Grammar’s stupidest rules – and when to obey them

Many rules of grammar, usage, and punctuation make sense. But others are questionable, such as not starting a sentence with “but.”


R.I.P., whom.

Why are grammar rules often stupid? They were the artificial creation of purists (many in the 19th C.) who admired Latin grammar so much, they tried to shoehorn English into it.

The effort was and is a continuing clusterfail. The language (as it actually evolves) thumbs its metaphorical nose at the dumbest of those conjunction function injunctions. We end sentences with prepositions, we split infinitives, we abandon the “proper” use of that endangered species of a word, whom.

To carelessly break those rules is something we ain’t putting up with. So to speak.

We advise our staff writers, by the way, to avoid making grammar “mistakes,” even the ones we just called stupid. W, as they say, TF?

You should in your writing, we believe, steer clear of all grammatical sins, venial or mortal, sensible or ridiculous – because language screwups and booboos cause a percentage of your audience to stop thinking about what you’re saying, distracted by how you’re saying it.

What percentage will be distracted? A split infinitive might annoy 1%. Confusing “less” with “fewer” maybe 10%. Confusing i.e. with e.g., 20%. The “shoot me now” errors will, however, bring sneers from 50%. Why, we have to ask, should you roll the dice when you don’t need to? Why risk losing the focus of even one reader, when she might be the one who would otherwise buy from you, hire you, vote for you?

If you are careless, you signal that you care less. No bueno. honors our Chicago office… again.

Killian Branding Identified as a Top Advertising and Branding Agency

Marketing partners are crucial to any business in today’s rapidly changing competitive world. Killian Branding specializes in branding strategies to grow businesses to their highest potential. 

So how can you find a great partner?

Every month, researches and announces the top-performing companies for a given focus on their platform. We are proud to announce that we were named as one of the top 2019 brand consultants in Chicago on Clutch.

We have also been recognized by Clutch as a national marketing leader in 2017.

Clutch is the leading ratings and reviews website, based in Washington DC, monitoring companies that provide an array of services.  Clutch analysts collect reviews from a company’s clients directly. This research is used to determine how a company ranks against its competitors. The process is more in-depth than that of most ratings and reviews platforms, resulting in useful insights for a prospective buyer. Our clients have taken the time to provide feedback that highlights the unique attributes of our agency:

“Killian Branding has been fantastic. They’re very organized and have held us accountable.”Board Member, Theater Company

“I can say honestly that everything that Killian has done for us has been unbelievably above and beyond what we thought they would do.”HR Director, manufacturing firm

Accountable, organized, and going above and beyond – these are high compliments for our team, and we’re grateful to have it in writing. In addition to our listing on Clutch, we are also featured on their sister-site, The Manifest, a platform publishing business news and rankings of businesses across multiple industries. Called a leading ad agency in Chicago on The Manifest, we hope to connect with growing businesses, to deploy our suite of services to accomplish their business objectives. Clutch also just launched a new affiliate site, Visual Objects, where a company can display a digital portfolio to prospective clients.

No business can ignore online reviews in 2019: reviews are not optional. In a marketing world driven by the consumer, it’s essential to collect reviews for a business to maintain transparency and accountability. It’s an honor to receive an award based on the voice of our clientele, and our team is eager to leverage the feedback for continuous improvement and growth. Thank you, Clutch, and to our clients for your continued support!  

Mayor Pete’s new way to brand a campaign

Every well-managed brand has a Brand Standard Manual (BSM). It’s sometimes given a different name, like Brand Book, Brand Bible, or Symbol Simon’s Guide to Don’t Mess With Our Logo. We’ll stick to BSM, thanks.

Even more so, an underdog startup enterprise needs a BSM as a foundational document designed to achieve and express a consensus: this is who we are, and here’s how we will tell our brand story.

It clarifies your Brand Platform (Mission, Vision, Desired Position). It illustrates your logo, tagline, color palette, fonts, and typographic rules. Specifies your tone of voice, elevator speech, website icons, etc.

Want to see a sample?

Click, for your edification and amusement: every November we re-publish a tongue-in-cheek attempt to rebrand our national turkey day extravaganza THNKSGVN. We commend it to your attention.

Which brings us to “Mayor Pete,” a candidate for President in 2020, and his ingenious BSM.

