| Branding

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Here in Maine, like many states, we are facing an increasing number of referendum questions at the voting box each election season. This year in Maine, citizens are being asked to answer yes or no on five questions with topics ranging from legalizing marijuana to background checks for gun purchases to ranked choice voting, among other issues.

Like every product or service out there, referendum questions need good branding to help promote their message and gain traction. They need visuals that are meaningful and memorable.

As usual, roadways across Maine get covered with political signs in the weeks leading up to election day. What I find perplexing is the poor design techniques used by the proponents of each initiative to identify and promote their preferred choice. Here’s a sampling of the signs/logos I was able to find.

Maie 2016 Referendum question logos
Samples of the logos and signs for some of Maine’s 2016 Referendum questions.

Looking at this lot, you can learn three lessons in How Not To Do Branding.

1. No differentiation

Is there a law these groups need to use the outline of the State of Maine? It’s like they handed out the clip art when you turned in your filing signatures.

This is a frequent problem with branding. This is why so many dentists use smiles or teeth. Just like teeth are not a differentiator for dentists, showing Maine is not what will make these referendum signs memorable.

Takeaway: In your business, think less about showing what category you’re in, and more about how you’re distinct from others in your category.

2. Not the right focus

Every referendum position seems to focus on the question’s number, rather than the issue. There is an ever-increasing number of questions and they get re-used every cycle, so this just gets confusing.

While you certainly can’t summarize everything about these complicated issues into a logo, finding some sort of visual with a tagline that connects to the core issue is going to be more memorable.

Some of these groups are beginning to do that (Ex. Mainers for Fair Wages or Regulate and Tax Marijuana). But the visual hierarchy on their signs makes no sense. They need to emphasize their tagline, and de-emphasize the Question Number and the Yes/No.

Takeaway: Design has many ways to add emphasis; make it bold, bigger, more colorful, etc. Figure out which message or graphic element should be emphasized in your communications.

3. Not memorable, causes confusion

And this confusion runs deeper. As an example, I was recently reviewing someone’s LinkedIn profile and she mentioned in her experience that she was part of the successful No on 2 Campaign. I no longer remember which issue had which number and wasn’t sure what year she was referring to, so this is not a great system to be the anchor for your theme.

One year a “No on 2” may attract liberal voters and in the next it may be quite the opposite.

This also applies to web site URLs. You can’t choose NoOnOne.com as it’s being gobbled up every election cycle, not only in Maine, but across the country.

It’s too hard to build a memorable campaign around something we’ve heard before but may connect to another issue. And it’s too difficult to be memorable when every issue uses the same outline-of-the-state graphic.

Takeaway: Make sure your name, logo, mission or what you offer is easy to understand and memorable.


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