Your Service isn’t “Crazy Generous”, but it Should be Valuable.

In the world of advertising, sometimes you just see an ad on TV and fall in love with it. The storyline is funny, the characters are ultra-relatable, or perhaps there is a baby or a cute animal that draws you in. Unfortunately, however, sometimes ads make you cringe. Vonage’s recent TV spots fall into the latter camp. So today, I’m going to let Vonage show us what NOT to do in crafting an effective TV ad.

Here it is in all of its 30 second glory:

Where to being? Let’s start with the company tagline.

Crazy Generous“. To even have this tagline the company is admitting that, deep down inside, they believe that their customers are stupid. Why? Because Vonage isn’t crazy, or they’d either be out of business or at the top of their industry. Vonage isn’t either. Crazy doesn’t imply mediocrity, which is exactly where Vonage’s growth rates has been stuck for the past few years. Vonage also isn’t “generous”, or they would be out of business. Businesses as a rule cannot be generous in any meaningful sense, especially outside of donating to outside non-profits. If your services are cheap, it’s because you hope that targeting the lower end of the market is how you can make the most money. Pretending that you’re a corporate version of Oprah, just giving away cars to your customers because you feel like it is crazy disingenuous, and your customers know better.

Oprah as Santa

Oprah can get away with generous.

The characters and set are too smarmy.

The main character, a homeless-looking “Chief Generosity Officer”, is grating with his over-eagerness. The prospective customers that are chatting with him are credulous. And this is all taking place on the back of a tractor-trailer cruising through Manhattan. One or two out of place elements, fine. But when absolutely everything going on is nonsense, customers are going to assume that your product is nonsense, too.

Chief Generosity Officer

The Chief Generosity Officer from their Facebook page

Okay, I know, I know, the ad is supposed to be over the top, but it’s a little too earnest in tone for them to pull it off right, and as a marketer, it just feels wrong.

So here’s your takeaway:

  1. Don’t base your marketing strategy around your customers being easily manipulated. It won’t work, especially not for long.
  2. Tell a story with your ads, but don’t be smarmy. No one likes that. Be real, but don’t position your company as being especially virtuous. Your tire shop may have the best quality tires and warm customers service, but Santa Claus you are not.
  3. Offer your customers value, but don’t be obnoxious.
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Is Your Logo Scaring Off Your Customers?


Bold statement, right? Here’s why it’s true:

  1. It helps your company have a consistent image and identity
  2. It inspires trust, admiration, loyalty, and implied quality
  3. It helps differentiate you from similar organizations and businesses

If you don’t think a good logo is necessary, think about this: what if every item on the cereal aisle at the grocery store looked the same?

plain branding grocery items

Without logos, you would have a hard time deciding which foods were made by brands you trust. You wouldn’t know which foods were high-quality. You would have a harder time telling which foods were green, or gluten-free. I hate using tobacco as an example, but there have been recent attempts in some places to force tobacco companies to remove all branding and logos from their packaging in order to reduce teen smoking rates (a laudable goal).

plain packaged cigarettes

Not that I’m sad, but you can easily see why the tobacco companies think that these laws might be bad for their business. Without a logo or branding, it’s hard to see why you should choose one kind over another. Put another way: Logos are powerful — and they can be used for both good and evil.

Your business is no exception. A good logo means that people can easily identify who you are, what you stand for, and will help remind them of any emotions (hopefully positive!) they associate with you. When you don’t have an effective logo, it makes it hard for people in your city who only know you from the internet or driving past your store to have a consistent impression of you. If you were a bigger business, people might say that you look unprofessional; like you don’t really know what you’re doing. Obviously, you don’t want that. People have too many other choices of where to spend their time for them to jump out on a limb for people who look unorganized.

So, you see that this is serious stuff — so if it all possible, hire a professional and get your company’s logo done right the first time. You wouldn’t trust just anybody to do your dental work or taxes, would you?

