A software company in the education market who needed story tools, more sales and a software facelift.
A unique situation investigating the feasibility of product ideas in the energy management arena.
A personal project involving a book, art & creative imagination – all seasoned with a tropical island vibe.
An early-stage company, this group had developed software for the k-12 education arena. While there had been a modest level of success, revenues were not where they could be. Being a team of developers, ownership knew that while they were great at building software, marketing and sales were not necessarily in their wheelhouse. There was a distinct need to enhance market awareness and understanding of what they had to offer. In other words, they needed a great story to go along with their great software.
The Story Design Process
In getting started, the first step was to gain a better understanding of their particular situation. I quickly found that they had an outstanding product and the customers they had were very happy. In doing a bit of market research, I also learned that there was a unique niche that this product could fill, but they weren’t talking about it. This became the foundation for building the story.
We started with a brand overhaul which included redesigning the logo, creating a tagline and really fine-tuning the message. From there we dove into creating updated marketing collateral and an engaging website design.
The software targeted a need that had not be addressed before, so there was a certain level of “education” needed for customers to understand what it did. Therefore, everything from brochures and mailers to web content and trade show booth graphics was designed to quickly point out the benefits it offered.
For the sales process, a powerful presentation, product demo and proposal made it easy to visualize using the software and how it would improve the work environment. In putting this all together, I was eager to get out and talk about it. Now that we had a great story, and the tools to tell it well, spreading the word was a pleasure. It was fun to see the enthusiasm ramp up in both the marketplace and within the company – and the increased revenues were appreciated too.
One more thing – an interesting note on the software itself. While very powerful, the original user interface was a bit hard to navigate. After redesigning the screens, the response was amazing. Customers were so happy with “all the new features.” The thing is, there were no new features. It was simply that the new design was easier to use so they used more of what it could do. See, even software needs to tell a good story!
Logo / Branding
Presentation & Demo
Software UI Design
Here was a start up positioning themselves as a reseller of select energy management products. I engaged with them very early in the process as they were evaluating manufacturers and fleshing out ideas. There was no website, message or presence in the marketplace. Ownership wanted help in evaluating the market potential, building strategy and creating a good story.
The Story Design Process
This situation was exciting in that it was truly a start up – really more of an idea with potential. Beyond the basic outline of what they wanted to do, virtually everything to generate awareness in the marketplace was needed. This was an opportunity to not only build the story from scratch, but help define the overall business strategy.
Through several early brainstorming sessions, an initial plan began to take shape. This included defining goals – not only for the business, but personal aspirations of the principals as well. A great deal of market research added to defining the specific niche where they wanted to be. It was now time to define the story and create ways to tell it effectively.
We began by building a presentation slide deck. Though it was a bit premature for customer contact, this process is very powerful in that it helps to define exactly what the message is and how to present it. It also requires careful consideration as to user needs and how to meet them. Along the way, envisioning interacting with potential prospects helps greatly in how best to tell the story. Creating a presentation demands that the message be easily understandable and engaging. And, it should motivate people to take action. As the presentation evolved, a compelling story was taking shape and we now had a great foundation to project the intended message to the marketplace. We also had the basis for an internal “playbook” of moving the business forward.
Next came finalizing the logo and tagline, website design and creating marketing collateral. A goal here was to educate the customer on available energy management options and how beneficial putting controls in place could be. Both online and offline materials were designed to walk potential prospects through the process of understanding their needs and taking action to enhance their operations.
From the early idea stage through market evaluation and defining the message, we had come a long way in a relatively short time. With a good story and the tools to tell it, they were now well positioned to get out and spread the word.
Logo / Branding
This next example is a little different. It's a personal project I started a few years ago as a way to indulge my interest in anything tropical.
I’ve always loved the idea of relaxing beneath gently swaying palm trees while gazing out over a white sand beach at sparkling ocean waves. The problem is, I live in the land-locked Midwest and don’t get to travel to beachy areas as often as I’d like. I’d often wonder – was there a way to bring the tropics closer to home? Over the years various ideas had been floating around in my head about this. It was time to do something about them.
Not really knowing where anything was headed, I began to jot down notes. I considered tailoring some kind of product to fit with an island vibe. Could a candle be created with beach sand? Hmm . . . probably not.
Many discarded ideas later, my thoughts took a different turn – more about how fun it was to mentally play around with all this tropical stuff. I’d imagine walking along a beautiful beach, the soothing waves flowing around my ankles, the faint scent of jasmine on the breeze, the warm sunlight on my skin. It almost felt like I was there. This led to considering how powerful imagination can be and a new notion began to take root. Maybe I could do something else that I had long considered – turn all this into a book. So I did.
The Story Design Process
So how does one organize a collection of jumbled thoughts, move them onto a page, string a bunch of pages together and end up with a printed book? I didn’t know. Of course, I figured a lot of writing was involved and I could use my computer for that, so step one seemed at least somewhat doable. But what about all the other stuff? How does it get printed? Who does the page layout? What about cover design? Illustration? Do I need an agent or something? The questions seemed endless. I was determined to find the answers.
There are many ways a book can be born and these days there are more options than ever. With no connections in the book industry, it seemed like the only real alternative was to figure things out on my own. Being pretty much a do-it-yourself guy anyway, this seemed like a challenge I was up for. So what if it all turned out pretty mediocre, at least it would be fun learning new stuff, right? Well, mostly.
I learned one thing right away – writing is hard. My attempts usually started with staring at a blank white screen, terrified that no ideas would come. Next came pecking around on the keyboard, producing a couple of paragraphs that, just as often as not, pretty much sucked. This was disheartening. Maybe this whole book thing wasn’t such a good idea. Let me just take a quick mental vacation and visit my internal mind beach for a few minutes. Rejuvenated, I would plunge on. Little by little the words tumbled out and the pages built up. It was now time to consider everything else that was needed and pull it all together.
Many hours of online training and a several-foot-tall stack of manuals introduced me to the Adobe Creative Suite. Illustrations were created (and redone and redone and redone) to further explain what I was trying to say. Pages were laid out. A cover, complete with an official barcode, was completed. I finally took a deep breath and sent the whole package off to a book manufacturer. I hoped I had thought of everything.
A few weeks later actual books arrived. I had done it. I had turned ideas in my head into something physical I could hand to someone. The sense of accomplishment was immense. Of course, I also had some worry thoughts about how no one would read it or like it and maybe I had wasted months of time and effort, but for the most part I enjoyed the moment and felt pretty good about a job well done.
The book went on to be a worldwide bestseller. I did a whirlwind tour of the talk show circuit and received numerous offers for movie rights. The royalties have enabled me to buy my own island where I regularly have various big-name rock bands play at my birthday parties. Okay, technically none of this actually happened, but see how powerful imagination can be?
Seriously, the whole project was very fulfilling and, most of the time, a lot of fun. I learned a ton of things about creativity and ways to trigger more of it. I also developed a certain level of skill in graphic design which I discovered I really enjoy doing. Most of all, I learned much more about how to use words and visuals to turn ideas into something other people can understand. Even though the book was fictional, using “story” to make a point is the same concept no matter what the context.
Logo / Branding
Art & Graphic Design