gradient_bar

The Webs That Define a Destination’s Brand — And You

Webs of Destination Branding and You

I define myself as many things: A painter. A graphic designer. A mother. A wife. An artist. A traveler. An optimist. A believer.

It’s not something I was always so comfortable with — that is, feeling confident calling myself so many things. At any given time, I would describe myself as one of those things, but not the others. It took a while until I could fully embrace the fact that most of what we are in our lives is completely intertwined.

I am a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter… all in the web of family.

I am a designer, a journaler, a painter, a sketcher… all in the web of creativity.

I am a business owner, an accountability partner, a student, a mentor… all in the web of my career.

These webs are what make our lives complete. And these webs are what make me realize and appreciate how my work can impact the rest of my life, and vice versa.

Why I love destination branding

The majority of my design work takes place in the travel and tourism space, giving birth to and developing brands for specific destinations around the Finger Lakes, New York State, and beyond.

During this work, I am able to travel to beautiful destinations, where I meet amazing people who tell equally amazing stories of where they live, work, and play. I learn about the attributes that make each destination unique. I learn about the history that has impacted the area today. I learn about the ongoing developments, and I get to share in the vision for the future.

I love this time during the project — the time I define as research in my BRANCH process. It’s a time when I absorb what a place means, what it stands for, and what potential it holds for the rest of the world.

Sometimes, I’ll even pull out my easel to paint in a place that I’m branding. Because I’m most present when painting, it’s this practice that helps me really center on what’s most important in a destination.

And what’s important is typically a handful of things. The beauty of the Finger Lakes isn’t just in its waterways — it’s in its wine; its culinary scene; its parks; its history. The mystique of the Adirondacks isn’t just in its mountains — it’s in its lakes; its pubs; its arts community.

Destinations, much like individuals, are often characterized by one thing, but the detriment is that they’re good at many.

Instead of zoning in on one thing, I look at the web that’s weaved by all things. This way of looking at destinations (and individuals, really) reminds me that we shouldn’t mistake simple for ordinary. It reminds me that there is so much to every story. It reminds me that unless we’re fully present, it’s impossible to witness, explore, and capture the details, the stories, and the people that weave the web that is ultimately a destination.

How destination branding impacts my every day

Destination branding brings me to places I might never go to otherwise. In Cayuga County, I went on a hike with the town of Montezuma’s historian. In Ontario County, I kayaked the beautiful Canandaigua Lake. In Seneca County, I took photos of my husband and daughter skydiving. (No, I didn’t join in — but they LOVED it!) In Livingston County, I hiked the Grand Canyon of the West (Letchworth State Park) — and it’s now become one of my favorite places to paint.

Of course, these are important experiences that have impacted how I’ve developed and designed each destination’s brand. But it goes well beyond that.

Because I spend time experiencing the here and now in order to really express the essence of each area, it’s taught me how to travel with my eyes fully open. It’s taught me how to be a tourist in my own backyard. And it’s taught me how to tell the whole story.

Ultimately, being a traveler, a destination designer, a storyteller, a painter… it all weaves together in my web of mindfulness — yet another aspect of my being.

A destination is made up of many things, that weave together to determine its brand, much like you are made up of many things that make up your identity.

The real question is: How will you tell the whole story?

Creativity at Work & Play: Living an Amplified Existence

Creativity and Big Magic

“A creative life is an amplified life.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

I recently finished a book — one of those books where right after you’ve finished it, you feel you could read it again, and again, and be inspired in a different way each time. It was Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert, and I have no doubt that it spoke to me on such a deep level because of its subject matter: creativity — something I’ve built both a business and life around.

Gilbert contends that we are all creative. We all have access to creativity, because we are human. And as humans, it is both our duty and our privilege to act on that creativity.

Which made me take a moment to think about how I’ve acted on my creativity, and how I’ve incorporated it into my life. And how vastly different the creativity I fill my work days with is from the creativity that feeds my spirit outside of my work, but how much I need them both.

Creativity embodied in work & play

While I realize how fortunate I am to have a creative job during the day and a creative passion that fuels me in all the hours around it, I have learned to set parameters around how I use my two creative pursuits so that one feeds the other.

Why do I need to draw this line? Because, as Gilbert presents so beautifully in her book, when you rely on your true creative curiosities to sustain you both financially and soulfully, one tends to “murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills.”

