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New Hardware for Our Work

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Not just one, but two Fountain Awards now sit on a shelf in our studio. The translucent trophies are recognitions from the local chapter of the Business Marketing Association for best logo and best stationery designs.

This honor is doubly rewarding because it validates our client’s faith in our abilities. 

The design work was for a playful, modern mark that defined the brand of a commercial furniture and textiles representative. Formerly Paula Como & Associates, new owner Melissa Kauk switched out the “C” in Como for the “K” in her name to rechristen the company KOMO. That simple change refreshed the business identity without changing the way clients have pronounced the name for decades. 

In a nod to her architect and designer clientele, we developed a simple type treatment that played with form, scale and positive and negative space. The rounded forms express a slight, but not overt, feminine vibe that’s just right for this woman-owned business. Finally, the four-color palette reflects the options and colorways that are the hallmark of the contract furnishings business.

The rounded corners on the business cards and notecards mimic the rounded forms in the logo, and they pack a punch with pops of color. The stationery and the logo have made their mark, bringing the client both compliments and calls.

Funny story: By chance, we witnessed the impact of the cards. While at an event at a furniture showroom where we had no idea the cards would be on display, we heard attendees oohing and aahing over them. One of the smitten people was a current client and another is now a probable client, so it was a proud moment.

Winning these awards were a proud moment, too, so thank you, KOMO, for working with us.

 

 

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Under the Microscope: Boy Scouts of America

 The new "Scout Me In" campaign was announced concurrently with the Scouts BSA name change. Both moves signal that boys and girls will be accepted into all Scouts programs—the campaign much more successfully than the name change.

The new "Scout Me In" campaign was announced concurrently with the Scouts BSA name change. Both moves signal that boys and girls will be accepted into all Scouts programs—the campaign much more successfully than the name change.

We are a Boy Scouts family. My husband and I have gone on countless campouts, we’ve built Pinewood Derby cars, we volunteer in our sons’ troop and pack.

We are big fans of what the Boy Scouts of America are all about—developing boys into servant leaders as they grow into men.

We embrace the Boy Scouts’ decision last year to admit girls as full-fledged members to its Cub Scouts program beginning in June and into its Boy Scouts program in February. After all, this is a country where equality of opportunity is a bedrock principle.

With this change comes a rare opportunity for rebranding a historic organization. Boy Scouts is a name that no longer fits the mission now that each of its five signature programs includes or will include girls.

Sure, this effort won’t be easy. It’s a century-old organization created before women had the right to vote. And this move has drawn loud criticism from external forces (Girl Scouts of America, for starters) as well as from within its own organization (some packs and troops will not be accepting girls).

Scouts took a step toward rebranding with a name change to its flagship program, currently serving boys ages 11 to 17. The program’s new name, announced this month but set to go into effect next year: Scouts BSA.

When a brand—especially a widely known, 108-year-old one—changes its name, it has one shot at getting it right.

Unfortunately the Scouts got it wrong.

Let’s look at why the renaming effort doesn’t work and what can be learned.

Scout officials could have gone one of two ways: Tweak the original name or come up with a whole new name.

Option 1: Tweak the original name

The best example of this is Apple. When it launched with the Apple I personal computer in 1976, the company was appropriately called Apple Computer. The business faltered in the 1990s until it retooled with new products like the iPod and iTunes. After it launched the iPhone in 2007, it was time to change its name. Apple Computer became Apple.

Genius for its simplicity. The company sent the message that it was no longer simply a computer manufacturer while keeping the heart of its brand.

Option 2: Create a whole new name

Sometimes, a rebranding calls for a swing-for-the-fences, all-out approach.

That worked for Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation, founded in 1946 in Japan. In the 1950s, when it began selling radios in the United States, it became Sony Corporation. It simplified while expanding its appeal. And it made up a new word, combining the Latin root for sonic and “sonny boy,” a slang term popular in the United States.

So with these two options in mind: Scouts BSA.

