Brand shouldn’t be forgotten!

Remember your Brand is your business

In the current economic climate you might be forgiven for thinking that grappling with the complexities of your Brand are the least of your problems.

However, a strong Brand and effective management can help protect your business in tough economic times. In some cases it can even position you to take advantage of potential opportunities.

Follow the big boys example

Brand example: photo of the Apple logo

Big businesses such as Apple know this, but the same is true for us smaller guys. It’s just sometimes harder to stay committed when times are tough. Effective brands help make sure customer loyalty and protect profit margin by establishing a robust market position.
Your Brand resides within the hearts and minds of customers, clients and everyone that it comes into contact with. It is the total of their experiences and perceptions.
If delivered well and managed successfully a strong brand can offer the greatest protection during an economic downturn.

Branding is not an optional extra

The fact is, investing in strengthening your brand, is simply something you be doing in the modern business world. An economic climate which is creating pressures can even prove a positive environment for a small business with a strong brand.

So start by asking yourself these questions about your brand.
• What is our message and is it delivered clearly?
• Does it enhance our credibility?
• Is it connecting emotionally with our customers?
• Does it help motivate our market to buy?
• Is it cementing customer loyalty?

If you don’t have answers to these questions then the time has come for you to start working out what they are. As a small business do some research (the internet is a free resource) and get your management team together. Analysis the status of your brand and develop a brand strategy. If this all sounds like a mountain you’re not sure you can climb on your own, seek professional assistance. The options are wide from freelance professionals to large agencies. Your budget may play a part in your decision. But remember, that you tend to get what you pay for. Even more important than the cost is ensuring that whoever you work with has a genuine empathy for your business and a real desire to see you succeed.

Deliver on your promise

In tough economic times it is even more important to make sure that your Brand structure and presentation is effective, adaptable and agile. It is important that it remains connected across your business. That all aspects of your business from customer service to corporate communications and public relations understand the role they play in delivering your Brand promise.
This is not highbrow stuff, that only certain types or sizes of business have time for. Every business has a brand, because every business presents a promise to its customers. Whether it is, we are the best, the cheapest or trust our quality. Ensuring that your business delivers the outcome your customer needs is vital to success in competitive economic periods.
My advice. Firstly focus on strategy. Now would be a good time to take a good old fashion look at your business. Ask yourself some of those big scary questions like, who are we, and what do we really offer? Then ask yourself what do you need to do to make yourself stronger, smarter and more relevant?
Then get creative. Think and re-think opportunity, not just survival. The opportunity to change your message, your offer, almost anything about your business to achieve a positive outcome is available.

Why not make a start and review this simple PDF guide to brand for business.

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Making PDF files accessible

Accessible content

Can  PDF files be made accessible to people with visual impairment or who need assistive technology to use the internet?

A college of mine recently asked this question, above, and thought I would post my thoughts.

To use PDF or Microsoft Word files with assistive technology effectively content creators must create files that have this in mind. This essentially means that the design needs to consider the user and that the document should contain good structured and tagging. To do this each element that makes up a document needs a definition – so define text that is a top-level heading (the title of a book) separately from a sub heading and from body text using styles – tag images to give an alternative text description that indicates an image in a non visual environment.

Design and publishing tools such as Adobe InDesign and Microsoft Word do deliver help in creating well structure documents, using style sheets and tagging tools, some of which is automatic. However to achieve a high quality solution this task needs considering fully as part of the process of creating the document file.

It is perfectly possible to take a PDF and complete all the tasks required to create an accessible file using Adobe Acrobat Professional or the newer version Acrobat X (please note this refers to the full editing versions of this software and not the free reader only options available). However, creating fully accessible documents using Adobe InDesign and Acrobat or Microsoft Word is still a pretty complex task. To be cost-effective it really needs building into the process from an early stage via templates in my opinion. The latest version of Adobe InDesign CS5.5 is reducing the need to complete tasks separately in Acrobat by allowing preparation in the source InDesign file. These preparations transfer into in the PDF without issue, something which is a vast improvement on older versions. The new features of Adobe CS5.5 are explained in two great videos found at the Adobe TV learning resource.

My knowledge of Microsoft Word is not as strong but my understanding is that while Word generally produces well structured content, achieved by using the built-in style sheets, there is still a need address images and make adjustments to make sure the PDF is of a high standard. WebAIM provides this useful introduction.

In the past Adobe restricted some of the more complex tasks to Adobe Acrobat and these were a pretty manual task. This is improving with much more automation available. Acrobat X’s improved scripting and accessibility features mean that much of this could be managed using a simple workflow to help.

In addition Acrobat Reader actually delivers many accessibility features which people do not realise. For example the accessibility preference settings in Acrobat allow the display of coloured text in black on white no matter what colour the text or background are. This effectively means that even documents with poor colour contrast are accessible (although I would always promote this being considered as part of the general design). It also allows for text to reflow allowing the increase of text size  without the need to scroll horizontally (with good tagging applied). Acrobat also includes a read out loud function which will correctly read a PDF if  tagged properly, meaning that alternative screen reader software is not required. This is I believe essentially how Commercial Screen Readers work also. I have very limited experience of screen readers but it seems that most users find a solution that works for them. Hence the reason I sometimes get requests for a Word version for use with screen readers. In most cases this is simply because the user knows how to use their screen reader with Word, rather than it necessarily being more effective than a PDF. Screen Readers essentially use the document structure and tagging to read out or display the content in an alternative way. They will include the ability to use tab keys and quick keys to navigate the document something that Acrobat does as well. There are many Screen Reader Software packages, some of which are Open Source, a popular commercial package being JAWS. Macs come with a built-in screen reader called VoiceOver.

So the answer is basically yes, but it’s still not that straight forward. Thankfully the increasing migration to mobile devices as our main source of web viewing is indirectly driving accessibility of documents up. While accessibility for a small percent of users with impairments has never been a huge driving force, the need to deliver flexible content for delivery across the widest number of platforms for the mass market is. As a result the software used to generate content must now help deliver final output which is well structured in a simple and efficient way. This is rapidly improving and will continue to do so.

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A quote for this week

The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.
W. M. Lewis