7 Questions to ask yourself before briefing a design agency

Posted on:19. 08. 2015

By Cliff Findlay


As brand strategy specialists we are frequently asked to pitch or tender for new business. This often involves creating designs, marketing collateral and 'stuff' to show the potential client what we would do for them if they became a client. We politely refuse. How can we honestly show an organisation what they should look like, their key message or what collateral they should use to win sales unless we know more about the client, their vision, products, potential clients or market? It doesn't make sense. We have to understand WHAT the business is and what it wants to be in order for us to give them constructive, trusted and useful information.

Put simply most creative briefs don't create sales because they can't. To achieve this you must align your brand and marketing message with the business' long-term goals and support these with internal processes and structures. Otherwise you run the risk of simply creating a thin skin of design which - in real terms - means very little.

There are seven key questions a business must answer before working with a creative agency. Without this insight your results may be inadequate or short lived.

1. What does success look like?
Of course you want sales but is that it? Do you want a long term plan or short term goal achieved? A stand out brand? What is it you really want? Are you not winning enough from your website, suffering from competition or customer churn? Before you start writing a brief, you must know what your business is suffering from or you could end up spending money and getting the same results. Define your vision of success first.

2. How will the creative strategy bolt into your one, three and five year business plan?
Have you even got one? While you may achieve short term objectives, long term success must be considered at the outset. To do this you'll need to consider how marketing and branding work with your business growth forecast and strategy. Have you looked at your sales forecasts? Where do your strengths lie? A brand runs right through a business, if there isn't a relationship between what you say and what you deliver, you will end building a confused client base. A long term structure means you stand for something and your market knows what that is. Do you expect the company you work with to help you build one? Have they got the track record to do so? Have you even thought about this?

3. Do you see marketing and design as integral to your business and its success?
It is crucial that client and supplier have a trusting relationship. Marketing is crucial to sales and sales are the business. I know what you offer is brilliant but if you can't communicate this to your target, then frankly, it's worthless. From our perspective, we won't work with any client who doesn't respect what we do. Creative temperament? No. It just simply makes sense. We'll all go a little further, work a little harder for someone we like, meaning better work and better results. So what can you do to keep your marketing/design company happy and what process can you devise that helps you choose the right one? It may sound mad, but it won't when you reap the rewards.

4. Will the final decision be based purely on which creative execution you like the most?
If your project is a short-term sales piece then creativity is key, if however, you are looking long term, think again. So often, businesses focus on the creative, spending hours on the details. But there's a tendency to forget whether it will attract the target market and if it's relevant to the brand's image. Will the design and concept attract a response from the intended audience? Winning business is our only concern but if we can be creative as well, that's great. We love creativity, but for us, it comes straight after planning, market research and strategic thinking. Where does it come on your list?

5. What is the key message which sets you apart from your competition?
In today's ultra-competitive marketplace, a stand out message is vital. This is branding, not design or copywriting. It is critical to the success of any design or marketing you undertake. It is part of your company and must be underpinned through blogs, articles and business processes. It is what you stand for and what sets you apart. Have you thought about your message and how you can support it? Does the design company you work with have the skill set to help you create it? Is it included in the brief?

6. What are your competitors saying?
When was the last time you reviewed your competition? If you are going to war, you must know your competitors' strengths and weaknesses. It will increase wins, reduce slow and negative converting pipelines whilst helping you define an attractive sales and marketing message. Is this something you expect to be done as part of the brief? Are you willing to pay someone to undertake the work or is it part of the deal?

7. Are you willing to change your internal and external processes to support the brand strategy and win new business?
Marketing and sales are the lifeblood of any business. Yes, your product or service is important but without good sales and marketing there's nothing to do or sell. The sales process must work alongside the creative brief. You may need to consider changing internal processes to support new sales initiatives. Is this something you have discussed internally? Will your sales director be part of the team, work closely with the creative company and review internal processes? Who else will be a stakeholder in the decision?


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