They say that the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client, and that doctors make the worst patients. But what does that say about designing for a design firm? While many industries have standard imagery that they use in their logos – and standard messages that they send with their branding – it can be tricky to market when you’re in an industry where creativity and uniqueness are the name of the game.
Challenges of Branding Design Firms
Branding a design firm presents some special challenges. Your goal as a design company is to cater to your clients’ needs. A design that one client finds attractive and appealing may have the opposite effect on another. Your job is to find a way to accurately represent what you do without alienating anybody. Because your designs may span a wide range of styles, it can be difficult to get it right.
Some of the particular things that can make marketing a design firm hard include:
1. There’s no real industry standard when it comes to communicating what you do. While a lot off design firms choose art-related images, that doesn’t work for everybody.
2. Competition in the design industry is fierce and it may not be obvious how to make your firm stand out from your competitors. In a field where many logos follow the same basic template, you can stand out simply by choosing slightly different imagery. In the design industry there are no hard and fast rules.
3. All branding is ultimately about how your clients perceive you, but that’s especially true when it comes to the design industry. How your clients and potential clients see your designs is what will make your firm sink or swim. The challenge is to find a way to brand your company without trying to dictate what your clients feel or think about your designs.
These three things pose a definite challenge to design firms. They’re not insurmountable, but you will have to use a bit of finesse to get past them.
Logo Considerations for Design Firms
One of the most important elements of branding your company is the logo you choose – and as a designer, you might spend a lot of time designing logos for other people. Designing an effective logo or a design company comes with a few special challenges.
The graphics you choose for your logo should be an accurate reflection both of the work that you do, and the people for whom you do it. If the bulk of your clients are corporate and conservative, then your logo should be too – and likewise, if you tend to create content with an edge, then it’s a must to find a way to communicate that tendency with your logo.
While some industries use standard colors for their logos, design firms have almost unlimited options when it comes to expressing who they are. Standard color psychology still applies, but there’s room for flights of fancy too. Design firms may want to stay away from traditionally conservative colors like blue unless their target clients are likewise conservative.
This logo that we created for an interior design firm is a good example of creative color usage. While the name of the company includes the word white, nobody wants an all-white logo. We used a fresh spring green – a color associated with new beginnings – combined with deep purple, which speaks of both luxury and creativity. The result is a logo that does a very good job of representing this firm to potential clients.
Choosing the Right Design
The logo you choose must be both accurate and creative in its representation of you. A company that specializes in fine art would most likely choose different imagery than one that specialized in computer animations.
Before you choose a logo, spend some time thinking about what sets you apart from other design firms in your area, and then use those unique qualities to inform the logo you choose.
Creative Content Marketing for the Design Industry
Once you’ve chosen the right logo for your design firm, it’s time to think about how to use it – and how to use content marketing to grow your business. Here are some ideas to consider.
1. Join or form creative communities. The chances are good that you know people who work at other companies that are related to yours. For example, a graphic designer might have a close relationship with a printing company, and someone who does interior design probably knows painters, landscapers, and upholsterers. Instead of always going it alone, consider pairing up to offer content (and deals) that are relevant to all of your customers. It’s a great way to expand your reach.
2. Soliciting and sharing user-generated content is a terrific way to engage your target audience while scoring some free content to use in your marketing. As a creative company, you can have a lot of fun with this idea. For example, you might set up a Pinterest board or Tumblr where you encourage followers to share images they’ve created, or host a contest where you ask people to tell stories about how they’ve used your designs.
3. Storytelling is one of the most powerful forms of marketing because human beings have a natural inclination to respond to stories. Instead of simply posting content and hoping for the best, try using your designs to tell a story. Your story might be as simple as demonstrating the before and after images associated with a remodel, or as complex as walking your followers through the challenges of the design process.
4. Online partnerships can help you get a larger audience for your content. Try pairing up with clients or other design firms to offer unique and interesting content to your followers. The key here is not to congregate with people who do the same thing you do. Try seeking out writers, photographers, and other creative people who might complement what you already do.
5. Creating a blog carousel is a great way to expand your reach and share valuable content with your readers. After you’ve formed some creative ties, consider doing a series of blog posts on each website that tie together in some way. For example, if you design wedding dresses and your team up with a florist, a wedding cake designer, and a graphic designer, you could do a series of blog posts that all relate to planning a wedding.
These ideas all have the potential to kick-start your content marketing and help you expand your reach. The key is to have fun with it and be creative. People in the accounting industry might have to play it safe as a rule, but design firms have a great deal of leeway when it comes to the kind of content they share.
The Pareto Principle and Your Marketing Campaigns
The final step in any marketing campaign is testing and fine-tuning to maximize ROI. One thing that can help is the Pareto Principle. Named after an Italian economist, the Pareto Principle says that in any given situation, 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort you put in to it.
What that means when it comes to marketing is that approximately 80% of the leads and sales you get come from only 20% of your marketing content. In other words, 80% of what you do is earning you nothing. That might be discouraging but it actually represents an opportunity.
There are two steps to fine-tuning your marketing campaign using the Pareto Principle:
1. First, evaluate your leads and sales and track which campaigns attracted them. As you do this, you will likely begin to recognize some obvious patterns. Some things work, while others don’t.
2. Second, you can do one of two things. The first option is to test the things that aren’t working to make them better. For example, your email campaign might not be delivering great results, but if you rewrote your subject lines you might see an improvement in your open rates. The second option is to cut your losses and reallocate your budget to the things that are working.
You might want to do some combination of the two. If you’ve been running a campaign for a long time and it’s not getting any significant results, it might make sense simply to shut that campaign down and develop a new one. On the other hand, a campaign that’s getting some traction probably shouldn’t be scrapped until you’ve taken some time to try to figure out what isn’t working and what is.
The key to marketing a design firm is to find the perfect balance between creativity and reliability. Your potential clients need to know that they can rely on your to provide them something unique and memorable. It’s a tricky thing to do, but with the right marketing and branding – and the right content – you can differentiate yourself from your competitors and grow your business.