A Quiet Pause On Our Hectic Highway


This thought all started as I was watching the popular ABC television show "The Middle". The opening credits show a long straight road through the cornfields of the Midwest. I pause the DVR and think about what it would be like to ride down that road. The quiet, peaceful serenity. Am I rolling down the road on my Harley? Am I cruisin' down the road in my Fairlane? Or am I pedalling down with my vintage Schwinn? I wonder how it might look different at dawn or dusk, or in the middle of a moon-lit evening? What does it sound like, smell like. I just want to soak it all in. Just then, Tracy asks if I am going to push the play button.

Of course, my mind starts to wander about how this pause can help my clients and my business. My Strategic Marketing Map has been a great resource in defining a modern content driven in-bound marketing program.

The Road
What does the road look like for your business? I highly doubt it is a straight smooth highway rolling past the horizon. At times, I'm sure it's got some pot holes, treacherous turns or soft shoulders. Hopefully not all at once.

The Vehicle
What is the vehicle you are riding in? At times I am sure it feels like a beat-up jalopy that is about to break down at any moment, and I hope it is more like a modern exotic sports car more often than not. Some cars tend to drive themselves. Ride in a swanky Cadillac and your ride is smooth no matter the quality of the road. Get in a tiny sports car and you feel every bump and pebble. Sometimes it is important to feel the bumps, and other times they distract you from what is important. It's best to know when you need a certain vehicle. 

The Company
Who is with on this trip? Is your team comprised of great travel companions? The explorer, navigator, sergeant, and mechanic. We need each of these characters to have a fulfilling trip. The Explorer plots an uncharted course to find new opportunities. The Navigator sees what is immediately up ahead and can help smooth the turns. The Sergeant manages the activities to stay on course. And, the Mechanic is there to solve any problems that may arise. 

The Experience
How are you experiencing this expedition? Are you able to take time to reflect on its grandeur? Is the journey happening so fast that you can't see what's around the next turn, or see the forest through the trees? When you are able to pause and reflect, you have moved from reactionary mode to proactive mode, which allows you to work smarter rather than harder.

The Destination
I found in a recent vacation that my attitude is different on my way to our vacation as on the way home. Not better or worse, just different. On the way TO my vacation spot, the uncertainty is exhilarating, challenging and calming. Not knowing exactly what the amenities will be like, or the availability of activities is scary for someone who likes to be in control. On the way HOME, my mind is clear from the time away and I can think differently to help solve any problems that come about.

So now, the show is about half over and the dialog is a calming drone with occasional bursts of laughter. 

I'd sure like to know how you take pause in your hectic life. Share your thoughts below, and let's start a refreshing dialog.

Go Where They Go!


As a professional in a creative industry it is a challenge to develop a program for a customer who may be a bit out of our sphere of influence.

Today, with the internet we can research and find out more about a particular industry in a matter of minutes and hours. We find online groups, meet-ups, etc that help us to define what people in that industry may be looking for, what they respond to and how they make their purchase decisions.

I have a Post-It® on my computer that says: "Go Where They Go!" It reminds me to get away from my vast inner-circle to find out where my clients' customers are going. And if at all possible, actually go to those places, meet-ups, etc. Read their magazines, watch their shows, visit their spaces. Find what works and how we can adapt our designs to get the best impact, and create the most value for our clients.

Where do you go?

Your Business as a Toolbox

We just got a new toolbox in the Blacktop Garage.


For gearheads like us, this is actually an exciting statement.

Not only is this an opportunity to organize our tools, but also to find new tools for the box.

But, you know what?

The toolbox is no good if you don't use the tools. Each tool is an investment on your working capital. I can only do what I have the tools for. Some tools require a great amount of investment in education, practice and failure. Other tools are natural fits that come from instinct or blood. We have tools which are sturdy, go-to items that are strong, dependable and reliable. Other tools we make up as we go along. Discovering a new process or tip to be more effective. 

An organized toolbox can add efficiencies to your work flow and increase the bottom-line: Getting the job done quickly, effortlessly and painlessly. 

All this talk about our new toolbox got me thinking about my business as a toolbox. There are tools I use everyday in each drawer. My camera, computer, process, employees, colleagues, and collaborators. Other tools include marketing strategy, collateral and communication such as our websites, social media presence and products.

Which tools are you adding to the top drawer, which are relocated to the bottom drawer?

In the middle of this article, I was tasked with investing in a new tool. A service and platform that will transform the way I do business. It's a valuable tool, with a price-tag to match.

The Chicken and The Egg.

Do I make the plunge and invest in this new program which promises (however does not guarantee) to increase my bottom line with highly qualified clients. Or, do I move slowly adding to my  repertoire in small (manageable) increments?

I'd sure like to hear about your struggles using the tools in your business. Are you using a screwdriver for a hammer?

Dig Deep


Last week I had the opportunity to review some student's portfolio's for the AIGA/OC. It has been a while since I have been involved in the design community in such a way. It was very rewarding. I saw a couple of student's who reminded me of when I was in their shoes, 25 years ago.

