I’ve been privileged to work alongside some very talented designers and creatives in my time. The type of people that take the idea in your head and manage to make it something even better on paper. They are all different – they think, work and are inspired differently. But there’s something they all have in common: a dislike for poor, ambiguous, hasty feedback.
We’ve all heard it (or said it): “Can we move this a few pixels to the left?”; “I don’t know why I don’t like it” or “Can we make this more ~dynamic~?”. Feedback like this is often the result of a lack of strategy. And lack of strategy is an extensive, industry-wide problem that leads to wasted time, money and patience.
The results of the recent BetterBriefs project illustrate this point. The study found while 80% of Australian marketers and communicators think their briefs are good, only 10% of agencies agree. And only 5% of agencies think briefs provide clear strategic direction. Those statistics are wild – and in monetary terms, account for the approximate $5 billion wasted annually by agencies going down rabbit holes in response to terrible briefs.
Designers and creatives can only act on what they are told: if the brief doesn’t define what ‘premium’ or ‘dynamic’ is, don’t expect a designer to produce it. And, if you don’t know exactly why you want an asset made, don’t approach a creative or designer and ask them to intuit it. Before making the approach, ensure you can answer these questions:
- What is the purpose of this asset? What business problem will it help solve? How does it fit in with the rest of your marketing and communication strategy?
- Who are we targeting? What do we know about them, beyond demographics? What’s going to get them interested in our product or message?
- How will it help solve the problem? What behaviour are you trying to change and by how much?
Answers to these questions take precious time, thought and often research, which may be why they are often neglected. If you can’t spare the time to find answers, hire a professional (like me!).
This upfront investment will save your agency, and their designers, precious time and money chasing down rabbit holes. And it will help you provide better feedback: “we’re trying to increase visits to the website, can we move our website link to the top?” or “it’s not premium enough, here are a few examples that show you what we mean by ‘premium’”.
It’s also important to maintain a broader understanding of the role of any collateral in your brand’s overall strategy. According to the Ehrenberg-Bass institute (and Byron Sharp’s seminal work How Brands Grow), brands are built by consistently exposing an audience to distinctive assets (e.g. logo, colours) over time, which builds mental availability.
Mental availability is what helps your brand come to mind easier in buying situations. To quote Sharp, “the easier the brand is to access in memory, in more buying situations, for more consumers…the higher the overall mental availability”. This means you want as many people as possible to see your (consistent) brand assets, as often as possible.
When thinking about the feedback you will give on an asset, ask yourself:
- Are your distinctive assets (logo, colours, font etc.) present, as prescribed by your brand guidelines?
- Is it obvious the creative belongs to your brand?
If you can answer yes to these questions, then you’re halfway there. Quibbling about the size or position of a picture might seem irrelevant when you realise it matters little to the overall goal. Moreover, it is only one part of an impression that is built up over hundreds, if not thousands of exposures, not all created by a designer. If the design isn’t perfect this time, you have thousands of other opportunities and years of time and budget to make it so.
Nailing the basics of marketing and communication strategy is hard, and it’s where people most often come unstuck. But, it’s also the most important part of any marketing or communication role. It’s the main before the dessert: if you can finish it, you get to the fun stuff.
And the fun stuff is creativity. It’s what you pay a creative or designer to do: come up with a creative approach to tell people your solution to their problem - crazy, wacky ideas and designs that make people pay attention. In fact, campaigns that are more creative (as measured by number of creative awards won) are 12x more efficient than non-awarded campaigns.
Stop skipping straight to dessert. The role of a creative or designer is not to solve your business problem with pretty pictures; they are there to make sure people pay attention to the solution you have come up with. Before you approach a creative or designer, make sure you have your strategy in place. And when providing creative feedback, ask yourself whether it will impact the bigger picture. Your creative team and your dollars will thank you.