Get Client Buy-in

by Marcia Hoeck
What’s the best way to get decision makers all on the same page when design and branding decisions need to be made by a group — especially when the group doesn’t necessarily value the creative process?

It’s important to help people connect the dots.

There aren’t many things more painful to a designer than to have to present design solutions to a diverse group of client representatives for approval. And try as you might to get one point of contact so you can control the criteria you’ll design to, we all know those plans can go out the window if the boss decides he wants more eyeballs on your carefully crafted solutions.

You’ll need a method to help these eyeballs make the connection between the emotional aspects of people’s feelings and perceptions about a company, product, or service, and the visual representation of it—a tricky thing to understand for many people. Without that connection and understanding, individuals in the approval group will use personal likes and dislikes to evaluate the appropriateness of your creative solution, and you’ll hear things like, “I don’t like the color,” and “That isn’t what we want,” and my personal favorite, “I don’t know why, but I just don’t like it.”

The Problem
Often, brands, logos, and graphics for important campaigns are created by designers without executive level input, and are based on your interpretation of parameters developed by your contact, a marketing manager or other person supposedly responsible for the project. There can be a substantial gap between what you and your client contact agree to in your creative brief, and what the company executives think they want. Of course, at the beginning of the project, no one knows management is going to weigh in—natch. And even if you’re able to negotiate a new price for the expanded scope of the project, you’re left with unhappy clients who expect you to somehow redesign to new, very nebulous and possibly conflicting criteria that doesn’t have much bearing on communication value.

The Solution
The fix is to anticipate that this can happen with any major project, and to bring everyone who could have a stake in the outcome, or could throw a monkey wrench into the process, into the discussions at the beginning and involve them in the creative development. In a strategy meeting that you facilitate, you’ll be able to gather everyone’s input at the same time, and relationships between graphic elements and what they communicate can be explored with the entire group. You’ll be able to test how specific objectives match with visual interpretation and/or wording in a way that makes use of each person’s insight about the organization, its products or services, and goals for the future, and differences of opinion can be discussed before you begin designing.

Because they’ve been part of the process, stakeholders understand the objectives, resistance is lowered, and their sense of ownership means solutions will be more easily accepted. And as a bonus, one or more “champions” often emerge who will defend your design solution as his idea, so you won’t have to justify your work.

Having stakeholders participate early in the design process can help them connect the dots between the ideas that are generated collectively in those early meetings and the work that you’ll show later as a result of your design efforts. This can help lower resistance to new ideas and help them foster a sense of ownership.

Quick Tips
1. Insist that this strategy meeting be an integral part of the project—and something you need to charge (highly) for. An initial session can take approximately three hours to complete, depending on the amount of discussion that is a byproduct of the session.

2. Here’s how you justify the additional expense to the client: Obviously, you won’t use this process for every marketing or communication project that comes across your desk. But for the larger ones, like major branding campaigns or marketing initiatives, the addition of a process like this can save time and large amounts of resources in the long run, allowing you to avoid multiple expensive false starts. Also, those involved in the strategy meetings become ambassadors, and, as they understand the campaign, can more easily carry the core message back throughout the organization.

Dig Deeper!
1. Make sure your branding and marketing education is up to snuff by reading the classics like Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing by Harry Beckwith, Differentiate or Die: Survival in Our Era of Killer Competition by Jack Trout, and anything by Martin Lindstrom, including Buy-Ology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy.

2. Learn how to facilitate strategy meetings and balance clients’ perceptions with Marcia Hoeck’s Creating Customer Connections Branding Process workbook. The exact processes, worksheets, and client education you’ll need to lead your clients through a complete branding process—or just parts of it. All you need to add is the design.

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