In choosing to tweak instead of recreate, Boy Scouts signaled its broader mission (boys and girls) with the Scouts portion of its new name.

They were so close to getting it right. Why, oh why, add the BSA?

With three little letters, they telegraph “We’re changing. We just don’t like it all that much.”

The bigger problem is that the new name only applies to the actual Boy Scouts program for 11- to 17-year-olds. The umbrella organization, which also includes its Cub Scouts, Venturing, Sea Scouts and Exploring programs, will remain Boy Scouts of America.

So while each of those programs will now be open to girls, those programs are tucked into an organization that will still be called Boy Scouts of America.

In fact, the organization is not rebranding at all. It’s simply tweaking the name of one program within its brand, albeit its best-known program.

What this tells the world: Some of us want to change, but most of us don’t.

Rebranding isn’t the sausage-making of complex legislation, where compromise is part of the process and participants recognize no one is going to come out fully happy.

If you’re going to rebrand, rebrand. Go for it. Be bold. Change.

The Scouts whiffed.

By keeping "Boy" in the organization’s name and adding initials “BSA” to its flagship program, they don’t even cleverly hide that the old guard is still fully running Scouts. Anyone involved in Boy Scouts knows BSA. It’s a widely used abbreviation.

I’m sure that’s the point of keeping BSA. But it misses the point of rebranding.

I asked Jay Jurisich, a well-known and pre-eminent namer of products and founder of the naming agency Zinzin, to weigh in.

He agreed with my thoughts.

“I think this is a classic example of groupthink and of trying to have their cake and eat it too,” he said. “The Boy Scouts want to move forward into the future (or some faction of the organization does), but they can’t let go of the past.”

Jurisich doesn’t usually like initials.

Used here, “it becomes a big red flag that though the name has changed, the rest not so much.” That message is actually worse than doing nothing.

The Scouts missed what could be their only opportunity to rebrand in a way that truly reflects the changes they are making. That’s disastrous from a rebranding viewpoint.

But for an organization that prides itself on turning children into leaders, it’s particularly disappointing. The Scout Law says a Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

Those values are reflected in everything a Scout aspires to. Regrettably, the organization’s leadership failed to be brave.

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New Site Launch — In Record Time!

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It’s a rare treat to find that one-stop shop where you can find fun but thoughtful gifts for everyone on your list, kids and adults alike. The General Store & Co. is that place.

Owner Michael Cole curates a modern mercantile with an eye for design at his two locations in Downtown Overland Park and Hawthorne Plaza. So we were thrilled to create his third store, generalstorekc.com . It was a quick turn project, just in time for the holidays!

We strived to capture the same spirit that makes the brick-and-mortars so delightful, such as products featuring the art of Charley Harper, contemporary felt coasters in more than a dozen colors, and toys for all ages like Blockitecture and a rainbow array of wooden Cubebots. There are locally made candles, Pendleton National Parks socks, awesome stocking stuffers like the cult-classic Field Notes — we could go on and on…

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Catalogs for a shoe brand

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We were thrilled Hoy Shoe Co asked us to design catalogs for its iconic Salt Water and Sun-San sandals. We grew up with them!

The St. Louis-based company, with its roots in recycling leather for its footwear in the 1940s from World War II military boots, has surged in popularity in the past few years, becoming a brand sold at major retailers such as Nordstrom as well as independent boutiques around the globe. Growth has coincided with celebrities and their kids photographed wearing the classic sandals.

We upgraded the catalog from a six-panel brochure to a 20-page booklet for children’s sandals and a 12-page look book for women’s shoes. The additional space allows buyers to really see the stitching details in the soles and the wide range of colors.

The layout also gave us the room to drive home the land-and-sea duality of the sandals through hashtags — #beachtobar and #surfandturf — and headlines — “For Playing in the Waves and Walking in the Park” and “For a Day at the Beach and a Night on the Town.”

Hoy was so pleased with the outcome that they asked us to design business cards and other print materials.