I asked each student what they were passionate about. Most knew right away. When asked, I shared a bit about my history, how I struggled to find a niche, or a specialty. I remember how scary it was to break away as a designer for everyone, and focus on a specific industry, or specialty. I shared how, with a specialty comes expert status. You dig real deep. You have to immerse yourself in that industry culture. You have to "be one of them", speak their language and know who their customers are. With that specialty, you gain a unique attribute that can be very valuable to the industry.

We are not here to make pretty pictures, but to create value for our clients. We are "COMMERCIAL" artists. The result has to create an effect on the bottom line. When that result is proven, there is no question about cost. 

That was for the students.

How are you digging deep? As a professional in your industry, complacency is easy to fall in to. How are you digging deep to create the value your company and industry needs to lead and succeed?


Put In “A Good Days Work”


As I was making my morning walk, I saw a landscape truck making his way around the Orange Plaza. I thought, he is ready to put in a good days work. 

I hear the voices of past mentors, my father, and my nonno as I udder those words in my mind. Interesting how a snap shot of our daily lives can trigger. I stop at a bench in the plaza by the fountain and jot down my tasks I need to complete today to make it "A Good Days Work".

The photo above was taken back in 2013, when I saw a truck on the highway that had a logo that I designed in the 1980's, one of my very first paid gigs, on the door. The logo also features one of the first fonts I designed, called Howdy!.

Looks like Jennifer Youngquist and I have made A Good Days Work.

Bravery vs Fear


Maybe you heard the entire dialog, but as I turned on the radio in my truck, I caught the tail of a conversation regarding Bravery vs Fear and the options you have available to you (in your mind) when you are feeling brave, vs when you are feeling fearful.

I have certainly felt this, as I am sure many of you have. 

The big question is, how do you get out of that fearful funk? How do you become brave?

As a creative person in business, these two concepts are in constant dialog. It is the way we do things. If you are being creative, in most cases, you are doing something that not only you have not done before, but something that has not been proven to work, succeed.  The brave me pushes the envelope, looks for something new, is an explorer looking to discover the unknown answer. 

Then comes the presentation. Fear sets in, I start to second guess myself. Confidence. I take a deep breath, I repeat in my mind that I have faith in my work, my process and my intentions. In most cases, the client is excited and thankful. In others, the client is feeling the fear. Did I project that on them? They are unsure if the design/campaign/content will give them the outcome they are depending on. My work ethic I gained from my father and grandfather forces me to be ethical to the clients needs. To provide them with the value that they are depending on me to deliver.

So what do I do?

I challenge myself. Constantly. I do things that I have never done before. I will open a retail store to learn what it is like on the sales side. I take a ride as a monkey on a Speedway Sidecar going for a turn at near 100 miles per hour dragging my butt (literally) in the dirt. I produce an incredible amount of work. I am constantly thinking and working on building something. (that also comes from my construction family ties)

I know you do stuff to challenge yourself. Share with me and everyone what you do. It will inspire us all and help us to be more brave and kick fear in the teeth.

Your Brand Advocates

The Blacktop Media Network exists to help you build your brand.

One of the things we dig the most is creating content for your marketing department. Our content can be in the form of Press Releases, Testimonials, Photos, Video, Audio and Broadcast. We recently completed a Brand Advocacy program for a local nitrile glove distributor. Billy took up the task as Brand Advocate and offered his testimonial for their products. Take a look:

Ready to Start a Brand Advocate Program?
We have a free outline for you. Click here to request yours.

Here are the testimonials Billy presented:
I wear gloves because my hands are important to me. Not only do I use them as tools like everyone else, but I also use them to get around in my wheel chair or with my sticks (crutches).

I saw Adenna at the SEMA Show and had to try them out. I found their nitrile gloves to be comfortable for my daily medical use and strong when working on my Harley or other projects in the garage.

If you want to protect your hands, I suggest you look into Adenna latex or nitrile gloves. They have a wide assortment of styles and weights for most every job.

-Billy Colombini, Blacktop Magazine

I use the Adenna Miracle gloves for my medical issues, it is important to be as clean as possible. When I use a catheter or administer a shot, the Miracle gloves are a good fit and work great for my needs. The thin gauge, and skin-like feel help me to be precise when using a catheter.

Billy Colombini, Blacktop Magazine

Blacktop Branding's Strategic Marketing Map
We have developed a great tool to help craft the right message for your company, product and people. Our Strategic Marketing Map is a worksheet that includes deep customer research, cross-channel stratgies, content creation, goal planning, and reporting. 

We appreciate the opportunity to contribute to YOUR success too.
Click Here to Request your FREE Strategic Marketing Map.

Creating a Consistent Brand Image

Here at the Blacktop Media Network, we are very fortunate to work for clients who appreciate the value we have to bring to their brands.

AskewBlacktop Branding has developed a consistent and robust “Brand Standards” program. The program starts with a review of your current brand equity. Basically, we work to answer the question: “How do people currently view your brand?”. The answers lie in both the visual and the perceptual quality of your brand image.

