Arek Dvornechuck: What's up branding experts? — Arek here at Ebaqdesign. And in this episode I interview Douglas Davis and we talk about the creative strategy framework. And Douglas is the principal of the Davis Group LLC, under which he works with his clients. But he's also a chair and professor within the communication design department at New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn. And Douglas hold a bachelor's degree (BA) in Graphic Design from Hampton University. And a Master’s Degree (MS) in Communications design from Pratt Institute And also a Master’s Degree (MS) in integrated marketing from New York University. And besides that, Douglas is also the author of the bestselling book "Creative Strategy and The Business of Design". So Douglas is an expert when it comes to creative strategy and that’s why I really wanted to have him on our podcast. Hello Douglas, thank you so much for taking the time to join us on our podcast.
Douglas Davis: Hello, and thank you so much for having me i appreciate the invite.
Arek Dvornechuck: Let's start with this, so basically in your book you advise that all creative concepts should should be based on a solid strategic understanding, right?
Douglas Davis: Absolutely.
Arek Dvornechuck: So you say that developing a creative strategy will increase the relevance of your work—If you are a creative person. And it will also help you address your business objectives with the best 'possible' effective creative solutions—If you are a business person. So you suggest that strong strategic insights that are inspired by data and research will inspire strong design concepts, right? So in your book you actually reveal your creative strategy framework that helps you organize all this information, about any given project. And it helps you find uh and show some strategic insights to inspire your creative work right. So I just wanted to make this podcast actionable for our listeners and talk about this this framework—your creative strategy framework—and how to actually use it. But before that, can you just talk a bit about your journey to becoming a strategist and uh perhaps about some some of the benefits that comes along with it. You know, being a strategic designer.
Douglas Davis: Absolutely. Well first of.. and again i appreciate you having me... Overall what I realized over time in my career is that I started to lose battles. I could, you know, build the team. I could create the work. I could manage the team. I could present the work. There was pretty much nothing that I couldn't do with my aesthetic training. So you mentioned BA IN graphic design from Hampton University. You mentioned my first master's degree from Pratt Institute in communication design. So that allowed me to gain positions of responsibility relatively quickly. I was always the youngest person. And you know back in 1999 when i entered the industry, that was during the height of the "dot com era" and so it was great to be able to start the digital arm of one of the best agencies at that time uh JWT. It's no longer around anymore. That's Wunderment Thompson now. But to start their digital arm, I realized that I was there as a freelancer really bored for about three months. And then one day someone runs into the conference room and says the client wants a website. And I was like "I know how to do that". And so what was great about that is that I go from freelancer to sitting in the president's office and basically talking to the president and the creative director about how much money we left on the table. The last three months where I've been coming in here, having a great time, hanging out with people. But being really bored because they didn't really need me to lay you know set headlines and things of that sort. so immediately i become uh the ACD of the digital arm and the digital offering and we did really well. The challenge though was that i couldn't actually justify what I knew was right for the client. And what I knew would resonate with the audience based on my aesthetic training. So I started losing battles and it's because I couldn't justify the business in the marketing terminology. So in doing that, and sort of realizing that it would come up against the wall given the context. Even though our clients expect all of us to be strategic anyone who's on their brand they want you to be strategic. The challenge though is that business school doesn't teach how to inspire designers. And so some of you listening may have been in a situation where you're hired and you brought on but you're given a brief that's the size of a novel and none of it's useful. So what do you? Do you fall back on your aesthetic training? You argue things based on aesthetics and that's a losing argument as you brought up that I stated in the book. and i say it's a losing argument, because we're in the room, because we're being asked to solve a business problem with design or through design and so the whole philosophy here is about organizing the chaos, questioning the answers, and then making... taking the insights that you find in the process and making them into executions by thinking how our clients think. Or thinking how our business counterparts think. Because when design school doesn't teach business, business school doesn't teach how to inspire designers. And you're on the same team hoping to service the client who expects everybody involved with their brand to be strategic. And your training didn't even teach you to talk to each other. There's a gap and if you can plug it in a way that you're only dealing with the most relevant strategic pieces to do your creative work, you can not only increase the trust in the room by decreasing the fear, because you're speaking the same language. But you can in a sense you can defend your creative work without being defensive, because it's on sound strategic footing. That's the whole concept. That's the whole thought process. That's my whole philosophy in a nutshell.