Call his brand book clever, or innovative, or creative, but that would be a major understatement. It’s groundbreaking. For example, his color palette uses nine colors, a notable departure from the usual five or four. Beyond the sheer quantity is the inspiration-story for each. The colors come from his South Bend roots (1964 Studebaker blue!), his two dogs (Buddy and Truman browns), the color of his favorite whisky (Talisker 18), and even Rust Belt yellow. Amusing + thoughtful = serious + fun = an engaging narrative.

Yes, the color story is mostly subliminal but subtly persuasive. No, this is not an endorsement – I haven’t decided on a candidate yet – but it did get me wondering if Talisker could replace Lagavulin in my single-malt affection …

His name: problem and solution

“Mayor Pete,” as he calls himself, offers a down-home, Midwestern-friendly solution to the difficult pronunciation of his last name, Buttigieg. Clearly, the humor here is strategically on-brand: a man who speaks eight languages (so far) will be regarded by many American voters as suspiciously intelligent. You know, infected with book larnin’. Possibly (gasp) aloof. A spoonful of whimsey lightens the load.

What does this say about his agency?

We, of course, salute Mayor Pete’s branding team in Brooklyn for their skillful work. It’s professionalism at the highest level. Certainly, the website is strategic – but tactical, too, including a DIY kit for voters to create their localized campaign materials. There’s a story in Fast Company that ‘splains their “radical” approach to the BSM.

Okay, but what does this say about the candidate?

Well, there is a truth universally acknowledged that an agency’s work is only as good as the client allows. Most candidates for office in America are fearfully cautious. Resolute smile. Flag. Blue suit. White shirt. Red tie. Lapel pin. Yard signs designs in red/white/blue, or blue/white/red, or white/red/blue. Absolutely no mention of Scotch.

This BSM is far, far from timidly pedestrian. It’s something to watch.

Shorten your sales cycle with two kinds of insight

Is a long sales cycle a fact of life for you?

Nobody makes an impulsive decision to buy from you. You must nurture the people in your pipeline: from suspect to prospect to lead to hot lead to customer to brand enthusiast*. (Don’t neglect that last one; they’re big-time influencers on social media.)

The Buyer’s Journey can seem endless, but marketing automation shortens that sales cycle. Shine a light into the pipeline to engage, identify and monitor your best prospects.

You get two kinds of insight: first, see what content is actually being read or watched, and for how long. Edit and refine your content to expand upon successful surveys or videos or infographics. Rethink those pages people skip over.

Maybe more important is the second insight: you’ll be able to see who cares. Sales and marketing management (S&MM) analytic tools identify the prospects who are engaged so you can monitor their activity.

You can set up auto-responders triggered by user actions, according to rules you set up. If a prospect spends X minutes on page Y, or visits the pricing page twice this week, you can auto-send them an offer, or an invitation to a webinar, or … whatever works for you.

You can’t do this with PDFs

… or print ads, or snail mail. It’s impossible. You can’t even know if anybody read a single page.

No more spray & pray marketing, passively waiting for people to contact you. Actively supply timely information to your prospects when they’re ready for it. Want to see how you can engage an audience with kinetic energy? Take the first step.

Can we help you shorten your sales cycle? Yes we can. My cell is 312.399.2894.

*”Brand enthusiast” is what we say now. We used to say “brand evangelist,” but a client in Saudi Arabia reminded us that that was, um, inappropriate. One step better than “brand crusader” perhaps, but we adapted.

Are your web visitors all looking for the same thing?

As they say on Twitter, awhellllnaw!

Landing pages capture your best audiences. Learn the strategies you need
Because your business, candidate, admissions office or juice bar has visitors with varying interests, you need to think seriously about landing pages. (Note the plural.)

Why? Because your home page is (and must be) a compromise:, an artful catchall of tactics to engage every kind of searcher, browser or wandering minstrel. You get 4.5 seconds to engage the mission-driven searcher (the most valuable kind of prospect).

An engaging landing page, on the other glove, says “I see just what I’m looking for. Yahtzee!” They see their hot need, center stage. Display a strong call to action (CTA) and you’re teed up to continue the dialog, future the lead – maybe even close the deal.

