Settle Into Your Zone of Genius

Ever get a feeling of energy and flow that is effortless when performing a task or activity? I am talking about pure Zen! That is a Zone of Genius and it is your own unique power. It can be described as the sweet spot between skills, strength and talents.  Most times, this is where entrepreneurs and small business owners are at and the reason they went into business in the first place. It is the passion that drove them to set out on their own and create a product or service that nobody else could!

What does this all mean? The activities you participate in typically fall within one of four zones:

  1. Zone of Incompetence – things other people can do better than you
  2. Zone of Competence – Things you can accomplish and other can do too
  3. Zone of Excellence – Things you can do better than others, but you don’t enjoy it
  4. Zone of Genius – Things that you are uniquely good at and thoroughly enjoy doing

As someone inspired to start and run your own company, it is important to recognize where your Zone of Genius lies and when you start to drift into incompetence, competence, and excellence. What are the activities that you are spending your time doing that you aren’t very good at or are not enjoying? Could someone else be doing it better? Finding the right workflow means understanding what you want, what you are good at and what the organizations needs to grow and thrive.

Working in your Zone of Genius is all about finding joy and energy in a task. Anything that falls outside of that in Zones 1 – 3 needs to be considered carefully and then outsourced to people that find purpose in the job. The task could be overhauled or even eliminated. The Zone of Excellence can be tricky because you will do it well but not enjoy it. This is exactly how people end up in jobs they hate for 20+ years! Be transparent about how you feel about tasks and responsibilities … to yourself and to the people around you.

What is the best way to realize our Zone of Genius? Consider leveraging these exercises:

  1. Monitor work related tasks for a set period … two weeks is usually a good baseline
  2. Put each task into the Zones 1 – 4
  3. Tally up what went into each Zone

This is the fun part! For all the tasks that went into Zone 1 – 3 figure out ways to either eliminate (most of the time it is not feasible to completely eliminate a task, but it is possible periodically!), outsource it or rework the task to make it enjoyable.

Understanding your Zone of Genius means embracing your natural talent, which often can go ignored because you feel pressured to “like” another job or task better, a negative and subjective work evaluation or simply because you are overwhelmed trying to be everything to everyone.

Want to learn more about finding your Zone of Genius? Check out this YouTube video!

5 Steps to Power Up Your Market Presence 

What exactly is it? How do you get it?

Brand differentiation is how your brand sets itself apart from the competition by associating a superior performing aspect of your brand with multiple customer benefits.

In essence, it is your competitive advantage.

Brand differentiation is an essential aspect of a brand marketing strategy. It enables companies to reveal their profitable qualities that help develop a unique selling proposition. This way, they understand their competitive advantage and stand out among competitors.

Companies selling status quo items in the marketplace are easily interchangeable and prone to fall victim to price wars because that is the only thing left for them to compete with. Consistently undercutting prices ultimately leads to a lower net profit for the business.

Below are 5 tried and true strategies for building competitive brand differentiation.  


Innovation is really one of the best ways to stand out. Do your homework (or research!) and find out how to really solve your customers’ problems. If a product already exists, find out what the gaps are and where the trouble spots are. What are customers complaining about? Make products easier, simpler and more solutions-oriented to attract attention. Organizations that are consistently bringing innovations to a crowded marketplace are typically more successful and have stronger customer loyalty.


Does your brand have a consistent presence? Presenting a brand that has a clear visual strategy (color palette, logo, tagline, etc.) across multiple platforms is more likely to be remembered by customers, and more easily recommended to additional customers.


Is the way that customers interact with your brand unique and dependable? Customer experience is felt through a brick-and-mortar store, website, social media, shipping, customer service unboxing/packaging and more! Perhaps, that customer experience even comes from being able to customize a product or service through a website, app or in-person event. Customer experience can either make or break a brand.


Pricing can be tricky and needs to be handled properly. Companies need to find the balance between being affordably priced to offer financial value and being a premium brand with additional benefits at a higher price. To create a pricing strategy and differentiate your brand perform a marketing pricing analysis, target audience research, competitive landscape analysis, and lay out the results next to your business goals.

