Effective design is measurable

How can you prove that design works? Simon Bailey considers the thorny issue of how to convince clients that good design is good for business

Effective creativity is crucial if businesses are to connect with their customers and stand out from the crowd. How many times have we claimed that good branding and design can increase profits, open new markets and improve market share? Of course, we in the industry know that effective branding and design contribute to good business, and many of our more branding-led clients are living proof of its value – but how can we prove it?

Compared to other marketing sectors, we are still evolving how we measure the success of our work in any quantifiable way. But there is some compelling evidence that businesses that use branding and design perform better.

Research undertaken by the Design Council found that a group of companies recognised as effective users of design outperformed key FTSE indices by 200 per cent. Its study shows that, while 90 per cent of rapidly growing businesses say design is integral or significant to them, only 26 per cent of slow growth companies use design.

These findings provide welcome proof that design impacts stock market performance – but share value is just one way of measuring the importance of good branding and design. As an industry we need to get better at finding other ways by articulating objectives and defining measurement criteria at the outset.

Recording value is vital because consultancies are now competing in a tougher climate. More and more, we have to prove ourselves to procurement managers, who examine every last detail of proposals, while looking for accountability and transparency from their consultancies.

Historically, businesses that have performed well have just used traditional methods of measurement, such as profitability, sales and staff turnover. Nowadays, consultancies need to justify costs in a much more detailed way and work harder to understand what procurement managers are trying to achieve.

Maybe design effectiveness is perceived to be easier to measure in some disciplines than others? Take packaging. Objectives here are often more straightforward and evidence of success is more readily available from sales data and market trends.

Increasingly, though, brand design has to work hard to meet strategic, business and marketing targets, which means more of a challenge when it comes to gauging success. The result may be less tangible – its impact can only be measured properly in the long term, and gathering evidence of success is time-consuming and only possible with the support of your client.

There’s also a feeling that creativity and effectiveness are mutually incompatible. Being the most effective sounds a lot less interesting than being the most creative. The fact is that brand design consultancies need to make money and deliver a profit. Ensuring we deliver effective creativity at every step is surely the way to win our clients’ confidence. That means not only producing design that works, but with evidence to prove it.

We aspire to be able to measure efficacy for every project we work on. Effective creativity is about the golden thread between promise made and promise delivered. It’s about being able to prove that we translate what we promise into measurable results. If we promise the earth, we have to deliver by making promises we can keep and a have a track record to prove it.

The most important thing is to recognise the hurdles at the outset and get a clear idea of a client’s objectives. By looking at how branding impacts three core areas – performance, perception and engagement – we can visualise what success is going to look like for individual projects. Measuring a brand’s performance can be achieved by looking for evidence of improved margins or reduced costs. But such performance indicators are usually only part of the picture. Most creative work has to perform against business and marketing objectives.

Let’s also remember that success criteria and measurement tools will differ wildly, depending on the nature of the project. Apart from hard ‘performance’ evidence, we can look to softer, qualitative methods, such as ’employee engagement’, to gauge the impact. The success of brand identity projects is what the brand means to customers and employees, as well as to shareholders.

Simon Bailey is client services director of Enterprise IG

How to better measure effectiveness

• Define aims and objectives with your client at the outset.

This will provide you with a framework for defining success

• Understand the context of the project within your client’s business and the market

• Teach your clients what constitutes effective creativity

• Set aside funds and time to invest in your own tracking methods

• Share knowledge and best practice as an industry

• Examine failure with your client – understand why strategy or creativity haven’t worked

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