Brand Engineering: Glossary of terms

by Tom Campbell

  • Posted: 3 years ago

Tap the terms of the trade — one day at a time

As part of the Toolbox 100 Day project, each day we'll be working on a Glossary of branding terms: pulling a word or phrase from the lexicon of branding, design and marketing and translating it into regular human person language. Some terms are well-known, some not so much, and some we completely made up. Check back daily for your Brand Engineering term of the day. Enjoy.


noun./ristlA given. A feature, requirement or goal that is so broadly assumed to be part of a project, it does not need to be specifically requested. Delivering vector files on a logo is a RSTLNE. Signage being legible is a RSTLNE.  

use:  Responsiveness in web design used to be thought of as a premium feature. Now it's a RSTLNE.

Honest Corn?


noun. A Frankensite is a website that has been cobbled together with various incongruent content and design elements. While this is a term often reserved for the most egregiously terrible websites, a well-designed website can turn into a Frankensite if it's not designed with a strong navigation strategy and future content in mind. 

use:  If you don't have a content management strategy in place and an internal gatekeeper, everyone who wants their content on the home page will put it there and you'll soon have a Frankensite on your hands.

This is Frank. Frank hates bad websites. And fire. Mostly fire.


noun. Branding is the active process of shaping your organization's reputation in the community.

Branding is a two-way dialog between your business and your customers. Branding is the amalgamation of what you say about your business and what your audience thinks about your business. While branding is largely in the hands of the consumers, businesses can drive and influence the two-way conversation.

Branding factors into all elements of image and messaging: corporate identity, marketing, advertising, public relations and sales—including all online, in-print and in-person communication.

use:  As marketing people, we can get anyone into a bad restaurant. Once. The baseline for successful branding is to do what you do really well. If you don't have that, your brand will defeat you, as it should. 

branding, fort collins, toolbox creative

Yellow Jeep Theory

not-so-scientific theory. The notion that if you think about yellow Jeeps, you will start seeing yellow Jeeps everywhere you go. It works really well. You should try it. In fact, on the way into work I was thinking about writing this post and sure enough, a yellow Jeep passed by.

Since clearly your thinking about yellow Jeeps does not automagically produce more yellow Jeeps, the yellow Jeep theory is a good demonstration of the principle that visualizing something can make it appear more real without actually altering reality.

Marketers employ the yellow Jeep theory in multiple ways. The goal of top-of-mind awareness (TOMA) is to set yellow Jeep theory into play. Multiple brand impressions are put into the marketplace. Many are not actively engaged with, but build up to the fourth, fifth or twenty-seventh impression triggering a response. So if your potential customers are thinking about you, all of a sudden, you're everywhere. If they're not thinking about you, your brand goes to that place where all yellow Jeeps go when we're not thinking about them.

use:  While your digital ads on the trade forum did not get many clicks, the increased brand recognition you observed at the trade show was yellow Jeep theory in play. 

yellow jeep theory
Can you find the yellow Jeep in this photo?

Data Visualization

noun. The graphic presentation of statistics. Also known as DataViz, the goal of data visualization is to articulate statistical data in a compelling and easy-to-understand manner. Often a key part of infographics, data visualization is much more than pie charts and can be a very effective sales and marketing tool.

use:  We can break up the white paper with some data visualization images placed throughout at appropriate places. 

data visualization, toolbox creative, fort collins
When showing is more effective than telling, data visualization is the way to go.


noun. Software that connects two otherwise separate applications. Middleware is often thought of as the glue that connects applications or plumbing that allows data to flow freely between applications. 

use:  Since our product is middleware, we need to appeal to the VARs as much as the end users. 

middleware, like the plumbing that connects applications
Think of middleware as the plumbing that connects applications.

