Do You Need a New Website? 5 Questions to Ask.

Having just launched our own redesigned website, here we offer some thoughts to keep in mind if you're considering a revamp of your own site.

Flight 9 website showcase

In the past couple of years, website development standards have changed dramatically. If you are responsible for an organization's website, you've probably asked yourself what the implications are for your site. A lot of resources undoubtedly went into launching your current site and, if it has served you well, it can be difficult to think about starting over again. But if your site is more than a couple of years old, you should seriously consider updating.

Here are 5 key questions to help you decide:

1. Is your site "responsive"?

Happily, the days of having separate sites for desktop and mobile devices are rapidly fading. Instead, all (decent) websites are being created with responsive user interface functionality. This means that a site's appearance and navigation structure work smoothly no matter what size screen you're using. Images are elegantly resized and content is reordered to fit any given dimensions.

A large driver toward making this a universal practice was when, in 2015, Google made a significant change in their search algorithms to strongly favor responsive design. This means that websites lacking responsiveness are falling behind their competitors in search engine rankings, as more and more of them adopt the current standards.

Fortunately, responsive design is not inherently complicated or expensive. In fact, in many cases the new standards force a degree of structural simplicity and order that result in significant improvements for sites that may have been overly busy before.

2. Have you received complaints about your site?

If you frequently hear from customers, clients or visitors that they were unable to find what they were looking for on your website, or that they're seeing error messages, then clearly something is off that needs to be fixed. A good website service provider will help you analyze your site's structure to determine whether it's time for a total overhaul or just a few minor tweaks.

Visitors should be engaged instantly and be able to find what they need right away. If they have to work at anything, studies show they'll almost always leave the site.

3. Are you using high-quality images?

In the era of smartphones and social media feeds, users are accustomed to constantly scanning images – often dozens or even hundreds per day. In a parallel trend, website content has generally become more streamlined. Where websites often used to mirror complex print publications, serving as deep-dive informational resources, more often sites today are instead seen as core branding platforms meant to engage audiences to either seek more info through direct contact or draw customers to a brick-and-mortar retail location. The idea is to make a strong immediate impression that leads to follow-through.

What this means is that imagery carries more weight than ever. It is imperative to incorporate strong logos, graphics and photography that combine to create an emotional impact befitting your brand, whether its essence is corporate, artistic, service-oriented, or something else.

Literally millions of high-quality stock images are available online, and/or your may choose to make a sound investment in professional custom photography. A qualified professional web designer will identify and format strong visuals for your site that reflect your overall strategy. 

Remember than no one will absorb your message if you have not captured their interest first.

4. Does your site integrate social media?

We're going to assume you have social media buttons on your website. Because of course. If you don't, please call us. We're worried about you.

Besides buttons in your footer linking visitors to your Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ pages, etc., social media can be integrated into your website in a number of other ways. Blog posts can be cross-posted to Facebook, with comment features that post to both locations automatically. Your Twitter posts can appear in a block on your site, as well. Make sure you're not overlooking these and other opportunities to help drive traffic and boost search engine visibility. 

5. Is your website generating traffic?

After all, that is the bottom line, isn't it? If your website isn't generating leads, then it isn't serving its intended purpose. Not only that, but a site with serious enough deficiencies may actually be driving people away. As we've seen, older sites lag behind in search engine rankings, can be difficult to navigate, and may not be providing your visitors with what they are seeking. Having a website is crucial to nearly any business, but a poor web strategy can sometimes do more harm than good, driving away the very audience you need to reach.

If you're not already doing so, be sure to track your site's traffic regularly. Tools such as Google Analytics and Google Search Console are great places to start. Use this data wisely to help determine whether your current site is ultimately helping or hindering your prospects.

If you've been on the fence about whether or not to embark on a website redesign, hopefully these considerations have been helpful. If you know it's time to upgrade, remember to find a website designer/developer who will help you formulate a well-rounded strategy that includes solid messaging, a simple and familiar navigation structure, and strong visuals that complement your brand.

Also, remember that your colleagues and competitors are part of this evolution, and it's important not to get left behind.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to leave comments and questions.

Find more F9 blog posts on website development here.

Thanks for reading!

Your Brand Playbook: The How & Why of Style Guides

Have you ever ordered a favorite restaurant dish in mouth-watering anticipation, only to take a bite and realize, to your horror, that it tastes different? That they have altered ingredients or preparation in some way so as to make it only slightly different but terribly, mercilessly unsatisfying? How could they?!! you scream internally. So, maybe you calm down and try to rationalize yourself into liking the change. But it never works, does it?

This is a form of brand inconsistency and a prime example of the psychological discord it can cause. Don't let this happen to you … or to your audience!

rules of branding

Consistency. By the Book.

In every presentation of your business – logo, print materials, retail environment, website, employee culture, etc. – your brand should be appropriately reflected. The process by which we initially discern and formulate your brand entails becoming intimately familiar with the essential realities and aspirations of your business. (We will be exploring this in detail in a future post.) This work is only valuable to the extent that it can be implemented consistently, in all aspects of your business. 

