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Secret sauce bottles for logo, branding and website design with a Big MacYears ago McDonald’s launched a product that defined their brand, the Big Mac. At it’s core, the new burger wasn’t anything new, since it is basically a double cheeseburger. It’s the special sauce that sets it apart from the competition. After all, we can all recite the jingle from memory years after the fact. “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.” The food industry has been using “family recipes,” “secret ingredients,” and “special sauces” to differentiate their products in an over-saturated market for decades with great success. Why not take that same model and define your own secret sauce for your industry?

The Family Recipe

A secret sauce by nature should be something that only a few know, while many people have experienced it. Consumers love a good mystery, and they will continue to buy your products or services to try and reveal the magic behind your secret sauce. In the case of McDonald’s we’ve all mixed ketchup and mayonnaise together to recreate their special sauce yet the Big Mac is still just as popular as when it was introduced nationally in 1967. A secret family recipe adds a level of comfort to a brand. There’s a sense of love and trust embedded in the idea that’s been passed from generation to generation, and it shows a commitment to the quality of your product or service. You’re brand is defined by the feeling that your end-user gets from interacting with your product or services, and a secret sauce puts them on the inside of the circle of trust.

The Key Ingredients

To define your secret sauce you need to examine 3 key factors — your customers/partners, your competitors and your processes. Begin by talking to your end-users and any partners who interact with your brand. How do they view your products or services? Why do they come back to you? Often you’ll find that it isn’t your core service that keeps customers from coming back, especially since most industries have multiple choices for purchasing products and services. In the case of Walmart, you might immediately assume that low prices are the reason for customer loyalty when in fact it is the convenience of grocery, pharmacy, household and even a doctor under 1 roof that keeps many consumers coming back. If they add apartments into the mix, customers would never have to leave the Walmart compound.

You’ll also want to take a close look at your direct competitors. What are they doing that’s similar to you? How are they different? And most importantly, how do they view you? It’s okay to do what your competition does, but find a way to dress it up with your own secret sauce. Target has taken the same approach to the one-stop shop just like Walmart, however Target features top fashion and furniture designers that you would see at high-end department stores. Target’s secret sauce is “life-style within budget.” Consumers view Target as a higher-end big box retailer despite the fact that they sell much of the same products as Walmart for the same price. Often the consumers perception of your brand can be greatly influenced by your secret sauce.

Next you’ll want to take a look at you’re internal processes in respect to your target market and your competition. Do you have a unique way of presenting your products? Is their a process that you consistently go through that is unique to your business? For example, Google developed an algorithm to rank websites based on content as well as popularity which has made them the #1 search engine on the web. Google openly talks about the results that their algorithm gets, and the fact that it is an algorithm, however, they don’t reveal what the algorithm is. If they did, then they would probably not be on top. Your secret sauce can be anything related to your business, but it should become the core of how you differentiate yourself from your competition.

Add to taste

So, now you’ve found your secret sauce, but how do you use it? Take your idea and boil it down to the simplest terms. If you’ve come up with a revolutionary new sandwich, what makes it so different? It’s the sauce made by mixing ketchup and mayonnaise together rather than two separate spreads. In the simplest of terms “special sauce.” Less complex is better.

The next step is to figure out how your process solves your target market’s pains. For example, color strategy is an area that’s confusing and full of misinformation, and most decisions unfortunately are based on personal opinion. My secret sauce involves a process that reveals the strategy behind brand color in simple visual terms, which eliminates any preconceived notions of what colors mean and more importantly eliminates the urge to make a decision based on personal opinion. In simplest terms, we create “color harmony.” If you can relate your secret sauce to solving a problem for your client then you’ll immediately begin building trust and showing your expertise.

Remember you’re taking your process, and making it marketable. Don’t reveal what your secret sauce is, only what it does. Think of it like a magic trick. We know it’s a trick, what it involves and we often try to figure it out. If someone shows us how to do the trick then it loses its power. It’s the mystery of trick itself that we’re attracted to. Likewise, your secret sauce should sell the results of your unique process as well as the mystery of how it works.

Every company has a secret sauce. Discover it, and make it a key ingredient in your recipe to success.

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Part 1 of The Paper Cuts Series

Clampitt Paper Wrap
Though the design industry has changed in many ways just since the 90’s, printing is still a thriving and vibrant source for connecting with consumers, and paper is the key. For this series, I’ve interviewed some of the best printers, paper reps, and designers to give their insights into how paper can strengthen your brand.

The first post in the Paper Cuts Series features my interview with Clampitt Paper Company rep extraodinaire, Lee Cockrell. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with her over the last 3 years, and she’s helped me rethink and revitalize my approach to visual identity with her wealth of paper knowledge. She’s like a paper ninja, and she’s about to drop some knowledge on you. So lookout.

Give us a little bit of background about yourself.

I have been at Clampitt Paper Company for 7 years as a specification rep. This is my first job out of college and has been quite an adventure and an amazing career.

A specification rep takes on a few roles at a paper company. First, we act as marketing and promotions for our company, being Clampitt Paper. I have the privilege of showing promotional pieces from our manufacturers giving printing tips and ideas on how to use their paper. I also get to act as a paper consultant for end users and the graphic design community helping them specify the best papers for the projects that they are working on.

What first drew you (bad pun, I know) to paper?