Visual Quality:
The Brand Standards become the pallet or guideline on how we present the brand identity going forward. Strict use and definitions of design elements, typography, color, and iconography are outlined.

Perceptual Quality:
Since day one, Blacktop Branding has been a leader in developing a thematic voice for brands. A good thematic concept will touch people on an emotional level. They will be able to add their own story to the theme and connect in a way that will enable them to be brand advocates. What is the theme of the company? How do you want your brand to be perceived? We see themes in use at Helpful Honda, Subaru; Share the Love, RAM Trucks; Work Hard.

The link below is the brand identity design standards of an extensive corporate identity program for Boyd’s Garage. A blacksmith and hot rod shop in rural Montana:



3 Ways “Cool Old Stuff” Helps You to Succeed.


We all need a place to go to and break away from the stresses of the day, the week, the year. This private space becomes our sanctuary.

IMG_0906I was hanging out in my sancutary the other night. Looking at some items that were as old or older than my grandfather. My Nonno came here from Italy when he was 16 years old in 1922. Hanging in my garage is a portrait photo of him and his brother with their father just before the two boys set off to live in America. He came here with nothing and lived the American Dream.

I was throwing darts, thinking about how good all this cool old stuff makes me feel. There are certain scientific circles which agree that a happy mind makes a happy body. The mind/body continuum comes from somatic psychology originated by Pierre Janet and Sigmund Freud. Also known as Namarupa in Buddhism.

I see it like this: When I am around items that are from my father or grand-father’s era, I feel as though I am part of a much larger world. I am inspired. Ideas roll in and motivation energizes me to action. And, that makes me feel good. When I feel good, I feel stronger and more resilient to the stresses in my life.

Here are the three ways Cool Old Stuff helps me succeed.


This “Cool Old Stuff” makes me grateful for the strong work ethics my patriarchs have taught me. “Good things don’t come easy.” “If it was easy, anyone and everyone would do it.”


I look at the work they have left us. The craftsmanship and design are deserving of respect. Respect in how I display the items, and respect in the work I do to continue their legacy.


The items help me to gather my focus and work on what is really important. I am reminded of the “Good Old Days” where there was great collaborations in the United States. Companies collaborated together to get great things done. During WWII manufacturers changed their plants for the war effort, the public learned to be frugal. During the space race companies collaborated their engineers and designs for the common goal.


When I am around these historical items I learn quite a bit about myself, and what we are all capable of, when we work together.

3 Tips for Great Storytelling

I have been told that I am a great storyteller.

Depending on the situation, that can be a compliment or not.

One-time while on a road trip through the backroads of Vermont in search of covered bridges, I would make up ghost stories about driving through a road very much like this one, and when I came to a climactic point I’d touch the brakes to emphasize the point. It would scare the bejezus out of everyone from grand-daughters to grand-fathers riding in that van.

And when I was a kid and had to explain the bits and pieces of model cars in the backyard, I would quickly come up with a reason that did NOT involve firecrackers.


I have taken those lessons and what I had learned in Art History and Sculpture classes at the Laguna College of Art and Design to the benefit of my clients with my Strategic Design Parameters diagram. The diagram was developed for visual communication, however it works well for storytelling as well. Here we find the “sweet spot” between the Physical, Emotional and Intellectual parameters.

BB_TriadA good story draws people in, compels them to learn more and leaves them feeling content. That’s the structure, or the Physical Parameter. The Intellectual Parameter is the part that compels them to learn more. There is something interesting, fascinating or educational that essentially sucks them in. Then there is the Emotional Parameter that pulls at their heartstrings and creates a bond.

1) Physical Parameter
Outline the structure of your story. Be sure that there is a beginning, middle and end. Sounds simple enough but without the plan, your story will ramble. I have found it best to define the ending first. What is the result you want someone to achieve at the end of the story? The beginning will create the question that the end will answer. The middle is the meat of the story. It will provide the support to create a paradigm shift in your audience and allow them to accept your solution in the end.

If there are problems in the Physical Parameter the message will be lost because the audience will be focused on the flaws. Spelling or grammatical errirs our grate exampuls.

2) Intellectual Parameter
As defined earlier in the meat of the story. The Intellectual Parameter is going to have a historical or contemporary reference that the audience will appreciate. For that to happen you must research your audience to use the proper references. Obscure references will distance you from the audience. Be careful not to overuse industry terms that they may not be aware of. Keep jargon at a minimum.

When there are flaws in the Intellectual Parameter the audience will not get the meaning of the message and cannot make an informed positive action. Be clear and concise in your meaning.

3) Emotional Parameter
In order for the audience to completely “buy-in” to your story it must touch them spiritually. An AHA moment. Something that will connect with them on a deeper more personal level. In researching your audience look for clues to what they are responding to. This could be as simple as a color choice, or as deep as a nostalgic remembrance.

A story may be well written, be full of meaning but without an equally strong emotional quotient, there will be no connection. It will be difficult for the audience to share the story. We need them to share the story with gusto!

I trust this article will help you in writing your STORY. If you would like to discuss how we can specifically assist you in your story, please feel free to call.

– Tony Colombini 949-584-5669