We are back with another episode of “Between Two Creeks”! This week’s discussion? Branding No-No’s.
It’s so easy to avoid some of these very obvious branding faux pas, but somehow, many marketers and business owners seem to keep doing exactly what they are not supposed to. So, what are these big no-no’s in branding? In this episode, we focus on Font Usage (don’t use Comic Sans), Contrast (Yes!), Made-Up Words and Selecting a Website Name.
Let’s get started!
Fonts, Fonts, Fonts
Noah: I want to drop a bombshell. “Lobster” Font. We didn't talk about fonts. Lobster! There's a font called Lobster, and a lot of people are overusing it. We're gonna display it here. It’s the new Comic Sans!
Comment below, agree? Disagree? Let me know.
Lobster. I remember when it had its heyday; I think it's the new Comic Sans. If you're not in the know, Comic Sans is a horrible font.
James: It's a comic strip from the ’80s and ‘90s and stuff. Papyrus was overused in the early days, too. About 10 - 15 years ago, Papyrus was hot, and it's terrible!
Noah: Avatar! Avatar uses the Papyrus font.
James: Funny story: Twin Creek Media’s official font for our company is Century Gothic, which is actually pretty generic, and it's a bit timeless as well, so we like it.
Noah: I think most Gothic fonts are pretty timeless.
James: Accidentally, the previous version of our logo (we even had like a little infographic explaining how the brand came about; it was a boxy thing with the same goldfish), but the font wasn't Century Gothic even though we told everybody it was. It was a default Adobe Illustrator font, which is Myriad Pro, and accidentally, it looked a little bit like Century Gothic, and the designer forgot to even change it. So, for years, we, an actual marketing agency, have used the default Adobe Photoshop/ Illustrator font - Myriad Pro. And I actually didn't even know, for like four years! It's so embarrassing.
Noah: Well, I don't know. If you pretended like you knew, then it's kind of cool!
James: Nobody noticed it, but it was so similar too, and we had all of our documents and our website text and everything else was in Century Gothic, but the logo was Myriad Pro, and because they're so similar, no one noticed! That's pretty bad, but at least hey, you know, I'm honest now!
Noah: Now let's do this - how about this, “Branding red flags” or “Red flags from a brand”! What's a bigger red flag? Papyrus as a font or Comic Sans?
James: Oooh, I may not buy from either company. It's funny because people with an aesthetic way of seeing things - photographers, videographers, graphic designers, any artist, people into literature… Fonts actually play into their mindset, and they make massive judgments off on fonts. Some people just don't even see it; they just read the text, and they don't even see the design behind it, but I would say anyone creative or artsy, they actually may not do business with you or buy from you based on the font that you use. Which is crazy to think about, but it's true, isn't it?
Noah: For me, yeah, I agree! There is a restaurant in town that uses Papyrus, and I won't mention the name; I've heard it's great, but I will never go there because they use Papyrus as the font on their brand logo. And to me, it's just such a branding faux pas. If you can make that design selection choice, what else are you going to miss, either in your kitchen or your interior decor? It speaks volumes to me.
James: Technically, they're different things. You could have the worst logo in the world, but your staff is amazing, and they make great food, but the thing is, you've started off on the wrong foot. You're like, Hi, my name is (gibberish). It's like - Sorry, I didn't catch that. You made a bad first impression.
Noah: Their food has to be that much better in order to overcompensate for the use of Papyrus in their logo, in my opinion. And that's only if you give them a chance and you still walk through the door.
Colour Contrast! Red on Black and other faux pas...
James: We're (talking about) branding - the top five “never do’s.” (The next point will be) Contrast. People using too little contrast on their logo or on their website - It's so easy not to do, and people still do it. Here's an example: You have a black background or a super dark gray (background), and you use red text or yellow. You roll over the text, and the link goes from white on black, which is high contrast - easy to read, and you roll over, and a link goes red, or the link goes dark blue, or the link goes yellow, and you can't read it anymore. So the text you've rolled over to click on, disappears effectively because you can't see it. Why? That's just unnecessary - don't do that. It’s a bad user experience (UX). And sometimes the headlines, like they've chosen a headline colour that you can't read properly; yes, your text is really, really big, you've used a big font, but you can't read it because it's some weird colour on a weird background. I don't know if it’s an accident or for artsy purposes; either way, it's a total mistake.