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5 Signs it’s Time for a Website Redo

A website is one of your most important business assets because it’s available to everyone 24/7. Check out this stat: 75 percent of users judge the credibility of a website based on its design, according to Stanford University.

Wondering whether you need to update your website? If any of the following five problems sound familiar, it’s definitely time for tweaking and possibly an overhaul.

Loads slowly
If your website opens at the speed of a tortoise, you’re definitely not winning the website race.

There's a need for speed on a website. Nearly half of web users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less, according to Kissmetrics. They tend to abandon a site that isn’t loaded within 3 seconds.

Overly large images and dense amounts of computer coding can weigh a website down.

Looks outdated
If you’ve jam-packed your website with tons of copy and a bazillion tiny photos, it’s time to redo.

The best practice is clean, easy-to-navigate design. This means snackable amounts of copy and curated, high-quality, relevant photos and graphics.

Not responsive
It’s not good if your website looks great on your desktop, but not so hot on mobile.

You want your website to be responsive to any device the user chooses — now more than ever. Mobile and tablet usage on the web exceeded desktop usage worldwide for the first time in October 2016, according to according to StatCounter. And mobile use will just keep on climbing.

Low conversions
If you’re not getting much action on your website — low newsletter signups, low sales, low client leads — it’s time to strategize and perhaps redesign.

Can’t update
If you have to constantly call your web developer to make minor content updates on your site because it’s too difficult to do yourself, try a new system.

With the availability of so many easy-to-use content management system (CMS) platforms including WordPress and Squarespace, as well as e-commerce systems, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to do the simple stuff on your own.

Want to discuss your website? Let’s grab coffee soon!

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Under the Microscope: “Abstract: The Art of Design” on Netflix

 Courtesy of Netflix

Courtesy of Netflix

A graphic designer recently told me how lucky we are to be living in the Age of Design, how so many businesses and even individuals are using design thinking to inform their decisions.

While I’m a champion of design, I’m unconvinced. If you ask most people who aren’t designers to explain design, they’ll merely scratch the surface and say design is about making things look better. True, smart design improves form, but there’s still a lot of work to be done in convincing the masses that good design is critical for improving the quality of our lives.

The Netflix documentary series “Abstract: The Art of Design” goes a good way to making that case through eight episodes, each focusing on a different designer, a superstar in his or her discipline: architecture, automotive design, footwear design, graphic design, illustration, interior design, photography and stage design.

There’s a lot of stylization, as one might expect from a series about design. But there are glimmers of insight. Tinker Hatfield, the Nike designer who helped popularize the Air Jordan brand (bonus: there are interviews with Michael Jordan in this episode), provides an astute definition of design and how it differs from art. 

“My perception of art is that it is really the ultimate self expression from a creative individual. For me as a designer, it is not the ultimate goal to be self-expressive. The end goal is to solve a problem for someone else. And hopefully it looks great to someone else. And it’s cool to someone else.”

Solving problems for someone else is the essence of design. For Hatfield, it’s to help improve the overworked feet of athletes. For stage designer Es Devlin, it’s about connecting audiences in large venues with the performers, and making small venues more multidimensional despite their limited spaces.

Sometimes design solves problems so elegantly that it feels like magic. Illustrator Christoph Niemann, who designs magazine covers and books, notices the unexpected beauty in everyday objects and playfully gives his audience a fresh perspective and a new way of looking at things. He gives us much-needed reasons to smile in this overly serious world.  

However, “Abstract” is more celebratory than explanatory, a soufflé of a series rather than a full-course meal. It is enjoyable, and indeed, some episodes warrant repeat viewing, especially Niemann’s and Hatfield’s.

If there is a second season, let’s hope it digs deeper, asks more insightful questions and makes us care more about design. The series signifies we’re on the cusp of the Age of Design, but we have quite a ways before reaching it.

Here’s my take on the episodes in order of effectiveness in the power of design, “1” being the most magical:

8. Platon, Photographer
His work is recognizable — black-and-white photographs, usually on magazine covers, that show celebrities in a different light. They all seem paradoxically powerful and approachable, including Colin Powell, whose session “Abstract” documents. Platon himself seems a little too cool to be likable.

