Put Your Money Where Your Values Are


Last year, during NGC’s annual retreat (it’s a party!), we set a goal to create a campaign that spanned channels and was actually cool. Here we are, a little less than a year later, and we’ve launched just such a campaign for our wonderful client, the venerable, Brattleboro Savings & Loan.

As we had intended, the campaign is deeply rooted in the strategic work we did for the bank—coming up with messaging and communications that speak to the Bank’s high points and the points of greatest concern of its potential customers; what we call the Amplifiers and Answers. Once we had these in place, we matched it with a BA&L ad we’d created around “Said no one, ever.” and voila! Campaign.

Of course, voila! is French for “This is where a ton of hard work and coordination happens to lead to any semblance of success.”

We had a great time though: taking pictures of cast members of the reality show known as Brattleboro; creating relatable statements of disbelief that allow us to show how BS&L is a truly local and different bank; and coordinating on social media, print, partners, clients, and employees to get the word out to the community that this is a bank that allows you to Put Your Money Where Your Values Are.

Color Me Bad(d)

colorsIf you get that reference, chances are you are older than 30 or have a strong propensity toward early ’90’s R&B. Either way, no judgement. Moving on.

Everything we see, smell, hear or touch gives us a reaction. Sometimes we are highly aware of what that reaction is, say when you smell baking cookies . . . But other reactions aren’t obvious to us. We aren’t aware that while our conscious mind isn’t affected, our subconscious one is.

That is something we pay close attention to when designing. There are many implications to shapes, straight or curved lines, and even the way paper feels in your hand. In this post, however, we will be talking about color.

Have you ever wondered why fast food restaurants almost all use the color red? Red signifies a lot of things: passion, rage, warmth, loudness, but it also has an actual affect on your physiology. It makes you hungry!

What about spas? Ever notice how much green is used in logos for this field of work? Soft green has a calming feeling to our psyches.

Part of our research when we have a new client is we ask them to give us adjectives that describe how they want to be perceived. So if a client says bold, fun, creative we would choose colors that brought that out in a person. If they say prestigious, reliable, knowledgeable, that would incur a completely different set of colors.

An easy mistake one can make when creating a brand is choosing colors solely based on preference. This only means that the one person who is designing is arbitrarily picking colors off what they like rather than making an informed choice on a look that will appeal to the correct audience.

Start taking a look around. See what colors a company chooses to incorporate in their logo and materials and then see if how those colors make you feel aligns with how they are trying be. Hopefully, if done right, it will resonate.

Win, Lose, and Draw


Sometimes everyone in the office hits a wall at the same time and we need a break from our respective roles. When that happens we do something fun and creative to get us back on track. The doodles above are the result of one of those times.

Our task: Create the cutest creature using features from a snake, prairie dog, turtle, owl and lion. We know, completely random, but that is why this works so well. We each took  5 minutes brainstorming and sketching. Once the time was up we compared our animals. It seems as if the “cute” factor was forgotten about on a couple of these. . . .

This exercise gave us a good laugh, a quick break, a smile on our faces and a renewed energy to continue with our work. Seems like a win to us.

We are visual and written problem solvers and we love what we do. Every once in a while, however, we need a fun jump start to get the creative waves moving again. We’ve found that these little exercises breed inspiration and fun and that is what we are all about.

The next time you and your office mates are struggling to stay focused, break out the pens and paper, come up with a silly challenge and watch what transpires both on and off the paper.

Get the Hell Out

2016It’s the new year and we don’t know about you, but all of us here at New Ground are pretty happy about a fresh start.

Don’t get us wrong, last year was awesome for us. We expanded our capabilities (branding & strategic development, market & audience analysis, pitch & presentation building ) while continuing to hone our design skills. We are just super excited to make this the best year yet.

At the beginning of every year, we take a day to get out of the office, go somewhere fun, eat good food, and talk about what worked and what didn’t in the previous year. We strategize how to improve the weaknesses and ways to continuosly move ahead. It’s great to look at what projects we enjoyed and what projects posed problems and how we can remedy the problems and duplicate the enjoyment.

