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Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Brad Bouse. He is the co-founder of Lightboard, a service that is … He may change this intro, but it is in my opinion trying to kind of democratize small business design, or design in general. Graphic design in general for businesses of all sizes. Brad, thanks for joining me.
Brad Bouse: Thank you, John. Happy to be here. We like to say that everyone deserves great design.
John Jantsch: Yeah, so is democratize, is that a good word, or is that not fit what your sort of vibe is?
Brad Bouse: Well A, we don’t want to politicize design. I think making … There’s a lot of lack of transparency in graphic design, and availability, and we’re trying to make it … Give some of that retail simplicity to getting graphic design and great design for small businesses.
John Jantsch: Yeah, I think a lot … This has been a challenge for a lot of businesses, particularly as they’ve been able to access more design. I mean, in the old days, of course, you found a graphic designer in your town and that’s who you worked with, but now that it’s really easy to find talent all over the world, I think a lot of people have kind of tried to crack this. In fact, I worked with … You and I were talking off air, I worked with HP years ago. They were trying to do this, believe it or not, and bought up a couple companies, I think one was called Logo Works, that was trying to do this kind of online design thing. Has something changed? Because, as I said, a couple people have tried and failed. Has something changed that has made your approach maybe more as something that’s going to take off?
Brad Bouse: Well, certainly the internet makes it easier to work with somebody that you haven’t seen and you haven’t met. When I was starting as a freelancer like 20 years ago the advice was, “You got to meet everybody in person. You’re really not going to be able to make any real money until you have handshake agreements, and see eye-to-eye.” That really seems kind of quant now. Even us as a business doing … We have a few several hundred customers, and most of them we’ve never met. We just have phone calls with.
I think just having the digital world of collaboration over the internet does make that easier. With the design, a big part of it is actually, it’s not finding a good designer. It’s having a good design process to be able to get a good final result. That’s I think the big thing that we focus on, is doing account management, and doing all of the process steps to connect you with a good designer to actually deliver both a good initial project, and then really be more your design partner over a period of time.
John Jantsch: I’ve worked with small business owners for years and this idea of branding kind of got, I don’t know, I was going to say second fiddled, but it might have been third or fourth, that because so many small businesses did business with the people they met, I mean, in a lot of ways that was their brand. I think in the online world where it’s shoppers, buyers now go out there and do a lot of homework before they decide to even pick up the phone and call, or send an email. I think the idea of the role of branding in the small businesses become maybe more important than ever. How do you talk to small business owners about that idea of a brand?
Brad Bouse: Well, the easiest way to describe it is that now your ads and your website show up right next to something from Apple, or Nike, or any of the brands that have billion dollar budgets to spend on marketing. Can’t have your 13 year old nephew making your logo anymore and think that that’s going to stand up. It’s really, it’s very obvious when people haven’t spent the money to deliver quality branding.
John Jantsch: Let’s get a baseline. In your view, if somebody was … A potential customer was confused about a brand being this or that, how would you describe a brand and the role that it plays and the role the design plays in kind of developing or shaping a brand?
Brad Bouse: I think that the biggest misconception around a brand is that a brand is actually the logo. You think that it’s just a logo. Once you got a good logo, everything else is set. Really, in design world, a brand is much … It’s called an identity. It’s really the entire look and feel of a brand, so it’s the logo, it’s the word mark, it’s the colors that go with it, it’s the sense that the brand’s supposed to relay to you, whether it’s clean, and crisp, and modern, or if it’s [folksie 00:05:39], or whatever it is. There’s a whole set, a toolkit that comes with a brand to really have something polished and developed.
John Jantsch: I think that’s one of the challenges too, because ultimately, especially in the online world I think, where maybe that’s going to be the only exposure, it’s kind of got to say something, right? It’s got to make a promise, even if it’s unspoken.
Brad Bouse: Certainly. Creating that brand and logo is one of the most stressful things for most small business owners, because well, if you need a logo, you probably need a lot of things, and it probably means you’re starting out, and this is in a lot of cases, it’s something that really crunches into your overhead of, “Oh, man. Now I’ve got to spend money on a designer and additional, all this other stuff.” It’s a very strong statement that you have to make and a commitment to saying that, “This is what my brand’s going to look like.” Something that’s really important about a brand, especially as you look … If you look about around wherever you are right now, you’ll see a lot of logos that you probably overlooked dozens of times in your life. I’m looking at the Apple logo. The logo itself is really simple. It gets burnished over time with all the other things that you do to your brand when you’re communicating with your customers.