Arek Dvornechuck: Right, it totally makes sense. Thanks for making this clear. So yeah so as you said, you know, the quote for from your book goes like this — "an argument based on pure aesthetics is doomed unless it could be tied to accomplishing a business objective". And you talk quite a lot about those different objectives: marketing objectives and business objectives. So the next thing I wanted just to... like uh at least some of the benefits of creative approach so that either designers who want to become strategists or just teams who want to produce work that is more effective or more relevant or just come up with ideas that will allow them to, you know, do whatever they want to do to increase sales or you know awareness or things like that. So can you just... from your perspective, what would be like.. what are the benefits of creative approach versus just jumping right into design execution?
Douglas Davis: Well the benefits are plenty and it sort of almost even depends on where you're at your own career. Are you a freelancer? Are you on staff? Did you just enter the industry? Or are you mid-career? Are you later on in your career? Because if you think about it... and if again I'll go back to 1999 when I was in the industry, you know I had two choices — I could... and you you may remember this, but you know back then that's when flash was out that's when action script was out, right? So the challenge there is do you go downstream more do you become a better craftsman? Do you become better at pushing the buttons, right? That's a part of what we do... or do you go upstream? And I thought, you know, what I'm going to go upstream I want to learn what they learned to do this. I want to understand the language they're speaking. And so the benefit there, again, and as I alluded to this, if you can defend your own creative work without being defensive it's because you've already incorporated the business and the marketing objectives there. But I think you know if I give you the thought process concerning the way that the Harvard Business case study method works, which is MBA's at Harvard, there's no one standing in the front room lecturing to them. There's a professor in the room, but the room is set up more like an arena theater. And it really is about being able to defend. As well as, you know, put ideas on the table that you can articulate as to reason, you know, you're fighting with your mind at that point up there the way they do it and this particular model is something that really served me well. Because I thought, well, as creative people, again, think how they think—do what we do. The idea there is... the benefit is in a creative person who no one is expecting to understand business objective and marketing objectives or to even have that conversation. You and I both know that there's a bit of a stigma, you know, many creative people have tattoos and blue hair and all the different things that allow us to express ourselves as artists on the outside. And I think, you know, in certain teams it's not necessarily respected. And people just think that we draw, or they think that, you know, we're the people who do what the smart people tell us to do. And you know the benefit of this method becomes—you can have blue hair and tattoos and kick the soccer ball and play with crayons. And yet you can also run that meeting and you can also make sure that you understand exactly that the way... that you're making recommendations. And using the same exact language by speaking and learning to understand the language of business. Because you got to learn both. But in doing that you are now able to reposition what the transaction is between you and your clients. Are you in the creative team? So when I spoke of where you're at in your own career... if you're just entering into the industry this is how you are sure to make sure that you don't just become a higher paid person who presses buttons. Who if we really wanted to, we could hire someone who just came out of school for half the money we pay you, right? You could be head and hands so that's one of the benefits in addition to being able to defend the work without being defensive. That's a huge benefit. I think another benefit becomes if you are a mid-career and you want more responsibility then you can actually show yourself to be a person who can actually handle that responsibility. Because you can show yourself to be focused on what the CMO is focused on you can show yourself to be focused on what the client is focused on. You can show yourself to be, you know, concerned with the business and the marketing objectives. And the understanding of those concepts—that's chapter one of the book. Because at that point, you know, again when I'm speaking about trust, you know. being able to grow a current account or to defend the current account because you're not just doing what the client is telling you to do. Any agency or design firm that does exactly what the client is telling them to do is going to get fired for doing exactly what the client is telling you to do. Because we're supposed to lead the client, but the only way to lead the client is to understand strategy and to make them comfortable taking the creative risks. Because you are actually providing for them what they need, not what they asked you for. Not what they want—it's different. It's different with our kids, right? It's different with us. As professionals we understand, you know, if you do learn strategy what a brand or a business or an account needs versus just doing what people tell you to do. So there's a huge benefit there and I've won business that way as a freelancer where i'll come in answer an RFP and I'm up against some of the other, you know, amazing firms where when the people called me I was actually suggesting that they go call Landor or that they call Wolf Ollins. Or that they, you know, went to talk to Future Brand, right? So I'm suggesting that they talk to the largest, most global, most visible, most known, you know, entities in what we do. And they also say, well you should also throw your hat in the ring. I know you do this work and then to win an account and then to ask because I'm suggesting that they go talk to, you know, the largest most visible places for this work, and to ask them "why did you choose me?"—thank you, but you know, help me to understand what was it. And to be told by a client "Well, you challenged us we told you our problem was this, but you said that's not a problem our problem is actually that—this is where the benefit of understanding strategy and understanding business and marketing objectives and really understanding to speak and understand the language of business you can challenge your clients. And I'm hoping that someone listening can feel more comfortable saying "No" or redirecting the conversation whether you're on staff or whether you're a freelancer. So there are many benefits to being able to adopt this approach. And again the the framework is really about questioning the answers. But after you organize the chaos, because you have to organize things first. Then you can question the answers. And right now this is the last piece I'll say on this right now—you know everyone is trying to deal with the pivot that Covid is, you know, putting us into. Everybody's in the blink of an eye everything is being remade. And I think that it's going to be even more important to make sure that we are focused on being able to step into the shoes of what keeps the CMO up at night. Or what keeps your client up at night. And then from there... looking at what the available information is. The business objectives, the marketing objectives, looking at the market itself. You know, everyone has an opinion but clients will pay us for our analysis and therefore the Harvard business case studies very similar to exactly what I'm saying in terms of think how they think to do what we do. Step into the CMO shoes. Step into the, you know, seasoned senior marketers shoes. Or into the new business person's shoes. Or the client's shoes. And then from their perspective understand exactly what's keeping them up at night. That's going to help you to be seen as more of a partner and less of an order taker.
