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My recent journey down memory lane reminded me why being distinctive and consistent is essential when crafting creative communications that resonate with target audiences.

I was born and raised in Las Vegas, New Mexico, the largest town on the eastern slope of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that’s an hour’s drive from Santa Fe. My hometown is a pretty eclectic place for its small size of 14,000 residents. It has two primary town centers with coinciding rival school districts. West Las Vegas includes the Old Town Plaza (as featured in such movies as Easy Rider and No Country for Old Men), while east Las Vegas was a major stop along the Victorian-era cross-continental railroad (as featured in the original Red Dawn film). It’s home to a university, community college and international high school, and it has over 900 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

(Top) The Montezuma Castle, a former railroad-era luxury hotel that is now the centerpiece of the Armand Hammer United World College of the American West (UWC-USA). (Bottom) The church in Uppertown and the painted landmark on the road to Montezuma    © CLO

My family moved away the day before I started the sixth grade, so it often shocks me at how strongly my memory responds whenever I make a special trip back. As soon as I arrive, I feel compelled to drive around and soak in the memories, from repeating my bus route to school to passing by the many places I played as a child. It’s always deeply emotional for me as I absorb the recall of my youth.

During this latest visit, it dawned on me as I was walking and driving around that my hometown is unique because virtually every single building within it is unique. The vast variety of architectural styles is dramatic. Even buildings with similar styles have strikingly different colors, details and landscaping. As a result, I would look at each individual structure and recollect memories completely specific to that one place.

The less a place changed, the more I remembered. The more distinctive the location, the more vivid the memory. The more intense the memory, the more emotionally connected I felt with the place. 

This powerful experience reminded me of key components to creating magnetic communications, from the visual and verbal to the physical and experiential.

The more distinctive the presentation and the more consistent the quality, the stronger the impact and residual emotional imprint on an audience.

One of my greatest creative influences is the legendary composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim. His core principles to lyric writing can be applied to crafting all forms of effective storytelling.

From his book Finishing the Hat:

“In no particular order, and to be written in stone:

Content Dictates Form

Less is More

God is in the Details

all in the service of

Clarity

without which nothing else matters.”

My thoughts on how these principles apply to communications design:

Content Dictates Form

Automation and templates can be useful and efficient, especially with online communications. Unfortunately, they can also detract audiences by homogenizing content and diluting messaging.

When using templates, it is important to customize your materials so that each image and piece of text appears to have been created specifically for that delivery method. Inadvertently projecting poor craftsmanship, like bad crops, cut-off statements, and fuzzy, distorted images (among other examples), can be instant turnoffs to a prospective new customer, client or referral.

Remember, if you look and sound like everyone else, you can appear generic, cheap and of poor value. To stand out from your competition, you must be distinctive and emphasize your unique message, story and presentation.

Less is More

The new world order of communications has become a giant mass of clutter. The mounds of media fighting for attention often comes across as messy, redundant, overwhelming and repellent.

How can you be heard and stand out from the crowd when surrounded by so much commotion? It’s not about saying as much as you can or trying to shout the loudest. It’s about trimming away all of the excess fat so that all that remains is the leanest, most succulent bite for your audience to savor.

The art of editing is a powerful tool that enables your content to sing, attract attention and rise above the noise.

God is in the Details

Effectively articulating your story and message requires a combination of organization and creativity that is part puzzle, part clean-up and part innovation.

Integrating the pieces together into a unified entity with a clear voice is key.

Meticulousness is required to make sure you remove all distractions – like typos, poor alignment and inaccuracies, among others.

Also, subtle inspired accents can add inviting embellishments that make your content reverberate and echo within your audience so that they will feel a deeper connection with you and what you have to share and offer.

Clarity – without which nothing else matters

If your viewer, reader or user doesn’t hear you and tunes out, you have nothing. If your value is buried in chaos, you have nothing. Pretty pictures and motion can create attention, but if they aren’t in alignment with your message and attuned to your audience, they create a dizzy disconnect and you have nothing. If you look and sound like everyone else around you, you become invisible and can appear shallow, formulaic and disingenuous – and you have nothing.

Some of the best communication design is that which is hidden in plain sight – so that the literal and visceral information intended to be conveyed is effectively and effortlessly received and absorbed.

My business, CLO Communications, specializes in translating complexity into clarity.

“Everybody matters. Everyone just wants to be heard.” – Oprah Winfrey

By following these principles, I help my clients be focused, be compelling and be heard.

I have mastered many storytelling tools that don’t fit into a traditional box. Having been internationally recognized for my eclectic body of work, my broad versatility enables me to reliably connect with audiences around the world.

Much of my success has to do with the extensive training I received in the decade plus leading up to Y2K – my life before I took my first art-school design class, published my first written story and wrapped my head around my first database.

My years directing and designing for theater taught me to step back and sit in the audience’s chair to embody their perspective while receiving a production. My background performing as a trained vocalist conditioned me to instinctually feel a musical rhythm and flow when delivering stories. And my job speaking in front of different groups of high school students every day forced me to prioritize being entertaining and compassionate while seeing the world from their perspective – or else I’d be aggressively booed out of the classroom.

From that foundation, I went on to expand my toolbox as an accomplished designer, writer, data-journalist, photographer, editor, creative director – and fellow small-business owner who personally identifies with the challenges facing start-ups and solopreneurs.

I speak design, see type, hear copy, picture data, read audiences and create order out of apparent chaos.

My toolbox may be unconventional, yet it enhances my ability to tap into a deep well of expertise to create and help others achieve effective solutions to complex communications challenges across all media – from the visual, verbal, statistical and experiential.