Graphic designer and entrepreneur Helen Holmes discusses how look and feel can put your business ahead of its competitors and ensure success.
When you’re setting up a new business, whether it’s a small investment as a sideline to your job or a large investment and a new start, there are numerous elements to consider. With information and advice available in abundance online, it’s easy to find yourself bombarded. Each business is individual and unique, and has its own values and aims; often businesses are defined by their creator. Any professional that you work with in the development of your business should take time to understand your dream. I believe the single most important element of my job as a designer, and indeed my favourite part, is to make that dream a reality through taking the time to fully understand the individual business and, most importantly, its customer base.
The look and feel, and the wider branding of your business, is absolutely key to its success. In the world of marketing we talk about the three second rule, which is the time you have to capture your customer’s attention. If the look and feel don’t immediately seem right to your client, you have lost them. You will know this from your own experience – when you spot an internet banner that reminds you that you really do need that bo-ho-style floaty dress and before you know it, you’ve clicked through; or when you’re scanning the shelves of your local supermarket and that organic French strawberry jam finds itself in your basket (after all it’s only double the price of the standard brand, but it looks amazing); or perhaps your eyes are drawn to one particular book out of the hundreds on the shelves in Waterstones, because it just looks like your kind of novel.
So imagine, in our case, your customer is searching online for a perfect short break, or an amazing venue for their wedding. They probably have a glass of wine in hand after a busy day at work, the TV on in the background, and they have grabbed half an hour to dedicate to their search. They are scanning through their Google search, skimming over the majority of sites, and occasionally stop and say to their partner, “This looks OK. What do you think?”, to which their partner responds, “Yeah it’s OK.” More scanning, more skimming, then suddenly, “Oh this looks fantastic – this is perfect!” My aim is for that to be your business. Your look and feel has to hit them within the count of three, and fulfill just what they are looking for.
So, how do we achieve this? Well in my opinion, based on 26 years in the industry, getting the initial look and feel bang on is key, and to achieve this you need to invest in some professional support. The amount of consultation services you budget for will depend on how much you want to learn yourself, how much time you have, and your initial set up budget, together with your longer term marketing plan. If I had a pound for every time I’ve been employed to revive a failing business and found that the owner’s sister-in-law’s aunty’s grand-daughter who was quite good at art created the logo using Publisher, and they made their website using a free template that came with hosting for £3.99, but somehow they didn’t appear in the Google searches. I don’t mean that to sound condescending, but this has happened so many times! To follow is a case study that may help to take you though the process.
CASE STUDY: Canvas and Clover
Canvas and Clover is a luxury campsite comprising 10 bell tents, situated on a working farm in the beautiful county of Worcestershire. It opened in May 2016 and was fully booked for its first weekend of business. It has achieved a consistent five out of five for every TripAdvisor review so far. It has won an award from Cool Camping for the best new camping and glamping site opening in 2016, and was one of Glamping Magazine’s 50 Sensational Sites. According to Camping with Style, Canvas and Clover is ‘Perfect!’ So, how did we achieve this?
I met with the business owners in the kitchen of their working dairy farm on a rainy day and enjoyed a cup of tea with Poppy the dog by my feet while we talked through the ‘vision’ for Canvas and Clover. It was clear that this was going to be a family business, underpinned by eco / green values, with a friendly, personal feel. We discussed and chuckled about how stressful it can be to arrive at a campsite and have to put up the dreaded tent (or in my case, the awning on the side of our 1972 VW camper van) and then find that the showers aren’t as clean as you would like, by which time the children are bored, it’s raining and it’s tea time. Canvas and Clover were aiming to eliminate all of this (apart from the rain of course) so that a family arrives to find their bell tent fully fitted with luxurious bedding, all made up and ready, with its own shed for cooking and storing muddy wellies and soggy umbrellas. They can rest assured that there is a large, clean, shower block with six rooms, each with its own shower, toilet and sink, with a hairdryer and a plug for the all important straighteners.
We discussed the cost of staying with Canvas and Clover and the type of customer that it may attract. One of the most important elements for a graphic designer to explore and understand is the target audience – this defines and shapes the branding of any business. The family had been talking about a potential logo and were quite keen to involve a cow (to show Canvas and Clover is on a dairy farm), perhaps with a clover leaf in her mouth, a tent and some countryside.
Initial Design Work
So, back at the studio, the team were armed with all the information necessary and after a brain-storming session the ideas started to flow. Pencils were working hard and the keyboards started to tap. The big question going back and forth was, ‘Cow or no cow?’