2. How to use the framework?
Arek Dvornechuck: Nice a lot of benefits, but I think you just articulated that really well. And I like the story... So since we know some of the benefits of strategic approach, now we want to know how to actually do it, right? So how to use the framework? So let's talk about your framework and how do you actually use it. Because, you know, information can come from many different places, right? You can have some kind of a briefing meeting with your client. Or if you work remotely as, you know, like during Covid for example. Now, perhaps is this tendency yeah... you work remotely, your clients send you some documents, you have a bunch of documents and you have to read through them. And then you need to fill in the gaps. Perhaps do your own research. So can you speak to that a bit? So how do you actually use this framework?
Douglas Davis: Absolutely, so if any of you out there are listening and you want to go back... if you have the book—it's on page 42 what i'm about to talk about—the creative strategy framework. But chapter six and seven are completely dedicated to this, so you'll be introduced to this creative strategy framework on page 42 but chapter six and seven, you get the deep dive. So how do you use it?—I've used this to weave strategy into my creative process. And to do that in a way that what I'm using is focused only on relevant information. And this is going to ensure that any of your work is on brand, on strategy, and on message. So any senior designers, any art directors, any creative directors out there—you probably know this. But, you know, sometimes the only way to have a sound strategy is to write it yourself. So this tool is going to be able to help you. There are four columns and three steps to using this. So first column is the target and you're going to want to define that target in terms of demographic, psychographics as well as behavioral characteristics. The second columns is about the facts and you'll need to at some point decide whether you're dealing with the scope of your project if it is it the brand itself or is it a particular product or service that's underneath that brand umbrella. So make that decision first and then write all the facts in. And then this the third column—is features and benefits. And you'll need to always understand that a feature is a tangible attribute that defines the product. A benefit is to the consumer that's something that a feature enables, right? So our features—we have eyes, we have ears, we have nose—those are our features. The benefit is that—I can hear a truck and get out of there, I could save my life with my hearing, right? So you'll have to think about that and really itemize and drill down on what it is that you're doing. And figure out which features enable what benefits to the consumer. And then lastly, depending on what you're doing, the last column is objective or message. Now the message is what should a target take away from your communications and whatever touch point they come into contact with them. An objective is a verb, you know "I want to convert, I want to drive, I want to engage, I want to build, I want to grow, I want to increase, I want to decrease, I want to, you know, do this by that percent among x target"—which is the first column. So that's how... that's what it is. And this is a way to organize the chaos. Now in my experience, the best way to get utility out of this, is to go into that kickoff meeting and immediately write down what you're hearing from the client into this framework, right? Okay, so immediately taking what you're hearing and organizing it as soon as you hear it—that's the first thing. That's going to help you out if you do it that way. And then from there, you can take that information and you can go back to the whiteboard with your creative team. You can continue the strategy session. Because yes, you're going to get information, but you're probably not going to get everything. So step one is really about quantity and you're going to just exhaust all the information that you can think of and you're gonna read what the client gives you and you're going to fill in some more blanks from what the client didn't give you. And you gonna read as much as you can. And what you don't want to do in this particular first step, is judge everything. A lot of us, as creative people, you know, we write something down.. it took forever to write that thing down and we start judging—"it's stupid" and we start second guessing ourselves. And then we erase it, and then before you know it, nine hours have gone by you don't have anything. So it's gonna be really important for you to sort of just decide that what we're just gonna go with what we see and think and focus way more on where something goes in the chart versus whether it's stupid or not, okay? So that's gonna be the a very important first step. And you gotta always remember that you're not going to receive the information in the meeting. Like, they're not just gonna talk about the target first, and then immediately talk about the brand and then from at that point talk about the features and benefits and then talk about the objective or message. It's going to be random, right? You don't know where the client is going to start, in where they start is probably going to be based on whatever business problem they're facing or if the environment shifts like right now with Covid, right? Decisions are made completely different, the customer journey is completely different, so you're going to hear what they care about based on where they start. But you will have to then figure out where things go now. And you got to remember, this is a development process and this is a framework so it's only as good as the information that you put into it. And I've often left briefings