Think of your home page as a landscape to showcase your whole brand story. Display all your products or services. Narrate why you’re different/better/cheaper than your competitors, show what friendly reliable folk you are. Offer office hours, career opportunities, locations, contact info. Whatever. Good. It’s important to make all that attractive, clear and available. Casual browsers will navigate whatever’s one click away, or do a little scrolling – a few might even be willing to play Where’s Waldo – to see wiifm.


Mission-driven searchers are targets of vastly greater value than browsers

Mission-driver searchers versus just browsers

… especially when they hunt shrewdly, searching for what you do best. Landing pages to the rescue! You’re after those most valuable searchers: we call them the long tails. They aren’t just searching for broad topics that vaguely address their solutions (‘business lawyers near me’) – they’re using a laser-like search for an ‘IP attorney who can help license my new invention.’

Your home page might not work for someone searching, say, for part of what you offer. Yes, you’re a restaurant, but do you offer anything vegan? Yes, you’re a CPA, but do you do business formation? The long tail searcher might exit your home page and return to the search engine results page, impatient they didn’t find that vegan entree or C-corp-vs-S-Corp help they were looking for. Don’t try to make them sort through things they didn’t care about.

For long tail searchers, you need to offer valuable information that quickly spotlights what they are seeking. If you make them look, find, and click and click again to find what they want, you lose.

To engage the mission-driven searchers? Begin with research

Begin with research

Engage the searchers who are zeroing in on:

• not a law firm, but an IP attorney,
• not a college, but a pre-dental program,
• not a candidate, but a future senator who hates what I hate,
• not a supermarket, but an amazing cheese department

You need to know how many are searching, and for what. Take your amazing cheese department: we could research to see the most searched after cheeses in each county you serve. Maybe each store needs a separate landing page highlighting the most popular cheeses searched for in that area. That way, when they land on your page, they’re presented with some popular cheeses from their area, as well as some other really amazing ones they might like.

Remember, our long tail searchers hunt smarter. We need to identify the phrases they are using when searching to make a landing page to find and read. For our cheeses, that means doing some research into popular searches for cheese. Then, on the landing page for your amazing cheese department, you can highlight what you found in your research, as well as your other amazing cheeses. The long tail searcher will find what they are looking for — their favorite cheese — and others to look at and try.

Knowing what people are interested in — and the exact words and phrases they use to search for them — allows you to curate content that speaks and engages them. They’ll be happy: the first step towards them being brand ambassadors for you.

But wait! There’s another type of landing page you need

We always target mission-driven searchers first because, aside from investing in developing the landing page, the traffic is free. The long tail searchers who find you from search cost you no money. They find you.

But when you’re doing the hunting to find prospects or repeat business, it’s just as important to have a “you’ve arrived!” landing page.

When you participate in digital marketing activities (display advertising, social advertising, paid search, sponsored content, etc.), each campaign needs its own landing page. If someone clicks on an ad for your pre-dental program, they should land on a page that’s 100% loud and clear about your pre-dental program. Which your homepage is clearly not.

Much like with mission-driven searchers, if your warm prospect clicks on an ad, expecting information about estate planning for affluent seniors, they will be delighted when they arrive and see a picture and headline that scream that precise message. If, however, they arrive on your catchall homepage, will they spend time searching for the right information? That is not a gamble you should take.

Steve Krug's books are must-reads

One of our favorite books on website design is Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think. In it, he explains how the purpose of website design is to make the visitor think as little as possible. Every time they have to ask, “where do I find information about…?” or “do I click on this icon for what I want?” is another millisecond spent solving a puzzle. Steve’s point (and we agree) is that even if they convert and become your customer but had to think too much about the process… it wasn’t a pleasant experience. The easier (less thinking!) they do, the more rewarded they — and you! — will be.

That is (in tech speak) good UI = good UX. A thoughtful User Interface creates a good User eXperience.

It’s easy to find real-world examples to prove his theory, too. Just look at Uber or Lyft. Call a car to your exact location by filling out very few fields on your phone. No need to stand on the curb in the rain and pray for a taxi to pass and stop. Order from inside where you are. Simple. No thinking required except to push the button requesting a car. Taxis, who?