With that in mind, here’s a checklist of qualities an effective logo should have:


  1. Good typeface (font). Nothing can ruin a logo faster than a terrible font. Make sure that it’s clean, modern, and not distracting. Whatever you do, don’t use Papyrus, Comic Sans, Times New Roman, or Arial. Those foul characters run the gamut of overused and schlocky to dreadfully boring and soulless. I recommend Raleway, Lato, Georgia, or Palatino.
  2. Simple. This allows for easy recognition. Feel free to feature something unexpected or unique, but don’t overdo it.

  3. Make it Memorable.

  4. Timeless. Will it still be effective in 10 or 20 years?

  5. Versatile. It needs to be easy to use across different mediums and formats, whether on your website, Baha’i Center signage, or letterheads. To do this, you should design it in vector format (not PNG or JPG). Adobe Illustrator is most commonly employed to do this.

  6. Appropriate. Make sure that the design is a good visual fit for your sort of business. If you’re a law firm, you don’t want bright pinks and purples, because you don’t want to be confused for Chuck E. Cheese. Right?




Here’s a corporate logo that does all of the above things well:

Swatch Logo

The typeface is clean and modern. It’s simple, yet memorable. The Swiss flag is unique, but adds an expectation of high quality (we think of Swiss products — especially watches — as being of higher quality). This logo would totally be usable in 20 years, and is extremely appropriate for the industry. Lastly, it is a simple horizontal shape that can easily be scaled across websites, signage, letterheads, and indeed — the back of the watch itself.


And here’s a corporate logo that went horribly, horribly wrong.

Logo fail

First, never ever ever use Papyrus font. Also, the image needs to be clear, or at least positive. Unfortunately, the food at Cyrenian House seems to be so bad that even the man on the logo goes from depressed to finally setting himself on fire in order to escape.



  • Your company needs a logo so that people in your city can identify you easily on your website, on your  signage, at public/charitable events, and when you make the local news.
  • Pay a professional to do it, because this is super important.
  • Make sure that the final product is simple, memorable, timeless, versatile, and appropriate for a company in your industry.
  • Make sure your typeface (font) is clean and modern. If it has Comic Sans or Papyrus, start over.
  • Understated is better than overstated.


This article was originally written by Caleb for ninebranches and adapted here to reflect small businesses.

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How to use Keywords so your Customers find you on Google

You probably know that most of your customers find your website on Google or Bing. What you may not know is that the words you choose in the text of your website make a big difference in how many potential customers see you in their Google search results. Of course, if they can’t see you, they can’t click on you and buy your products.

So, about those words in your website text. Google notices the words you use most often on your webpage and tries to categorize your business accordingly. These words are called “keywords” in SEO parlance. For example, the sporting goods website I’m looking at right now uses the words “apparel”, “hoodie”, “boots”, “t-shirts”, and “jersey” a lot. When you search for “football jersey”, this site has the 3rd highest-ranking on the internet. As you probably guessed, the higher you rank in Google’s search results for keywords, the more people tend to visit your website. About 60% of all clicks come from the top three sites in the rankings, so being up at the top where customers can see you is paramount.

Keyword Click Through Rate by Position

How do you use keywords effectively? Well, one thing is clear — don’t just use your keywords over and over again so that Google “gets the hint” and ranks you higher. It won’t work. If your text has too many keywords, it can look and sound bad, and Google is increasingly good at recognizing that you’re trying to game the system. A bad example is: “When you’re shopping for boots, make sure that you consider the incredible boot solution at Boots Central where we have hundreds of boots, boot accessories, and incredible service.” Instead, use some synonyms and alternative names. “Boots Central is your solution for outdoor footwear, hiking supplies, and hunting gear. We specialize in Columbia and Wolverine outdoor and workboots.” Basically, if you can read your text to someone else and they think it sounds really awkward, don’t use it.


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Is Your Business Too Lame for Social Media?

As a small business, sometimes you probably read about how social media can really help you engage your customers and increase sales and retention. But not too deep down, there’s a burning question: “Is my business too boring for Facebook?” Almost certainly not. You just need compelling visual content. Even if you’re a plumber, people appreciate being able to see you doing what you do (within reason). They don’t necessarily want to see you update your status every half-hour on Twitter, but uploading a few pictures now and again on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest helps build trust with potential clients.

