Why the Design Industry Needs to Start Thinking about Strategy

According to the Creative Industries Innovation Centre, the major issue faced by creative studios and agencies today is the lack of a good branding strategy and the failure to develop and deploy a proactive sales approach. The issue also applies to marketing – it is a well-known fact that most design businesses, however genius their advertising concepts for their clients may be, fall short when it comes to their own branding and marketing strategy.

Why creative studios need to start thinking about strategy

Some blame the absence of a cohesive strategy on lack of time, a few see no need for it and some throw their hands despairingly in the air due to not having any dedicated strategic thinkers in their midst. Whatever the excuse may be, the truth is that the competition in the design industry, as in most industries, is incredibly intense and those determined to succeed in the current climate need to have a solid strategy in place to guide them.

When it comes to self-marketing, many studios and agencies shy away from the topic, hoping new clients will magically appear on their doorsteps. Sadly, with the exception of a few larger businesses, this will not happen. No matter how ‘cool’ or ‘creative’ a business is, if they do not actively let prospective clients know of their existence, the road to becoming a profitable business may prove a bit rocky to say the least.

With few businesses following a solid strategic approach when trying to put their name out there, being among the first to devise a comprehensive strategy and starting to market away could secure a studio or an agency that crucial competitive edge over its peers.

What’s more, when considering a potential client’s perspective, it will be very difficult for them to trust a design business to create an outstanding brand and advertising concept, if the business itself is lost when it comes to their own strategy.

Why creative studios need to start thinking about strategy

Studios and agencies should strive to create a lasting positive first impression to secure business, or as Jeff Swystun1 puts it:

“Update your own marketing, use the amazing resources at your disposal and stop relying on old-school public relations. Press releases and award shows do not build brands. Each agency must be its own marketing and business development case study.”

The weakness of not understanding strategy as an essential part of business success also reflects on the work produced for clients. Too often are design studios and agencies reduced to being mere marketing collateral factories pumping out various pieces of creative work for their clients, instead of being an indispensable partner making expert recommendations on marketing and brand strategy.

By not integrating strategic thinking into their processes, they face the risk of becoming producers of commodified creative products and put themselves in danger of getting discarded for another studio offering the same quality for a cheaper price.

Why creative studios need to start thinking about strategy

Swystun makes a good point: “…the coolest thing digital agencies can do is help their clients sell more. Somewhere along the way, many digital and traditional agencies forgot that this is their core purpose.” Indeed, according to Forbes2, when evaluating ad agencies specifically, 90% of clients consider the creative ideas and strategy offered by a studio or an agency as their most important attributes.

Figuratively speaking, studios and agencies make beautiful puzzle pieces for a client, who is then left to their own devices to assemble the strategic puzzle, running the risk of the pieces not fitting together. If, on the other hand, a design business not only makes the pieces, but also assembles the puzzle for the client as part of their strategy-driven holistic service, there is a higher chance of being perceived as an indispensable partner.

What it all boils down to is that design businesses need to transform themselves from collateral producers to problem solvers and offer holistic and highly strategic solutions to their clients. The way to kickstart the transformation is to assemble the strategic puzzle for their own business first in the form of a thorough branding and marketing strategy.

1 What Digital Agency Clients, Staff and Leaders Say in Private

2 Getting To The Bottom Of What Clients Think Of Agencies