Emotional Response

How a brand makes a customer feel matters because it plays a big part in whether the person comes back to buy again or refers the company to someone new. Statistics show that customers with an emotional relationship to a brand have a 306 percent higher lifetime value and will recommend the company at a rate of 71 percent. Along that same line, 70 percent of viewers are more likely to buy a product from an ad after having an intense emotional response. Creating an emotional response from a customer is closely tied to the customer experience.

Know Where Your Genius Lives

Every decision we make carries an opportunity cost. If we don’t budget our time wisely, we end up wasting it, as well as our energy on things that don’t matter or should be delegated to those with the proper expertise. For example, when I first started my business, I thought I needed to handle my monthly accounting, data entry and P&L statements. I spent HOURS trying to understand and organize the money I was making and spending. What I quickly learned was that the amount of time I was spending on this task each month was significantly taking away the time I spent on client work which ended up causing me some very late-night hours and a lot of stress. The obvious lesson I learned here was that I needed to outsource this task to an expert that manages this more efficiently so that I could focus on building a graphic design and branding business.

Fifteen years later the term “stay in your lane” resonates loudly with me as I seek to create synergies with third parties that can help me run Creative Vortex more efficiently. That’s not to say that learning a new skill or gaining an appreciation for another talent isn’t still important but knowing where your genius lives and honoring that is equally, if not more so, important.

This concept also applies to creating a marketing and design strategy for a business. It is amazing to me how often people think they can do this themselves because they “know their business the best” and consider themselves to be creative or a great writer. Or they simply just don’t see the value in investing in a professional design team because they think that an online software can give them everything they need for $150 a year. Then waste hours of their own time trying to do something they are not very good at and struggle with the execution.

The examples below are the most common:

  • Working solo to customize marketing materials from a template to save money vs hiring experts with proven experience to increase sales and company revenue and hit deadlines.
  • Posting on social media sporadically with content that has no meaning to the target market (you think it does, but it is totally off base) vs hiring a professional to do some market research and create a strategy and content calendar that has relevance with your audience.
  • Paying for online ads and using stock visuals (or worse yet, visuals stolen from the Internet) vs hiring a professional digital marketer/designer to create custom visuals and assist with ad copy.
  • Paying a lot of money for a booth spot at a trade show, waiting too long to create the design/marketing and end up missing the mark because they didn’t know about the many, many details related to printing, shipping, set-up and execution.
  • Buying a discount logo online and expecting it to work for all your marketing and business needs. Please know that putting a vertical logo into a horizontal space isn’t going to work because it is so small that people can’t see it. Just because you can get a logo for $99 in a day doesn’t mean you should. Your brand mark should have the ability to shine in all its applications.

How much is your time actually worth? How much time in your day are you spending on tasks you don’t understand and consequently getting poor results for your effort? Think about how much more you could achieve and build your business by partnering with a creative/marketing professional that could help strategically guide your business and ultimately save you time and money. Branding is a process and it is important to build the foundation, which typically includes business name, tagline, mission and vision statement.

Every day we are faced with choices on how to invest our time, and we all can be guilty of the same thing: Taking on too much without properly understanding the costs. Especially when it comes to marketing and design, it is important to partner with experts that know how to create the most impact for your money, no matter how big or small a budget is.

Interested in learning more about creating a branding and marketing strategy? Contact Creative Vortex today for insights on how we can help your business stand out in a crowd.

Elements of a Great Marketing Piece 

Potential customers often see a business’ marketing collateral, whether it be printed or digital, before they actually experience a product or service. No matter what the piece is, be sure to incorporate the following best practices to create a good impression with potential and returning customers.

1. Readability

For people to connect with a business or organization, it is important that marketing materials are easy to read. Potential customers need to be able to quickly understand what the business is, the problem it solves, how to buy and where to find more information (website, social media, store location, etc). Keep your messages concise and don’t use jargon. Lastly, make sure that all marketing collateral is free of any kind of errors. Nothing throws doubt on a company’s credibility like seeing grammar and spelling errors! And, to that point, ensure that the website works, social media platforms are updated, chat boxes are being monitored and phone lines are being answered.

2. Crystal Clear Call-to-Action

What do you want readers to do after reading your marketing piece? The call-to-action (CTA) needs to provide a very clear path to prompt an immediate response or encourage an immediate sale. It should be obvious but very specific and create an urgency that drives a consumer to make a purchase. A CTA should focus on making a transaction, including:

  • Shop our sale now
  • Visit us online to buy now
  • Get free shipping when you spend $100

It can also focus on a personal engagement between the buyer and the seller. Examples include:

  • Call / DM us for a free consultation
  • Sign up for a free 30-day trial
  • RSVP to attend our event

No matter what  the CTA is, the direction should be crystal clear, free of any ambiguities and impossible to miss.

