Tools Don’t Make the Brand. You Do.


We’ve all likely heard similar pitches from countless sources praising the benefits of the prominent social media platforms. Facebook alone boasts over 2 billion users. Instagram’s growth has been insane. Twitter allows you to strike up conversations with like-minded people across the globe. The claims of these social media gurus are factually correct. You can, feasibly, reach these people more easily than ever before in human history.

For some, a crash course in any given social media platform’s fundamentals and advanced tactics can be a fantastic value with the potential to ignite a brand’s earning potential. For others, buying into a course like this can be a classic example of putting the cart before the horse. 🛒↔️🐎

Don’t get me wrong: you NEED avenues to share your message. The more that you can handle effectively, the better (emphasis on EFFECTIVELY). The issue comes when brands that haven’t fully conceived their message and/or refined their targeting invest lots of time (and sometimes money) into promoting a product or service that doesn’t land with the audience.

Even worse, sometimes your social media efforts can set you back! An embarrassing miscommunication can lead to people sharing your content for all the wrong reasons. Need proof? Just search for “funny infomercials” on YouTube. Remember when we discussed how not all publicity is good publicity? 

Sure, the Shake Weight made tens of millions of dollars, but the BRAND is primarily a joke at this point, with the product’s effectiveness being questionable at best. The lack of SINCERITY in Shake Weight’s “success” directly contributes to their lack of staying power in the market. After the gag gift effect wears off, their brand can be summarized best as a flash in the pan.

Is that the legacy you want to leave behind? 

If you’re wondering how you can get it right, Tactical has a bunch of great articles and livestream archives available to help you learn how to best develop your brand’s messaging and targetting. Aetoric Design also offers brand identity and strategy services. Comment below if you’re interested in a free initial consultation!

What social media platforms are you working on currently? Have you laid the appropriate groundwork beforehand? Are you second-guessing your efforts as we speak, or are you ready to go? Let us know in the comments below.

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What’s Your Emotional Impact?

😁😍😮Emotional Impact😤😢😭

All of us strive to provide our audience, customers, and users the best possible product that we possibly can (if we’re being sincere). Sometimes in our endless quest to create the perfect product or service, we get tunnel vision.  In doing so, we start to lose focus on something else that may be even more important than how these offerings can solve a person’s problems: how we make people feel. The ability to leverage the emotional impact of our brands is invaluable.

Humans are prone to impulsive or reactive behavior when certain emotions are triggered. While this reaction can sometimes be harmful, it’s an evolutionary trait that has served us well for thousands of years. The feeling of fear may alert us to danger that we should flee from. The feeling of lust may drive us to courtship and reproduction. The feeling of anticipation may cause us to become increasingly analytical in our preparation for an upcoming event.

Modern brands are already leveraging this, but many of the examples that may come to our mind first may feel manipulatively coercive. Fashion ads invoke feelings of inadequacy in order to motivate sales. Ads for alcohol may make people feel as if they’re missing out on a great time by not imbibing.

But there’s another side to this. Emotional impact can be used not just to lure the unexpecting, but to decorate a customer experience to elicit delight, in turn, increasing their satisfaction and building customer loyalty.

If you want to start utilizing emotional impact in a sincere and meaningful way for your brand, draw out a timeline of events an individual might go through before, during, and after the process related to your product or service. Then evaluate your customer’s emotions during each step of the process.

How do they feel when they finally realize they need your brand’s help?

If they’re sad, it’s important to use a comforting tone which is nonjudgemental, especially considering how they may be judging themselves at that moment.

How do they feel during the process?

If it’s not an easy thing for them to do, such as an exercise program or a type of therapy, consider how you can point out a client’s successes at regular intervals to encourage them and reaffirm the value you’re providing.

How do they feel after the process is over?

If you offer a service that is typically perceived as unremarkable, a handwritten thank you card afterward can make the experience unforgettable, transforming an ordinary customer into a brand evangelist. 🙌

In doing this, you’ll start to develop a user experience that’s attractive and supportive, creating repeat customers for your business.

How do you leverage emotional impact? Do you have any questions regarding your audience’s emotions?

Consider sharing your feedback in our Facebook Group, Tactical, a community with daily content for business owners, marketers, and designers developing brands.

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Are You Being Authentic?

Do you fear when keeping it real goes wrong? 🤦‍♀️

That’s a fair concern. We’ve seen time and time again in popular culture over the last few years just how damaging the unintended effects of realness can be. Celebrity tweets can quickly lead to a sudden decrease in work for said twits. If we look closely, though, we can also find a lot of examples of realness bolstering some. Good ole Kanye West’s latest album, “The Life of Pablo,” is the first streaming-only album go platinum despite continuous outbursts on Twitter and walkouts at his shows.

So how do these brands, personal or otherwise, succeed despite the controversy? The obvious answer might go with the old adage, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” but as I’ve stated earlier, we’ve seen time and time again how the wrong information can seemingly destroy someone’s career.

