone Square.
Luckily, in addition to being an incredibly smart group of people, the Sametz Blackstone team is extraordinarily welcoming, patient, and kind. Over the last six weeks they have taught me far more than I would ever learn in a semester’s worth of classes on branding, marketing, and communications—with a sprinkling of design on top.
Part of my learning curve has been understanding the way of talking about branding unique to Sametz Blackstone. The following is a cheat sheet to a few of my favorite phrases heard often in the office:
“First handshake”: Your first impression of a brand. What is the look / feel / emotional affect of this brand?
“Messages have to live somewhere”: Branding messages aren’t just words that exist in a vacuum. How those messages are brought to life in printed materials or on a website is inextricably tied to design. You could have the most compelling brand message in the world, but if your fonts, imagery, and colors are inconsistent across different messaging vehicles, your brand will still not pack its maximum punch.
“Cups of Tea”: Qualitative research is a key tool to be used in understanding and articulating a meaningful, authentic brand message. Having metaphorical—or real!—cups of tea with different constituents across a brand (the brand managers, the brand users, etc.) is at the heart of what SBA does to really get to know a brand from the inside out and communicate its value most effectively.
“Ways In”: Different audiences connect with the same brand differently. An individual donor interested in educational policy issues shouldn’t be spoken to in the same way as the corporate foundation who needs to fulfill both a philanthropic and a marketing goal. Understand the different ways into your brand—and the brand values that resonate most closely with diverse key constituent groups—allows an organization to nimbly shift its messaging accordingly.
“Mosaic branding”: Fundamental to Sametz Blackstone’s work is the view that a brand is like a mosaic. It’s made up of pieces that we can control (for example, the words, fonts, and colors we use) and that we can’t control (your consumers’ conversations), which all come together to communicate the meaning integral to the dynamic organism that is a brand.
Casually drop one of these phrases into conversation at Sametz Blackstone and you’re sure to sound like an old pro.
Now, if only I could really become an old pro at the office’s archaic and rather terrifying phone system…
One of the most interesting things about working at a “small shop” is that everyone tends to have a range of responsibilities and interests that extend past their job description. If you’re good at something, you’ll likely get a chance to do it.
This also tends to come up in how we hire new team members: we look for people who have diverse experience and interests, who show initiative in making things happen (even if it’s a little outside the parameters of their role), and who value collaboration in all things.
Everyone has a voice, so we want to make sure we bring in people who have good ideas—and who listen (and get excited) when other people come up with them, too.
Right now, we’re in the midst of hiring two key positions to fill out our team: a Brand Strategist, and a Designer.
In the time since we’ve been on the hunt, we’ve learned a few things (well, we kind of already knew…):
(And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s why we’ve been around for 32 years.)
We’re “system thinkers”: we make sure everything we create—from top to bottom web projects for financial companies, to postcards targeting potential applicants of a summer high school program—strengthens our clients’ brands. If the visual elements don’t jive with their other communications… if the message doesn’t ring true to the organization and their goals… if you can’t point to where it “moves the needle”… well, we’re wasting an opportunity.
To us, a “brand” isn’t a logo or a tagline or an eye-catching color you choose. A brand lives in the hearts and minds of an organization’s constituents: it hinges on how people perceive them and what they do, both in the context of the communications they create, and what others are saying (in the press, via social media, through word of mouth… and beyond.)
And no matter how big or small an organization might be, they are only so much in control of their brand—which means that at the moments when they are in control, they need to do a great job of sharing who they are.
That’s where we come in…
We’re seeking a Designer who makes beautiful things—beautiful things that do what they’re meant to do, within functional, smart, compelling systems. You will work on a wide range of projects—across an equally wide range of clients, both for- and nonprofit—in print and electronic formats, from worldwide brand identity systems to multi-year capital campaigns. Versatility is a must (if you couldn’t tell already!)
… then we’d love to talk to you. Scroll down to learn how to get in touch!
We’re seeking a Brand Strategist who sees both the forest and the trees: you understand how brands are created, maintained, and loved, and how every aspect of an organization’s communications can reflect and strengthen that brand. You’ve ideally worked with both for- and nonprofit organizations (because we do!), and see each one of your clients as a unique, complex entity with their own needs and goals. In fact, you’ve thrown out all your cookie cutters… because you haven’t used them in years.
This isn’t an “account exec” position or a “brand manager” position or a “project manager” position, though all of those things are wrapped in to what you’ll do with our team.
… we’d love to talk to you. Our ideal candidate has 5+ years experience in and around branding, business and communication strategy, marketing, and website development. Experience in nonprofit marketing and fundraising wouldn’t hurt, either.
Ready to join us? We’d love to meet you—and we think we’re pretty fun to work with, too.
Please send your resume (directed clearly to one of the positions above) and some words about who you are and why you’re interested in being a part of our team to Human Resources, Sametz Blackstone Associates, 40 West Newton Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02118. You can also email hrATsametzDOTcom (no phone calls, please!)
The best people to invite to a dinner party? Great storytellers.
The thing that brilliant novelists are that okay novelists are not? Great storytellers.
The best people to be stuck next to on an 8-hour train ride? Great storytellers.
The thing that virtuoso directors are that leaves a movie playing in the back of your mind, long after the last reel? Great storytellers.
Oh… and the thing your brand needs more of?
