Years ago I remember studying a direct mail letter from the amazing copywriter, Gary Halbert.
The letter performed well, but on a hunch, Gary changed one small detail. The results of the letter instantly grew by quite a lot.
The strange thing is Gary didn’t change any of the words, like the headline, details of the offer, anything else you’d typically test in a direct mail letter, or any piece of direct response copy.
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The only thing he changed was the phone number.
In the first version of the letter the phone number was a 1-800 number. But Gary, being very insightful into human nature, had a hunch that it made people feel like the company was very “far away” and “too big” – thus making them feel uncomfortable, leading to fewer sales.
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So he got a local number with a local area code for each area that he mailed the letter to, and sent it back out.
This alone boosted results like crazy.
See, every little detail, including the area code of your phone number, combine to build your brand.
In Gary’s letter, he built rapport with the reader and made them feel very familiar, but then at the end, he hit them with a 1-800 number. It didn’t fit with the rest of the brand Gary created throughout the letter.
As a freelancer, this is just as critical for you to think about and truly consider on every level of your business.
I’m going to talk about the most common, basic, client-repelling branding mistake I see freelancers and agencies make…
Then I’m going to provoke you to analyze your entire brand from top to bottom to see where else you could improve.
Ready? Then let’s dive in.
A Rose by Any Other Name
The most common mistake I see would be, hands down, the name of your company.
I typically see two kinds of names when it comes to freelancers and small agencies: The first kind is simply your own name. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that and I think that that’s a strong path to take if you know how to brand yourself well.
In the second option, however, freelancers or small agencies will choose a name that they think is “cool” and represents their brand.
This is where I see the mistakes.
I can’t count how many times I’ve seen names like “We Love Pixels” or “I Love Design.”
While there’s nothing objectively wrong with those names, when you’re trying to construct a brand, you have to remember that the person the brand is truly for is the customer.
While you might love design – that’s not an inherent benefit for the customer or any sort of tangible promise of results they can attach themselves to.
And while you may love pixels and be obsessed with them – again, that’s not in itself a benefit for the customer.
Without realizing it, just in your name, you’re already creating a self-centered image that’s influencing the rest of your interactions with any potential client. And it could be turning them away.
They might not consciously think bad thoughts about it – but some part of them has concerns because of it, and those concerns could cause them to look elsewhere.
So if you’re going to name your company something creative (which is a great way to go, don’t get me wrong), make sure you think about how it will impact the customer. Think about what they’ll perceive from it instead of just what you like.
Of course you want something that you also like – but get thinking in the direction of “What will inspire the customer?” instead of simply what resonates with you.
Of course there are exceptions to this, for example, Google, which means absolutely nothing to anybody, but to pull off an exception you have to have an exceptional level of understanding for how to construct a product and brand which Google has.
Or you have to not care whether or not you get clients.
There are some rare souls out there who truly don’t fret over things like that which keep the rest of us up at night.
Choosing a Name That Lands You Clients
When our agency started Reliable, our HTML and WordPress development service that helps other Freelancers and agencies code their designs, we chose the name “Reliable” because it’s so self-explanatory.
You know from the start what you get from the service.
The name sets the tone for all future interactions and expectations.
From the moment our customers hear our name they build an impression of us around that name.
We’re not the first ones to pick a customer-driven name though.
Here are some more great company names to think about that create a great experience from the start:
Esurance. You know right from the start that you’ll be able to pick your insurance and handle pretty much everything online. Most of us have had the unpleasurable experience of dealing with insurance salesman over the phone, so this name brings relief knowing you won’t have to do that. You know exactly what to expect
1-800 Flowers. Their approach is the opposite. In their name alone, they’re creating the impression that you can simply pick up the phone and have flowers delivered anywhere you’d like. It feels so easy, just from hearing the name. In the past, flower deliveries meant driving out to a florist, sorting through a bunch of varieties and bouquets, then filling out paperwork.
Fuel Cafe. This is a Cafe near me in Portland that serves healthy breakfast foods. From the name alone you get the impression that they understand food is fuel for our body and they’re going to give you food that helps do just that. Not just junk.
Whole Foods. From the name alone you got the impression that their focus is not on unhealthy processed foods, but on wholesome foods that help you live a wholesome life.
But your name doesn’t have to be so straightforward and concrete. You can get more creative and abstract with it.
Here are some companies that did just that:
Reebok. The word Reebok is a misspelling of an Afrikaans word that means antelope. The idea is that their shoes give you the speed and fluidity of an antelope.
Apple. Steve Jobs revealed that the name Apple came about after he visited and apple farm. His whole goal was to make computers less intimidating and more approachable for people. To truly make a personal computer. The name apple he felt was fun approachable and full of joy.
Kodak. George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, chose its name because he wanted a name that resembles nothing else was Punchy and short and felt easy. there any from the start was to make photography more accessible and easier for the average person. When they started, photography was only for professionals who had a lot of training and technological capability.
Once you fully grasp the importance of your name – it’s time to apply that thinking to everything.
Look at all of your branding and marketing from top to bottom with this question in mind, “What benefit is this communicating to my customers?”
If the answer is ever “none” – think about how you could change that element so that it contains a powerful answer instead.
I can tell you, for example, that there is no part of the Reliable website that we didn’t carefully weigh or consider.
Even things as simple as our email address and phone number were heavily weighed.
We chose “hello [at] reliablepsd.com” to stay with our friendly vibe, instead of something more generic like “info [at] reliablepsd.com.”
While we have a few offices in different countries, our home base is in Portland, which is why we chose a Portland number. We feel Portland and the vibe of the Pacific Northwest is a big part of our company’s culture.
But don’t stop there. Keep going until you literally dissect it all:
Analyze your color palette. What message are your colors communicating to clients?
Next, look at your copy. What benefits are the words on your website communicating to clients?
Next, look at how your copy is laid out and your typography. Tons of negative space communicates one thing vs. things being closer together. Serif fonts grant one impression, while sans serif fonts give another.
In fact, I’ve got some homework for you: Right now, look at your marketing and tell me 3 things you’re going to improve in the comments.
Because no matter how great you are — even if you’re Google — you have room for growth. Without a doubt that goes for me as well.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and your 3 things to improve because awareness is the most important first step. See you in the comments 😉
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