We recently learned that longtime Brand Shepherd client, Wild Berry Incense, was featured on ION Television’s “World’s Greatest” program. Congrats to the owners and crew at Wild Berry for this great feature!

Brand Shepherd has worked with Wild Berry Incense on a number of projects including their Slim Packs and Happy Home Incense™.

This month Brand Shepherd turns 5 years old, and we are going to offer 5 blog posts over 5 days to mark our 5th year in business. Here’s what to expect:

  • Today: Thank You + Meet The Team
  • Tuesday: 5 Lessons Learned from Failure
  • Wednesday: 5 Lessons Learned from Success
  • Thursday: 5 Goals for the Next 5 Years
  • Friday: Our Startup Story

5yr_blockThank You

Before any of that gets started, though, we mark our 5th year in business with gratitude. For a lot of businesses the last five years have been very rocky, and some have had to close shop. The Great Recession provided uncertainty at best, and an unreasonable business environment at worst. Yet thanks to the people we work with, our little firm kept going, navigating our way around obstacles with loads of help from clients, peers, and friends.

So, thank you! To everyone who chose Brand Shepherd to work with, to everyone who referred us over and over, and to everyone who trusted us to build a brand shepherding relationship with your business: Thank you.

Andrea and I (Dan) are humbled when we think about it, and to be very honest with you, we thank God and pray for the people we work with and your businesses.

Meet The Team

In 2012 we sent out a survey to most of our clients and vendors to get a feel for how we are doing. The feedback was incredibly helpful. Thank you for everyone who took part in that survey.

One sentiment we heard several times was that a perception exists that Brand Shepherd is just me (Dan) with a company name for what I, alone, do. This couldn’t be further from reality, and it opened my eyes to a perception problem that I had created, since I am typically “the face” of the business. Given how hard we have worked to build a team of trusted and talented people over the years, fixing this perception became a top priority.

This website now features a page for our team, and on it you will see the people who do the bulk of the work. Brand Shepherd could not exist without these very valuable people working on everything we produce. While it’s true that I (Dan) am “the face” of the business, there’s a team working to produce great results. And in addition to these four, we have a few more designers, coders, and photographers whom we work with on many projects where a specialty skill or experience is needed.

The point is: Brand Shepherd is made up of a lot more than just me, and credit is due to the team that allows us to do what we do.


Tomorrow’s blog in this series of 5 Blogs Over 5 Days To Mark 5 Years In Business (that’s a long title!) is all about failure.

If you’ve read this blog for a while you know failure is a topic I like to write about. How much an organization or person embraces and expects failure is a direct indicator of how much success will be embraced and expected. Tomorrow’s blog entitled “5 Lessons Learned From Failure” will cover what we’ve learned from our various failures so far.

<a href=”//thenounproject.com/noun/birthday-cake/#icon-No988″ target=”_blank”>Birthday Cake</a> designed by <a href=”//thenounproject.com/grantwdesign” target=”_blank”>Grant Wilson</a> from The Noun Project


Since my last post about how Brand Shepherd is becoming mobile-first we’ve had a lot happen around here.

First: We were hacked.

We were alerted that browsers were sounding an alarm when they were pointed here at our website, and after looking at it more we saw that part of our website had been hit with malware. Normally when a website is hit with some type of hack we just revert back to the most recent, clean backup. But this time I felt that it was time to use this annoyance as an opportunity.

The now old Brand Shepherd website was taken down, and we rebuilt our website from the ground up using what we’ve been learning about mobile-first thinking.

Mobile-First: Us First.

This blog series has been all about logging the journey. The predictable process would have been to make a mobile-first change, announce it, market it, and sell it. But that is boring and predictable. As a designer, I see and know that design is 100% about process, so my goal here is to log the process of changing our way of thinking, then showing the tangibles.

This new website is the first tangible.

What you’re looking at now, no matter the device you’re on, is called a responsive designed website. Recently tech news giants BGR made the switch to responsive design, and summed it up really well:

We also wanted to design a site that reflected the current state of the web, and how everyone accesses BGR. A desktop, a tablet and a mobile phone should all provide the same website experience regardless of how you read BGR and we do that now with a website that uses responsive design. No mobile themes and no redirects to a subdomain, just the same site.”  [original post]

That is about as good an explanation of responsive web design as can be found or written. It also sums up the big idea behind mobile-first: The same experience regardless of device.

