Preparation: Still the Key to Success

Preparation is defined as the action or process of making or being ready for use or consideration. That seems pretty straight-forward doesn’t it? Well, it does; and if I sat you down and asked for the 5 keys to successfully executing a marketing plan it’s likely the word preparation would be one of the 5 things you said as an answer. The problem is that while most people can identify what it takes to be successful they often have difficult executing what they’ve identified, and nothing is overlooked more than preparation, sometimes to the effect of irreversible harm.

A while back a client of mine, a recent startup, left me an urgent message saying they needed help creating a marketing brochure that could be designed, printed and out-the-door in 48 hours. When I returned the call I was told how they had finally arranged a meeting with a potential client they had been chasing for a few months, one that would be their first major client. The meeting went perfectly until the potential client asked if they had any literature on the company, which they did not.  Now, luckily for them, we were able to create a fantastic brochure and they went on to sign the potential client. However, not adequately preparing for that meeting could have cost them that client and, potentially, their entire business.

It is imperative that someone be responsible for forecasting what a businesses target market will expect from the company that they choose to buy  a product or service from. Doing this job requires communicating with current clients to understand their needs and perceptions, being observant about the current state of your target market, researching the competition and much more. When done correctly, a business will almost always be prepared in advance for anything a client might ask or expect, whether that is company literature, an appropriate brand mark or even a sufficient answer to a question about the product.

Never take the chance that what you have is good enough in business. Just because you made a great first impression doesn’t mean that the marketing stops, in fact it’s just beginning. You should constantly be assessing your marketing efforts, both towards potential clients and also current clients, and looking for ways to improve. Going above and beyond only helps, never hurts.

So, I’m issuing a challenge. When you finish reading this article, I want you to do two things:

1. Think about a marketing problem your company has faced in the past. How was it solved? Could you have prepared for that problem before it happened?

2. Find a gap in your marketing efforts that exists today. I promise you that at least one exists. Once you’ve identified that gap, start making the preparations for how to fill it.

Doing these two exercises will help you begin to identify potential problems before they happen.  And once you’ve learned to do that, you’ll find yourself prepared to always be one step ahead of your clients expectations. In other words, you’ll be prepared to succeed.

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It’s Not About You…It’s About Them

When a potential client approaches me to help fix their marketing, I often have a good idea of what I problems I’m going to find during my research into the company. While that list can be long, both with complex and simple obstacles that cause trouble for a company, there is one obstacle that is very common and, if not fixed, will almost certainly lead to a failed small business: creating a business for yourself rather than for a targeted demographic.

Small businesses are typically born out of a passion we have: baking, fashion, art, etc., but in their enthusiasm, people forget to consider whether their passion and the business they plan to make out of that passion has a target market. It’s fantastic that someone wants to forge a new life doing something they love, but before they pour their savings, time and effort into creating that new business they have to research and plan how to tailor that business to fill a need in the market.

To aid that process, there are three questions that one should consider before starting a business or, in the worse case, trying to fix a failing business:

1. Why are you starting a business?

2. Why do people need your product/service?

3. How will they find out?

 

Let’s take a look at each of these questions in more detail.

1.  Why are you starting a business? When considering this question, think about your interests, your business experience, your community among other things that make the sum of you. Once you’ve considered that, think about how those answers helped you arrive at the decision to start a business. If the first words out of your mouth aren’t something along the lines of “I saw a need” then, unless you are someone who doesn’t need steady income to make a living, you likely created your business for the wrong reasons.

2. Why do people need your product/service?  Once you’ve identified why you wanted to start a business, now it’s time to explain exactly why the people need the product or service that your business offers. In detail, what is the gap that this business will be filling? Besides the product/service itself, what sets your business apart from other businesses that either do offer a similar product/service or, in the future, could do so?

3. How will they find out? Now that you’ve identified why you started the business and why people need what you offer, your last step, and most vital step towards profitability, is explaining how you are going to reach your target demographic. This step is where you must accomplish two things with a marketing plan: make your target demographic aware of your business and, once you have their attention, convince them to patronize your business.

Remember that the harsh reality of creating a business is more about filling the gap in a market more than it is about finally doing something you love. If you’ve successfully answered all these questions you are well on your way to realizing how you are going to accomplish the creation of a successful business and, hopefully, one that you are passionate about.

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From the World of Music

The other day someone suggested a music video to me. I honestly can’t remember the last time that happened. It’s been years since I watched a music video, especially for quality design elements. With a friendly smile I agreed that I’d take a look, expecting not to be impressed or even entertained. Well, I was wrong. The video suggested to me was for the song “Without You” by David Guetta featuring Usher. Directed by Liam Harrison, the video not only captures the feel of the upbeat and catchy song, but is an excellent example of good design. So, I tip my cap to Mr. Harrison in praise of his video and encourage everyone reading to click the play button below.

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The Brand Touchpoints List

Nearly every point of contact your company has with someone is a potential opportunity to impress. Advertising does not stop when the 30 second TV spot ends or when someone sets aside your direct mailing piece. The job of creating and managing a brand identity is never truly finished. A company image should constantly be monitored in everything that is put in front of both clients and employees.

Below is a short list of some of the brand touchpoints for readers to keep. Some, like advertising, will be obvious while others, like voicemails,  may seem trivial and unimportant. The take away reminder is that any of these can be the final blow in either successfully signing a new client or turning them away from your company.

