Who’s doing what in today’s creative landscape
Your business involves boundless creativity, but at the end of the day, it’s still a business. Balancing your design campaigns with the demands of operating in the black takes a special approach. That involves making determinations, big and small, about the format of your campaigns, the delivery of your message and with whom you’ll partner to make it happen.
Among the decisions and choices you’ll make is whether to stick with print or go digital for each campaign. Since each campaign and audience is different, you must do your homework, keep up with analysis and apply a little wisdom.
“There’s an ongoing argument that either print is dead or it’s more effective than ever,” says Cami Travis-Groves, graphic designer, speaker and freelance coach(www.camiimac.com). “I’m of the latter opinion, because there’s so much focus on the digital space that the competition for attention in your mailbox is not as fierce.”
When print is the choice, the expectations are seemingly high. Due to the juggling of multiple clients and projects, creative time can be stretched thin. “Clients expect to see very polished layouts,” says Mary Day, SVP and director of print for EnergyBBDO. “Designers help sell the work for us by finessing the details that an art director used to be able to focus on, such as fonts, kerning, art elements and composition.”
Print or no print, customer service continues to dictate ongoing success for design companies. Here’s where the terms “customer experience,” “retail experience,” or “service experience” become relevant. The customer has to have an enjoyable encounter from start to finish.
Hugh Allspaugh says the opportunity to create better customer and product experiences is increasingly how brands are differentiating themselves and justifying a premium. “I don’t think today’s designers are talking about print enough, or maybe even at all—but they should be,” says Allspaugh, SVP, associate partner, and brand and marketing strategy leader, VSA Partners.
Allspaugh says print is about to experience a renaissance. “The focus on digital has been relentless for almost two decades, and designers and marketers are waking up to the reality that print can truly break through the clutter.”
“I don’t think today’s designers are talking about print enough, or maybe even at all—but they should be.”
— Hugh Allspaugh, VSA Partners
Print, after all, is tangible. Consider the impact of touch and haptics. Physically touching an item creates more value. This theory has come to be known as the “Endowment Effect.” Allspaugh says that with today’s premium paper choices and printing techniques, designers can execute incredible experiences through paper.
When to use print
It has been Travis-Groves’ experience that print works best when the audience is at least somewhat familiar with the product or service. “Print can convey quality so much more effectively than digital campaigns alone.”
While the audience matters, the product may demand print as well. High-quality food products are one example. Think about the magazines consumed by foodies. Publications such as Bon Appetit and Food & Wine can be a stand-out place to feature a top brand in the food category.
“I think luxury brands can get lost in the digital space,” Day says. “It’s like the overload of direct mail we used to see, only now it’s in our inboxes and social media apps. I think a brand can stand out in specialty magazines and through a smart use of out-of-home media.”
Allspaugh believes print works for account-based marketing since it can be highly personalized and vertically customized. He also describes it as an “awareness builder.” Direct-to-consumer brands are leveraging print beyond packaging.
Today’s direct mail campaigns should use personalization whenever possible. “I also try to add something tactile to the printed piece, either soft-touch aqueous or spot gloss UV—something to get the audience’s attention,” Travis-Groves says. “Even better is if the printed piece gives them something to do, such as scratch off, unfold, peel open, etc.”
Allspaugh recommends simple messaging, high-quality paper choices, attention-grabbing printing techniques, and mass customization through variable printing.
What clients want
As expected, clients are looking for value and efficiency in production, and lots and lots of content. They also want to stand out from their competitors and leave a lasting impression.
Travis-Groves advises becoming a true business partner rather than just an order taker. “My clients have come to expect pushback when their suggestions steer the project away from the target goals.”
As you grow your business and move your team forward, be an active participant in your career. Determine where you want to go and what you want to achieve. “If you don’t know how to get to where you’re going, hire a coach or find a mentor,” Travis-Groves says. “Otherwise, you’ll just be following whatever comes your way, and your life will happen to you.”
“If you don’t know how to get to where you’re going, hire a coach or find a mentor. Otherwise, you’ll just be following whatever comes your way, and your life will happen to you.”
— Cami Travis-Groves, Camiimac
Consider working in an environment where you can feed creatively off others while honing your own skills. Identify mentors who will critique your work and provide solid direction. Day says that while freelancing can be a great alternative, the energy, collaboration and communication of a group will greatly enhance your design skills.
All in all, great design boils down to the ability to be a problem solver. Allspaugh recommends the basics. “Stick to designing with purpose, whatever your purpose may be,” he says.
Finding the right partnerships
When it comes to partnerships, designers are looking to find people who can perform the specialized skills that they cannot. This allows the designer’s time to be spent in the creative zone, rather than working in areas that aren’t of expertise.
“The kind of partnerships I’m looking for involve people who do what I don’t do, such as web coding, copy editing, photography and UX design,” says Cami Travis-Groves, graphic designer, speaker and freelance coach (www.camiimac.com). “It’s important to me to spend as much time as I can in my ‘zone of brilliance,’ in my own areas of expertise.”
Hugh Allspaugh, SVP, associate partner, and brand and marketing strategy leader, VSA Partners, recommends adhering to the following principles:
- Surround yourself with people who have varied skills but shared intellectual curiosity. Diverse teams and diverse groups of people make the best solutions.
- Walk in other people’s shoes. If you’re a designer, become pals with the data scientist or take an online course about supply chain management. There’s value in seeing the bigger picture through other disciplines.
- In the more practical sense, look for vendors and production partners who value quality and customer experience, and who will take risks. Look for the “yes, and” people, versus those showing you the limitations.