This product-focused podcast will explore the various approaches, best practices, expertise, and experts for products. Guided and brought to you by Brand Shepherd, we are a product-focused, cross-category creative agency, developing strategies that come to life through diligent process and design. This podcast is hosted by Brand Shepherd co-owner/creative director, Dan Crask.
Love It Or Leave It
No matter what, at the end of the product project, you have to love what is created. Maybe "love" is too strong a word. You need to believe in the final thing that is created.
The creative team is there to bring ideas to life and to solve problems. A competent, mature creative team will offer their recommendations throughout the process. Yet, at the end of the process, you need to believe in what has been created. If you don't believe in it, you will start using something that doesn't have your full buy-in, and your customers will smell it a mile away.
Solution: Before you make a final decision on approving that which your creative team has created, take at least a day, preferably longer, to sleep on it, and be sure you believe in it. This is aided by taking good notes during the process so you can instantly revisit why the process yielded what it did.
Example: “We've done great work together. Now, I just need a day or two before we consider it final. I want to be 100% our brand believes in this new direction.”
Important note: we're not looking for a purely emotional response here. Believing in the creative direction is more than that. It's a knowing, a gut-sense that it's the right call. If you're a data-driven person, this will drive you nuts because this advice is the X-factor that a lot of successful entrepreneurs use in everything they do.
We created this series to help people who hire creative teams to get the best work from them. As Creative Director for Brand Shepherd, everything I, Dan, wrote and said in this series is what I put to use every day.
Consider working with a creative team that knows and works with the guidance in this series. Contact us today - let's talk about building, branding, guiding better products.
It's worth mentioning that timing is one of the top relationship killers between creative teams and those they serve.
Some clients have a tendency to drop big projects on their team without asking how much time it will take, while assuming they know how long something will take to create.
Similarly, creative teams often operate out of a position of fear of losing the account and do not establish firm timing expectations at the start and throughout the relationship. If the creative team is too afraid to lead the timing expectations, and push back when they are challenged, it leaves plenty of room for the client to make unrealistic assumptions.
Solution: As part of an on-boarding process for new relationships and on-going projects, make timing its own talking point. This is a top-level priority, folks, so give it the space to be sorted out by the client and creative team alike.
Example: “Let's talk about timing for this project: Ideally we need it by [date], but I don't work in this space – what is realistic to produce the best possible work?”
By taking this approach, you show that you respect the time needed to create greatness for your product, and this show of respect will make your creative team think of you/your brand as their favorite to work with.
Ask The Right People
This one is touchy because once it happens, it’s a diplomatic tightrope for professional creatives to walk:
As we build, brand, and guide better products, we need feedback to measure effectiveness.
Whom we get feedback from is equally important as getting the actual feedback, so it is important to ask the right people for feedback.
There is a temptation, however, to ask the nearest trusted warm-body: The spouse, co-worker, best friend, trusted advisor, etc.
The problem is that these people are almost always not the people you need feedback from.
They are not short on opinions, but unfortunately, their opinions don't matter when it comes to creative work.
Why? Because when we're creating, we're communicating something to your product's audience - it's customer personas - and it is their feedback we need.
The Solution: By gut-check or by data, take a look at your product's most loyal customers and ask them for feedback. Believe it or not, inviting them to be part of the betterment of the brand is reward enough for soliciting their feedback. However, sometimes asking for feedback gets more quality and quantity if it has an incentive. Your call. Avoid the insanity of asking your spouse, family member, co-worker, or friend what they think about the ideas unless they are part of your customer persona.
However, sometimes asking for feedback gets more quality and quantity if it has an incentive. Your call. Avoid the insanity of asking your spouse, family member, co-worker, or friend what they think about the ideas unless they are part of your customer persona.
The advice here is to avoid asking your spouse, family member, co-worker, or friend what they think about the ideas unless they are part of your customer persona.
Example: “We have two great creative directions here. Let's get them in front of our most loyal customers for feedback. We'll also get fresh feedback to help us take one of these ideas o the finish line.”
If I had to create a litmus test for brand owners who 'get it,' and those who do not 'get it' when it comes to product branding, this is the test: whom do they get their key feedback from. Pros don't ask people whose opinions don't matter. It's really that simple.
By taking this approach, you avoid the echo chamber of people you already know and get the feedback from the right people: your customers.
by Dan Crask, Creative Director & Co-Owner, Brand Shepherd
“I'll know it when I see it” is a phrase creatives hear a lot, and it’s a phrase we can usually resonate with quite well.
Sometimes we don’t know, specifically, what we are about to create. We just have a hunch, intuition, or shadow of an idea. The end result will show itself along the way.
We completely understand the "I'll know it when I see it" mentality. It is a perfectly normal creative process.
But it’s also the most time-consuming because, well, it’s the longer route to a destination.
