WILLIAM & HENRY WIDE PLANK FLOORS
"What story will you tell about your floors?"
Marketers often say that customers don't want a quarter-inch drill bit, they want a quarter-inch hole. But I take it further. Customers don't want a drill bit or a hole. They want to see a favorite painting hanging above the mantelpiece on Thanksgiving.
People who invest in wide plank floors are not simply choosing maple or oak, satin finish or shiny. They are choosing character.
As a child, I spent time in an 1840s cabin with wide plank heart pine floors I came to love. I knew they were special. I knew they held stories.
This project comprised a website and print catalog for a new company that itself had a storied past: Family-owned, small in scale, with a one-on-one touch that the owner felt like he had lost once his previous wood flooring company grew too big (tens of millions of dollars big). He sold it, but retirement wasn't for him. William & Henry was his way back into the business.
His high-touch approach to working with clients showcased his own story, and that is reflected in the web content and printed piece.
Could the wood itself tell a story? I envisioned a customer welcoming guests to his home, telling friends about his gleaming floors. He would not discuss the finish. He might have a few remarks about the boards' width or the wood species.
But what that customer would want to talk about is that wood's character. Its place in the world. Its story: Hickory and the gold miner's pickaxe. Northern cherry and Connecticut's case clocks. The resonant maple of Jimi Hendrix's Strat.
Two challenges made the end result particularly rewarding for me as a writer. First, the research (for example, it took three hours to find anything at all to say about cherry, until I found a single paragraph in a Smithsonian article that sent me to the right place. And second, an unforgiving word count. In hindsight, that restriction was important; otherwise, I could have written a book. (I still might.)
Here are links to several of the stories:
The website has since been redesigned. View the archived website here.
//with CMarie Marketing Studio//
GLOBAL COACHING STRATEGIES
Galvanizing Consultants into a Solid Org
This small consultancy commissioned a website that would unite a disparate group of corporate coaches under a boutique umbrella to depict strength and longevity. The two principals and their associates are executive coaches who wanted to emphasize their multicultural capability in both the public and private sectors.
A strong home page visual could set the tone, creating an international context to counterbalance the inevitable business-speak. My first thought was the Kennedy Center's Hall of Nations, with its colorful flags receding down the long, red-carpeted lobby. Arranging that shoot was out of the question, so I scanned my memory of a childhood in DC and remembered the Hotel Harrington, which flies the flags of several nations along one side of the building. The photographer did a drive-by, and the game was afoot. Our curbside photo shoot took just a couple of hours and gave us exactly what we needed.
Meanwhile, the content was shaping up. After 12 years specializing in business, I have found that writing about leadership consulting is a challenge simply because it isn't: Most executive coaching focuses on some version of the same concepts. For that reason, I focused on saying it best--finessing the concepts, building in effective search terms, and "packing a tighter snowball" to create a seamless reading experience. This firm's audience of government contractors and international organizations was not looking for freshness. It wanted clarity. And that's what it got: A simple menu. A simple narrative. And the chance to make a simple decision. View website here.
//with CMarie Marketing Studio//
This client's customer cares about one thing: Selling cars
Dealertrack offers online sales systems for dealerships that keep them fully up to date on inventory, leads, and shipping in real time without losing time on the sales floor or car lot. With these things handled, they are free to devote all their time and attention to the one thing they want to do: Sell cars.
The repetition of "And you just sold another car" echoed the idea of Dealertrack's products causing the dealership to run like clockwork. The automobile sales industry is extremely fast-paced, and a missed customer can cost the salesperson hundreds and the dealership thousands of dollars. Automation not a luxury but a necessity.
These B2B sales materials are promoting system upgrades. This illustration depicts two design styles for a single printed piece designed for Dealertrack's sales division. They went with the first one (thankfully). To learn more about the company, view website here.
//with CMarie Marketing Studio//
Creating History Where None Existed
In handling the branding and marketing of this project, selling million-dollar condos that didn't yet exist was just one of the challenges. The more interesting challenge for me was preventing the inevitable squawk from residents, news organizations, and government officials: Why change the downtown landscape with such a large building? How is this new construction relevant to the City of Charlottesville? (As the owner of a vintage clothing store right across the street, I was wondering the same thing...and accepted this challenge as a way of answering those questions for myself.)
