Hard selling is not the answer, creativity is

It’s a sad indictment of UK branding groups that their aggressive selling techniques are annoying clients (see News, page 6). None of us likes being pestered, especially by people trying to sell us something we don’t want through an approach that is both pushy and lacking originality. How much better we react when the real benefits are spelled out, when an approach is more of a dialogue than a pitch and when something genuinely interesting is being said.

Too few design groups communicate their own point of difference – most don’t really know what it is. We’re told constantly by clients of poor, samey presentations even by those acknowledged by their peers to have outstanding creative skills, whether visual or in terms of thinking. Yet the claim that they can make a difference, to help the client company or its brands stand out from the pack, underpins the sales story of most consultancies.

These are not new thoughts, but they are reinforced by the Pan-European Brand Design Association’s report on clients’ views. In their zeal to become more sophisticated as businesses, brand design groups haven’t got the balance right between working practice and the services they offer, if The Tutt Consultancy’s findings are correct.

It’s not all bad news though. We may not be great at business in the eyes of clients, but we are the best brand designers in Europe, with 52 per cent of clients trawled by the PDA putting the UK ahead of Continental countries. And while criticism is strong, clients feel design groups have unrealised potential, while the influence of the ad agency is on the wane. If clients feel design has it in it, the industry must react with confidence and understanding.

The report offers pointers as to how design groups might acquit themselves better. There are clues in the fact that most clients choose consultancies by word-of-mouth – personality and performance count in forging partnerships. But the biggest lessons are to be learned from the ad world, it appears, in taking a broader, proactive view of clients’ communication needs.

There’s something in that, but research results are always limited by participants basing comments on what they know. Henry Ford said that if he’d asked people what they wanted when he set about creating the car, they’d have said a faster horse. To be genuinely proactive means making your own stand. If more design groups tried that tack, there’d be less need for aggressive selling of talents indistinguishable from those available elsewhere, more influence and better results.

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