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Catching frogs and campfire songs — Branding lessons from summer camp

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I find branding lessons in some pretty funny places. Like on a wart, on a frog, on a log at summer camp.

Every summer when I roll up the sleeping bag, pack the bug spray and make all the preparations for another camping trip, memories of my childhood summer camps come flooding back. Like the lyrics of my favorite old campfire song:

There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea. 

There’s log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

branding lessons from the Brand Insight BlogThere’s a frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a hair on the wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hair on the wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a germ on the hair on the wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a germ on the hair on the wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

So what’s what’s that silly old song have to do with branding? Where are the branding lessons there?



The germ on the hair on the wart on the frog is your logo. Its just one, teeny-tiny part of a much bigger branding effort.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently. A new logo mark does not constitute a “branding effort.” Logo and Brand are not synonymous.

If it’s done well, your logo is a graphic reflection of your brand, but it’s just one small part of your branding effort. That’s the branding lesson here.

Branding is everything you do in business that might effect the perception of your company.

It’s the words you choose that go with your logo, or on your website. It’s the people you hire, the vendors you choose, the values you hold dear, the marketing tactics you deploy and the companies you affiliate with.

Branding is more than just the images you show. There’s also an audio component of branding that’s often overlooked… the music you play in the office, the sound effects you use in commercial, the script for answering the phone.

Like it or not, everything matters. Branding lessons can be applied to every facet of your business.


Branding lesson from BNBrandingMore branding lessons from Camp Wannalogo. Use songs. Sounds. Hearing.

Branding should employ all the senses, not just sight. You should strive for what Martin Lindstrom calls”sensory synergy”… Sight, sound, touch and smell.

But short of that, at least employ sound.

Echoic memory — the memory of songs, lyrics, tunes and sounds — is dramatically sharper than iconic memory — the memory of what you see.

I remember that old song from summer camp. I remember jingles from my childhood. I all the lyrics from a coke commercial, vintage 1970. I remember the first three notes of thousands of popular songs… name that tune.

And yet most businesses completely ignore the elements of sound in their branding efforts.

They spend thousands and thousands of dollars on high-def video production, and they completely ignore the music. The sound effects. The quality of the voice-over. It’s a shame.


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These days, summer camps have learned some important branding lessons of their own… They’ve become very specialized.

The camp owners have figured out that they can’t be all things to all kids, so they’ve narrowed their focus.

There are canoe camps, music camps, space camps, water sport camps, tech camps and camps for any interest under the sun.

They’ve figured out that branding means giving up something.

By catering to very specific interest groups, they have way fewer incidents where the parents have to drive out and fetch a teary-eyed, home-sick camper just a few days into it.

That’s a good branding lesson, right there… Make the experience something the kids want to remember and repeat. Not something they want to flee from.


Here’s another element of branding that I picked up at summer camp: Creative names, colorful flags and house identities.

Camp Wannigan. Yes, I wanna go again.

Camp Waziyatah.

Camp WeeHahKee

Camp Funnigan.

Your brand name is probably the most important element of your initial branding effort. If  you have a crappy brand name you’ll have a very hard time designing around that problem.

Design firms will go to great lengths to deliver a beautiful new mark and type treatment for you. They’ll devise extravagant reasoning for their graphic solution, and it’s usually a huge visual improvement.

But that’s as far as it goes.  All the other components of branding — the bigger issues —  are left to the client to handle.

From a broader, business perspective, logo design is but a speck on the pimple of that frog. Like one song in a lifetime of campfires. Some stick, but most are quickly forgotten among the overall experience.

So don’t kid yourself. That new logo isn’t going to make up for mediocrity in other departments, like customer service. It’s not going to plug the gaping hole in your operations or compensate for a crummy, me-too product.

BN Branding lessonsActions speak louder than logos.

It’s what you do as a company, and what you believe in, that make a brand. Not just how your logo looks reversed out of a dark background.

So if you’re thinking of redesigning your logo, I suggest you look a little deeper than just the design exercise. Take the opportunity to assess every aspect of your business, and ask yourself this?

Am I seeing the bigger brand picture, or just the germ on the hair on the wart on the frog?

For more on logo design vs. branding, try this post.

For a more wholistic approach to branding, give us a call.