with either too much information or relevant information, but I have never ever left the briefing with all the information. And so this is where my own research comes in, to fill in the blanks. But even then, when you get all the information, you got to wheel it down to the right information. Which brings me to the second step, which is quality. So first is quantity, second is quality. And this is where you have to question the answers, okay? So every single column, every single piece of information that you've written down there are specific questions that you're going to now have to ask yourself. Such as, so if we're talking about the target. You know what's the most important demographic, psychographics, or behavioral info and why. Right now that's all relative to what problem you're solving, right? So for instance, if you know you might be working with a brand or some sort of business problem that it will make way more sense for you to focus on the psychographics, of the behavioral characteristics of somebody versus whether they're a man, woman, black, white... right? So this is where I'm challenging designers to really start to think about what it is and why.
Arek Dvornechuck: Now we are going to take a quick break here but we will be right back. Listen my mission is to help people design iconic brands. So whether you're a business leader who wants to be more intentional with branding and all of its aspects. Or you are a creative who wants to attract powerful clients and truly be able to help them with branding. Then you need to start with a discovery session and then develop a strategy that will inform all your creative work. And everything you need to learn how to do that you can find in my online courses at ebaqdesign.com/shop where I share with you my worksheets, case studies, video tutorials and other additional resources to help you feel safe and strong about your process. Now let's get back to our conversation.
Douglas Davis: And really question those answers that you come up with. So for instance, another question that you could ask for the facts column could be... and I always come back to this question "Can we build a campaign or a concept on that?"—that's going to be the defining factor of what stays. Now, oftentimes you're going to be able... if you do this in a group setting, if this becomes your whiteboard session, oftentimes you're going to be able to get two, three different multiple viewpoints on the same piece of information. And in those sessions that's actually the most valuable—that's what you really want. The whole process of this alignment exercise is really about inquiry, right? We don't know enough to advocate for a specific solution yet. Like, we have no idea yet, so this is about inquiry. And so questions those answers... so questions you could ask for the third column, which is the features and benefits—"Is this a complete feature list?" So we're talking about an iPhone and I always reach for that as an example because everybody knows what the iPhone is. You know touch screen is a feature, if you have an iPhone that still has the fingerprint scanner, front facing camera, the storage size. And the processor on the inside. You really have to itemize this thing and really understand exactly what are the benefits that are enabled from that touch screen. What are the benefits that are enabled from that processing power? what are the benefits, right? So it's one to one and I force people to really drill down because you're literally getting down to the essence of what this thing is, each individual element, and then what exactly does the actual consumer care about? As a result of that thing this is how you're gonna really get granular about this stuff. Because think about it—your clients know all this, right?—you're just going to deep dive into it, right? Now and you're going to show them that you also know all this. That you've also thought about the analysis. Because remember, everybody has an opinion about our clients as creative people. They will pay us for our analysis, so this is the ability to sort of draw that analysis out of you. And then the last column, a question could be like, well you know what should the target leave with in terms of messaging, right? Once they come in contact with our digital or our branding campaign work. But if you're pitching this, is really about what objectives are. We proposing for the client, we know what they asked us for, but what are we going to suggest to them, right? And so the last step here, once yo go to quality... because remember, when you're thinking through quality some of this stuff is going to be eliminated. So quantity first step, quality second step. But the third step is now... when you've eliminated and you've questioned those answers you can now start to see the threads that emerge across categories, right? So then at that point it becomes... well let's connect the dots here. Let me look across the categories and let me take a target match it with a feature, sorry a fact about the brand product or service. Let me connect that with a feature or benefit that we could actually use to develop headlines or copy or concepts. And let me then connect that with either imparting a message or let me connect that with how we're going to achieve a specific objective. And you'll remember, I've said this a couple times... that when you can start to defend your creative work without being defensive. It sounds like... based on the target's need or behavior we can start a conversation centered around this fact of truth using this feature of benefit in any headline or copy to deliver this message or to accomplish this objective. So when you think about how to take this in three steps, four columns, to a point where you're walking into a room with business or