7. Es Devlin, Stage Designer
While I find set and experience design fascinating and Devlin’s work looks fantastic, this episode lacked real insight into what motivates her. The episode tried, even interviewing her parents.

6. Bjarke Engels, Architect
This young starchitect is a household name in his native Norway and is becoming famous in New York and other parts of the world for his unconventional structure shapes. For example, his firm designed a power plant topped with a ski slope.

5. Ralph Gilles, Automotive Designer
His story is an interesting one. When he was 14 years old, a family member sent one of his sketches to Chrysler chief Lee Iacocca. The design director wrote Gilles back, suggesting design schools. Flash forward to now and Gilles is global head designer for Fiat Chrysler. However, I wanted to hear more from Gilles about decision making when it came to designing a car.

4. Paula Scher, Graphic Designer
The opening scene is delicious. She’s walking through the streets of New York City, looking at its myriad signs. She shows that typography is crucial for making a sign — and therefore a business — stand out. “Typography is painting with words. It’s my crack.” She created identity for the Public Theater, making it “New Yorkish, loud and proud.” She also makes fun of the Boston album cover she designed in the 1970s calling it “dumb.” But through typography, she gave bands and albums of that era their identity, their brand, before that was a thing.

3. Ilse Crawford, Interior Designer
I love her distinction between interior decorating and design: “We spend 87 percent of our lives inside buildings. How they are designed affects how we feel, how we behave.” She focuses on people in her design process: interrogation, empathy, then imagination. She points out how design is not strictly visual, it’s sensual and about well being. She is charged with reimagining Ikea’s cafes. I’m anxious to see the results.

2. Tinker Hafield, Footwear Designer
This episode truly shows the professional progression of a designer more than any other episode. He grew up an athlete who trained with one of Nike’s founders in college. He also studied architecture. He is an innovator, and it will be interesting to see what becomes of EARL (Electro Adaptive Reactive Lacing) or self-lacing shoes for Nike.

1. Christoph Niemann, Illustrator
From beginning to end, the Niemann piece was enjoyable. I loved how he drew a cyclist on a car window that sped along the streets of New York. In storytelling, one of the oldest sayings is “show, don’t tell.” Niemann doesn’t reveal much about his process through his words, but through his work. His work is worth following, and it lifts the spirit because it embodies the joy of discovery and imagination.

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7 Big Reasons to Love Email Marketing 

To say email marketing can be challenging is an understatement. Coming up with content, writing it, designing it, testing it and landing just the right subject line are super time consuming.

But we’ve seen the benefits of email marketing when it’s done right, and there are many reasons we’re hearts-and-flowers, head-over-heels about it.

1.    Return on investment

There’s a 3,800 percent return on investment for email marketing. In dollars, that means on average, businesses capture $38 for every $1 spent on email marketing, according to the Data and Marketing Association.

2.    More effective than social media

Nearly everyone has an email address, but not everyone has a Facebook or Twitter account. Measured, email marketing converts to 40 times more sales than Facebook or Twitter, according to McKinsey.

3.    Links to website

Emails link directly to your website — your 24/7 brand ambassador — at multiple points vs. one link on a social media post that most of your customers probably won’t see.

4.    Direct reach

You can reach your customer directly, instead of indirectly through social media, through email. And you can boost your email’s impact through personalization. Personalized email messages improve click-through rates by an average of 14 percent and conversions by 10 percent, according to Aberdeen.  

5.    Audience tracking

By reading your email campaign’s report, you can see what people are clicking on. This fosters multiple benefits, including informing the content and design of future emails and client leads.

6.   Segmentation

You can tailor an email to different audiences based on their product preferences, buying history, geographic location and much more. This increases open rates and clicks.

7.    Regular communication

Emails make it easier than social media or printed materials to contact your customer weekly or monthly.