8 crowd sourcing logo designs waste of money

Crowdsourcing logo design (Getting literal for little.)

brand credibility from branding expertsCrowdsourcing logo design is a sore subject in the graphic design community. I could easily write 10,000 words and show 1,000 examples of why crowdsourcing is a bad idea. But I’m just going to focus on two practical reasons that you probably haven’t considered… These two ought to be deal breakers for many people who are trying to save a few bucks on their brand identity:

1. Managing the crowdsourcing process is a time-consuming pain in the butt. If your time is valuable, it could actually cost you more than hiring a local designer.

2. The finished product usually falls flat. Branding firms and graphic designers spend a lot of their time “re-branding” companies that originally crowdsourced their logo design.


First, let’s address the managerial issues of crowdsourcing logo design.

I recently coordinated a crowdsourcing project for a client. (Against my most adamant advice.) The client believed that his money would be better spent “outsourcing” the design work and using me as the Creative Director/Project Manager.

crowd sourcing logo designs waste of money

Fair enough… I’ve played that part in my company for more than 25 years, so it should be easy, right?


Managing a herd of young, unproven designers from far-away lands is far harder than managing the designers who I know and trust. It was a valuable experiment, and a bit of an eye-opener for me.

My first task was to provide an insightful, tightly-written creative brief that would provide all the inspiration the designers would need. No problem, that’s right in my wheelhouse. Plus, I had already devised a brand platform for that particular client, so the brief was relatively easy. In this case, my creative brief even included specific graphic concepts that I wanted the designers to explore.

Too bad nobody read it.

The first 50 design submissions were obvious throw-aways — A complete waste of time from designers who didn’t take even five minutes to read the creative brief. It was ridiculous. Using the handy “comment” tool on the crowdsourcing platform, I strongly suggested that they start over. “Don’t submit anything until you’ve thoroughly studied the creative brief,” I told them.

The next batch wasn’t any better. The designers were obviously submitting old designs that had been sitting around from past crowdsourcing “contests.” They just changed the name of the company, and voila!

Back to the comment tool: “We will entertain original designs only… no recycled designs please. “

I also loaded up more background material for the designers who actually choose to read. But as more designs rolled in it was painfully clear that many were just derivatives of earlier submissions. That’s one of the worst things about crowdsourcing… the designers see all of the submissions and what the client has “liked.” This system inevitably leads to copy-cat design.

“The client said he likes that font, so I’m going to use that font.”

crowdsourcing logo design “The client liked that purple color, so I’m going to do some purple versions.”

“The client commented favorably about that mark, so I’m going to do something like that.”

At one point a cat fight erupted between two of the designers, with one accusing the other of stealing her designs. Never mind. They were both terrible. I saw more crummy designs in that month than I had in the last 10 years. Back and forth and back and forth we went until we finally selected the “winning” designer.

That’s when the real work started.

After looking at more than 250 designs we finally had one that was, at least, a mediocre solution. Again, I went back to the “comments” tool and began the fine-tuning process. Unfortunately, the winning designer had no experience producing a simple bundle of materials like letterhead, business cards and an email signature, so there was a painful back-and-forth process on the simplest little production details. Stuff than any junior designer should have known.

For accomplished creative teams, every new design assignment is a learning process. The work is driven by insight and spurred on by a thorough understanding of the product or service.

We thrive on the challenge of that and there’s a disciplined process that we follow. We do the research, study the market, live with the products and pour our heart and soul into helping clients succeed. Because that’s how we succeed. We have to learn about the business before we can design anything.

crowdsourcing logos Brand Insight BlogCrowdsourcing logo design eliminates that process. It skips the insight phase and jumps right to execution with no business thinking involved. No listening. No collaboration. It also leaves the client in the unenviable position of  Project Manager and Creative Director…  A tough dual role to play if you’ve never been in the design business.

Professional managers know the danger in this. They don’t choose to manage projects when they have no experience or expertise in the activity they’re managing. So if you have no experience managing freelance designers, don’t choose crowdsourcing. Hire a design firm to manage the process for you.

Now for a discussion about subjective quality…

The finished product of my one crowdsourcing experience was mediocre, at best. Even though I served up ideas on a silver platter, and provided tons of insight on the market and the business model, the designs were weak. Most were just too darn literal.

Advice on crowd sourcing logo designs on the Brand Insight BlogIf you’re in the roofing business you’ll get a drawing of the roof of a house. If you’re in the ice cream business, it’ll be a cartoon ice cream cone. If it’s the veterinary industry, it’s always a dog and a cat together in one logo. Nothing is left to the imagination. And there seems to be an assumption that all prospects are idiots.