IoT: Internet of Things

acronym. The network of objects that can collect and share data with one another. Predicted to include 50 billion devices by 2020, possibilities for the IoT are as endless as they are exciting as they are terrifying: an ice sensor on a bridge ahead can tell your car to slow down, a building can learn how to employ utilities most efficiently, your toaster can tell the maker of your toaster how you like your toast. The hope is that the IoT will make things (and the people behind them) smarter: smart grid, smart homes, smart buildings, smart cities, smart oceans and so on. Until we figure this stuff out, it's probably a safe bet to be nice to your toaster.

use:  This software has applications beyond IoT, but we do want to lead with that. 

the internet of things, is my toaster plotting to murder me?
Is my toaster trying to kill me, or has it learned so much about me, it's decided I'm obsolete? 


adjective. /ˈmedəSelf. Often used in pop culture and marketing to refer to something that is self-referential. A website about websites is meta. When the singer sings the line about the song she's singing—that's meta. In the web and SEO world, metadata, meta descriptions, meta keywords and meta tags all describe data provided by a web page, about that webpage, to search engines. 

use:  We're speaking to an audience that makes a point of never clicking on ads, so I think the CTA can go meta. 

What does Meta mean?
Meta data for this post on this page about posting about things that are meta. Sooo meta. 

Sales Engineer

noun. Someone who sells complex technology. Sales engineers need to possess in-depth knowledge of the technology they're selling and often have an engineering background. Sales engineers conduct market research, deliver technical presentations and interface between customers and engineers.

use:  It's critical for sales engineers to be able to translate tech talk into sales talk. 

infographics for sales engineers
Infographics are valuable tools for sales engineers.


noun. Where the executive decision-makers are. The group of officers of a business with "chief" in their title: CEO, CIO, CTO, CFO, CMO, MFCEO, etc. In marketing for small to mid-size tech companies, the C-suite is often the primary audience.

use:  This is a conversation we really need to be having at the C-suite level. 


Soft Underbelly

noun. Literally the soft, fuzzy underside of an adorable animal. In business and war, the soft underbelly is a vulnerability or easiest point of access (see: low-hanging fruit). The term was popularized in World War II when Winston Churchill considered Italy the soft underbelly of the Axis.

use:  Once we identified employee retention as the soft underbelly and that we could help clients with that, we were in. 

soft underbelly
Soooo soft and fuzzy and vulnerable to marketers.

Behavioral Targeting

noun. Behavioral targeting is an online advertising technique that displays certain ads to a web user based on information collected from sites they've previously visited. The goal of behavioral targeting is to serve you ads that you're more likely to be interested in. It works well when it works, but can range from comical to intrusive to outright offensive when it goes wrong. Below is an ad I've been served for years through behavioral targeting due to my interest in the Philadelphia Flyers (not at all the same thing as club flyers).

use:  Marketers are particularly hard to reach with behavioral targeting — their daily web browsing, often for the purpose of client research, paints an inaccurate picture of the actual person's actual interests. 

Behavioral targeting works well, except for when it doesn't.


adjective. /bəˈspōk/ Custom. Something made to order from a certain set of specifications. Past tense of bespeak. Used more commonly in British English and most often to describe a tailored suit, bespoke has more recently been used to describe custom website and software design. In our industry's never-ending quest to find cooler and more expensive sounding words to describe what we do, bespoke performs quite nicely.

use:  Sure, a website from a template costs free + $29.99 per month, but you are in need of a more bespoke website design solution.

A bespoke photo of some spokes.


noun. /inˈdiSH(ē)ə/ In direct marketing, markings used on address labels or bulk mail in place of a stamp. If you'd like to get real nerdy with it, the singular form of indicia is indicium.

use:  The client was previously licking stamps and applying them by hand. Let's get indicia on those puppies.

The finest of all indicia, Permit No. 255. Represent!

CTA: Call to Action

acronym. A call to action (CTA) is typically a brief, direct message prompting the viewer to take some action. In digital marketing, a CTA usually takes the form of a clickable button. In direct marketing, a CTA can be an invitation to call, email, visit a website or return a bounce-back card. 

use:  Let's make the CTA more prominent.


Some A/B testing on CTAs.