marketing people or a client, doesn't matter, and you're able to defend your work without being defensive. This is how you got there and I'm hoping that in thinking through how to break this down, you know, creatives will really spend some more time. Because again, we can't be concerned with only what's in the creative team, you have to be concerned what's going on on the outside of creative team. Because those business marketing or new business counterparts that we work with, or the client — they're not going to learn typography, they're not going to learn Pantone colors — it's not going to happen. So it's your job to think how they think to do what we do. And this is one of the tools that's helped me to organize the chaos. Question the answers and then turn the insights into executions. One last point on this, yeah when you pull out these threads you can either A) write a creative brief based on this, B) start to immediately come up with actual executions, create concepts based on this. Or you can see... figure out where you need to ask for more information. So all of this as a tool. You can not only use this to make real work, it's a whiteboard session, it's the template for writing a brief, it's the beginnings of... like thought starters for creative concepts. But I think most importantly, if you are a creative person and you decide — "I'm gonna rethink my own brand". You can also put yourself into the product column, column two, and if you do that your target is creative directors, right? or senior designers. And and you can really think through how your own value is something that you market for. Your own benefit if that makes sense.
Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah this is a great, great tip for for designers, right? To work perhaps... to try it out first on their brand, right? So just because you took over, I really wanted to dive in, but you already took over, and you did and you walked us through actually each part and each column, which is awesome! And so I just wanted to sum up for our listeners. So basically you can use this framework as a kick of meeting, so where you start putting all those information and it doesn't have to be in any particular order. You just ask questions, and you just fill in those information. And you go for quantity first, so you just gather as many as much information as possible. You don't judge... like you said, you know it doesn't matter if it sounds stupid at this point, because the second step is to go for quality. So we're going to eliminate some of this information that is less relevant. So what else... and then the third step is to just look for those threads. So once we have, so the first step we go for quantity, again, then we go for quality—we eliminate some of this information. And then we look for some... we just try to connect the dots. And and try to connect some items from each column and see what makes sense. You know, horizontally connect them. So with that we can either write a creative brief, or we can just go into developing a concept based on that. Or just check for more information, if we need that, right?
Douglas Davis: That's right.
Arek Dvornechuck: So perhaps we can just fly over again, and I know that you already explained all those parts. I just wanted to perhaps give our listeners some, like examples, because for example, in your book — there are some things you mentioned... some of those famous brands like Planet Fitness or Nike and I think it's great because we all know these brands, these are famous brands and we can all relate. So we could just understand the concept behind it. So starting with the target audience. So here you mentioned things like demographics and psychographics, segmentation so can you give us some examples so for you know what kind of information we can put in there?
Douglas Davis: So, it's really important to really think through who am i talking to, right? Because that's going to determine where you speak, what tone you use, it's going to determine whether outdoor is better than digital ads, right? So that behavior is really important, that's going to determine the adoption of new technology. That's going to determine whether someone lives in a city, versus in a rural place. You're going to learn whether that person takes mass transit, or whether they drive, right? So all of this is going to be really important to understand how exactly you're going to encounter them. So what is the customer journey, how many times do we have to actually reach someone before they then respond to a message, right? So in thinking about the purchase funnel as well as... some people use purchase funnels some people use the customer journey. You really do have to understand exactly what the need is, right? Is there a pain point is this particular customer running away from something? So I live in New York and for a number of years I lived in Manhattan. And there was a cable service named Wime Warner Cable — I hated it. Everybody hated Time Warner Cable, because let's say you had an issue with your cable. And you scheduled for them to come over. There's this five hour window that they would come over and sometimes they wouldn't show up. So you'd have to take off work and they didn't show up. And so because of the way that the cable business is, it's all monopolies and during that time I lived in Central Park North so it was a historic space and so you couldn't actually get direct TV because you weren't allowed to put a satellite outside, right? So again I'm held hostage here. I hate my cable provider. I hate it, right? I was switching yesterday but I can't because of where i live and because of the way the business is run. So it's going to be very important if you're creating something... if you're a challenger for Time Warner Cable