Eli Gerson | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Eli Gerson

Background:  

D+i Creative is a brand and product agency based in Denver. It provides focused creative design services, including brand strategy, design, marketing, user interface and user experience design for brands and digital products. It focuses on consumer packaged goods, technology, mission-driven organizations and business-to-business.

The Mistake:

I failed to practice what I was preaching.

We do a lot of brand strategy work and brand development work. Typically, when we are working with a client that needs that type of service, they are usually at some kind of inflection point, be that changing ownership or name or something like that. We ask all these clients to go through a vital and critical process to ensure that we are developing an appropriate strategy to inform all the creative work we are trying to do.

We, as a company, have been around for about 40 years, and we are on our third ownership arrangement, which comprises myself and my business partner, who is also our chief creative officer. A few years before we were going to take the reins, we decided that it was an appropriate time – an inflection point, if you will – to take a look at our own brand to make sure it positions us to properly sell our services.

Our name at that time was Design and Image Communications Inc. That name might have been great 40 years ago, but today it’s tough because we don’t like to say that we design and image things. Really, we take a much more strategic approach to helping our clients build a brand. So, we thought, maybe this isn’t a great name for us to hold on to, but on the other hand, it has 40 years of relationships built around that name. It was also really long and daunting, so most people were calling us “DNI,” for short.

So we thought, there’s all this equity built into the name, why don’t we just come up with a tagline, something a bit more memorable and creative that speaks a little more to what we do. We did not come to this decision through our typical process, which would include client interviews and thorough competitive and brand audits. Instead, we just said, “We know what we’re doing, let’s just go for it.”

The tagline was “See brand go.” We leveraged that tagline as the url for a new website. We rolled out new marketing materials. We sent out a letter to all of our clients announcing the change, and we thought it was going to be really successful.

Well, because we didn’t go through the process, we made a critical mistake. Our clients were confused. They thought the tagline was our new name.

They didn’t understand our brand, and that’s critical when you are a brand strategy firm.

The Lesson:

I think with all service-based industries, you never really spend enough time on your own company. Maybe you’re a lawyer, and you likely don’t spend enough time on your own legal situation. It takes time. It takes effort. It’s why your clients pay you to work on their projects.

But, with a referral-based business, it’s critical for your clients to be able to tell your story. By failing to put ourselves through the same process we force all our clients to go through, we jumped right to the end and into a major problem.

It was about three years ago that we realized our mistake. We were going to be moving offices anyways, and we figured it was the perfect opportunity to make things right. We forced ourselves to go through the whole process, even bringing in outsiders to bring that perspective.

Where we landed was our current name D+i Creative. We recognized that the acronym is our most recognizable name and added the “creative” because it closely resembles what we do. Rather than trying to use a tagline, we went with something that is more functional, “…a brand and product agency.”

There are so many agencies that are sort of like us, we took the opportunity to state clearly who we are and what we do. It’s been great since then. We haven’t run into the same problem again.

Eli Gerson is on Twitter at @eligerson and D+i Creative is at @dandicreativeco.

Photo courtesy of D+i Creative.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email cberman@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's.