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Celebrate Your Business: Let Us Float You Some Ideas

Pens are usually a pretty pedestrian promotional product. But floaty pens?  Who doesn’t smile at a little doodad making its slow, deliberate way from one end of the tiny world in a writing instrument to the other? The crowd goes wild!

We enjoyed designing not one but two of these gems for clients in 2016, the 70th anniversary of the floaty pen. Invented in 1946 by Peder Eskesen, the original floating action pen is still manufactured in Denmark to this day.

Rosin Preservation, a national historic preservation firm based in Kansas City, wanted to mark its 10th anniversary with a floaty pen and turned to us to design it. Because the Kansas City streetcar debuted the same year, we added its modern likeness as the float. The pen background contains the Kansas City skyline, a mix of contemporary and old buildings reused by new, thriving businesses that speak to what Rosin does through its consultation and tax credit expertise.

Fittingly, owner Elizabeth Rosin has collected floaty pens for years — her collection was once even exhibited at Crown Center. She loves how the miniature scenes instantly create a sense of place, and the sliding floats make them playful but useful toys all can engage with.

To kick off the launch of its new website, the American Institute of Architects Kansas City commissioned us later in the year to create a floaty pen. The floating logo across Kansas City landmarks perfectly conveys the expertise of its membership while still being fun!

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Case Study Week Six: A Two-Pronged Promotion

 This Ford Motor Co. assembly plant, built in 1916, is now a 21c Museum Hotel.

This Ford Motor Co. assembly plant, built in 1916, is now a 21c Museum Hotel.

Postcards are always fun to receive, especially now that the mailman doesn't deliver personal mail as often as he once did. So when Rosin Preservation approached us about a marketing campaign that would show the impact their projects have had on their surrounding communities, we turned to vintage architectural postcards for inspiration.

These cards celebrate how vacant, neglected buildings can be revitalized and repurposed into modern-day businesses. These businesses are brick-and-mortar testimonials to the value of historic preservation, and show how preservation is a powerful force for positive change. Phase One of the campaign highlighted three unique successes:

  • A shuttered Ford car assembly plant became a 21c Museum Hotel with an art gallery in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
  • The deteriorating former Cosby Hotel was saved from the wrecking ball, and was renovated into an office complex, deli and bakery in downtown Kansas City.
  • A vacant school building in Kansas City was converted into senior apartments.

The printed cards pack an even a bigger punch by driving recipients to a companion landing page on Rosin Preservation’s website. By showing before-and-after photos and data points about jobs, living spaces and cultural attractions created in the transformed spaces, the campaign vividly illustrates how the company impacts their clients, the buildings they save and the communities they serve.

As we said when we started this Case Study series, when we win, our clients win, and when they score, we do, too. We're gratified to report that the campaign is already paying dividends and has been declared a success. We'll be launching Phase Two in the first quarter of 2017!

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Case Study Week Five: Public Relations

 Numerous articles spotlighting Rosin Preservation have been published in the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, magazines and other newspapers.

Numerous articles spotlighting Rosin Preservation have been published in the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, magazines and other newspapers.

Rosin Preservation totally gets the modern age of public relations, and the awesome results keep rolling in: extensive media coverage, several awards, increased online traffic and robust lead generation.

Five years ago, promotions efforts meant emailing a press release. Now mastering integrated digital marketing also is a must. 

Some of Rosin Preservation’s PR successes stemmed from the tried-and-true press release. But they probably reached the next level because the firm’s digital engine was running at full speed, all of its parts working like they should.

Website

Sure, we already discussed websites last week. But we can’t stress enough how important it is to have an above-average website for promotions efforts. The first thing a potential customer or member of the media is going to do is Google your business.

An effective website spotlights a company’s benefits — not simply its features. We designed Rosin Preservation’s website with a focus on an interactive map of projects they have managed across the country. These case studies vividly illustrate the value of the firm’s expertise. Since the site update, monthly average pageviews have tripled.

Social media

Rosin Preservation already had a substantial following on Facebook, so we developed a strategic plan to maximize the value of that platform and added Instagram to the mix. Before-and-after images of redeveloped properties on #TransformationTuesday—we double the impact by utilizing both channels—show the powerful results of the historic tax credit process that our client guides its clients through.

