How Creative Branding can Help Boring Businesses


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I come across a fair number of clients who apologize for their companies… “We’re sorry that manufacturing label paste is not the most interesting thing in the world. ” Or, “There’s nothing we can do to stand out… we’re in the business of finding cheaper ways to for demolition customers to dump trash. We don’t dump the trash. We just research the cheapest way for them to dump their own trash. It’s really dry stuff. ”

Yes, neither of these companies is selling gourmet food, creating colorful board games, or packaging imported tea. Photographers often hear, “I’m not remotely photogenic, ” to which they usually respond, “It’s my job to take a good picture—you just be you. ” Design is the same. You do your job well and you know your market. It is a designer’s job to make you look interesting.

The potential for creativity is everywhere. Just because you’re in a boring industry doesn’t mean you can’t be creative and use design to make your organization more effective and successful. Industries that support creative design include food, lifestyle, and entertainment. Industries that don’t generally support creative design (the boring ones) include construction, accounting and law. If you are in a boring industry, you’re actually in a better position to benefit from having a creative brand, or even just a slightly controversial brochure or ad. That’s because your industry simply hasn’t caught up with the rest of the world in terms of creative marketing. For example, great packaging abounds in the supermarket. It’s harder to get a new cereal box on the supermarket shelf than it is to become a brain surgeon. The saturation of product packaging at a grocery store leaves little room for any new idea to stand out. On the other hand, a gravel yard or an accounting office is expected to be boring. What would happen with if the gravel company got a little creative in the form of humor or style in their sales materials? What if the accounting office created materials that were stylish and made tax season a little friendlier? As long as a company doesn’t go too overboard and sacrifice trust, creative marketing can only help.

How about the company that researches the costs of waste disposal? They need to look at what they do from a different angle. Bottom line is they save their demolition customers money by informing them it will cost less to haul garbage 100 miles to a landfill in Walla Walla than dumping it in the city transfer station which charges much higher fees. They prevent their customers from throwing away money. And there it is — play with the idea of throwing away money, dumping money, and the creative ideas start to pour in. They can tell their customers to stop dumping money in a clever, well-designed package.

I once re-branded a construction supply company. Construction supply is not a very progressive, creative industry, but the new owner of the company is an innately savvy marketer. His store is only a few blocks from Safeco Field and Seahawks Stadium. He rents his parking lot during games. Knowing his market is full of sports fans, we developed a promotion rewarding his customers with free game tickets and parking when they give his company a certain level of business. The summer promotions have the feel of baseball game—a little retro with clean, bright colors. He stands out in his industry; very few companies like his take advantage of the fact that no one expects clever, well-designed promotions from a construction supply company, let alone free game tickets and parking.

There was once a time when a pen was a Bic, a stapler was painted steel, a computer was a big metal box, ketchup lived in a glass bottle and a paperclip was a paperclip. With the help of design (and, of course, technology) these products are no longer confined to their prescribed forms. Pens come in all sorts of ergonomic shapes, colors, and materials; staplers come in animal molds sized for a child’s pocket; computers now cheerfully match the décor in which they live; ketchup squirts from squeeze bottles and even comes in blue; and paperclips have more variations than there are pages in the Library of Congress. Those items have evolved. However, some items still haven’t: most offices I visit still have the same heavy, scratched metal file cabinets found in a guidance counselor’s office in 1975, suspended ceilings are still tiled with the same textured tiles hung high above in circa 1955 high school auditoriums, and our society has accepted the fact that paint comes out of a can that will invariably crust over and dry out whatever leftover paint we hope to save for touchups. (One manufacturer has introduced a plastic pouring bottle with a screw-top lid and another company makes little sponge-top bottles to store paint for touchups, but stores still stock their shelves with cans).

Design has touched many thousands of the products we use every day. It has transformed the food industry and the entertainment industry. Design created an industry now known as “lifestyle. " But like the file cabinet, suspended ceiling tiles and paint can, many organizations still believe that design lives in the realm of toy stores and supermarket aisles. If you work for one of them, it’s your turn to let creative marketing make you a more effective, efficient, and successful organization. Who knows? I just may make you the leader in transforming your entire industry.

Audrey Nezer is an award-winning graphic designer in Seattle, Washington. Her company, Artifex Design, creates playful, edgy and effective marketing and communication materials for companies and organizations throughout the United States. Visit to learn more (and win a prize!)


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