Often clients believe that a brand is just a logo, but in reality it is so much more. A logo is fixed and people can see it, but it is rarely, if ever, seen in isolation. It will be seen within a website, on a leaflet, an advert, a Facebook page, surrounded by images, background colours and type. Your brand builds in the client’s mind – it is the customer’s perception of your business, from the physical and factual (bell tents on a working farm) to the emotional (friendly, personal) and perceived (safe, romantic). In our studio we never design a logo in isolation, but consider it with images, colours and typography, and try ideas within a range of media.
At the next meeting with the client, I presented the proposed designs. Seeing the logo on a tinted background with a colour scheme and typographic style is much more realistic than just a logo on its own.
The main feature of the logo is the bell tent, but dressed with bunting to give a vintage feel and evoke thoughts of fun and childhood, a sneak peek into the tent to show a cozy, comfortable bed, and lighting to instill the idea of a safe environment. The butterfly denotes countryside wildlife and the clover is a subtle element of the circle, as a sign off. There is no cow! We felt this may put potential customers off as they might be frightened of cows, think they would be too close, or might even smell. The typeface for Canvas and Clover has a vintage / modern feel with a slight grunge to depict the outdoors. The colour scheme is soft pastel with a calming and relaxing undertone, with some darks to be used as highlights. The paragraph typography is a modern sans serif typeface, which feels open and honest.
Of course, we don’t expect every potential customer to pick out all of these elements and consider them, but the overall look and feel is what is important here – the message is subliminal. People buy brands they know, like and trust, and a good graphic designer should be able to strategically use this information to target your audience.
Development of design work
So, we were now beginning to build the Canvas and Clover brand. The next stage was to enforce these emotional connections, through photography, and then to effectively apply the brand across all media – print, web and promotional. I can’t stress enough the importance of good photography. Again, I would highly recommend bringing in a professional at this stage, as the imagery is absolutely key to securing your sale. We had three photographic sessions – the first on a sunny day with a bell tent dressed and ready; the second in the evening, just as it was beginning to get dark to capture fire pits and prettily lit tents; and finally an outside cooking session with a number of ‘models’ to simulate a large group, family friendly atmosphere. These shots began to build the story of Canvas and Clover, to prompt and enforce the connection with potential customers.
Website design is an important enough topic for an article of its own, but as we are talking about look and feel here, the main point I have to make is that it should succinctly, visually tell the story of your brand. Make sure you give all the information that a potential customer will need, but enforce this with narrative imagery.
With Canvas and Clover, we designed a website in a content management system so that we could hand the ongoing management of the site back to the business owners. Each page was designed with a large photographic banner at the top, to reinforce the brand. Although customers may come to your website via Pitchup, Cool Camping or TripAdvisor, for example, your website is your chance to showcase your business and to capture that important sale.
We also applied the branding to business cards, leaflets, polo shirts, waterproof jackets and eco friendly shopping bags. It was a lovely project to work on and inspired me to take the leap into the glamping business myself!
Return on investment
You may well be thinking that this all sounds fine, but it’s going to cost too much money, money that you don’t have at this point in the business plan. Perhaps think about this as an investment that will help you to see a much higher return.
For example, if you were developing a 10 tent glamping site, you would be charging around £95 per tent per night at weekends and £75 per tent per night on weekdays. At full capacity that would bring in £5,850 each week; that’s £23,400 each month and £70,200 for a three month trading season. Of course, you may run at 70-80% capacity, and as there are ongoing costs this is not pure profit, but a design and marketing budget of £5,000 (only 7% of your seasonal turnover) is a reasonable investment to ensure your business takes off and flies. The ongoing design and marketing budget for the following years may be only about 2%; £1,500 to cover additional print and new initiatives to promote return business with loyal customers, such as promotional items and email campaigns.
About the Author
Helen Holmes has been working in the graphic design industry for 26 years, since graduating from De Montfort University in 1990. Having worked for a number of big brands, she set up her own design consultancy in 2004. Maros Holmes Creative is based in a beautiful studio in the village of Kempsey in Worcestershire. Helen is also a part-time senior lecturer at the University of Worcester, where she teaches degree level graphic design and multimedia students the intricacies of the industry, with the aim of giving them the best possible start in the creative world.
Helen’s passion for the outdoor hospitality businesses, particularly glamping, has grown over the past few years. Having worked with a number of clients in the business she has taken the jump herself and invested in a beautiful shepherd’s hut, called Buttercup, which is sited in the pretty riverside meadow next to her creative studio.
Maros Holmes Creative offers design packages especially for the outdoor hospitality business, with a basic start-up including look and feel, logo, website, leaflet / advert from £1,500. Visit www.marosholmes.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org