What’s in a slogan?

I suppose that like a lot of people, for a long time I didn’t really think too much of company slogans. For sure, I bought them up like crazy for brands I thought were cool, but that was about as far as my thought process went.

My first real exposure to slogans (or tag lines, if you prefer) came in the mid 2000s when I was working with a music and dvd retailer called play. We had three retail locations and were very well known to the devoted music or home entertainment audiences in the two cities we were in. However, if you had no idea who we were… well, you had no idea who we were. Our logo was a rectangle with rounded corners, the word play in lowercase letters and a green triangle to the right, like the play button on most electronics. Our slogan (which had been developed before my time) was “See it. Hear it. Play it.” It sounded cool, but for a brand trying to gain a bigger footing, it didn’t work. Why not? Well – does that tell you in the slightest what the company was about, or what we sold? On more than one occasion we had customers enter our store asking if we were an arcade, an appliance dealer (I still don’t know how that made sense), or part of an unrelated company from Eastern Canada. Eventually it was decided that we should create something new, beginning my interest in slogans.

The slogan I created was “The music store as independent as you are.” – and my goals for it were this:

  1. Clearly define what we sold. Music store. Check.
  2. Separate ourselves from big box stores, identifying our independent nature, which as a music retailer allowed for greater flexibility in bringing in unknown or underground artists, and not just the big superstars.
  3. In identifying ourselves as independent, we also associated ourselves with our customers. Who wouldn’t want to be thought of as cool and independent?

Okay, so, a little cheeky, a little precious, perhaps.. but it worked. Our customers liked the new slogan, and people seeing our store bags or other materials for the first time away from our stores were able to identify who we were. This slogan also had the great benefit of being an excellent radio tag – I closed all of our radio commercials with it. We knew it was working when we were signing up new customers to our customer loyalty program and they would comment “So you guys are really independent?”

Since that time, I’ve been honoured to have worked on many logos and slogans for both new businesses and those going through a rebrand. Sometimes the owners haven’t even considered a slogan, sometimes they don’t even know where to start… which ironically enough, was where I was when I started Ambition.

slogan

Too close to the forest? Perhaps. I was taking a number of business courses to help get my grounding, and we were discussing elevator pitches, slogans and branding. I ground my teeth. I had ideas for everyone else in the room – classmates and instructors – but for my business? Oh no.

Eventually I created “Connecting businesses to their

target markets and reconnecting people to their passion”. Say THAT three times fast. Yes, it said what we do – from marketing to creative coaching.. but.. let’s be honest: Ugh.

The instructors said that it was fine (in their defence they couldn’t really linger on me for too long – there was the rest of the class waiting), but I wasn’t happy at all.

I held off putting that slogan on anything. I knew what the rules were; I knew what a slogan SHOULD do.. and I broke the rules. Entrepreneurs, dreamers, business people.. they all have something in common: Passion. Drive. Ambition. How do you find out what moves someone? Ask them.

What’s Your Ambition?

I tossed that old clunky slogan so fast it didn’t even have time to hit the bottom of the digital trash can. Forgot about my elevator pitch. THIS is it… and it works because people love to talk about what excites them, and I love to hear about it. I frequently get stopped when wearing my company shirt with this logo across the back by complete strangers who want to tell me what their ambition is – or to ask me what the shirt is about. It’s awesome. Whether someone’s passion is making the fanciest doodadwhatzit gadget on the planet, or they’re in business because they love business (read: money) – we can help.

What’s in a slogan? Whatever, as a business owner, you want to put into it. It can be an integral part of your brand and marketing materials, or it can be ignored as an afterthought. It’s your brand, your dream. Now, tell me… What’s Your Ambition?

– Jason

Are Conferences Still Effective? The better question is – are you?

I was recently reading an article questioning if conferences were still effective. It went into great detail about the cost of hosting and attending, man hours, conversion rates.. all very important figures to consider in business, but the one factor it didn’t consider was an organization’s willingness to accept change or embrace new ideas.

Some time ago while working for a different company, I attended a conference on Social Media. Prior to the conference, the boss of this company had seemed very excited about it and my desire to attend. His children were on Facebook, he explained, and he knew it was a Big Thing. He reviewed my itinerary a few dozen times prior to the conference, gave me a list of industry people also attending that I must meet, and reminded me to write summary reports of my every action.

