The Year Of Making Brands Work


We believe that the only way to predict the future is to create it. And at our core, we are an agency dedicated to the creation of positive change through strategic brand development.

2015, the Year of Speaking Human


2015 promises to be an exciting (and disruptive) year. Everything is changing fast … especially, the way consumers interact with their online environments. Paradoxically, the digital age is requiring branding and marketing to become more human.

In reviewing what the branding and marketing gurus are expecting to happen in the New Year, we see some inspiring trends. Put on your helmet and fasten your seatbelts. Here we go.

Five Ways to Deliver an Optimal Brand Experience During the Holidays


The holidays are, of course, the busiest shopping time of the year. That means they’re also the time when consumers have the most contact with brands. In October, SDL published a report that found that 90% of holiday shoppers expect consistent brand experiences. How can you optimize your branding and offerings to engage consumers, and, in turn, sell your products? Here are five key elements to making your brand experience consistent—and excellent—this holiday season.

Customer Service is the Next Brand Differential


There is no such thing as a ‘customer for life.’ Companies have to work hard to win and keep customers. What used to be thought of as the customer’s loyalty to a brand has reversed to become the brand’s loyalty to the customer experience.

Context Matters


You won’t reach the people in your market if you don’t understand them, and you won’t understand them unless you pay attention to context. Context is the compass that guides allsuccessful branding and marketing.It’s about delivering the right content, to the right people, at the right time.

Let’s Talk Strategy


Brands are beginning to wrap around people in every which way. Similar to being introduced to another person, everything can change based on first impression and appearance. So what makes this first impression so memorable and impactful, while creating an appealing nature that people can identify with? It comes down to the power combo of integrating business strategy into design.

LA Just Wants Their Coffee

You’ve heard of it and you have your opinions: Dumb Starbucks.

The close by Los Feliz parody shop, that is using the Starbucks name and logo but adding the word dumb in front of it, gained national buzz over the weekend. This was all before its doors were shut by the Los Angeles Department of Public Health on Monday.

Our Story Featured In The Los Angeles Business Journal


Our Story Featured In The Los Angeles Business Journal

MARKETING: STARMEN ditches fixed-rate jobs for retainer relationships.

Story by Subrina Hudson, Staff Writer

Armen David was working at his father’s Sun Valley shoe manufacturing business when he hired his friend Anthony Wiktor to help design the company’s brochures and fliers. David quickly decided the two should branch out and start their own marketing firm, STARMEN Design Group Inc. in Hollywood. They sold their services to family and friends – even door to door – mostly designing business cards and direct mail. Then one day, only three months in, they got a call...

Who approved that? The top 5 cringe-worthy marketing mishaps


Who approved that? The top 5 cringe-worthy marketing mishaps

Whether you're driving to work, flipping through the radio, surfing the web, or watching the latest Breaking Bad, it's impossible to escape a barrage of advertisements.

They're everywhere- billboards, bus stops, park benches, FM airwaves, the top of your computer screen, and in between your favorite shows. With such an overwhelming amount of ads whizzing by us, it's become increasingly more difficult to "cut through the clutter." 

So what's the solution? Keep reading for more...

The New SEO is Human Engagement


The New SEO is Human Engagement

Just as everyone figured out the mechanics of SEO, everything changed. Here's what you need to know.

Google and other search engines have been updating the way they find the best results for queries. As the biggest name in the game, Google has pioneered the way with two major algorithm updates: Panda and Penguin.

What was once acceptable can now destroy a business’ reputation. Under the changes, websites are being punished for catering to the search engine instead of to their audience’s wants and needs. Overall, Panda and Penguin target websites that churn out thin content, spam backlinks, practice keyword stuffing or hidden text, steal content, and enact a number of other frowned upon SEO techniques. 

The Panda and Penguin updates give the illusion that Google is making big changes in the digital realm, but in reality these updates are just part of a larger trend. Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and the increasing popularity of handheld devices have changed the way people find, share, and discuss information. To stay relevant, businesses need to publish interesting content regularly and share it through social media. By doing so, the same businesses will also find that Google’s new rules for SEO will be met naturally. And, that is exactly the goal. 

Marketing Isn't A Science?


Marketing Isn't A Science?

Or is it?

The way you learn it in marketing school, marketing is a science. How could it not be, with all that jargon that puts everything into neat compartments? Unique Selling Proposition. Positioning. Niches. The four Ps. The Marketing Mix. All those rules of advertising and copywriting. Close fast and early.

So if marketing is a science, how come some people do it better than others?

Scientific method says, in essence, that if two researchers do the same experiment in the same way, they should get the same result. When that happens a couple of times, then the first person who did it is said to be scientifically correct. Does that happen in marketing?

Of course not.

But we all have the same tools. Market research. Public relations. Publications, such as brochures and newsletters. Seminars and speeches. Advertising. Direct mail and telemarketing. Even networking.

We all know the same things to do. Publicity. Newsletters and brochures. Niche marketing. Client surveys. And so on.

Yet, all results are not equal. Some firms emerge as giants, and others, including those that started in business at the same time as the giants, either go out of business or are still two-professional firms.

Why? What are the variables that make a difference in the same thing?

Or then, too, maybe marketing isn't a science. Maybe it's an art.

3 Ways Blogging Boosts Business


3 Ways Blogging Boosts Business

Facebook? Perhaps. Twitter? Maybe. Blog? Absolutely!

