CoFounder and CEO, SYNTAX
At SYNTAX we love restaurant metaphors. Sometimes we are ACTUALLY working on restaurant brands and would LITERALLY be discussing restaurant ideas. But even when branding an architectural office, a tech company, a barbershop or even debating the nature of our own company or services, restaurant metaphors are often a great help to get ideas across.
“Is this travel brand a McDonald’s or a gourmet restaurant?” or “Who is the chef with the secret recipe at this tech startup?” or “There is tension between the kitchen and the waiters at that consulting firm.” These are the kinds of sentences that you might hear if you were a fly on the wall in a SYNTAX meeting room (or a SYNTAX Zoom or Skype call, these days).
Such a restaurant metaphor came up towards the end of 2020 as we were debating how to start 2021. The subject of the debate: how can SYNTAX be more relevant to small and medium businesses after a year when everyone, including us (we are ourselves a small business), had a very tough year.
As you are reading this, the SYNTAX team would have launched our first coordinated promotional campaign ever. It is called PROTOTYPE and it is completely focused on small and medium businesses, covering three critical service areas: how SMEs create their brands. How do they stand out on social media. How do they create a digital presence.
As we were discussing and developing this campaign, we hit a bump? What can SYNTAX realistically provide SMEs with in the current tough economic situation? Are we simply “shrinking” our services into a smaller size? Are we starting a “cheaper” alternative to our usual services? What value do we want to provide to SMEs?
And that is when a restaurant metaphor came up in one of our Skype calls
If SYNTAX were a restaurant would we be a McDonald’s or a gourmet eatery?
We cook original, bespoke brand experiences, based on deep research and concept development processes. Everything we do is custom made and crafted. There are no cookie cutter solutions or copy and paste templates. This would make us more of a gourmet restaurant. And yes, this makes us expensive to hire for most SMEs.
Although our portfolio is dotted with work we did for small/medium businesses, bigger institutional work has taken the place of prominence in people’s perception of what we do.
So are we a “gourmet restaurant” mainly catering for “big” clients?
In truth, that is not the case. But that might be the perception. In a recent call we had with a friend who is running a startup, that perception came through loud and clear. Oops.
We are definitely gourmet. Yet at the same time a big part of our journey has been spent working with small businesses, social enterprises and startups.
We love the impact we can have when working intimately with founders and owners. The risk takers, the driven, the passionate, the geeky, the fighters. They are the real heroes of the economy.
How can we, at the start of 2021, play a role in energizing small and medium businesses. How can we provide services that are relevant to SMEs today in a world that is ever more digital, where brands are often born on a screen, competing in a social space that is getting ever more noisy.
More importantly, how can we price our services in a way that makes sense to SMEs when money is tight.
“Launch a McDonalds!” is the advice that often gets given whenever the SME question comes up.
But no. That’s not us. There must be another way.
That other way is our PROTOTYPE initiative. Think of it as a gourmet restaurant throwing its door open to a wider audience. But instead of forcing everyone to buy the twenty one course, four hour, super expensive dinner, how about offering a lighter, more modular and more affordable dining experience that gives more and more people the chance to sample the tasty ingredients and the magical techniques of the chefs in the kitchen?
Are you hungry yet?
OK. Enough with the restaurant metaphors. Let’s talk Branding. Social. Digital.
The SME dilemma
Most SMEs, constrained by small budgets, end up getting stuck with cookie cutter brand designs, provided by “logo making” sites, or agencies who do “cheap and quick” work. SMEs social media efforts are often handled by social media agencies who mostly outsource to inexperienced, poorly paid college kids. And when it comes to the all-important digital storefronts, sites and apps, ready-made templates are quickly put on the table.
Sometimes these solutions work. Sometimes they don’t. A ready made logo or web template can sometimes do the job. Sometimes not. It’s hit and miss at best.
But for ambitious small business owners and smart startups, such solutions are generally a bad way to build their brands and their interfaces of interaction with their customers.
The key missing ingredient is simply: proper thinking before doing. In more fancy terms: research, strategy and concept development. Good design is not about winning a beauty contest. Good design of brands, social media campaigns and digital solutions should always start with asking the right questions and coming up with original ideas and solutions that stand out in the market and open windows for innovation and customer delight. That’s what SMEs are mostly missing out on.
We believe that our PROTOTYPE initiative can be a solution to this problem.
Brand big. Own social. Rock digital.
Under PROTOTYPE we are launching three services: BRANDxs, SOCIALdna and DIGITALxp. Each of these services is a three week engagement that uses the essence of the SYNTAX process to create branding, social and digital “prototypes”, providing SMEs with usable tools, assets and roadmaps for future development.