We like to use Steve’s theory especially when it comes to landing pages. When someone lands on your page, it should match their search inquiry or idea from the digital ad they clicked. It shouldn’t frustrate the visitor to stop and put effort into finding the information they are interested in. If the page they land on (headline, dominant visual, story) matches their expectations, the “you’ve arrived!” UX is off to a great start!

The last — and often forgotten — type of landing page

Every audience needs their own landing page

B2Bs, pay close attention here. There is a mistake many small-to-medium businesses make when it comes to website messaging. It involves how you talk to your audience segments.

All business have audiences they can segment — and these segments need to be able to find information specifically directed to them. Take our future senator (the one I hope hates what I hate.) If I’m a member of a teacher’s union, wouldn’t she, our future senator, want me to land on a page talking about her position on specific issues relating to me? Or if I’m a farmer? Having a page specifically designed to speak to my issues would be best for me to land on, right?

We like to use politician examples here because they are (usually) adept at crafting messages tailored to audience segments. At a factory, they’ll say one thing to workers about union rights. In front of a group of business leaders, their tone might shift. It’s the art of crafting messages to maximize votes.

Businesses — especially B2B — need to identify segments (men? women? young? old? Spanish-speaking? lapsed customers? whatev) to understand what motivates them – and how to talk to them. Then, create landing pages for any audience of meaningful size with personalized messaging. Segment your data, too. For our future senator, his landing pages for the teacher’s union and farmers could have forms visible to subscribe to a newsletter — one segmented by each audience. If a big issue broke in the news about teacher contracts, our senator could send an email just to teachers. Powerful no-waste-circulation stuff.

Does your landing page have everything it needs to close the deal?

Landing Page Check list

You do all this work to create a landing page. What’s the payoff? What do you get out of it?

For our IP attorney, it might be to download a white paper on how to license new inventions, or register trademarks or protect against IP pirates from overseas
Our college might offer those interested in their pre-dental program a tour of their labs
Our future senator might get email addresses or donations or GOTV volunteers
Our supermarket customers might print out a coupon for brie

To convince visitors to do any of these things, the landing page requires urgent elements effective enough to inspire action: focused headline, convincing copy, engaging visuals, and a strong call-to-action (CTA).

Landing page headlines have one goal

Let the visitor know they’ve arrived! If your headline fails this goal, they’re going back to the search engine results page, the SERP. (“Serp city, here we come?”)

Subheads have another goal: to help break up your text. Too many “texty” paragraphs in a row and people won’t read. They won’t even start reading. Paragraphs longer than seven lines turn off most readers. Show readers three of those in a row and they’re gone forever,

Headlines and subheads break up long sections and give permission to skim. Our mission-driven searchers want to find what they are looking for fast. They skim all content, looking for headlines to tell them where to pay attention. If you have added enough subheads throughout your landing page, your mission-driven searchers will be able to spot what they want with no effort wasted.

With your headlines completed, your copy needs to convince the user to complete your goal. For example, why should someone sign up for our college tour? A quote from a current student who went on the tour could be useful to add, or a fun video from the tour guides inviting the visitor to see those dental labs. For our IP attorney, copy should include information about why anyone should care about licensing new inventions. To make him credible, he could include a summary of what people will learn from reading the white paper. He can let visitors know the value they’ll get from protecting against theft.

Words aren’t the only way to break up text

Visuals create “eye relief” too, which can advance your story and engage the reader. Developing visuals or using photos that complement your copy encourages people to read entire landing pages more. Going back to Steve Krug’s book, he talks a lot about how a page of just text looks much more intimidating to a visitor. They don’t want to read what reminds them of homework. Add headlines and visuals to the text, however, and people view it much differently. They think it will take less effort to read. BTW, they’re correct.

Finally, your landing page needs strong call-to-actions to convert the visitor into downloading your white paper or signing up for a tour or printing a coupon. The language needs to be clear, concise, and engaging to make the visitor take action.

Does your site have effective, strategic landing pages?

Landing Page Audit

We can help you drive high-value targets to be captured, using proven tactics: better SEO and/or laser-focused online advertising.

Want to talk about specifics, to be more findable, close more sales and accelerate your growth? Find a time to chat on our calendar.

 We are recognized as a top Illinois Web Design Agency on DesignRush

7000 to 1

There are technology tools to help you in every phase of marketing. In fact, almost 7000 of them.