A better answer may be that the difference is CONSISTENCY. It may seem oxymoronic to say, but even erratic behavior can feel familiar. Some of us may relate to this if in our dating lives, but I digress.

The counter to this is when people keep up a certain image and a circumstance or statement occurs that’s contrary to that appearance. That dissonance can quickly sour an impression, especially if the circumstance exposes a difference in values between the audience and the subject. The level of surprise attached to the conflicting behavior can also impact the level of severity. Again, we are more likely to tolerate shocking behavior if it’s coming from a source we expect to shock us. A man with an ax following you is a thrilling scare at a haunted house, but much less welcome on your way home from the bus stop. 

During our latest livestream, a new community member, Jesse, started to describe what he thought of MY brand. I was surprised, thankful, and relieved that his impression was very positive. As I read his description, I found at least 90% of it to align with what I had come to define during my brand audit for Aetoric Design. If you’ve joined us for any of those (every Sunday night at 6:30pm EST! </shamelessplug>), you may know that I’m improvising much of what’s said and that I tend to speak my mind. I’ve crafted my brand in such a way that allows me to be who I am.

How are you keeping it real? Do you have any concerns that you may not be presenting your most authentic self? What measures have you taken to get clarity on who you are?

Consider sharing your feedback in our Facebook Group, Tactical, a community with daily content for business owners, marketers, and designers developing brands.

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How I Quit Freelancing and Day Jobs to Start My Agency

I learned at 16 that I was a hustler.

My family bought our first computer in the early 2000s and within a few years I discovered my passion for graphic design. I took to the internet and started selling those services.

Aetoric Design by HandsomeJake
This qualified as a logo to me when I got out of high school. Things have changed.

But my rise as a seller of creativity has been less than meteoric. There are a lot of possible reasons for that. It’s possible that my “natural talent” has always been insufficient, or that my independent practice wasn’t intense enough to compensate for the tremors that hindered my drawing abilities. It’s possible that my design education at community college didn’t give me a satisfactory foundation to build upon. It’s possible that I got in my own way by wasting time resenting a world that expected me to get a job at the local manufacturing plant and to be happy I had anything.

In reality, it’s most likely that I had no idea that I needed brand strategy.

While stuck in the limbo of working day jobs and doing freelance gigs on the side, I spent what little free time I had struggling with the dramas of playing in punk bands. In high school, I worked tirelessly to bring people out to my band’s shows. When we started getting booked, the promoter would tell us that people didn’t show up for openers as to temper our expectations.

Instead, I raised mine.

A photo of me (far left) and my highschool band posing for an interesting photo.

I made some money as a teenager by spamming ads for my design work to Myspace band pages. You probably remember; those online profiles for musicians whose soon-to-be chart topper started blaring the second it finished taking 3 minutes to load. Promoting shows, I took a similar approach to informing every person in the tri-county area that my band was going on first and to get there early. The promoter couldn’t believe the turnout – an opener that actually packed the venue. He continued to book my band and our relationship was long and successful. It was from that moment that I realized I was onto something. I could build attract customers.

As my musical muscles grew, I fell in love with math rock, a niche blend of punk’s raw energy mixed with the high brow compositions with odd time signatures of jazz. I approached it with virtually no musical theory background, counting on my fingers to decode the off-kilter riffs of my drunken virtuoso bandmates so that our drummer could recognize when the next bar began or how to properly transition from one movement to the next. Unfortunately, the tedium of this decryption usually made me seem more like a hindrance to creativity than a facilitator. The people I was playing with just wanted to have fun.

A photo of a young me struggling to play my instrument.

I wanted to be a success.

The punk rock scene, which prided itself on community and tolerance, transformed into a drunken hellscape of pretenders before my very eyes. Here I was, writing, performing, and releasing music in an attempt to support myself while most of my peers believed that the end goal was to play and not to grow. Fun or not, there was no way to stay chill living off of less than a thousand bucks a month. I needed something more.

I lashed out. I screamed at the top of my lungs, but not into a microphone. This time I was yelling at the people I loved. It was confusing why it was so hard for them to meet deadlines or show up on time for practice. I forgot that they had problems and motivations all their own. And after a series of terrible, hurtful decisions, I was exiled and lost everything. No more band, no more friends, and no more math rock.

In a lot of ways, it was the best thing that had ever happened to me. I realized that unless I was the perfect drinking buddy, I would never succeed in that world. I was ostracized but I was finally able to see things clearly. The melancholy and intricate tunes died down and the rap jams started bumping. Instead of crooning along to weepy tales of unrequited love, I started screaming, “We gon’ be alright!,” with Kendrick Lamar. It was an admittedly bitter beginning to my eventual shift in mindset, but at least it was a start.

Improvisation is the most important skill of any creative. Laptop overheating? Not anymore.