But how do you reliably get this to happen?

After the branding process is complete, Flight 9 (or, hopefully, any agency you're working with) gets to work codifying the newly established standards by compiling what is called a Brand Standards Manual or, sometimes, in its most simple form, a Style Guide. A style guide for a small partnership may be consist simply of logo guidelines, a color palette and some preferred typefaces, and run only 2-3 pages. On the other end of the spectrum, some large corporations, such as Disney, publish internal brand standards that are akin to a coffee table book. These can include everything from extended logo families for sub-brands to specific language requirements for marketing text, to minute details of employee attire and behavior. It all depends on what is appropriate to the given brand. 

What's important to recognize is that it is sometimes necessary to standardize a brand's features beyond the visual basics in order to effectively and reliably capture the essence of a business and convert it into profitable relationships. Having a nice logo and color palette is always the right place to start, but just like your mission is unlikely to be one-dimensional, your branding should not be, either.

Because It Works.

When it comes to visual materials, one of the safer ways to ensure consistency is to rely on a trusted agency or internal team to create or oversee all projects. However, with effectively communicated brand standards, you should be able to have work produced by multiple sources while still maintaining a fluid, harmonious overall look and feel. 

Here are a few scenarios where a Brand Standards Manual should be employed:

  • All printed and graphic elements

  • Website and all digital environments

  • Advertising

  • Design of architectural work environment

  • Email templates or signatures and other elements of external communication

  • Selection of retail employee attire

  • Trade show displays

  • Presentation templates

By codifying your brand elements, a lot of guesswork is eliminated, and you'll never need to worry about whether new team members or service providers "get it." They'll have the instructions for consistency at their fingertips.

Room to Play & Grow

There is no reason to fear that having clear standards will lead to rigidity and staleness. Rather, the framework provided by the standards should allow for a reasonable amount of creativity and risk-taking without fear of going against brand. In one sense, this framework should represent a safe place to experiment, as long as core features remain consistent. A style guide cannot dictate every minute aspect of branding, and it should not try to. It should simply enforce a collective understanding of where the boundaries are, so that no one gets lost.

Your brand standards should be revisited on a regular basis – frequently at the beginning and at least annually thereafter – and revised to reflect whatever natural evolution your business and brand may be experiencing. Certain original creative directions that are taken within the given standards may prove especially successful, and you may wish to incorporate their key elements into the larger brand as a way of providing new tools in your brand toolbox.

Importantly, it is crucial not to fall into the trap of believing branding is easy to dictate. It isn't. Your brand is a reflection of who people believe you to be, whether you have chosen to be viewed that way or not. Bad press or bad visuals become identified with a business without their say in the matter. Likewise, a wonderful review or an especially pleasing customer experience can happen by chance, helping elevate your brand, even if you never planned on it.

So remember: If your brand is not clear and consistent, inconsistency will become part of your brand. Fortunately, with a brand standards manual, there's insurance for that. And, as always, Flight 9 is here to help you.

Melissa & Kelly

Client Spotlight: Kemmeter Wines

Kemmeter Family Crest, bestowed by Emperor Albrecht II, 1438

Kemmeter Family Crest, bestowed by Emperor Albrecht II, 1438

As we've said before, our greatest satisfaction comes from helping give breath to the aspirations of other small businesses. While we sincerely enjoy collaborating with clients of all sizes and sectors, small businesses give us the satisfaction of witnessing the results of our successes not only in measurable returns but also in the excited, smiling faces of owners and their teams.

We've formed bonds with many such clients whom we now also count among our friends. In this spirit, we are debuting our Client Spotlight series, where we will profile the stories, successes and endearing qualities of clients we know you will love as much as we do.

Kemmeter Wines, Penn Yan, NY

One of New York's Finger Lakes wine region's newest additions, Kemmeter Wines, has a history quite unique to the area. Kemmeter's founder and owner Johannes Reinhardt descends from a wine-making family in Bavaria dating back 6 centuries. This pedigree, combined with extensive formal training in wine making and a deep love for the tradition, has helped make Johannes highly respected in the region for the excellent wines created in his care. Since their opening on August 1, 2013, Kemmeter has been a sought-after stop on Finger Lakes wine tours.

Johannes first came to the US in 1999 and worked for one year at Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars before being hired as the wine maker for Anthony Road Wine Company, where he continues to supervise wine harvesting production. He credits John and Ann Martini, the owners at Anthony Road, with generously supporting his vision and helping make Kemmeter Wines possible. The two wineries are close neighbors in Penn Yan, allowing Johannes to maintain a consulting role at Anthony Road.

Specializing in Riesling varietals, Kemmeter offers 3 tiers of wines. Tastings in their lovely private tasting room are by appointment only, Thursdays through Saturdays, from 1:30 - 3:30 only, with a maximum of 6 people tasting at one time. For more info, visit:

Riesling wine label series created by Flight 9

Riesling wine label series created by Flight 9

Flights of Wine with Flight 9

I was introduced to Johannes almost 10 years ago, when he was working as the winemaker for Anthony Road, and his dream of opening his own winery was in its early stages. The label concept for Kemmeter's first-tier Riesling, Sonero, was developed at that time. It is evocative of a fluid, dancing figure, while the name Sonero connotes a freestyle salsa singer.