I attended the conference, its various workshops and speaking engagements, learned a lot, taught a bit, made many great connections (both during business hours and after), and returned with an energy that was busting at the seams to implement what I’d experienced. I wrote multiple reports on the various social media platforms, success stories, business opportunities, and a suggested action plan.

I made sure that my report was on the boss’s desk bright and early upon my return. I was pumped. Beyond ready to really kick things into gear. A few coworkers asked how the conference went, and I was more than happy to speak about what had happened and my ideas going forward. They too, began getting excited and seeing the opportunities.

A week passed. The boss had not found the time to go over my report, and had only a few minutes to speak about it when I tracked him down to talk. Yes, it was all very exciting and it was great that I’d arranged possible business partnership opportunities with some of those people he had suggested I meet.. but he would need to take some time to read it all when he had a minute. Very busy. Very, very busy. Busy time of year. Everyone needed him. Couldn’t take time away from others to discuss this “internet thing”.

Do you see where this is going? Stop reading ahead.

Another week or so passed. My enthusiasm for implementing the ideas with the company I was with began to wane. I stopped bringing it up whenever I would see the boss, knowing it wasn’t going anywhere. Finally, late one afternoon, he had time to speak with me about it. It was all very interesting, he said, all very new and exciting.. but maybe not for us right now. We could perhaps do a few bare bones things, but our, and specifically my energies would be better spent on other things.

I was gutted. Frustrated. What had been the point of attending this conference in the first place if we weren’t doing anything about it? It took me a while to realize, but it had been about keeping up appearances. If our competition was going to be there, so should we. We weren’t apparently doing anything about it – but people knew we were in the conversation.

This is only one specific example – and maybe it’s not so much about conferences, as it is about businesses themselves. For a conference to be successful to a company attending, the ideas learned from this experience must be embraced throughout the organization. Change, no matter where it comes from or why, must be embraced on every level – and welcomed, if it’s realized to be for the greater good.

Anyone who’s been in business will have stories of company retreats or shareholder meetings where Great Things were discussed and Things Were Going To Change Right Away, only to have it be business as usual come Monday morning. Whether it be a lack of communication or a fear of the unknown, things don’t always move forward. In my example above, the boss of the company had not felt ready to make the changes, while his competition went ahead with the ideas learned from that conference to do some really wonderful things.

Let’s go back to the original question: Are conferences still effective? The answer applies to this question and everything else in life: You get from them what you’re willing to put into them.

Jason Toma
Founder, Ambition Branding Inc.

The Down Dilemma

Possibly a few years ago, I was fresh out of University and in the midst of my freelance empire building in the sprawling metropolis of Kamloops. Life was pretty good – I had a number of clients, was living with my girlfriend at the time, and the world was waiting for me. Next stop: The Legendary Vancouver.

Vancouver, to me, had always been the mythical, far away city of Wonderful Things. Growing up in small-town BC, Vancouver was the place where culture, art, fine espresso and beautiful people were to be found at any time of day or night.

As with most things, my freelancing hit a period of slow business, and I began to worry. I applied for a position in Vancouver with a major down manufacturer looking for someone to help with nearly all aspects of their branding, from package design to brochures, trade show materials, website design and more – they were looking for me.

The company called me for an interview, and I brought my portfolio of Jason’s Awesomeness along with me. I met with the president and vice-president in a bright, spacious boardroom and pitched my young heart out on why I was the best thing since the invention of fire. I showed them the logos I’d created, the sites I’d done, I told them about my creative “je ne c’est quoi” that could not be matched. I wanted this job – I needed it. This, this was going to be my stepping stone to Wonderland.

Yet, in the back of my head, a little voice whispered words of caution that I would of course disregard like hour-old coffee.

Suitably awed by my brilliance, the president and VP showed me around the offices, and took me next door to a beautiful new building with floor to ceiling windows and skylights. In here, they said, would be my new office, equipped with a shiny brand new Mac, a huge desk, and a large area for me to be creative in. Other than that pesky little voice, I was pretty much sold.