Noah: I'd say red font, in general, on any heavy text is going to be a No-No for me. I'm not going to read it. Yellow heavy fonts are a no-no for me, too. If it's a lot of yellow text, I'm not reading it.
James: Can you think of another branding, No-No?
Noah: I used to say gradients included in your logo. Having a gradient as part of your logo was a big No-No for me, but now I'm starting to come around to it. I don't mind it as much. That's just how we change.
James: That's a 100% borderline decision. I would say the only exception if you're going to use a gradient is you have to have a version of your logo without the gradient. For example, you're making up some nice golf shirts or some dress shirts for your team. How in the world are you going to get that gradient to work as a logo? That’s not going to work, so you need a solid colour version of the logo or just plain black and white or inverted or something. Gradients are only going to work on digital, right?
Noah: Yeah, but generally, that was my thinking for a long time - to just avoid any gradient in any logo forever. But now, seeing it used appropriately in the right format, I'm kind of okay with it.
James: It used to look good on social media or websites or video - anything digital effectively, you can get away with it, but as soon as you print that thing out or you have it try to be made into some sort of signage or a patch/embroidery, you have all sorts of issues with that.
Noah: Outside of that, it comes down to creative interpretation, I think.
Beware of Using Made-up Words
James: Branding No-No’s - I have a good one: made-up words. This can go in two different directions, but I'll give you an example of a made-up word that went really well and a made-up word that went really bad.
The bad one first: Is one of a company I started with my buddy in college; we took the word media and the word eruption and joined them together; we were mediaruption, which actually when you say it, isn't the worst word ever. It's just when it was spelled out and because there were so many vowels there - media, and then I think we skipped the E, and it was a media-ruption as one word slammed together. It was all in lowercase font. So I would give my business card out to people, and it's like, “Yeah! We're a website design company, graphic design mediaruption”. Sometimes, if I didn't say it, I was like, here's my card - but even after getting my business card, not one person could (read our business name). I probably gave a hundred out, so it was a 100 out of 100 failure rate for being able to read our company name. Utter disaster. They might remember us but for the wrong reason - but they're probably not going to remember us because they couldn't even say the word in the first place.
Another test would be you're on the phone with somebody, and you're not face to face; they can't lip read or hear, so they say, “What's your email address?” “Oh, it's James@mediaruption.com.” I'm gonna have to spell out that entire business name because no one's gonna be able to write it down, and that's very, very frustrating. So, if you have to spell your business name letter by letter, that's a red flag. If it's commonly misspelled or always misspelled, or never pronounced correctly, that's a red flag. So beware if you're gonna make up a word; short and sweet is a lot better in your making up a word.
Which brings me on to my other example, Google. Not everyone knows this, but Google, as we know - the media behemoth - was a misspelling of one guy talking to his business partner. The Google Founder - he thought a cool name for the company would be Googol: G-O-O-G-O-L. A Googol is an extremely large number. It's got many, many zeros after it (100 zeros!). The guy at Google is like oh, that's pretty cool, and he wrote down “G-O-O-G-L-E.” And it became Google. He actually filed the trademark for Google by accident. I have to fact-check this, but I'm pretty sure I got the story right.
So, made up words, but again, his own business partner misheard it, wrote down the wrong thing, got that trademarked, and that became Google as we know it. But then Google isn't that hard of a word to spell. But if you didn't know it, if it weren't a world-famous brand - maybe it would be a little bit hard.
Noah: I think it's important from a trademark perspective - a lot of Brands will try to create a new word or their own word so that it's easy to trademark, and I can appreciate that side of it. But you always have to stick to the principles of “easy to say - easy to read - easy to remember.”
