The following fragments come from a conversation with a client who was using 99designs to produce a logo for her website. I thought they would be useful and instructive. Hopefully my designer friends will chime in and tell me if my advice was sensible, but the most important part in my view was the opportunity to include their large user base and build trust and relationship through the process.
How to determine the award amount
Go and look at several other logo design contests that have taken place recently. As you look do this, take a minute to notice the relationship between the quality of the submissions and the award amount. Your gut will tell you which logos are high quality and which aren’t. That will help you judge how much money to put into the logo design.
How to make a designer take interest in your contest
Most logos (or identities Framing or Branding) are designed to convey a specific message. That’s the point after all. But in some cases, there isn’t a message as much as an identity or personality. In those cases I’ve observed that instead of a logo it’s more common to see stylized text (many designers call this type treatment). Stylized text is a big deal and some companies have paid thousands of dollars to have a font made just for them.
One problem with novice designers is that they tend to use symbols and marks that don’t actually mean anything or add any relevant value to the logo (swoosh abuse and differentiation). There’s really no reason to put a symbol of some sort into a logo unless it communicates something.
One thing to notice is that in each case they’ve used a sans serif font. They also use the same color rather than multiple colors. They also mix bold and regular size fonts to accentuate the font. Many of them use either all caps or all lowercase. Colors are nondescript and don’t call attention to themselves. They’re typically very simple (not busy).
If it’s hard for to identify what your message is, or if you don’t have a single message to convey then you might be best to go with a type treatment.
Another thing I would point out is that the websites for some of the brand names that I suggested are very simple and match the logo. If the logo (or type treatment) really will become your identity, then you want to think about how it will affect the theme on your site. They need to compliment one another.
What if nothing grabs you
Go here: http://99designs.com/contests. On the right (and down a bit) you’ll see a panel with Recent Winning Designers. Click on these and look at their recent wins (like this http://99designs.com/users/376750 and this http://99designs.com/people/oxy). When you find one that looks attractive to you, ask that specific designer to take part in your contest.
I know I mentioned this before and I really think you’re CRAZY if you don’t do it. You should send an email to your entire list telling them about the competition and give them a link right to it. Let them vote. Let them vent. Give them a post where they can leave comments. Let them submit designs and win the award money. If you don’t leverage the interest of the people that have given you their email then you’re really passing up a gold mine. Who else in all the world is going to know your brand better than them?
When the project has only a couple days left, go and raise the winning bid amount. I’m not sure how much to raise it, but add another $40 on there, and (THIS IS IMPORTANT) provide new direction in the form of “after seeing all these designs we realized that we really want XYZ, so we increased the price and would love fresh new submissions”. I think that people that submitted before will be notified of the new higher price and come read why. At this point you should send out another email to your entire list telling them the same thing. Make another post where they can comment on the new logos that have been submitted.
If you don’t include your list in the process then you’re passing up a HUGE opportunity to bond with your list. How often do you get to shape the way a company or service looks, let alone one that you love? This might be the biggest opportunity you’ve ever had. You could even use this to build your list by encouraging them to send the contest and site to their creative friends and family.
Don’t miss the chance to include your list in this. The quality so far isn’t all that good, but it’s being submitted by people in other countries who don’t know and love your site (it might not even be a cultural fit where they live). How could they possibly hit the nail on the head.
One more thing. Be sure to personally invite designers that you know. They know you, your ‘brand’ and they’re creative. They also probably wouldn’t mind winning the prize money.
What should the email sound like
This email was very specific to the target audience and the personality of the site owner. You should definitely work hard to match the voice and content of an email that you might send to the audience that you’re approaching. In other words, you might not want to just copy and paste this, but you can decide.
By the way, there are some really crucial mental triggers (and emotional triggers) in this copy that are designed to increase the bond with the list and help them feel important. See if you can feel where they are.
SUBJECT: We need your help!
This might sound a bit rushed, but we’re in over our heads (again). We could just slog through this one on our own, but we think you might be uniquely qualified to help us solve our problem. Could you do us a small favor?
You see, while we’ve been working hard to make great content for [sitename], the site ‘logo’ (if you even call it that) has gone a bit, ummm, stale. We thought it looked great when we started the site, but sooooo much has happened.
We’ve spent hours (days, weeks and months really) on projects and tutorials and dozens of our readers have contributed wonderful articles too. We’ve been through site crashes and technology foibles. We’ve changed things a few times and just can’t seem to find the right look.
But then we realized that you are our ‘look’. That’s why we think you’re the best person to help us right now.
What we want to find is some type of ‘logo’, for lack of a better word. Something that would represent the lives of the women behind our blog and the values we all represent.
The bad news is that our attempts so far just haven’t produced the results we hoped for. In fact, you can see them here:
So how can you help? There are a few ways (and you don’t even have to be a designer).
The most simple way to help us out would be to [reply to this email/post a comment at link] telling us what you think [sitename] has become and what it means to you. Just open up and let us know why you follow our blog and what it has done for you.
If you feel like you have an eye for design you could go to our design contest above and vote on the submissions or even submit your own. Be as creative as you like, since we really are all about you. If you have the best design you’ll win the prize money too!
The last way that you can help us would be to forward this email to your family and friends that you think might have a good design idea for us.
[sitename] is really all about you. Thank you. We really can’t wait to hear what you think and incorporate that into who we become.
What to do if the comments go south?
I think the comments are great. I would keep feeding into them and draw attention to it. People are much more likely to comment and contribute if you do.
As it turns out, even bad comments are good (in many cases). The negative things people would say about your company, logo or overall identity are a big deal when it comes to your own internal evolution. Controversy is also one of the most effective ways to encourage conversation.
Bear in mind that you’ve gotten so many more submissions than I’ve seen in any other contest. For example, [otherprominentimguru] just did a re-branded logo for [hissitename] and he only got 72 entries (and he sent an email out to tens of thousands of people). You’ve gotten 482. That shows that you’ve successfully engaged your audience.
By the way, I can see several elements of different logos that I really like. You can point these out to each designer and see which one combines them best.
A logo or brand is something that grows, just like a tree or a person. It changes over time. MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL, your brand only exists in the mind of the consumer. No matter how much money you spend, how well matched your colors are or any other combination of clever marketing tactics, your brand is determined by what your consumers think of you. You may as well include them in the decoration of your site.