Are We Playing the Same Game?

wooden checker and chess pieces facing off

If you ever had a brother or sister then you can remember how frustrating it can be to play a game with them. At some point the game ceases to be fun, and someone almost always gets accused of cheating. The agency-client partnership can often fall into the same trap, thought it’s more likely that someone will be claiming that the other isn’t listening rather than cheating. In order to market and build a successful brand it’s important that we all understand the rules and tools of the game that way everyone is being heard and no one is cheating.

Prepare a client to judge without opinions

Spending the time to define strategies, goals and key areas of focus are the most important parts of developing strong marketing communications and even more important to building a solid partnership with your client. It’s not unusual for half of a project’s budget to go to research strategy development. Setting benchmarks to gauge success will be easier if you have solid goals backed by qualitative research. I like to think of this as the rules to play the game, and if everyone knows the goal and strategy then it always ends with a winner.

Define the tools and processes

Every new engagement should begin with an explanation of how your process will go. You have to define tools and basic goals of your approach to begin to set the gameboard. It’s important to indicate key areas where the client fits into the process. Unfortunately, it’s a major element that often gets overlooked. For instance, a web design project would call for the client to play a major part in developing the research and planning phase which may include persona development, development of moodboards as they relate to the personas, and defining the goals of the website. Whereas, items like layout and user interface would involve more feedback and less active participation from the client. Every project should involve your client in major and minor ways. After all, no one finds any enjoyment from watching you play a game of solitaire.

How to use the tools

Every design firm has its own unique set of processes to development solutions that work. Just as designers use these tools to build successful brand solutions, clients can use the same tools to judge an idea’s potential. Share the how and why of your tools, and teach your clients to use them as a instrument to measure solutions objectively. When I work on logos, I use a process that builds the four key characteristics of successful logo design into the work from the beginning. I also explain why each of the characteristics is important, and how to spot them in logo designs. By breaking down logo design this way, I’ve helped keep the focus away from liking or disliking the solutions which bear no significance to the actual outcome of the endgame.

Play the game

After explaining the rules, defining the tools and how to use them, presenting the solutions becomes the game. All stakeholders are judging the designs based off the strategy and goals, and they are analyzing them with the tools you’ve defined. The push and pull of the feedback that comes should strengthen the solution keeping the focus away from the intangible and personal opinions that often end up destroying the game.

I’ve continued to use this process over the last few years, and I’ve found that clients are happier with the overall results, designers are happier with the feedback and customers are happiest with solutions that capture their attention while providing a clear understanding of why your brand is the best in its category. It is possible that playing the game well can create more than just one winner.

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