As we set out to meet with businesses and talk about their mobile strategies, and how they are positioning themselves on an increasingly mobile web I felt that Brand Shepherd needed to go through this process first. I am not a fan of folks who sell me on ideas they’ve not experienced, so it is very important that we take a “us first” approach in order to share what we learn.

The soft sell: Maybe a mobile strategy is on your mind. Maybe it’s not, and you just had an “oh, crap” moment in realizing you should have a mobile strategy. Let’s talk about it. Let’s see what we can do together to see that your visitors and users experience your web presence the same way regardless of device.

This is the first post in what I believe will be many posts regarding Brand Shepherd’s journey into becoming mobile-first in our thinking and approach to the web experiences we create. My writing style here will be very informal, and this is meant to showcase discoveries, successes, and mistakes along the way. I hope you’ll leave a comment or re-post when/if you find something interesting.

The End Of The Beginning

My personal epiphany occurred in February of 2012 when my wife – and Brand Shepherd’s CFO, Andrea Crask – and I had just put our boys to bed, and we were sitting in our living room watching Mad Men on our TV via Netflix on an Apple TV. While Don Draper and co. did their thing on-screen, my wife and I watched partially distracted by our own screens: She with her iPad and I with my iPhone. It hit my mind that maybe we were not unique or even in the minority of people who have “second screens” while enjoying some entertainment on TV.

The next day I began to research the saturation of mobile devices – how big an impact are these devices having on the web?

That’s when I discovered stats regarding how fast mobile was taking over personal computer (PCs) web usage. [A simple Google or Bing search will yield the latest stats for you – anything I post right now would be outdated a month from now.]

One phrase I began to see a lot was “mobile-first.” A quick search on twitter for use of that phrase, and #mobilefirst, gave me even more insight into what was happening: The light was coming on in a growing number of professionals’ heads that we are in the middle of a huge shift in how people use the internet. Mobile-first is new now, but in a year or three it will be considered common sense. The exciting element, the part that drew me to it, is getting in on the creation activities now – being part of the first wave to change our thinking.

I began to talk with like-minded creatives – designers, developers, content curators – all of whom were beginning to take on a mobile-first way of thinking. I then began a series of meetings with our SCORE advisor, bounced some ideas around, and decided this summer (2012) that Brand Shepherd would begin creating primarily mobile-first web experiences. The end of creating PC websites is drawing to a close.

So, what is mobile-first?

It’s thinking of a website, app, etc. in the context of a phone or tablet before thinking of it on a laptop or desktop browser. Moving forward I will be leading Brand Shepherd to create web experiences (i.e., websites, landing pages, apps, web apps, etc.) that are first and foremost designed for mobile contexts, and secondarily for personal computer contexts. We will still take on non-mobile work, but it will be the minority project type for us because mobile is taking over fast.

Next Steps

In the posts ahead in this series you can look for me to write about how I first am reorganizing our website’s content to showcase our mobile work, and also what I decide to do with regard to Brand Shepherd’s forthcoming new, mobile-first website. That second part is likely a few posts in and of itself because we need to decide between a responsive design website or a standalone mobile version of our website. That decision is one every business owner will be faced with in the next 1-2 years. I need to go through it first with us, and you get to be part of what I learn along the way.

It is likely that you’re looking at this page for one or two reasons: 1.) Your brand’s existing packaging isn’t selling well anymore, or 2.) there’s a new product and you want fresh informed eyes.

The question we must answer, then, is: Why work with Brand Shepherd for your CPG design project?

  • The value of smart design.
    Consumers are looking to brands for value, so brands need partners that provide value. Our deliverables are always designed so that they can be used as brand assets for your in-store presence, as well as on-line. By equipping our clients with digital assets that they can use in their e-commerce channels as well as their in-store channels, Brand Shepherd helps our clients get a smart ROI when they work with us.
  • We know CPG in-store and online.
    Our experience in designing for CPG is wide-ranging. Established brands look to Brand Shepherd for a refresh or line extension, and startups look to us for design that will tell the story and pop on-shelf and online.  We know that creating packaging that tells the brand story with stopping power is just as important online as in-store.
  • No egos: “Design is problem-solving; Art is self-expression.”
    The quote above hangs framed above our CEO’s desk because it embodies our approach to design. We will give you our professional, experienced advice and counsel on how your packaging should look and behave, but we also know that it’s not our business at the end of the day. We are here to create and express on behalf of the brand, not ourselves.