Blogs began as basic, often tawdry online diaries fueled by caffeine and wine. Some launched writing careers, but most simply enabled their authors to vent views or scratch creative itches.

But as the blogging craze grew, many corporate marketers adopted blogs to provide regular company updates and insights…and almost as quickly, many marketers abandoned them. The reason?Regularly writing articles turned out to be challenging and time consuming; writing articles that attracted readers proved even harder. After all, who wants to read a corporation’s diary? So when Twitter and other microblogging platforms came along, corporate communicators happily replaced their 500-words of weekly wisdom with concise 140-character tweets.

And that’s when marketers discovered the real value of blogs.

The Challenge with Facebook Pages — and 6 Strategies for Dealing with It


The Challenge With Facebook Pages

Here's the Challenge:

Your posts on your Facebook business Page are extremely limited: your reach is "throttled" to an average of just 16% of your fans.  Some posts will reach more, some will reach less, depending on how many people talk about it (comment, like, share). In general, that means only your most passionate and active fans (plus a small percentage of their friends) will see your posts.

That's why Facebook should go back to using the term "fan" instead of "like": those who simply like your Page and never interact with it again may never see you again.

Once you reach your fans, the engagement rate is only about 1% (studies show it's 1.4% for the top 200 brands on Facebook, and less than 1% for most everyone else). So even if you're a hot brand like Nike, 99% of your fans don't care about what you're posting.

In fact, in the article linked above, a Facebook executive essentially said that fan interaction is not as valuable as basic reach and frequency. In other ads, basic advertising works better.

The conclusion is obvious: Facebook wants to sell more ads. That's totally understandable – Facebook isn't a charity. The irony here is that social media was supposed to be an improvement over basic advertising.

So what can you do to make your Facebook Page worth your time and effort? In lieu of spending thousands of dollars on Facebook ads here are...

The Making of the New American Airlines Logo (Video)


American Airlines Logo

January isn't even over and one of the largest re-brands of the year has just been announced. American Airlines unveiled a new logo along with a new ad campaign Thursday, as part of an effort to revitalize the brand. Will it be enough? Does it work? This will surely be talked about for months to come.

"Since placing our landmark aircraft order in July of 2011, we've been building anticipation toward a moment in time when the outside of our aircraft reflects the progress we've made to modernize our airline on the inside," said Tom Horton, American's chairman and CEO, said in a press release.

Read more to see the behind-the-scenes video

5 Design Tips That Will Make Your Visitors Remember Your Site


Can you remember the last website you’ve visited? Unless it’s Facebook or another website you visit often, chances are you don’t remember much about it. 

There are 644 million active websites on the Internet, but most of these websites are so poorly designed that people don’t want to revisit them. Don’t make one of those websites! You want to create a memorable online experience for your visitors and to have them keep coming back for more. 

Your website needs to be easy to navigate and to provide some value to your visitors. You can go the extra mile and implement a few design tricks to make your visitors remember your website more than any other website with similar content. 

Here are 5 useful web design tips that may help you improve the overall customer experience on your website.

3 Strategies for Building a Stronger Brand in 2012


The New Year always sparks a renewed interest in making changes! For a business, this should include taking a close look at your brand – both from your perspective and from that of your market. Questions to consider: How do your customers perceive your brand? Is it aligned with how you see yourself? Do people hear and understand exactly what your brand is saying?  

Yes, there’s always room for improvement. And, starting with these three strategies, you can help strengthen your brand in 2012.

Build a Consistent Brand

Consistency is the name of the game in brand identity. Do you think Coke and Apple became what they are by not showing the same face to everyone, everywhere? The more consistent your brand is across all customer touch points, the more likely it can create a powerful impression and be easily recognized by your market.

One of the most important (yet often overlooked) aspects of branding is that it MUST remain consistent through all communication channels. From business cards and collateral pieces to your online marketing tools, there should always be a clear, consistent look and feel to everything you present.

Innovate Your Brand and Image

Keeping your brand up-to-date doesn’t mean changing it to stay current with every trend or fad. But, being attuned to what is happening in your industry and what appeals to your target demographic should play an important part in the evolution of your brand! 

With 2012 upon us, it might just be the right time to consider modernizing the visual image of your brand in terms of logo, tagline, typography, color palette, and design. Small changes, tweaks, and updates can re-energize an existing customer and catch the eye of a new one! This is one step in the right direction towards staying ahead of your competition and becoming a category leader.

Be Social, Diversify Your Online Presence

Online today means much more than having a website. If you are not on Facebook and Twitter or don’t have a content rich blog - in the eyes of some consumers, you might as well not exist. Your online presence “speaks” volumes to those who will buy from you. A successful social media engagement model is not about spitting out corporate messages, but instead includes developing a two-way dialog with your audience. Of course, you’ll want to make sure your “voice”, through status updates, tweets, and blog posts, is aligned with your brand. Aim to be human in the social space.

Getting the right help to strengthen your brand is also pivotal to your success. STARMEN Design Group (Los Angeles) is here to help with a diverse team of brand professionals who are experts at making your business look and sound its absolute best.

The End of An Era...


The inevitable as arrived... and with it, an end of an era too. As Apple's creative visionary, Steve Jobs steps down as "leader" a sense of loss is felt throughout the 'tech' world and more importantly the business world. The man who has pioneered so much innovation and ideation that fundamentally changed the way we live, has also been credited with rising a struggling computer company from near bankruptcy to become the world's most valuable company. Now it has come to end, and for that... we can't say anything more than Thank You.