This is a good tool for businesses. It’s a way to gather information about where you were and where you want to go. Getting out of the office to do this is a key element. It energizes the workers and creates an environment that is new, exciting, and boosts ideas.

Here are a few things we are excited about in the coming year:

  • New partnerships with fun and engaging clients.
  • Learning new skill sets to offer an even more cohesive package.
  • Continuing to push our design so that we stay fresh and engaging.
  • Bringing on an intern, who will hopefully learn a lot and maybe teach us a thing or two.

We often tell people to make time for a mini retreat with their company. It has been an extremely useful tool for us. So gather your coworkers, pick a fun spot and start making good things happen!


Holiday Cards—Still a Good Idea?

2014 Holiday CardHappy Thanksgiving all of you (dozen or so) readers! When we were sitting around the Thanksgiving table this past Thursday—with a few slices of cage-free, hormone-free, organic turkey for Carrie; a giant salad with a tiny slice of turkey for Falyn; and a 43lb. turducken for Joe—we gave thanks for each of you.

So, how do we show our appreciation for you guys? In fact, how do you all show your appreciation to your clients, friends, families and fans? The answer for many of us is found in the venerable holiday card. (By the way, don’t you think these holiday cards are beta versions of the “likes” that we’ve come to so deeply desire/disdain in our social media? We all know those people who tape every card to their mantel to show, through sheer bulk, how beloved they are…with their daughter’s handmade—I luv yu Papa—card hanging next to “Dear Kmart shopper, our family sends your family glad tidings this…”blah blah blah. Sheesh.)

So what makes a good holiday card? Here’s what we think:

  • Innocuous: Now is not the time to make a statement. Be nice. Be complimentary. Things like, “I know you don’t believe in the Baby Jesus but he died for your sins so enjoy your presents while it lasts, sinner!” aren’t going to be received as well as you might like. (I’m talking to you, Uncle Frankie.) Try something closer to, “Thinking of you and wishing you joy this holiday season.” Nice n’ Easy.
  • Visual: Don’t write too much. Let a nice picture and a simple tagline do all the “saying” for you. After all, the recipient is on your list and you like them enough to pay the ridiculous postage (Half a buck? Really?), so that’s good, right? If you’re a business, try to entertain the recipient. They get enough wreath and red candle cards to regrow a forest. Think funny but with heart.
  • Guilt-free: One of our favorite homeless shelters in town asked us to help come up with a card and we all immediately agreed, “No poverty porn and no guilt.” This means, no starving children with a message of “Hope you enjoy your holidays and feasts as others die of hunger, you cheap bastard!” Stay positive and joyful.
  • Audience-specific: We like a good off-color joke as much as the next person, but remember that there is a slight chance (very slight, really) that someone may actually read your card so let’s keep it PG, folks. Thus, avoid the scatological, suggestive, lewd or controversial if at all possible. Comments on Santa’s use of the reindeers’ straps the other 364 days of the year might be best left unsaid. Just a thought.

So, there are some ideas for you. We love you all. Keep an eye out for our card coming to a mailbox or inbox near you very soon.

Presenting in Stowe: Association of Fundraising Professionals

Hello dear reader. How are you? I’m sorry, it’s tough to hear you way up on this pedestal of awesomeness. That’s right, reader-friend, both Carrie and Joe have been asked to speak at the Association of Fundraising Professionals of Northern New England (or AFP-NNE for those acronymaphiles out there).

As you may know, with the birth of New Ground Creative, we made official what had been in the works for some time by becoming a brand-centric organization rather than a design-centric one (though we continue to create great design work). With this shift, we’ve seen even more work come to us from the nonprofit sector and they are nearly always in the business of development work. “Development” is another word for Fundraising. So, what are we gonna talk about, you may ask. Good question and we’re thrilled you asked.