The problem is that some people who buy creative services for products want this approach, but also want the budget of an “I know exactly what I want” project. Those two things are allergic to each other, and cannot co-exist for the long-term.
Solution: Come to the table with ideas to run with for your product, or a larger budget for exploration. As you do, follow the guidance provided in Part 1 about being directional instead of executional.
Example: “Here’s what I know: this product’s main benefit is that it’s portable. It needs to appeal to kids, but in order to get to kids, it has to appeal to parents too. This is a product that’ll mostly be used outdoors in the summer and early autumn. We know our competitor brands well, and what we want to highlight for this product. Let's see some ideas within these parameters."
Now we’re cooking! You don’t precisely know what you want, but you do know your goal.
The professional creative is now equipped to create some options that will blow your mind and increase sales.
It's really that simple.
If there’s one thing professional creative teams loathe, it’s being hired for a gig, then being directed, step-by-step, how something should look or function.
At best, it sends contradictory messages.
You’re paying product professionals who live and breathe the daily work of solving challenges by design. So, why direct them to tackle minutia like making the logo 20% bigger or the photo on the right side instead of where the creative put it?
It's best to lean into the hired professional.
It's best to assume these hired professionals know what they're doing.
However, that is not to say you have to stay quiet and take whatever is given. There are plenty of creative teams who live up to that way-too-true stereotype.
There's a way to balance the process.
Solution: Be informative by telling your creative team what isn’t working and what you are trying to achieve. This is called being "directional" with your feedback rather than "executional." We use the word "executional" for when someone gives outright creative direction that they're not qualified to give, or if they are just being a classic micro-manager. The best way is to be "directional" – communicate why the design isn't quite right. Creatives love this type of feedback! It adds another layer to the challenge. Creatives get bored and mentally check-out when they're given color-by-the-numbers, direct instructions.
And let's be frank: You're likely unqualified to be giving professional creative direction. And that's a big deal. Would you instruct your architect how to design a "better" space? Would you instruct your hired kitchen and bath designer how to design a better space? Heck, would you tell your mechanic how best to change the oil in your vehicle? So stop telling professional creatives how to create. It's foolish. We know it's foolish, and it just makes us respect you less. Over time, this builds up and the relationship will end on a sour note.
Example: Here is how to be directional in your feedback. “The font choices in the logo options aren’t working for this because we want to attract a more sophisticated buyer, and these look too simplistic.”
By taking this approach, you have just equipped the creative to do what they do best: Create.
You’ve just sparked a fire in the imagination of your pro. You’ll get a lot more bang for your spend by approaching feedback this way.
Whether you have hired an agency, or are working with an in-house department, there are ways to get the best work from your creative team.
You have expectations of getting ideas brought to life for the betterment and profitability of the brand, and your creative team wants to unleash their power on your brand to make it worthy of their portfolio and bragging rights. It should be a win-win thing, right?
Yet how many times have I spoke with a business owner or brand manager who felt like their previous creative team just didn’t produce their best work?
Over the years I have noticed that the best work is usually not produced for one glaring reason: The process broke down.
Maybe the creative team didn’t communicate any kind of process at all, maybe the client didn’t abide by the process, or maybe it was a “make it up as we go” thing.
The common thread in any scenario is that the process was broken, and so it’s the elements of the creation process I will be tackling over the next 5 posts.
How This Benefits You
Ok, ok… enough about us, the creatives. You’re the one paying the invoices, so let’s get on with how reading the next 5 posts is going to benefit you.
Just as you want to get the most out of anything else you invest in, this is no different.
Yet I’m willing to assume that you can easily wrap your mind around how to get the most out of energy efficiency in your office building, or an office printer that doesn’t waste ink, or even a CPA that offers tax prep services too.
However, when it comes to managing a team of professional creatives, there are few prior experiences that can prepare you to get the best work from them.
Over the next 5 posts, I am going to share what I know to be true about getting the best work from creative teams so that you can get the best possible ROI.
I want to preface everything by sharing my favorite quote about my profession. It comes from Walter Gropious, founder of the Bauhaus school of design in the early 1900s. Gropious said, “Art is self-expression; Design is problem-solving.”
Did you catch the distinction?
As a professional creative, I am not an artist.
My team and I do not create “art” for our clients.
Art is what we do on our own time to keep us creatively sharp, our self-expression. It’s the music we write and perform, the photographs we take, the paintings we paint, the poetry we write, and so on. That is art.
Design is where we set out to solve a problem. The thing isn’t selling. The thing is new and needs a brand identity. The service needs a better website. The brand needs to tell a story with video. That is systematic problem-solving, aka, design. We solve the challenges by design.
We create by a process of design.
All of this is shared so that you know where I am coming from as a professional creator, agency owner, and creative director.