Well guess what. If you dumb down your logo design, and pound people over the head with visual clichés and literal redundancies, you will not make the connection you’re hoping for. Your brand will not become iconic.

Imagine if Nike had gone the literal route…  Instead of the Nike swoosh, we’d have a an illustration of a shoe. And Nike might only be a two million dollar company.

If the I.O.C. had chosen the literal, quick-n-dirty design there would be no Olympic rings.

There would be no Golden Arches.

If Starbucks had chosen crowdsourcing there would be no mermaid.

There would be no crocodile for Lacoste.

See, logos are supposed to be symbolic. They are symbols of something, or the graphic interpretation of the idea behind your brand. Not literal descriptions of your service or product.

So stop trying so darn hard to get a literal logo. Let a good graphic designer apply a little creative license, and you’ll have a much better chance of becoming an iconic brand.

When it comes to crowdsourcing logo design, it’s a classic case of “you get what you pay for.”

For more on designing a great brand identity, try THIS post.

If you want to see what real, professional brand identity design looks like, check this out.

Starbucks branding & identity design – Bare breasts mean business.

bn branding's iconic logo

I’ve been a fan of Starbucks since they opened their first Portland store in 1987.  I don’t think there’s been a food brand since the launch of McDonalds that has had a bigger effect on our society than Starbucks.

Interbrand ranks Starbucks as the 56th most valuable brand in the world, and the most valuable restaurant brand. That green mermaid is one of the most iconic logos in the world — and the Starbucks branding and identity design has been dissected and studied to death.

But this isn’t just about graphic design or the nuances of a mermaid’s features. It’s about what Howard Shultz has done over the years to build his brand, despite rising costs, cultural shifts, commoditization of the category and competition from every direction.

It’s about sticking to your values and treating people fairly. It’s about what all great brands have in common. It’s about the branding of Starbucks, beyond the bare breasts.


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Over Over the years, Starbucks branding and identity design evolved along with the business. In the 70’s when it was just a little shop in Seattle’s Pike Street Market, the company’s descriptor was “Coffee, Tea, Spices.” And the siren had bare breasts. (The mark was originally inspired by a woodcut image of a Norwegian mermaid, fully exposed.)

As the company expanded the focus got more narrow — just the opposite of how most companies grow. So the descriptor changed to “Fresh Roasted Coffee.” Even though they still sell tea it’s not part of the brand identity design.

Shultz and his team also started getting pressure to cover up the siren… First it was just a few wispy strands of hair added to the existing brown logo. Then, in 1987, they dropped the words “fresh roasted,” changed to the familiar green and black circle, and covered Starbuck with long waves of hair. In 1992 they zoomed in a bit, and she lost her navel.



We all became very familiar with the Starbucks branding and identity design of the 90’s. It was everywhere. That’s why it was such a surprise to wake up one day in 2008 and see the logo gone.

Starbuck had bared her breasts! The mermaid was back to her original topless, hippy self.

It seemed like a travesty to brand-conscious designers and marketers. I thought maybe it was just a corporate cost-cutting measure — the result of tremendous Wall Street pressure to improve performance. But as it turns out, that full frontal was a short-lived throw-back. A special anniversary edition of the logo that coincided with the introduction of Pike Place Roast.

It was a brief nod to the old before they rolled out the new.

Howard Shultz - CEO of Starbucks on branding - Brand Insight BlogAt that time Howard Shultz had just returned as CEO after eight years away. He realized that Starbucks was slipping, that there were “cracks in the foundation.”

The company had made some operational decisions that had a subtle effect on the customer’s perception of Starbucks quality, and Shultz was determined to correct that.

As he put it, “we had lost the essence of what we set out to do, and we had to restore the passion that had been squandered during that period of hyper-growth.  We needed to look in the mirror, acknowledge our blemishes and undertake transformative, even disruptive, change.”

So on a Tuesday afternoon in February, 2008, Starbucks closed every one of its 7100 U.S. stores in order to retrain all 135,000 baristas on how to pour the perfect cup of espresso.

It was a bold, but controversial move that cost the company approximately six million dollars. But quality scores went up immediately, and more importantly, morale got a much needed boost.

“Ultimately, closing our stores was most powerful in its symbolism,” Shultz said. “It was a galvanizing event for all of our partners (employees), a stake in the ground that helped reestablish some of the trust and emotional attachment we had squandered.”

