Strategic Design | marketing & branding thoughts by Nick Rice

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

Design & Business Inseparable

Diego Rodriguez, from IDEO & metacool fame, has a great article on BusinessWeek about good business equals designing a good customer experience.

Successful business is about more than a great product. That may get a customer in the door initially, but their overall experience w/ your brand and customer service will keep them coming back - or never coming back. It's very hard, almost impossible, to create loyal customers but as markets commoditize, the organziation w/ the most loyal customers wins. The power of blogs is the perfect example. Bloggers that love a product can create a buying frenzy and of course the opposite is true as well. If you are happy enough to talk about it, you're satisfied.

Design is about more than thinking about look & feel or colors & fonts. You have to design the entire experience. You do not have total control over your brand image - your customers define your brand, not you. You can only hope to have everything in place in order to influence your customer's perception of your products, services and offerings so that their perception matches your desired business strategy. Do what it takes to keep them loyal, it will pay off in every way imaginable - the first of which is profit and shareholder value.

"We do stuff"...

I found a great site you have to check out, thanks to Jill Konrath at Selling to Big Companies.

It's a slightly humorous look (read: would be more funny if it wasn't so accurate) at the typical PR/Design agency. I love their tagline, "We do stuff."

As we at Cre8tive Group look into a website refresh, this is be one example that I will hold up as what to stay away from because it's easier to talk about ourselves than it is to talk about what prospective customers want to hear.

  1. Keep your language simple, accurate and real-world.
  2. Talk about the benefits you provide, not about you or your products.
  3. People don't do business with companies; people do business with people. Be likable.

Daily Cartoon - Typical Project?

You may have seen this before, but I thought it was a funny look at what sadly happens more often than not. This sums up why I started blogging. There are too many marketing communications projects that are doomed to meet the same fate without the right people on board, the right questions asked, and the right expectations set.

Here's another version from 37signals. funny stuff.

Design Process Primer

Great post from I'm anxious to follow the thread.

Since I've lived on both sides of the marketing world, client & agency, I'm still surprised at how many people make marketing decisions emotionally versus data-driven or strategically. I am constantly engaged in "I like" or "I feel" or "I think" conversations with clients. Not that personal thoughts are bad; it's just that creative decisions should be based on how well the project objectives/strategies are being met. Opinions are usually political. And politics are usually personal agendas, not necessarily what's best for the target audience.

A lack of understanding how the creative process works will always default to personal emotional requests. It's up to the creative world to show clients that the creative process is a purposeful series of ideas and refinements based on the knowledge of audience needs/likes, technical requirements, experience, and the nature of the problem to be solved. Not to mention the standard best practice application of fonts, colors, and white space. Wrap all of that up inside the client's brand guidelines (as well as project budget & timeline constraints) and you have the heart of the creative process.

Daily Quote - Innovation

Business has only two functions - marketing & innovation.
- Peter Drucker

Great article on innovation in business from Brianna Sylver at Core77. To sum it up, there are three primary driving factors for the desire to innovate. As marketing/design consults, we have to understand the business issues and the tolerance level required for innovation before we suggest ways to innovate. As with all consulting engagement, the more transparency during the process the better the results. Unfortunately, it's tough for a lot of businesses to "open the kimono" when asking for help.

Marketing: Important or Urgent?

Most businesses would agree that marketing is important. In the SMB market, that agreement is usually followed up with “but it’s not an urgent need…” Why worry about marketing when you can neglect it and still get new customers in the door. Referrals are a great way to add customers; but you are not in control over when it will happen or who will be referred to you.

Proper marketing is all about taking control of your business. It’s about getting the right type of customers; not simply getting more customers.

If you are like most business people, today was busier than yesterday, this quarter is more hectic than last – and unfortunately, that cycle isn’t ending soon. Marketing to the wrong segments or untargeted marketing just adds more potential customers; not to mention that you’re simply adding more work. When you market to add the right customers, you increase customer satisfaction and profit because you're providing a service they value.

