Lipstick on a Pig: Why Design Without Clarity and Strategy Can Become a Real Pig

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Cliff Findlay
Cliff Findlay



lipstick on a pig Often, we get clients coming to us asking for design. Hey, we’re a design agency! However, after careful questioning, we realize that they don’t actually want a design; they want more business, new clients, greater turnover, etc. They come to us with stories of how the last design agency let them down, and they were really unhappy with the outcome because they didn’t get the returns they were expecting.

Then, upon further questioning, we realize that they asked the design agency to, you guessed it, design, but they failed to outline what they expected the results of the design would be. They hadn’t thought this out for themselves.

Usually the websites were well-designed, so the client technically got what they wanted. We end up having to explain that it is not the design that is failed. It is the client’s idea that was originally flawed.

As a design or marketing agency, what can you do to ensure that a client never goes on to another design agency and questions your expertise?

Some initial key questioning will help. Find the client’s pain. Why are they looking to spend money? What are they really trying to achieve with this purchase? Who are their targets? What is their key message? What does their competition look like? Have they seriously looked at what they are trying to do and what they could honestly achieve?

It all sounds like common sense. However, we have asked these questions to companies ranging from startups to those with billion-dollar revenues, and the team had never even been asked these questions.

If the client is looking at doubling revenues from $2 to $4 million, for instance, then look at what a proper investment would be to accomplish this increase in sales through online outlets. This may also allow you to up your fees because the client will realize that in order to grow that quickly a higher upfront investment is required. How will their businesses service new clients? What sales cycles are typical? How can you help them beat the competition? What information do customers need to make a decision to purchase? All of this thinking must be done before you start designing. The more holes you leave, the more likely you will have unhappy clients in the future.

Create a clear strategy and plan that works with your client. This way they will:

  1. Trust you more.
  2. Understand they may need to invest more to reach their goals.
  3. See the connection between design and sales, marketing and new business and messaging.

If you don’t follow these guidelines, don’t be upset if you create something that looks pretty but doesn’t do its job (lipstick on a pig), or if at the end of the job, the client isn’t happy with the outcome. Follow this thinking and you and the client are far more likely to succeed.

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