The president of the company said that he loved my work and what I had to offer. They immediately offered me a trial contract, to see if I was able to match my style to their industry. They gave me three different products, aimed at different markets, and asked me to create new packaging designs for them. I could do this working from home for an hourly wage, and if they liked what I created for them, the full-time gig was mine.

I immediately sped at exactly the legal limit back to Kamloops, bursting with ideas that would revolutionize down bedding forever. New York ad agencies would open offices in Vancouver just to get me on board. I researched their competitors and scoffed at their bland approaches. I created custom illustrations. Held a photo shoot. Created through the midnight hours until finally everything was perfect. I sent the files for review and even as I hit send, I knew the job was mine.

Time passed. I not-so-patiently waited by my phone, until I got the call. They loved it. Of course they did! They wanted me to start in a week, at which time they would finalize all of the particulars of my employment. I wasn’t worried. What I’d been making even on the trial contract period was decent for the time, so of course it could only be better than that, right?

Sadly, that little voice in the back of my head ruined my last week in Kamloops. It kept telling me not to get excited, that something was wrong with this. Ordinarily I would be beyond excited even just to visit Vancouver – to be moving there for a full time position? I should have been doing backflips while juggling flaming chainsaws.. but I wasn’t.

A good friend of mine was kind enough to let me stay with him for a while as I started with my job and found a place to live. With that feeling bothering me as much as it did, I didn’t leave until the night before my new job started, never telling anyone about it. I didn’t want to go to Vancouver. That’s almost like me saying I don’t want to own a Porsche. Unbelievable.

When the day came, I rolled up to my new company about 20 minutes early. The vice president was outside, waiting for me. Before I could even step out of my car he was telling me it was time to go and get started, and explaining that it was completely unacceptable to ever blame Vancouver traffic for being late, and so I should plan accordingly. The warning bells started swinging, not yet hitting the sides.

We went into his office where he explained that any and all creative ideas I had while in the company’s employ would belong to them, and that I could not do any freelance work at all. I politely reminded him that I had mentioned my freelancing in our original meeting, explained how I maintained a list of current clients, and the company had been fine with it. No longer, he said. The bell crashed loudly, and I should have left right then. I was told that personal calls, on personal cell phones, even during breaks, were not permitted. Yes, really. I didn’t ask why or how they could even think that fair; I was already shocked, and mildly alarmed by the bells ringing in my head. Still, I thought – If I need to make a call I’ll just close the door to my office, no one will know! Besides, I’m the Creative Genius – they need me! Surely I can get away with making a phone call on a coffee break. And really – wasn’t it all about the money? I needed it, they were paying it. Let’s go. We started to talk about wages.. and to start, they were going to offer me.. less than what they paid me during the trial contract. Sorry, what? The VP softly explained that since I would now be full time, I would in essence be making more than I had on the part time contract.. but we could review it in six months. I’d love to say that I stood up, threw a burning match on his desk and left, but I really did feel like I was between a rock and a dead place at that moment and needed almost any work I could get. I bit my tongue and acquiesced. I could do this. I had to. I would work at this place and to heck with their rule, I would freelance like a monster on the side. I’d work 20 hour days.. again. I’d make it work. Just let me get to my nice, big office, look out the windows onto the beautiful city, my beautiful city of Vancouver, turn on some music, and create. All would be okay.

Except, there was a change of plans. The beautiful new building wasn’t finished yet, and when it was they were going to try using it for something else for a while and so my office space was unavailable. Instead, they took me to a heavy steel door just off the production factory floor. Opening it up, I saw a closet – no, it was a room, about 4 feet wide and 20 feet long. There were no windows. No skylight. Just the hum and clanging of the factory.. and a tired, sad looking man sitting on the far end of the room. This would be my office, for the next six months, or perhaps longer, while they figured out what they wanted to do with my beautiful office space. Get creative, they said. No phone calls, and.. try not to get online too much. The dialup cuts out our company’s main line. Dialup. WHAT? Oh.. and one more thing? No listening to music while at work.

