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Nearly every Sunday, I grab a good book and hit our local cafe. It can be intimidating to choose a marketing book when there are so many, and most of them are rehashings of better books. Which are worth your time? I've reviewed my bookshelf and chosen my all-time top 5 picks that every marketer should read.

Using the visual language of the boardroom, Neumeier presents the first unified theory of branding—a set of five disciplines to help companies bridge the gap between brand strategy and customer experience. Those with a grasp of branding will be inspired by the new perspectives they find here, and those who would like to understand it better will suddenly “get it.”

Whether your goal is to express a new brand or to revitalize an existing one, here is a proven, universal five-phase process for creating and implementing effective brand identity. From research and analysis through brand strategy, design development through application design, and identity standards through launch and governance, Designing Brand Identity is an essential reference for the entire process.

Veteran copywriter Luke Sullivan returns in a third edition of his irreverent warts-and-all look at advertising. Part how-to and part exposé, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This is an insider's guide to coming up with great ideas as well as an unapologetic send-up of all that's heavy-handed, dim-witted, and ineffectual in the industry.

A candid and indispensable primer on all aspects of advertising from the man Time has called "the most sought after wizard in the business".

Underhill, once a budding academic who worked on a William H. Whyte project analyzing how people use public spaces, adapted anthropological techniques to the world of retail and forged an innovative career with the consulting firm Envirosell. Since brand names and traditional advertising don't necessarily translate into sales, Underhill argues that retail design based on his company's close observation of shoppers and stores holds the key.

If you don't have the time to read a book, at least set aside 90 minutes to watch Doug Pray's advertising documentary Art & Copy. It's fun, fast-paced, and inspiring.

Debossed text, commonly called the letterpress effect, has become a lovely trend in web design. The effect can be achieved in Photoshop entirely using layer styles. Try it yourself using these settings:

Use drop shadow to create a fine white highlight along the bottom right of your text.

Add an inner shadow to simulate the depth. Changing the distance of the shadow will exaggerate the effect.

Lastly, use a subtle dark gradient to simulate a light source.

For a more realistic look, try experimenting with a diffused outer glow in the same color as the text to soften the edges.
All QR codes used in public places are vulnerable to a hijack attack by stickers.

By generating QR code stickers that are of roughly the same dimension as the targeted advertisement’s QR code, and laying it over the original QR code, an attacker can hijack any advertisement.

Since a QR code has to be physically accessible to the user to be scanned, all QR codes are effectively vulnerable. While this attack won’t work large scale, it could be deployed in targeted high-traffic areas such as bus stops or retail locations.

Given the sudden prevalence of QR codes by retailers and advertisers, we feel its only a matter of time before hacktivists begin exploiting this flaw as a way of culture jamming.
Analytics data is great for seeing where your traffic comes from, and where it goes, but it has a blindspot in determining what a user specifically does on page. Click heat mapping logs the coordinates of where users click and visualizes them. As more users click an area, it becomes "warmer," with red indicating the areas of highest interest. For example, the heat map below tells us at a glance that our visitors are most interested in our portfolio.

(Heat map of the navigation depicting clicks of 1,764 users during a 7-day period.)

While traditional analytics data can often feel like abstract statistics, heat maps are an easy way to understand user behavior. More importantly, they can diagnose confusing design elements by showing if users are clicking something they shouldn't.

We recommend Labs Media's ClickHeat. It is open source software, released under general public license, and free of charge.
Speculative work (or spec work) is work done at no charge in the hope that it will result in paying work. We will never design on spec, and are confident that our peers won't either. Professional agencies, acting in the best interests of our clients, simply do not design on spec.

Spec work is antithetical to a successful design process as it requires that we start with visual design. Design is only one part of our process, and it certainly isn't the first step. Without first understanding the client's business goals, and their users' demographics, we can't create an informed, collaborative design.

When clients ask for spec work they are demonstrating their willingness to gamble on the success of their project while stating that they don't value our work. It is a disservice to everyone involved. Instead, we are always happy to meet with potential clients to discuss new projects, and what we've learned from our past successes.
We recently wrestled with our own official social media policy. What we realized was that it benefits us when our employees and contractors develop their own personal brands in association with our own. Rather than lock our people down with a social media policy, we instead provided them with our own suggested usages for social media.

We believe that the Draconian social media policies implemented by some businesses are based out of fear and ignorance. When organizations attempt to dictate what and how their employees express themselves online, they reveal themselves to be frightened and myopic.

Instead of engaging in information arbitrage, we recommend letting your people speak. You might be pleasantly surprised by what they have to say.

Read more of our comments in Crain's Chicago Business.
Based on three years of research including over 4,500 people, Stanford has produced a list of ten guidelines to improve the credibility of any website. We've distilled that list down to seven aphorisms we know to be true based on our own experience.

  • Show that your business is genuine with photos of your offices. Smiling stock photos hurt more than help.
  • Make it easy to contact you by listing your phone number, physical address, and email address.
  • Look professional by using a professional design that matches your brand's image.
  • Make your site both easy to use and useful to reward visitors. (Forget about flash.)
  • Keep your content fresh to show that you care. (The easiest way is with a Twitter widget.)
  • Avoid having ads on your site as they annoy users. When writing, try to sound sincere instead of promotional.
  • Avoid downtime, typographical errors, and broken links.

Source: Fogg, B.J. (May 2002). "Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility." A Research Summary from the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. Stanford University.
The importance of password security cannot be overstated. Password lists are stolen and sold every day. Right now, there are dozens of phishing emails sitting in my spam mail hoping to steal my passwords.

A secure password should consist of a seemingly random combination of letters (uppercase and lowercase), numbers and special characters. Longer is better, with eight being the acceptable minimum. It's important to choose a different password every time you register at a new site. In the event that a site is compromised, you'll need only to change your password at that one site rather than at dozens of sites.

The best way to create and recall many different passwords is to create a master password mnemonic that can be altered for every site. Let's try an exercise. Think of the chorus of your favorite song. For Michael Jackson's Thriller, the lyrics are "'Cause this is Thriller, Thriller Night." Taking only the first letter of each word (while retaining the case and special characters) we're left with 'CtiT,TN. The result is a seemingly random but easily remembered password.

Since every website we register for will require a unique password, we're going to expand on that original mnemonic by adding a unique identifier. If I were to register on dating site Plenty of Fish, I would use the same first-character methodology and append the password with !PoF resulting in 'CtiT,TN!PoF. Not only is the password unique and easily remembered, I've made it more secure by making it longer and adding another special character.