Every brand need a guide – a shepherd! – to make sure the brand message isn’t lost in the process of speed-to-market and value-to-consumer emphasis.

Consumer packaging design that is thoughtfully engaging, eye-catching, tasteful, and reinforces your brand’s value proposition is a must for store shelves these days. Corporate buyers are turning away packaging that has no brand backbone, and that’s why it’s important to partner with a design firm that gets it – a design firm who knows the process:

  • Knows that your corporate buyer will want a say in the design process, and plans accordingly for this…
  • Knows that you know your product better than anyone…
  • Knows that design is just one cog in the wheel of what persuades a person to buy your product – doesn’t have delusions of grandeur…
  • Knows that the brand message must be consistent and clear on the final design.

We are a great source to work with for consumer packaging. Whether selling direct to consumers strictly via e-commerce and m-commerce, or traditional retail channels, Brand Shepherd is the partner your brand will benefit from working with.

We are excited to announce that Brand Shepherd has joined the Cincinnati Chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA). Joining this organization has been on our radar for some time, but it was always a “some day, when we have time…” item on our to-do list. It’s true that we must make time for the stuff that  matters to us, and in that spirit, Brand Shepherd made time to join the Cincinnati AMA.

What attracted us to the Cincinnati AMA?

The networking potential is the obvious draw to any chapter of the AMA, but with the Cincinnati chapter what closed the deal in our minds was how active the Linkedin groups are. Once we looked into it further, we saw that the activity on Linkedin is reflective of how active this group of marketing professionals are as a whole.

The Single Interest Groups (SIGs) were a big draw as well. “Marketing” is such a huge umbrella. It contains branding pros, advertising pros, creatives, writers, buyers, and myriad other professionals, each fitting into various niches. With the Cincinnati AMA SIGs we get to break into smaller groups for focused presentations and discussions. The smaller groups also make networking easier.

Seminars and the monthly luncheon were also part of what attracted us to the Cincinnati AMA. We looked at who was presenting, and on what topics – it was a no-brainer: It’s quality information being shared that is of immediate use to those who attend.

We have been part of other organizations such as chambers of commerce and business associations, yet they have not been the right fit, and in some cases we saw no ROI for our membership fees. With the AMA we see immediate benefits to making us a better design company, and involved in the Cincinnati marketing professionals community. We’re looking forward to an active calendar, and contributing what we can to the Cincinnati AMA.

Since our beginning, we have used time-tracking software called OfficeTime™, and it has kept pace with every twist and turn of our business’ growth. We have been quite outspoken to our peers about OfficeTime, and somehow it migrated all the way to the ears and eyes of OfficeTime ownership.

They interviewed Dan, Brand Shepherd’s CEO / Creative Director, last week, and it was published today:

Tracking Time Keeps Branding Business on Track

It was a real treat answering these questions. Go read it.

It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t give a plug for OfficeTime – it truly is one of the best time-tracking solutions out there:

Download a free trial of Office Time at http://www.officetime.net/download.html – No Credit Card required.  Just try it out and see why it’s the best and easiest time tracker out there.


Late December brings oodles of Top 10 lists, and the lists that get the most play are the Fail/Flop lists. CNN had a list of the 10 Biggest Tech Fails of 2010, the Brand New blog (a daily read for us) a list of the Top 10 Worst Identities of 2010, and even TripAdvisor has its list of Top 10 Dirtiest Hotels of 2010 (yikes!).

My twitter feed has been full of all sorts of Top 10 Fails, Top 10 Busts, Top 10 _____ lists for the last week or so, and all this focus on failure draws out of me how I approach failure.

The lists on tech blogs bring into sharp focus my take on failure. In the link above to CNN’s list of tech fails, Apple’s antenna and Ping problems make the cut. In a list I found on The Huffington Post, Google’s Wave and Buzz failures are top failures of 2010.

