Common Question: What am I buying when I purchase creative/design services?
PART ONE of this article series tells you what creative services are NOT — and part two explains what creative services actually ARE.
IF you meandered over to this post, you're probably thinking – 'enough with all the negativity – let's get positive!' Well, here we go. Creative/Design services (visual assets, identity systems, web-pages, marketing campaigns, media) are at least three things:
First – brands need a 'persona'
We know that brands adopt a 'persona' when using their voice. Brands sound like archetypal humans we encounter in our literature, film, and real lives. No? Don't believe me? Harley-Davidson motorcycles speak like the rebel: James Dean/ Hans Solo. Warby-Parker (eyeglasses) also sounds like a rebel -but a more 'casual, everyday' kind of rebel – the kind who might read a James Joyce novel just for the hell of it.
The reason brands adopt an archetypal voice is because we intuitively slot information into categories of understanding.
Our brains use short-hand or stereotyping. We know what a rebel archetype sounds like when we hear it. We know what a hedonist archetype voice sounds like – [cuts eyes at the Las Vegas Visitors Bureau]. We also hear your hedonist whispers Disaronno Italian liqueur. When a brand has 15 seconds of visibility in an over-saturated public space, they have to make their impact immediately. Using an archetypal voice creates a sturdy bridge to deliver the dynamite brand message.
Quality creative work honors the brand voice and works to reinforce the perception in the mind of the audience. It works.
Connecting with potential and long-time customers has never been more important because there is NO HOPE of brand allegiance without that connection.
Every video that makes people tear up, every t-shirt with your logo, every anchor photograph that worms its way into a viewer's heart reinforces that your brand is worthy of more of their time and money. A connection is valuable.
Second – Good design is the perfect combination of form and function
We rarely have to be convinced of this powerful tandem. Jony Ive, when he was at the design helm of Apple, shut the book on any naysayers many years ago. If we design something beautiful that doesn't function well/efficiently – we are the laughing stock of the industry, our community, and (worse?) our colleagues. It would be clear we don't know what we're doing. I once purchased a beautiful piece of luggage that deeply disappointed me: the interior lining separated after a month of use, the internal pockets were too small to hold much of anything. It was a fantastic-looking leather-good that I quickly came to hate.
The inverse is also true. As an example, I find the Ford Crown Victoria (they used them for the old police cruisers) four-door sedan to be an abomination of design. I can't imagine ever seeing something like that on the road and knowing – CRAP! I did that! But that vehicle is often referenced as a fantastic, reliably performing sedan. It really did the job despite its appearance: all the sex, all the elegance, all the nuance siphoned from its Detroit-milled soul. Even so, tens of thousands of them cruised throughout North America and stayed in production for 20 years.
I've actually considered purchasing one as a daily driver to continually remind myself: never shrug your shoulders and mumble 'good enough, I guess.' The Crown Vic is a motorized shoulder shrug. Good design (no matter the format/medium) must hit both goals simultaneously: beautiful form and solid performance.
Third – Great creative work delights and surprises the audience
Think about how many different players operate in your space, compete for your clients, and make enough noise that it drowns out any claims you try and push into the market. It is so noisy, and everything we encounter seems like a re-tread of the edition that came before it. We are so rarely genuinely surprised by a product or outstanding service. If there is any way you can infuse extraordinary value or wonder into your brand, it will be worth multiples as returns on the original investment.
Right now – stop and think about the last item you purchased that absolutely stunned you – can you remember what caused your eyebrows to shoot skyward? That feeling, an orchestrated moment on the part of a brand-strategist, secured an allegiance that no commercial or BOGO offer could; and I bet you mentioned it to a friend. It ought to be a common request for a brand to engage an agency with the opening line: would you help me do something extraordinary? Oh man! Creative teams salivate at the very thought of going berserk on a brand concept or bold campaign. Packaging and print design are a great place to look for these opportunities to surprise customers.
Think bigger than you ever have about investing in creative design to build your brand. There is a ton of thought and strategy that goes into effective brand building, but the result is a real connection, beautiful functionality, and a delighted/surprised customer base.