Email newsletters

Social media is great for engaging with your audience, but it has major limitations: algorithms that users cannot control (only a small percentage of a company’s followers will see your posts) and longevity (tweets have an average shelf life of just 14 minutes).

Furthermore, not all clients will engage with every branch of your company’s outreach. But—and this is important!—everyone uses email. 

Rosin Preservation already had a digital newsletter, but MAD Creative redesigned its look and content with the specific intention of client education, value promotion and increasing web traffic.

Next week we're on holiday, but we'll kick off 2017 by wrapping up our case study with a two-part promotions plan that combines print and digital marketing.

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Case Study Week Four: A New Website

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Today’s websites need to say what a business is all about in just a few seconds, so tight, bright copy and striking visuals are critical. Guided by these imperatives, we focused on two primary goals in developing Rosin Preservation's home on the web:

1. Create an inviting presence that draws visitors in and invites them to linger and learn.

Rosin Preservation advocates for the maintenance, use and rehabilitation of the built environment. Much to their credit, they've walked the walk, redeveloping their own historic property in Kansas City's East Crossroads. The expression of that authority starts on their website’s front-door landing page, graced by a gorgeous photo of one of the building’s most dramatic features: its fully exposed, metal-trussed barrel-vault ceiling. Muted tones and natural lighting artfully celebrate the beautiful bones of their historic space and provide a meaningful backdrop for the company's logo and welcome message. There are no distractions on the page, not even a navigation bar. Instead, there’s simply an elegant invitation to enter the site and explore the firm’s work.

2. Establish the firm as a powerful influence, in their industry, throughout the U.S.

Inspired by pins on travel maps, we created an interactive map to showcase the firm’s projects throughout the country. Projects are filtered by category — tax credits, National Register and so on — and feature building and site photographs, year of completion and case studies. Zoom out and visitors will see that the company has managed projects stretching from western Colorado to the Empire State Building!

While the interactive map offers ample evidence of the breadth and depth of the company’s expertise, we needed supporting pages to share details about the people who make it all work and the specific services they offer. To that end, we built out pages including staff bios, blog posts and media mentions, each one crafted to support the overarching website goals. The happy result: triple the web traffic on the new site!

Undertaking a brand uplift and launching a full website redesign are demanding projects, but they're not an end in themselves. To reap the benefits, businesses need to promote these efforts. To that end, we’ll write next week about public relations. 

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Case Study Week Three: Typography

 Business cards and letterhead for Rosin Preservation. And a floaty pen! Because it's the 21st century, we created a digital version of the letterhead as well.

Business cards and letterhead for Rosin Preservation. And a floaty pen! Because it's the 21st century, we created a digital version of the letterhead as well.

Some design decisions are only arrived at after hours, days, even weeks of pondering, trying, failing and trying again. Others times they arrive at first blush, and are so naturally right that there’s no point in laboring any further. Our font section for Rosin Preservation followed the latter path.

They were using Helvetica, a sturdy typographic warhorse if ever there was one. We’re not opposed to that Swiss classic (both Target and Toyota, to cite two high-profile examples, employ it to excellent effect), but so many designers have defaulted to it for so many decades we’ve largely struck it from our list. 

Our font choice, Gotham, was developed in the year 2000 and achieved almost instant universal acceptance in the design community. It is so widely used today that we even refer to it as the Helvetica of the aughts (Our comparison is a compliment, not an insult!) The typeface has two antecedents, really: the hand-cut and hand-painted signs that pepper the New York streetscape; and the no-nonsense, geometric letterforms (think Futura) that were key components of the vocabulary of building and architectural signage in large American cities during the middle decades of the 20th century. We feel it's a perfect synthesis of geometric and humanist forms, and perfectly expresses our client’s historic preservation mission. Even better, it comes in a huge variety of widths and weights, permitting endless variety when developing a suite of branded materials.

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