How To Create A Rocking Brand with Col Gray

Branding is everything in business. It’s your identity. However, sometimes we don’t always consider all the factors that influence what your brand is. Col Gray rocks in this interview as he breaks it down for us with solid advice on how to do it THE RIGHT WAY.I hope you enjoy. If you have any questions at all, comment below or reach out on social either with Col (@pixelsink) or myself(@ChloeForbesK).

We’d love to hear from you!

 
 

Transcription

Chloë:

Hello and welcome. Can you tell how excited I am today? That is because I am interviewing the one and only Col Gray. Col Gray is the creative genius behind Pixels Ink, a graphic and brand design company based in Dundee. He makes magic with pixels, and when he’s not playing pixel maker he’s entertaining the fans as a rock and metal DJ. Tell me that you’re not excited to meet him. Let’s do it.

Hi, Col, and welcome to this interview. Thank you so much for agreeing to do it, you’re one of the coolest people I know. I’ve got skull scarf on just for you.

Col:

I know! Wicked! You’re looking very rocker today.

Chloë:

I had to make an effort, I’m the most un-rocker person there is, so I dug out this scarf especially.

How are you?

Col:

Thanks for having me on, it’s always a pleasure to speak to you!

Chloë:

Likewise, likewise.

This is why I invited you on: You are, as I said, one of the coolest graphic designers I know, but your YouTube channel has been amazing. As somebody who creates graphics, I’m not professional at all, I’m learning so much from it.

I wanted to invite you on and the first thing I have to ask you is, what is it about graphic design that you love so much? Because that’s something that really comes across, your passion for what it is that you do.

Col:

I’ve always been drawing and stuff, ever since I was a kid. But I’ll be honest here, I can’t draw. And that’s the thing, people confuse graphic designers with people that can draw. I’m terrible at drawing. My life-drawing classes, at university and stuff,  really bad.

I’ve always loved design and I’ve always loved looking at design, and to be honest I’m a people person and I find design makes people happy. If they’re looking for something and you give them that, and just the look on their face when you’ve done a good job for them, it’s the best feeling in the world. I’m very much a people pleaser, so that’s my detriment, but that’s pretty much it. Design’s just always been there for me, and it’s always been a good fallback. Just love it.

Chloë:

That’s wonderful.

Col:

Love it for me, love it for other people.

Chloë:

huge part of branding, right? A huge part of that.

Col:

It is. You’ve got to connect with people.

Chloë:

Exactly. I think that this is where there’s a little bit of confusion, because people still think of branding, if you say, “What’s branding?”, it’s your logo and your name.

Col:

Yeah.

Chloë:

Given that your first answer is about people and it’s about connecting with people, how would you define branding?

Col:

You’re right, you’ve hit the nail on the head. People do think branding is purely visual. And it’s not. Jeff Bezos from Amazon probably said it better, when he said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”.

Yes, you can have your logo sitting on a board in a room, but it doesn’t say anything about you. What are they saying about you? And when I say “you”, you could be a one-person business or you could be a massive global company, they will still talk about “you”, whether it’s an individual or not.

It’s every single touchpoint that you have with your customers. Did you answer the phone on Monday morning in a grumpy mood because you don’t like Monday mornings? That’s going to affect your brand. Is there space in your car park when they turn up to have a meeting with you? Is it going to annoy them if they’ve got to go pay for parking rather … Every single thing is your brand.

The logo is what I would class as a visual trigger for your brand. They’ll see your logo and what they will do is, they will either go, “Oh, they were lovely on the phone the other day”. Or they’ll go, “Oh, that’s that person that was so grumpy when they were on the phone”. Your logo is a trigger, and you need it to trigger nice thoughts. The only way you can do that is to have nice touch points.

I hate using the word touchpoint, I hate using buzzwords, but sometimes they come out. Especially when you’re being interviewed, you get all business.

So, yeah, touch points. Basically anytime you meet someone or they have an interaction with your brand, whether it be through your product or a service, or one of your staff, or whatever. Brand is huge. Brand isn’t your brochure, brand isn’t your flyer, brand isn’t your business card. That’s just a small part of it.

Brand is … I did a video the other day on my channel, saying, “What is the key to your brand? What’s the key thing in your brand?”. And the answer was you. You are the key thing in your brand. You control it all, you are the one that sets the tone of how it will be, so you need to get it right and then everything else will come from that.

Chloë:

That’s huge. It’s a totally different way of thinking of it, right? Because really, it’s the whole experience that you’re providing. I had Ali McGill on a few weeks ago, and he was talking about customer experience.

