Why the mortgage industry has not learned their lesson

(Actual stack of re-fi papers generated)

A few years ago, I was cleaning out my mother’s tool shed, which had few tools but heaps of boxes filled with decades of papers. My mother doesn’t like to throw out any important papers and it’s no comfort the IRS only requires a seven-year term of record storage. In going through all this stuff, I was taken on an interesting history trip, a time when commerce has fascinatingly simple.

I came across many receipts. One from the hardware store where every item was hand written on the receipt, no scanners or bar codes, and most things were paid for by check! The items that were rung up with credit cards were swiped with those roll over imprinting gadgets. Yet what struck me especially were some home loan documents.

I came across a skinny folder titled Home Mortgage. I thought to myself this folder was purged of extra stuff’ cause it only held two or three sheets of paper. A one-page contract agreement and a deed of trust. There probably was another sheet of paper as an application, but that was it. I asked my mother if there was more somewhere and she said, “no, it’s how they did it back then.” Sign here and sign there. Done! Your house is financed.

Refinancing a property or getting a home loan today is a very different experience indeed – an experience filled with documents and signatures and collecting statements that don’t have much bearing on whether or not you’ll be a deadbeat and default on your loan. Remembering my mother’s folder, I thought I’d use the recent refinancing of our home to contrast. I decided I would count the number of signatures and how many sheets of paper generated to complete the process.

Our initial loan docs had a loan application, a good faith estimate and a sea of disclosures. These added up to 43 signatures on 60 sheets of paper! Keep in mind we are both on the loan so it totaled 86 signatures. Wow! Then after a couple months of statement collecting, you get final loan docs for closing, and you do it all over again. At closing I counted one more: 44 signatures, but I think I was only losing my mind, not to mention my hand cramping up. This round had a bonus: initials, so I counted them too.

To sum up:

Preliminary docs-
86 signatures on 60 sheets of paper.

Final docs-
88 signatures and 32 initials on 80 sheets of paper.

Grand total
174 signatures, 32 initials, on 140 sheets of paper.

One loan.

This is a far cry from my mother’s three sheets of paper with a couple signatures. Yet her house did not go into default. No law suits were generated. Those sheets of paper were just as effective to close a home loan as this current madness.

No wonder we are having the problems we are having today. People don’t know what they are signing! Who has time to read all this? The poor loan officer would be there for 10 hours at least if you actually review what you sign at closing.

The banks used this complex loan process, then lumped them with millions more complicated loans, packaged them together and sold them as derivatives. No wonder we’re in such a mess if that is how our world’s economy was gambled upon. I’m no expert on the financial crisis, but as a simple observer of one home refinance, I clearly see what a mess it is.

So does all this paperwork protect us from future disasters and melt downs? Not at all. The banks and financial institutions are destined to repeat the same damn thing. I actually read what I signed and most of it is silly nonsense with no real protections or improvements from their last mistakes. As one loan officer put it to me, “it’s just people covering their butts.”

Some contracts are better simple…before those lawyers got involved.

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Bad Billboard = Bad Investment

Bad Billboard = Bad Investment
billboard 3
Most billboards are poorly designed because client companies do one of two things. They cram as much information in as will fit—to get their money’s worth. Or they recycle their current print ad irrespective of format. They think they’re saving money. They think wrong. They are tossing it right out their company car window.

Sure, billboards are expensive, yet you must always design for the medium and the environment. Most are seen by drivers, giving you a split second to communicate your product, message and brand. If people look much longer, they crash. Clearly most choose instead to ignore your ad and avoid physical injury.

Keeping your message short and simple, yet compelling and memorable, is difficult. That’s why most billboards stink.

Without covering a well thought out ad campaign and strong design, here are the three things that make an effective billboard:

- Use one image or hook to intrigue the reader (driver)
- Limit copy to one or two lines, and one message
- Play up your brand identity and company name

One image.
Find one that is eye-catching yet appropriate to the message. If it’s a consumer product that is visually interesting – like POM’s bottle – terrific. If you’re a law or accounting firm, tie your message to something relevant and/or current. If you can’t find a great image, design an arresting text-only billboard.