you're going to want to make sure that you understand that people hate this particular service. And then well, why do they hate it, right? So all of that's going to help you to understand the psychographics. How does someone think, and then what is their behavior? So why do I hate it so much? Well if there's a storm and there's an immediate outage even though every single month I'm looking at my bill and even though I didn't order anything special it's 15 added to this thing and if I don't watch you guys you guys are stealing from me. So I have to call up, takes me 30 minutes to get someone to, then go down my bill, to then see that there's a mistake. But that happens every single month— that's crazy, right? So understanding well why do I hate this brand. Well you don't do what I need you to do, right? I need my internet service to be continuous and for whatever reason you're not able to have that service. If there happens to be some light weather somewhere and so then that impacts my ability to serve my own clients, or that impacts my ability to do what I need to do. And so therefore if I'm working on a challenger brand, if I'm working on something else... another choice, then I need to understand all of that stuff. But if you're thinking about a drug let's say. At that point the demographics might be most important, because maybe I need to understand that there are age considerations to taking the risk, right? The point is... I think you can really understand what I'm trying to say. That if you don't know who you're talking to... and let's say that there was a three-year-old French girl there is a 40 year old American person and then there is an 80 year old you know Spanish gentleman and you got to communicate to all those people — that there's a fire, right? So for a little kid you may need to bend down and get to eye level, right? And just try to like reassure them that they're going to be okay, but we have to really rush, right? You can't take all your toys. There's a different tone you take with a little kid, right? But in the person who is able, and as old as you are, you can you know shout and be like "we gotta bounce". But then, what about that 80-year-old Spanish gentleman, right? I'm gonna have to speak a completely different language with him all right? And I gotta know that or else I'm in trouble, because we're in an emergency, right? So I think — I use that analogy just to show how important it is to be understood. And I think that oftentimes when whenever creative people... and again we are taught to focus on the tactical parts of what should be larger strategic decisions. But if we don't spend a significant amount of time really understanding some of the things that we were not taught to actually take a deep dive into, then think about that we pour our heart and soul into our work and then we go into a room full of people who we don't know. And then we present something really intimate that we put a lot of energy into and it gets ripped up, or it dies on the table. And that's because we didn't actually understand how to walk into that room, how to understand our audience, how to use the language that they understand, and how to then think how they think in order to help them to achieve what their goals are. What they will be judged on in their performance review, what keeps them up at night. At that point it's a completely different conversation. You're going to use a completely different tactic. I'll leave you with this last thing. Yeah as creative people in the creative group we're going to want to tell you a story and we're going to talk about you know what we saw. We're going to talk about the journey to get to that idea, which is gonna be last, right? And we're going to talk to you about how we got there. And it's gonna be really interesting and all of us are gonna be interested because that's what we do. Problem with going into a room full of business people with that tactic is that that's not how they present and you lost them. Because now they're focused on... well, why are you telling me all this? So it's the complete opposite as a creative person when you walk into a business sort of environment, you have to give the recommendation first immediately. And then from there you talk about why do you see how those are completely different. But they're different based on who you're talking to. And that's where if you can understand why it's so important to focus on all the elements that are in the creative strategy framework. Think how they think to do what we do. You have to understand who they are before we can figure out which tools are relevant. So that the objective the objective is that the work doesn't die on the table because we weren't able to actually explain why it was relevant in the first place, right? So definitely without being different, right? So you can defend your work. So you can decrease like their consents and increase trust, right? And just defend your work, articulate on your work. Why you are doing this. Why this kind of... whatever it is it's some creative solution, typeface, a color, or or just an idea.
3. Brand, product or service facts
Arek Dvornechuck: So, just to sum up—so you really need to research your target audience and it really depends on what kind of business is this. You know, we are talking to... as you as you said—it can be about demographics, psychographics, but you really need to understand the customer journey. And you can check some reviews, you can talk to customers, you can do many different things. You can you can be the customer yourself and experience the brand, and see the good and bad things about that brand. So that's the first thing. Then we have the column "facts", right? Which is basically some facts about the brand, a product or service underneath, right?
