A Brand is a Bucket

A 6 minute read written by Paul January 16, 2014

bucket being branded

Well, another holiday season has come and gone and as we jam the YP Christmas tree into the freight elevator we can’t help but reflect on the amazing year we had with all of our fantastic clients.

Every holiday season we set out to spoil our clients a little bit in order to send a message of holiday good cheer as well as our appreciation for being a part of the YP team. This year’s gifts were a little unique and more aligned with our brand.

A jar of M & M s with yellow pencil branding

All of our clients received tartan scarves that were woven in a mill in Scotland. (Also we gave out a lot of branded M&Ms because small doses of sugary snacks have a direct causal effect on well-structured mark-up and effective written language… it’s a fact.)

Some of our customers asked why a tartan scarf? Well, here’s an explanation.

So, about our bucket...

One of the speeches that I often give to customers is related to their brand. We’re not a branding firm here at YP, but I absolutely feel that our work is core to the overarching activity of branding. The speech I give is that a brand is a bucket; it’s a bucket that people use to carry all the ideas that they have about you. Your logo and visual identity are on the outside of the bucket for the purpose of recognition. Your job as a brand steward is to curate what people put in the bucket. You can do some of this through marketing, but most of it comes through your product, your service, your attitude, and your actions.

At some point every shoemaker needs to put shoes on their own children.  Over the years, like many marketing and communications organizations, we’ve horribly neglected our own children. They have cold, blistered feet with unpleasant callouses and social services has been by numerous times to ask us to please, please just buy some cheapo runners at Target, anything! … I’m probably going too far with the metaphor.

Back to the bucket metaphor. We’re thinking a lot about our bucket these days and what’s in it.

The colour of our bucket is plaid

In 2002 when we first worked with Edmonton designer Greg MacIntyre on our logo, he came back with a number of options. We made some choices, but in every case he paired our logo and wordmark with work shirt plaid. He kept saying that he couldn’t help himself, it just seemed right for us.

Why work shirt plaid?

Since the early days of Yellow Pencil, Dave and I have been builders at heart.

  • We started in Edmonton in 1996 with local agencies helping them to convert their work in Photoshop to functional HTML templates and websites. We made makeshift furniture by screwing desk legs onto an old discarded door and turned a spare room into our office. We completed our sweet setup with an Apple 6700 laptop and a 25MHz Compaq with Dreamweaver 1.0 and BBEdit.
  • Dave took on a multi-year engagement with a heavy equipment website company and built hundreds of websites for machinery and trucking companies around the world, working on early CSS techniques and Accessibility best practices (way back in the 1990’s!)
  • I worked for two years, first with Canada’s oldest public broadcaster, and next with a regional health authority to create software called “CMS” that would automate the work of publishing content to websites, helping non-technical authors to create useful and effective web content.
  • As we brought our practices together in the early 2000’s and expanded our team, it became clear to us that we weren’t trying to create a digital agency, or a development firm, but a hybrid of the two where user driven design and systems engineering came together.

The theme that stitched it all together was a builder’s work ethic and our craft-based approach to design. It wasn’t good enough for our digital work to win an award on paper, it had to make a measurable difference for our customers, and continue to thrive for years after launch.

Because of this builder’s philosophy, we’ve kept work shirt plaid as part of our core visual identity. It just feels right to us. While our team has grown to encompass managed hosting services, user experience design, web applications, content strategy, systems integration, and consulting, at the end of the day we only feel true to ourselves when we are engaged in the craft of building great web experiences for our customers and their customers.

We work for a living; we labour over our designs. We’re inspired by the web’s ability to let organizations communicate with humans and we work hard to create design systems and technology that brings people together.

The Scottish Register of Tartans

It was only when we first tried to get some of the tartan that Greg had created for us printed that we realized it was not a pattern that existed outside of our own brand. We even checked the Gap website in the Wayback Machine and nada.

So we went to the ultimate authority, the Scottish Register of Tartans. We entered our thread counts and colour palettes and it turns out that our tartan is actually pretty unique. So we registered it!

We even got a beautiful certificate from a nice person at the Government of Scotland.

Once you register your tartan, you get offers from a number of mills in Scotland to weave your tartan, so naturally we chose a mill and commissioned some fabric.

Scarves: a basic human right in Canada

One of the other attributes of our company that we are fiercely proud of is being Canadian. We love working with our American customers, but some things about us can only be described as Canadian:

  • We have two hockey teams and we own 2nd row season tickets to the Edmonton Oilers and refuse to give them up no matter how poorly the team plays.
  • More than 50% of our staff has been in a band or plans to be at some point, this is a very Canadian thing.
  • Our head office is located in Edmonton, one of the most northern cities on the planet with more than 1 Million residents.
  • We opened our second location in Vancouver because while we fully embrace winter and maintain quiet disdain those who cannot cope with the cold, we at the same time try to deny its existence as often as possible and are slightly embarrassed about our ancestors for having settled here instead of California.
  • “Too cold to commute” is a valid reason for working from home. So is “World Junior Hockey is on and I had to be up at 3am to see the game live”.
  • We don’t like to boast so we’re chronically bad at marketing ourselves.
  • We have about 12 different ways to make coffee between our two offices.
  • One of our core services is hosting customer web publishing systems in Canada, keeping their data and customer information sovereign (cities, governments, and banks like this).
  • Our Vancouver office and our (almost) Toronto office are nearly 4,500 km apart and we don’t think it’s weird to do a day trip between them.

With all these Canadianisms, we really felt that the first thing we had made with our new tartan pattern was a scarf. Up here, a scarf is required to survive the winter. Cold air and snow down the back of your neck is not just a nasty experience, it’s a direct path to a common cold and certain mortality, according to all Canadian parents.

So because we care for our customers, we wish them health and online success, we decided this year to send out tartan scarves. We’re here to help, with advice and practical solutions to real world problems.  We’re here to work hard to craft something that will bring you measurable success.

Welcome to Yellow Pencil. We’ve got your back… specifically the neck part of your back.