3. On-point Visual Design

If you have a great message and a precise CTA, but your visual design is a mess, all that work will be for nothing because it will be lost in confusion. Having a properly designed marketing piece for a reader should do four things:

  1. Catch a consumer’s attention
  2. Direct the reader’s eyes
  3. Answer who, what, when, why and where
  4. Organize the information and graphics

A visual strategy for all your marketing collateral will provide order and present the most important information so it is easy to find and read, and subsequently make it easy for people to engage with the company.

4. Stay On Brand

Lastly, marketing collateral needs to be on brand, reflecting the proper logo, fonts, colors, key messages and design elements that are synonymous with the organization’s brand identity. Conduct a brand audit to make sure that old branding and messaging has been retired and isn’t lurking in the shadows. It is important to conduct a brand audit every 4-6 months to maintain continuity, identify gaps, and implement updates.

Creating an easily identifiable marketing mix with strong and well-built pieces goes a long way in building a trustworthy and credible business that will consistently retain customers and attract new ones.

Want to learn more? Email at to book a free 30-minute consultation!

Application of Logo Variations

Having a versatile primary logo means having variations of it that can be used in different ways on a variety of platforms. Having several approved logo variations in a branding guide allows a business to shift seamlessly and be recognized instantly. As a business and brand grows, the application of a logo should be adapted to be include on:

1.     Website
2.     Social Media
3.     Print Collateral
4.     Signage
5.     Digital Communications
6.     Apps
7.     Clothes & Bags/Backpacks
8.      Pens, Pencils, etc.

While the primary logo will always be the leading mark of your company, it isn’t always the best application. Logo variations present the best visual aspect of an organization while maintaining brand consistency. Let’s look at the six main types of logo variations.

Primary Logo 

The primary logo is the main identifier of your brand and is used predominantly in your marketing channels and platforms. It sets the tone and should be easily recognized in your target market.

Stacked Logo 

Aligned closely with the primary logo, the stacked version should be used when space is tight, typically on printed materials and presentations. If the primary logo is already stacked there is no need to recreate it.






Secondary Logo

Used on as-needed basis and/or to align more closely with the platform it is being used on. It still needs to be tightly knit with the primary logo but can be adapted to be more horizontal/vertical or to show a different side of the company brand.

Tagline Logo

The tagline logo can simply be the primary logo with an approved tagline attached to it. It is important to make sure that when it is used the tagline is legible and easy to read.

Submark & Brandmark 

The submark and brandmark can be used in small spaces and are circular in nature, most notably are used in social media profiles. A submark will include your business name and maybe a tagline. A brandmark is just a graphic element from the primary logo or a monogram of the business name. These items may also be used as watermarks.



Color Variations

While the use of color for all logo types must be maintained, in certain situations to the logo can be adapted in support of environmental or social causes. Choosing logo colors from CMYK or RGB helps to ensure that color consistency is maintained on all marketing platforms. It is also important to determine grayscale versions of the logo types if color options are not available.

Paving the Way for Branding Relevance in 4 Steps

Brand relevance is the ability to connect with people’s emotions and make a product or service relevant enough for them to invest in it.  Why is it important? Creating brand relevance is a strong indicator of long-term success by gaining engagement, loyalty, and trust from customers for years to come.

Creating true brand relevance takes time and patience, but when done correctly can grow a brand and business for the long-term. Below are 4 steps that can help you realign your brand for success.

Step #1: Conduct a Brand Audit

Do you know what your footprint is with your target audience? Are you even getting in front of the people that will buy your product or service? Now is the time to conduct a brand audit so you know the impact of your brand and its existing gaps. Use the steps below to conduct a brand audit.