Great storytellers internally — who communicate using ideas and images that resonate, instead of relying on corporate-speak — get everyone in your organization excited about what you’re going to do next.
Great storytellers externally — who bolster your value by sharing their positive experiences in passionate and public ways — spread the word in a manner that those around them are genuinely inclined to trust.
Great storytellers at the marketing helm — who convey your offerings by crafting a compelling narrative, instead of another pitch or a tagline — generate genuine curiosity and desire in your potential customers.
Great storytellers from the top down — who motivate with something more visionary than a list of your Q4 strategic business goals — advance the kind of mission-driven culture that leads to uncommon success.
Great storytellers from the front lines — who can tell you who your customers truly are and what they truly need because they’ve met them, and they care — keep everyone focused on the real reason you’re doing what you do… and the right way to do it.
Are you a great storyteller?
If the answer is “no”, don’t worry — you can learn to be.
Do you know what stories you should be telling?
If the answer is “no”, don’t worry — you can find them.
As with the funniest person at your dinner party, or a fantastic traveling companion, or those rare movies and books you can’t make yourself turn off or put down, great storytellers are remarkably unforgettable.
And that’s definitely something you want your brand to be.
One of the courses I was required to take in junior high (or ‘middle school’ as they call it now, and as I think they’ve always called it here in my newly adopted homeland) was simply called, ‘Electricity.’
I’m not sure why it required a special course, frankly — we discussed electricity in our science classes every year, and we’d all had some hair-raising times with the Van de Graaff Generator by the time we were in seventh grade (and don’t forget ‘The Electric Company’!)
(To this day, I am very handy with a light switch.)
Several times a week, we’d gather in a classroom to learn about charges and currents and magnetism and potential… and a bunch of other things I don’t remember. What does stand out in my memory (besides the experience of electrocuting myself once a month or so during experiments) is the discussion of series circuits versus parallel circuits.
Here’s the sum total of my understanding of this concept: in a series, the current through the components is the same, and the voltage across the components is all the voltages across each component, combined. In a parallel, however, the voltage across all the components is the same, and the total current is the sum of the currents through each component (okay, I got part of that from Wikipedia, but only because my explanation had the word “thingy”.)
The classic example that comes up when you discuss series versus parallel circuits is the type of ‘stringed lights’ many people put up during the winter run of holidays (and around here, usually take down in March (April? May??), when the snow melts):
These lights used to be based on series circuits. If one of the bulbs burnt out (thus eliminating a ‘component’), none of the bulbs would glow red or green. This, of course, was the cause of many a breakdown at the tops of frosty ladders, precariously balanced on roof edges — not to mention despairing sighs indoors when plug met outlet, and nothing happened except… dark.
Nowadays, many stringed lights are based on parallel circuits (which means a broken bulb only creates problems for obsessive-compulsive folks like me, who will notice the tiny dark spot before they see all the pretty lights.)
So why am I dragging you back to the seventh grade (and possible electrocution?)
I want to ask if your marketing plan is a series or parallel circuit.
Ideally, when you set up an integrated marketing plan, you spend some time to figure out where your potential and current users eyeballs and ears are, where they’re actually hanging out, and how they want to interact with you there. You figure out where to disseminate what content, and how often. Then you connect it all with consistent messaging, consistent visual elements, and a consistent level of output and response.
But what often happens — either because of the natural bent of the people implementing the plan, or the ease of a particular platform — is that focus ends up in one venue, and the lion’s share of time and attention ends up going there.
Maybe you’ve got an SEO nut in charge, and all their time goes into Google AdWords, and optimizing your site for the search engines. Maybe you’ve got a crack blogger who loves sharing ideas and facilitating discussion. Maybe you’ve got a social media junkie who loves to talk to your customers on Twitter, or post links to your Facebook group. Maybe you’ve got a PR pro who believes the key to success lies in getting a mention the New York Times.
And those are all good things. For now.
But what if your primary platform stops getting results? What if all the buzz and conversation aren’t translating into actual leads for your business? What if you discover a portion of your audience hanging out somewhere else — somewhere you haven’t even made a dent? What if the main keeper of your marketing torch moves up… or moves on?
Are you agile enough to transition to a new focus? Are you keeping an eye on the best marketing platforms for your industry — rather than just the ones you know best, or the ones where your favorite friends and colleagues are lurking? Are you responding to your community where they spend their time?
Or in other words, if a bulb burns out… will your plan still shine?
In the depths of one of our worst winters in decades, the Atlanta Symphony’s director of design joined us on Blackstone Square to collaborate on the new season’s subscription brochure.
The disruptive weather prolonged our collaboration, which bore fruit in the form of an evolved aesthetic for the Atlanta Symphony brand. The new brochure stays true to the guiding principles of the now 2-year-old brand re-launch, while developing and deploying new visual elements and a new approach to working within the symphony’s existing color palette.
This evolution of the visual system won’t, however, stop with the season brochure. We’re deep in the process of working with the Symphony to redesign their website; and much of what we discovered together while working on the season brochure has advanced the web design process. We’re looking forward to announcing the launch of the new site soon!
And still the brand grows! The Symphony is launching a label—ASO Media—to distribute its music. We’ve working with Rob and the rest of the Atlanta Symphony team to develop a special identifier for this new initiative, as well as an approach to the design of the music packaging itself.
There’ll be more to share on this story, so stay tuned!