One of our favorites was an E*trade billboard with two lines of text presented in their corporate colors. We saw it 10 years ago and still remember its seven words:

A penny saved…
Is not a lot

One or two lines, one message.
Be brief. Clever, but not cute. No puzzles that rely on “Oh, now I get it” moments. That may work in print, yet here your reader is speeding by, watching the road. Present one message. Don’t list features and benefits. A driver can’t even write down your phone number, so omit that too.

Brand identity.
Place your company logo or brand identity in an open, uncluttered area, a logical spot for the eye to go after reading your short message. Or place your logo first, and LARGE, followed by a message telling the reader exactly what you do.
bondepus billboard 2
Remember, you may do 10 things well, but your billboard can present only one of them. Be humbled that driver heading for work remembers one thing about your company or product. One message received and your billboard is worth every cent. Ten messages ignored… are worth zero.

Got a favorite billboard? Or one you drive past that leaves you cold? Tell us.

Gary Epis & Amy Bond
Bad Billboard Haters
267-239-0409 ph

Our website: www.bondepus.com
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IRS = Internal Rampant Stupidity

IRS Confusion

While we all know it’s no fun dealing with the IRS, an agency hardly synonymous with “efficiency,” unfortunately every American taxpayer must. Any business run like the IRS would be out of business. Even the largest, clumsiest of corporations perform better than them. Certainly we’ve all had a frustrating encounter with the IRS, and the one that just happened to us truly illustrates how totally incompetent they are. Normally I write about branding, design and business issues yet this is something we all can relate to.

We did our taxes and sent in our forms with an enclosed check. Taxes done. Huge relief. Now we can get on with doing productive things, until…here comes a letter from the IRS. This can’t be good. Anyone get a letter from the IRS? Did you dare open it? No, it just sits there in the pile of mail like a really bad bill. At some point you slit it open to see if you are about to be audited, or hauled off to jail. Fear rushes up the back of your neck as you read these wonderful words.

“Failure to pay proper estimated tax.”

Uh oh, so we blew it somewhere. Let’s see what they say we did wrong. In their billing summary I see fines, I see interest charges and I see we failed to pay the penalty! Terrific, we just got the notice and already we’ve failed to pay the penalty! Hey IRS, can you give me a day or two before fining me for not paying the fine. Wow.

So here is what we did wrong, bad citizens that we are.

We over paid the IRS $2!

Guilty! No more hiding. We are indeed among those horrible taxpayers that are out to cheat the IRS. Instead of crediting or writing us a check for $2, they fined us once, then again in the same letter for not paying the first one. Did they think we were slipping them a $2 bribe? It gets better.

We got charged interest on our overpayment! How is it when you give someone too much money they can charge $3.48 in interest? Shouldn’t they pay us interest for holding our money?

In the end the bill was only $15.27. The whole thing is completely ridiculous yet for 15 bucks I’m not going to argue with them. We all have better things to do so we paid it. Story doesn’t end yet.

A day after drafting this post, I got an unexpected refund check from the IRS—for  $15.28, noting $.01 interest. For all this I got paid 1 cent, the post office got paid $1.35 and the tax payer lost in every way.

Surely people have experienced much worse dealing with the IRS than this. What are some of the “fun” experiences you’ve had with them? I wonder, could any other business operate this way and be successful? Not a chance.

Gary Epis & Amy Bond
Tax Overpayers

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Great product with great design = a great new brand!

crisp & grains logoOne of the most satisfying aspects of our work is helping our clients grow and succeed – even after our design work is complete. Especially when we work with a client in startup mode, we want to make connections and give introductions and cheerlead long after the work is finished.

Which brings me to a new company and partner we’d like to introduce: Crisp&Grains.