Steve himself published the following letter:

I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.

I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.

As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.

I believe Apple's brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.

I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.


UPDATE: just published this awesome timeline of 'The Life of Steve Jobs - So Far' great read!

Design Thinking vs. Designing


STARMEN Design Thinking

This article on Fast Company is a must read, especially for anyone in our industry! There is certainly a difference between design thinking and designing – let’s not blur the line.

As the article mentions, “design thinking is not fairy dust;” you do not get to skip steps to magically solve a challenge.

Design thinking is a strategic tool.

It is a way of applying rigor to a process to get to a better outcome. I suggest we stop using it as a title or even as a noun. It is not a thing; it is a way of behaving and structuring a multidiscipline approach to get to bigger ideas and better ways to solve challenges in order to deliver breakthrough experiences to people.

Here are things we at STARMEN Design Group do to make it successful:

· Establish the what, how and who:
      - What are you getting to/answering?
      - How are you going set the journey and leverage everyone’s talents?
      - Who is the facilitator to manage the conversation on three levels: generative ideas, strategic business cases, and tactical deployment?

· Encourage the team to see different things, don’t just see the same things differently.

· Frame the journey through the consumer or customer to create a new language.

· Maintain focus, but ensure there is not tunnel vision. Design thinking is about navigating the unknown with a candle – observing and moving forward on the best discovery journey. Not a flashlight that lights up the clearest, most direct path.

Enough said – keep this article close by. You’ll be sending it out again and again.

UPDATE: Starbucks New Identity Revealed


It's been over a week, and if you haven't had a chance to stop by your nearest neighborhood coffee shop, then you haven't noticed the new Starbucks logo in action. In our previous post, we focused on the iconic "Siren" logo itself and wondered how this would evolve into a refreshed identity. Needless to say, we are impressed! From the bold typography, vibrant use of green, and dramatic packaging this makes for a modern, fresh identity.

To promote the new identity and positioning, Starbucks introduced a great video seen here, that communicates how its brand relates to the consumer to encompass a total brand experience that "goes beyond coffee" and solidifies the statement, "You & Starbucks".

Share your thoughts with us?

Read more on the new Starbucks identity.

Why Designers Should Watch 'America's Next Great Restaurant'


"The logo is the point of entry for the brand." -Milton Glaser

I've always been a fan of reality television and NBC's latest show America's Next Great Restaurant is extra special. Not because one of my favorite CEO's Steve Ells contributes his great ideas on how to start a business, but because the show places an emphasis on 'graphic design' and 'branding'. If you're a designer or small business owner last night's episode was the one to watch.
The dynamic between designers and business owners is something that has always been misunderstood and it became more apparent to me after watching this show. I completely understand those who have a vested interest in developing their own business, but when it comes time for collaboration with creatives, business owners need to learn delegation is the key to management and trust is the key to leadership. It's the 'magic' behind a successful relationship that ultimately brings their vision to life.

During last night's episode there were two highlights I noticed that verified what I tell my clients all the time, have trust in your designer (or agency) and know who you are and what you stand for (before doing any creative marketing). I will try to overlook the fact the contestants in this episode were only given a short time to come up with a logo for their restaurant idea and I will also note that the creation process should never happen with the client looking over the designer's shoulder as they meticulously click away their ideas.

I'm all for embracing participation, but there's a difference between collaboration and instruction. That is exactly what happened here: Episode 102. Design is an iterative process and creativity is best in a group that focuses on the potential of an idea, rather than its weakness. Remember the goal is to generate as many ideas as possible before arriving at the final solution, regardless of any pre-determined ideas or creations. Please, please, please, don't begin your process by opening up Adobe Illustrator.

An identity is actually brand strategy or positioning in disguise.

On the other hand, the real business challenge in this episode, like most ambitious small business owners, was not focusing on the 'look' but rather, establishing clear definition of its brand, i.e. "Who We Are and What We Stand For" which was obvious for most of the contestants, who had difficulty explaining to the judges "Why Their Brand Is Special".

What failed many of these contestants was they were unable to communicate what it is about their logos that inspires people to understand it and feel the same way. Listen to many of the judges' reactions and comments, of the importance of their logos and listen to the "what" and "why" of justifying how a logo reflects the brand and supports the business. Personally I found Steve Ells' (genius behind the Chipotle brand) comments to be the most accurate in terms of how a business owner should think like a consumer.

So remember, before you rush into designing a logo or identity, it's important to capture the essence of the brand's personality/culture such as, a company's vision, values and their audience. Your logo is not your brand, rather a cover to a great story.

Honest Marketing Tips from Mister Rogers


1.) Relationship-Building Trumps Flashiness:

Mr. Rogers replaced flashiness by building an honest relationship with his viewers, by making the show constantly address "our" least as best a television personality might do in the days of a one-way medium. Most of the time, it was him directly addressing his viewers. He took us on trips to see a few guests. And he had people stop by.

2.) Don't Promise More Intimacy than You Can Deliver:

Mr. Rogers often looked into the camera, and he said something along the lines of, "I've really enjoyed talking with you this week. I hope I have answered a few of the questions you've had. I really wish I could know each and every one of you personally, but unfortunately this television show is the only way we have to talk. If you have other questions that I haven't answered, find someone you love and who loves you in your own life and ask them." Really, is there a more perfect mindset that brands should take, online or off?