  • Identify what is being measured. What is your business’s mission, vision, unique selling proposition, market position and brand promise? Who is your target audience and where are they?
  • Assess marketing materials. Gather all your marketing materials, including business logo, brochures, sales sheets, product packaging, letterhead, business cards, print advertisements, website(s), social media platforms, email campaigns, and newsletters. Do they have a consistent design, color, and tone? Do they speak to your target market?
  • Review your business website. Using website analytics, assess where web traffic is coming from, what the bounce rate and conversion rate is and if it is attracting your target audience.
  • Review your social media data. Use your social media analytics to examine who is following and engaging with your brand. Are they current or potential customers? Are they saying anything about your brand?

Evaluate competitive brands. Assess the competitions by reviewing their marketing and advertising materials, websites, and social media platforms. What are they doing well or not so well?

Step #2: Do Some Market Research

Who does your target audience think you are? To make sure that you are talking to the right target audience and using the right mix of marketing, leverage market research to fully understand how current and potential customers feel about your brand. Use a combination of customer focus groups, email surveys, social media polls, and online surveys to get customer feedback on the following:

  • What brand experience have people had?
  • What has their experience been with customer service?
  • Does your service or product solve customers’ problems?
  • How do customers describe your service or product?
  • Have they ever recommended it to friends and family?
  • What does the brand’s logo make people think of?

Be sure to survey people that aren’t customers yet. Also, create a unique survey for employees to make sure they understand the brand too. If they don’t have full knowledge of the brand it is harder for them to sell it.

Step #3: Review Impact of Design Collateral

  • A design audit includes analyzing all the visual and graphic elements that represent your brand externally and internally. Consistency in design has an incredible influence on customer experience and engagement. The audit should include any visual, written, and verbal communication used as a touchpoint to get the attention of current and potential customers. When conducting a visual audit look at the following:
  • Patterns: Put visual elements into buckets according to the patterns that represent the brand. Look for commonalities across all platforms and identify anything is erratic and out of place.
  • Tone, Voice, & Message: Does what you are saying and writing match up with the visual representation of the brand? Does it support the message represented by the logo?

This step will help to answer the question of whether your visuals tell a cohesive story and accurately represent your brand.

Step #4: Develop A Plan

The only way to truly leverage the information gained from the brand audit, market research and graphic design audit to achieve your marketing objectives is to create a to-do list! This should be a detailed plan of action that highlights goals, deliverables, tactics, and a timeline that prioritizes work to get you in front of the right people to drive engagement and sales. Below are some key activities to building a marketing plan:

  • Define Business Goals & Budget
  • Conduct a SWOT Analysis
  • Identify Target Audience / Customer
  • Develop Marketing Goals
  • Define Visuals and Communication Tone

Brand relevance can lead to a strong connection between a brand and consumer. When a consumer finds your product or service necessary for them, they will build a connection with your brand through engagement and referrals that will last for years to come.

Tips for Fixing 4 Common Branding Mishaps

The art of branding an organization can be a complicated process and mishaps happen!  When branding goes well sales rise and consumers get engaged, but when it goes bad the damage to an organization’s reputation can last for many years. Below are four common branding errors and some ideas to realign and get past them.

Mishap #1 – Inconsistent Use of Brand Across Digital Channels

The digital world is huge right now, and with the onset of the pandemic businesses need to be visible and easy to connect with online to thrive and grow.  A recent study by ClickZ Marketing Technology Transformation shows advantages of omnichannel marketing automation including 250% higher purchase frequency and 90% higher customer retention rates. Which means that having a strong and consistent presence on the top digital channels (see list below) is critical to success. Make it a point to review your channels on a weekly and monthly basis to ensure all graphics, visuals and content are sending the same message and speaking the same language. In fact, make it someone’s job to ensure brand usage is consistent!

Top Digital Channels:

  1. Website
  2. Email
  3. Social Media
  4. Mobile
  5. Display Ads
  6. Video

Mishap #2 – Disconnect Between Content Strategy and Brand Strategy

A brand strategy is the blueprint for building and growing a brand, basically the purpose of an organization … why it exists and what it does. Which is pretty much the foundation of a business. A content strategy is a tool to communicate what the organization is through content (i.e. print and digital channels). A misaligned content strategy dilutes a brand to the point it confuses and turns customers away creating little to no emotional connection to the brand. Look at your website … does it clearly articulate your mission and vision and how the product or service makes customers’ lives better?

Below are a few ideas on how to align content with branding.

  1. Create brand stories that include a value proposition and support the core identity of the organization.
  2. Implement brand guidelines for creating content that will be used on all marketing and communication channels.
  3. Develop campaigns for core business initiatives that are anchored in the organization’s brand values, mission, vision and value proposition.

