Our client expects great work from us. We expect to deliver on the promises we make. To do that with confidence, we'll need to go through a discovery process with the client. That will lead us to a creative strategy. That will allow us to put together something of real value.
There is a deeper meaning to branding, and it’s uncovered when we get together with the client and learn about them. This article is about the importance of discovery, how it relates to branding, and why we need to provide a client with a creative strategy before we create anything.
Let’s start with your new logo. Some websites allow you to create a logo yourself, and some of them cost nothing. If you try to imagine that outcome, you can’t do it. You can approach a graphic designer to create a logo for your group or business, and they will. They'll ask about your company name and what industry or category you’re in. Et voila! They will turn around a new logo and even pick a few colors, but the outcome is disappointing.
It’s a disappointment because something is missing. It is the connection to you and the connection to your customers. To deliver an inspired logo, a meaningful conversation must take place. The inspired logo will come from what you believe in and what your customers are searching for.
Knowing what makes a difference
When I first started making websites for small businesses, I felt like I was lucky to get the work. I would make the best website I could and the client would tell me they were happy. I didn’t know what was missing, but I felt the smallest pang of guilt afterward. I knew deep down that I created a business website knowing very little about the business. And nothing at all about their customers. I didn’t know how to find out, and I didn’t want the client to doubt me.
At some point, I learned about strategy, and my thinking changed. Then our process changed. Then our outcomes changed. When told why a company loves what they do, who their customers are, and where to find them, we can do great work. We're given a flashlight to see in the dark. We can see the path toward creating something meaningful.
Let’s say you’re convinced that you need a new website, and you’re looking for a local website design company to help you. You see them as the expert, right? They’ll know what to do. But when you imagine the outcome, you start to wonder. What will your new website look like? Will it increase sales? How will they know what we need? There is only one response that will address these concerns, and it should sound like this:
“Let's sit down with your team and learn everything we can about your company. We want to learn what matters to you, and what you want to achieve. Then we’ll talk about who your customers are and how you help them.”
Sounds reassuring, doesn't it?
You know your company and your customers better than any website design company can. You’ve talked with your customers, listened to what they need, and helped them in all kinds of ways. Has your website design company asked you for your insight? If you haven’t experienced a strategy session before, then it’s likely no one has. What you get without a strategy, and what you get with it, is measurable.
Your brand is not what you say it is
“A brand is a person's gut feeling about your company, product, or service. That means it’s not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” — Marty Neumeier
It's what they say it is. Your brand is about them as much as it is about you. That might sound like some far-off marketing babble. I say it sounds true. Anyone who has had an experience with your company has an opinion about who you are. It happens when they hear about you, browse your website, or follow your Instagram. And for different people, that opinion is different. That’s your brand. It’s built by other people. The part we love is, you can work on it.
What if you focused on why you’re in business? Beyond the need to make a profit, what drives you to do it well and to be successful? There may be something there that your brand doesn’t talk about. If you can define what you love about what you do, and then say that to the right people. Speak in a way that’s meaningful to them, and you’re going to see a difference in engagement.
Your customers create your brand. You can tell them who you are and about your product. But without meaning behind what you say, they'll make their own opinion. Customers remember their experience with you. They remember how you solved their problem, and the good experience they had. This is how your customers will build your brand for you. This kind of incremental change takes time. Working on your brand is a long-term plan.
Discovery leads to strategy
For creative work to be successful, we want to give ourselves a path toward it. The question becomes, how can we get started on a project without any insight into why it matters and who it’s for? I say we can’t. Without a creative strategy, we have no frame of reference, and we should not start creative work. But we do know where to start.
Discovery creates a clear path to strategy. During discovery, we get to hear you tell your story. We learn about why you do it, how you do it, and who you do it for. We research the competition. We want to know where there is room for your business to succeed in the landscape. Then we talk with you about your customers. We need to know why they’re looking for you, what they’re looking for, and how you’re going to help them.
This will not be a quick meeting. Discovery is 3-5 facilitated sessions, each one with a list of what we want to accomplish. We want key people involved, so we need to set schedules. Getting to the meaning of things takes time. To sign up for discovery is to invest in yourself. It means a great deal to us when a client agrees to discovery. It tells us they want to collaborate, and they are willing to put in the work to make something great.
What creative strategy looks like
When we finish discovery we now understand your company . We know the competitive landscape and where you fit in. We have identified the people you want to attract, and we know what they want. We document everything we learned and present it as a technical document. We will use it whenever we are looking for inspiration. We are now ready to do good creative work. The discovery document will lead us to a new logo, website, or message. It is our creative strategy. When we deliver work, you will see how it connects to you and how your customers are going to experience it. To us, there is no other meaningful way to do this.
What matters here
This topic has a complicated vocabulary. Terms like discovery, creative strategy, brand strategy, and marketing strategy are confusing. Their meaning can overlap, making them hard to differentiate. That’s not what matters. What matters is that when a business is in a rut, it is the strategy that pulls them out. When a client tells us they need a new website, and they some of them do, we tell them they need a plan because everyone does.
We want to do something big for our clients. What do you think we can do to change your business?