Crisp&Grains (crispandgrains.com) provides the gluten free community with great tasting, convenient, wholesome foods. And it’s not only for people with gluten issues, it’s for people looking for healthy alternatives to typical snack foods. And yes, we’ve tasted them. Hence the crumbs on my shirt.

A few key pieces from our Brand Positioning Statement and Design Brief.

Target Audience:
Primarily people who suffer from gluten allergies who need to avoid certain grains to maintain a healthy diet. C&G provides a simple yet wholesome food to enhance the gluten free lifestyle. Other groups are people who are looking for healthy alternatives to typical (less healthy) snack foods. C&G tastes good, low in sugar, no fat, and has no dairy. This is attractive to both groups.

A modern, current company founded on going back to basics. Use contemporary design aesthetics and convey simple wholesome & healthy. Recall a time when you could read and understand the ingredients in a product.

Competitive positioning:
We are the only whole grain gluten free bar on the market providing sustainable nutrition without all of the sugars and processed starches found in other bars.   A health food product for people with gluten allergies who want choice without sacrificing taste and health.  In a word, inclusion.

Brand promise:
Wholesome gluten free snacks that taste good and can be enjoyed by all.Very modern ampersand symbol that within it, a stylized “C” and “G” for Crisp and Grains. Symbol hints at an infinity loop representing wholeness and sustainability. Font is classic Goudy tying it back to a more traditional time. A very clean and simple design.

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I read that article on which billionth website?

Like most of us I surf the web to gather information, research companies and find products and services. Yet with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, the blogosphere and much more available, I constantly struggle to remember exactly where I’ve read specific things.

I’ll tout something I’ve read by offering facts and figures, but too often when people ask where I learned all that, I haven’t a clue and can’t find it again. If I were to keep track, the number of bookmarks would become burdensome. You know those headlines at the top of LinkedIn? They suck me in every day. Are you following anyone on Twitter? Such links send you to engaging websites, most providing good reading, but how many of us accurately remember where we went or can cite the source of what we read?

Just as I regret not recalling who wrote an article, I imagine that many of you reading this post will not remember me. (That’s okay, I completely understand!) Funny, I usually can’t even remember which machine I read an article on. Desktop? Laptop? Smartphone? It’s impossible to keep track and stay sane!

I’ve gained knowledge over the years from schools, books, seminars, webinars, colleagues/friends, and, yes, blogs and websites. Where I learned what, though, sure gets tough to trace over my 14-year-career as a graphic designer.

Interestingly, the sources I remember best are those found in books or physical newspapers I’ve read. There is something about print that stays with me. The why is not my area of expertise, but I believe that it’s because we cannot link to other places when reading hard copy. We stay with the writer, in the moment, and can’t bounce around at will. This helps our brain concentrate and furthers our retention. Print certainly sacrifices the potential reach of online, but the fact is, if I read it on paper, the source sticks better.

Just me, or do you feel the same? Chime in, please, market researchers in particular.

The Internet has connected us in so many ways. On it we discover amazing things, but with billions of websites linked, it’s growing tough if not impossible to reference information a second time. Today the Internet is so rich with content, so current, so fast that it becomes a disposable product. You read it once. You toss it.

It makes you wonder: Maybe we are not expected to remember.

Gary Epis
Bondepus Design

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Let me off the phone! Your customer service is hurting your brand.

Have you ever had a positive experience with a Customer Service employee suddenly turn annoying near the end of the call? You know, the “Thank you so much for calling XYZ company, Number One in customer service…Is there anything else I can help you with? …I’d like to wish you a happy and joyful day, and a wonderful weekend too, and kiss your kids and pet your dog.”

“Uhhh, no thanks…bye.” Click.

What just happened? You morphed from someone who got help, resolved an issue and had a positive experience to an impatient person now thinking, “Oh god, please shut up and let me get off the phone.”

We’ve all been there. It’s not the rep’s fault. They are told to recite that bloated customer service script because doing so is company policy. Well, it shouldn’t be. Such mindless banter reflects poorly on your company and, especially, on your brand.

Here is why:

It’s not authentic—It’s too canned. Nobody believes it because nobody likes phony baloney.