Col:

Exactly.

Chloë:

And a lot of what you’re saying is tying into that as well.

Col:

There’s huge cross-over between mine and Ali’s disciplines and between the two of us. I’m a designer so people will just presume I want to push design all the time, but I’ve had clients come to me where they’re not ready for the design, and we’ve ended up just talking about what strategy they need to do before they get to the design.

Sometimes people think logo is the first thing they need, but you can start your business and two years down the line you’ll have completely changed, because you’ve evolved as you’re … “Oh, maybe this is what we’ll do”. So sometimes getting a logo at the start isn’t a great thing. Sometimes you should start going and then visit a designer once you’re solidified in what your brand is, you’ve got a better idea by that point. I’m talking myself out of a job, but I’m honest.

Chloë:

No, but you’re right. It’s one of the biggest things. I was exactly the same when I started, I was like, “I have to have a business name, I have to have a logo. This is the most important thing.” And like you were saying, you establish your brand as who you are and the overall experience you’re providing, emotional connection. So I almost feel like your brand comes over time and it’s developed over time, based on what you’re saying.

Col:

It is. Some people at the very beginning have a solid picture of how they want their brand to be, and that’s great. But some people if they come to speak to me, and they’re like, “Well, I’m not sure, maybe I want to have some staff later on, maybe it’ll just be me.” And they’re like, “Well, you’re not really sure. If we design a brand identity now to represent you as your business, and then in two years’ time you bring staff on, how do you see your brand changing, if at all? Will it stay the same, same message, same ethos? Or will you try bring in the personalities of the staff? That will change your brand.”

It’s these kind of questions you need to ask at the start, before you take on board any project. There’s a lot that needs to be done, it’s not just pencils on paper, “[inaudible 08:09], there’s a lovely picture for you, why don’t you take that.” And some people are happy with that, but that’s not a good service from a designer. A designer should really ask the tough questions, and if the client isn’t ready the client should be told, “You’re not ready for a brand mark yet. Go away and have a re-think, and then come back.”

Chloë:

That’s the best way, though. It comes back to serving versus selling, and ultimately you’re providing value to them, even if you say to them, “You need to go away and think about this stuff. You’re not ready for that yet.”

Col:

That’s valuable in itself. They may not have spent money, or a large amount of money when there’s a consultation fee or whatever, but it’s better to not spend a mass of budget and then two years down the line, or even six, twelve months down the line, go, “Oh my god, we need to change this, this isn’t us.”

Chloë:

I guess this is where that quote comes in, I think it’s, “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, try hiring an amateur.”

A lot of people who spend their money on Fiverr and other places and get the cheap version, and then as you say, later down the line you’re kind of stuck.

Col:

I tend not get into this sort of a Fiverr and 99designs discussions, because I’m on a bit of a crusade to try and get the public at large to value graphic design as a professional service. I think over the years with everybody and their nephew getting a copy of Photoshop and saying, “I’m not going to pay that, I’ll get Stephen to do it. He’s got some design stuff.” And it’s getting graphic designers to be put in the same bracket as chartered accountants or … It’s an important service for your business, it’s not just pretty pictures.

Don’t get me wrong, Fiverr and such are good for certain things, and I do encourage some of my clients to go and use Fiverr because some of the things is not worth paying a lot of money for, when they’re just little things that you need. You maybe need a Facebook cover or just something like that. Fiverr is great for that type of thing, but I would never say, use it for your brand identity. Might look great, “Ooh, I have limited design choices and concepts for $29.” Who’s running off money like that, that’s just not right.

Chloë:

With that being said, because we all know, you should definitely hire a professional graphic designer if you can, but for businesses who maybe are starting out and that are watching this and are thinking, “Oh, I’ve got to think about more than a logo, but I don’t really have money to go and hire a professional even if I do value them.” What would [crosstalk 11:12] to get them started, especially if they’re kind of bootstrapping it and trying to do it themselves?

Col:

Obviously my first piece of advice would be to hire a professional. But if you haven’t got a budget, the second thing I would say, like I’ve mentioned before, is don’t rush into it. Give yourself three, six, twelve months, and over that time keep setting aside some money. Treat it as a proper part of your business plan. It might be that nine, twelve months down the road you’ve saved up enough and you’ve got a clearer image.

But really, if money is that tight, then I would say that you should still find a designer that would do a brand consultation with you. They may still charge a fee for that and it’s becoming a more popular service for a lot of designers, because it means that you can still give valuable information to the client, so that they’re not going away making a mistake. So I would say, speak to a designer and see if they’ll offer a strategy session or something. Even an hour, or a half day, would be really helpful to anyone that’s thinking, “I can’t really afford that service.”

