Building a Brand

Green, gray, and black
The choice to designate marketing budget for branding versus direct marketing can be a challenging one. Ben and Jeremy look back to the days of choosing AIE's logo.

Benjamin Wills

I always envisioned a simple logo with a 1950s era feel to a company name.

I pictured a monolithic entity like Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) or International Business Machines (IBM) with a simple, recognizable logo and a reason to give the company initials, like they had. This was the basis for my input into the name and logo.

At the time, my thought process ran against the tide of Web 2.0 thought.

Logos were becoming intricate and sometimes even three dimensional – really too cutesy for my liking. I always felt that a logo should be instantly recognizable from both 6 inches and 60 feet in distance, look good in black and white as well as color and easily doodled on a napkin. If I could not draw it in 15 seconds, I did not want it.

Secondly, I always had in mind uniforms of some sort (watch future blog entries for details), and a simple logo would be easy to stitch or use to create patches, T-shirts, etc. I was looking for something I would be proud and confident to wear.  There are just some silly and bad logos attached to decent businesses out there. I worked for companies that had names and/or logos that always left me slightly embarrassed about its goofiness. This reaction made me unenthusiastic about introducing or marketing my company. I just did not want to deal with the snickers or lame explanations required for the branding.

The AIE design that we agreed to implement had to be one that employees could feel good about presenting.

I appreciate how well Eric Ellingsen from eCommerce Architects listened to both Jeremy’s and my input about what we wanted in a company logo, font and colors. After a few rounds of “pick the top 5 logos you like,” Eric was able to blend our choices into a simple, unique logo with accompanying brand look. I have never looked back and regretted anything regarding our choice. I think Jeremy at the time had some differing opinions on branding, but he was gracious enough to let me have a strong opinion.

In the end, the expense on logo and branding was well spent. 

I believe we both wanted to have a firm foundation to our branding out of the gate. Branding takes a long time to build when you don’t have a million dollar budget. With that in mind, we wanted to get it right the first time.

Five years later, the branding still fits the company and is now propagating into the marketplace. At the time we did the branding, it was significant money to us, but this a business decision I have never regretted.

Now, it is time for marketing our brand. 

Marketing is an interesting endeavor. I believe Jeremy has way more insight into the successful marketing path than me. For those of you who know me, my thought patterns and reasoning are often at odds with the majority, so I am not sure I would take bets on successful marketing strategies from me.


Jeremy Wills

Every business that has ever opened its doors births a name at inception and builds a brand over time.

You start with a corporate identity, and work your way through the company’s value proposition, core values, and your mission, vision, and how you interact with peers, competitors and customers. All of these factors play a strategic role in determining a central brand platform that allows your company’s services and products to be delivered to the marketplace, consistently on the mark

I was once labeled a passionate idealist.

This isn't a bad two-word assessment as I reflect on my life. And, given that label, attempting to brand myself or my company felt like a large weight. I must confess, I was not entirely on-board with our corporate image at the beginning. Not that I had a specific idea in mind, but the thought of Advanced Intelligence Engineering as our company name was rather laborious and felt somewhat ostentatious for a two-man IT shop. This name was established by Ben while he had it as a moon-lighting operation before we took the company full time.

It was with Ben’s rare expression of insistence that I acquiesced to the name and utilitarian color scheme of green, grey and black. In the back of my mind, my vision was to become an Accenture or IBM one day (speaking of passionate idealism), and I figured we would eventually be known for our acronym, not our full name. Given that and Ben's logic that we engineer advanced solutions, with intelligence—or data—being the central core to our delivery, the name made sense in the end.

Our company’s goal has always been to act who you desire to be or become. 

As part of that, our brand perception was critical for us from the get-go. One area for us to play the part was in our intentionality in dressing up for all business meetings. Regardless of client, we wear suits. This subtle, or not so subtle approach, lays a foundation for our customers that we are running our business in a professional manner and the suits are a simple reminder of this fact.  

Early on, we knew we needed to spend money on our image. While the choice to spend what little money we had on marketing was difficult, we bit the bullet and hired a web design firm to tweak our image for us and provide us with a professional online presence. Especially in our industry, one cannot afford to not look the part. These same concepts of utilitarian feel using our corporate greens, greys and blacks, allowed them to come up with what we still use today, our AIE logo

Decisions on where to spend money for corporate branding versus direct marketing haven’t always come easy. 

The important thing is to remember to make small investments into big ideas. Ben and I like to remind each other of two early mis-fires in our branding and direct marketing attempts. One day, Ben and another employee showed up in uniforms that he had made for engineers. It took everything in me to not crumble after seeing them. After a heated discussion between Ben and me, and a few back-handed compliments from our clients, the uniforms were quickly dismissed and the sunk cost chalked up to a learning experience

Not too far from that time I decided to purchase hundreds of postcards, along with a mailing list for customers in our area. After only mailing out a small portion of them, the ROI was apparent and I quietly buried the remainder of the cards in the closet, collecting dust to this day. But, like Edison’s remark about how many different ways he learned not to build a light bulb, you have to learn to experiement and take risks, or the result will surely always be the same

There haven’t been many changes to our original look and feel, but the morphing of our processes, corporate environment, and  the products and services we deliver have all played a part in our ever evolving brand. And, while you get the opportunity to announce your identity, the market gets the privilege to accept or reject you.