Carrie’s talk will be titled: Is the Annual Report Relevant Anymore? (Yes)

The basic, venerable nonprofit annual report, though still generally required, has lost some of its luster as we have moved more fully digital and younger donors care less about reading through the minutiae of financials and staff. Annual reports have grown in relevance in this past decade with the increased focus on including storytelling within them. Storytelling can make a basic annual report be more tangible and solid. How do we move from “solid” to “great” though? This workshop will focus on rethinking annual reports as a means to powerfully represent, and advance, your mission. This takes a bit of creativity but, by investing this time, you will set the tone and agenda for the year’s fundraising and marketing in an integrated and intentional way.

Joe’s presentation will be: Messaging Your Mission

Marketing is often considered a dirty word in the nonprofit sector. That said, whereas businesses need to focus their marketing almost exclusively on the consumer, nonprofits have a number of constituent groups to reach out to—donors, partners, the community, and clients. To add greater complexity, many nonprofit’s do not have a cohesive message to arm their stakeholders to advocate for them. How do we tie our messaging together in a way that’s engaging, dynamic and true? The basis for these communications is what we want to focus on in this workshop:
   a. Creating a common vernacular for the What, Why, and How of the organization.
   b. Building cohesion in the communication of your organization’s value and values.
   c. Developing a framework and tools to engage stakeholders.

Sounds fantastic, non? If you want to come and join us, sign up for it here. It’s on November 4th and 5th.

The Miracle of Life


That’s right! We’re talking about the BIG stuff here:


Ok, yes, we know. Kind of a bold title, non? But what is “the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything?” We don’t actually know but we do know that a new life has come into this wacky, Brattleborovian Branding shop of “Hollah!”’s and we are embracing that in our own wacky, New Groundy way.

Carrie and Chad welcomed a new life into the world, but they’re letting you (YES! YOU) dear reader name this young child. Can you believe it. I’m pretty sure that I don’t even believe it. What trendsetters. What badasses!


Here are some details:

  • She is only a little over absolutely no years old.
  • She has tremendously well developed lungs (as you may have heard).
  • She is a she.
  • She has not seen the Grand Canyon yet, or Joe (both because they’re too scary).
  • She has not yet determined her favorite food, color, animal, etc. (right? no clues).
  • She has a little hair on her head (think: more than Charlie Brown, less than Falyn)
  • She appears to be tremendously stubborn (shock, I know).
  • She can’t be effectively Googled yet so she almost doesn’t exist.

So, please send in your favorite names to be considered. The winning name will be given to the aforementioned “she,” AND—and this is a really big and exciting “and”—the selected name will be tattooed on the left upper arm of each of the New Grounders. Can you friggin’ believe it? This is so exciting.

We hope that you all are having a great time as we move into fall. Hopefully this namerific contest will make you feel pretty OK with the fact that summer is over and winter’s but a few flakes away.

Send all your ideas to info@newgroundcreative.com with the subject line Name that Lil’ Baby!

p.s. – Please do not suggest Ember Simmons as that has been taken already.

Values, Mission, and Vision Redux

ValuesMissionIt’s time to revisit the foundational statements of any organization: Values, Mission, and Vision. These elements of your brand are the most basic—basic, in this case, does not mean simple. They are often labored over and the source of rift-rich conversations about things like whether to use the word “important,” “vital,” “essential,” or “how about we say nifty?” We have worked on a lot of these statements and we want to share some thoughts.

Values are about why you do what you do. These can be a list of descriptors or qualities that speak to what drives the organization, what its culture is, and what informs its decisions and aspirations. Values can speak to broad pieces like ecological or fun; narrower and more easily defined elements like Vermont-based or single-product; and vague concepts like individual or open. For values, think about what you stand for as an organization.

Mission is what you do. This is the reason for your organization’s existence. I love a very clean, one or two sentence mission. In the past, the mission  was used as an internal statement that charges the board with the responsibility of keeping the organization on task. Nowadays, we see the mission as a compelling statement that is the foundation of all marketing and messaging. To be effective, we want the mission to be internally true but externally facing with an eye on the organization’s hopes and realities.