To me, though, these failures were not bad failures. They were executed ideas tossed into the arena of ideas and consumption, and some were found to be outright rejected in their current form (Ping), while other ideas are before their time (Wave). I worry that so much focus on failure might put even a drop of hesitation into someone’s mind about bringing their idea to the table for fear of failure.

I don’t discount that these lists cite legit failures in myriad ways. Facebook’s Places product comes to mind as a logical outworking of the overall Facebook brand and product offering, but what was released to the public was simply an incomplete execution. Checking into a place on Facebook Places is not nearly as attractive as Foursquare. The point is, however, Facebook Places brings competition, and out of that competition we get upgrades to the products we like such as Foursquare adding photos and comments to venues and checkins. That’s a big win for all of us out of  the failure of a different product.

In 2010 Brand Shepherd had  a few failures, too. I won’t cite the 2-3 projects that come to mind because to do so – calling them failures – would be to put a negative light on a business or brand that might not see what we did as a failure. Point is, in each of our failures we took something useful from it – a change in how we conduct business, a change in vendors, a change in the process we use or the process we expect.

All of this isn’t new – this is pretty much the typical “failure is useful” speech. Take it for what it’s worth: Another voice in the choir of those who find entertainment value in Top 10 Failure lists, but the bigger picture is that of great usefulness out of failure.

So come fail away, come fail away, come fail away with me!

We often share these with a business that hires us to design packaging for their wares, so I thought it might be helpful to post the information for everyone to read. Here goes…

1. Leave (a lot of) Room For Your Buyer
The buyer at the retailer will have a say in the packaging design. Sometimes it’s not just the branding on the packaging design, but also the structural design. Some clients we work with have become pros at handling this part of the relationship, and initially present a somewhat incomplete version of the packaging. Then during the revisions stages we show the evolution of the packaging that would have created anyway, but it includes the buyer in on the creative process.

There are occasions where heads butt, differences of opinion on branding and structure come into play, but a quality corporate buyer should know when to back down. Same goes for the manufacturer – be prepared to give a little to your buyer. What you lose in control you will hopefully make up for in the volume of the order from good sales numbers.

Keep in mind that the buyer’s job isn’t to ruin your brand. Buyers know their store and department(s), and simply want to help you and the retailer sell as much as possible.

2. Ask About Translations
There are good odds that you will need the copy on your packaging translated to South American Spanish if you are selling your CPG to a big retailer. If this is the case, then get in touch with the buyers from the stores you’re wanting to sell in, and ask what standards, if any, they have for translations.

Here’s why: Several years ago we designed packaging for a brand, and the main buyers were two major competing retailers. We learned that one of these retailers had wisely established a lexicon for all products sold in their stores, and only pre-approved translators could provide translated copy with a special code so as to keep all the words in a store consistent.

The lesson learned: Whenever we designed packaging for this brand, we used the pre-approved translator for all SKUs no matter the store being sold in. It turned out to be a nice cost-effective win-win for the brand and buyers. Translations are one of those seemingly “little things” that can really cut in to slender margins over time.

3. Do Not Over-Think Your Product Packaging
When embarking on a new packaging design project we often are given the following instructions: “Keep the design clean, simple, and eye-catching.” But over time, as we get into the design process, and pressure mounts on a brand manager or business owner, we soon enter into the time trap of trying to over-think how a product should be branded on the packaging.

Over-thinking can show up by trying to be overly clever with the logo treatment, or trying to cram a lot of little violators that point out product benefits on the primary face panel. It’s avoidable. If your branding was created by a professional then the best thing you can do is to stay consistent with what you paid for.

The best sales pitch packaging can make is one that is simple and direct on the face panel, and then provides the consumer a logical visual hierarchy of information spread out on the packaging that points out other benefits and uses. Trying to cram all that onto the front will make for a busy, ugly package… that doesn’t sell as well as it could have.

Those are 3 of several lessons learned from designing CPG. There are more we use, share, and are learning while working on a packaging design project. The big picture here is to go into the process with a plan and a goal. Decide beforehand what is most important to you, your brand, and your business as a whole. Often times getting into a major retailer is a years-long process, so if you’re going to be persistent enough to get there, be sure to know what you want to do when you get there.