Most importantly, to market effectively you have to stake your position in the marketplace. This isn’t an easy task but it’s critical to your long-term success.

As your products and services become more commoditized, marketing quickly moves from important to urgent. In a stable established market, brand perception is the number one driver of consumption. To become the #1 provider in the eyes of your customers, your marketing plan has to be actively managed one project at a time; while ensuring that every decision is aligned with your core brand strategy.

8 reasons to market your products or services now:
  1. You want profitable growth
  2. You desire a better brand image
  3. You’re announcing new products
  4. You have a distinct competitive advantage; or wish you did
  5. A few large customers control your business
  6. You need to attract and keep top employees
  7. Your products surpass your current customer’s perception
  8. The right customers value your offerings and are willing to pay a premium

Daily Quote: Moronic Consumers

"The consumer isn't a moron. She is your wife."
- David Ogilvy

This is an oldie but a goodie. It still rings true today. I've seen a lot of marketing managers frustrated by how little their target audience knows or understands about their product. This is in no way the fault of the consumer. You cannot flood customers with feature after feature and expect them to walk away understanding how those features will make their lives easier or save them money or make them money.

Today's consumers are so savvy that even benefit-focused headlines are not getting through. Clayton Makepeace recommends that your focus on reader skepticism instead of benefit statements.

Consumers have never been morons. Each and every buyer has a need; they wouldn't be shopping if they didn't. Marketing staff need to do a better job of addressing the need, satisfying skeptics, and differentiating themselves in order to succeed in today's tough & evolving economy.

The $72M P&L rollercoaster

I learned that Six Flags spent $72,000,000 on Mr. Six, the dancing man. The ads score very well with the audience. Unfortunately, Six Flags reports that they saw NO increase in attendance or additional revenue. Doner Advertising created a huge stir with these ads (including a lot of rumors on who the actor was - a little birdie told me that it's a young woman in makeup), but after zero ROI, Six Flags has decided to drop the campaign. This is another example of mass market advertising not showing a return. Even though ad recollection and satisfaction were high, they did not entice anyone to actually go to the themeparks.

I cannot imagine being the CMO or VP of Marketing at Six Flags with my Board of Directors and CFO staring at the $72M hole in the P&L. He/she has to be running scared. I wonder who was driving the media mix choices. Did Six Flags run the show or did they rely too heavily on Doner? I wonder what they nixed in order to launch the massive TV campaign. They spread the media across a lot of different mediums (tv, outdoor, online, print, etc...), but I wonder if Six Flags knows which mediums worked best for the brand. I wonder what they will do differently next time. They are a brand in trouble. They haven't been profitable in eight years. The new CEO seems to have things on the right track, but sooner or later you have to get the word out that you've made improvement. You have to convince people to spend their hard earned cash with you. Rebuilding a struggling brand is tough. And I'm anxious to what they do differently this time.

Customer Service via Email

Found a good post via MicroPersuasion on how email responsiveness relates to customer service.

This is something that we've been discussing a lot during the last few days at Cre8tive Group. What do customers expect when judging service (which happens subconsciously a lot of times). How much of it is responsiveness versus doing what you said you would do or going above and beyond - and most importantly how does it affect their experience and loyalty.

Tough questions. We are re-discovering something we've always known. Not all customers are the right customers for our business. The customers that do not value process or documented expectations tend to think that we are pulling them through a knot hole. Other clients love it. They understand the power of the creative brief and know exactly what to expect from our efforts and interactions. We try to put a lot of thought into which design strategies will best meet our individual client's business objectives. And that is communicated through every interaction we have with them over the long haul.

The point of all this is that email is a great way to stay in touch & transfer docs, but it's a horrible way for us to build relationships or get new business (at least for us). If I'm not face-to-face or on the phone, I feel like I'm letting my customers down and I'm afraid that a nuance will be missed. I try to respond to every email & voicemail before I go to sleep. It's tough but I'd like to think it's a small way to keep my customers loyal - but you can't neglect the other aspects like doing what you said you would, billing what you said you would, and treating them better than expected.