Vision is how you know that you’ve succeeded. It’s the end state of what the world will look like if you are successful. This can be aspirational and/or inspirational but it should also be simple and clear. As it’s the end state, don’t use phrases like “to grow,” “to become,” or “to continue.” Think of words like “to be,” “to have,” or “to live in a world in which.” It’s not essential that the vision is realistic but it should be a guide star, a destination.

So, now you have these elements, is there a way to check if they work? Why yes, there is. If you were to visualize these three components, imagine looking at the  market position of your values. This is your homebase. Now look toward your vision from the perspective of your values. If you’ve done it right, you should be looking in a line that intersects your mission. These three concepts should line up: This organization cares about and puts value in these things (Values), which leads us to do this (Mission) to make those values tangible, and we’ll know that we did it well if the world ever looks like this (Vision).

Nonprofit Marketing and Authenticity

AuthenticityAuthenticity is one of those words that gets thrown around so much that it starts to lose not just its punch, but its meaning. Nonprofits are held to a higher standard of honesty and transparency when it comes to marketing—which we think is a good thing. At the same time, honesty and transparency don’t mean clinical and downtrodden.

A great example of the shift toward more authentic engagement has been the move toward storytelling in a lot of nonprofit marketing over the past 5 or so years. These stories bring the mission of the nonprofit to life with examples of how funds and services are making real-world impacts on individuals, families, and communities. With that said, there’s been something of a saturation of stories and stakeholders are asking important questions about how these stories scale throughout an organization’s outcomes. As an old uncle used to say, “Sun even shines on a dog’s ass every now and again.” This little nugget of wisdom means that one example of excellence doesn’t mean that there is a consistency to the excellence (nice, non?).

A good way to reframe this issue is to see authenticity as connection to mission, honesty of impact, and proof of outcomes. A vital path to this is Results-Based Accountability (RBA), which is a great tool to measure what you did (connection to mission), how well you did it (honesty of impact), and if anyone is better off (proof of outcomes). Combining this with compelling messaging that takes an “inwardly true, externally facing” view of your mission, and you are achieving and redefining organizational authenticity.

It’s tough to market nonprofits sometimes but the right place to start is being authentic about what you do, for whom and how they’re better off. Step two: now tell people about it…stay tuned for more on that soon.

Cross-functional Teams in the Creative Process

cross-functional-teamsWhat are cross-functional teams? What do they look like? How do they operate?

An overly simplistic, textbook definition of a cross-functional team is a dedicated group of individuals from different areas within a company that is tasked with a common goal and/or initiative. These people will collaborate to accomplish tasks that they couldn’t finish individually.

New Ground Creative believes that collaboration is the difference between good and amazing. Our core team is exclusively cross-functional in approaching our clients’ projects—at any time, we’ll each take turns leading, following, brainstorming, creating, reviewing, and editing. Great teams are all about the riff, rather than the rift. We like and respect each other to boldly and vulnerably throw ideas in and out as we look for solutions.

Vulnerability and respect are the binary stars of any great cross-functional team as creativity is born from not knowing and ambiguity. These are uncomfortable concepts that create the right conditions for new ways to understand a problem and innovative ways to solve it. Coming to a situation with a preconceived solution feels like knowing and certainty—which feel pretty good—but they mean you are bringing some solution, not searching for the (right, best, most amazing) solution.

In addition to the internal collaboration within New Ground, our clients play a critical role in developing solutions. In our client relationships, we bring that same respect and if you’re curious, you can learn more about our process here.

If you appreciate this process, give us a call, tell your friends, write a song, build a monument…whatever floats your boat. With each project, our capabilities are expanding. For over 20 years we’ve been building brands that challenge the status quo, create lasting impressions, and return verifiable results to our clients.

Is your company’s message communicated effectively? We’d love to bring you into our cross-functional team to re(de)fine your company’s vision, passions, and excellence.

TLDR: New Ground is a tornado of collaborative awesome.