I never want that to happen.

For me, it’s about using two very different pursuits to fuel each other, so that my creativity is always being exercised, but never too burdened.

Creativity at work

Graphic design and branding is my creativity at work; my logical sustenance. It feeds me on a professional level by letting me use my creative soul to serve others, while making a reliable income that I can support my family with.

I say this with much love: this aspect of my creativity is the responsible side of my being. Although I am exercising creativity on a daily basis with color, texture, layout, and more, I am restricted by technological constraints — computers, software, renderings, resolutions — as well as by demand constraints — I can earn only as much as the client wants to pay, and I am bound within the calling of their brand.

While these constraints do mean that my creativity isn’t exercised as freely as it is in other pursuits, it does mean that I get to use my creative skills to serve clients, so that they can change the world with what they do. I am giving my art on a much broader scale, and can’t help but feel a certain sense of pride when I see it on billboards, grocery store shelves, tourism bureau walls, and websites around the world.

It’s not so bad for logical sustenance, right? But the real fun comes when I get to use my creativity for play.

Creativity at play

Painting is my creativity at play; my soul’s sustenance. It feeds me at my core, and lets me use my creativity to serve myself. Painting is my unbridled, unadulterated creativity. There are no limitations; there are no pressures.

There is absolute creative freedom when I am painting. I follow no rules; I don’t rely on electricity or software; I am bound only by my own, self-imposed limitations.

I am allowed to have this freedom because I’ve built a creative day job that provides that logical sustenance. Thanks to my visual branding work, I don’t have to put pressure on my paintings; I’m not worried about creating the next masterpiece that will sell for millions.

Would I love to spend all of my time painting every day in the south of France, the Tuscan plains of Italy, or the mountains of the Adirondacks? Of course. But if I demanded that my painting pay for my existence, I would not have the sacred experience I get when I paint now — when I gather up my supplies, head out en plein air, squeeze the colors from the tubes, choose my favorite brushes and pallet knife, set my easel up, and observe what’s surrounding me.

Energy comes through me from a higher source when I am totally immersed in this process. It is my commitment; it is my loyalty. I am able to experiment without any restraints or boundaries. It is my Big Magic.

How they come together

I love both sides of my creative life. I am grateful for the balance that they each give me, and how one allows for the other. Without my logical sustenance, my soul would not be fulfilled, and without my soul fulfilled, I could not enjoy my other work nearly as much.

Whether it’s the cover of a brochure designed in Photoshop or the free-flowing brushstrokes on a canvas, creativity has always, and will always, be both my work and my play.

Living an amplified life

To put her words another way, Creativity is a life, amplified. If that’s the truth (and I happen to think it is), then I am living an amplified existence — and I want you to, as well.

Find your passions and pursue them without constraint. Write those poems. Sketch that portrait. Sing that song. Bake that pie. Whatever creative experience you are dreaming of, find the time and make it happen — but don’t put the pressure on it to be your sustenance on every level.

Will you join me in living an amplified life?

Revitalize Your Brand to Revitalize Your Business

brand revitalization

A few months ago, I got up on my favorite soapbox (my blog, of course!), and debunked three myths about branding.

The first of those myths was that your brand can be created in no time — well, actually, that your brand can be created at all. Here’s why I had to falsify that thought: your brand is something that, with time, you’ll uncover. It’s your job to embrace that discovery and then illuminate it.

There’s another piece of evidence, though, when it comes to debunking the myth that your brand is a one-time creation. And that’s this: over time, your brand will evolve.

The evolution of a brand

The three initial keys I gave to discovering/uncovering your brand were these:

1. Observe. Watch your clients, and document how they interact with your business and current brand.

2. Research. Survey clients, analyze the competition, and create benchmarks.

3. Evaluate your mission. Identify the audience(s) you most want to serve, and learn how you can best serve them.

Now, that is, of course, the abbreviated version of each of those steps. I won’t dive in further right now, but here’s the important thing to take note of: none of the actions listed above are a one-time task.

You should always be observing.

You should always be researching.

You should always be evaluating whether your mission still fits your audience, and vice versa.

And as you continuously do each of these things, here’s what will happen: your brand will evolve.

A case study for a Brand Boost

Because we often hear that consistency is the most important thing in branding, it’s often thought that your brand can never change.