Douglas Davis: So this is literally everything you can find. And the biggest thing about this is that... let's say you're working with a public brand. You know a Nike or a Coca-Cola, something really big that's public. The one of the best tools you can find is the SEC — The Securities & Exchange Commission website. So every single quarter these brands have to file different documents with the SEC because they're public. And one of the documents that's been the absolute best in helping me to understand exactly what's going on inside of a brand is the 10k statement. So if you go to the SEC website The Securities & Exchange Commission website, and again this is only if you're working with a public brand, but if you find the 10k statement—there's a section in the 10k statement that's on risk. And right there they tell you every single thing that they're afraid of. Whether climate change is going to be an issue for the business in the future. If this new product is going to be, you know, from a competitor is absolutely going to be the thing that is going to give them a problem in X amount of years. You're going to be able to find out everything that they're scared of. And they tell you themselves and so again, as creative people we learn Pantone or we learn different programs, but we don't learn this stuff, right? And so in learning it and then finding out what they're looking at, you can really come up with things that no one is going to expect you to even know, much less factor in to the work. And so remember, this is a framework and it's only as good as the information that you put into it. So when it's time for you to question the answers on step two and figure out how to whittle this down to quality, right, you have to make sure that your research found quality stuff. Now you might not keep it all, but the point is that if you don't find things beyond a cursory web search, you're not really going to create any insightful, deep research. And therefore your work is going to be the same. It's going to be shallow as well, right?
4. Features & benefits
Arek Dvornechuck: Right. So yeah this is a great tip that you just gave us — how to find all their concerns. So the next column is... I just want to fly... I know that we are approaching the end of our call, but just to sum it all up. So features and benefits. So you mentioned that features are tangible, so it's like... you have a touchscreen, right? Or you have this is like a one terabyte capacity, right? But actually how does it benefit you? So then you think about corresponding benefits from the customer's perspective.
Douglas Davis: So this is hard. This particular section is very difficult because it really does force you to be as specific as possible. And again, this is creative and strategic development art, right? So what i'm saying is that development takes a few times. It's exactly that — it's an iterative process, right? So you can't just do it one time or two times, it doesn't work that way. It's development so this is going to be... And now I want to point out something as well. So if you look at four columns, right? The first column is the target. And if you think about in the third column there's features and there's benefits, right? So the second column is the facts. Now if you look at the features, right, the brand (the second column) is concerned with the features right. The benefit is what the first column is concerned with—the target. So this is a way to connect all of the elements. And again, I developed this while I was at NYU because it was a way for me to take this completely new discipline terms concept... like I had no idea. Creative person in business school I want to shoot myself in the face because it was so painful. And yet what I got out of that is the understanding that if I don't figure out a way to organize this stuff, I'm not going to be able to utilize it. And so if you look at this thing across categories. And you understand exactly what i'm doing, is I'm making creative people focus really. Drew it down and that's what's going to help you and I think. Creatives, perhaps they should understand that this is an iterative process because as design is iterative process right you don't just come up with a bunch of concepts. So the same regarding strategy, so you're gonna try a few things. You're just not gonna get it probably everything, you know, 100% perfect at once. So you really need to dig deeper and as you said this column is probably.. it is very important, right? So you're going to spend a lot of time here and the last one is "message or objective". So and you quite a lot... you talk quite a lot in your book about the business and marketing objectives. So for example, clients come to us you know they say they need a logo, or a new website so you need to either figure out what's the business objective behind that and try to extract that information from them. Or if it's a pitch as, you said before, then you just need to make some decisions of what kind of message you want to convey. What you want the target audience to walk away with, right? Yes and this is really important, because many of you may be art directors or designers, right? So you are dealing... you're used to dealing with pictures. And what I'm forcing you to do is think about the writing—the words, right? And it's funny because one of my professors at Pratt is Tony Despina. He was one of her violence partners and he would always say "we've all heard that a word is worth a thousand pictures but in the hands of the right designer or creative person... you know a picture is worth a thousand words"—sorry i messed that up. You know. we've all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words but in the hands of the right designer or creative person a word is worth a thousand pictures. And so what I'm saying with that is that if you choose the right words and you're thinking about this as someone who's writing a creative brief, let's say, you can put these words together using this framework and you can put the words together in a way that we can then inspire the creative team to think about the images that are popping into their head as a result of the words that you're putting together. And it's a powerful thing and I've seen it and I've been able to sort of develop the ability to write. Which was a very hard skill to learn especially when you're used to dealing with images, right? You're used to typefaces, what things look like, but I have to argue that just as we express who we are in our fashion and our clothes, in our colors, our tattoos and what we might do with our hair, how we put stickers on our Mac, right? It's the same exact thing that words are also an outlet for our creativity and I want to just challenge everyone listening to really stick with the ability to use words in the same way and as the same type of outlet as we're used to using pictures. And this is going to help you a great deal to either gain additional responsibility or reports in wherever you're at in your career. It's going to help you to enter the industry with an edge on people who just enter as hands. Because you're going to enter as head and hands and when some hands are hired, and maybe they're better than you, and pushing buttons you will be someone who is seen as invaluable because you can think. You can come up with strategy behind what those hands are going to produce. Or let's say you've been in the business for a while and you need to like continue to remain relevant, it's gonna be really important for you to learn strategy and to really learn the writing part of what we do. Because there's so much communication that happens in the creative process from being briefed to the actual documents themselves, creative briefs, or strategy sessions, or strategy documents, and if you are able to develop that capability to use words as a creative person, then in the sense you are facilitating that communication that's between the product the brand or product or service and the target. Because you are able to make sure that the quality of communication between the people involved in bringing those messages that's increased if that makes sense. That's going to help you a great deal.