The heavy steel door slammed shut like a prison cell. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. How could anyone be creative in a closet like this? How could they promise me so much and give me THIS? I spent the day completely out of it. I opened up photoshop on a ten year old Mac and pushed a couple pixels around. I had no vision. Nothing. The day passed. Nobody came to check on my cellmate and I, and when the factory bell chimed the end of the day, we left. I was a mess. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t ask my girlfriend to leave her life to move to Vancouver to be a part of this with me – I knew I’d be a miserable wreck within one month. I couldn’t go back to Kamloops, either – not with my freelancing in the downturn it was in. I couldn’t do anything. I had nowhere to go. The city itself felt angry. The city I’d dreamt of living in almost my entire life didn’t want me there. Not like this.

I didn’t go back to my friend’s house. I parked my car by the beach and stood in the ocean. FInally, I called my dad. My mill-working, meat eating, animal hunting dad, and told him my situation. I fully expected him to tell me to stop being such a cry baby, pick up my bootstraps and go to work for the down company. I almost wanted him to tell me that so I could resign myself to it. Instead, he told me I couldn’t work in a place like that. Told me to try again at building my own empire. Told me to be brave and believe in myself.. and most importantly, that if things really did get too bad and didn’t work out, I’d always have a place to stay with him. At the time, I didn’t know that. Ever since that moment, I’ve always known it.

We ended our conversation and I called the president of the company at home to tell him I quit. He actually sounded surprised when he asked me why. I explained how they hadn’t delivered on any of what they promised, how the pay was unacceptable, and how being locked in a closet wasn’t exactly conducive to creativity. The man actually had the nerve to say he didn’t see why windows were important for an office, and then had no response when I asked why he had a corner office with floor to ceiling windows. He tried for a moment to dissuade me, but I somewhat politely thanked him for the opportunity and told him I could and would do better before hanging up. The instant I did, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. The city behind me no longer felt angry. I knew I’d made the right choice.

That night, I packed up my car and headed back to Kamloops. Life would be hard for a while, but I persevered. I got new clients and some of my old clients started returning for more work. My work started getting sought out from all over the city. Eventually I would land a dream job working in the music industry, creating ads, posters and radio commercials to represent bands and artists I’d grown up listening and daydreaming to in my small BC hometown a lifetime ago. I’d face a few more challenges after that, and I’ll face more still, if I’m lucky – but it all goes back to that one “unopportunity” for me. From day one, my inner voice told me it was wrong, but in my fear and desperation, I was willing to accept it. It was only when I was brave and accepted the risk that I would realize my dreams. It was only when I embraced my Ambition that I would found it.

  – Jason Toma

 

Zen and the Art of Customer Service

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I’ve been going to the same gym, on average, 4 to 5 times a week, for the past two years. I recognize most of the regulars and the staff that works there. I’ll usually say hello or share a quick smile as I head past the various desks, and today was like no other. However, when I got to the main desk, I found that I’d forgot my membership card. Ordinarily, this is no big deal – all you have to do is tell one of the Customer Service Reps your phone number, they type it into the computer and off you go. There were 3 people working at the desk, so I approached the one at the main computer and explained my situation. I got a deep sigh and an ice cold voice in response. As the computer beeped and the gate opened to let me in, she asked if I’d left my card at home or if it was somewhere else – what did this matter? I had said I’d forgot it, but provided the alternative, acceptable method of identification. I smiled and said yes, but she continued on, saying that I’d better make sure I brought it tomorrow if I wanted to get in.

I was shocked. Apparently my asking this Customer Service Representative to provide me with 10 seconds of service was too much to ask for. I clearly deserved to be admonished for my insensitivity. I don’t know if she was having a bad day, or if the gym has decided to phase out the phone number method of entry for those that forgot their card, but either way, she had gone about it in a completely wrong way. I bit my tongue and carried on.

It made me think of just a few days ago, when I was having an absolutely horrible day. At about 9 o’clock, a client started texting me, saying she couldn’t access her email. I texted her a few times to help, but she couldn’t get it to work. Now, at this point, I was already done with the day. All I wanted to do was unplug from the world and shut down for the night. 9pm is well past our standard office hours, and the email situation wasn’t really urgent as she hadn’t started using her new email address yet. I texted a few times more in response, but she couldn’t get anything to work.

“You’ll be amazed at the difference you will make.”