Daily Quote - Just copy our largest competitor...

"If you mimic market leaders, you'll only add to their dominance."
- Jon Spoelestra

I love Jon's book "Marketing Outrageously". He has some great insight (much like Seth Godin) on differentiation. He's absolutely right, copying the 800lb gorilla only solidifies his place in the minds of consumers. As human beings, we're trained to only recognize differences.

I believe it's one reason why Apple is experiencing a comeback. Their products are always different from their competitors. The iMac, iPod, iBook, Final Cut, iTunes, etc... They have done a great job at breaking through the clutter and creating products that appeal to a wide audience, work pretty easily, and make money for shareholers. Apple doesn't copy anyone. Remember when the iMac launched w/ it's crazy translucent colors? How many accessory companies jumped on that bandwagon? The sea of translucent teal was insane.

Their innovation made them appear bigger than their marketshare and it pays off in profit.

Daily Quote - Project Mgmt & Design

"Method goes far to prevent trouble in business; for it makes the task easy, hinders confusion, saves abundance of time, and instructs those that have business pending, both what to do and what to hope for."
- William Penn

No truer words have been spoken when it comes to getting your marketing & sales projects out the door. As a Certified Project Manager, I naturally gravitate towards method as opposed to chaos.

But too often people feel that momentum is more important than purpose. Hence another old adage, "haste makes waste." And there is no shortage of waste in most large corporations. The funny thing is that most creatives will identify with the above passages as well as project or marketing managers. For a designer to really put her best foot forward for her client, she must truly understand the what's and why's of the project. Having a standardized process that pulls out that information at the beginning of a project is critical to success. I've read that you can tell whether a project will come in on time and on budget as early as 15% into the project.

Put some method to the madness. And maybe the madness will slow enough to become more effective.

Marketing by #'s

Great post by Dale Wolf

Marketing managers have to embrace the data-driven side of life. Direct marketing is very effective and truly measurable. Given the state of 30 second TV spots, no wonder the finance folks have a hard time investing in marketing/branding.

The better you understand your customer, the better messages & offerings you can create for them. The more effective the message, the more likely your customers will act. Action is ROI and ROI gets budget dollars.

How to build your elevator pitch

If you've ever struggled with how to anwser "What do you do", then this will help you. It's a great starting point. I recommend filling in the blanks and continuing to refine this until it's conversational and easy to say.

ala Mad-Libs...

You know how some (target audience) experience (problem), which means that (outcome of problem)? Well, what we can do is (solution); and the benefit of that is (benefit). Would you like to know more?

Daily Quote

"You can have innovation without branding, but you can't have branding without innovation."
- Sir Martin Sorrell

Creative Brief Part II: Audience = customers...

I don't know how many times I've seen the "Audience" section of a creative/project brief filled in with simply "purchasing directors" or "executives" or worse "customers". While this may be accurate at the most basic level, it is far from enough information to base marketing/design choices on.

Much like the last post on creative briefs, the Audience section is more about why this project is important to the audience, not just their title. You should include demographics, psychographics, business concerns, and any other market research data you have available on this targeted segment of your audience. The more detailed the better.

Your message will be ignored if your message is not tailored to what your audience wants and/or needs to hear. Today's consumers are too busy to take time to figure out how a particular product or service helps them.

Your marketing collateral needs to be:
  • easily understood
  • to the point
  • laden with customer benefits
  • easy to act upon the call-to-action
Don't talk about you; talk about how your product will make their life easier, save them money, or make them a superstar. Put yourself your customer's shoes. Figure out how they want to be communicated with (medium), figure out how often (frequency), and figure out what they need to hear in order to take immediate action (differentiated & benefit-focused message).

In order for your design team/agency to build effective collateral like above, your marketing staff needs to be able to clearly articulate more about the audience than their business title.

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