In 2022 Starbucks put another huge stake in the ground: In order to protest Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, they closed all 130 stores in Russia.

There’s an old saying in the branding world: “Values mean nothing until they cost you some money.”

Starbucks has been willing to stand up for what they believe in, despite the short-term financial repercussions. Because Shultz understands that the brand is more important than quarterly numbers.

“A well-built brand is the culmination of intangibles that do not directly flow to the bottom line of a company, but contribute to its texture. Foresaking them can take a subtle, collective toll.”


Starbucks branding and identity design - Brand Insight Blog by BN Branding

















Ever since Even since I read Shultz’s first book back in ‘99 I’ve used Starbucks as an example of focused leadership, exceptional execution and textbook branding. He was one who introduced the idea of gourmet coffee to a nation of Folgers drinkers. He has always been the brand champion in that organization and he has always fought to maintain quality standards.

Schultz says, “The number one factor in creating a great, enduring brand is having an appealing product. There’s no substitute.”

Shultz is adamant about controlling the brand experience as much as possible, down to the last detail.  At first, he didn’t even want to sell coffee in paper cups at all, lest it detract from the experience and affect the flavor of the coffee.

I know some local coffee snobs who claim that Starbucks isn’t as good as their own Ethiopian Tega & Tula. And they may be right. But I also know that Starbucks beats the hell out of the mom & pop drive-up operations that have appeared on every corner.

At Starbucks, the product is consistent.


Starbucks branding & identity design: The core concept.

Shultz’s idea from the very beginning is based on the idea of the third place… that we all need a relaxing getaway that’s not home and not work. To me, it’s more of a romantic, Vienna coffeehouse experience than the quick, Italian espresso shot that Shultz experienced in Milan.

That idea of a third place has become even more relevant since the pandemic lockdown. Everyone who’s been couped up working from home needs that escape. If you walk into a Starbucks, you get a little bit of social life with your morning cup of joe. Or at least the feeling of being social.

So a big challenge for Starbucks is how to balance that idea of personal interaction with growth on a global scale. How do you balance fiscal responsibility with benevolence? Profit and humanity. How can you be authentic and aspirational at the same time? It’s a yin & yang thing that’s common to all socially responsible brands.

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The best brands find a way.









Starbucks branding & identity design: Follow your nose!

Shultz recognized that the appealing coffee aroma in every store is a critical part of the Starbucks brand experience. Believe it or not, that smell of fresh roasted coffee is every bit as important to the brand as the look of the logo.

It works on a subtle, subconscious level.  The bottom line is, you won’t hang out and enjoy your double half-caf mocha if the place doesn’t smell good. So without the aroma of coffee, they couldn’t deliver on the promise of a 3rd place.

At one point, the company even had an aroma task force in place to figure out how to combat the smell of burnt cheese from the breakfast sandwiches.

The final cornerstone of the Starbucks brand is its people.

“We built the Starbucks brand first with our people, not with consumers — the opposite approach from that of most companies,” Shultz said. “Our competitive advantage turned out to be our people.”

Starbucks doesn’t just talk about treating people well, the company really does. In the retail food service industry, where getting good help is always a challenge, Starbucks leads the way with its pay scale, benefits packages, training programs and retention rates. As of August, 2022 Starbucks will be implementing a nation-wide minimum wage of $15.

“We believe the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of customers was to hire and train great people. That’s the secret of the power of the Starbucks brand: the personal attachment our partners feel and the connection they make with our customers,” Shultz said.

The company listens to its front-line employees and makes a habit of of practicing strategic listening. For instance, the idea for Frappuccino came from the store level and has become a massively popular item. There’s an app for employees that encourages feedback on everything from music selection to benefits.  And more than 3000 Starbucks employees have earned college degrees through the company’s partnership with Arizona State University.

Obviously, it’s not a perfect world. Any company that has 385,000 employees is going to run into personnel issues, and there’s a push to unionize on a store-by-store basis.

But the point is, the Starbucks brand is firmly cemented in American culture.

The latest iteration of the Starbucks logo involves glimpses of the siren, with updated facial features and just a hint of that iconic hair. But that’s all it takes. Just a hint of those green lines to remind us something much deeper than a quick cup of coffee.

If you want to recapture the magic of your brand, or build a new one from the ground up, give me a call. 541-815-0075


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