 

Brand Touchpoints

  • Advertising
  • Telephone
  • Social Media
  • Trade Shows
  • Networking
  • Signage
  • Blogs
  • Word of Mouth
  • Direct Mail
  • Public Relations
  • Websites
  • Newsletters
  • Publications
  • Packaging
  • Emails
  • Voicemails
  • Proposals
  • Speeches
  • Employees
  • Products
  • Services
  • Billboards
  • Business Cards
  • Web Banners
  • Exhibits
  • Letterheads
  • Vehicles

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Design Situations: Working Under a Tight Deadline or You Want That When!?

(“Design Situations” is an ongoing section of “Keeping Up With Barrage” in which Principal and Creative Director of Barrage Design Group, Adam Poser, addresses real-life design questions and problems for the young designer or non-designer.  If  you have a question or situation that you would like Adam to address, contact him at adposer@barragedesign.)

The Situation:

One of the recurring problems I see when young designers begin work for actual clients is dealing with projects requiring a short deadline. As most designers will attest, it’s not uncommon for clients to want their job completed yesterday, but sometimes the deadline seems almost impossible to meet given the scope of the project and deadline being imposed by the client. Of course, a designer always has the right to refuse any project offered to him, but sometimes that project will come from a long-time client that you don’t want to risk losing or a new client that could potentially provide significant future business. Given that, I’m going to spend this edition of “Design Situations” giving tips on how to remain calm and complete the project on time while feeling satisfied with the result.

The Tips:

1. Make the Client Understand

The first step towards successfully completing a job under a tight deadline begins with making the client understand what they are asking you to do. Some designers are afraid to be frank with clients, but it’s your job as a designer to advise and consult, not just produce the design. Unless you have a design savvy client, they likely will not understand the time intensive process required by design. Therefore, it falls on you to temper their expectations in this situation. If you take on a job without first making the client understand and expect less than your absolute best, then no matter what the results are, the job is likely doomed from the beginning due to unrealistic expectations.

2. Limit Your Conceptualization

The phrase “dive into the deep end” is quite appropriate when presented a tight deadline. While all projects require some time dedicated to conceptualization, it is imperative that, as a designer, you do not get caught up and spend too much time thinking about the direction of the project before starting. A tight deadline requires and demands that you allow the execution of the project to guide the end product. For some, this tip will be harder  to follow than for others. If you were able to make the client understand the limitations placed on you as a designer, then their expectations anticipate a viable and working product, not the best work you’ve ever done.

3. Perfectionist Need Not Apply

Most designers are rarely satisfied with their work. Much like fine artists, we always see room for perfection and rarely feel we’ve accurately represented our creative vision.  I am no different in this regard. I often find myself second guessing design decisions I’ve made in the creative process – constantly going back to stare at a section, second guessing an accent color used or wondering if that line is placed in just the right location. There is a time and a place to let your perfectionist rule. Realistically, managing a design project under a tight deadline is not one of those times. You need to make a conscious effort to remember that the clock is ticking and you don’t have the luxury of nit-picking your work to perfection.

4. The Client Can Contribute

Any task the client can do on their end allows you more time to work on the other elements of the project. When under a tight deadline, we always encourage the client to provide the body copy,  and get in touch with a printer to price out their printing options. Sure, they won’t do it as well as you could, but again, if you’ve hammered home point #1 then they aren’t looking for perfection and absolutely logistical control.

5. Judge Yourself Differently

Finally, upon completion of the rush project, it’s essential that the criteria by which you judge the end product differ from the criteria used when a tight deadline was not a major limitation. Remind yourself of the main goals of the project; being certain to include inherent limitations. Some of the criteria by which you should judge yourself include (1) whether you created a workable design within the tight deadline and (2) how effectively you worked with the client to quickly compile the necessary information for the design. If you judge a rush project by the usual standards you will ultimately be dissatisfied and unrealistic about the quality of work that can be achieved with short deadlines. This scenario will unfortunately play itself out with every tight deadline you undertake. By understanding and accepting that you created an acceptable, quality design in a short amount of time, you will grow as a designer and continue to hone your craft.

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Director’s Notes: Helping Those Who Help Others

One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is having the opportunity to help those that are focused on helping others.  Recently, Matt Snively, Director of Technology and Development for Trinity West Crisis Dispatch, contacted me about designing a commemorative patch for the organizations efforts in Queensland, Australia.

For those that are not familiar with the organization, Trinity West Crisis Dispatch (TWCD) is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people who have experienced a disaster. Their goal is to provide relief  to those most affected, aid in the recovery process and rebuild lives and homes in devastated areas.

In January of this year, the town of Toowoomba, located in the Queensland province, came under heavy flooding, costing the lives of 35 people and causing an estimated  $ 30 billion dollars in damages. TWCD was fast to respond ; travelling to the area on January 24th to assist in the recovery effort.

In creating a patch to honor those involved in the recovery efforts there were a couple of important factors that had to be considered:

First, the tragic nature of the trip dicatated a level of respect for those  affected. Additionally , the trip had also been dedicated to the memory of one of the organization members mother, who had recently passed away. That portion of the design was achieved through careful selection of color and arrangement of the chosen design elements. Second, it was important that elements of both Queensland and TWCD were included in the design. To achieve this, I included elements of the TWCD logo as well as elements from the Queensland flag.

The Produced Badge

It was a great priviledge to work on this patch for TWCD.

If you would like to know more about TWCD and their trip to Queensland, please visit their website at www.twcd.us. I encourage you to donate to assist their heroic efforts and, if possible, donate your time.

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