Strategic Design | marketing & branding thoughts by Nick Rice

Dynamic marketing, branding & design strategies that span the gap between business & creative.

How good is good enough?

Wow, that’s a tough one in the marketing communications space. Obviously you want your project to accurately reflect your message, unique value prop, brand, etc… But the real heart of the question is “are you willing to pay for it; to wait for it”?

In my experience, most marketing managers do not understand nor participate in the creative process. That is not the fault of the marketing manager, it’s the responsibility of the creative team to include, listen to, and integrate the business people early and often.

On the opposite side, most designers do not understand or participate in the budget planning and scheduling phase of projects. A good designer is more concerned about doing things the right way or for the right reason than they are about timelines and how that relates to budget.

I believe that a lot of these issues are solved with open & honest conversation. The more transparent the better. The marketing folks need to understand what is causing the root business problem that they are asking the design folks to fix. The designers need to understand the contraints that define the project related to time & money and how to produce the best possible work within those constraints. In short a team that trusts one another and works together to solve the common problem. Not a team that throws half-baked guidance over the wall and expects "magic" to happen on a one day turn-around and for less than you pay the kid that cuts your yard (which happens to equal roughly $40 for 20 minutes of work or $120/hr; think about it).

What will you do differently if good enough isn't enough for your customers?

An easy way to start email marketing

Over the years, I've learned to always be on the lookout for new tools and technologies that can make our marketing lives easier. One of those tools is ResultsMail. It's an easy and cost effective way to start email marketing. It has a great list management section as well as terrific reporting.

I've used this tool to blast over 60 email campaigns to different customer segments in 2005. We generated an average open rate of over 20% - well above the industry average of 1%-5%!

Let me offer a few tips & tricks:

  • Only send information that is valuable to your customers. No one likes spam. In fact, there is legislation to stop spammers. See the CAN-SPAM act for the legal side of email marketing.
  • Use personalization in the subject and introduction of your email. It increases response rates.
  • The SUBJ line is critical. Keep it short, descriptive, and relevant.
  • Consistency is king. Try to communicate weekly or monthly or quarterly. Just be consistent.
  • Make sure that you include a text-only version as well. Roughly 50% of users can read HTML emails.
  • Be sure to include an "opt out" link. This is part of the Can-Spam act and just good practice.
  • Test, Test, Test your campaign before launching it to your audience.
  • Always include a "refer a friend" link. This is a great way to build your list with warm leads.
  • Be sure that your email campaign reflects your offline message and visual style. The email needs to look like your postcards, billboards, TV ads, catalogs, websites, coupons, etc... Confusion does not lead to loyalty.
  • Create a web version of your email. Include this link at the top of your text-only email blast, it's an easy way to provide text users a better experience.
  • Never use the word "Free" in your subject or email. It will get blocked by spam filters.
  • The latest research data shows that Fridays & Sundays generate good email responses. Bucking conventional wisdom isn't a bad thing after all...

Great web-based project management system

I wanted to pass on a site that I've learned to live and die by. AceProject. This is a very cost effective hosted project management system. It's great! I have personally used this system to manage over 525 creative projects in the last two years. It has been a life saver.

You can set up custom project templates that are designed around your creative process and have built-in project tracking. It's really about team communication. For each project, there is a discussion forum so that project users can work out any issues. Being web-based is great because you can work from anywhere.

Check it out. It handles project & task deadlines, security, document storage, time tracking, gantt charts, user workload and more. Again, it's a life saver for me. You will not believe the price.

Why in-house design teams should work, but don't.

Most businesses have a few people on staff full-time for the purpose of design. And most of the time, these people stay pretty busy. It may be one person or you may have multiple teams assigned to the various design disciplines of PR, Marketing Communications, Corporate Communications, Advertising, Industrial Design, Packaging, Art Dept, etc...

Most of the time, in large organizations like above, these teams do not work closely together. And this is a shame since all of them are all responsible for the external image of your company. Your customers don't care that different teams designed your web site, spec sheets, press release, packaging, TV spots, and sales tools. But they sure feel the confusion if it's not done properly - and sooner or later you will too.

These internal teams have a distinct advantage over outside vendors because they sit down the hallway from you, figuratively speaking of course. They live and breathe your business every day. They hear your value prop directly from senior management and hopefully see it in action. There is no learning curve, it's inherent. It's built into their daily lives.

Unfortunately, most of these in-house positions are filled with junior level professionals. Typically there is not a good long-term career path for creatives in business. How many of your senior managers came from the Art Department or Industrial Design or PR?

Your brand image & message has to be on target. It has to accurately reflect your values, aspirations, and your customers. It's your stake in the ground. It's what makes you different than your competition. It's what engages your customers to buy. It's too important to leave to people that aren't the best available.

If you do not consider design a core compentency, I contend that you should be working with valued outside partners. A good agency will be stocked with people whose lifelong goal is to be the best designer they can. People whose sole desire is to communicate your value prop effectively - not move up the org chart. They want to help you put your best foot forward. You do not want junior staffers at the agency working on your account, why should your in-house team be any different? Your marketing staff needs to know how to work with outside partners effectively. Partners are not vendors and should not be treated the same.

Find a partner that can translate your offering into messaging and visuals that resonate with your customers. Something that makes them stand up and take action.

In-house teams should have the advantage, but most do not. Most are overburdened with small projects that will not amount to a hill of beans at the end of the quarter. They never get a shot at the big projects. In a commoditized marketplace, where brand is #1, who do you trust with your image?

On a personal note, Happy Birthday Meg!

I never realized how much fun (and work) it was going to be when I became a dad. Now, just one day after her 2nd birthday I can honestly say that I've never loved someone so much. Even when she is driving me crazy, I cannot stay mad at her for longer than a second or two. ha. Happy Birthday baby!

I love the defiant (and slightly nervous) look of this image. I hope she grows up to be self-confident, proud and happy in her pursuits.

Is your Marcom team working?

How do you gauge whether your in-house or external communications/design agency is working as well as they should be?

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • Is there alignment between your internal brand promise and your customer's perception? If not, who is responsible? How will you fix it?
  • How well do they listen before offering a solution?
  • Can they speak your business language?
  • When is the last time they impressed you with a new idea?
  • Are they really part of your team or just a vendor?
  • Is the in-house team better than the outside agencies? Why not? They should have the advantage (hint: and it's not because they're "free" or the quickest).
  • How does the quality of your deliverables compare to your competition?
  • Can they effectively give your pitch to someone without you?
  • Do they work on your projects as business people or as artists?
  • Is there a long term career path for your in-house creative team?
  • Can they truly understand the root cause of your business problems?
  • Are you getting the most out of your current retainer? How would you know if you're not?

Why listen to me?

In short, I hope to provide valuable information to you. Information that you can act on to improve your business. I am passionate about growing businesses through the use powerful marketing & design strategies.

There are proven results and more than a decade of experience behind my thoughts. And most importantly, I have successfully spanned the traditional chasm between business & creative. I understand the art and the science - and can leverage that knowledge to help you meet goals and/or solve problems.

It's not rocket science; but it's not magic either.

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