5. Message or objective
Arek Dvornechuck: So yeah just to sum up so words really matter, and you need to be good at words and communication. And I think many designers can relate. Like, you know, designers are good at images. Like from my own experience, I remember from my.. you know, I graduated from Art School as well, but yeah you're right they don't really teach you about business. And how to look at those projects from the client's perspective, right? And so you're mostly focused on aesthetics, and you don't really... like, you graduate and you don't really know how to defend your work. And then you go onto working with some clients and you can lose some of them, right? Yeah, I think you will, you will and most of us go through that. And the way to level up and to really win those clients, more of those clients, or just produce more relevant and more effective work, is to just conduct workshops or run discovery sessions with your clients and then take it further and do your own research. And so to be able to defend whatever concepts you come up with. You can articulate well in the way that they understand. So you speak their language, right?
Douglas Davis: Right and I'll leave you one piece, one last piece before I go grab my son. Who's two actually a little shout out to lil john... today's my birthday as well by the way.
Arek Dvornechuck: Oh yeah happy birthday!
Douglas Davis: Thanks, I'll leave you with one piece. yeah you know before I told you as a creative person that the way to advancing your career is my strategy. Now that Covid has happened, I don't think that it's not just to learn strategy but I think that there are additional skills that you must learn. And I'm gonna leave you with this, new systems, design operations, decentralized decision making, forecasting these four things are the new essential skills for designers. Think about it — every single aspect of our lives globally has had to pivot every single thing in the blink of an eye is different. And now I would argue that on top of the strategy parts that we have talked about today, you must build on top of that. It's an essential skill, I cannot stress this enough — you have to build on top of that forecasting new systems, design thinking about operations. as well as decentralized decision making. You will have to be the person who understands exactly what to do, when no one knows what to do, and the only way to do that is to focus on your process. So what we talked about today in addition to being able to understand that you will be asked to find constants in the variable environment, because everything has had to pivot. Every business has had to figure out how to either take what they have on hand and figure out how to do the same thing in a completely different way. Or how to take what they have on hand and do a completely new business with that same stuff. So right now it's key — you must develop the new skills and it's as a result of coping. And I'll leave you with that, and I know that that's a lot to think about, but I'm telling you this is how we are going to survive. These skills will always shift and it's not any different than you having to learn strategy, or having to learn coding or having to learn new typefaces, or having to learn slack. That this is what we do as creative people, we have to learn new ways to do the same thing. And I'm telling you that these are the things that you have to learn now to remain relevant in this new environment. Thank you for having me.
Arek Dvornechuck: Great! thanks for this is our... so this is opportunity for us to advance now during those times. So as we are approaching the end of our episode, please just let us know how we can find more about you and and the work you do. Either for clients who want to work with you, or designers who want to find more about you. And I'm going to include links in the description to your book, of course. Yeah?! Go ahead...
Douglas Davis: Well you can find me on twitter at @douglasqdavis or you can find me on Instagram @dquejuan or on Facebook. I'm professor Davis on Facebook, or you can go to my website thinkhowtheythink.com And I hope to hear from you, all right.
Arek Dvornechuck: Thank you very much for coming on the show — I really appreciate it.
Douglas Davis: Absolutely thank you for having me I very much thank you.
Arek Dvornechuck: So this is it for today's episode and make sure to go and check out the Douglas' website and follow him on social media. And you can find all the links on this episode’s page at ebaqdesign.com/podcast/9 — So thanks for tuning in... and if you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to my podcast for more tips on branding, strategy and design. This was Arek Dvornechuck from Ebaqdesign.
Arek Dvornechuck is a strategist and designer who helps brands grow by crafting distinctive brand identities, backed by strategy. Need help with your project?—Get in touch
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