As long as you stick with those, it should be pretty simple because, especially when working in beverage/alcohol or wine (industries), as I do, people request it (the product), right? And if you can't pronounce the name because it's very obscure - that happens a lot in the wine category and so you may mispronounce or you may not feel comfortable asking for the wine that you don't know how to pronounce because you read it online or you saw the ad. If you don't feel comfortable pronouncing it, you're going to request something that you are comfortable announcing at a restaurant because you don't want to feel stupid. Nobody wants to feel stupid, so that's really important; can you read it? Can you pronounce it? Can you request it?
James: Is it easy to spell? short? memorable? These are branding 101 - like the Holy Grail of branding. It's also very, very relatable to picking out a website name: Easy to spell, easy to pronounce, shorter the better and the more memorable, the better.
Website Names (avoid domain name spelling hurdles)
James: It's very, very hard because so many .coms are gone when you go to search; maybe even your own business name is actually taken by somebody else in a different country, so in that case, I'll ask you this: When it comes to extensions of a website, we have .com and .ca in Canada which is very popular, and there's a whole bunch of other ones. Are any of them safe to buy and use in public?
Noah: How do you feel about people using a dash/ underscore/ hyphen in the domain name?
James: Try not to (use special characters in a domain name). Bottom line - it's one of those things where it can be so easily skipped or not understood. When you say my website is called www.go-here.com; they're not going to necessarily remember that. They're just going to use “go here” as one word because that's the most common (way of writing a web address). So, it's another stumbling block for people.
If you absolutely have to, though, sometimes it's the better choice. Because let's say every version of gohere-dot-anything is taken and the go (dash) here is available, then you have to decide if that is better. Is that more on brand and easier to explain than something like, “Our company's called go here, but our website is hereyougo.gohere”. You just made it a big tongue twister for somebody.
Noah: Are there any alternatives that you'll use that are a pretty obvious go-to? For example, I’ll use we are go.here or “shop go here”
James: Yeah, if it follows your other golden rules: short, sweet, memorable, easy to spell, easy to pronounce. You (can) do the phone test where you say, “My name is this or our website's called so and so, and you don't have to spell every letter out. They say “Okay, so it's go here.com, and it's g-o-h… and they get it. Those are the pass/fail tests, and you have to do some testing with people before you actually commit to your domain name.
Noah: Sometimes, I find we can feel friendly or community-building (with emails and domains),
James: And people use that a lot. A lot of email addresses say (for example) email@example.com, and that's their replacement for info@. Although we still use info@ because we're old-fashioned but hello@ is a nice modern take on that. Versus admin@ or something like that. I'm not sure if that was five super no-nos, but there's a whole bunch of notes for Branding and Logo typography colours website stuff that you should try to avoid.
Branding No-No's Summary
Noah: In summary, font selection is very important - avoid Papyrus and Comic Sans. I'd say that the gradient use is not necessarily A No-No, but it's one of those ones where it could be a No-No. Definitely have an alternative local version if you're using gradients.
James: Watch your colour contrast on both digital & print materials. Dark gray text on a light gray background may look uber-cool for 18-year-olds with young eyes. But for the rest of humanity (especially those over 40!), your low-contrast microtext is unbelievably annoying!
Noah: Don't use a dash in your domain name, and if at all possible, and try to make it easy to say, easy to spell, and easy to request, and don't create a really weird name that people can't pronounce.
James: And go after dot coms or your country extension. (dot)Net is another one that's not too obscure. The other ones seem to come and go, very trendy, but they might be gone tomorrow or be very unpopular.
Noah: Do we have anything else?
James: Yeah, we definitely have more stuff, and that'll be coming in future episodes.
Noah: Stay tuned, subscribe, like, and comment!
Check out our previous episode: Part 3 of Website Design Trends in 2023.
“Between Two Creeks” is Twin Creek Media’s weekly podcast series. You can find us on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Spotify. If you enjoy listening to the latest and wonkiest in marketing every week, don’t forget to hit that subscribe button! If you want us to amp up your marketing, click here to contact us and let’s chat!