I had someone ask me the other day for advice on starting a business. Amongst the range of things I spoke about (yes, I like the sound of my own voice) I told them to not be a cheapskate on the stuff that matters. And you can believe me when I tell you, the original marketing collateral you get (brand, website, brochure, business cards) are as important as what you wear to a client meeting. Though the complete lack of thought, or lack of investment, that some people put into these things is tantamount to turning up to your first client / pitch meeting in a blue singlet, boasters (that's what we called them at school, you probably know them as budgie smugglers or Speedos) and thongs.
I. Am. Not. Kidding. First impressions are gold, and you cannot, cannot, cannot stuff them up. It's not just a chance to say you're competent, it's a chance to say you're different, you're a thinker, you're amazing and all the other candidates are sheep.
After the conversation with my friend (you know, the one starting his own business) it got me thinking about something else altogether about brands. Are awful brands better than ordinary brands? Like all things in life, it depends. Some are so utterly awful that no self-respecting prospect would go anywhere near them. Witness the following:
Now I understand that these are indefensible (at least on first glance, without knowing the brief you can never be truly sure, but it's hard to imagine anyone wanting a final result like any of these). And whilst the old adage of 'any publicity is good publicity' (and believe me, some of these logos have garnered a lot of publicity) it's hard to imagine that the negative nature of the publicity delivered business success. But as laughable as these examples are, they're not actually the types of brands I want to talk about.
You see these types of hideous, awful brands at least make some noise. Perhaps for all the wrong reasons, but there's an argument to be put forward that they're better than the ones that sink silently like a stone. The ones that clients still pay good money for, but which have zero impact on any level. I'm talking about the earthmoving companies that insist on having an earthmover as their icon (guaranteeing they look like every other competitor). I'm talking about the companies who look at their biggest competitors, figure they must know what they're doing, and follow/copy them. In short, I'm talking about people who pay for a complete lack of originality, which is a crime (in design-world anyway).
The first mandate of marketing is differentiate yourself. There's good ways to do this and bad ways (see above) but as I've already stated, there's a pretty good argument that different and awful is better than unoriginal and beige. The worst part about the latter is that the client never knows what they've missed out on, because you can't measure the value of a lost opportunity. You can't count the prospects that looked at your marketing collateral and chose your competitors. You can't put a number on the jobs you lost because you weren't taken seriously.
I know good marketing requires an investment, and anyone starting a company wants to spend as little as possible. But cut costs, not investments. A good brand will go on every single piece of marketing collateral you ever produce. If it's done well it'll gradually position you in the marketplace in a manner than infuriates your competitors and inspires your staff. So don't take short cuts. Make sure you get the job done professionally, and get it done right. Because if you skimp in this most important of areas, you'll pay for it for the life of your business.