It took me about one second to realize this would take me under 5 minutes to help, and would probably mean a lot to her. I told my bad mood to take a hike and gave her a call. I walked her through the steps again, and everything worked out. She was incredibly grateful and happy, and felt relieved that her email was working. She felt comforted knowing that I was there to help her out, even at 9pm.

I hung up the phone and smiled, just a little bit. I was still in a bad mood, but I’d made someone else’s night and was able to help. She didn’t know I was in a bad mood, and she didn’t need to.

That’s what business is about though; that’s what life should be about. Sometimes we need to take a step back from ourselves and realize that our brief interactions with other people can affect them more than we know. My trip to the gym was 10 hours ago and I’m still thinking about it. Imagine how you can affect the people close to you with only a few words, or the slightest action.

You’re more powerful than you realize – choose your mood, and choose how you deal with others. You’ll be amazed at the difference you will make.
– JT

 

One Year and Three Days Ago

One year and three days ago, I lost my last job.

I wasn’t fired – I was told that everyone at the company loved my work; nobody had a bad thing to say about me – but they couldn’t afford to keep me. I remember the day well – a cold, dreary November Wednesday. A casual “Can we talk for a minute”? leading to “We have to let you go”. Cleaning out my desk and walking out, shocked. Angry. Worried and sad.

I drove home and sat on my couch for the next two days. Half the time I don’t even think my TV was on. I stared at the blank screen and worried. What had I done wrong? What would I do next? What could I do? How would I pay rent? I’d gone from completely reinventing the look for a multimillion dollar company, establishing their social media presence and bringing in tens of thousands of dollars in partnership deals to being told they didn’t need me anymore. I’d never been in this situation before. For days, I didn’t tell anyone. After I finally left my couch, I began scouring job listings, looking for anything, anywhere. I needed money, I needed a job, now. I looked and applied for dozens of positions, but didn’t feel excited about any of them, other than the money they might bring in. I thought of reaching out for a few more freelance projects as I’d been able to do for years, but could I really live off of that? I’d done it for a few years when I was just starting out, but could I do that now? I doubted it, I doubted myself, and applied for some more jobs.

It took a conversation with my dad to finally kick me into gear. I told him what had happened, and how low I was feeling. I half-heartedly mentioned how I was considering finally starting my own business, as I’d wanted to do for over ten long years. How it had always been a goal, but I’d never focused or worked on it as I was always busy working for someone else. I don’t know what I was expecting, but my dad did what every great dad should do, and he told me to chase my dream. To go for it. Stand up, stand proud and go after what I want. Would it be hard? Of course. Would I regret it if I didn’t? Absolutely. My dad told me to chase my dream and know that my family was behind me, supporting me however they could. It was time to make the best of my situation, to seize the time I was given and put my brand in the stone.

I stopped looking for job listings that day and started building my company instead. I went back to school, taking a crash course on starting and running a business. Taxes, legal process, marketing and more – I drank it up. There is so much I didn’t know about what owning my own company was about – it was overwhelming at times. As time progressed, I began getting a few new clients. I told my close friends about what I was doing, and was grateful for their support and excitement.

I worked hard. I struggled. I had sleepless nights and weeks wondering where my next pay cheque was coming from. I sent out emails and had meetings and got silence in return. I worked on my own product more. I defined my company and I built what I want its brand to represent. I reached out to some of the most talented people I know and got their support in building the company even further. With their help, the company website was launched. Then social media platforms, business cards and even company t-shirts. Through it all, fear was always sitting on my shoulder, waiting for me. What if I can’t do this? What if people and businesses don’t want what I have to offer? What if… what if?

What if I didn’t try? What if I didn’t do this now – would I regret it 20 years from now? Would I regret it tomorrow? Yes.

There will always be a What If waiting for us all. I chose to ignore the fear, ignore the doubts, and ask What If this works out, and my dream does come true?

One year and three days later, I’m still working harder than ever, and still struggling. I haven’t made my first million yet – far from it – but I’m working toward it. This is my dream, and if I don’t work for it, I know I’ll only be working for someone else.

It took a long time and it took some bad times, but my dream is building. One year and three days ago, it all officially started. I hope you’ll all join me on this journey.

 

Jason Toma
Founder, Ambition Branding Inc.