John Jantsch: Yeah. I guess the ultimate is that it’s just recognized to stand for something and that’s all, like you said, that’s culture, that’s your press. I mean, that’s pretty much everything that builds your reputation around that. What are … If somebody came to you and said, “Okay. We’re kind of just getting started.” I remember when I did, so you need a logo, you need business cards, you need letterhead. That kind of suite of must-haves that all should blend together and support the brand. I mean, what do you think the kind of the bare minimum elements in a kind of a brand identity kit need to be these days?
Brad Bouse: Well, it could … They’re called brand guidelines documents, and a good brand guidelines will have your logo, which is going to be something graphical. Then a word mark, which will be the name of your brand typed out in some topography that may not literally be just typed out in [inaudible 00:07:52] or something like that. Then colors and topography. You’d want to know what the key color that you want to associate with your brand is, and then a complimentary color. Topography is what your headlines look like and what your body copy look like. Really, with just those elements, you have a pretty good toolkit to start doing other things.
More expansive brand guidelines would have photography and a few statements about what the brand is about and what it feels like with some other direction as to how to use the brand elements. I think when you’re looking at a logo, you want to know that you have something that will … There are a lot of ways that it has to look on a business card, or a letterhead, or a window, where you don’t have too many colors. You want to make sure that it looks good on white, on dark. If you have color treatment, that it can transfer to different sizes and things like that.
John Jantsch: Let’s talk about design and graphics for content. Content’s become such an important part of how somebody gets a message out. I guess I’m talking about not just the homepage, but ongoing content. Content we put in social media. How do companies … A lot of people just pick … They either do maybe no graphics, or they just … The graphic idea of the day that they put in there. How do you come up with a consistent approach to design for what I think are greater needs for content?
Brad Bouse: Well, I mean, the two ways that everybody does it is either stock photography or illustration. Stock can be fine. It can be very cost-effective. There are a number of services where you can get … [Pexels 00:09:34], is where you can get images for free that are really … Pexels in Unsplash, where they’re really great, and there’s no licensing fee at all. The problem with stock is normally that it doesn’t really feel very personalized to your brand. If you … A very cost-effective way of personalizing stock photography is adding a graphical treatment on it, either a way of doing a duo tone, like a color treatment, or some other graphical accessory. Really, that’s pretty straightforward.
Once you find a look that you like, you can [inaudible 00:10:06] spend five minutes to treat a photo, to give it a little bit of a custom look. What I like is illustration. There are a lot of really great illustrators out in the world that can define a style for you and illustrate every one of your blog posts, or social media, or share images, to give it a unique feel. You have the most opportunity for branding and creating a standing out from the crowd with illustration.
John Jantsch: Yeah, it’s funny, those stock … Even on services like Unsplash, like you said, I really am a big fan of those. It just seems like there are a few of those photos. You go around the web and you go, “I’ve seen that before.” Everybody seems to be using that one to emote this idea. It’s crazy.
Brad Bouse: There’s one guy that’s really remarkable looking. He has a big red beard, and kind of a red pompadour, and I’ve seen him advertised like 12 different brands. It’s hard to really feel like you’re unique when you have the same stock photo that everybody else is using.
John Jantsch: He’s got that kind of Hollywood hipster look, or something.
Brad Bouse: Yeah, you know the guy.
John Jantsch: Let’s talk about return on investment, because I think that’s one of the hard sells sometimes. Somebody says, “I’ve got PowerPoint templates. They get my message across. Why would I spend $500? How do I know if I’m getting a return on an investment of having somebody create this?” Again, I’m sort of being facetious, sort of not. I mean, that’s a hard sell for somebody sometimes. How do you overcome that objection? I know they’re lots of examples of people that spend mightily on design and you look at them and you’re like, “Wow, that’s a great brand.” I think sometimes a small business owner looks at it as just an expense.
Brad Bouse: Well, it really depends on the type of company that it is. If it is a brand where service or quality is important, having something that backs that up in every way that the brand is represented, is a vital way to create that trust with your customer. If you do have a brand that’s fairly commoditized and you just need to be the first one in the phone book, then maybe design isn’t the most important part of your business. If you do have a brand where you want people to have that sense of trust, and for you as the company owner to be able to just put whatever margin you’re charging on your services over the commodity, I think that design helps tell that story in a compelling way.
John Jantsch: Well, and I think trust is such a huge issue today, because in many cases, I mean, people pull out their phone, and they search, and they’re going to make some decisions based on very few data points.