Your marketing stack is likely to be unique: choose database A plus email program B, then add analytics tools C … soon, you may be tempted to add Shiny Objects D and E, and things can get very Rube Goldberg* in a hurry.

This insane chart, updated annually by, shows the logos of multiple categories of marketing technology firms/apps. In 2011, it was a complex array of (gasp) 150 choices. It mushroomed, year after year: this year’s display shows a drinking-from-a-firehose 6,829. Safe to say, there’s not a human being alive who knows what all of these tools do, or how well they combine or conflict or overlap.

Here’s a closeup of a portion of it so you can appreciate the lunatic complexity of it all.

In larger enterprises…

When the marketing stack piles up high enough, the people operating the Attract machinery don’t play well with the tools of the Engage people, who don’t feed data to the Analytics folks. And nobody speaks to Sales. Soon, the firm must hire a Marketing Technology Officer to keep the Jenga tower from collapsing. It’s usually early in the “stacking” that uncertainty creeps in – have we optimized? Are these our best choices? Are we overspending on services that might be duplicated or irrelevant?

But that questioning is not all bad; it might even be healthy. Big data makes measuring the ROI of every marketing tactic possible, even in smaller firms, so an investment in good tools makes sense, even when it seems complicated. Future success is data-driven.


A box crammed with shiny tools doesn’t make you a carpenter, or guarantee success in carpentry.

7000 to 1

Let’s pull back the lens. Change the focus from 7000 apps that could combine into a million possible marketing stacks … compare it to one solid, success-worthy brand strategy. All science and no art is a recipe for bad carpentry.

Before adding one more “cool new way to reach mommybloggers,” let’s make sure we’ve got the brand narrative that mommies actually want to hear, and respond to, and repeat as brand enthusiasts. Amirite?

*For our UK readers, Rube Goldberg = Heath Robinson.

We are recognized as a top Illinois Digital Marketing Agency on Design Rush.

The animals go #uncaged!

I was quoted in USA Today, commenting on the branding impact of this redesigned snack package:
The article, which you can read here, says the change to #uncage the animals was urged on the maker (Mondelez/Nabisco) by PETA activists. USA Today wanted me to assess whether there would be any resistance to the change from traditionalists.

Maybe. Every change to a brand brings out some level of resistance. Human nature. Mondelez wisely kept the color palette, typographic style and general look and feel, then put the animals center-stage, nobly heroic. They even kept the Barnum name, despite the circus fading into memory. Net result: the box has evolved into a still-familiar but more contemporary package.

Anyway, as I said, since there are no pro-cage people, they might add some new friends, but probably won’t lose any.

How to set your ad budget for the year: the easy way, and other ways.

“How much should we invest in advertising?” is an annual budget struggle.

One simple way is to use your category’s average ad-to-sales percentage.

budget percentages

Just ask us* to share the tables from the newly-published 42nd edition of an annual study, Advertising Ratios & Budgets. This research is derived from more than 4,300 individual companies in 310 industries. Look up your category (for instance, if you’re an amusement park), find the industry norm of sales devoted to advertising (6.2%, on average), and multiply that by your anticipated sales. Presto! One easy ad budget.

But a caution:

YMMV. Sticking with a category average may be easy, but it’s what call the NGNG approach: no guts, no glory. We suggest you read our White Paper, which offers several strategic alternatives.

*We’ll send you the tables so you can use your industry’s average, since you’re probably not an amusement park. Email to ask.

ihob, Amazon, and other logo smiles


A surprising number of people asked me during the pastthe IHOB logo few weeks if I was in any way responsible for the “ihop/ihob name change” controversy. They know I’m in the re-naming business, and asked in the tone of “can you believe they’d be that stupid?”

I pleaded not guilty, but I also had to tell them they had fallen for a head fake. IHOP executed the whole “flipping the p to a b” stunt disguised as a permanent name change. With a straight face, they drummed up awareness for a mysterious new b coming to the menu. The “b is for burgers!” payoff is a textbook case – how smart PR can get a free-media multiplier. Watercooler talk is gold.

So, the (wink wink) rebrand worked. I still ain’t gonna eat there.