A prototype is not a final product. But it is also not just an idea or a sketch. A prototype is a working model, a proof of concept. Prototypes are an amazing way to create, learn and iterate.
Here is a concrete example: let’s say you are an owner of a small pastry shop (here we go again!). Your current logo was created for five Dollars on one of those sites. Maybe it was good enough to get you going. Now, business is picking up and your pastries are being delivered by food ordering apps and stocked in a couple of supermarket. You feel that your small pastry shop has big potential. But your five Dollar logo really says “I’m a five dollar logo”. Your packaging is basically “designed” by the printing shop (he stretched your logo horizontally!). And your Instagram grid is full of pictures taken with a mobile phone (no shame in that) with a greasy lens (not good). Things are inconsistent and chaotic. Your brand doesn’t speak well for you.
It would be nice if you could come to SYNTAX for a full branding solution (it would be nice for us too!). But after all sorts of financial troubles in 2020 you simply cannot afford a branding project that could go into five figures. What do you do? Is your only choice to go for cookie-cutter, templated and quick’n’dirty solutions? AGAIN?
You call us. We spend some time on the phone to get a basic understanding of your needs and we sign you up for the 3 week BRANDxs workshop. In the first week our team, (which includes people with 10, 15, 20 and 30 years of experience) will dive deep into your business and industry and work closely with you to determine your real priorities. And in the remaining two weeks we work on a PROTOTYPE, which could include a new logo and color scheme, but also strategic ideas about your communication tone-of-voice, your long term brand values, options for positioning your pastry business, and maybe an initial roadmap for the development of your brand over the next 3 years.
Or perhaps the priority is packaging. Your five Dollar logo may actually be fine after some minor tweaking by us. So we spend most of the two weeks coming up with an amazing package design that stands out on the shelf (and in an Instagram grid).
It’s all about flexibility, modularity and setting priorities. And it’s all based on research, understanding and sound strategy. These are the tools we use for big brands. If we get our priorities right together, there is nothing stopping us from working with you on a brand prototype that your pastry shop can build on.
Then, you start implementing and using the ideas and elements you got from the BRANDxs workshop. Hopefully the impact will be clear. Your sales grow. Your brand gets more recognized. And you come back in 6 months ready for a more comprehensive branding project, because now you are ready to conquer the world (not just the neighborhood).
Maybe you don’t need branding. Maybe you need to find your authentic voice on social media. Go for SOCIALdna to start creating that social persona and style that is truly you. Or maybe your next step is to create the ultimate pastry customization app! Go for DIGITALxp and make sure you have a basic, solid prototype of a delightful user experience for your app before you start investing in developing it.
PROTOTYPE is also a prototype for SYNTAX
Our commitment to serving companies and organizations both large and small will not change. And our set of end-to-end services will not change. Yet, we are all excited about the potential of this campaign and what new SME encounters it will bring.
We too are prototyping a number of firsts for SYNTAX in the context of this initiative. PROTOTYPE is the first time in our 22 year history where we will leave our “word of mouth” comfort zone and embark on a social media and search campaign in a number of countries in the Arab region and beyond. So don’t be surprised if you see a SYNTAX ad popping up on LinkedIn and Instagram.
Another first for us is that we are launching this campaign in both Arabic and English. In truth, it is kind of bizarre that a company like ours that not only has crafted communication in Arabic for over two decades but also pushed the boundaries of Arabic visual design, restricts itself to an English-only website. It’s bizarre but not uncommon. So while we are not going fully bilingual, this campaign is a good place to start and we hope that it will deliver our message and services to a new audience as well.
Calling all SME heroes
If you are the leader of a small or medium business we invite you to check out the special landing page we created here. We’d love to hear your opinion on the PROTOTYPE initiative and we hope that we can welcome you within the SYNTAX community soon.
If you are not an SME owner, well, thank you for making it this far in this message! But whether you are a consultant, a corporate leader or working in the non-profit sector, we’d like to hear from you as well. What do you think SMEs need to navigate challenging times and how can their role in the region’s economy be strengthened?
As a small, ambitious business ourselves, we feel PROTOTYPE speaks to us as well. We have experienced the ups and downs. The hopes and fears. The triumphs and the letdowns. And we sincerely hope that our accumulated knowledge can have help lift up SME heroes to new heights. We believe that our community of small and medium businesses can do big things, creating a productive economy and an empowered society, whether they are startups founded last week or, like us, those who have been on this road for decades.