Brad Bouse: Right.
John Jantsch: Trust that might come through design, it doesn’t have to overwhelm somebody, but it has to really work and be … It has to be part of the user journey.
Brad Bouse: Yeah. I mean, if you click on a site and it looks like everything’s stock, stock photos, stock illustrations. It doesn’t look very original. It looks like you don’t know if a robot put the site together, or if there’s a real human behind it, you might not want to call, or really when you have that first engagement with a brand, you’re really not sure if it’s for real. For us, a lot of our customers, because there are other design services online, there are services that you use overseas talent that aren’t really the quality of work that we deliver.
For us, we put our faces and the work that we’ve done with customers up front so people can see that we’re the real deal. I think that that’s helped us screen out a lot of customers who don’t necessarily want to work with, or aren’t ready for design that we do, and start the conversations that we do have off on a lot better foot. That they know that we’re for real and have a good sense of the quality of work that we do.
John Jantsch: I think one of your challenges probably has been, I shouldn’t put words in your mouth, so I’ll try to ask this instead of state it, but you have to obviously find great designers who can work in your process, but then there’s a technology aspect that I think you’ve had to solve to make it a great user experience as well. Has one of those been harder than the other, or how has that complicated your journey?
Brad Bouse: Boy, asking me … Asking a guy who runs a startup about problems, that’s how long your podcast is. Certainly, finding great designers is a challenge. For finding a good designer, it’s a lot about finding the right fit for the project and the workflow. There’s a lot of very talented designers out there. The collaboration part is … For my own background, is that I started out as a designer, and then switched to working in startups, and spent most of my time working on collaborative software. I’ve worked at Genie and then Yammer, where we helped people, office places collaborate together. Kind of figuring out how to define a process for a design project has been a challenge and then how to do that thousands and thousands of times.
It’s been really great for us to see how quickly we can onboard a new designer now into the system, and how intuitive it feels for the designers and the customers to go from creating a project request, to a brief, to the first round of revision, to a complete project, and a happy customer. I think that the design process is pretty opaque to the outside … To somebody new to design and that’s really where we spend a lot of our time. It’s not just communicating to customers, “This is the design that we’re going to do for you,” but, “This is the process of design. When you see the first round, it’s not finished. There’s still a lot of work that we can do on it.” Communicating the possibilities of design, as well as the process has been probably our biggest challenge, particularly for people that are working with professional design for the first time.
John Jantsch: Yeah. Tell me about your matching process then. A project comes in, because I’ve used your interface, so you have a brief like a lot of folks who have done anything with design. Somebody tells you about the project. How do you get that to the right person?
Brad Bouse: Right. Well, so the thing that’s different about our service, is that we give every customer an account manager. When you create a project … I saw that you happened to create one earlier today.
John Jantsch: Yeah, I had to try it out.
Brad Bouse: Devon … Yeah. Well, the proof is in the pudding. Devon will be your account manager on that project. Devon is an experienced design manager and he’s the one that you’re primarily interfacing with [crosstalk 00:17:02]. He’ll have started the conversation-
John Jantsch: I’m just warning you, he’s probably going to quit because this project will just kill him. No.
Brad Bouse: That is certainly something that we screen for, is temperament and [crosstalk 00:17:15] making sure that Devon has the compassion of a saint.
John Jantsch: All right.
Brad Bouse: That’s an important aspect of this. It’s not just … A lot of customers feel like, “Oh, it has to be this amazing out of the box design thinker genius,” and really it’s a lot more about building the communication and the relationship between the customer and the designer. Devon will feel the project. He’ll do a little conversation to kind of get the look and feel that you’re going for. Then once he has a good sense of that, he’ll choose a designer from our network that has design like that in their portfolio that is kind of a good match for the style. Design is a little bit like a restaurant of the type of design that you’re targeting, and what you like, and what fits your brands. We’ll have … They’re designers who specialize in it.
John Jantsch: What would be your advice to somebody coming to a Lightboard or really any designer, how … What’s a few things that would help them get a more efficient process, a better end product? Because I’m sure somebody shows up and says, “I want a website and I’ll know it when I see it.” That’s probably not going to work.
Brad Bouse: [crosstalk 00:18:31] Right, right. Well, for us, we do have to hedge what it’s going to cost to get a finished product to you. You, as a customer, want a retail experience. You want to say, “I want a new website and I want to pay $1,000 for it. That’s it.” Or, “I want to pay $500 for it. I want to pay $5,000 for it.” You want to kind of be able to just pull it off the shelf and have it done. We want to be able to deliver that, but we also have to hedge all that risk of, “Oh, shoot. How many revisions are we going to do, and how long’s this process, and is this guy going to be such a terror that all my entire team’s going to quit before we get the finished product?” What you can do as a customer is be pretty prepared for the project and clear about what you want. We like to look for reference images. Kind of other material that starts a design conversation, the design language.