For brands that appeal to a large customer base, the company cannot have personal relationships with everyone. Social media provides a way to be more conversational, to give a venue for customer contact when they have a problem, etc. The key is to take the appropriate tone with customers, to demonstrate approachability but also be honest about the limits, lest customers be disappointed.

3.) Be Consistent in Who You Are and What People Should Expect from You:

From Fred Rogers' first show in 1968 until his last in 2001, surprisingly little changed about Fred Rogers. That's in part because his brand stood as a calm in the changing seas of culture. There were many subtle shifts in the nuances of his shows: the anxieties he addressed and the topics he covered. But Fred always found a way to address them from the standpoint that people expected from his brand. Mr. Rogers was a trusted friend we could always return to. Brands should be responsive to culture, should have their ears on the latest changes: but they should do so always remembering why audiences might come to them and respecting the audience's desires in the process.

4.) Customers' Questions Are Worth Answering:

Mr. Rogers took us seriously, asked us what our pain points were, and offered the best solution he could. Brands might be well served to do this a little more often for their customers.

5.) Brands Can Take a Stand:

Despite his calm demeanor, Mr. Rogers was known for taking a stand for what he believes in, in a way that was consistent with his public persona. Brands too often shy away from supporting something, or else--when they do--their "causes" are disjointed from the work the company does and what they stand for.

Mr. Rogers saw the value of cultivating his own brand. But he did so in a quiet and dignified way that made the tone and authenticity of his show--and his relationship with viewers--unmatched by any television property ever seen before or after. And, as I consider how many marketers likely grew up with the words of Fred Rogers guiding their way as kids, I can't help but think that we've all too often strayed away from some of those first lessons we heard as children.

Excerpts from Fast Company's expert blogger Sam Ford, 5 Marketing Lessons from Mr. Rogers, 2010.

Starbucks Evolves Logo Into Lovemark


Starbucks New Logo Coffee Cup

The world's largest coffee company, and one of the world's most beloved brands, just stirred up a bold new roast of its identity.  Starbucks unveiled an updated version of their iconic logo, which had been unchanged since 1992. The simplified logo focuses on its mermaid symbol and removes the company name from around the border of the "Siren." That's right, Starbucks no longer feels the need to reinforce its name.

Starbucks Logo Evolution

The new wordless logo features nothing more than its real star, the Siren, transcending her from logo to Lovemark. A term coined by Kevin Roberts brand genius and CEO of advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi who writes, “Lovemarks transcend brands, they deliver beyond your expectations of great performance and they inspire 'Loyalty Beyond Reason'.” Transcending the Starbucks brand seems to be the new focus for Chief Executive Howard Schultz who plans to evolve Starbucks into the future and to “think beyond coffee.” The world is changing, and Starbucks is changing with it.  It is not changing the ‘essence of the experience,' but rather, enhancing the connection with their customers.  In her simplest form, the Siren connects with each and every coffee drinker. 

Overall, the visual simplicity makes a meaningful impact and the new focus on brand extension makes perfect sense. However, for those of you who think dropping the name, "Starbucks" wasn't such a good idea you should read this. Only time will tell, but Starbucks believes its best days are ahead of them -- regardless, it's going to be exciting to see how the new identity system evolves into Starbucks future plans.

Take a peak into the ‘Future of Starbucks’
Learn more about the power of Lovemarks

10 Blog Topics to Write... Fast and Easy!


A blog should be part of everyone's marketing plan today, here are some ideas to get your started on the right track.

ten blogs to write about

Want to get started right now!! Why not? Tumblr offers FREE blog themes, no hosting or domain needed. It's really simple.

Gap can change its logo, but not its brand!


gap new logo before and after comparison

Let it be known, I'm not one to jump on 'bandwagons', whether it's politics, celebrity gossip, sports, or even in business. But I'm all aboard the latest bandwagon traveling along Gap's crossroads to logo disaster. It's widely been referred to as the 'Gapgate' controversy,  a questionable attempt by the company at designing a new logo and an even more tasteless approach at trying to market it. There has been way too much recent attention around the new Gap logo that I actually feel comfortable speaking my mind about it because unlike Gap's story, there's a happy ending here. Yes, keep reading and you'll see I offer a solution to this visual problem.

To much of my shocking surprise, I first came across the new logo while reading my favorite design blog '' where one designer so aptly recreated the Laird + Partners version of the logo in all of 3 minutes and retitled it, "Crap".

Before I critique the logo, I want to point out that one of my first jobs was working at the Gap and working in such a corporate environment with such good control over its brand propelled me into marketing and design. While working as an Old Navy and Gap associate I particularly became a fan of how Gap was able to engage and sustain a 'loyal audience' by constantly staying fresh in all aspects of their brand (fashion, marketing, advertising, etc.) Unfortunately this hasn't been the case over the past few years, revenue at Gap stores (including Old Navy and Banana Republic) have been declining (-8% in 2009). Pinpointing the problem by blaming 'The Economy' would be foolish. The Gap has a bigger problem, and it's not their logo... it's their brand.