I urge you to consider this, though: your brand is the feelings, biases, and inclinations that flood your clients’ and prospects’ minds when they hear or see your organization’s name. It’s an emotional connection that rarely stays stagnant.

And so the truth is, as your business grows, your brand often needs to change to reflect that growth and keep the doors open to unlimited possibility.

This was illustrated for me perfectly through a recent client project. The task? Give new life to the brand of Ferris Hills, an independent and enriched senior living community in the Finger Lakes. Naturally, this called for a Brand Boost.

Ferris Hills realized that it had outgrown its branding. And it did this by observing, researching, and evaluating its mission over time.

In observing and researching, the organization realized what its residents really loved about the community and what sets it apart from others: its proximity to Canandaigua Lake as well as Thompson Hospital; its options for meals, activities, and events; the carefree living it allows for.

A fresh take on the good life

What the Brand Boost resulted in for Ferris Hills: an updated logo, a wave of new photography, and design of a beautiful brochure that captures the essence of the good life.

We’ve interwoven design elements — from colors like greens and lavenders to scripted fonts — that evoke a sense of happiness, vitality, and calm.

Ferris Hills isn’t your standard senior living center. When they lead with “I promised myself the good life…” they let you fill in the blank with whatever that might mean, and then they strive to create it. The campus at West Lake is a hub of activity where life sincerely gets better.

Revitalize your brand

Change is good. It means you’re observing, analyzing, and evaluating the environment you’re operating in and the audience(s) you most want to serve, and keeping an open mind as to how you can do it better.

Your brand will naturally evolve as you grow, and it’s your job, business owner, to let it.

Want to see where your current brand stands? Download my free ebook, What Does Your Brand Say? to do a mini-audit of your brand — then sign up for a complimentary Brand Clarity Call where I’ll help you work through it.

Designing an Experience

designing an experience

When you walk into a floral shop, it’s easy to find yourself attracted to certain bouquets. Maybe it’s the Calla Lilies sprinkled with the Bells of Ireland and dotted with Lily of the Valley. Or the way the tulips are balanced by hydrangeas. You see, florists are experts in pairing just the right flowers to make you want them staring at you from your kitchen table every morning.

They do something that many people can’t: they see what works together, so they package it. Then, they sell it. And it works — because suddenly we see what we might not have seen before. And when it works really well? It resonates with us.

The magic of packaging

The same could be said of your brand. Your brand starts with a single element — maybe it’s your logo. It could just as easily be a texture that speaks to you. Or a color that represents you. The talent of a good graphic designer comes in being able to take disparate design elements that work on their own — a logo, certain graphics, a color palette, various patterns — and package them together so that they work even better. In their unique packaging, they form an identity for you and your organization — one that resonates with your ideal client.

Packaging items helps people understand, appreciate, and connect with the experience, whether it’s flower buying, interacting with your brand, or embarking upon new travel destinations.

Packaging travel

Consider the organization AAA: as a travel agency, AAA packages vacations to present them to potential buyers as a one-stop shop: your airfare, lodging, meals, transportation, and excursions organized over 7; 10; 21 days for maximum enjoyment. They can do it because they know the product. Where you might look at a trip to Ireland and be overwhelmed with options, they can present to you an all-inclusive trip with an itinerary delivered to your inbox.

Local travel bureaus are doing the same. But what’s even more fun to see than the standard packaging of hotels and restaurants is the coming together of partner entities to form a trail you can explore — one with a unique brand to call its own.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

That’s precisely what so many local tourism partners have done. It’s the trails created by others that give us the encouragement, and the understanding, to explore newness without overwhelm. Take for example the Finger Lakes Sweet Treat Trail. Voted #7 on USA Today’s 10Best list for Food Trails, this one’s focused on the good stuff: the cookies, jams, honey, ice cream, and other sugary delights, all made with a focus on locally-sourced ingredients.

On their own, each of the businesses on the trail operates just fine. But together? They’ve joined to create a brand that brings more visitors and fosters a better experience. (And gets featured on USA Today…)

The same could be said of other local trails with which I’ve worked: the Canandaigua Wine Trail, the Cayuga Healthy Choices Trail, and the Let’s Go Hike and Bike trails. Each is made up of seemingly disparate entities — ones that you might think to visit individually, but wouldn’t necessarily know how to approach together as an outsider. As collective entities with distinct brands, they’ve united to offer experiences.