The International House of Pancakes is a gathering place where future diabetics can load up on whipped-cream-smothered meals. Popular (and dubiously International) as that concept may seem, consumers’ imagined dinner options may not begin with synthetic maple syrup oozing over chocolate-chip pancakes. Thus, a franchisee might do well at breakfast, survive lunch, but be painfully lonely by sundown.

The answer: Burgers!

Burgers all day and night! Hey, nobody thought of that before, right? You can assume they’ll find a way to load 31g of sugar into each entrée somehow. Ya know, for the kids.

The biggest reason to prevent any name change is, of course, the enormous brand equity they have in the name and logomark. It features an isn’t-sweetness-sweet? smile. The O and P create a raccoon-like eyes-nose, over the curved lipstick smear. Flipping the last letter would wreck that. The mark has for years reassured toddlers that no, bucko, you won’t have to endure broccoli here.

There’s a blizzard of logos featuring smiles, a fairly obvious design option for almost any service business that’s not a funeral home. They aren’t always effective, but the IHOP one is cheerily done.

We respect Amazon’s more. It uses a smile for the usual we’re-so-friendly reason – but it’s also an arrow that points from A to Z, indicating, well, a-to-z completeness. What can’t you buy at Amazon? That nuance is about as subtle (and therefore as interesting) as the “hidden” arrow in the e-x of the FedEx logo. Once you see that refinement, you never un-see it.

My favorite (at the risk of immodesty) is a logo we created

We did it for Child’s Voice, a school for children born with severe or total hearing deficits. Child's voice logo and taglineAfter a child is surgically fitted with a cochlear implant, the school’s amazing teachers and astounding program perform wonders.

They teach them to hear, and speak, and even sing. (I vividly remember sitting in a class of 4-year-olds who were happily belting out a song – on key.) These kids graduate to get streamed into first or second grade. They thrive in regular classrooms, with no aides, no sign language, and needing no special accommodation. Many excel in schoolwork and life, as you’d expect – since they’ve already been diligent, successful learners before the age of five!

Our logo turned the D into a big joyful smile, and the apostrophe represents where a cochlear implant goes, behind the ear. We added a kick-ass IMHO tagline, too: “You’ll be hearing from us.”

So, no, we didn’t do the ihob stunt, but if you know someone thinking about a real rebranding, renaming or logo rehab project, let’s hear from them. Here is where they (or you) should start.

SEE WHY DESIGNRUSH CALLS US ONE OF THE Best Branding Agencies in Chicago

HBR’s Doomed Management Tip of the Day

I’ve reaffirmed this same New Year’s Resolution for decades: I’d like to grow two inches taller this year. (Hey, it worked for a while into high school.) Since the millennium, however, I’ve experienced results that are, let’s say, somewhat disappointing.)
Which brings me to today’s Harvard Business Review Management Tip of the Day. Most days, it’s a tidy paragraph of sensible advice to start your morning. You should subscribe.
Today’s tip, however, reminded me of my hopeful New Year’s Resolution, also with the likely lifespan of a mayfly:

Have One Day a Week When Nothing Can Interrupt You

Lovely sentiment, yes? The author explains
“You can’t do deep, creative work when meetings constantly disrupt your flow and hurt your productivity. To give yourself time and space to focus, have one day a week when nothing can interrupt you — no texts, no emails, no phone calls, and absolutely no meetings. Block this day off on your calendar, and tell colleagues that you’ll be unreachable because you’re working on critical projects. Of course, something urgent may come up anyway, but try your best to keep the day from being compromised. Stick to a simple rule: You can move your unreachable day around during a week — maybe it’s Wednesday one week and Thursday the next — but you can’t remove it from your calendar or push it to the following week. As you get into the routine of taking these days for focused work, it’ll be easier for you, and the people around you, to keep them sacred.”

A noble ambition. Doomed to fail.

8 hours of scheduled, uninterrupted monk-like isolation from distractions (and collaboration, and new information, and and and…)? It’s a pipe dream. The pace of your life won’t permit it. Management today in a global, high-speed, full-access, connected environment can’t schedule 8 hours of no schedule.

A more practical approach?

Let me share one that I use. While I do set aside a no-interruption no-meetings no-phone-calls time, it’s from 6:30 am to 8:30 am, every day. That yields 14 hours a week vs. 8, so any unavoidable gotta-catch-a-plane disruption is a tolerable setback.
Have an even better idea? Tell me about it.