A Brand Panic Move

One of my motto's is, "Your logo is not your brand!" This is a message we at STARMEN communicate to our clients all the time. But it seems Gap didn't listen, they officially rolled out their new logo last week, that came off more as a panic move, than it did with any real design thinking. Some credit this sudden change as a response to their declining sales, but as Abe Sauer from Brandchannel explained, "the brand decide[d] to change the one valuable element it has going for it." Changing the logo makes this obvious because it's the most recognizable thing the customers sees, but doesn't feel. A typical mistake most high-profile brands make in an effort to make a valuable 'change'. Just ask Pepsi how they feel about the whole Tropicana mess. With very notable brands, a complete brand identity redesign or even just a change to the logo can be the hardest task for any design firm, if not done right. Laird + Partners has done some great work for Gap in years past, and if the result improved the former, this probably wouldn't have been an issue.

Louise Callagy, a Gap spokeswoman, explained the new logo was intended to be the latest "evolution" for the brand and added that this was in the works for the last two years. Callagy explains "[the new logo] is more contemporary and current and honors the heritage of the Gap brand, but takes the blue box forward." Ehh... I don't think so... I'm sorry maybe back in 1965 but not today, there's absolutely nothing new about using the typeface Helvetica, just ask Eric Spiekermann. Simply typing Helvetica font over the former iconic blue box with a default gradient to offset the contrast of the black and blue is not the way to "take the brand forward" nor "honor the heritage".

We have a solution...

new gap logo identity concept

We at STARMEN came up with a relatively realistic solution for Gap. In honor of this 'heritage' Gap so greatly expresses, we found it easy to reflect on the first Gap logo and store back in 1969 and found a new way of embracing Gap's original essence with a more contemporary approach, something with similar mainstream flexibility as seen in MTV's new logo redesign. Rather than just an 'add-on' approach, this logo becomes more 'integrated' with the brand campaign, allowing the Gap to align its brand initiatives with its loyal customers. Rather than simply placing the retro typeface proportionally in the center of the iconic square shape, we more dramatically enlarged it to bleed over the edges. The clean, bold and organic lowercase font gives Gap a fresh new energy that's friendly and inviting. Our approach gives the logo opportunity to fuse the distinctive Gap imagery and the square shape, showing the flexibility of the new branding. So, what do you think of our alternative? More importantly, what do you think of Gap's perspective? We want to hear your thoughts... and we'd love to hear from you Gap!

Also stayed tuned to our blog later in the week, to hear what I think about another Helvetica logo redesign nightmare another popular company is trying...

UPDATE: By no means, are we saying that the above solution, is 'the solution'... we all understand that there is a deeper problem with Gap, and it's not just their logo, but rather their brand. However being neurotic creatives we couldn't help but offer our version of what we think their identity could be. Thanks for all the feedback, we hope you this will be a case study for brands to come!

As most of you know by now, Gap pulled the logo just as quickly as it put it up (overnight). There probably won't be much long-term damage to the brand, but we all hope that Gap will know how to approach the whole brand identity redesign, more hollistically, focusing on the brand itself and not just the logo.

Apple design explained in "Objectified" film


WATCH: Jonathan Ive talks about Mac design

In this clip from Gary Hustwit's docufilm "Objectified" we want to share with you one of our favorite clips, which features Apple's creative genius Jonathan Ive discussing the industrial design approach to creating the MacBookPro and iMac products. This is a great look inside the world of Apple's design 'process' and how that translates into the ideas which make up the Apple philosophy. Learn from this short clip just what makes Apple such a beloved brand and a great product

Check out Gary Hustwit's other docufilm "Helvetica" which I'm sure all you graphic designers have seen. We're looking forward  to the 3rd installment of the design trilogy, "Urbanized".

Top 7 Brands With Social-Media Buzz


The above list courtesy of AdAge/ OneRiot Brand Buzz Chart

In this new weekly chart -- a collaboration between Advertising Age and real-time buzz tracker OneRiot -- they monitor discussions on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and Digg, and present the good news and the bad news for big brands with current social-media buzz. Take a look at the top 7 for this week...

For more stats, data, research and analytics about marketing, advertising and consumer trends, please visit the Ad Age Stat blog 

Facebook Marketing: 8 Success Criteria


The 8 Success Criteria For Facebook Page Marketing

Social media marketing has become a hot topic amongst brand marketers and businesses, now more than ever looking to establish themselves within a social network. As a means to advertise/promote their products and services at low cost, the biggest being, Facebook. But it's knowing how to use it and what to do with it, that counts. The proper use of Facebook goes beyond 'setting up an account' as the focus becomes more strategic in being 'interactive' with your audience by taking the right steps to increase engagement and promote word of mouth through advocacy and peer-to-peer interactions, or solicit business call to actions that result in transactions. Simply stated, if a brand makes their community happy by generating a vibrant place, then then have the option to start generating business impacts (revenue).

The Altimeter Group compiled data by analyzing companies posts, comments, 'likes' on Facebook and found a clear pattern. There was a consistent set of criteria they heard from the industries experts, and they found the following 8 criteria:

  1. Set Community Expectations
  2. Provide Cohesive Branding
  3. Be Up To Date
  4. Live Authenticity
  5. Participate in Dialog
  6. Enable Peer-To-Peer Interactions
  7. Foster Advocacy
  8. Solicit A Call To Action

Okay great, now you know the 'key points' to creating a social media presence on Facebook, but how is your business going to execute a plan that meets this criteria to capture an audience and build your business through the social media platform? Look no further, STARMEN Design Group can take your brand from Content To Commerce by using a unique approach that bridges "people stories" to "product stories" through social media and branded content. Get in touch with us and get current, we are social media experts, and are here to to help you achieve true consumer engagement.

Insider Tips: Get Your Designs Approved!