Trails you want to be on

It is incredibly important to create a brand that excites the people you want to reach. Whether it’s perfecting the pairing of flowers in a bouquet, partnering a logo with graphics and textures for a company identity, or packaging the wineries, waterways, and sweet shops into a trail, make your next creation an experience that others want to take part in.

Create a brand that excites. A package that inspires. A trail that invites.

What skills, elements, or ideas will you blend into an experience next?

Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone in Life and Design

life is amplified at the end of your comfort zone

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch

Lately, this quote has been the theme to my life. In both personal and professional ways, stepping outside of my comfort zone has drastically changed my outlook on life as well as the impact I’m able to make with my business. And I’m confident it can for you, too. Here are my stories:

On a stage in front of more than 300 women…

Is not where I’d ever thought I’d be if you asked me even a few months ago. Let’s rewind: a few weeks ago, I was flying out on a Sunday to attend a business mastermind retreat with my mentor, Christine Kane. Just two days before I was scheduled to leave, I was contacted to see if I’d be interested in introducing Christine for the opening segment of the retreat, all about packages. The “rules”: use 5-6 minutes, speak from your heart, and introduce Christine.

I didn’t hesitate. I said yes. I was incredibly honored to be asked.

With very little time to process, I went about my day, prepared to leave, and flew out on Sunday. On Monday morning, I took the stage with a few bullet-pointed notecards. But it only took a few seconds to realize I wasn’t going to lay an eye on them. I let go. I saw the women in that audience, knew my story of overcoming obstacles and building packages for Harris Studios could help them, and I told my story.

Could I tell you what I said on that stage today? Hardly. But it resonated. Because I stepped outside of my comfort zone, embraced my originality, and owned my voice.

‘Captaining’ a guide boat in the Adirondacks

Realizing the power of breaking down that barrier lit a fire inside of me, one that extended beyond my business and into my personal life. While many step outside of their comfort zone to find excitement, there’s also sanctity in stepping outside to find solitude. For me, that happened in one of my favorite places in this world: Brantingham Lake in the Adirondacks. And it happened in the form of a vintage Adirondack guide boat.

I was browsing Facebook one day when I saw the boat for sale. I took a chance and made an offer. It was a big decision. But it was easy. Within days, I was rowing a historic guide boat — my boat. I’m rowing backwards in my wicker seat, knowing I can stop and float at anytime while I write, paint, or read. I slow down. And in that way — alone in the middle of a lake, not on stage in front of 300 people — I find and own my voice.

How your work can be inspired by stepping outside your comfort zone

The true beauty in stepping outside of your comfort zone is this: when you let go of doubts, ignore judgments, and open your mind, you become your most authentic self.

Doing this for your business means connecting on a deeper level with the audience you’re most qualified to serve: those who share your beliefs, feel resolve in your message, and can benefit from what you have to offer.

Ordinary doesn’t sell anymore. Safe isn’t compelling. It’s only by putting yourself and your business out there in a genuine way, whether it’s through speaking in front of an audience, sharing your vulnerabilities on Instagram, or trying something new with your services, that you can realize your full potential.

Your work will be better for it. You’ll connect with the audience you’re seeking in a more authentic way. And, best of all, you’ll discover opportunities you didn’t previously think were in the realm of possibility.

And when this extends into your personal life? This means deeper relationships; more self-confidence, and a happier life.

Light your own fire

Let go of pretenses. Ignore self-doubt. Step outside of what would normally be expected of you (expectations set by both others and yourself). Then, and only then, can you realize the potential of who you are and what you have to offer.

It took stepping outside my comfort zone to prove to myself that I have a voice. A powerful voice. I can heal. I can help. I can share. And through that, I can become a stronger business woman. I can become a stronger mentor. I can become a stronger friend.

Try something new. Explore uniqueness. Use your voice to express who you are and where you’re going.

I have one edit to this popular quote: Life is amplified at the end of your comfort zone. I had — and have — a wonderful life within my comfort zone. But it’s only when I step outside that I see the potential for what it can be; what I can do. It’s amplified all that I have, and all that I hope to be.

What’s one thing you can do today to step outside your comfort zone? How will that impact your brand, and your voice?