Johannes then expected his green card to be granted within a couple of years, but he subsequently ran into a series of administrative roadblocks, delaying for several years his ability to establish a business in the US. Once those hurdles were finally overcome, Kelly and I worked with Johannes on refining the Sonero branding and creating labels for the Kemmeter mid-range line (simply called "Kemmeter") and SanSan, Kemmeter's most upscale offering. The middle-tier label reflects the idea that Kemmeter has a traditional flavor and serves as the anchor for the overall collection. Interestingly, however, Kemmeter is crafted rather nontraditionally, with its 3 distinct wines comprising a sub-series that is fermented from the grapes of 3 different vineyards (Sheldrake Point, Red Tail Ridge and White Pine Vineyards). The SanSan label has an artistic, romantic feel, which is appropriate because Johannes developed this particular wine as a loving homage to his wife. The sheet music element in the design is an excerpt of the beautiful orchestral piece Air by JS Bach.

Johannes and Imelda Reinhardt

Johannes and Imelda Reinhardt

It has been an honor for us both to work closely with Johannes and his beloved wife Imelda – the muse behind so much of Johannes's fine work – to help communicate their vision and support the diligent hard work that goes into making Kemmeter the outstanding winery it has so clearly emerged to become.

We wish Johannes and Imelda the greatest future success and hope you will visit them next time you go to the Finger Lakes!

- Melissa

5 Things to Know About Designing a Great Logo

We get it. Sometimes it's hard to know how best to spend your marketing budget. But never underestimate the power of a good logo, or the careful planning that goes into creating one.

Your logo is the foundation upon which all of your marketing materials will be built. You want to make sure it's solid and well-thought out before building the rest of your visual brand. If you rush the process and don't put the work in up front, it could cause headaches for years to come and keep your business from meeting its full potential. At Flight 9 Creative, we've spent a lot of time working with clients on creating their logos, and here is some of what we tell them.

1. Your logo should reflect your personality …

Well, duh. That probably seems obvious. But the fact is that sometimes clients overlook this basic fact and underestimate the amount of thought and planning that should go into designing your logo. Your designer should ask you questions about your company, your target audience, your mission and your competition before cranking out some generic "your business name here" graphic. Your logo is your cornerstone, and, even before we start sketching, we first do some serious research and brainstorming. Make a list of all the words that you associate with your business. Are you conservative or edgy? Fun? Traditional or Modern? What kind of color palette makes sense– bold, bright, natural, soft, sophisticated, or quirky? We ask a few questions and then use your answers to come up with a list of words that begin to define who you are. 

When presented with concepts, your designer should be able to clearly explain the reasoning and rationale for choosing the direction.

2. … but it can't say everything. Drill down to your core message and focus on that.

It's important to keep in mind that a logo can't possibly say everything about your company, just as you can't tell the plot of a book by looking at it's cover. The logo is there to work in concert with other materials and to be a quick and memorable visual representation of your core brand. Since you often have only a few moments – or perhaps just an instant – to make an impression, your logo needs to give your viewer an initial feeling of "I want to know more about this company" or "This company looks like one I can relate to and aligns with my expectations." 

At Flight 9, we take the time to analyze our initial brainstorm and narrow it down to 3-4 words that are essential, and focus on those. The other words and concepts that we've discussed still come into play when we move on to the next steps. Those ideas will come through on your web site, in your advertising and on your social media platforms, and all of these will work together with your logo to reinforce and strengthen your brand.

3. A good logo will stand the test of time.

It's easy to get sucked into the latest trends, but you want to make sure your logo will endure and not look as dated as acid-washed jeans 10 years from now. Carefully selecting a typeface and color palette that has personality – without being trendy or over the top – is an important factor. There are a ton of really "cool" and quirky fonts out there, but you want to make sure your logo is readable and won't go out of style just as your business is taking off.

4. A good logo is scalable.

What is your primary use for this logo? Is it going to live mainly on the web, or do you anticipate placing it on packaging and print materials? How about billboards or promotional items? It's good to know up front if these other applications are important to your company. A full color logo that looks great on a web site might look like a gray blob when you need to print something in black and white. A logo with gradients or halftone (photographic) images won't be easy to translate into embroidered uniform shirts. It's always good to know how you plan to use your mark – before you end up trying to print a 4-color logo with gradients on a golf ball or pen.

5. Try to give your logo "legs."

For many businesses, a good logo can become even better when it has individual graphic elements that can be pulled out and used on other print materials. Perhaps you have a visually interesting logo that has (for example) a star in it, or a stylized letter. That star (or whatever) can be pulled out and used as an icon somewhere else in your print materials, or the stylized first letter of your company name can be used as a watermark or favicon. The more your logo lends itself to flexibility and expansion, the easier it is to create an arsenal of graphic elements that can be used to create visual interest and reinforce brand consistency across all platforms. 

- Kelly