One of the most challenging parts of any brand design process is getting design approved via "client sign off". It can prove time consuming, demoralizing and if you are not careful can lead to a dissatisfied client. What is more you can end up with a design that you are ashamed to include in your portfolio.

How then can you ensure that the design you produce is the one that gets built? How can you get the client to sign off on your design? Below are 10 tips learnt from years of experience, we call them the "growing pain" years.

1. Write the creative brief

Many of the clients you work with will not have been involved in a web or design project before. Even if they have they may have worked in a very different way to what you would expect. Take the time at the beginning of the project to compose a 'creative brief' explain their role in the design of the site. The best approach is to emphasis that their job is to focus on the needs of their users and business. They should concentrate on the broad issues, while you worry about the details of layout, typography and color scheme.

By clarifying what you expect from the client, you help them to provide the right kind of input throughout the process. The creative brief is also a useful tool that you can use throughout your design process, kind of like a roadmap for the foundation from which you 'brand' your client. Get it approved and you'll have something to fall back on if any disagreements come back to haunt you later on.

2. Understand the business

Before you open up Photoshop or put pen to paper, take the time to make sure you properly understand not only the brief but the organization behind the site. By understanding their business objectives, organizational structure and marketing strategy your design decisions will be better informed.

You cannot rely upon the brief to provide all of the information you need. It is important to dig deeper and get as good an understanding of their business as possible, do some audits, external research, go out and study their competitors. This information will prove invaluable when justifying your design decisions.

3. Understand the users

We all like to think of ourselves as user centric designers, but exactly how much effort do you put into knowing your users before beginning the design process?

Take the time to really understand them the best you can. Try to meet with some real prospective users and get to know their needs. Failing that work with the client to produce user personas to help picture exactly what kind of people they are.

Understanding your users not only improves the quality of your work, but also helps move the discussion away from the personal preferences of the client, to the people who’s opinion really matters. Some client's themselves, do not properly "know" or "understand" their audience until you put it in front of them. Be bold, be creative!

4. Avoid multiple concepts, Avoid multiple concepts...

Many clients like the idea of having the option to choose between multiple design concepts. However, although on the surface this might appear to be a good idea it can ultimately be counterproductive for design sign off.

In a world of limited budgets it is unwise to waste money on producing designs that are ultimately going to be thrown away. The resources would be better spent refining a single design through multiple iterations.

What is more, multiple concepts often cause confusion rather than clarity. It is common for a client to request one element from one design and another from the second. As any designer knows this seldom works. This is one of the primary reasons that legendary graphic designer Paul Rand avoided showing more than one concept to his clients. in fact, his iconic UPS logo was chosen after only seeing ONE comp.

5. Use mood boards

Clients are often better at expressing what they don’t like than what they do. This is one of the reasons why they favour producing multiple design concepts. An alternative less costly approach is to create a series of mood boards. These boards contain a collection of colours, typography and imagery which represent different “moods” or directions, which the design could take.

Mood boards are quick and easy to produce allowing you to try out various design approaches with the client without investing the time needed to produce complete design concepts. This means that by the time you develop a concept the client and designer have already established an understanding about the direction of the design.

6. Say what you like, challenge convention

It is not uncommon for a client during let's say, a web project to ask for a design that looks similar to another site they like. The problem is that it can often be hard to establish exactly what it is about the site that attracts them. Also in many cases the sites they like are not something you are keen to emulate!

A better approach that was suggested by most web professionals is to show them sites that you think the design should emulate. Keep a collection of screen captures from well designed sites and pick out a few that are relevant to that particular client. Explain why you feel these designs might suit their project and ask for their feedback. If they don’t like your choices then expose them to more of your collection and see what they pick out.

7. Wireframe the homepage

Often clients find it hard to distinguish between design and content and so sometimes reject a design on the basis that the content is not right. This is particularly true when signing off the homepage.

You may therefore find it useful to establish the homepage content before producing the design. That way once they see the design they will not be distracted by the content. One of the best ways to do this is by producing a basic wireframe consisting of a series of content boxes. Once this has been approved you will find the sign off of design much easier.

8. Present your designs in person

Although it is true that a good design should speak for itself it still needs presenting to the client. The client needs to understand why you have made the design decisions you have, otherwise they will judge the design purely on personal preference.

Talk them through the design explaining how it meets the needs of their users and business objectives. Refer to the mood boards and preferred sites the client approved and explain how the design is a continuation of those. Never simply email the design through and hope the client interprets your work correctly! It's just impersonal.

9. Provide written supporting material

Unfortunately, no matter how well you justify the design to the client he is almost certain to want to show it to others. He may need his bosses approval or require internal buy in. At the very least he is going to want to get a second opinion from a friend or colleague.

The problem with this is that you are not going to be there to present to these people in the same way you did for the client. You cannot expect the client to present your ideas as well as you did. The reality is that you have lost control of how the design is perceived.

One way to minimize this problem is to provide written documentation supporting the design. This can be a summary of the presentation you gave to the client and allows him to distribute this along with the design. By putting a written explanation with the design you ensure that everybody who sees it gets the same message.

10. Control the feedback

My final piece of advice for managing design sign off is to control the way you receive feedback. A clients natural inclination will be to give you his personal opinion on the design. This is reinforced because you ask them what they think of the design. Instead ask them what their users will think of the design. Encourage them to think from the users perspective. Tell them to do some 'polling' with people unassociated with their inner circle to avoid bias at all costs.