So, what counts as visual content? Pictures of:

  1. Staff
  2. Where you work.
  3. Products/Services
  4. Customers


People are naturally interested in other people, and one of the ways to show customers that your business is real and credible is to show them candid images of your team members doing their thing, both hard at work on the job and goofing around (but use your discretion on the last point — you don’t want your customers to think that your team is lazy or doesn’t take their job seriously).

Restaurant Staffsource:

Where You Work

Help your customers explore your experiences at work. People are always curious about where their services and the people that provide them are coming from, and as long as your digs aren’t rat-infested they’ll feel more comfortable with you and your team.

Office scenesource:


Seeing is believing. When customers are deciding between vendors of a service, they’ll award bonus points to their decision when they have more information about it. If you’re sharing visual images of what you do (especially in an intimate context), they’ll give you deeper consideration.

Food Art source:


Customers love seeing other satisfied customers, but only if they’re real — stock photos are not going to cut it here. Take real photos of happy customers, preferably with your product or service in the frame. Word of mouth is still the best form of advertising, but this method can come pretty close if done right.

Happy Customersource:

Use these strategies for including images in your business Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest accounts and you’ll be surprised how fast your customer engagement can grow.


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Google on SEO: “Focus on Good Content, Not Creating Links”

Google's Watching You

So, it seems Google has recently changed their written policy on how to rank highly in their search engine. Perhaps this sounds trivial, but it actually means a great deal for your SEO efforts.

Here is how the text used to read:

In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages.

Here is how it reads now:

In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share.

Why would they make this change? Because almost since the beginning of Google’s popularity, SEO practitioners have been gaming the link building system. In the bad old days, if you wanted your website to rank higher in the search results, you would just pay someone to shotgun blast links to your site around the internet. Sometimes you would get highly relevant links on pages that had a lot of authority in your website’s speciality, but 99% of the time your links would be on some spam website’s blogroll list. Back then, Google would just count the number of links that went to your site, and rank it accordingly. Now, with their Panda and Penguin updates in the last couple of years, they have made major changes to their ranking algorithm that penalize webpages that seem to be using these old, spammy tactics. Many established businesses on the web went from a high ranking on Google with lots of resulting traffic to their website to not being ranked at all and almost no one being able to find their page. Did you do that? It even hurt some businesses so badly that they had to close their doors.

Don't be this guy.

Don’t be this guy.

Don’t make their mistake. Link building is still important, but it needs to be limited, extremely relevant to your subject matter, and non-spammy. Most importantly, Google really gets really annoyed when you have lots of links, but the content on your site isn’t high quality. How do you know if it’s high quality? Ask yourself this one question: Is it relevant and engaging to actual people who are interested in your services? If it’s not, you should either write good copy, create appealing images, and put together interesting video. If you can’t (or don’t have time) to do this, hire someone who will. After all, if your site’s not cutting it, Google won’t be impressed and neither will your customers.

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Facebook + Hashtags is happening. New Social Ad Strategies to Come?

Keanu doesn't get Facebook hashtags

Well, they’re about to do a lot.

It wasn’t so long ago (yesterday in fact) that anyone who used hashtags on Facebook posts was ruthlessly mocked for their ignorance of the differences between Twitter and Facebook. Granted, some of us were just trying to kill two birds with one stone by posting the same content to both social media sites at once, but there were definitely people on there (not going to name names… Tiff) who knowingly swam against the current on this.

But as Facebook announced today, this has all changed. Facebook will henceforth be making hashtags an active part of their social (read: advertising) experience. On their blog post, they explained that “To date, there has not been a simple way to see the larger view of what’s happening or what people are talking about.” What does that mean? Well, they mention that somewhere between 88 and 100 million television viewers are simultaneously on Facebook EVERY NIGHT. This potentially huge number of eyeballs routinely comments on the events and tv shows that they’re watching, but without clickable hashtags, it’s hard for Facebook users to participate in the larger conversation, so often they use Twitter or Tumblr as their preferred forum instead. Embracing hashtags gives Facebook a way to keep their users engaged, and gives adroit advertisers a great new forum in which to hawk their wares.

While we don’t know exactly how Facebook intends to sell their adspace on hashtag pages, this has the potential to change social media advertising dramatically. We’ll be keeping a close eye on it.

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