The Decider

noun. The client contact who ultimately authorizes and approves all work done by the creative agency. The Decider provides feedback on design proofs and approves estimates and final art. Also known as the decision-maker or trigger-puller, the Decider can be different people at different times, but on any given project there can only be one Decider.

use:  It's great that we got website design feedback from the sales guy, but he's not the Decider.



adjective. A pricing strategy where the base-level product or service is provided at no charge, with a higher level of service or offerings available for a price. 

use:  Well, one option is $49.99 per month and the other option is freemium.

One of our favorite freemium applications, Slack.

USP: Unique Selling Proposition

acronym. In branding, the one thing that makes your business better than your competition. The articulation of your USP should convince potential customers why they should care about your brand and inspire them to take action. An oldie-but-goodie, this term is credited to legendary TV ad man Rosser Reeves

use:  We've got 300 x 60 pixels to work with for these digital ads. They should be all USP all the time.

TBC_Web_Blog_USPThe LCS USP, front and center on their homepage.


adjective. When your logo inadvertently looks like a swastika. Usually unintentional and always unfortunate, brands large and small suffer from swasticular logos. 

use:  I'm digging that sketch, but let's kill it. It's a bit swasticular.

There are not many places a designer can't go, visually speaking. Going swasticular is one of those places.

MTLB: Make the logo bigger

acronym. Make the logo bigger; a client request so common, it has it's own acronym and its own music video. and its own magical cream

use:  We once had a client continue to make MTLB requests until the logo no longer fit on the mailer (this really happened to us).

Make the logo bigger
One time a client asked us to make the logo smaller, so we framed the email.

Dumb Quotes

noun. Inch marks improperly used when quote marks are needed. Dumb quotes often appear with their sister malady, stupid apostrophes: foot marks used when apostrophes are needed. More on dumb quotes.

use:  Back in the day when you had to hand-set type, dumb quotes did not happen.

dumb quotes
A set of dumb quotes and a stupid apostrophe from the Today Show.


verb, noun, adjective, whatever it wants to be. (unpronounceable). In branding, the act of changing your well-established brand name to an unpronounceable symbol.

use:  It's not possible to use this in a sentence, that's how awesome it is.

Two Minnesota legends: Prince crop art by Lillian Colton.


verb. The process of adjusting the space between letters. Proper kerning is a key factor in maximizing the legibility of logos, signage, headlines and body copy. Bad kerning produces Breakfast Butz and many other delightful design tragedies.

use:  You could park a car between the "L" and the "Y" in your logo. Looks like a pack of hungry squirrels did your kerning.

The breakfast of not-so-champions.

MVP: Minimum Viable Product

noun. The earliest possible version of a product to go to market. A working prototype of sorts, the MVP allows a business to gather customer feedback and test the market before investing too much in a product or technology that may not resonate with their customers.   

use:  We anticipate our MVP will hit the market in September.

1973 National League MVP, Pete Rose.

Pixel Pusher

noun. A derogatory term for a graphic design who does their job unthinkingly or irresponsibly.   

Synonyms: mouse jockey, design monkey, graphic decorator   

use:  Who designed your website, a bunch of pixel pushing mouse jockeys?



noun. /SHəˈretA fancy French-sounding, expensive-sounding meeting usually attended by, but not limited to creative folk. Use charrette when brainstorming feels too corporate or pedestrian.   

use:  We conducted a series of community charrettes and arrived at several critical points of consensus.

La Table de charette. Mais oui!

SFD: Sloppy First Draft

noun. The Sloppy First Draft (A.K.A. Shitty First Draft) is the first internal draft of a particular design, illustration or copywriting project. The goal here is to get something on paper quickly, without belaboring the process or getting bogged down in editing or nuance. The SFD comes after initial research and before concepts are fleshed out internally and presented to the client. A bit of a misnomer, the SFD often contains nuggets of pure awesome and the seeds of the final creative piece. The SFD plays a critical role in the creative process, encouraging creatives to do their homework and create quickly, without spinning their wheels and worrying about producing perfection right out of the gate.   

use:  Let's plan on reviewing the SFD of the USP for LCS by this afternoon and be ready to present to client by Friday.

The SFD of a USP for one of our favorite clients.