Also, shop around. There are professional designers out there that don’t charge a huge amount; there are some that charge thousands and thousands and thousands, but there will be reasons for that. People that are charging thousands and thousands and thousands aren’t just doing it because they feel they can, they will have the expertise and the backup to say … And you’ll probably know this when you start speaking to them, whether they know what they’re talking about or not. And then you just ask to look at their portfolio, and if you can, ask to speak to some of their clients. How’ve they felt the branding process worked for them. That’s really as good as you’re going to get.

Just don’t run away and go, “I’ll do it myself.” Speak to the designer, I’m sure most of them will be more than happy to help. And as you say, it’s more of a service thing than a selling thing for the designer to be able to give you advice, and then you maybe go away and you think about it. But chances are you probably will go back to that designer, so they’re doing well by you because they hope you will do well by them in the long run. If you don’t come back, from my perspective, if the client doesn’t come back at least I know I’ve done the right thing and I’ve given them good advice, so they should have enough information to get a good service from whoever they go with. That’s what I would say in that instance.

Chloë:

It’s really, really interesting, because first off I think that even if they don’t come back to you, I think when you treat your customers in that way and genuinely show you care and are honest and transparent, they might not go to you but they’ll still maybe recommend you to friends.

Col:

Yeah, that’s happened. That’s totally happened. I’ve had some great clients and some large clients from that. It’s the networking thing, or non-networking, you’re building good karma with people and it comes back to you. If you build bad karma by trying to rip people off, that will come back to you as well.

You just got to know that you’re doing the right thing, and you might be on bread and water for the next couple of months, but you know that you’ve doing the right thing and you should reap the rewards of that in the future. It’s a waiting game sometimes, but for me, my business is eleven years old and it’s been a slow curve. A slow, slow curve. Just in the last year that curve started to kind of peak up, because I’ve built long term relationships with people that aren’t paying clients, but they’ve referred people to me because they get on well with me, and I think that’s the best way to do it.

Chloë:

It’s that customer lifetime value thing, right? There’s two different approaches to business, and you could see very clearly that people that attract … You attract your type as they say [inaudible 15:41]. But it’s people that adopt it from a place of … They’re not interested in making lots of money for the sake of making lots of money, they usually have a passion and they want to serve people, and the fact that they can monetize it is wonderful, but it’s focused on the long term clients and making sure that you really do good by them.

Col:

And surrounding yourself not with just the right clients, but surrounding yourself with the right people. And I’ve only really done that in the past … Not disrespecting anyone that’s known me for longer two years, I don’t mean it that way, but I found the right business group for me. It’s just made me do things, like YouTube channels and blogs, which I would never have done, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do it.

The support that you get from that, it’s made a massive difference. I’m talking to you, I’m being interviewed. It’s these little things that make you go, “Yeah, I’ve done this the right way. It’s been slow, but done it the right way.” There’s no things behind that.

Chloë:

I think that’s huge, I think it’s huge when it comes to branding. I know that one of the biggest things that I’ve heard when people come it me is, “Oh, I had web designer, I had a graphic designer and they just disappeared. I’ve spent all this money.” You just haven’t found the right one. Once you find the right people to surround yourself with, it’s huge.

I think that you summed that up really, really well, in the fact that most people would say … well, not most, I don’t want to make the assumption. A lot of people would give cheap options, and you’re saying, “You know what, hang off. Because if you’re going to do it, do it right.”

Col:

Yeah.

Chloë:

If you were to give one tweet-able piece of advice, if you had to sum up everything or pick on one point that we’ve discussed, what would that be?

Col:

Just be conscious of your brand, of you. Just be conscious what you’re doing when you’re going out and networking or not-networking. And just try to be helpful. Helpful brands are the best brands.

Chloë:

That’s the truth bomb, right there.

Col:

It’s like I said about the logo being the trigger, when someone sees your logo you want them to have that little inner smile. And maybe they go, “Why, you’ve got a great brand there”, they’ll just go, “Yeah. They’re good guys.” And that’s what you want from it.

And I’ve got one little note here that I just want to say as well, because I don’t want to leave people thinking that, “Oh, I’ve got to use a professional.” When we talked about what would someone do if they really couldn’t afford to go … And they were adamant that they wanted to get a logo done. I would say my one piece of advice would be: If you’re going to do it yourself, don’t try and do what most people would think is a logo, which is an icon. People try to be too clever with that, and if you’ve not got the skills and you’re not trained as a designer, it will come off really badly.