It’s too fast—It’s so long and rambling that it’s uncomfortable for any listener to follow or respond to. Your rep, sensing discomfort, talks even faster just to get through it all.

It’s confusing—Just as the natural flow of the call reaches its ‘goodbye’ stage and it’s time to hang up, the senseless verbiage begins.

Parting impression—Leave your customers happy, satisfied and on a high note, not with a final impression of Buzz off, I’m done with you.

So why do Customer Service managers make their poor employees spew out this nonsense when the more often one repeats a lifeless line, the more canned it sounds. Sure, they want employees to be friendly and represent the company in a consistent fashion. Every brand should strive for that. Yet they should focus on hiring caring people who want to help, then letting them interact within a brand’s personality. Teach them what your brand represents and promises, what its traits are, then let them interact authentically and personably. A simple Thank you, if genuine, works wonders.

Candidly, cut the crap. Stop using these ridiculous closing scripts, painful for both parties to endure. Remember, the people calling are your customers. Honor them.

What do you think? Do these scripts enhance or inhibit the customer’s experience? What are some of your experiences?

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Business identity is not an art project

Creating business and brand identity are often considered art by business people and designers alike. It is not. Business identity is a visual, bridge-building tool that helps companies sell their products and services. The overall goal pinning down why it’s a good idea to invest in identity is to sell either a company’s product, its ethos or, if it’s a non-profit organization, its mission.

Sure, there is much more to it and many sub-considerations, but when the initial conversation is about favorite colors and Oh by the way, can we have a big eagle swooping down in the logo, well then, things have veered dangerously off track at the outset. Hit the brakes, turn around and refocus.

A proper identity project indeed entails a creative process, and assumes years of refined skills which enable a designer to do it right. The end product must look great and be well executed. That part is artistic. But how do you know if it is right?  Start by understanding the client, their customers, their industry and their market. What is it about them that’s unique? What makes them great? What is their key messaging, and to whom?

The goal is to design visuals that encompass everything in their business. This one image will come to represent who they are, what they do, how they act, what they stand for and, of course, the products that they sell. It’s not art; rather, it’s the face of the company, and needs careful consideration to properly mix that company’s positioning and personality.

To sum up, this is a business project centered on the goal of your clients to sell their products and services. Your task is to help companies grow by giving them the proper visual tools to achieve that goal. It’s not something they will frame and hang over a mantel.

Being close to Thanksgiving, let us take this opportunity to wish everyone a great gobble gobble!

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One Image, a Few Q’s Justify a Professional Business ID

Let’s pretend you are remodeling your kitchen. The first thing you might do is ask friends for referrals and get a few names. Next, you jump online to do some research about them.

And let’s suppose you find:

Why your company needs a professional identity

Based on what you see:

  • Which company looks like it does higher-quality work?
  • Does one look more experienced than the other?
  • Are you confident each will be in business in a few years if issues arise?
  • Who will most likely finish the work on time, not stranding you without a kitchen?

No, we are not suggesting that anyone choose a business based solely on its logo. But when a homeowner starts researching and comparing options, the image your business projects can grab her attention and direct her initial perceptions about the type of company you are. These are make-or-break perceptions—about your company’s size, success, reliability, financial stability, service and quality—all based on what the shopper sees. True, this process may not always be fair and reasonable, but it’s how we all operate. It is, after all, human nature.

You didn’t happen to answer “Boyd,” did you?

While Boyd may in fact be the better company, the hard wiring in our brain tells us otherwise, probably they’re not. They just don’t look “right.” This can happen any day, with most any company. And the hard lesson is, if you haven’t invested in a professional business identity, you are probably losing business to competitors that have.

The ones that have made a proper investment look appealing, and there is inherent credibility in the effort and expenditure required to look that way. People see them as established & professional. That builds trust. Conversely, companies like Boyd are seen as higher risk and less reliable. Boyd will have to compete on price to win business because our gut tells us they are not as good or dependable. In order for us to go with (i.e., gamble on) them, we’ll expect a much lower price.