Doesn’t have to be all things that you’ve made for you brand, but to have two or three sites that you really love. Give us a way of triangulating kind of what your taste is like. That’s a great way of starting. The other part of it is to really understand that design is much more of a conversation and a relationship, than a transactional process. To understand the phases of a project, where it goes from rough draft to finish, and that when you see the first draft, your constructive feedback is the most valuable thing that you can deliver, as opposed to a vague, “I’ll know it when I see it.” That is definitely something that we get from time to time and it’s difficult to work around, so we kind of have to develop ways of teasing out the answer from our customers.
John Jantsch: Let’s go to the flip side. How much do you have to balance what somebody needs, versus what they want, or what they say they want? I mean, I see it all the time. Somebody says, “I want … My clients are all 60 years old and blah, blah, blah. I want something really splashy, and colorful, and uses the latest technology.” I have to say, “Well now, wait a minute. That doesn’t work … I don’t think that’s going to work for you.” I mean, how much do you get involved in that giving them what they want, versus what you believe they need?
Brad Bouse: Well, we usually have a conversation with the customer. Certainly, if … While our interface is all online, we like to get on the phone with customers, especially their first time, and have kind of a reasonable conversation about what can and cannot be done. If a customer really wants something that’s out of scope, or impractical for their customers, or their brand, we’ll kind of walk them through examples to get them to come to the realization that we hope that they’ll land at, that maybe that out of the box thinking isn’t really the right fit for them.
John Jantsch: Unfortunately, in the end, sometimes if you want to get paid, you finish the project and say, “Good luck.” I know that’s always a challenge [crosstalk 00:21:42]-
Brad Bouse: We try not to get into that. Stopping on one thing, for me, is that I did start out my career at agencies, and big agencies tend to get held over the barrel by their big clients, and do things like that, and do things that maybe aren’t in the best interest of their client, or especially in advertising agencies there’s a little bit of a pulling one over on the customer. We try not to do it. We don’t … We have a broad enough customer base that we try and do what’s best for the customer, or we won’t do it.
John Jantsch: Having said that, tell me, if I were going to make the statement, Lightboard is best for X, are there a couple use-cases, or a couple types of businesses that … Not necessarily types, but are there instances where you have found you’ve been the most effective in terms of a working relationship [crosstalk 00:22:39]?
Brad Bouse: Certainly, we do our best at B2B marketing, so supporting inbound marketing where we’re doing information-based collateral and sale’s material. PDFs, case studies, eBooks, PowerPoints, landing pages, that sort of stuff, where there’s nice quality craftsmanship, is what’s required. We usually work with marketing managers, a [inaudible 00:23:03] person marketing team at a company.
John Jantsch: What about agencies? Have you become the design arm of say, a marketing consulting practice?
Brad Bouse: Certainly, easily a third of our business is supporting agencies where it’s usually a strategic or consultative agency that needs design support for their customers. It’s a great fit for us that they don’t have to worry about going and finding freelancers. They can trust that it’s a business to business relationship. Our other tagline is always available, always awesome, so they know that if they promise their clients something, that we can deliver it for them.
John Jantsch: Awesome. Well, I have been a fan of Lightboard and I will … As part of the show notes, I will post an example of what we end up finishing on the project, the first project working with Lightboard, so listeners can turn to the show notes and find out about Lightboard, but also see an example of a project that they completed for me. [crosstalk 00:24:00] Brad, thanks for joining us and hopefully we’ll see you out there on the road.
Brad Bouse: Thank you, John. I appreciate your time and thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about design.
John Jantsch: It’s Lightboard.io. Again, as I say, it will be in the show notes. In fact, before I let you go is there anything you want to suggest people go check out? Besides the website, are there any resources that you want to share today? I forgot to ask you that.
Brad Bouse: Well, certainly our site, we have an active blog where we really focus on sharing best-practices for doing design in general, and it’s not just working with us, it’s working with any designer, or creating compelling collateral. That’s a great place to start.
John Jantsch: Well, thanks again Brad. Thanks everybody for tuning in and we’ll have, as I said, we’ll have links in the show notes, so go check them out.
Brad Bouse: Thank you.