Focus on the Process, Not the Outcome
Experimentation and process provide results for Carlton PR & Marketing
Experimentation and process provide results for Carlton PR & Marketing
I met Bobbie Carlton for the first time at a special breakfast centered on the innovation community supporting women entrepreneurs in Boston. It would be another six months before I would meet her again at a small session introducing an innovative new company out of Canada. And then another six months would pass before we managed to start working together.
As it turned out, we’d both been trying to find a reason to work with the other. “I often tell people that I work best in black and white,” Bobbie said. “In other words, words. I like to write, and feel I write well, so I leave the design and making things beautiful part to others. I felt comfortable with some of Katie’s other work and now all we needed was a joint project.”
Most in the Boston innovation and start-up ecosystem know Bobbie, but they know her as the wonder-woman who started Mass Innovation Nights, not as the head of an integrated marketing firm offering PR, content creation and digital marketing services to startups and small companies.
I learned in our conversation that the original Carlton PR & Marketing logo was a quick “we need a logo now” project based off the Innovation Nights logo – but there wasn't anything else behind it. Bobbie also shared that her entire website needed an overhaul. She joked that she often wanted to slap a sign on the site that said, “This website is so ugly because our clients’ sites are gorgeous.” As a service provider myself, I understood that Carlton put her clients’ needs first and neglected their own.
In short, Bobbie wanted a brand that told a story she could embrace, and support to build it across her digital channels.
Bobbie asked us to redesign her logo, which would also require an in-depth look at the brand and story behind Carlton PR & Marketing. Additionally, she asked that we handle business cards for her team, and ultimately asked for a website homepage design she could continue to extend.
I took on the project, excited to have the opportunity to work with a respected colleague on their own brand, as well as to provide strategy to a brand that had such inherent heart.
After a great interview which, among other things, uncovered that her most recently read book is the business writing guide Writing Without Bullshit, the process began.
The two biggest challenges we faced were that first, the company was in a crowded industry and second that it kept the name of the founder as its own. Originally, the name was also on the table but Bobbie’s team convinced her that the name had real value and recognition. They did decide to shorten it to just the name Carlton and drop the PR & Marketing; it would remain as part of the logo.
While the brand capital in the name does provide value, the name of a company generally leads off the design of the brand. That wouldn’t be the case this time.
I chose to experiment more aggressively to find the logo that would tell the right story. One of the angles on which I chose to focus was the ant whose nature embodies the humble, hardworking, community building soul of the company.
While excited about the potential, Bobbie and her team found that their market couldn’t make the leap. While many would see this as failure, I did not. It was an experiment, a part of the process. We learned a lot about what the client liked visually, how they thought about their brand and what themes they wanted to see.
The client bought into the experiment as well. And as we often find with those willing to invest in the process, they got more than they originally planned.
Bobbie let me know that she’d been wanting to launch a sub-brand, and that the ants could be the perfect fit. Could I design a logo and website graphics for the sub-brand as well, and ensure they fit within the larger brand?
I said yes, took a good look at what had worked throughout the process, and dialed back our approach to be as streamlined and concentrated as possible.
The colors I chose hit home right from the beginning, infusing the brand with a bright and fun purple and orange palette. I also selected a sans serif font that was purposefully round to bring out the brand’s conversational, positive and humble nature. The typography was intended to look inviting and friendly.
With both of those pieces secured, the next step was to unpack the meaning of the word message.
Messages get distributed in a multitude of ways: mass media, social media, digital, print, written, visual – all of which could be represented in the logo.
But I choose the spoken word. It’s debated by the linguistics community whether to value written over spoken, but from my perspective, no level of education, class standing, age or creed would prevent sharing a message through speech. In other words, it was the most basic and inclusive option, key to a brand focused on providing a boost to those needing extra volume in their marketing.
The primary, self-identified differentiator for the company is their ability to make connections – to resources, to people, to companies – whatever the client might need to grow. Thus, instead of separating out the speech bubble, it is integral to the logo.
This design choice allowed the logo to start a conversation, which is often the first step in making a valuable connection. That choice extended to their homepage design, which utilized the bright colors and conversational voice. And conversation became a part of their business cards.
Business cards are often overlooked in today’s high-tech world, but realistically, they are still one of the first things people see, and it’s what they carry home with them when the event ends. For Carlton, I chose to start the conversation right on the business card, giving each team member the ability to fill in what they bring to the table and/or to write down something specific for each interaction, making each card as personal as the conversation.
The last piece was to build the sub-brand. Called ‘crowdpromoting,’ we’d already chosen to leverage our friends, the ants. I ultimately decided that the name said it all.
Crowdpromoting is exactly what it sounds like: amplifying a message through the collective effort of many. Crowdpromoting is a community, all working to convey a message. Size doesn’t matter – indeed, an ant can move something up to 5,000 times its own body weight. Working together, they can accomplish even more.
I knew that we wanted multiple ants to ensure that the crowd aspect was front and center. More broadly, I intentionally carried the speech bubble thread from the main brand into the sub-brand, and see excellent potential to extend the ants into illustrations, graphics, a website, and more as the brand grows.
The last piece of building any brand is documentation. The Carlton brand guidebook utilized the same straightforward, conversational approach to convey the strategy and identity.
To date, the client is off and running with printed business cards for their next events. “There’s always another event on the horizon, but with our 100th Mass Innovation Nights coming, we wanted to make sure we were ready to put our best foot forward,” Bobbie said as we closed the project.
Make sure you attend 100th Mass Innovation Nights, and connect with someone from Carlton. It’ll be a great conversation.
"Katie and the team are awesome to work with -- thoughtful and talented. We're excited by the options they presented to us for our company, and appreciate the fine work they have done for our clients too!"
- Bobbie Carlton, Founder, Carlton