The property is located at 4th and Water streets adjacent to Charlottesville's famed Downtown Mall, a bricked over section of Main Street that runs six blocks long. I decided that a building name related to local history made sense. But after three hours in the Historical Society archives, I came up empty. A few nondescript houses, long since demolished, yielded nothing to captivate. Some of the town's aquifers had been located there (hence the name Water Street). But I couldn't bring myself to call the building "The Aquifer." I feared getting stuck with "The Building at 4th and Water," which just plain bored me. So I persisted.
It was while investigating the first question that I hit upon the answer to the second. Why build a building here? And of course, my ongoing challenge: How do we sell something that doesn't yet exist. Fundamentally: What were we selling?
We were selling a lifestyle. We were selling a Saturday night. We were selling a weekday morning. We were selling a farmer's market and a drug store fountain milkshake and a symphony. All just steps away.
How could I bring fresh eyes to what was in fact my own way of life--five years living on the mall and 10 years a mile away from it? Though I was marketing the future, I still wanted to turn to the past. This condo--the first of an oncoming luxury condo boom--was part of Charlottesville's evolution. I returned to the Historical Society to trace the history not of that corner but of a lifestyle. And I became reacquainted with Rufus Holsinger.
Between 1890 and 1925, Rufus Holsinger made 9,500 photographs of Charlottesville--bustling streets, steamy kitchens, families on picnics, rough dirt roads. From any contemporary vantage point, a Holsinger photograph existed to document how it had been.
The Holsinger--a contemporary building named for a rather contemporary historic figure. He documented the downtown lifestyle as it was. We sold it as it could be.
The University of Virginia Alderman Library holds Holsinger's entire archive, and photos are available to license. With a nod to history and the allure of the Downtown lifestyle the Holsinger came to market. Within nine months, all 16 units had sold.
GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY
CENTER FOR EXCELLENCE IN TEACHING
Launching a Prestigious CTU Program for Virginia's Top 100 K-12 Teachers
"There is no higher calling than inspiring, mentoring. and preparing young people for the future." With those words, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced a six-day residency available at no charge to teachers, awarded on merit.
Twenty-five educators were admitted to each of four academies: science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); the humanities and language arts; fine arts; and interdisciplinary studies.
True to the governor's intention, this inaugural campaign acknowledged that teaching was not just a job for these exceptional educators: It was a calling.
Teachers must complete continuing education units to maintain their licenses, a requirement that can be both a financial and logistical burden. This program, however, was designed to be a reward for senior caliber educators for their skill, talent, and devotion.
The full campaign included well-timed press releases, direct mail to school principals, an advertisement (shown) directed to teachers themselves, and a dynamic web portal that included animation on the home page and a video interview with Virginia's Teacher of the Year.
The poster shown here went out to school principals along with the direct mail.
Within a week of launch, 300 teachers had expressed interest. In all, 800 educators applied to fill 100 spots.
Unfortunately, despite extraordinary success, the program failed to receive funding under the helm of a new governor and newly elected leadership in the Commonwealth's senate and general assembly. With the end of the program came the demise of the website, which was not archived.
//with CMarie Marketing Studio//
JULIE ROA, M.ED.
A Networking Conversation That Fits in a Backpack
This under-30 client was embarking on two years of largely unscripted world travel, a well-deserved reward for attaining a master's degree while rising to the assistant director level in administration at the United States' #1 public university.
Her firm plan was to return to the world of work only after her wanderlust was sated. But she didn't want to squander any good business connections that came her way. Without the context of job title and organization, she feared her card wouldn't leave an impression.
The solution? A card that makes a strong, clear statement of name and email, nothing more - the absence of additional graphics a visual nod to her transience. On the reverse, a word cloud features her areas of specialty, skills, and interests.
Why a word cloud rather than a list or resume? First, because it feels more casual. Traveling by backpack produces a serendipity to which a resume, full-size or in 7-point type, is unsuited. The word cloud is easy to read at a glance, and more fun. The second reason is that the word cloud is a visual representation of what it's like to have a conversation with this particular energetic, enterprising, and engaging young person. Topics advance and recede, stories arise, ideas spark.
The card, then, becomes a souvenir of an exchange, whether long or brief, that helps cement the client in the recipient's mind. A year or two later, should she call to ask or offer a favor, she will encounter no hesitation.