Also encourage them to keep that overarching focus I talked about in my first tip. Their tendency will be to try to improve the design, however that should be your problem not theirs. The role of a client should be to defend the needs of their users and business not do the design. Encourage the client to make comments such as “I am not sure that my female users will like the masculine colours” rather than “can we make the whole design pink.” It is down to them to identify the problems and for you as the designer to find the most appropriate solution. Lastly, please when you're requesting feedback make sure you ask for ONE consolidated and FINAL document of revisions, this way you won't have to sort through 23 emails, as the client changes their mind every other hour.

So there you have it. Our 10 tips to improve design sign off. Will this ensure design approval every time? Unfortunately not. However it should certainly help smooth the way. Now you also know a little bit on how we work, for those potential clients out there... let's talk!

Hertz Launches New Brand Identity


As part of a major re-branding effort, Hertz Corp. wants to woo cash-strapped consumers by urging them to "journey on" in a new campaign. For the first time in two decades, the company is updating its logo, uniforms, ads and 2,100 rental locations, as well as adding snazzy sports cars to its fleet. Omnicom Group's DDB is creating the campaign, which includes TV spots, print ads and online elements. Hertz also worked with Landor Associates to modernize the yellow and black Hertz logo.

Our goal in the logo redesign was to create a more contemporary corporate image that reflects our strong brand recognition, and is in touch with the mindset of current and future customers who appreciate superior service, personalized choices and value," commented Mike Senackerib, Hertz Chief Marketing Officer.

The new identity remains recognizeable by the strong use of its iconic yellow corporate color, but loses its familiar 'drop shadow' an element which made it look very dated. The new logo itself has been successfully updated to today's contemporary, friendly, and less-corporate consumer, but its going to take a lot more than aesthetic changes to re-energize the consumer and their views toward the Hertz brand.

Reviewing the New Look for Microsoft MSN


Microsoft debuts MSN's new logo and site design

During the late 90s internet boom MSN rose to the top, to become a popular and admired resource for finding information and news online. They seemed to have it all right, a brand identity that was familiar with its parent company, (Microsoft) an appealing television ad campaign and a whole lot of money to support their place in the online community. Fast forward 10 years lately, and the site, logo, marketing, consumer connection, virtually everything about the brand had evaporated. MSN quickly fell behind the emerging internet giants Google and Yahoo! and never seemed to catch up. It wasn't money or colors, the MSN brand simply lost its connection with its audience, which seemed to be outgrowing the company. The explosion of social media is where MSN failed to connect its audience with their new favorite networking tools. So with a new logo, added features, being too little too late for MSN remains to be seen. If it's similar to what AOL did last year, it might just be. AOL if you haven't noticed (recently gave themselves a much needed and highly criticized brand identity refresh.)

Will the new MSN re-energize today's online users back to its brand?

Microsoft lags behind Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. in search share despite efforts to turn the money-losing online business around. The software maker is saying goodbye to's blue background and its blocks of text links. Instead, giving the site more white space, fewer categories and more organized navigation. Hoping to bring back to what it once was (way back in 1997), a leading online search engine and news source. Microsoft Corp. hopes to get more Web surfers using its Bing search engine. Microsoft says Bing searches from MSN jumped during tests of the new design.

One highlight we can point out is the new MSN has a top news section that features photos more prominently. The addition of the Bing 'branded' search box stands out more, and people can scan lists of hot discussion topics and local posts on Twitter. What we did not like was that this facelift seemed to be just a new facade for its homepage. We discovered some of the interior pages still look cluttered and resemble too closely to the old version, leading us to believe this was done fairly quickly. We also noticed the MSN logo takes a backseat on the 'sports' page where, "FOX SPORTS" seems to dominate the page. This seems to be the case with most of its pages beign external link, making it confusing for some users who may think they've left the site.

Final Thoughts...

MSN is definitely taking a step in the right direction, unfortunately we think it's too late in this rapidly evolving technology market. They just seem to be pressing the emergency button on their re-branding efforts rather than taking a strategic approach, especially coming off the heels of competitors AOL's new launch and Yahoo's new "My Yahoo" updates. Still MSN has a lot of work to do before they can successfully recapture their audience. They need to assess what the brand stands for and how they are different and how to they can effectively communicate it.

Overall we think the site has been greatly simplified but still needs work, and we wish they would have been more creative with the logo! The site doesn't seem finished or complete and lacks in areas where others are stronger. The logo looks as if it has taken taken a step back, with the butterfly closely resembling a more generic icon which doesn't have the right balance or proportions of colors and shape it predecessor so recognizeably had. Regarding the type treatment, said it best...

The new one suffers from Bing syndrome: It wants to be cool and modern but it suffers from complete lack of typographic decency. In this case, the whole is not so bad, but the parts are."

Tell us what you think? About the web site? The logo?

Alan Siegel: Let's Simplify Legal Jargon!


Having a hard time paying off those credit card bills? Well the design of the credit card contracts, make it harder for you to get rid of your debt. If Alan Siegel had his way, more of us would think twice to use plastic to pay for that expensive dinner. It's all in the visual communication.

Alan Siegel, is a brand expert and one of the leading authorities on business communication. He recently gave a great talk at the TED conference in Long Beach. He's man who preaches simplification and specifically regarding legal documents for government and business.


Why PepsiCo's Rebrand Failed?


