Five things to think visually about for success

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Good design is a competitive advantage.

So if your visual brand -- the things people can see about your company like your website, advertising, logo and communications -- isn't measuring up, it's almost certain your reputation and revenues will suffer.

Today's consumer has very sophisticated visual tastes. We've been spoiled by the likes of the real design mavens -- be it Hollywood or epic brands like Apple. We have come to expect good design in everything from our toasters to our entertainment to our vehicles because we can.

If you've always thought of good design as a luxury, or a tool of the select, it's time to rethink your brand management. Here's what good design could be doing for you:

Design reinforces your brand message -- sometimes delivering it more powerfully than words.

Apple has managed to sell a commodity item -- the personal computer -- to consumers who were afraid of computers. Their design -- simple, serene, calming -- suggests confidence, accessibility and lack of complexity. It telegraphs, "I'm not as complicated as you think." It breaks down fear. Alas, it allures -- before a single word has even been spoken.

Good design pleases.

Beauty is an elixir for stress. Bombarded by images all day long, we yearn for something that settles our soul -- and often find this yearning tended by visual beauty, whether it's natural or human-inspired. Successful businesses know that beauty and good design sells. Target has masterfully understood this, bringing good design to consumer products as simple as desk accessories and spatulas.

Good design differentiates.

Find three random websites -- for services or products you're unfamiliar with -- and spend five seconds looking at each of their home pages. Then determine which company was good, which was better and which was best. You don't need a degree in art to discern this. While you may not be able to describe why you made the judgment, at the subconscious level you know. Good design immediately telegraphs competence.

Good design can elevate a brand.

Good design can imply relevance, savvy, finesse, confidence. It can take a commodity product and make it prestigious. Starbucks is a good example of this. From packaging to place, they use good design to create a brand experience that persuades consumers to pay as much (or more) for their drink as they do for their lunch.

Good design demands attention.

Good design can get your product or service noticed. It's the front door to your brand. No one can appreciate your extraordinary service, your exceptional technology, your innovative prowess -- without first visually assessing your product or service through the vehicles that express your brand visually.

Of course, good design must fit your actual product or service deliverables.

It can embellish your brand but it cannot be at odds with it -- making a brand promise it can't live up to.

As Daniel Pink says in his book "A Whole New Mind": "The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind -- creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people -- artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers -- will now reap society's richest rewards and share its greatest joys."

You don't have to be Apple or Target to make good design a competitive advantage. But you do have to make it a priority, commit resources to it and invest in hiring good professional designers -- in the same way you'd hire accounting or legal expertise.

Make good design a strategic part of your visual brand -- and see how it can transform your image. Your bottom line will thank you.

DeLona Lang Bell is president of CMBell Company, a Walla Walla-based national communications, marketing and branding firm. For weekly business and marketing insights, visit the company's blog at www.cmbell.com/blog/.

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