The mystery of it all. When I interviewed with Don Clampitt, we took a tour of the warehouse and I was so surprised to see all the different paper. There were cartons and rolls of paper — another world I never knew existed. I was very interested to learn about all the different kinds — as the only kind I knew was the lined paper we used in school.

What do you consider the most valuable asset of designers working directly with a paper rep?

Working with a paper rep gives you access to any and every kind of information you could ever dream about paper, printing, binding…anything. As a designer, there is the obvious working relationship with printers, photography reps, and copy writers, but as a paper specification rep there is access to it all! Also, the manufacturers are constantly putting out materials that are cutting edge for designers — fonts, layouts, bindery. So having access to that can be crucial to stay current for your clients.

How has your role changed over your career, and what’s affected that role the most?

My role has changed dramatically over the past 7 years, because the paper industry as a whole has really changed, much like many other industries. With the growth of sustainability the paper industry has made a lot of changes — the most important being marketing. Although they use a lot of fuel and water, paper companies are very sustainable. They have to be. There are more trees in North America today than there were 20 years ago.

The internet has done both good and bad things for paper. The bad part would be email and the lack of letters, faxes, etc. that use paper for correspondence. Even on-line billing has cut into the use of checks and statements sent in the mail. And access to information in a matter of seconds has hurt the magazine and newspaper industry. However, we have found ways in which it helps with paper and print. The internet is not a strong way to advertise alone. You need a printed piece to drive consumers to the internet and vice versa. Also, the internet has really made paper stand out. Before it was all just paper, now consumers pay a lot more attention to printed pieces.

Even “The Office” has done wonders for the paper industry. It has really helped people understand our industry and what “Paper People” do.

Can paper be used to define a brand, and in what way?

Paper is one of the best ways to define a brand. The sense of touch is much stronger than the sense of sight, especially when it comes to paper. Paper is a great way to stand out from the competition, or blend in, if you so choose. It could be a texture, a weight or a color, but there are many ways to use it for brand recognition.

What are some of the trends in the way agencies/designers are using paper?

The biggest trend right now in the paper industry is textures and tactiles. Designers are trying to help their clients stand out. Another trend is uncoated. Many companies don’t want to appear slick and glossy during this economic time, so uncoated paper allows them to represent a softer personality.

What are some common myths about paper that keep agencies/designers from specifying paper on print projects?

Specifying paper is just as important as specifying fonts, colors, illustration or photography. It can and will make or break the finished piece. There are many myths about specifying which deters designers from doing it. They think it will be too expensive. Well, you can get a $1.00 hamburger at McDonald’s or an $8.00 burger at Chili’s, but you STILL choose a burger. Paper is the same way. There are all sorts of papers that fit all sorts of price points. Take control of the paper, even if it’s on the dollar menu. Don’t let someone else pick your meal.

Designers also fear that if they specify the paper they will have to wait many days for it to come in. As a distributor, we try to carry many different papers to alleviate the wait. Sometimes we have to wait for the paper to come from a mill, but it’s a much faster process now. Back in the day, paper from the mill traveled by rail, and it would take many weeks. Now, it takes only a few days and is packaged in much smaller cartons.

Have you seen cases where a paper choice has either enhanced or destroyed a creative project?

Paper can and will make or break a design. Just as you would probably not use the color red to project a high end spa, you would not want to use a coated or uncoated sheet for the same reason. Paper has personality, and when used right, it can enhance the design product. Used wrong, and it can take away from the message.

Tell me a little bit about the Clampitt Paper School.

Lee Cockrell teaching at the Clampitt Paper SchoolClampitt Paper School has been around for more than 40 years. It is a great asset to the industry, and I recommend it to anyone in print, design, marketing, etc. It is a half day at our headquarters in Dallas, Texas and we teach all the paper basics. First we present paper making, next paper math, then business paper, text and cover papers, coated papers, and the role that paper plays in the environment.

How can someone find out about the line of papers that Clampitt Paper currently carries?

The line of paper that Clampitt currently carries is on our website: It is a great resource for all your paper needs.

I know this is like asking a designer to pick a favorite color or font, but what’s your personal favorite paper stock and why?

My favorite paper stock is the Crane Lettra. I love the soft, plush feel of the stock and the colors that are available — all shades of white. I also love the 220# heavy weight cover! Another reason — 100% cotton!

I would consider myself anything from the French Paper line, because it’s more utilitarian, unassuming and a little rough around the edges. Which paper stock would you be and why?

The paper that I most resemble would be something from the Sundance line — it’s not too bold, but has enough color to get noticed, great subtle textures and a middle of the road price point.

When you get groceries do you spec paper or plastic?

I ALWAYS get paper when I am at the grocery store. PAPER is a sustainable resource, plastic is NOT.

Clampitt Paper Company LogoIf you’d like to find out more about Clampitt Paper or reach out to Lee with any paper questions you can contact her at, or visit the website at Clampitt Paper Company website. Be sure to follow Clampitt Paper Company on twitter @BarneyFiber.

Check back next month when we talk to one of Fort Worth’s premier digital printers for Part 2 in The Paper Cuts Series.

Like what you see feel free to email me at and don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook. Check out the Creative Squall site to see how we’ve helped clients add a touchy, feely side to their brands with paper.

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