Mishap #3 – Cutting Corners on Your Logo

A logo is a symbol that provides powerful brand recognition for your organization to consumers, investors, and competitors. Many factors can influence the development of a logo and often people will focus on getting the simplest and cheapest logo available because the process is daunting to them … or they just don’t see the ROI on really investing in a great logo. There are many online logo development websites available but creating a logo tailored for a business with a professional graphic designer can be quick, easy, and cost efficient. It is built around a concept and strategy, includes different variations and will grow for the long-term with a business. A good logo creates synergy with business goals and is designed to last for generations.

Mishap #4 – Lack of Strategy

Not having a branding strategy is probably one of the biggest mistakes an organization can make. A strategy provides a clear idea of what your organization stands for and how it can help customers, as well as visually define how a brand is presented to target markets. Not having a strategy creates a lot of ambiguity internally for employees as they work to promote the product or service, which ultimately affects the external messages and visuals that customers see. And, if customers are seeing mixed messages and visuals that creates uncertainty and confusion, which impacts the bottom line. Take the time to sit down and create a brand strategy that translates into brand guidelines that are used to execute the brand internally and externally.

Creating a strong and timeless brand takes a lot of work and won’t necessarily happen overnight, but by being thoughtful and consistent in its application it will provide a return on investment that will position your business as a market leader for years to come.

Digital Marketing Best Practices for Nonprofits

Nonprofit marketing teams are constantly being asked to do more with less. Resources are tight and teams are small. People have good intentions but are wearing multiple hats. Branding and marketing often fall to those that don’t have the expertise and time to do it right. I have spent a significant amount of my career providing branding and marketing for nonprofits and have witnessed this very thing. A plush marketing budget is nice, but not necessary to create an effective branding footprint, especially when it comes to a digital presence. Oftentimes, this is where nonprofits tend to struggle the most because they don’t have a clear understanding when it comes to creating and maintaining it.

Let’s focus on leveraging email campaigns and social media to help nonprofits create a digital presence. Both of these platforms have the ability to reach target audiences, tell a visual story, and provide access points to the organization. The goal is to amplify a mission statement, raise donations/awareness, draw volunteers, and increase the reach of the organization.

Branding Footprint
The overarching goal of a branding footprint is for all of an organization’s collateral to match. This includes a logo, website, social media, business cards, messaging, packaging … literally everything that represents your organization internally and externally. This conveys trust and credibility that the organization is well run and organized, as well as that the employees serving as stewards of the funds raised, will follow through on the organizations brand promise of serving those in need.

Digital Presence
A digital presence needs to fall tightly in line with the rest of the marketing materials and include consistent visuals and messaging seen online. Email marketing and social media are two effective tools available to create an enhanced brand experience online.

Email Marketing
Creating email campaigns allows organizations to segment and target the different people in their audiences. For example, you can focus on volunteers, donors, corporate partners, consumers, or peers. The key to success is to have clear messaging (what do you want them to know or do? What is the CTA?) that utilizes the same language and design elements across all the marketing platforms. It is easy to integrate video and drive people to a similarly branded organization website. Email marketing tends to be more formal and precise.

Social Media
Social media is an amazing opportunity to engage with followers and connect with people new to the brand. It provides an incredible opportunity to tell and show stories about the organization. To truly be impactful, it’s important to create a visual flow that incorporates the same design elements and messaging but allows for the ability to create a unique spin through video, animated gifs, guest appearances, tagging and design templates.

Create a branding guide (i.e. rules for use of logo, colors, fonts) and editorials calendars and stick to it. Remember, you don’t need a big budget to create a plan. Consistency is your key to success with both tools!

4 Red Flags That Signal Your Branding is Struggling

The keystones to building a business that can stand the test of time is creating a brand that people love and have a great buying relationship with. The strength of a brand can be found in its ability to create truly great products and seamlessly connect and communicate with its audience. Brands can start to struggle when they fail to evolve with industry trends and customer needs, or they react too quickly and make hasty decisions individually. Addressing those gaps early on is important to ensure business continuity. Below are four red flags that might signify that your brand is struggling to be relevant.

