Why we never design without strategy
Would you build a house without a foundation?
Running a design business is working as multiple roles in one, and it can be really tricky to get some things out of the way right away to make the process smooth.
One of those challenges is communicating with prospects and clients, and understanding how to best allocate our time so that we give the right kind of attention to the right people. Let’s face it, we are small design studio, we can’t possibly get to call 20 – 30 people a week in order to understand whether or not we would be a good fit, those are billable hours that we don’t charge that are given away, 10-15h. 1/3 of the week just to “see” whether or not we can work with these people. That’s not how you run a profitable business.
That are many techniques and process we use in that workflow to reduce that amount, gradually, before we even get to talk to a prospect. For a creative studio and even a freelancer, it’s important to understand who the ideal client is, what they care about and what they are looking for. It’s also inevitable to get contacted by people who are not your ideal client because they like what you are working on.
But why am I talking about all these things, if this post is supposed to be about strategy? We are gonna go back to this in pinch, hold on.
There’s a misconception in the creative market about what’s necessary for a company to be successful in terms of their brands. Oh boy, Facebook groups! Filled with those. Let’s straight it out right away:
You can get cheap design work done, but it will not serve your business or your audience, even if you do like it
Let’s face it. If you are hiring someone cheap, one of these two things is true: they are not confident in their skills to charge properly, or they can’t brand and position themselves properly in first place. Why would you trust your business to someone that can’t do the very thing they are selling for themselves?
In any case, your logo or your brand is the part of your business that doesn’t belong entirely to you. Your audience dictates whether they are connecting or not with what you are about, and that will be shown in either sales or crickets.
The best brands are created with the customers in mind. And that’s exactly why strategy is the key factor there, and why a logo doesn’t make a brand, instead a whole system does.
A logo doesn’t make a brand, neither does just the identity
The glue that keeps business goals and good design together and parallel to each other is strategy.
And that’s exactly why we are strategy first: we want to work with people who want to make a big change in their niches or who want to reinvent themselves.
When we say we don’t call everyone who reaches out to us is exactly because we know who our ideal client is. We won’t give you any barriers, long forms, we are not even difficult to reach out to. There’s a general consensus in the Design field that if the prospect doesn’t even say hi and introduce themselves and their business, they aren’t serious about it. And it’s true, because by experience, someone who wants to get the job done will come to you with a problem, and not the prescription or solution to their problem: why reach out to us then in first place?
Now, it sounds like a harsh thing to say and a bad generalisation, but in 90% of the time they are looking for the opposite of what we offer, or shopping around for the best prices and trying to scout us just in case — which we understand, but it’s not what we are about and we’d rather focus on those 3-5 people who reached out and are on the same wave length from the very beginning of the conversation they started.
What strategy means for our clients
In our eBook, Strat It Up!, we explain that clients are inside a jar.
That’s because when you are engrossed in your own business, you don’t really see that far, you get accommodated in your processes, and you always need and external nudge in order to get it unstuck. The famous “thinking outside the box”. Sometimes you just don’t have enough creativity thinking, skills or the right people, the amount of time necessary to execute it yourself, and you want to partner with someone who understands how to read the data and transform it into something creative.
Whatever the case, creative strategy means flipping a switch in your business from dull to awesome. And of course, the principle of having a business is offering a product and service that people will love engaging with for a profit. In the current market dynamics people will only do that when they know, like and trust you, because there’s just too much out there and some of it not genuine. Captivating a client is never a linear process, although our job is to create systems and workflows that facilitate that for a business: it’s a daunting task to understand individuals and their needs, specially on a stablished business.
Making fact-based design decisions: flipping the switch in the creative process
It sounds very uninspiring to make decisions that are “fact based”. But design briefs are normally built in what the client thinks are facts about their business. It generally is a good starting point to get acquainted with a new business and process directly from the client’s perception: you need all inputs, biased and unbiased in order to fully grasp the essence and context of the project you are about to start.
The difference is that we also seek an unbiased approach of collecting that information, with data we collect from the market from various inputs. The market doesn’t care about your feelings. But branding cares about how your clients feel.
Trying to eliminate that judgment in the beginning is a challenge, but something we are good at by being honest and open about our process and how that helps us create brands that are customer centred, but still allows the business to prosper — otherwise what’s the point.
A fact focused process is the first step to a successful strategy and a brand identity that truly captivates.
What does a strategy “brief” looks like
You know what’s funny? We ignore emails like “we need a logo with three variations, two typography variations, blah blah blah” because they just don’t get it. Sure, some of our most tangible deliverables might be pretty logos and graphics but there’s a lot to it in the process. (And it’s our fault to not be deep and clear enough, just putting it out there).
We won’t try to sell our product if a prospect clearly didn’t go through our content and did not do due diligence in the process of selecting a creative — there’s clearly an intention in that sort of email which is getting the cheapest price and not the “best” solution. That’s the kind of “prospect” we just politely decline, we don’t ignore those for real, we just politely say thanks but we aren’t about that. We don’t try to sell the value of strategy. If our prospect has a difficult problem going on, they will come with it to us in a very different language.
A strategy “brief” starts with a pain point, such as we need to create awareness in our brand. Or we are disconnected from our mission. Our website is not converting. We need to bring people to our door and so on. Those are very real challenges businesses of all sizes face and need help with, and we are delighted to be able to wrap it in a beautiful and tangible package that will help soothe those issues and put the business back in track.