It didn’t help that my family wasn’t supportive, either. Up until this point, my mother could only point out that she hated hearing me yell, as I had “such a pretty voice.” My father, who may or may not have liked my music, was abusive to the entire family and passed by the time I was 20 from a brain tumor he battled for 7 years. My sister, unbeknownst to us, was struggling with addiction and resented my decision to move from Podunk to Pittsburgh in order to establish some sort of creative career. Little did she know I dreamt of creating a living where I could become our broken family’s financial savior. I wanted success and had to move on to a better playing field, but when I got there, I found that I was essentially damaged goods. My temperament more or less prevented me from sustaining any sort of gainful employment in a traditional workplace. Someone from an older generation might put it more simply by calling me “a fucking millennial.” In my experience, though, most millennials are great at disguising their motives in both the workplace and in their relationships. Doing well at a job isn’t just about doing a good job. In reality, employees are beholden to the whims and infrastructure set in place by the employer, regardless of how inane they may be. Punk rock and emotional trauma had lead me to express myself whether it benefited me financially or not.

Since my music career was essentially over, I decided to double down on my design work. I had been working at a t-shirt shop through during college, and I wanted to help it thrive instead of stagnate. The owner resisted any change, though. He had been in financial trouble for a long time, with multiple bouts against the IRS to his record. He was not in a position to fix what he didn’t see as broken. Like the band members I had played with, this guy couldn’t take himself seriously enough to be better than just okay and I was getting to a point where I couldn’t work with people like that.

After 5 years, I walked out.

One of the last jobs/designs I helped create at the t-shirt shop I worked at.

For a moment shortly after, I thought I had found my stride with freelancing. With some luck, I landed a magazine gig that paid me two grand – a fortune at the time. A lot of lottery winners later realize that the money ultimately ruined their life and that there was some unknown curse attached to it. Such was the case here. The company was unclear about their wants, their needs, and their expectations. After working through Christmas and New Years, it became too much to bear and I was mentally worse off after the gig ended. Cut and paste this experience with the next gig. And the next. And the next.

After a year of stops and starts, I found myself once more needing a day job. My past experience as a telefundraiser lead me to a position with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. As a musician, it seemed like a great fit and they agreed. Unfortunately, on my second day of training, the PSO went on strike. I was laid off in a position where I couldn’t market my creative services, nor could I land the kind of job it seemed that society expected of me.

pittsburgh symphony orchestra strike
This image pretty much sums up the PSO strike perfectly.

It was during this time that I discovered an educational YouTube channel that preached something that I had known all along but had never acted on: designers are problem solvers. We are the ones who craft solutions to problems that clients don’t even realize they have. All we had to do was connect that no one ever just needs a graphic – they need customers. I knew I could attract customers, and here I was being presented with the perfect framework to sell it.

The YouTube channel’s Black Friday sale approached and they announced they would be giving away fifteen-hundred dollars worth of educational materials that could jumpstart a career selling design and strategy. At the same time, the Pittsburgh Symphony ended their strike. They asked me to come back on the same day as the giveaway. Steady work. Steady hours. Security.

I had a decision to make.

The YouTube channel was smallish, with less than a hundred thousand subscribers. As a gambling man, I knew I had decent odds of winning. With what some might call reckless abandon, I called the Symphony and informed them I wouldn’t be returning.

And so, with a fateful retweet, I heard my company’s name, “Aetoric Design,” read aloud on stream. I won.

Fuck a job. I dove headlong into my winnings and started learning from the pros on how to market myself as someone who fixed problems.

I told all of my regular design clients that I would no longer be taking on the odd freelance jobs, instead offering this newfound consultative approach. I would no longer just design logos, build websites, or rewrite their copy. I said “If you want to work with me, it’s not for a quick buck. We’re going to figure out what your business is and we’re going to build it. Together.” And so working with the clients who have trusted my approach, we have tripled social media engagement and added thousands of dollars to yearly revenue. These brands have finally come to realize who their customers are, what they stand for, and how they can turn their mountains into molehills. No company has to fail if they understand what they’re doing.

I took a chance. I stopped fucking around with bands that didn’t work, family that wasn’t supportive, and friends who didn’t get why working a day job just wasn’t for me.

And wouldn’t you know it?I’ve been self-sufficient ever since.

This has changed the lives of my clients, too. Working in these partnerships, I’ve tripled engagement and added thousands of dollars to yearly revenue of the brands who have entrusted their identity to me. The sense of satisfaction in both my clients and my work has increased exponentially.

I believe that every designer who recognizes that their ability to problem-solve is the most powerful weapon in their creative arsenal is capable of the same kind of change if they also recognize that their prowess is being dulled by allowing those who haven’t to facilitate their income or, more importantly, their happiness. Once you take that leap, the opportunities you require to move forward will present themselves to you. You’ll only need recognize them when the time comes.

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