1. Brand Essence is Confusing

If you can’t quickly and efficiently state what your brand stands for then you have a problem. For example, Amazon is focused on convenience, Walmart on affordable products, Whole Foods on organic food and Starbucks on exceptional coffee. If you don’t know what your brand essence is (i.e. single intangible attribute), or senior management can’t agree on it, then it’s next to impossible to communicate your competitive differentiator to potential customers.

2. Mixed Messages

Are all your marketing and brand platforms communicating the same thing? Do they have the same look and feel? If going to your organization’s website is a different experience than going to your Instagram account that is a clear sign that your brand needs to be realigned. Each platform is used for a different purpose, but they all need to communicate the same brand messages and support the same type of design and imagery.

3. Your Colors Don’t Represent Your Identity

I once had a client that wanted to use cotton candy pink as the main color for a law firm’s brand because it was her favorite color. There isn’t anything wrong with cotton candy pink, however, it is not a color that typically instills confidence in people looking for some legal help to settle some serious issues. Colors greatly affect people’s emotional reaction to a brand and its products or services. It’s been proven that color influences 60 to 80 percent of purchasing decisions. What does your brand color palette say about you?


Let’s be real here. You are probably really good at creating the product or service that your brand was created to sell. But are you good at building a website, designing a logo, writing marketing content or coordinating print jobs? Probably not! Maybe you might save a few dollars by trying to do it all but in the end your brand is going to be more organized, clearer and targeted if you work with professionals that have the expertise and the time to do it right.

Brand misalignment happens to every business at some point. It isn’t a permanent state of being and can be corrected. The important thing is to be aware of it and take the proper steps to correct it.


3 Tips to Calm Networking Jitters 

We are looking for something when we put on our networking hats and approach a room (perhaps right now it’s still a Zoom room!) full of people that we are hopeful to meet. Maybe you are trying to keep up with business trends in your industry, find a new job, looking for talent to fill an open position, build a client list, make new friends or find the most impactful way to volunteer or give back. Your WHY for networking will always be shifting and evolving, but it’s important not to leave the practice for the moment you need something.  Really, the best time to network is when you are not asking for anything so there is time to grow and cultivate relationships. Perhaps, you will be the one giving for a while before needing to receive from a circle of influence. Think of networking as a marathon and not a sprint. Get in there and get comfortable to find your rhythm and style, but also make sure you aren’t always talking with all the same people.

Networking isn’t always easy, but it is so important to ensure that you have access to opportunities not open to the public. Having a high-functioning network provides valuable behind the scenes insight into different fields, internal perspective on jobs and advice on how to grow professionally. Simply put, networking provides better business opportunities and the perception of increased status.

I have been in business a while and have learned a few things about networking and running a successful boutique graphic design agency. Networking is significantly easier for me now after attending all kinds of events, trade shows, luncheons and dinners, but I had to learn a few tricks when I first started out. Below are three tips that can help you calm the jitters.

Prepare What You Want to Say

No, I don’t mean read from note cards or from notes written on the inside of your hand. However, you can still come prepared with what you want to say. Practice a 10 to 20 second elevator speech about yourself that includes who you are, what your professional background is, and why you are at the event. Networking is about getting to know other people so be prepared to ask questions of other people, including the presenters if the opportunity presents itself. It’s also important to have a general understanding about the subject matter being presented or discussed at the event.

Grow the Conversation

Networking is about connecting people that don’t know each other. A conversation with good flow can always handle more people to keep it interesting. Invite people that you already know into the conversation and introduce them to people you just met or already have a relationship with. This is a great way to make sure that the conversation isn’t just dependent on two people. People are going to expect others to drop in and out of conversations at networking events. It is also important to always offer authentic conversation. Believe it or not, it’s not hard to spot someone that is faking it. Don’t pretend to know something you don’t … and if you don’t ask about it. It’s a great way to stay engaged!

Work the Room

Make a plan to literally work yourself entirely through the room to meet people. Make a circle around the perimeter or interior of the room, or you can work the room diagonally to make an X. Doing this ensures maximum exposure and keeps you from getting stuck in a bubble.

Remember, it’s hard for everyone to walk into a crowded room to network. Remember … when signing up for networking events typically you are excited about it. It’s been proven that the brain and nervous system responds the same to nerves and excitement. So the next time you are networking and the jitters are growing take a deep breath, look around the room and focus on your plan. You got this!