As President of the BC chapter of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC), I recently wrote an article on behalf of GDC called How to Use Communication Design to Weather a Recession for Business in Vancouver (BIV) Magazine. The article, which can be found in the special How To Book coming out early 2009, is reproduced below:
In an economic downturn, your business may seek ways to costs while maintaining its competitive edge. By slashing your budget for marketing and communications, however, you may do more harm than good. Instead, consider working with your communication designer to apply strategic, creative thinking to keep your brand message focused on your audience in ways that will not only help you survive the recession but also contribute to your long-term growth.
In fact, many great brands were created during economic turmoil by companies that recognized their customers’ changing needs, seized the moment and innovated, communicating their ways through difficult waters. Here are some approaches that can help.
Focus on your brand
Brand equity is a valuable asset, especially during a slow-down. Critical aspects of brand-building in hard times are differentiation and relevance. Experienced designers put their own assumptions, biases and aesthetic preferences aside in order to identify your unique selling proposition (USP) — what makes you different — and tailor your message to a specific audience in a consistent manner. Identifying your USP helps you use the economic climate to pierce the clutter and seize the attention of potential customers. Leaving a gap in your brand presence lets savvy competitors step in and capitalize as markets improve.
Downturns create a buyer’s market
As your competitors slash their marketing and communications budgets, reallocate your own spending strategically. Media is on sale! While others pull back and disappear from the minds of consumers, you can expand your own exposure without increasing your budget, ultimately grabbing additional market share. That will mean growth, profit and a stronger brand presence once the economy begins to rebound.
Include design early
Creative thinking should be a part of strategic business planning, not tacked on at the end just for aesthetics. Invite your communication designer to the boardroom table. Recognizing that communication design is far more than window dressing allows you to use it to your competitive advantage.
Be really honest with yourself about what your organization is, where you want to go and how you can get there. Experienced communication designers are skilled at helping groups research, identify and analyze their needs in relation to audiences and competitors. They can help you clarify business strengths, weaknesses and opportunities and the impediments you face in meeting your objectives.
You get what you pay for
Be smart in how you conserve and consolidate expenses. As companies downsize, many may let their large agency partners go in favour of smaller, less expensive teams. Make sure any “replacement” team consists of experienced design professionals, not desktop publishers or ill-equipped freelancers who may seem like good deals. Even if you already have a well-defined brand identity, a terrific logo, a graphic standards guide (style guide), and templates or previous samples for reference, make sure you get the most qualified help. Create comprehensive and fair requests for proposals (RFPs) that will identify your best-suited candidate, not the cheapest bidder.
Don’t skip steps
Times like these call for vision and leadership, not shortcuts. Now more than ever, focus on working closely with well-trained experts. Craft clear and comprehensive creative briefs that outline project parameters, goals, timelines and budgets.
Ask for help
Don’t panic or act rashly. It’s tempting to cut back on expenses, but skimping on your strategy, graphic design or production may damage your brand in the long run. The Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC) can help. With its directory of designers across Canada, its effective job board and its numerous resources including a handy RFP tool, the GDC is the smart place to start your search.
Everyone suffers during a recession, but if you understand that good design is good for business, you can save your organization by developing solid relationships with skilled design professionals and actually help strengthen the company’s brand and market position.
If you’re wondering how to use brand and communication design to help your business survive the sagging economy, please contact Industrial Brand soon.