Few companies want clients like that.

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Does Google’s Brand Dominance Risk Dilution through Growth?

I don’t need to explain what Google is, right? It’s simply the best search engine on the planet. Everyone agrees on that. Search is still what we think of when we hear “Google it”—a simple, clutter-free page that gets right to the point for doing a search online. Google has such a strong brand here that, they own this category. Is anyone using Bing these days? Or Ya-who?

Yet Google increasingly does so much else, its business model risks getting messy. Who are they in the minds of their huge audience? Doing everything is never an asset for brand positioning.

When I searched Google products on Wikipedia I stopped counting at 50, with a long way to go. (Here is the list if you’re curious. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Google_products)

Consider this dizzying array of products:
Android – smart phone operating system
Google SketchUp – a 3D illustration software
Google Phone or Google Talk
Google TV
Google + social media site
Google music – set to launch this year
Google Deals- coming soon because Groupon turned down their offer.
Blogger – which will soon change to Google blogs
Picasa – photo organization and editing application
Jaiku – Twitter knockoff
Google Chrome – web browser

Do any of these sound like Google Search?

Obviously, Google still has a very strong brand—no question there—but the path they are heading in may dilute it, making them more like Microsoft. Could they become a big tech giant with its hand in so many places and still be great at them all? Case in point, Google T.V. is a major flop, and Google Plus is likely to follow.

So far Google’s largely sticking to technology and many of their new products are logical brand extensions. That’s good. They at least didn’t open a bakery or start selling insurance. Companies strive to have people know who they are, know what they do and then understand that they do it well. That is powerful. Google is absolutely the best with search, but as they grow they must be careful not to water down their brand equity. It’s a tough balance, growing steadily while staying true to initial brand strength.

So what is Google today…and what will it mean to us in a year or two?

Let’s hope that as they attempt to buy companies like Groupon, Google asks themselves not just how does this move affect our bottom line, but how does it affect our top-of-mind brand. Otherwise, the next time someone says Google it, you might have to ask, Do you want me to call you? Channel surf my T.V? Write a blog post? Make a 3D model? Or… Google it how?

We always love hearing your comments, so keep them coming. Hope you had a fun summer!

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Tommiland – how a design hits the mark

The July fourth holiday condensed our month, and we’re behind on writing our newsletter/blog post. So instead of being late, we’d like to share one of our current design projects for our client Tommiland.

We’re proud of our work and love sharing it, so we may start sprinkling in a few examples between posts. What do you guys think of this idea?

A little about our client
Tommiland is Tommi West, a technical writer for all materials related to web design. Her focus is ensuring the success of users with software products. She’s authored books, re-written an entire knowledgebase of articles, created learning guides, developed numerous how-to tutorials for Adobe.com, and developed sample project files to help web designers and developers accomplish specific tasks. If you need a technical writer, let us know, and we’ll do a personal introduction.

Brand personality traits
Creative, technical, accurate and reliable.

Brand promise
Tommiland grasps technical information quickly and organizes it into easily digestible documentation.

The solution
The new identity incorporates T & L for Tommiland within a mosaic. The letters are neither hidden or obvious. They represent the integration of complicated concepts into a larger whole – in a clear, accurate, comprehensible way. The identity’s professionalism  and polish conveys that they are a trusted and dependable firm.

We also discovered in our process a tagline that boiled up from Tommi’s own subconscious: Passionately Rational. The client said it in the line of conversation and we stopped her, “wait what was that? That’s perfect.”

The result
“I just saw the Tommiland business cards for the first time… and they are STUNNING! I am so thrilled – they are perfect and so professional.

I got a call from another department at Adobe for a potential new gig. I’m meeting with them next Tuesday, so now I can hand the Product Manager my new card and totally impress them.”

As this project shows, we dig deep to understand and clearly communicate our client’s brand strategy, brand positioning and story. We always love hearing your comments, so keep them coming. Have a fun summer!

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