PepsiCo's first big company meeting since 2006, CEO Indra Nooyi admitted the company learned it's lessons from some of the recent controversies regarding the sudden design overhaul of it's key brands.  She stated, "2009 was not a good year for North American beverages. We didn't like the North American beverage results" Really? You didn't, oh we're glad because we thought it was just us. I mean who really liked the so called, "refresh everything" campaign? I found myself asking, why fix a problem that wasn't broken? Was this iconic brand really in need of such a drastic change, but I'll save the design critique for another time, but the fact that Ms. Nooyi has acknowledge that the company made a mistake and quite frankly realized it's too late to "sweat the details" thus moving forward, is an even bigger letdown than it is "refreshing."

What's the rush?

Ms. Nooyi said the first lesson learned from the beverage portfolio overhaul is that the organization has to buy into the program. Realizing that it couldn't overhaul only two brands or drag out the revamp for several years, the company made a lot of changes in a short period of time. A task that was too big for itself... let's look at the key failures.

Remember Tropicana

Arnell Group's dramatic Tropicana rebrand at the beginning of 2009 was immediately scrutinized by consumers, media and the advertising industry, resulting in a replacement of the old product packaging and positioning. The "squeeze" campaign all together was a failure, including Arnell's advertising campaign which was missing essential clarity. But how cute was that squeeze cap at the top.

What's G?

Most Gatorade loyals only drink the popular 3 or 4 flavors that Gatorade has been known for. For years they've remained the No. 1 brand in their category of sport beverages, but recently they embarked on a massive rebrand during the economic recession of 09. The rebrand included redesign of more than a thousand packages, national advertising campaign and an increase in product line. As a result, Gatorade saw a decline in shares and criticism among media and analysts who have decried the brand's decline. Just ask yourself, how many flavors can you name? They've become overcomplicated and over saturated, forgetting their "core values" and simplicity that made them a success. Gets Another Facelift


One of our favorite airline companies and admired travel brands is Southwest Airlines. We also have been fans of their web site and apparently you are too (in 2009, Nielsen/Netratings reported that was the largest airline site in terms of unique visitors). Not only do they run an efficient, affordable business, but their online destination is friendly, and very easy to use.

We recently booked a business trip to Las Vegas, and while visiting, we immediately recognized they had done another upgrade to their user interface. We weren't sure how we felt about it at first, but then after comparing it to the old site we realized that Southwest just made a good thing, even better! Allow us to point out some of the new features, in case your're wondering what's so great about it.

  1. Most popular booking features are right there on the home page.
  2. Use of more elegant black, shying from the corporate "orange" (We liked the orange?)
  3. "What's New" page, for latest Southwest news and info.
  4. Revamped the menus at the top of the home page (We prefer this easy-to-find).

Unlike most redesigns, Southwest was smart about their updates. They didn't do a 360! Causing unfamiliarity with a dramatic design overhaul or cause chaos to their loyal followers by adding on too many features, instead they did a moderate "improvement." Keeping the same popular features, just making them better by improving the user experience.

Take a look for yourselves, we'd love to hear what you think?

Brand Marketing Is Not a Science


During our daily industry readings, we came across this encouraging article by brand consultant Tom Hinkes, a contributor to It was refreshing to hear from a well-respected and experienced brand marketer that great marketing requires a balance of strategy and creative. Currently, companies have been scaling back on creatively-led brand solutions and focusing more on "the numbers" approach.

More Data Is Not Better Data

Marketing departments used to be the creative engines powering successful corporations. Now they're overrun by number-crunching nerds. As a direct consequence, despite all the conspicuous focus on "change management," the way brands respond to change in the marketplace has deteriorated. A McKinsey Quarterly article several years ago argued that the key to "better branding" is to build brands "more scientifically." If managers would combine "forward-looking market segmentation" with structural-equation modeling, they could "build a better brand more efficiently." In short: more data, more regressions and more conjoint analysis mean the "brand crisis" is solved. But fluency with buzz words and expertise with spreadsheets do not guarantee brand-marketing competence.

We agree that there is a need for consumer research, but brand marketing is not a science, it's not driven solely by metrics or statistics. It requires analysis, discipline and detail. Even more, it requires emotion, vision and ideas. STARMEN shares this perspective. We manage and balance both successfully and have the marketing abilities and creative talents to do so.

Enjoy the full article here.

Our New Site Launches Today!


As an award-winning creative agency specializing brand design, we are proud to announce the redesign of the STARMEN web site. But "redesign" doesn't really cover it. This more than a aesthetic adjustment or surface-level change. This is more of a "refresh" both internally and externally. The new reflects our new ideas, new thinking, and new outlook for our clients, and their brands. For those of you familiar with us, you'll find a lot of new and exciting information, about us, the services we offer and see new design work!

Our LA headquarters is buzzing with excitement! This site has been a labor of love, created with synchronized hard work, absolute enthusiasm, and meticulous attention to how effective design can be. The new STARMEN believes happy users means happy business. One goal of ours that hasn't changed is this: We are here to produce solid, valuable results for you! Now, we just look even better!

Visit our new virtual home and experience the new STARMEN!

View Our New Site On Your iPhone


While the internet travels and the industry evolves, so do we. STARMEN designers and tech enthusiasts have been very pumped to launch our mobile iPhone site!  We’ve always been believers in simplicity, and this optimized format reflects just that.  Even on your iPhone, we’re here to make your brand work!

Explore our new platform!  Read about our agency, map our location, or just shoot us an e-mail. We are at your virtual disposal!

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