So what to do, just pick a nice font, pick a nice typeface, and write your business name in a nice typeface. Maybe a secondary typeface and stick with that for a year or two. Then you’ll have those two years of finding your feet, knowing what your brand is, and then go to a designer and get your brand mark done.

Just a font is known as word mark, and if you want a little icon with it then that’s a brand mark. A word mark would be Coca Cola, Facebook or Google. They’re all really distinctive. Because some people might think, “I’m not just using a font, that’s boring.” But it can still be totally … Mine is just a font. Because I didn’t want to over-complicate it. It’s me. I don’t have a clever icon to attract business. That’s where the whole helpful service comes in. People know, they see the word and “PI” or Pixels Ink, and I like to think that they’ve got that little, “Oh, he’s a good guy.”

Chloë:

Yeah. It’s that thing again, where brands develop over time, right? So what starts as what you think of as just a font or whatever, it can become anything. Look at Coca Cola. It is huge, people don’t ever say, “It’s just a font.”

Col:

No, and it’s marketed, and it’s billions. Your logo will never be instantly recognisable when you create it. It takes years to build up the brand recognition. You don’t need to have that super clever, “Oh look, there’s a hidden mammoth in that logo”, or whatever it is. It can just be really simple because it’s about what you do with the brand that gets the recognition, it’s not necessarily about the logo. The logo helps, if you have a really nice logo that helps trigger a message or whatever, then that’s great as well, but logos can be very straightforward. Then you can develop as you go on. Just don’t be Pepsi compared to Coca Cola.

Chloë:

Good piece of advice.

Col:

Pepsi don’t know what they are. They’re the choice of a new generation, and then they’re not, and then they are, but they’re something else … Have a clearer message than Pepsi.

Chloë:

That’s such good advice. Everything you shared is such good advice. Thank you so much.

I do have one final question. It’s the most important question I have to ask. Because when I think of Col Gray, when I think of Pixels Ink and any of their branding, I think of two things. I think of cap, and I think of the beard. I should have brought my hair extensions out, so I’d have my fake beard.

Col:

You should have brought your hair.

Chloë:

That’s what I should have done.

So I have to ask you, if you had to give up the cap, and we know what’s underneath the cap; you have to give up the cap, or you have to give up the beard, for six months, what would you choose?

Col:

Cap.

Chloë:

You’d give up the cap and you’d keep the beard?

Col:

Yeah.

Chloë:

Good choice, good choice.

Col:

Because after six months I can put a cap straight back on my head again. If I shave this, that’s four years of having to regrow.

Chloë:

Hard work. I should have said forever, I should have chosen forever.

Col:

No, see, you can’t change your six months.

Chloë:

Can I go back on it now?

Good answer. Good answer. Thank you so much, Col, for all of your advice.

Col:

You’re welcome, it was a pleasure.

Chloë:

I had such a good time, and you just shared so much goodness.

I know that everybody that is watching this is going to first want to connect with you on YouTube, because it is an amazing YouTube channel and everyone should go and subscribe to it.

But also, if there’s other places … Where should people connect with you, where are you most active on social media?

Col:

I’m most active on Facebook. I should be less active on Facebook. I’m trying to get into Twitter, I’ve never been a big Twitter user but I’m starting to get into that a bit more now. I think now that I’ve got my YouTube channel, I’m blogging, I’ve got content to share; whereas before I didn’t really have much content, I wasn’t getting anything out. It was only when I had client meetings, they would get all the content face to face. Now I’m starting to use Twitter a bit more.

Pretty much Facebook and Twitter are the place to go.

Chloë:

Awesome.

Col:

But if you really want to get my attention, leave a comment on one of my YouTube videos because there’s not much happening there just now. So I’ll definitely speak to you if you leave a comment on one my videos.

Chloë:

There you go. Heard it here first. Plug, plug, plug, plug! We’ll make sure that all the links are in there. You really should subscribe to his channel.

Col:

If you look for Pixels Col on most of the platforms, that’s generally the username that I go with, so you’ll find me.

Chloë:

Perfect. Thank you so much.

I want to end this in a cool way, is this what I’m supposed to do if I’m a rocker?

Col:

Yeah. Don’t show your thumb.

Chloë:

Don’t show my thumb?

Col:

Yeah. Rock on.

Chloë:

Perfect. Thank you so much, Col, I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Col:

You’re welcome.

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